Monthly Archives: July 2013

Apologetics, or, I Was a Little Shit in College

Do you ever wish you could go back in time and smack your younger self?  I sure do.

imagesLike many Christian-school students, I studied apologetics, the art of providing a reasoned defense of your belief.  “Defense” was the word used (I Peter 3:15); it’s the Greek root of the term.  Also like a fair number of Christian-school students, I adamantly wanted to attend a secular college, partly out of the desire to get out of the cloister, but largely because I’d been trained on the likes of The Case for Christ and Evidence that Demands a Verdict and was itching to unleash my skills on the world.

6a0133f0b2fdc2970b01676346a1b3970bDid I expect militant atheists to be jumping out of the bushes and demanding that I address the weaknesses of Pascal’s wager?  I’m not sure.  I attended public school through fourth grade, so I was already halfway to disillusionment.  I knew that, despite popular belief, no one patrolled the elementary-school cafeteria waiting to expel anyone who bowed zir head in prayer (but we didn’t bow our heads at private school, did we?  We only did it when we thought we might be seen by nonbelievers).  But college was a hotbed of sin; everyone knew that.  If there was any place a Christian was going to be truly challenged, it was here.

The phrase “self-fulfilling prophecy” comes to mind.

graphic_kansas-logoI don’t remember a single real life instance of someone making a mean, dismissive, or belittling comment about my (or any) religion in college.  There may have been one or two, but if so, they weren’t particularly memorable or formative experiences.  I sure got into a lot of arguments about religion, though: Heated, knock-down, drag-out arguments.  How?  I started them.

I learned quite a few harmful things in apologetics, but the most harmful of all was the idea that it’s impossible (or pointless) to have any kind of conversation about religion with someone of differing beliefs except to try to convince them that they’re wrong.  They taught me how to argue; they never taught me how to just talk, or even more importantly, how to just listen.  They’re wrong; they presumably think you’re wrong; why would you have anything else to say?

apologiaAnd so I ended up baiting a lot of people into a lot of stupid arguments without even realizing I was doing it.  I didn’t understand that jumping into a casual sharing of people’s beliefs by throwing down the (to me) insurmountable problems with each of them might be considered off-topic, derailing, or, you know, rude.  I couldn’t tell when other people didn’t want to argue; I simply assumed that they felt about their beliefs the way I felt about mine.  I had no paradigm for understanding that the Baha’i girl down the hall might actually just want to get together and pray with people of other faiths, or that my agnostic roommate might actually not care all that much rather than being in a spiritually vulnerable place just waiting for someone to tip her over in one direction or another.  I must have pissed them off constantly, but I wasn’t aware of it.

9163631Unsurprisingly, I didn’t learn much about other people’s religious beliefs, since any mention of religion automatically put me into attack mode.  I remember once asking a Jewish friend who believed in an impersonal “watchmaker” God why she would bother keeping kosher if God didn’t care.  What I meant was “What are your personal motivations for keeping kosher?” but I didn’t know how to ask except by framing it as an attack.

I never convinced anyone that my beliefs were right.  I doubt I even convinced anyone that my beliefs were less wrong or more reasonable than they had thought.  But I’m sure I convinced many people that I (and Christians in general) was an asshole.  That was my legacy: The obnoxious kid who was sure she was right and constantly argued with everyone.

God-Defending-300x209Ironically, my inability to listen and my insistence on offering a “defense” even when I was not actually under attack not only made me a worse person, but it actually made me a worse apologist.  Since I never listened, I never learned, and I could never offer an argument based on what people actually believed rather than on the vague, shallow characterizations in the apologetics books.

And central among those descriptions was the idea that people who disagreed with my beliefs just didn’t understand.

Apologetics images found here, here, here, here, here, and here.

9 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Fundraising

As you probably know if you know me IRL, or if you comment on one of the blogs where I’ve accidentally commented using my other WordPress account, I’m in the midst of planning a major fundraising campaign.  I’ve done my share of Girl Scout cookie sales and “buy a goat for an impoverished child” programs*, but this is on another level: We’ve crunched the numbers and we may need to raise as much as $45,000.  That means stepping up my game.

