In which I fansquee over my favorite talk at Skepticon

I wasn’t going to do a roundup of talks and workshops of Skepticon, because that stuff Is generally well taken care of by the folks at Skepchick and FTB.


Dr. Monica Miller‘s talk, titled “I Got 99 Problems But God Ain’t One: Hip Hop and Humanism’s New Black Godz” was fucking amazing. And I almost didn’t go, because I don’t music in general, and Hip Hop specifically doesn’t figure at all in my life. So I didn’t think I was going to get much out of that particular event. But I stayed and was glad for it. It was an hour of sociology and cultural analysis beyond the 101-level of explaining to people what “socially constructed” means, and because neither the topic nor the particular perspective on it were something I was familiar with, it was one of these talks in which I felt my brain re-arranging its well-worn ways of thinking about humanism.

Her talk was a discussion of how a humanism can be expressed with religious language, without actually talking about old bearded dudes in the sky etc. Specifically she talked about the way hip hop uses “god talk”, meaning religious imagery and language, to express non-religious, humanist ideas, e.g. criticism of class and race structures, as well as criticism of organized religion*. She mentioned that the history of this practice goes back to the slave spirituals which used religious/biblical language to talk about the very here-worldly topic of fleeing north and described this as a dominant language or framework being pushed on an oppressed people. That framework didn’t get rejected but subverted instead, put to a use different from the one the Christian framework serves/served in the dominant community. In the talk, Dr. Miller also notes that she is suspicious of statistics about the religiosity of America’s black communities, which show black Americans to be extremely religious. The interpretation of religion and the religious framework as a subverted and re-purposed thing which she presented in this talk is one way to think about this supposed religiosity: that despite superficial appearances, it’s not actually always about some “god” out there, but about “gods” in humanity; that it is humanism, expressed through god talk.

What was interesting to me at a more personal level was her self-description as both a functionalist and a deconstructionist. Most of the functionalism I’ve been familiar with until now has tended to view society as a more-or-less unified whole with structures that function for the purposes of society as that unified whole***. A functionalist who focuses on non-dominant groups, and especially on the functions of dominant structures as subverted and re-purposed by the subaltern is deeply fascinating to me. Or, as the Internet used to say, “I am intrigued by [her] ideas and would like to subscribe to [her] newsletter”. Which I can. Because she’s on twitter and she writes at Culture on the Edge, and she wrote a book**** which I have and shall read shortly, and she also wrote this paper and this paper, which I’d also love to read but can’t cuz the university finally yanked my library access *coughhintcough*.

Most importantly though, I hope to see more of Dr. Monica Miller at skeptic and atheist events. Because she’s awesome and her ideas are awesome and she’s a great speaker.[/fansquee]

– – – – – – – – – –
*The complete list of songs/videos in the talk:
No Church In the Wild, New Slaves, I am A God, Picasso Baby, and Heaven. For those who can’t do video, or like me can’t process language in music very well, here are the lyrics in text: No Church in The Wild**, New Slaves, I Am A God, Picasso Baby, and Heaven

**Note the Euthyphro dilemma :-)

***with the sole exception of the essay on the Uses of Poverty(pdf), which goes through the effort of distinguishing between benefits to society as a whole, and benefits to the dominant groups within it.

****the price is so high because it qualifies as an academic book/textbook. We don’t make the rules, we just suffer from them.

North Dakota’s War on Uteri*

First, here’s the series Rachel Maddow did on the abortion clinics in states with only one such clinic:

Threats and traps push Mississippi to the brink of 40-year rights rollback
Last bastions of an unprotected right under attack
Women bear burden of extremist effort to undermine Roe v. Wade
GOP war on women continues to rage in the states
UPDATE: here’s another clip for that series, this time with Melissa Harris-Perry: Anti-abortion crusade misses target, hurts vulnerable women

Second, this is what’s going on in North Dakota in terms of proposed legislation:
North Dakota Lawmakers Have Plenty of Anti-Abortion Bills to Choose From, plenty meaning all these different bills: SCR4009, a fetal personhood bill which would require a 2014 vote to amend the constitustion and which was just approved by the ND Senate; SB2302, which would have banned chemical abortions and all abortions except those to save a woman’s life, which luckily seems to have failed in the senate 18 to 29; SB2303 another personhood bill, which passed the senate 25 to 22 and is now in another Committee Hearing; and SB2305, a TRAP law designed to close down the last clinic in ND, which has also passed the senate 30 to 17. Oh, and then there’s the newly proposedHB1305, which would prohibit “abortions for sex selection or genetic abnormalities” (which really just amounts to “please jump through more hoops”)
UPDATE: another one: HB1456, a “heartbeat” bill, passed by the house 63 to 28

And in addition to the anti-abortion bills, we have an anti-poor-people bill, HB1385, proposing a Fee to Get Welfare, by making welfare applicants pay for the mandatory drug test themselves (Because we all know people applying for welfare have lot’s of spare cash, amiright?); the deeply uninformative SB2175 titled “The liabilities of husband and wife” which seems to want to make separated-but-still-married folks responsible for each other’s debts; which sounds kinda dangerous.

And then there’s NDSU president Bresciani, caving in to assholes in the legislature and freezing funding two professors at NDSU have received to promote proper sex ed in this state: Sex Ed Program Provokes Fight Over Planned Parenthood in North Dakota

In conclusion, this state fucking sucks.

P.S.: completely unrelated to the topic at hand, ND is apparently also one of those states throwing a fit over federal gun laws: HB1183, a bill “relating to forbidding state governmental entities from providing aid and assistance to the federal government or any other governmental entity for the investigation, enforcement, and prosecution of federal firearms laws not in force as of January”.

