Boner flowers FTW.

naked-man-orchid-orchis-italica-1Alrighty then.

Orchis italica, commonly known as the naked man orchid or the Italian orchid, is a species of orchid native to the Mediterranean. They are widely popular for their petals looking like naked men. O. italica grows up to 50 centimetres (20 in) in height, with bright pink, densely clustered flowers.

20 inches?!!! Jeezus. Won’t someone think of the Mediterranean children?

orchis-italica2 orchis-italica3 orchis-italica4 orchis-italica5Hahaha. Awesome.

[h/t Kim]

Who’s happy now?

As Loyal Readers™ well know, the Palace houses the world’s most renowned research program dedicated to the study of Conservative Personality Disorder. Something that has really puzzled us over the years is that research purporting to examine the relationship between political orientation and happiness has consistently revealed conservatives as being happier than liberals. This finding not only runs counter to a lifetime of personal experience that shows unequivocally that “happy conservative” is an oxymoron, it’s also counterintuitive on its face. I mean, do abortion clinic protestors strike you as happy? How about right-wing Christian clergy? Gun fetishists? Pundits like Limbaugh, Hannity and Coulter? White supremacists? Birthers? War Hawks? I’m not just talking about raging spittle-flecked tirades, either. It is self evident to me that a truly happy person would have exactly zero interest in policing, bullying and dominating other people by any means available. And yet conservatives do all of this, and they do it in the service of getting other people to conform to their (fictional) orderly little black-&-white world—and judging and punishing them harshly when they don’t. Either way, it vindicates and validates their (also fictional) moral superiority. They are nothing if not narcissists: everything is about them, all the time, including a gay couple’s marriage five states away, and what goes into or comes out of my vagina. Have you ever met a happy narcissist? No, you most certainly have not.

But you know what? If the science says it’s so, I just have to chalk it up to another head scratcher and move on with finding the cure. (For conservatism—not for happiness. Obviously.)

Now comes an article by Rachel Feltman in The Washington Post:

O rly?

When asked if they’re happy, political conservatives are more likely to say yes than liberals. But a new study suggests that liberals might be the happier bunch — and conservatives might just want to look good.

Researchers believe that conservatives may have a reputation for being happy because it’s in their nature to talk themselves up.

You don’t say.

It turns out that all of the academic research on the so-called “happiness gap” was based entirely on self reports. Self reports! This is the sign of sheer incompetence: as any serious student of conservatism can tell you, conservatives are infamous for self-reporting lies. (See e.g. church attendance, or Bill O’Reilly’s entire career.) But this new research took a different approach:

Led by Sean Wojcik, a doctoral student in psychology and social behavior at the University of California at Irvine, the experiment analyzed photos and language analysis from the LinkedIn and Twitter profiles of those identified as either liberal or conservative.

“Common sense would dictate that if you want to know how happy someone is, you can ask them,” said Peter Ditto, UCI professor of psychology & social behavior and co-author of the paper. “But what do you do if someone says they’re happy, but doesn’t act that way?”

My point exactly.

Indeed, Ditto and Wojcik found more genuine smiles (as measured by standard facial analysis) and more positive language in the Web trail of liberals, even though other members of that group self-reported as less happy in the very same study.

The reason, they say, is that political conservatives have a tendency to self-aggrandize. When they compared happiness self-reports with tests that measured a tendency to enhance one’s better qualities, they found that the happiness gap could be explained by a self-enhancement gap. In other words, liberals were being more honest about their personal pitfalls.

Huh. Well what do you know.

palacehappyface

Ask Iris: WWID?

Loyal Subject™ SJ sent a righteous rant to me and Palace blogger Don Ardell along with following graphic:

homeopathyexplainedThe missive’s subject was “Shame on everyone associated with this.” He wrote:

It is beneath the dignity of human beings living in the 21st Century (or the 20th, or maybe even the 19th, for that matter) to believe in such utter and total nonsense. Yet millions do.

And it is shameful to be associated with the manufacture, marketing, selling and purchasing homeopathic products. (Homeopathy is far from the only quackery, but it is possibly the most ridiculous.)

We are not children anymore, although prodigious numbers of us think and act like low-information ten-year-olds.

In a rational world, CVS would never consider selling totally worthless products. And anyone doing so would be prosecuted, convicted and punished for fraud. By now we should be waaay above this [kind] of shit.

Don and I were in full agreement with SJ’s assessment here, but Don was troubled by something else, too:

Full disclosure: I recently bought CVS. I could say I did it because the company, like Ringling Brothers with elephants, quit the cigarette trade because it was the decent thing to do, as well as good business. But, as Tricky D would say, that would be wrong. I did it to make money on a rising stock. And rise it has.

Now this. I face a crisis of conscience. WWID? (Yes, I mean you, Iris.)

Don’s question inspired me to finally coalesce into words some thoughts I had been kicking around for a while spew forth hundreds of words in reply to my poor correspondents. What’s that old saying? “Never ask a question you don’t want answered.” Oh, and “opinions are like assholes: everyone has one.” Here is mine. My opinion, not my asshole. In case that wasn’t clear.

A. WWID? Well, that really is entirely between you and your conscience, Don. My thoughts are these.

For better and for worse, we presently exist in an uber-capitalist hegemon. Participation in this system is mandatory, at least if we wish to have a decent quality of life* (and of course we do). An intelligent, informed and empathic person such as yourself (and SJ) cannot possibly avoid crises of conscience, grounded as our system is in the unjust exploitation of people and natural resources, short-term thinking, rigid class hierarchies and unearned privilege. From all of this necessarily emerges a brutal manifestation of Social Darwinism. Therefore we must make our compromises with conscience, and that starts with acknowledging that we are all hypocrites in ways large and small.