Before you get worried, no, I’m not begging for donations (yet); I just want to talk about fundraising and how it’s done.  Specifically, how it’s done wrong.  I find that there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors surrounding fundraising, especially church and school fundraising.  Sometimes it’s confusion.  Sometimes it’s hard to label it as anything other than deception.  But either way, it’s unhealthy and it leads both to inefficient fundraising and to a less healthy community.

My church recently had a youth event from which the church treasurer triumphantly announced that they had raised $220 for the youth ministry.  I asked him later whether that was net or gross.  Gross, it turned out.  The event had actually cost in excess of $500.  But he assured me that church people would probably donate to cover the difference, so he was hoping to break even.

I understand why, after a fundraiser, one would prefer to announce “we made $200” rather than “we lost $300,” but to me, this feels flat-out deceptive.  The pretense is that the church is raising money from the community, but in reality, the money from the community didn’t even cover costs, so all the money that the youth program gained came straight from church members.  When you account for how many church members also paid to attend the event (self and Doad included), we probably spent some $400 to give the youth $200.  We could have given them the money directly and they would have ended up with twice as much.

Many, if not most, fundraising events are like this.  From bake sales selling store-bought items to galas where the per-head cost exceeds the ticket price, all too often the organization is effectively just earning money by taking it from the volunteers.  This is unfair to volunteers, who are contributing massive labor value and deserve to get a good return on it.

At the end of the day, small organizations with a high ratio of volunteer resources per budget–churches and schools–can get away with this kind of fuzzy fundraising math because the church members/parents can and will pick up the difference.  But as fundraising goals get higher and higher, the inadequacy of this model and the need for real, efficient fundraising become apparent.

In fairness, there are many reasons for a charity to hold an event besides fundraising.  Raising awareness, recruiting volunteers, and creating a positive presence in the community are all legitimate goals for an event.  Some missions trip organizations** require you to fundraise even if you could pay for the trip out-of-pocket, because the goal is not to raise money, the goal is to let people know you’re going.  There is even room for expensive, inefficient events (eg, kickoff parties) within well-managed, effective fundraising campaigns.  Fair enough, but if money isn’t the goal, that should be made clear to everyone from the beginning.

Now that I’m shooting for goals in the thousands, not the hundreds, I literally can’t afford to fall short and make up the difference out of pocket.  My campaign needs to be focused, efficient, and above all, smart.  Am I up to it?  We’ll find out.

Have you ever done successful fundraising?  What worked well or poorly for you?

*Which, incidentally, are terrible.

**Those are also terrible.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

A Quantitative Analysis of Mike Duran’s Opinions

prude-advisory(Warning:  This post contains language.  Cover your virgin eyes.)

If you haven’t had the misfortune of witnessing Mike Duran’s epic tone-trolling masterpiece, well, here it is.  Summary, Mike is mad that egalitarian women are using mean words like “enabling the patriarchy” and “glorifying abuse,” all in response to a totally polite article that only cited a woman staying with her abuser as a positive example, so he’s going to take his balls and go home to the complementarian camp.  That’ll show them!

340x-1One of the first things you’ll probably notice is the sheer mildness of the comments he’s objecting to.  No name-calling, death threats, swearing, or ad homines, just things like “shame on you” (haven’t stodgy old guys been using that one for centuries?) and “downright irresponsible” (dear God, what are you supposed to say if something is downright irresponsible?).  Obviously Mike isn’t just looking for people to avoid abusive language, but also to coddle his whiny-ass white-guy sensibilities, as demonstrated in the downright farcical comment section, where women try gentler and gentler ways of attempting to allow facts to penetrate his skull, only to be rebuffed every time with “That’s the kind of comment I’m talking about!”

I’ve, therefore, taken the opposite approach; since everything that isn’t completely deferential to him hurts his precious fee-fees, I’m just making an all-out assault on them.  Why?  Because it doesn’t change the validity of my argument in the least.  Mike, if you’re reading (and, come on, we know you are), let the record state that I don’t give a shit about the opinions of people who care more about who’s polite than they do about facts.  You’re welcome to post this on your blog as an example of shrill, hysterical womenfolk who just can’t see reason, but you’re also invited to kiss my ass.

