Logistics, not Tactics

There’s one annoying trend I see whenever a particular topic comes up. This problem is born of small, short-sighted thinking, and an overdose of Hollywood romanticizing of the topic. I’ll tell you the topic after a bit of explanation. There are three general levels in planning: Logistics, strategy, and tactics. Tactics are about what you’re doing at the moment of a struggle with what you have on hand. In military terms, that means what you’re doing in a particular battle or skirmish. Strategy is the next level up, and it’s about how you achieve bigger goals through those individual battles.

I recall a show about Hannibal’s attack on Rome, and from that depiction, it looked to me that Hannibal was a tactical genius and a strategic idiot. He could beat Rome’s armies out in the open quite consistently and even while outnumbered, demonstrating his tactical ability. It didn’t do him any good, however, because he apparently failed to think about what he’d do once he had gotten to Rome: He wasn’t equipped to put the city under siege. Rome’s armies outside the city could keep their distance while skirmishing with Hannibal’s foragers to slowly starve and demoralize the rest of his army.

That brings us to the next level: Logistics. Plans need resources and support. In military terms, soldiers need food, tools, weapons, ammunition, transportation, and so on. Logistics is about how you get those resources where you need them. Good tactics and strategy make the most of what you have, but without supply lines, there’s a limit to what you can do. If you can’t feed and equip your soldiers, it’d be insane to go to war.

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On Manliness

I like to think of myself as a feminist, and I recognize that gender roles are harmful. That said, I still feel there might be room for some sort of “manliness” as a concept, if not under that name. This is up for debate, of course, since I recognize I’m subject to privilege-induced blindness. I’m thinking out loud so I can mull over and refine concepts.

The ironic thing is that I think feminism has raised the bar for mangrit, at least as far as I estimate it. The result for me is that the men who whine about women not being “feminine” by their standards are having their lack of “masculinity” exposed. If anything, the old definition of femininity as submissive and passive had a once-hidden backlash on masculinity: It’s produced a lot of snivelers who can’t deal with women as adults, on equal terms. Feminism encourages women to be strong in character, and I like that. I want higher standards, and I think having strong women in a society also helps encourage men to be strong.

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Overheard in Texas, of All Places

It was odd hearing something that could be construed as a pro-gun control statement that reversed a certain cliche:

“…Guns don’t kill people, but if he didn’t have access to a gun, it wouldn’t have happened. If you really want to kill someone, you can grab a pencil or ballpoint pen. You’re going to do it but…”

I am at the graduate student GIS lab, so I suppose that upped the probability of hearing something like that.

The alternate version I imagine is that he was quoting a gun control advocate and “refuting” the argument by asserting that it’s equally easy to kill without a gun so there’s no point in restricting them, which is pretty silly.

Gamer+

I originally planned to post this yesterday, and PZ inadvertently reminded me. Speaking in favor of social justice, equity and all that on the atheist/skeptical blogosphere is good, but since I include gaming as one of my topics, I think it’s appropriate to make an explicit vow that I’ll speak up in my gaming sphere. Sexism, homophobia, and racism are everywhere, and that includes gamer culture. I’m sure people who play more multiplayer and/or mainstream games experience it more often than I do. For what it’s worth, I’ll add my voice to counter bigotry when I’m playing with others.

Of course, the title isn’t a terribly serious attempt to replicate the impact atheism+ is having in its early phase, but who knows? Maybe the plus thing will expand to other communities. I doubt I’ll have cause to claim a big contribution, but I’ll do what I can with my tiny voice.

Atheism+

Since it’s the thing making waves in the atheist community and I put the logo on my sidebar, I thought I’d post some quick thoughts.

1. This isn’t redefining atheism. We’re a subset of atheists who have long been interested in social justice making our existing subgroup more explicit with a label. We aren’t defining other atheists out of atheism. We’re defining who we are, not who you are.

2. You aren’t required to join. If you’re complaining about our devotion to social justice, equity, and so forth, we probably aren’t interested in signing you up, and we have no ability to force you to do so.

