Archives for category: Social Criticism

You gotta love charity, right? I know it’s my favourite. Makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. You know that feeling? I get to feel, deep down, that I’ve helped some miserable wretch. These people certainly can’t help themselves, so it is up to me to wander in and solve their problems for them! I’m better than them, and I am graciously spreading my goodness, not to necessarily elevate anybody, but to alleviate suffering. Temporarily, of course, because eliminating the problem so that nobody needs any kind of condescending “help” would mean sacrificing some of my own privileges. I could never do that, because then how would I know that I’m better than other people?

homeless

One above, one below. The very image of giving to a homeless person belies the hierarchy the act places each into.

That warm and fuzzy feeling that comes from being charitable appears to be unique among traditionally moral behaviours. Telling the truth, for instance, kinda sucks. It sucks when it’s a moral action, that is. If someone asks you about the weather, and you answer truthfully, it’s not really a moral action. If someone were to lie in that situation, it would invoke concerns of pathology. Telling the truth is moral when it generates personal consequences. You tell the truth when you leave a note with your information on the windshield of a parked car you dinged. You tell the truth when you slip after a few years of sobriety and call your parents to admit your transgression. Kant’s killer at the door is a test of morality because it calls into question one’s commitment to their own values.

It is not just honesty. Loyalty really only matters when temptation is present. Temperance only counts when anger is deserved. Forgiveness only makes sense when there is something to forgive. Jesus told his followers to turn the other cheek only after the first had been struck. The entire point of morality is to regulate relationships and situations that might otherwise escalate wildly. It’s not to feel great about how swell of a human being you might be.

office-space-fax

Moral temperance would be recognizing the context that leads to violence, but choosing an alternative. Even if the violence would end up being hilarious.

Which brings us back to charity. Giving a few dollars to a local non-profit is about the equivalent of telling someone that it’s raining when it’s raining. In short, it is not a moral action. What would be the charitable equivalent to telling your girlfriend the truth about how her butt looks in those pants?

There is the Peter Singer option, to start. Singer invites us to imagine having just bought a $100 pair of shoes. We’re walking home in our new shoes, and we see a small child struggling to stay afloat in a pond. The child goes under the water. What do we do? Singer suggests that there are few people who would even hesitate to jump into the pond to rescue the child, the status of their shoes be damned. If most people would save a child, despite the loss of their purchase, then why is it that the status of our charity is so pitiable? Singer wants charity to take on a much more extreme role, where individuals donate all their income minus enough for their own basic needs, and argues that this is our basic human drive anyway based on how we would approach these life or death situations if we were ever faced with them in person.

drownin-babby

Do you offer a receipt for tax purposes?

Redistribution of wealth is certainly one way to address poverty, but it is not the only way. Another might be to restructure the current system that stratifies people into class hierarchies into one that allows people to take care of themselves (such as through communal ownership of property), which eliminates the need for charity entirely. If everyone has their basic needs met, then poverty will have become inconsequential.

There are probably more moral ways to address poverty, but charity certainly isn’t one of them. From my arguments, you can join the fight to implement social policies that will help the working class, or you can start a revolution. Neither of them will give you any warm fuzzies, in fact, they’ll require great sacrifice, but at least you’ll be behaving ethically.

We all know what words mean, right? They mean whatever it says next to them in the dictionary. This definition is agreed upon by professional dictionary writers which must be the objective truth, because, as we all know, there is never any debate, disagreement, or human error within academic bodies. The divine wisdom of these truth-holders means that the dictionary definition is more infallible than the Pope. Dictionary writers are ordained by God to give the final decree on language, and that’s why language is static and unchanging.