There have been many wonderful responses to Mike’s post, so I’m not going to explore the rhetorical problems with his argument, but rather look at another question: Does Mike actually have a problem with tone, or does he just have an enormous rage-boner for ladies who don’t submit to his mighty cock by agreeing with him?  And yes, I am going to approach this scientifically.  If Mike has a real, dispassionate problem with tone, we should see that expressed about equally to people who agree and disagree with him, and about equally to men and women.  In particular, he should crack down zealously on inappropriate tone from his supporters, because he sure as hell wouldn’t want them undermining his side of the argument*.

straw-feminismMethodology: I went through the thread as of 11:30 July 13 and noted each poster (aside from Mike and me), their gender if known, and whether they generally agreed with Mike.  Then I noted Mike’s response: Did he not respond, did he respond positively, neutrally, or negatively, or did he make a crackdown, condemning the comment as the very sort of thing he was complaining about?  Finally, I made a vague attempt at quantifying how many uncivil things were said.   Since Mike is touchy beyond all belief and since words like “horrible” and “irresponsible” apparently count, I’ve used the vaguely objective metric of “negative adjectives and swearwords**.”  This puts Mike into the negative from the get-go (oops, he called the feminists “acerbic!”), but whatever.

Ready for the exciting results?  Here they are!  Raw data available as an XLS file.

  • Out of 49 total posters (not counting Mike and me), 32 were female and 13 were male (the rest were unknown).  Women left 70% of the comments, men 29%.  Top poster was the formidable Katherine Coble by a landslide (64 comments), followed by Mich Pendergrass (43 comments) and top male poster Alan Molineaux (38 comments).
  • A victory for human decency: 63% of the posters generally disagreed with Mike!  33% agreed and a few left neutral or unclear comments.  Women disagreed by a landslide (23 to 7), of course, while men agreed by a small margin (7 to 5).
  • Mike made a total of 10 comments that I classified as crackdowns: Three against Sara, one against Jill, two against Alan, two against Alise, and two against Maya3.  Thus, 80% were against women and 20% against men.  Normalized for the number of male and female posters, we find 0.25 crackdowns per female poster and 0.15 crackdowns per male poster.
  • Women received more crackdowns relative to the number of posts and negative adjectives they had posted.  Women received 0.17 crackdowns per comment and 0.25 per negative adjective, to men’s 0.05 and 0.13, respectively.
  • I’m sure you’ll be stunned to discover that 100% of the crackdowns went to people who disagreed with Mike, even though 29% of the negative adjectives came from people who agreed, versus 63% from those who disagreed (about the same as the ratio of comments, 33% to 63%).

Miscellaneous observations:

  • By far the most negative tone in the whole discussion came from…drumroll please…Mike himself!  This makes perfect sense; since his original post was complaining about others’ tone, everyone was on their best behavior so that he wouldn’t accuse them of being part of the problem, except Mike, who didn’t have to worry about such an accusation.
  • Negative adjectives often come in strings.
  • Almost everyone on his blog used a real (sounding) name, often full names.  I’ve noticed that Christian blogging circles have a higher rate of real names than secular ones, even though they rarely have official policies about real names; I don’t know why this is.
  • Violet, Sweet Pea, and Ralphie being catty

    Violet, Sweet Pea, and Ralphie being catty

    Surprise, surprise: When women tried to speak mildly and inoffensively so that they wouldn’t get labeled “shrill” and “acerbic,” they got called “wishy-washy” and “catty.”  You can’t win.

  • The phrase “shame on X” was used quite a few times in the thread.  Although Mike repeated the “shame on you” citation from the OP several times in a row as an example of hateful, inflammatory language, not once did he crack down on its use in his comments…towards people he disagreed with.
  • While Mike called Sara a troll for pointing out that he had benefited from feminism, Sally literally calls for people to take abuse in the name of Christ and Mike merely asks her to “clarify.”
  • Mike is as dense as a neutron star.  Go ahead, read that thread and despair as people try to explain simpler and simpler concepts to him and none of it makes a dent.  Abuse survivors may have a better understanding of abuse?  Saying “women submit to their husbands as men submit to Jesus” is treating men like gods?  Positively citing an abusive situation is glorifying abuse?  You wouldn’t call a man “shrill?”  Women face disadvantages in society?  LALALA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!
  • He also has trouble spelling women’s names.
  • What the hell is the manosphere doing in this thread?  (The answer is, of course, wanking about white feathers, but where did they come from?)  Same poster is also a grade-A example of mansplaining: Not female, married, or an abuse survivor, but you must totally listen to his opinions on women, marriage, and abuse!