3. If you’re complaining about someone unfriending you from Facebook or something because they didn’t like your anti-plus speech, welcome to the internet and social interaction with other sapient beings. Just like we can’t force you to join atheism+, you can’t force other people to associate with you.

4. “Divisive“: From my point of view, the various forms of bigotry and apathy towards social justice were an existing point of division. The act of making an explicit label for which side we took in that division isn’t going to change anything except possibly bring more direct attention to the issue. What’s the problem?

5. There’s no ultimate leader. We seem to be getting some people who are accusing us of being authoritarian while simultaneously claiming to be baffled that we haven’t deified an infallible authoritarian leader. We don’t need an absolute authority, nor do we want one. This is an internet culture that’s gotten along fine without explicit leaders. We just have popular figures who act as a nexus for quickly bringing widespread attention to issues, and that’s enough for me. We’re a culture, not a hierarchical organization with a bureaucracy. We don’t have marching orders, we have suggestions.

6. There’s no “silencing” going on. Just criticism. Know the difference. We don’t have to give you a platform if we don’t want to associate with you. If an Atheism+ network doesn’t want you on their list of writers and speakers, you’ll just have to go to the many other forms of media to express yourself. It’s not like we hold a monopoly on blogging.

7. There is no dogma. There is no sacred text. There is no revelation from divine forces. I consider bigotry bad because I’ve seen some of its effects, know how its mechanisms work, and how those forces build on each other to cause inequity. I also paid decent attention in history class. I fail to see how any of that entails a leap of faith.

The Preservation of Quaintness?

Years ago, when I took a humanities course, the teacher provided an anecdote of someone fighting a “cultural takeover” by driving a bulldozer through a McDonald’s in France. The “punchline” was that he was an American immigrant, not a native Frenchman. The topic for the day, outside my comfort zone: The value of cultural preservation versus cultural change.

The phrase I’ve settled on for the moment is “preservation of quaintness” to cover a trend I’ve seen with a bit of retrospection on some people who generally complained about American or “Western” culture spreading to other places. Granted, I wouldn’t want their nightmare of paving the world to build malls for conspicuous consumption, but the dislike of American and/or Western culture in general isn’t what this is about.

The problem I had is that a lot of the rhetoric I heard in favor of the smaller cultures tended to focus on how exotic or quaint its traditions are, not how beneficial it is for the people who practice the traditions in question. In a way, it strikes me as similar to tourist whitewashing, where something is made more palatable to attract more tourists and their many American dollars, except in this case, instead of making it blander and more digestible, they seem to want to keep in all the unhealthy bits and call it spice.

When I first started watching anime, everything was strange and wonderful. They played around with different tropes and the plots were much more rigidly linear than the typical stand alone episodes I was used to in the American shows I watched. They made cartoons for adults, not just for kids. I became a big Japanophile. Now that I’ve watched enough anime to be generally familiar, I’m much more discerning, and have a much more level assessment of Japan’s output. Unfamiliarity can add a lot of appeal, but that’s a subjective factor, not an objective one. I tend to look at a lot of the people fighting against cultural imperialism the way I look at my Japanophile phase. There’s plenty of strange customs to be fascinated by, and I understand the desire to preserve them so others can see them. But some people lose perspective in that desire.

Another issue is the factor of individual choice. As the professor pointed out with his anecdote, no one was forcing the French citizenry to patronize McDonald’s. There are various subtle and insidious ways to manipulate people, but there are always people who simply prefer things from other cultures. There are also people who want to break from bad traditions that have been holding them back and want to emulate the good aspects of more successful cultures.

Change is also inevitable. There’s no magic moment when a culture is pure or ideal, just like there’s no pure member of a species. As time goes on, the labels change with the cultures. If you get attached to a particular species, I can understand feeling sad if it’s lost to history, but time marches on, and it’s likely to happen sooner or later. We can try to record the dying practices, rituals, and languages, but we shouldn’t go the opposite route of cultural imperialism and force people to stay exactly like their ancestors because some outsiders prefer the quaint old ways.