That said, we can certainly make choices that mitigate our hypocrisy. For instance, a major portion of your life’s work is promoting reason and evidence-based thinking in the context of wellness; if we ever rid civilization of the pestilence that is homeopathic “medicine,” undoubtedly that will be the cure (hahaha. so-to-speak). Another example: as you know I am a fierce advocate for a US single-payer health care system, and an unrelenting critic of Obamacare. This terrible health care law was written in large part by Big Pharma to suit itself at grave cost to my fellow citizens. Yet the fact is that I am alive and healthy today because of cutting-edge pharmaceutical research (biologic insulin analogs, to be specific), which—in this system— would probably not be available to me without the incentive of obscene profits for development and manufacturing. Am I a hypocrite? Absolutely. But I still rail on about single-payer, because it is a far superior system by nearly any metric. I also want generous government funding of medical research, the results of which would belong to the public or to nonprofit public partnerships with the private sector. With a “defense” budget greater than that of the next 8 countries combined, we certainly have the resources to spare, and the savings from the efficiency of single-payer alone would finance even more of it.

Similarly, My Amazing Lover™ and I can (and do) drive a hybrid vehicle; we have also made a conscious choice to have none of our retirement savings invested in dirty energy. That doesn’t mean we can avoid filling up the car with gasoline, though, and thus contributing to climate change (to say nothing of the intractable violence and unrest in the Middle East and the profits of defense contractors who benefit immensely from the human misery that ensues).

WE. ARE. HYPOCRITES.

I guess the way I see it is that we have three choices:

  1. Ignorance. We can ignore the facts and their implications, or if we do become aware of them we can ignore our hypocrisy. This seems to come easier for some than for others…
  2. Rationalization. And yes, to some extent that is precisely what I am doing here. But I have more in mind things like “but jobs!” as a rationalization for fracking, say. Or “terrorism!” to rationalize all manner of evils like NSA surveillance and our bloated Military-Industrial Complex. Of course these break down under even the most minimal scrutiny; unfortunately they are not likely to receive even that by mainstream “journalists.”
  3. Subversion. Participate in the system to the extent we can and must, even as we actively seek to undermine it. Audre Lorde said that the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house, and in many respects I think she is right. But I also believe that capitalism itself contains the seeds of its own destruction (and of democracy, but that’s a whole ‘nother rant). What form that destruction will take is anyone’s guess at this point. But in the meantime, we can loudly advocate for leftist policies, especially with respect to health care, prison, and other arenas where government clearly should be the only institution responsible. Whatever happens, keeping these ideas in the public consciousness is absolutely crucial, if they are to stand a chance of ever being implemented.

Shorter Iris: CVS is hardly the worst purveyor of crimes against humanity; I think you might feel very differently about investing directly in the company that makes the homeopathic product. But again, you are the one who has to draw that line for yourself, and live with it. There can be no lasting shame in playing this game, when it’s the only game in town.

__________
* “Decent quality of life” has both objective and subjective meaning; it is objective with respect to needs like shelter, food, potable water, basic necessities such as electricity and tools, access to quality health care and education, positive bonds with other humans, safety and security—and, in this day and age, a reliable internet connection. The subjective part is more or less determined by each individual, but it’s important to note that by no means does it exclude altruistic endeavors, i.e. investing one’s time and money in the pursuit of helping others, and leaving this world at least a little better than one found it.

medicare4allOne more thing:nonprofitdefense

 

Recent reading.

library4

Device found on White House grounds identified as drone; no threat posed. Leonnig, C.D. et al., The Washington Post (Jan. 2015). [I trust the irony of drones plaguing the White House will not be lost on Loyal Readers™… -Ed.]

Catholic nun complaining of ‘stomach cramps’ gives birth. Perez. C., The New York Post (Jan. 2015). [It’s a miracle! -Ed.]

Florida police use images of black men for target practice. theGrio (Jan. 2015). [TRIGGER WARNING: extremely disturbing violently racist images.] [These cops all need to be fired right fucking now. -Ed.]

America’s new golden age of black ops: Inside our secret global war abroad
The U.S. has already launched missions in 105 countries in 2015 — approximately 80 percent of 2014’s total. Turse, N., Salon via TomDispatch (Jan. 2015).

Holly Fisher, “pro-family” darling, exposed as an adulterer. Eberhard, J.T., patheos (Jan. 2015). [I AM SO SHOCKED. -Ed.]

Barrett Brown Sentenced to Five Years, Vows to Keep Investigating Government Wrongdoing. Garcia, M., The Intercept (Jan. 2015).

Bottomless Mimosas and Calling Out Bigots: How Brunch Just Got Real in NYC. Dwyer, L., takepart (Jan. 2015). [#crashmybrunchplz -Ed.]

Kid Author Of ‘The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven’ Says He Made It Up. Tracy Walsh, T., Talking Points Memo (Jan. 2015). [Noooo! That cannot be! -Ed.]

American Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke blames paedophile priests on ‘radical feminists’. Eleftheriou-Smith, L.-A., The Independent (Jan. 2015). [HAHAHA! -Ed.]

Leatherman Tread Wearable Multi-Tool. uncrate.com (Jan. 2015).

leatherman-tread[WANT. -Ed.]

Why we need to address population growth’s effects on global warming. The Times Editorial Board, The Los Angeles TImes (Jan. 2015).