– – – – – – – –
*title changed, because I just realized I was doing what I criticize other people for. So: anti-abortion legislation concerns many women, but not all, since some don’t have uteri and can’t get pregnant; and on the other hand, it also concerns some non-women because they have uteri, i.e. trans men and some genderqueer folks.

Climate Conference in Durban, AKA We’re Fucked

So the Climate Conference in Durban ended, and it could only be described as an Epic Fail. The Sociopathy of politicians from powerful countries is becoming more and more obvious, when you look at how many people do want something done, and have spoken loudly and clearly as to WHY something needs to be done. Here’s a small sample:

Abigain Borah from the Youth Climate Delegation

Anjali Appadurai also from the Youth Climate Delegation

Karl Hood Chair of the Alliance of Small Island States

Claudia Salerno from Venezuela

And here’s a wrapup of that clusterfuck: U.S. Delay on Climate Pact Spurs Backlash From the EU to Barbados

To sum it all up: we’re fucked unless every US politician over 30 drops dead tomorrow or China and the US get wiped off the surface of the planet in the near future

Or shorter still: we’re definitely fucked.

Link dump

there’s a few issues on my mind that don’t need a lot to have said about them (or, you know, render one completely speechless), so I’ll just collect them all here:

1)douchebag: now an insult also applicable to racists: Hey Did You Know Your Vagina’s Personality Is Based On Your Race?

2)something that’s quite old by now, but that I haven’t gotten around to respond: Walton linked to an article about a boy in London fighting the ban on cornrows in his school. The ban was being defended because it bans things associated with gang-culture. Someone else commented that it was “unprofessional”. That reminded me of how political black people’s hair is: how much racism there is in associating traditionally black hairstyles with criminality, and how much shaming there is (usually of women) for their natural hair, to the point where many of them end up damaging it to make it look like white people’s hair. Anyway, here’s a good article from the guardian about it: Cornrows? Non-traditional? What rubbish

3)News Corp trying to shut up critics, in a way that vaguely reminds me of something a certain someone recently did… News Corp’s Times Of London Cartoon Shows Starving Children Bemoaning Phone-Hacking Scandal Coverage

4)Limbaugh claims that current heatwave is a Liberal Conspiracy: Limbaugh: The Killer 116° Heat Index Is ‘Manufactured By The Government’

5)Sustainable development that’s actually sustainable: Permaculture in Cambodia (30 min documentary)

EDIT: one more, for good measure: Fox News: Are There Really Poor Americans?, from The Young Turks

The Madonna/Whore Dichotomy and domestic violence

The phenomenon of victim-blaming in cases of rape is pretty well known, but apparently the same thing happens in cases of domestic violence:
part 1, part2.

The difference between the two videos is fucking huge. People immediately help both the white and the black woman in the first video. It’s especially striking that the black woman is helped by two women, who aggressively go against a Big Black Dude who looks like he could knock them across the room, too (and has clearly no compunctions in doing so, judging from his girlfriend’s face). This makes the excuses from the 2nd video look pretty unconvincing. Alternatively, it can be seen as the man being judged by the appearance of the woman he’s with, i.e. a man with a “slut” at his side is judged more likely to pull a weapon than a man with a “nice woman”.
Also striking is that in the 2nd video, you can clearly see the blame shifting, when a dude at a neighboring table says that “they” are making a scene and embarrassing themselves “as a couple”: the situation is now both the man’s and the woman’s fault, something completely absent from the first video.

There’s a whole bunch of interesting things going on in the videos, like the fact that men act against the skinny white dude, but women act against the black dude (though obviously with such a tiny sample size, that might just be coincidence), and that in both these cases, the helpers are willing to physically defend the women, while physical harm is used as an excuse to do nothing in the second video. The clothes and statures they put the men in are also interesting, since the white skinny guy is wearing a suit, while the big black guy is dressed more casually, which looks to me like they’re projecting different, somewhat racially stereotypical, forms of power.

So anyway, the blond, white, conservatively dressed woman gets the most and most immediate help, by the most people (both men and women). The black “slut” gets the least, and is accused of being a prostitute and of being partially responsible for the situation. It seems then that there’s both positive and negative gender (and race) stereotypes involved 1: the former is the best fit for the “damsel in distress”, while the latter is the best fit for the “trashy slut”. Also, the black conservative woman and the white “slutty “woman are helped only by women (the former directly, the latter indirectly via a phonecall to the cops); this might be because women are less likely to attribute blame for domestic violence to the victim than men are2, i.e. the “innocent victim” signal seems to disappear sooner for men than for women.

Now, the connection between dress and morality is pretty obvious from the videos, but I’m thinking class enters into it too. The women in the black minidress are judged as lower-class (all the way down to prostitute), and like I said, this seem to transfer onto the man at least in the case of the black couple, who is also judged as lower class, and therefore possibly more likely to become violent on the spot; they also are judged as “trashy”, and therefore the situation isn’t perceived as domestic violence, but as one of those stereotypical “embarrassing” arguments that “trashy” couples have in public. The case of the white couple probably has different class dynamics since they dressed the guy in a fancy suit, but even so, the other people in the restaurant fail to identify with the “trashy” woman and therefore don’t bother acting. I’d have loved to see them attempting to dress the women in a sexually revealing but high-class outfit, to see if the change in perceived class would have made a difference. The reason I’m thinking it might have (thought not necessarily so) is because of stronger empathy by middle-class people for middle-class people, and because the Western Cultural tradition attaches morality stronger to the choices of the poor than to the choices of the rich, especially in terms of women’s clothing.3.

All in all, a pretty fucked up situation, but apparently quite typical for our society (though… I’m mildly concerned that all the studies I found were done on undergrads. I know they’re easy to get a hold of when you’re a scientist, but I have my doubts about just how representative they are of society as a whole)