All said, it’s a tricky subject. I agree we should try to avoid passing on our worst habits to other cultures, but neither should we enshrine their bad habits because we like to gawk at them.

The Utter Moron’s Guide to Freedom

Fair warning / disclaimer: This post is going to be US-centric, since it invokes themes involved with the First Amendment to the US Constitution. I sincerely believe every government should provide similar rights and I give a thumbs up to the governments that agree with me. And yes, I know the US is far short of perfect in its record of living up to the principles behind the First Amendment, especially for religious freedom. This post is largely intended to counteract common ideas used to subvert these freedoms while invoking their name.

Freedom of Speech/Freedom of Expression:

You are, for the most part, free to say whatever you want without fear of the government punishing you for doing so. The exceptions include things like violent threats, slander, libel, and fraud.

This also means I am free to say what I want, including what I think about something you said. If you say something, I am free to say your expressed ideas are false, idiotic, or bigoted and my reasons for thinking so. This is not “censorship.” This is not “silencing.” This is criticism. If someone criticizes you, it does not prevent you from speaking your ideas. My freedom of speech does not conflict with yours. My criticism did not and does not prevent you from speaking, but it might convince people to make the choice not to listen to you. You are not entitled to a captive audience. If you don’t want your ideas to be subject to criticism, free speech is your enemy, not your shield.

Freedom of speech does not grant immunity from social consequences of your speech. If you say something many people find reprehensible, private citizens remain free to publicly criticize you, shun you, ignore you, ridicule you, boycott products you sell, or other legal actions to make life harder for you, so long as they don’t cross legal lines. You are not entitled to be popular or even liked. You are not entitled to control how other people feel about you. You are not entitled to control what people say about you. You are not entitled to customers.

Freedom of speech does not give you the right to every platform. For example, if someone working for a television network says something reprehensible on air, that network can choose to disassociate itself with that person by canceling his show, within the limits of their contracts or by putting up a disclaimer stating that his opinions do not necessarily reflect the network’s. The speaker’s right to free speech is not reduced because a platform chooses to withdraw the use of their media. The speaker still has numerous options for expressing his thoughts, from using his own voice, writing a blog, or publishing a book. He is not inherently entitled to the television network’s resources if they don’t want him to use them. He does not get to control the network’s decision whether or not to associate with him.

Freedom of Religion:

The United States government is, in principle, prohibited from respecting or endorsing an establishment of religion. This is supposed to mean that there can be no official government religion in the US and no government favoritism that can be abused. For practical purposes, this even excludes the possibility of endorsing atheism. Government endorsement can be and is often construed as authoritative. This means that people of the endorsed belief can feel they have authorization to unfairly wield government power in the name of their belief. This also means that people of a minority belief can be intimidated by the threat of government force and be discriminated against. Even the fear of possible discrimination is destructive because it discourages the free and open discussion of ideas. The separation of church and state exists to protect individuals from having the government impose an unwanted religion on them or on children who aren’t old enough to make an informed decision. It’s for everyone’s protection, including Christians, since there are some regions where a non-Christian religion is the majority belief. If Christianity is allowed to become the state religion, the question will likely become “which Christianity?”, leading to discrimination against Christians for being the “wrong” denomination.

You have the right to believe what you want. You are not entitled to impose your religious beliefs on others through government actions. You are not entitled to have the government proselytize on your behalf. If you work for the government, you are not entitled to use your position to endorse a religion. If you are a public school teacher, you are not entitled to lead your students in prayer, especially since children are easily manipulated or intimidated by authority figures. This is made worse by the fact that students are a captive audience since school attendance is usually compulsory. Leading a prayer also often unnecessarily forces a student of different beliefs to choose between the risk of bullying because of his non-participation or to go through the motions against his will. Neither of these is conducive to a nurturing learning environment and undermines the student’s ability to trust the government. How can a student believe the government will respect his rights if it shows open contempt for his autonomy of belief?