Science Says Teams Work Better When They’re Mostly Women. Van Winkle, D., (Jan. 2015).

When public schools get more money, students do better. Ehrenfreund, M., The Washington Post (Jan. 2015). [WHAT?! Next thing you’ll be telling me people who get more healthcare access are healthier. -Ed.]

‘I Just Had an Abortion': A Black woman on making the best choice for herself, despite the stigmas and shaming attempts. Fierce, T., Ebony (Jan. 2015). (“On the one hand, a Black woman who goes through with an unwanted pregnancy and ends up having to use social services is shamed for being irresponsible and “leeching” off the system. On the other, a Black woman who makes the decision to terminate a pregnancy when they know having a child isn’t the best idea can be shamed for endangering the future of her race….my abortion ended up being one more reminder that Black women are so often damned if we do, damned if we don’t.”) [Well worth a read for the condemnation of Obamacare alone. -Ed.]

No, Mr. Bond: I Expect You to Frack! Watson, R., Skepchick (Jan. 2015). (“oil companies have graduated from being immoral agents of environmental disasters and global warming to being actual Bond villains.”) [Hahaha. -Ed.]

In Just the Last Four Years, States Have Enacted 231 Abortion Restrictions. Guttmacher Institute (Jan. 2015).

No Pardon – Young Woman To Serve 30 Years For Miscarriage. Salzillo, L., Daily Kos (Jan. 2015). [This is your world on conservatives. -Ed.]

100 serial rapists identified after rape kits from Detroit Crime Lab are finally processed. Craig, K., WZYZ.com (Jan. 2015). (“thousands of rape kits in Detroit and across the country that have been left sitting in storage without being processed, allowing rapists to remain free to attack again. And they often do.”) [#priorities. -Ed.]

One Tweet Shows the Hypocrisy of America’s Reaction to White People Rioting at Ohio State. Cheney-Rice, Z., Mic.com (Jan. 2015).

Record 346 inmates die, dozens of guards fired in Florida prisons. King, S., Daily Kos (Jan. 2015).

The plight of the bitter nerd: Why so many awkward, shy guys end up hating feminism. Chu, A., Salon.com (Jan. 2015).

Many more people are dying from gun suicides than gun-related homicides. Millman, J., The Washington Post (Jan. 2015).

Manly Christian Bros ‘Apologize’ for Letting Their Women Get Abortions. Merlan. A., Jezebel (Jan. 2015). [LOL 4EVAH. See also this awesome reply from Funny or Die. -Ed.]

Republicans Are Killing Women: US Maternal Death Rate Climbs; Female Deaths Rise In GOP Counties. Morris, R., Addicting Info (Jan. 2015). [Congratulations, conservatives! You’re totally winning your war on women! -Ed.]

21 struggles faced by a dad raising a daughter in a sexist world. Tapley, N., Us vs. Th3m (Jan. 2015). [LOL. We should all be so lucky to have this d00d as our dad. -Ed.]

Crude oil spills in Yellowstone River after pipeline leak. Reuters via Raw Story (Jan. 2015).

The right’s grossest race lie: Delusional conservatives and the truth about MLK Post-Ferguson and Staten Island, the right’s again claiming MLK would be on their side. Let’s put the lie to rest. Rosenberg, P., Salon.com (Dec. 2014).

Can We Have A Smarter Conversation About Free Speech? ohtarzie (Nov. 2014). [Yes plz. -Ed.]

Vaccine deniers stick together. And now they’re ruining things for everyone. Millman, J., The Washington Post (Jan. 2015). (“No one has put it more succinctly than James Cherry, a specialist in pediatric infectious diseases at the University of California, Los Angeles, who told the New York Times, ‘There are some pretty dumb people out there.'”) [FYI they’re liberals. -Ed.]

__________

Quotes:

It is not my intent here to make a pitch for hate crimes laws. I don’t like laws generally and I’m very much all over the map myself where free speech is concerned. What I want more than anything is a smarter conversation about it, where the participants actually seem to know things, like that historically hate speech has occupied a privileged place relative to radical speech. Like that free speech absolutism is working out particularly well for corporations. Like that many states have had hate crimes statutes since the 1980s and the sky hasn’t fallen. -ohtarzie

Mass gun killings, which capture widespread media attention for a few days, account for just a small portion of gun-related deaths. The four worst events in the past 15 years resulted in a combined 84 homicides, according to the report —about the same number of people who have been killed by guns in the United States every day between 2003 and 2012. -Jason Millman

Ask Iris: Are you watching the State of the Union tonight?

Q. Are you watching the State of the Union tonight?

A. Of course not. HELLO?!

Loyal Readers™ will be well aware of my admonitions to parse with extreme skepticism any words emanating from the mouth of a politician, and to instead form your judgements based solely on their actions. (Actually this is really good advice for dealing with anyone and everyone; it will spare you many, many headaches and heartaches.) This is particularly important to note when someone’s words and actions are in conflict: their actions speak the truth about their values and priorities. If by now you do not know by his actions that Barack Obama is a True Believer in conservative economics, a Wall Street-serving corporatist, a radical and lawless executive, and an unrepentant, murderous warmonger very much like his predecessor, then you simply have not been paying attention.

Relatedly, there has recently been some media hubbub about our president “rediscovering a progressive agenda” (after six years in office, during which Democrats held one or both houses of congress). Why, gosh darnit, it’s about time we tax those billionaires! As I told a correspondent, this week I’ve witnessed people I thought were at least minimally politically astute sincerely wondering why the administration is suddenly proposing a bunch of lefty policies only after there is zero chance of passing any of them. The question contains its answer in itself.

So turn off the TV and have a nice evening. Lard knows I certainly will.

red&whitewinecheersCheers!

New Yorkers: 1, Motherfrackers: 0.

New Yorkers: 1, Motherfrackers: 0.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration announced on Wednesday that it would ban hydraulic fracturing in New York State because of concerns over health risks, ending years of uncertainty over the disputed method of natural gas extraction.

You’re welcome, New York! I don’t like to toot my own horn or anything, but it’s pretty clear the good governor really took to heart the letter I wrote him in July. I kid, I kid. He doesn’t give a flying fuck what I think. Hell, I didn’t even vote for the guy. And therein lies a lesson.

As New Yorkers may remember, Andrew Cuomo, the incumbent Democratic governor, faced a Democratic primary challenger on September 9: Zephyr Teachout. While it was universally acknowledged that she had no chance of actually winning, she put up fight with the backing of environmentalists (and other lefties who see Cuomo for the corrupt, conservative opportunist he is). While Cuomo continued to drag his feet and waffle on deciding the fracking issue, Teachout flat-out stated that she would ban it.

She had me at hello.

And oh, how I heard that I’d be wasting my vote, and/or to not even bother voting in the New York primary because after all, Cuomo was a shoo-in. And that was just from people who had heard of Teachout. More often the conversation started and ended with who?

Nevertheless, this upstart with a pittance of a budget went up against a Democratic icon with a massive war chest and the backing of a well-oiled party machine—and she came away with 33% of the primary vote. Not enough for a win, of course. But Cuomo is a scion of Democratic politics who harbors national ambitions, and, well, that certainly does not bode well for him. While he may not give a shit about me, or about New York’s ground water, he sure as hell gives a shit about that.

Environmentalists are fawning all over Cuomo:

Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, said Mr. Cuomo “set himself apart as a national political leader who stands up for people” over the energy industry.

But tonight I’ll be toasting Zephyr Teachout, and those of us who showed up on September 9 to vote for her. Especially in primaries, it doesn’t take a “win” to win.

By the way, if you want to actually waste your vote, just keep right on voting for the “lesser of two evils.” They’re counting on you.

Racism is whites’ problem to solve.

If you’ve been following links about policing here or elsewhere, you will know that American society is by far the most incarcerated in the world, that black and brown people are enormously overpoliced compared to whites and given harsher sentences than whites for the same crimes, and that young black men in particular are killed by police at rates 21 times greater than their white counterparts. Many liberal-minded whites I know seem incapable of grasping the enormity of the injustice of all of that—which may be understandable given that their interactions with police have been generally much different, but is not excusable on those grounds. Of course many less-than-liberal-minded whites are openly defensive and hostile in response to anyone calling this what it is—systemic racism—in favor of all manner of victim-blaming and othering and authoritarianism and bootstrapping narratives that have about as much relation to reality as…well, as all things conservative generally do. This is why as protestors took to the streets yesterday in NYC (and across the nation) in response to police violence and the failure to hold accountable the cops who killed Mike Brown and Eric Garner, I was heartened to see people of every race among them, especially whites. I say this not to suggest these whites deserve a cookie just for being decent fucking human beings. They don’t. I say it because—and this really cannot be said enough—racism is whites’ problem to solve.

RACISM IS WHITES’ PROBLEM TO SOLVE.

See, there I said it again. And it is true in exactly the same way that street harassment is mens’s problem to solve. (The similarities to misogyny don’t end there, but that’s another post entirely.) It’s a tall order, to be sure, and will take a hell of a lot more than white people demonstrating and marching. The solution to black victims of police violence and mass incarceration does not just lie within the relationships between cops and communities of color—although it certainly lies there, too. It lies with whites interrogating themselves about their participation in social, cultural and political systems that sustain racism, and committing to fucking doing something about it. Janee Woods wrote recently:

We’re 400 years into this racist system and it’s going to take a long, long, long time to dismantle these atrocities. The antiracism movement is a struggle for generations, not simply the hot button issue of the moment. Transformation of a broken system doesn’t happen quickly or easily.

People of color, black people especially, cannot and should not shoulder the burden for dismantling the racist, white supremacist system that devalues and criminalizes black life without the all in support, blood, sweat and tears of white people.

__________

Here is a one-minute video I shot from Greenwich St. last night around 8:00pm as protestors marched West on 11th Street. (Yes people, believe it or not, I was actually roused from my bar stool, not by all the NYPD sirens of course, but by the protestor chants I heard over them a block away.)

Some stills:

IMG_1175IMG_1187IMG_1194IMG_1178IMG_1196__________

 USA Today has a fantastic collection of photos from nationwide protests yesterday; here are a few from NYC.

brooklynbridgeBrooklyn Bridge.
(Photo: Jason DeCrow, AP)

grandcentralGrand Central.
(Photo: Justin Lane, European PressPhoto Agency)

wecantbreatheFoley Square.
(Photo: Robert Deutsch, USA TODAY)

__________

Back at the bar, a young woman came in, sat next to me and ordered a drink. We got to talking, as bar people do. She had just turned twenty-one a few days ago, and in a few weeks will be headed for a semester in Paris to study curation. We talked about art and artists (she loves Frida Kahlo) and Europe (she’s never been) and her excitement about the adventures that lie ahead (highly contagious). Eventually she mentioned that she had just been marching with the protestors, and that she was struggling with some guilt over pursuing her dreams overseas while her community was suffering so much here, and yet she felt a duty to take advantage of these opportunities for them. She has an autistic brother, 17, who she fears will make an easy target for police violence, not just because of his race but because his disability makes interpersonal communication so difficult for him. She is not wrong about that. I listened for a while, and did not interrupt, until she shared that she was really torn between being a committed activist and “curling up in a ball in bed.” Wait, I said. Those things are not mutually exclusive. And I urged her to curl up in a ball in bed exactly as often as she needed to, to mourn, to rest, to reset. There is no shame in tending to your own garden. We hugged, I wished her well and parted.

IMG_1213Photo shared with permission; name withheld.

We may well lose her to Paris, and that would be our great loss. Who could blame her? Any future she may have stateside is up to us—all of us.

Earlier in the evening I had posted to Facebook a photo of police helicopters swarming the skies above Manhattan. Later on, I would have a fitful night’s sleep, awakened over and over by the sounds of sirens blazing and helicopters roaring. This is nothing, I reminded myself, compared to the nightmare that will never end for the families and friends of those unjustly killed by police with impunity.

I hope you will get involved, and stay involved. I may well be curling up in a ball in bed today.

The helicopters are already back in the skies.

blacklivesmatter[A version of this article is cross-posted at Secular Woman.]

Meat robots and the cure for conservatism.

As a lifelong student of the deadly scourge known as “conservatism,” I read with great interest a recent piece by Ezra Klein in Vox entitled Standing near hand sanitizer makes Americans more conservative. So what will Ebola do?. Klein reports on a growing mass of evidence that human social and political cultures are emergent properties of our responses to infectious disease threats—or “pathogen stress,” as the fancy lib’rul eeleet perfessers like to call it. The gist of the theory is this: through all of human history, infectious diseases have been the single greatest threat to human populations—killing more people than wars, natural disasters and noninfectious diseases combined—such that humans (like other animals) have evolved behavioral responses to avoid them. Just as our biological immune system is triggered by the presence of diseases, so too is our “behavioral immune system” activated by (perceived) disease threats in our environment. Klein gives the examples of our fear and aversion upon encountering a rat, and feeling disgusted when you get a whiff of rotten meat. It works at a surprisingly granular level, too: humans react with disgust to yellowish liquids that resemble pus, yet we remain unfazed by blueish substances of the same texture.

It turns out that the reaction of disgust in particular has profound moral and political implications, not just for individuals but for culture writ large. There is a well-demonstrated link between moral notions of “purity” and social conservatism, and conservatives are more easily disgusted than liberals. Where this gets very, very interesting is the finding that even subtle reminders of cleanliness (or its opposite, impurity) can trigger more conservative attitudes—in anyone. In a clever set of experiments, Cornell University psychologists Erik Helzer and David Pizarro approached every ninth college student entering a campus hallway and asked them to take a quick survey about their demographics and political beliefs. Half the students were were asked to “step over to the hand-sanitizer dispenser to complete the questionnaire,” and the other half were asked to “step over to the wall to complete the questionnaire” where the hand sanitizer had been removed. The researchers reported:

Participants who reported their political attitudes in the presence of the hand-sanitizer dispenser reported a less liberal political orientation than did participants in the control condition. Despite the noisy nature of the public hallway in which we collected the data, it appears as if a simple reminder of physical purity was able to shift participants’ responses toward the conservative end of the political spectrum.

The conservative effect held for fiscal, social and moral positions. Helzer and Pizarro then ran a second experiment in the lab, where half the participants were offered a hand sanitizer wipe before using the lab computers to answer a questionnaire about their moral values. Again, the researchers found that those exposed to the cleanliness cue reported significantly more conservative political attitudes than subjects who were not.

In other words we are pretty much meat robots, subconsciously programmed by cues in our environments. Even our most cherished and fiercely held moral and political beliefs can be profoundly affected by the circumstances in which we find ourselves. It is worth remembering that we are talking about tendencies here; these are modern manifestations of ancient survival mechanisms in a much more complex world. It’s probably a safe bet that it would require a whole lot more hand sanitizer to get some of us to vote for some berserker theocrat than it would our fellow citizens who are already well on their way to Hitlerville. Complicating matters further, future political orientation can be predicted by personality traits evident in children as young as 3, which throws a monkey wrench into any simplistic nature-vs.-nurture calculus. And just anecdotally, virtually everyone probably knows siblings reared in the same environment with diametrically opposed political views.

Still, as research in the field has been expanding, the political ramifications of the behavioral immune system are turning up everywhere. Mark Schaller  & Co. found that subjects primed to think about disease were much more prejudiced and fearful toward immigrants; in light of this, it is hardly surprising to discover that wherever there is a higher risk of infectious disease, societies tend to be more xenophobic. And it gets weirder—and worse:

As Ethan Watters writes in an overview of the evidence, researchers have found “severe pathogen stress leads to high levels of civil and ethnic warfare, increased rates of homicide and child maltreatment, patriarchal family structures, and social restrictions regarding women’s sexual behavior.”

WHAT.

Ezra Klein finds the implications of a behavioral immune system unnerving, and it troubling to the degree that it has become maladaptive—witness the recent child refugee pants-wetting, and the current Ebola lunacy. It could also be exploited for nefarious purposes, which raises an interesting question: if we know about it, do political operatives? Bankers? Health insurance executives? Big Oil? CIA? NYPD?

Yet as terrifying as that prospect is, there are positive implications as well. Matthew Feinberg and Robb Willer found that “reframing proenvironmental rhetoric in terms of purity, a moral value resonating primarily among conservatives, largely eliminated the difference between liberals’ and conservatives’ environmental attitudes.” They had set out to uncover the whys and wherefores of extreme political polarization between liberals and conservatives on climate change and environmental degradation, and found that messages tying these issues to a conservative moral framework—purity—either significantly reduced the liberal/conservative gap or eliminated it entirely. And if we examine the study design, it may offer up even more support for the theory. Subjects were shown two sets of pictures related to global warming and the environment, each reinforcing a different moral frame. In the liberal-associated “harm/care” moral framework, subjects were shown “a destroyed forest littered with tree stumps, a barren coral reef and cracked land suffering from drought.” If it seems like conservatives don’t care about any of that, that’s because they don’t: for reasons that naturally escape this lefty, they simply do not see environmental devastation or the looming climate calamity in moral terms. But:

In the second [conservative-associated] purity/sanctity framework (whose violation tends to trigger disgust), they were shown a cloud of pollution looming over a city, a person drinking contaminated water, and a forest covered in garbage. In the later case, there was virtually no liberal/conservative gap so far as general environmental attitudes were concerned, and the gap was significantly reduced on the issue of global warming.
[Emphasis added.]

Pathogen stress, anyone?

The authors note the major obstacle: the predominance of the harm/care moral paradigm in our environmental discourse. But Feinberg also suggests the solution: “if you’re pro-environmental, there are ways to cater to the morality of conservatives that will likely to get them to be more pro-environmental in their attitudes.”

Two of the earliest pioneers in the field, Randy Thornhill and Corey Fincher, are still going strong. They’re the researchers who published the major paper in Behavioral and Brain Sciences in 2012, compiling all the evidence that “severe pathogen stress leads to high levels of civil and ethnic warfare, increased rates of homicide and child maltreatment, patriarchal family structures, and social restrictions regarding women’s sexual behavior.” (No, seriously, WHAT.) They went further, noting that societies in which pathogen-avoidant behaviors flourish are likely to coalesce into repressive and autocratic government systems. Ethan Watters, writing in the Pacific Standard, noted:

Even the most obvious counterexamples that spring to mind can, on closer inspection, seem to offer oblique and even surprisingly overt support for some version of the pathogen stress theory. It’s rather conspicuous that Nazi Germany—probably the most famous modern example of an ethnocentric, bellicose, authoritarian regime—arose in a northern clime, and not in some tropical latitude. But consider that the Nazi party began its rise to power in the aftermath of a Spanish flu pandemic that had killed over two million people across Europe—over half a million in Germany alone. And remember that much of Hitler’s poisonous rhetoric specifically suggested that Jews were disease carriers. Again and again, his rants portrayed Germany as an organism fighting disease—caused, among other things, by “Jewish bacteria.” Did Hitler manage to manipulate an unknown psychological mechanism that had been triggered by the threat of disease in the German population?

Fortunately, the opposite dynamic also appears to work: “If promoting democracy and other liberal values is on your agenda, health care and disease abatement should be your main concern,” Thornhill has said. “If you increase health then people will become more liberal and happier.” In much the same way that our biological immune systems can be tricked into positive action by vaccines, perhaps the behavioral immune system can be recruited to virtually eradicate conservative pestilence (<—see what I did there? Hahaha.). It will be no easy task—but it might turn out to be easier than we think.

We can start here:

medicare4allMEDICARE for ALL.

Horsemen of the Atheist Douchepocalypse.

Listen. All human beings have huge blind spots: in the neurological/cognitive sense, the pernicious cluelessness inherent in the very nature of privilege, and cavernous gaps in our knowledge and experiences—all of which by definition cannot figure into our judgements. As it turns out, it is only to the extent that we acknowledge these truths about ourselves that we stand any chance of becoming more enlightened about the realities of the world, and, perhaps, better human beings. In this regard, certain Horsemen have been a bit of a disappointment—to put it mildly.

Richard Dawkins.

I have read every book The Dawk has ever written (although I admit I got lost about halfway through The Extended Phenotype). He was hardly the only author I read during my torrid affair with evolutionary biology: Carl Zimmer, Jerry Coyne and Neil Shubin come to mind, and there were others. But I have to say that—especially by the measure of “wow” moments, where I found myself gaping in awe at the wonders of life on Earth—Dawkins reigned supreme. He is a naturally gifted writer, with that rare talent for explaining complex scientific subject matter to the uninitiated. The God Delusion was a great read too, of course. But as soon as he started fapping away with that Dear Muslima shit and just kept doubling down, I wrote him off. The mask had slipped, and underneath I saw an ugly, arrogant asshole who could never be wrong about women or sexism—or about anything at all, for that matter.

Here is a man worth an estimated $135 million pettily accusing bloggers who criticize him of bullying, faking outrage, and doing it all for the page clicks. You see, no one could possibly be criticizing him for saying factually wrong and harmful things in the (futile) hope that he will stop doing that. Well, okay, in my case I mock him for the lulz, in part because I thoroughly enjoy skewering unrepentant shitweasels. But I also think it’s important and necessary to do so—if, that is, one wishes to change the culture in which said shitweasels operate with impunity. But even though in this instance his “page clicks” accusation is embarassingly wrong, does he write for free? No? I didn’t think so. And while there is nothing wrong with making money from writing, bloggers make chump change—which makes the clickbait j’accuse particularly hilarious coming from an obscenely wealthy author. And as for the “bullying” charge—coming from the man who shat forth Dear Muslima—I’ll just quote PZ: “since when is standing up to the two biggest names in the atheist movement a case of bullying? That’s simply delusional.”

And here is a “rationalist” who writes, with zero sense of irony or self-awareness, in a blog post entitled Are there emotional no-go areas where logic dare not show its face? that it is:

deplorable that there are many people in the same atheist community who are literally afraid to think and speak freely, afraid to raise even hypothetical questions such as those I have mentioned in this article. They are afraid – and I promise you I am not exaggerating – of witch-hunts: hunts for latter day blasphemers by latter day Inquisitions and latter day incarnations of Orwell’s Thought Police.

Rebecca Watson deals very nicely with “witch-hunting” here, but suffice it to say that telling someone “you are demonstrably wrong and saying harmful things, here is why, please stop doing that” is not in fact a witch hunt, an Inquisition, or thought-policing of any kind: Dawkins has built an entire career out of saying EXACTLY THAT to creationists and godbots. For fuck’s sake.

What a douche.

Sam Harris.

I’d never been a big admirer of Sam Harris, but since my good friend SJ is a fan I’ve had occasion to look at some of his work more closely. My main problem is that I find him a tedious writer (and speaker). Whatever brilliant insights he may have (if any) are often difficult to tease out of a morass of bland wankery: I feel like I’m back in college slogging through a boring textbook I have to suffer through to pass a test. Perhaps this is just a matter of personal aesthetic taste: what my brilliant friend finds incisive and clear, I find witless and dull. I would argue however, that if Harris is so often misunderstood by his critics—liberal or otherwise—that ought to count as evidence against incisive and clear. But beyond that, if your erudite moral philosophy has lead you to justify torture, yer doin’ it rong. Not a priori, either: even tossing aside basic human rights (!), torture doesn’t work. (And, interestingly enough, it also has negative consequences for torturers.) Harris’s latest gender-essentialist drivel and subsequent ‘splainin are pure comedy gold, coming as they do from such an Esteemed Intellectual™, but it’s not as if I feel personally disappointed by his douchiness or anything. I’ve just never held him in very high regard.

[UPDATE: Amanda Marcotte’s PWNage of Harris is superb.]

Christopher Hitchens.

Hitchens was a brilliant writer: the d00d spewed liquid fire from his pen. I followed his writings religiously (<—hahaha omg I crack myself up) in Vanity Fair, and his books just lit me up. Wit, passion, eloquence, astonishing historical and literary knowledge, and an unrivaled sense of glee at knocking down sacred cows, with great panache. He held some truly horrendous opinions about war, and more to the point here, wore his misogyny like a fucking badge of honor. World Class Douche, I’d say. But you know what? At least I knew where my gender stood in his estimation, so I could keep him at a safe distance like a creepy uncle. Frankly, I much prefer that to watching clueless and arrogant weasels enamored with their Superior Intellects™ spin embarrassing rationalizations for the sloppy and demonstrably false sexist shit they spew—all because they can never, ever be wrong, or gawdferbid apologize.

Tick-tock, tick-tock…

Is it only a matter of time before Daniel Dennett says something epically misogynist? I don’t know about you, but I’m not waiting around. (For all I know he already has. Whatever.) And for the record, the Horsedouches are hardly alone: James Randi, Ron Lindsay, DJ Grothe, Phil Mason (“Thunderf00t”), Michael Shermer, TJ Kincaid (“The Amazing Atheist”) and other so-called “leaders” in the movement have all been appalling shits to women. When Steven Novella recently spoke to a reporter, he recounted that “Back in the ’90s, up until our movement exploded online, this was an old boys’ network. The guys would look around and go, ‘Where the hell are all the women?’” Great question. Except it has long been evident to me that not everyone asking that question has the same motivation. Let’s bring more women to the table because we want to expand our movement and they have so much to contribute is not quite the same sentiment as let’s bring in more women so we can hit on, harass, abuse and maybe fuck them, heh-heh. Extraordinary women have already bailed, and who knows how many others have taken one look at the movement, and run.

Of course atheism has a misogyny problem. The internet has a misogyny problem. The entire world has a misogyny problem. You can choose to be part of the solution, or to bask in the comfortable ignorance of unjust privilege and ancient superstition, and thus accept and perpetuate a very ugly status quo.

There are too many smart, fiery thinkers and writers who want to be called out on their privilege when they fuck up (as all of us do), who are eager to learn from others’ knowledge and experiences and de-center their own, who are delighted to change their preconceived notions upon consideration of evidence and reason, and who can somehow manage to say these words: “I’m sorry. I fucked up. I now understand why. I will do better in the future.”

It’s really not that hard. Unless, of course, you’re a narcissistic little shitweasel. In which case, please accept this hearty Palace fuck you.

palacefuckyouHave a nice day. :D

Richard Dawkins, hysterical dumbass.

[UPDATE: cross-posted at Secular Woman.]

[CONTENT NOTE: misogyny; harassment; rape; rape apologia.]

Richard Dawkins has been keeping himself very busy indeed during his stay as an involuntary organ donor in the Palace Abattoir. In response to a widely-read piece by Mark Oppenheimer about misogyny in the atheoskeptisphere, he has bravely taken to Twitter to defend his BFF Michael Shermer, the notorious subject of multiple accusations of predatory sexual behavior toward women. Shermer’s MO, as described in the Oppenheimer piece by TAM staffer Alison Smith, shares most of the typical hallmarks of an overwhelming number of rapists-at-large: boundary testing; planning assaults using sophisticated strategies to isolate victims; deploying psychological manipulation, e.g., power, control; and last but certainly not least, using alcohol deliberately in order to render targets more vulnerable if not outright unconscious. They calculate, quite correctly it turns out, that this particular modus operandi puts them at miniscule risk of ever being accused—let alone reported, investigated, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and jailed. Regardless of whether you believe Smith’s or other women’s accounts regarding Shermer, these are just facts, and this is how rape culture works in the real world.