Except words are just the socially agreed upon tags that we attribute to concepts. Like a “river” for instance, is still called a river whether it floods, dries out to a trickle, is polluted to the point where the H2O is barely detectable within it, or whether it changes course entirely. The make-up of a thing barely impacts what we call it, unless we possess an alternative concept like that of a canal, in which case a river just needs some specific minor changes (like some walls and human direction), and voila! It’s no longer a river. Or if it remained a trickle for too long, we might start calling it a stream because we have a word for that concept too. We might use adjectives to convey the connection between multiple concepts, a “flooded” “river” is still not a “lake.” Our history with a concept will alter our viewpoints as well. An old timer who remembers the stream when it once was a river might still have an understanding of it as a river, while a newcomer might think the old timer is simply delusional. A stream is a stream!

literally

Until enough people decide that it means “figuratively“, and then it means “figuratively,” and there is literally nothing you can do about it.

This brings us to language as it is applied within the LGBT community. Wouldn’t you know it, there just so happens to be a debate around the definition of words: like marriage! If you believe that “marriage” is defined as being between a man and a woman, then gay marriage becomes a nonsensical concept. A triangle is defined as having three sides, and along comes these degenerates who think that it can have four? Linguist Willard Quine tells us that human language in a community is like a collection of sculpted plants. Even if they all look the same on the outside, the branches and twigs on the inside that make up the sculpture will be different in every instance. How we learn our language shapes our understanding of that language, and even if we have a pragmatic functionality that allows us to get by in day to day conversation, those differences can create problems.

If marriage is defined not as between a man and a woman, but instead as being a loving relationship between two people that is recognized as legitimate by its having legal validation, then not only is gay marriage entirely reasonable, it is positively oppressive for them not to be able to access it. Of course, this definition eliminates polyamorous relationships from being recognized as legitimate, as well as defining legitimacy as something that the state applies through legal policy. Do I really need the government to tell me that my love is real???? How we define things has real world social implications beyond just conversational understanding.

dreamstime_s_18882968

I asked him, “when?” and he told me, “After the midterm elections, baby. I promise!”

When I have a concept, and you have a concept, and we use the same word to describe both our contradictory concepts, then yeah, there are going to be problems. This can be solved by either changing the socially accepted definition of the word, which involves changing society around the word, or it involves inventing a new word (like “canal”) to accommodate the minor changes in concept. I have actually heard an argument saying that gays should have the same legal relational rights as straights, but that their relationships should just be called something else. Unfortunately, the history of a concept and its legitimacy can’t just be erased like that. If there was “married” and “gay married,” you can guess it would follow the same “separate but equal” treatment of water fountains. There are certainly instances where new terms are required for new concepts (it is unlikely there was any controversy when the term “canal” was introduced), but when it comes to forcing whole categories of people into a term they never agreed to, then you’re creating bigger problems than semantics.

Another perfect example is gender. What is a “woman”? Is a woman someone who was born with the XX chromosome? Is a woman someone who looks and behaves like a woman? Is a woman someone who feels like a woman, regardless of how she was born or how she looks and behaves? Two people can be talking about women and may never discover that their definitions are incompatible. Branches within a sculpted plant, remember. How we define “woman”, however, is going to have a distinct social impact on transgendered human beings. Cisgender, the term, was coined only recently because there was seen a need for a new concept. For those who believe that gender is related to birth sex, the term is unnecessary, or even offensive because they do not see the need for a conceptual distinction. This shows the difficulty of introducing new terms because all of society needs to accept the distinction.

canal

I’m sorry, but this is a RIVER because even if you dress it up, it’s still made up of H2O! Facts don’t care about your feelings, libtards.

What is a woman? We could always have a distinction between “woman” and “transwoman,” right? Who cares? We’re just hashing out concepts, and in the end, the definition doesn’t really matter all that much because human society can just adapt. The problem is that there are casualties to this debate. Transgender people are dying while this linguistic nitpicking rages on. Why don’t we choose a definition where nobody gets hurt?

They’re just words, folks. Remember: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words are the foundation of my ideological system, and any fluctuation in their social acceptance means that that ideological system is in peril. Meanwhile, others are enduring sticks and stones, so maybe hurry the fuck up with your existential crisis, k?

It is a true story that people exist today who believe that the Earth is flat. It is not a true story that the Earth is flat. If you believe the Earth is flat, this blog isn’t for you; it’s for the rest of the population that unanimously agree that you’re just… so dumb. There is not even a question to your dumbness. It supersedes all other qualities you might possess.

flat earth

It’s really hard to tell what is parody and what is sincere because the whole concept defies all logic

Anyway, who gives a shit. Like, Flat Earthers are dumb, fine, but that dumbness is about as harmless as a small child who believes in Santa Claus. Consider the progress that women have made in the last few thousand years, and remember that the backlash against that progress has stemmed from the exact same ideas every single time. Mary Wollstonecraft wrote about women’s issues in the 1700s that modern Men’s Rights Activists would have problems with today. Women are invading men’s spaces! Women are fundamentally different from men and are therefore incapable of learning anything, from the basic fundamentals of education to computer programming! Anachronistic arguments are all dumb, but believing ancient myths about the geometric shape of the Earth is pretty damn benign compared to oppressive, yet equally obsolete beliefs about women.

Fuck, there are just as many scientists that believe that the Earth is flat as scientists who believe that global warming is not a man-made catastrophe! Believing the Earth is flat isn’t going to cause the literal extinction of our species, but hey, let’s focus our energy on tweeting about how dumb this other idiot on social media is, right? When I actively search for Flat Earth theories, my results are pretty much entirely those “debunking” Flat Earth theories or parodying the belief. Next up, I guess Neil deGrasse Tyson will use his wealth of knowledge to “debunk” the belief that there is gold at the end of the rainbow by dedicating the rest of his life to tweeting about light refraction and its irrelevance to mineral deposits.

rainbow-charms

Come at me, deGrasse Tyson!

The points against caring about Flat Earthers are pretty strong. But if you listen to some of the arguments of those other, more harmful anachronisms, something interesting happens.

Let’s look at anti-Vaccers: equally dumb to everyone else in here, but listen to their arguments. Big Pharma is either actively trying to poison them, or is selling snake oil for a quick buck, or any number of cons that ultimately mean that they do not have the best interests of the population at heart. And the truth is, they don’t! The makers of OxyContin have been actively murdering hundreds of thousands of citizens for years by selling an addictive killer under a deceptive marketing scheme. Or when Martin Shkreli raised the price of a life saving drug from $13.50 to $750 a pill, effectively killing off his less affluent clients. The problem is, pharmaceutical companies are not dedicated to pharmaceuticals, they are dedicated to making that quick buck. The very reason that climate denial exists despite no credible evidence to refute it is because rich people want to create some wiggle room in the truth that allows them to continue to make extravagant short-term profits at the meager cost of our entire planet.

BigPharmaBribeDoctors

Your best interests are to give me money; then we’ll both be happy!

The truth is that within a neoliberal ideology, everything must be commodified, which in turn commodifies truth. Reality is shaped by those who seek to profit from it, and as more and more of these lies are revealed, more and more the truth begins to look like a lie. Can we really blame someone for thinking the Earth is flat when we’ve been told for so long that cigarettes don’t cause cancer? That lead-based paint, asbestos, thalidomide, and so many others, are completely harmless? Those in power bank on their monopoly on “experts” to greedily manipulate the truth, and we wonder why skeptics arise in the most inconceivable arenas.

Certainly there are other areas of power that strangle the concept of truth for their own benefit. Politicians are notorious for morphing the truth to suit their aims (or the aims of their benefactors). Same with the clergy. So long as there is a discrepancy of power, there will be elites who use whatever means they can to reshape the world to reinforce or augment that discrepancy.

So do we need to care about Flat Earthers? Ehn, no. Maybe dedicating our energy to disentangling authority from power would be a more effective use of our time.