As a private citizen, you have the right to pray and not be discriminated against for that decision. As a private citizen, I also have the right to not pray and not be discriminated against for choosing non-participation. Students have the right to pray on their own private initiative, so long as they do not disrupt school activities. Many people assert that students’ right to pray was taken away. This is a lie. The precedent is that public school teachers are not allowed to initiate prayers while presenting themselves as a teacher because doing so would constitute a government endorsement of and favoritism toward a religion.

You have the right to display the Ten Commandments or large crosses on your property, within the limits of building codes, safety codes, and such. This includes displaying them in a fashion that is highly visible to the public. You are not entitled to have the government display religious imagery on government ground. Atheists are not in favor of prohibiting religion from the public sphere, because doing so would likely lead to the prohibition of other ideas, including our own, especially since atheism is currently an unpopular belief. We want the government to respect it’s prohibition on endorsing religion.

You have the right to build a church using your private resources, fitting within zoning laws and building ordinances. For the same reason, Muslims also have the right to build a mosque using their private resources under the same laws and ordinances. If Muslims building a mosque near the World Trade Center site hurts your feelings, too bad. Your hurt feelings do not allow you to impose your will on the mosque builders. They are within their human rights to carry out legal religious acts like building a place of worship. We shouldn’t make an exception to basic human rights just because someone’s feelings might get hurt.

Rights in General:

The United States was not established to be a mob rule anarchy. It was established to be a constitutional democracy. People shouldn’t be allowed to vote to take away a minority group’s rights. People shouldn’t be allowed to vote to take away an individual’s rights. Allowing the majority to vote away one person’s rights means that they’re no longer rights, but a privilege granted at the whims of popularity and fashion. The majority rule must give way to the basic rights of the individual and the minority, otherwise it sets a precedent for removing our freedoms altogether. Everyone is a minority in one issue or another, and it’s naive to think that making an exception to discriminate against one minority can’t be used in the future to discriminate against you.

Religious Identity and Character

A quote provided by Sastra that inspired this long, wandering post:

This idea that it’s “intolerant” to say that people are wrong in religion is based on the belief that religion = identity. In a faith-based system, you don’t believe what you believe because you drew an objective conclusion from evidence available to all. Given a fair argument, you’d gladly change your mind. That’s reason, and it puts people on the same ground.

Instead, you believe what you believe — you draw the conclusion you do — because you are NOT being objective. You are being the subjective you, at your best, passionately involved and eagerly “seeking” the spiritual answer that Those-Like-You look for and find … and Those-Who-Are-Not-Like-You do not. You leave off the common ground of inquiry and enter into a mythological narrative in which you are the small and humble hero. By being religious, you are expressing the deepest and most important aspect of who you are on your journey to the purpose of life.

Within this framework, being wrong means that YOU are wrong. Not your conclusion. You, personally. I think that’s why there’s often this tacit or not so tacit pact among the religious to treat criticism like bigotry. As they see it, you’re saying that there’s only one right way to be a human being: they ought to be like you. Trying to change their view is an attack on their right to exist.

That’s a big attitude problem with fundamentalism. I’d say it’s also a big problem in politics, too. Far too many people seem to place group membership as the core of their identity. It doesn’t help that many of these groups reinforce the vice by hinting at or outright saying that the individual is worthless without their support.

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The Misogyny Thing

Misogyny is bad. Trivializing harassment is bad. Treating a problem as not a problem because it’s uncommon is bad. Describing the simple act of setting an anti-harassment policy as being something for oppressive killjoys is bad.

I intended to put more thought into this post, but I’m just so angry I can’t get into great detail. I read some posts from the other side and I can’t see straight after all the big red buttons they pushed. Apparently I’m “hysterical” and lacking in “balls” for refusing to tolerate sexual harassment at a convention. I suppose that makes me “black” if I refuse to tolerate racial harassment at a convention. I suppose that makes me “gay” if I refuse to tolerate gay bashing at a convention.