But not in Dawkinsland, it doesn’t. Nope! Yesterday, in defense of Michael Shermer the Infallible King of Reason tweeted:

RDtweetdrunkdriving“Officer, it’s not my fault I was drunk driving. You see, somebody got me drunk.” -Richard Dawkins

Astute readers will note that this is Richard Dawkins taking Smith’s allegations as true, knowing that by all accounts (including his own) Shermer was sober during the alleged incident, and then oh-so-very-cleverly sneering that she is responsible—by likening an alleged rape victim to a drunk driver.

Here’s Stephanie Zvan with a nice fisk:

He doesn’t appear to believe Shermer’s story, which is that Shermer had sex with Smith after she sobered up. Dawkins took Smith’s story as read, although he isolated it from Ashley’s story and Pamela’s.

Then he ignored the parts of that story that make Smith’s lack of consent and Shermer’s knowledge of it clear. He ignored that Shermer followed Smith away from the party. He ignored the promise to help Smith back to her room, only to end up in Shermer’s. Instead, he grasped the fact that Smith was drunk to the point of not remembering parts of the evening and used that to assign responsibility to her. He claimed Smith was responsible for the encounter despite the one fact that both parties agree on being that Shermer was sober.

He believed her story, not Shermer’s.

He believed she was intoxicated.

He knew Shermer was not, from all sources of information.

He believed Shermer deceived her in the process of getting her past the point of being able to consent.

Then he tweeted that she was responsible for the encounter.

Then he compared Shermer following Smith away from the party to Smith driving drunk.

Then he compared Shermer taking Smith to a different room than promised to Smith driving drunk.

Then he compared Shermer sexually assaulting Smith to Smith driving drunk.

I’ma say this once more for the cheap seats:

THE ONLY THING A RAPE VICTIM HAS DONE “WRONG” IS TO FIND HERSELF (OR HIMSELF) IN THE PRESENCE OF A RAPIST.

Fortunately, the vast majority of men do not rape. But those who do can always rely on victim-blaming shitweasels like Richard Dawkins to provide comfort and cover, so they can continue to operate unimpeded.

Then the Lord of All Logic tweeted this:

RDtweetREALrapecultureThe REAL Rape Culture: “All occurrences of sexual intercourse are rape unless there is certified evidence to the contrary.” -Richard Dawkins

No, my precious little cupcake: All occurrences of sexual intercourse are rape unless there is consent. This is really not difficult for most people to grok. And I find it… telling interesting when people are so highly motivated not to grok it. Before he deleted this tweet (“claiming it was sarcastic. There’s no word on what part of it he didn’t mean, however…”), he responded to a follower concerned that he “might fall in trouble again with Feminists”:

 

RDtweetcertainkindoffeministWith a certain kind of feminist, of course. Not with feminists who truly respect women instead of patronising them as victims -Richard Dawkins

This one sent PZ off on a righteous rant (which I highly recommend reading in its entirety):

Who are these mysterious patronizing feminists? They don’t actually exist. You are echoing a strategy of denial: you approve of feminists, but not the ones who actually point out sexist problems in our culture, or fight against discrimination, or point out that they’ve been raped, or abused, or cheated in the workplace, or any of the other realities of a sexist culture. This is what anti-feminists say: be quiet about the problems. If you mention the problems, you are perpetuating the sisterhood of oppression, you are playing the martyr, you are being a pathetic victim who must be treated with contempt.

But if no woman speaks out about the problems, how will we ever know to correct them? If we shame every victim for being a victim and daring to reveal her victimhood, it becomes very easy to pretend that there is no oppression.

Oh, silly PZ! You see, in Dawkinsville there are no “victims,” only irresponsible drunk drivers crashing themselves willy-nilly right into rapists’ penises!

But this morning’s tweet absolutely takes the cake:

RDtweetjailingRaping a drunk woman is appalling. So is jailing a man when the sole prosecution evidence is “I was too drunk to remember what happened.” -Richard Dawkins

Heh.

Hahaha.

HOLY SHIT HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! 

Now, Twitter is a unique medium with pros and cons like every other; suffice it to say it does not particularly lend itself to schooling pompous assholes on the many wonders of reality. But I did my best:

iristweetfalsereports

@RichardDawkins false reports: est. 2-8%. Rape hugely underreported. 3% of rapist[s] do jail time. Now go away and learn how to think. -Iris Vander Pluym

(Incidentally, citations for these statistics can be found all over the fucking internet here and here.)

iristweetevidencetoodrunk@RichardDawkins As if men are prosecuted when “the sole prosecution evidence is ‘I was too drunk to remember what happened.'” #dumbass -Iris Vander Pluym

Jeezus. “I was too drunk to remember what happened” is exculpatory evidence: it creates reasonable doubt and nearly always benefits the accused. That is why prosecutors almost universally do not take such cases to trial: when they do, they lose, and this is true even when they present heaps of additional incriminating evidence to a jury. Seriously, this has got to be the stupidest thing His Intellectual Excellency has ever said—and that is saying something, my friends.

PZ’s plea to Dawkins closes:

And could you please stop supporting reactionary anti-feminists? Thanks.

No, he cannot. Because the World’s Greatest Rationalist is a reactionary anti-feminist, and thus there is no reasoning with him.

[for Tony.]