1347584048956_3393551In conclusion, Mike is a whiny little bitch with a congenital inability to pull his head out of his anus.  He wouldn’t know a strong argument if it bit him in the ass, his massive ego routinely pulls satellites out of orbit, and as a result, his reptile brain has no more advanced view of social justice issues than “I’m not trying to oppress people and anyway I’m colorblind.”

This post won’t change him.  Being nice wouldn’t change him, either.  I’m not trying to change him, because he’s incapable of change.  For the record, I don’t hate him.  I’m not even angry at him.  I am, in fact, amused, and I’m poking him with a stick for my own amusement and yours.

*Feminists do this all the time.  If they think body-shaming is wrong, you’re not getting away with saying “I wonder if the Republicans in Congress are compensating for something?”  If it’s wrong, it’s wrong, no matter who it’s directed at!

**Negative nouns and verbs, sadly, fall outside the scope of this particular post.  I didn’t count words in quotes and exercised some discretion about skipping words that were paraphrasing something that someone else had said.  There’s an inevitable degree of subjectivity even in quantitative studies like this.

Prude advisory found here.  Privilege denying dude found here.  Straw feminists, of course, by Kate Beaton.  Whiny-ass titty baby found here.

25 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Why Bigotry Begets Bigotry

One of the reasons intersectionality is such a powerful concept is that it accurately mirrors the nature of oppression.  We can’t just focus on the oppression of one group because one group is so rarely oppressed in isolation.  Instead, where there’s one kind of oppression, there are almost always others.  There’s a reason that North Carolina’s anti-abortion measures were added as a rider to an anti-Islamic bill: Because where there’s support for marginalizing one group, there will be support for marginalizing another group, too.  But why?

This phenomenon allows us to safely eliminate the common “they had a traumatic experience with group X” justification, leaving a couple of possible explanations.  One is, basically, coincidence: There is no particular relationship between, say, racism and sexism, or xenophobia and homophobia, but through our complicated history, they’ve fallen in together and now are always found together because they’re reinforced by the same pundits.

But the better explanation is that they are, indeed, related, such that s0meone bigoted against one group is also likely to be bigoted against another group.  The basic mechanism at work is othering.  The dominant social group considers themselves to be “real people” and “real people” to be people like them, so anyone who differs from the white, straight, male social norm–regardless of which way they differ–is automatically not really a person.  In other words, if you see one group as less than human, you’re likely to also see other groups as less than human.

legs_4I’m tired of horrifying stuff, so to see this in action, let’s look at something silly instead: Teddy Babes!  Yes, everyone’s favorite plushie sex dolls (have I mentioned that the rest of this post is going to be NSFW?):

Teddy Babes™ are made of velvety-soft plush material; with long hair, “come-hither” eyes, and a sexy expression –the perfect bedtime companion; a stuffed erotic fantasy come true. Well-endowed and shapely, and with a number of desirable characters to choose from, Teddy Babes™ are the kind of girlfriends you always wanted to have. Whether you enjoy real doll sex and are looking for a satisfying adult sex toy, or just something warm and friendly to snuggle, Teddy Babes™ are for you. Why hug your pillow at night when you can hug one of these?

