Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The privilege of calling out "male privilege"

February 19, 2013
If you are reading this article before 12:30 p.m., you can attend a lecture right here at Bellevue College in D-106 today about the pervasiveness of a somewhat ambiguous blight on our liberal culture known as “male privilege.” In theory, “male privilege” embodies the social, economic and political advantages granted to men on the basis of their gender. We are incessantly told we live in a binary world of first and second-class citizens, where men are institutionally treated better and afforded more opportunity while women are broadly oppressed. In reality however, we live in a more complex and gray world, where mistreatment happens in both directions. The phrase “male privilege,” in practice, is simply a conversational trump card to end debate, drawn from historical guilt and confirmation bias.
I’m not merely speaking from personal experience here. While I have been repeatedly told I don’t have a right to have an opinion on particular issues because of my own race and gender, my major concern is the general acceptance and dissemination of this idea, particularly in academics. When the educator and author Warren Farrell went to give a lecture about the crisis of boys in educationat the University of Toronto, for instance, he was warmly greeted by about a hundred students ripping down posters, threatening and insulting him yelling, “You should be fucking ashamed of yourself, you fucking scum!” to Farrell, his audience and the police (male and female) attempting keep relative order. Farrell’s crime was to have written a book titled, “The Myth of Male Power.”
The very word that is used to defend this kind of behavior—“feminism”—betrays part of the problem here. Everyone I’ve talked to about the word has defined it as, roughly, equality between the sexes. If that’s all there is to it, then I proudly call myself a feminist. What a wonderful concept…but why call it that? Why limit this equality to the feminine by calling it feminism? Isn’t that a form of inequality in itself? Why not just call it “equality?”
It is because, as far as I can tell, many of these so-called feminists don’t want equality. The assumption that feminism is working off of is that in the status quo, women are treated as inferior to men, so their goal isn’t equal treatment in the legal sense, but the elevation of women. They cite things like gender stereotypes about driving ability, higher numbers of men in politics and expensive, uncomfortable clothing as absolute proof that this is the case.
I wonder why it is that men are forced to sign up for selective service and die by the thousands in combat, why women are treated with more leeway in court cases involving domestic abuse and child custody then men, why the prison population (which is so often cited as proof of racial discrimination) is 85% male, why our public schools undeniably favor women and why medieval notions of manhood—what it means to “be a man”—are to this day infused into our expectations of men; men are, after all, expected to pay for and protect their women. I wonder why, during all of this, comparatively minor issues in the opposite direction are sobbed over.
More importantly than any of that, I wonder why men who bring this up whenever women claim they are “oppressed” are immediately labeled as sexist. It is said that the beginning of all wisdom is calling things by their proper names and the name of this culture, the one that responds to disagreement by alleging “male privilege,” is nothing short of misandry.
It is true that women are victims of inordinately high levels of sexual crime, a subject I am in fact quite passionate about. Historically, sexism was the prevailing social norm in Western culture. In some non-Western societies, this remains the case to this day. These are extremely serious problems that warrant all of our support, and it’s an enormous step forward that the Violence Against Women Act has been making such headway this last week, but these problems aren’t any kind of warrant for shutting people out of conversation based on their gender by labeling them as “privileged.” That kind of discrimination is precisely what we’re all against, after all. At least in theory.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Put Personal Safety First on Valentines Day

February 11, 2013

In a relatively safe and affluent area like Bellevue, it is easy for students to forget scary numbers.For example, in 2011 there were on average more than 392 violent crimes per 100,000 people in the United States. Statistically speaking, 27 of those 392 incidents were cases of forcible rape. These are numbers that are important for people to know and understand, particularly college-aged people and, unfortunately, particularly women.
While it is a natural instinct for people to think, ‘that’s what the police are there for,’ I challenge you to look at your surroundings. If you can see a cop, then congratulations, you might be safe presuming a potential predator is particularly unobservant. If not, then your first line of defense is you. I used to assist in teaching “stranger safety” seminars for a martial arts school in Sammamish, and it was always a ghastly point of interest that the instructor was able to tell numerous stories of his own students who had had to use skills we taught to protect themselves from abduction or worse. It is simply a fact that police cannot be everywhere at once, and when thinking about crime statistics, it is worth bearing in mind.
Valentine’s Day represents a predictable spike in incidents of date rape around the world. With understanding about the real nature of these types of crimes, it might be possible to better avoid them this coming Feb. 14 and beyond.
First, to clarify a few misconceptions. Many women seem to imagine rape as a threat peering out of dark alleys and dingy bars. While it is certainly possible, vastly greater numbers of sexual assault occur within the confines of a known, “safe” environment like the perpetrator’s home or a hotel. On a similar note, the statistically normal stalker or rapist is not a creepy stranger in his 50s, but an acquaintance the victim has known for less than six months. Often, this is a classmate, friend or even a boyfriend.
Thus, the most difficult part of dealing with a stalker or potential rapist is identifying them. While these people are sometimes difficult to pick out, there are some indicating manipulative behaviors that should raise red flags.Unusually assertive charm and niceness, unsolicited help or promises with expectations of reciprocation and “typecasting,” a self-deprecating insult designed to obligate acceptance (You’re probably too cool to spend time with a loser like me), are three such examples. The refusal to accept “no” as an answer is another particularly strong example that should set off immediate mental alarm bells. You are under no obligation to be polite and observe normal social niceties if you feel that your safety is in danger.
Most importantly, trust your instincts. Your sympathetic nervous system has been keeping your ancestors alive for millions of years and your gut readings of people are the cumulative result of those thousands of generations of tweaking and perfecting your brain. Your body is smarter than you think it is, so if you get a creepy “vibe” about someone, it isn’t worth testing your amygdala’s judgment for the sake of social graces. Be smart, stay safe and have an enjoyable Valentine’s Day.
For more detailed information, Sam Harris gives an excellent basic guideline for avoiding violent situations and protecting yourself here, and I can't recommend Gavin de Becker's book "The Gift of Fear" highly enough. It is long, repetitive, and at times boring, but is perhaps one of the best investments in your own safety someone can make, particularly for law-enforcement agents, military personnel, and women.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

"It's Not-So-Great Britain"

It is easy, listening to intelligent and forward-thinking Muslims like Tariq Ramadan and Maajid Nawaz, to forget the real-life problems facing our society from radical Islam; the foremost being the normalization of things that should strike us as quite radical indeed. Before following the example of the recently replaced Archbishop of Canterburry Rowan Williams and agreeing to Sharia "zones," as they are called, I wonder how many Americans would be willing to live alongside this kind of behavior:

The video was taken Jan 17, 2013 in downtown London.

I submit two main points from this. First, that no one would suffer more under this kind of precedent of legal exemption than the very people liberals think they would be assisting in giving in to this kind of barbarism: moderate Muslims. Secondly, I would assert that acquiescing to this kind of "zone" is not only contrary the principles of freedom and liberty that I hope all rational Americans could agree to stand together in support of, but that this kind of 'tolerance' is self-destructive. It opens the gateway to intolerance of apostates, Jews, Christians, Hindus, atheists, women and, don't forget, the wrong kind of Muslims.

Should the United States entertain the notion of parallel Sharia laws in certain urban zones, following the example of much of Western Europe? The question seems nearly self-answering in the light of what this would inevitably entail.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Douglas Murray on Religion

The journalist, outspoken critic of Islam and recent Anglican "de-convert" I've been following quite closely recently gave a brilliant defense of the values of organized religion at Cambridge a few days ago. While I don't think he was entirely correct (there was a bit of equivocation between the values of the message and the belief in the truth of the religion itself), I think his points were admirable and enlightening; certainly more eloquent than my own positive views on faith.

It's definitely worth watching, particularly for those more hard-core atheists and anti-theists.

Misogyny v. Autonomy: Women in Combat

 February 5, 2013

“Don’t send our daughters into combat,” proclaimed Kathleen Parker in last Monday’s Seattle Times, describing the decision to allow women to work in combat roles within the military as an “abandon[ment] of all reason.”

Her obnoxious tone turned to a two-faced tirade of tiresome inanity after she attempted to defend her stance as a “feminist” view. Apparently words don’t mean anything anymore, or else she would have taken a pragmatic approach instead of defending her unequal treatment of the sexes in the name of equal treatment. Her reasons were essentially that women are physically inferior to men in combat, that including women poses a threat to unit cohesion and that women are more at-risk in prisoner situations. On the same line of thinking, she makes a rather teary emotional appeal, asking the reader to “hold the image of your 18-year old daughter, neighbor, sister or girlfriend” in mind when discussing combat. I’ll save that one for last.

For starters, it is true that on average, women don’t have the same upper-body strength that men do. Conceded. Fine. What you must say, however, isn’t that women in general don’t have the same physical strength—you must say ALL women lack the constitution to be good soldiers. We have physical standards to weed out unfit soldiers, male and female, so why add superfluous gender restrictions? This attitude of generalization isn’t just the very definition of stereotyping and gender discrimination; it’s patently untrue as well. If you care to disagree, I’m sure you could settle that score in a parking lot somewhere with Ronda Rousey; the number one female MMA fighter and judo gold-medalist would handily take down most military men in a heartbeat. Limiting the ability of minimally and equally qualified, let alone exceptional, individuals from participating in combat roles because of sweeping gender generalizations is morally indefensible. Saying so under the banner of feminism merely adds irony.

On to the issue of unit cohesion.

What’s wrong with saying we shouldn’t integrate blacks and whites in uniform? Is there something intrinsically bad about segregating platoons and brigades by ethnic and national origin, as was done in early 20th century combat? What’s so terrible about keeping gays out of the military? After all, a change to any of these standards might cause strife and disunity within the respective group.
The fear of damage to morale and unit cohesion is such a definitively destroyed argument that I can’t help but speculate on the motives of those who offer it in a serious manner. As for women, they’re already integrated in the rest of the military, including the many groups like the Naval construction battalions (SeaBees) that carry weapons, suffer mortar fire and enemy attacks and are working under combat-like conditions. Shockingly, damage to unit cohesion doesn’t seem to be threatening our borderline-overpowered military’s combat readiness in any way. To say, “oh, but it’s different this time,” would require a much higher burden of proof than the sexist hunch of a misogynistic military tradition.

As for the claim of increased vulnerability to exploitation in prisoner situations, everything that’s wrong with the argument is summed up by Parker in an appended parenthetical in the paragraph. On the heels of a snide comment deriding the “adult” designation of 18-year-old girls, she says “parents know better.”

This is paternalism if there ever was such thing. As if these women weren’t adults! As if women couldn’t make decisions for themselves! If you were to meet a woman who was physically fit, who was mentally steeled, and knew the implications of combat, to tell her “you can’t go because I feel uncomfortable” is undermining her right to self-determination in defense of a personal view on defined gender roles. Without seeing it, I wouldn’t have imagined a writer for a publication like The Seattle Times could seriously take such a condescending and disrespectful position.
Are there dangers in combat for women? Absolutely. Hygiene challenges, boredom, psychological damage, injury, rape, torture and death are possible problems for both sexes, and the burden is not shared equally. Women know this better than men. This is precisely why a willing and qualified female soldier who desires a role in combat should be granted their request with all of the expediency and support afforded to their male counterparts. If Parker and like-minded people, men or women, don’t have the guts themselves to serve their country on the front line, that’s fine. I’m sure no one will hold that against them, particularly those they’d be serving alongside. But they should keep their worries about other people’s welfare to themselves, at least where legislation is concerned. Let adults (yes, they are adults) make their own decisions without other people’s confusion over what “equality” actually means infringing on their right to do so.

Don't Embrace "Multiculturalism" Under the Guise of "Diversity"

February 4, 2013

“We have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and the mainstream. We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong[…]We have even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run counter to our values.”

These were the words of British Prime Minister David Cameron, in Feb. 2011, speaking on the failures of the British state’s support of “multiculturalism.”  Recently, Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Angela Merkel of Germany uttered similar public confessions, all speeches delivered after decades of support for the inclusive policy. What is “multiculturalism,” and what’s wrong with it?
Multiculturalism is more than a mere tolerance of cultural differences; it is a positive and proactive accommodation of differences, accomplished through Will Kymlicka’s “group-differentiated rights.” It’s the application of exemptions and exceptions for certain groups from the normal social and legal expectations of society, such as allowing certain religious groups to be exempt from the no-hats rule in drivers license photos.

What’s so harmful about that? Doesn’t this promote tolerance and a pluralistic society and the beautiful mosaic of human diversity?

The short answer is simply ‘no.’ The long answer would take a full volume, like “The Closing of the American Mind,” to fully answer, so I’ll stick with the short.
As with all flawed theories, the fundamental issues are worth pointing out first.  Multiculturalism arose as an idea in the wake of a generation characterized by ethnic and racial strife, both at home and abroad, and the philosophy grew from within the political movement doing most of the ideological combat, those whom we would today call “liberals.” Against discrimination in spirit, multiculturalism is, at its essence, the proposition that we should treat people differently based on their racial or ethnic background.

Notice a problem?

A deeper issue lies in the movement’s proclivity towards what is known as moral relativism, the idea that moral truths are subjective and that no one is really in a position to praise some action as “good,” or to decry another action as “bad,” in any kind of binding fashion. Sam Harris gave an example of just such a mindset in his TED talk, describing how many modern intellectuals couldn’t bring themselves to say there was anything objectively wrong with throwing battery acid in the faces of women suspected of less-than-perfect chastity.

“Who are we to pretend that we know so little about human well-being that we have to be non-judgmental about a practice like this?”

It’s a distinction of Western academia in recent years to be unable to distinguish, in the words of Winston Churchill, the firefighter from the fire. Such is the case with such outspoken dissidents as Noam Chomsky, who to this day proudly claims that 9/11 was not the result of radical religious extremism, but rather defends the actions of Al-Qaeda as justified acts of retribution against American terrorism in the Middle East in prior years.

For decades now, American and British journalists, philosophers and social critics have warned of the dangers of multiculturalism, and the threat it poses not merely to the national identity, but to the very soul of the nations’ people. Such is the case in much of Europe, where anti-semitism is back on the rise, where different cultural groups are treated differently and where hate speech laws are becoming increasingly broad in scope and rigorous in application. If an 18-year old white girl vanished for a week to have her genitals sawed off, for example, there would be a national outcry and harsh justice rained down on the perpetrators of such a heinous crime. Not so if said 18-year-old girl happened instead to be Pakistani. The tragedy isn’t that this is happening—it’s that the intelligent, educated citizens have been robbed of the ability to see the evil lurking in their midst, and worse, have been convinced that those who notice these problems are themselves the evil ones. Usually, this manifests in accusations of racism or intolerance.

The harbingers of such a mindset have been in place in the American intellectual culture for a while now, and the natural outcome is slowly beginning to come to fruition, albeit slightly behind Western Europe. A brow-beating attitude towards “tolerance” and “diversity” is one such sign. We should support diversity, given the value of different perspectives and experiences to our shared future, but we should be extremely wary and suspicious of the newfound obsession with diversity that is creeping into universities and colleges more forcefully, both at Bellevue College and elsewhere around the country. The difference in mindset is subtle but important, not merely for ourselves, but for the future of our nation.