I suppose there’s nothing inherently wrong with owning a plush sex doll if that’s what you’re into, despite their giant hemispherical breasts.  And their plush vaginas.  And the vampire chick plushie with horn-shape pubes…okay, I’m getting off-topic.  But if you consider an inanimate doll to be “the kind of girlfriend you always wanted to have,” then you’re not seeing women as actual people (or you view their humanity as a liability), and it’s unsurprising that you also view minorities as exotic conquests.

tbd_akiko_1If it seems reasonable to you to describe women in three- to four-word phrases dominated by hair color, such as “Blond Malibu Dreamgirl” or “Sexy Ginger-Haired Hottie,” then you’ll also see nothing wrong with descriptors like “Exotic Asian Temptress,” “Forbidden Nubian Beauty,” or “Spicy Latina Seductress,” complete with “‘ethnic’ hoop earrings.”

And you probably also don’t see the problem with dressing a four-foot doll in a schoolgirl costume and then banging it.  But that’s a whole different conversation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Ten Thousand Hours

You have no idea how long these lizards practiced.

You have no idea how long these lizards practiced.

The 2008 book The Outliers presented the theory that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at something.  The author, Malcolm Gladwell, was already bad enough at including qualifiers (he quotes a neurologist saying “No one has yet found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time”*), but the idea has filtered into our internet articles and Macklemore lyrics in its most basic form: To be good at something, you must practice it for 10,000 hours.  Period.  And this idea needs to go away.

Seeing as I’m not sitting on a pile of sociological data, I’m not going to focus on whether this theory is true in an objective sense (spoiler: it isn’t; check out this article for the short explanation and this article for the mathy one)**, but rather on the take-home message.  At heart, it’s nothing but another “secret to success,” the sort of idea that people gravitate to because they want a formula that they can follow that will guarantee that they will get ahead.  This one is more realistic and constructive than most–and also harder to disprove–because at least it revolves around hard work rather than something silly like having the right attitude (and, consequently, few people are going to practice for 10,000 hours just to test the theory).  But the fact remains: There is no secret to success and 10,000 hours of practice isn’t going to guarantee it.

dogs-026

These dogs weren’t BORN with synchronized hovering skills.

There are two sides to this idea, one harmless and one not.  The first side is “If you don’t practice for 10,000 hours, you won’t become successful.”  This sounds like it could be true, though of course it isn’t (we probably all know someone ridiculously talented or ridiculously lucky who succeeded with no apparent effort at all).  The worst possible outcome here is someone gifted enough to be lazy instead choosing to work hard, though, so I’ll give it a pass.

The other side is “If you practice for 10,000 hours, you will become successful.”  This idea is both clearly untrue and clearly harmful.  Gladwell’s oft-repeated example that the Beatles chalked up 10,000 hours playing in the clubs of Hamburg is misleading; as Paul McCartney points out, plenty of other bands played just as many hours in those clubs and didn’t become the Beatles.  But the narrative leads to the conclusion that, if you get the requisite amount of practice, you will become successful, and that if you aren’t successful, it’s because you’ve failed to practice enough.

It takes years to become a master of disguise.

It takes years to become a master of disguise.

So in the end, the 10,000 hour theory becomes just another way of framing the world as a meritocracy.  After all, you wouldn’t begrudge someone success if they spent a decade of hard work to achieve it, would you?  Since success is defined as the result of many hours of work, one’s success is sufficient proof of one’s hard work and, therefore, one’s deserving of that success.  Conversely, one’s lack of success is proof that one didn’t put in enough practice, so there’s no real possibility of injustice and no reason to ever regret an outcome.

Let’s not miss the forest for the trees: Practice is good.  Practicing a skill for many hours will almost certainly make you improve.  Practice is often a component of success.  But so are inherent talent, cronyism, extenuating circumstances, and plain luck.  There is no secret to success because there’s a limited amount of it.  We can’t all become famous rock stars, billionaire magnates, or high-ranking politicians, and who does or doesn’t make it into these roles will never be deterministic, let alone dependent on a single factor, 10,000 hours or otherwise.

*Here’s one.  That took me seconds to find.

*Since I’m a scientist, I’ll at least point out a few uncontrolled variables: Are people more likely to enjoy something they tend to be good at, and therefore more likely to spend a lot of time on it?  Do people tend to quit something when they realize they’re no good at it, and therefore fail to reach the 10,000 hour threshold?  What about kids who were forced to take up something they didn’t want to do, and therefore had no interest in either practicing or being good?

Images found here, here, and here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized