Wednesday, October 30, 2013

In Nomine Dei Nostri Satanas


Since Halloween is upon us I figured I'd touch on a topic that seems appropriate for the season: Satanism.

Oooohhh, so scary right? Surely Yahweh himself will strike me down with lightning as I type this blog post to condemn me for speaking about his arch nemesis! I can almost smell the embers of my eternal torment!

No? Nothing happened?
Oh well, let's carry on, then.

While most people who interact with me online under my 16bit pseudonyms will know me as a fairly vocal atheist who endeavors to engage the world in a purely evidence and logic-based fashion, I thought I'd share with you all a little story from my high school days when I briefly adopted LaVeyan Satanism as a philosophical outlook and as a personal identity. If you're not familiar with LaVeyan Satanism here's a couple links so I don't have to explain the difference between theistic and non-theistic Satanism, the first one leading to the Wiki on Anton LaVey and the second to the Wiki on his book, The Satanic Bible.

Growing up, I, like the majority of Americans, believed in the Christian deitiy(ies) and accepted their/his existence as fact by default. My family would easily fit the category of the "Easter and Christmas" Christian who only attends church a few scant times a year, typically for holiday services, living the vast majority of their lives in a secular fashion. The few times we'd even say grace before a meal was at family events and in those times you could have easily listened in on the generic platitudes and empty thank-you lists randomly cobbled together on the fly and realized we were not very practiced at this whole prayer business and were just going through the motions. To be fully honest we weren't even phoning this shit in, it was more like we were half-heartedly sending it in by carrier pigeon.

During my childhood and my time in school I was made aware that I was always a bit different from the majority of my peers. I wasn't antisocial per se, but I was definitely within the introversion scale (I'm an INTP personality) and hated being in large group assignments or team sports in P.E. class. I preferred to either be alone or with a small number of people who I could trust. There was no psychological trauma that caused this, no fear of socialization and no abuse, I just preferred the company of books to playing sports and the quiet moments of reflection to the noise of the masses. I would obsess over the minute details, the causes and meanings of things, and often I felt emotionally detatched from most other kids my age. Because of this tendency to pursue my own interests over the pressures of conforming to popular trends I developed tastes for things and behaviors that the majority of my peers didn't quite go along with. While in grade school most of the other girls were listening to pop groups like The Spice Girls or N-Sync, and I was raiding my older brother's collection of artists like Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson and Tool. While most of my classmates were reading stuff like Goosebumps I was reading books about dinosaurs and paleontology from the library. While others watched Spongebob Squarepants and accepted it on face value as just entertainment, I watched Neon Genesis Evangelion and tried to figure out what the meaning behind the apocalyptic Judeo-Christian symbolism was. While most kids got decent grades and many got high marks consistently, I obsessively viewed each test, each essay and each report card as a competition that I had to win at all costs.

Sitting outside the norms of my peer group I found it really easy to grow a sense of defiant arrogance and independence, especially during my middle and early high school years. This is quite common amongst people of my personality type, and led me and the friends I had who shared these traits to view the mainstream as something to be hated, ridiculed, dismissed or ignored. We were superior, and all those trivial people kissing each others' asses to be part of the "in-group" were sheep. They were inferior. They were idiots. They were shallow and wallowing in their self-inflicted mediocrity. We didn't need them, they were only in our way and annoying us.

If you think I'm portraying myself and others like me as horrible people, I'm only being honest. Truth is, all those "mainstream" people we detested probably would tell you how weird, how cold and how arrogant we were and how much they looked down on us in return if they were to be as honest as I am here. While I may come across as someone who grew up as a stuck-up bitch, and I'll not deny I had parts of that trait in my personality, I'm happy that one of the side effects was self-reliance and determination to succeed on my own terms. I wasn't going to be coddled or condescended to. I wasn't going to be pushed around and told how to think. I wasn't going to beg anyone for acceptance. I wasn't an island, I had a group of friends and a social life, but my small nation was populated only by people who understood that I wasn't going to bow down or kiss ass to appease the masses and gain popularity.

So with that in mind we come to my introduction to LaVeyan Satanism. One of my friends in high school was this really funny and laid-back hippy/stoner girl I'll call "Jackie" in this blog post. Jackie was a girl who was into all sorts of interesting things: She was a practicing Wiccan who smoked pot frequently, played with Ouija boards and tarot cards, had started with tattoos at the age of 13 and played bass guitar. She shared my love of things like horror films and dark music and we would often loan each other DVDs, videogames and manga. So one day when she was cleaning out her bookbag in class and I saw a book called The Satanic Bible amongst her things I asked her if I could take a peek and she replied with "Go ahead and keep it, I already read it and it's kinda boring". Keep in mind at this stage I still believed in Jesus, though I was very anti-fundamentalist. My belief in God was more akin to deism with a Jesus mask pasted on top. Reading THE Satanic Bible just sounded too alluring to pass up though, and so I took Jackie up on her gift and found that the book wasn't particularly well-written. I was disappointed as I expected some tome of rituals and blood sacrifices with invocations for demonic possessions. Instead I got a book that basically just said Christian authoritarianism and social restrictions were bad, hedonism was good, and gave some murky advice on "magic" as a form of self actualization. The Satanic Bible ended up just being another decoration on my bookshelf. After all, I of all people didn't need Anton LaVey to tell me that I need to think for myself and to reject morality policing.

A few months later my brother, who was attending college in California, hit a really rough patch in his life. His grades had started slipping, he was having trouble managing his cash as his partying escalated, and he had gotten in trouble with the law twice, once for minor in possession and later for getting into a fistfight at a local mall with some guy who allegedly attempted to grope his girlfriend. My parents were horrified and tried every method they could to get him in line: they threatened to cut off financial aid, they pleaded and attempted guilt-trips, they argued with and berated him, they offered bribes of more money if he got his grades back up. As they desperately tried to turn his behavior around I also came under more scrutiny as I was the one still living under the same roof. Although I was an honor-roll student with no black marks academically and I never got into trouble, they knew I was a bit of an oddball and they always hated the types of people I hung out with and told me they thought "those people" were corrupting me. Fearing that I was going down a path of immorality that would lead me to the same problems my brother was having, my mom and dad decided they needed to get more religion in our family to counter the alleged "negative influences" afflicting us. So their brilliant plan was to attend church more often, force me to attend youth functions and hope that jesus would make me a perfect little angel, or some shit. Who knows what they were thinking?

Being forced to deal with religion seriously for the first time was eye-opening to say the least. I found the things being taught in Sunday youth group to be some of the most absurd puritanical bullshit I'd encountered face to face. When they discussed the story of Jesus putting demons in pigs I wanted to facepalm. When they talked about saving yourself for marriage my inner, unspoken response was "It's just fucking, why get so uptight?". When they tried to discuss the story of Lot and try to explain away the whole offering daughters up to a rape mob I wanted to hit people in the mouth. Hanging around Jackie I of course was familiar with marijuana and so when the youth pastor warned us about the evils of smoking weed and it being a portal for Satan to get into our hearts I had to restrain laughter. Most of the other kids in youth group were private-schooled at a local Christian academy and they all came across as extremely awkward and naive about the wider world at large. If I had simply felt marginally isolated from the kids in my public school environment, being around these private schooled Christian kids was like being around Martians. I began to hate everything about church: the waking up early, the forced socialization with the youth group who I thought of as sheeple too far gone to be rescued, the sermons, listening to the preacher beg for money in the collection plate to fund this, that and the other. I felt like I was in a carnival of stupid, and I wanted out.

After a stint in this hell I decided to fight back. If I was going to have Christianity shoved down my throat like this I was gonna fight it and vomit it back up with force by use of the contrarian position. I decided to give LaVey's book a second chance. The Satanic Bible would be the first of of the tools of my rebellion. Over the next few months I consumed all the hedonistic and anti-Christian philosophy I could. I dressed in black as much as possible and wore black lipstick and nail polish. I knew my parents were monitoring things like my Myspace page so I would put deliberately offensive songs on there by the likes of Dir en grey, Marilyn Manson, Dimmu Borgir and anyone else using graphic imagery, explicit lyrics and presenting anti-Christian sentiments. I would post the most awful Bible stories and quotes I could online and ridicule them. I would deliberately leave LaVey's book on my bed when I went to school, knowing that my mom or dad would see it when they came in to collect my laundry and bedsheets for washes. There was a spirit of silent civil war in the house. I knew my parents hated what I was doing, but I was still achieving success academically and I wasn't causing any sort of disturbances at school or with the law, so it seemed they were trying to avoid the topic. I suspect they thought I'd just come around to their point of view eventually. That never happened.

Eventually my mom finally decided to ask me if I worshipped the devil in the most passive-aggressive way possible: e-mail.
I'm not joking.
I responded with a lengthy e-mail back explaining that I didn't believe in God anymore, that I hated them forcing me to go to church and that I felt having to pay for my brother's mistakes was incredibly unfair. Once I hit send I anticipated a shitstorm in the house with yelling, ultimatums and even more yelling, but to my surprise that never happened. In fact, I didn't receive a response in the digital space or face-to-face for almost a week until I was sitting with my dad at breakfast the next Saturday and he simply said to me "Hey, we're not going to force you to go to church tomorrow if you don't want to".

It should come as no surprise that since then I've never stepped foot into a church. My parents seem to have gone back to being the Easter and Christmas Christians of the old days, and not too long after being liberated from having Jesus force-fed to me I got tired of the whole LaVeyan thing. For me Satanism had been a brief bit of teenage angst and rebellion, and once I no longer needed to present a militant front I found the whole thing a little pretentious and flawed with some of the ideas of social Darwinism espoused within LaVey's philosophies. By this time I was also getting more into scientifically literate and philosophically robust atheistic thought in the form of Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Carl Sagan, Bertrand Russel, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett. LaVey seemed more and more unimportant and uninformative to me in contrast to these writers and academics. I've also avoided the use of the black lipstick and nail polish since those days as well. After all, I'd not want to be confused with some of the whiny-ass scene kids and emos now, would I?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

A Violent and Misogynist Look at Grand Theft Auto V


Like most people my age who grew up with Playstations in our homes, I have long been aware of the lightning rod of controversy that is the Grand Theft Auto videogame franchise. Since the late 90s the series has simultaneously been a scapegoat for all manner of societal ills and a celebrated capitalist success story as each new installment breaks sales records around the western world.

While GTA has never really been my personal cup of tea (I'm an RPG nut who prefers to slay dragons and apocalyptic gods in Final Fantasy games) I happened to receive a copy of the newly released Grand Theft Auto V and have spent most of my gaming time immersed in the streets of a fictional southern California, experiencing for myself the game that is being criticized as a harbinger of misogyny and extreme violence that promotes the beating of women, casual hard drug use, drunk driving, torture and is potentially turning young men into sociopathic mass shooters. In the time I've spent immersed in this game world I believe I've come to some conclusions about art, art criticism and popular culture that I think are being missed by many who are discussing the merits and controversies of GTA V.
 "Enjoy killing people. And you aren't killing virtual people. You are killing real people. You are an apologist for an industry that knowingly trains people how to kill and to want to kill. Blood is on your hands. Losing a law license is a very small price to pay in order to stand against this evil. I would be delighted to lose it again, because assholes like you, who don't care about anything other than their own fun, spit in the face not just of innocent people but in the face of God. You are presently spiritually dead. If you awaken, great. Until then, I have work to do so stop bothering me, you idiot."
- Longtime Grand Theft Auto critic Jack Thompson
When addressing the controversy over the extreme violence, I'm probably going to be re-treading ground that I already covered in this post about the violence in games debate after the Navy Yard shooting. However, with GTA V it seems the violence in entertainment issue gets more prominent than in other games like Call of Duty or Halo because GTA is set in very familiar and ordinary places, with caricatures of ordinary people populating the game world. We're not battling against the space aliens or ground troops of fascist dictatorships that populate most of the games built on mechanics of shooting and killing. In recent times, as games have become more photorealistic and character AI improves to simulate human behaviors better than ever before, the idea of killing random civilians becomes more noticeable to many and more subversive. It's easy for most humans to see a purple alien die on screen and not think twice but have a different reaction when they see someone fire rockets into a crowded street corner and turn random pedestrians into bloody ragdoll corpses and meat chunks decorating the sidewalk.

As I've stated before, there's nothing that points to a causal link between killing AI-driven polygon people on a TV screen and going out in the reality space with a real weapon and inflicting violence despite years of studies searching for such connections. Additionally, GTA V is violent to a degree that it becomes somewhat cartoonish, especially when one compares it's violence to another recent game I played, The Last of Us, a post-apocalyptic zombie game that features extremely visceral and graphic one-on-one kills that left me squirming on my couch at many points. In this contrast I feel GTA becomes the "bad guy" of the games industry, despite being pretty absurd, because it's more taboo to actively play out the role of the villain, the criminal who slaughters the innocent for fun or convenience. But in all the hand-wringing over this antisocial digital slaughter there's a point about the violence in Grand Theft Auto V that I think is being missed due to rather shallow analysis. Before I state what that is let's take on the other controversy regarding the game.


"Yes, these are exaggerations of misogynistic undercurrents in our own society, but not satirical ones. With nothing in the narrative to underscore how insane and wrong this is, all the game does is reinforce and celebrate sexism."
-From the Gamespot review of GTA V by Carolyn Petit 
First off, I want to say that the reaction Carolyn Petit has received for her review of GTA V from some assholes has been disgraceful. Her opinion is intelligently stated, with her reasons why she feels the game promotes misogyny given clearly, and for some ignorant jackasses to try and get her fired or directly send her hate messages is an embarassment to the broader gaming "community" as a whole. As a female gamer myself I hope some of the people doing this shit, if they ever read this, realize they may be driving women and girls away from gaming who may not have developed the tough skin I developed after being ridiculed online for my gender in Halo 2 matches years ago. I decided to stick a middle finger up and press on because I really enjoyed this type of entertainment enough to not let douchebags win. Some people may not and move on to different hobbies, all because of some ignorant low-class shitheads, and that's sad. I wanted to get that out before I dove into the question in a more reasoned fashion and offered my opposing take on the misogyny in GTA V debate.

There is no question at all that GTA V has boatloads of sexism on display. In a game filled to the brim with sexual innuendos and double entendres it's quite common to hear sexist ads on the in-game radio ads, see it on the in-game TV shows, drive by it in the form of billboards and NPCs and enact it yourself with hookers and in the strip clubs. There really aren't any redeemable female characters at all in the game, and it's in these regards that I understand and sympathize with where the critics are coming from. However, I fee there's an asterisk with that label in regards to this game, as opposed to a game like Rapelay which I would say is blatantly misogynistic, because I think Grand Theft Auto V is trying to convey a message with it's treatment of women, with it's treatment of it's male characters and in it's violence. That message is one that I've seen in things like industrial music, whose practitioners often employ disturbing and graphic imagery for a purpose of critiquing society and culture. I could elaborate in detail, but in the interest of brevity I will link to this great article called "Assimilate: A Critical History of Industrial Music", from which the following quote came from:
"This is part of why a lot of industrial music revels in shocking, transgressive imagery and subject matter: where there is transgression, there is law, and where we reveal law, we reveal external control. In the eyes and ears of many artists, fans, and scholars, one idealized goal of industrial music is to expose tyranny’s face and true nature, hoping to render revolt and systemic implosion all but inevitable."
Virtually everything in Grand Theft Auto V could be aligned with this philosophical analysis of the culture behind industrial music. The faux-California of GTA V is depicted as being populated exclusively by horrible people who are nothing but caricatures of the worst elements of modern American culture. They are addicted to consumerism, aligned like sheep into dualistic "us vs them" politics, ignorant of the masters of economic capitalism and politics who manipulate them, medicating themselves with violence, sex, meth, alcohol, shallow pop-entertainment, cars and jewelry and left with nothing but nihilistic one liner philosophies about how fucked everything is. The women are egotistical sluts and bimbos, the men are hyper-masculine dysfunctional sociopaths only capable of violence as their means of winning the rat race that is modern America. Rockstar, the developers behind the game, are amplifying every negative viewpoint leveled at our early 21st century culture and reflecting it back at us like a mirror. If it could be said that GTA V is misogynistic, in the ultimate flipping of the script Rockstar has turned the criticism they receive around and pointed the finger back at us, at the culture that gave birth to Grand Theft Auto, and marked us as the inspiration. If the game is overtly violent and obsessed with turning shooting sprees into entertainment, then once again the finger is being pointed back at the culture that gave birth to the art,. Given the tragedy-porn orgy of media and sensationalist pseudo-journalism that accompanies disasters and mass shootings I'd be hard-pressed to try and counter any finger pointing at society.

Oftentimes with shock-entertainment and art a contingent of morality police arise to wail and throw out accusations that music, movies, television, books and videogames can lead people into immorality, violence and rape. Grand Theft Auto V is merely the latest in a long litany of pop culture targets blamed for creating dysfunctional people. Just like all the previous targets it's become obvious to me that it isn't in itself producing or even endorsing the sexism and violence in our society, rather it is an artwork that is chronicling and reflecting the society that produced it. In a way one could possibly argue that it's a type of subversive journalism wrapped in the form of a game. I suspect that when I'm old and I see people write historical analyses of the 2010's decade, GTA V will be mentioned as a an often brutal and occasionally clumsy, yet inspired, critical parody of the time and place it occupied in history and placed along other noteworthy satirical works of the modern era.
 

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Let's Teabag the Bullshit About Violence and Videogames


Just a few days prior to the posting of this blog entry a man named Aaron Alexis entered the Washington D.C. Navy Yard and went on a homicidal rampage that left many people dead and the rest of us wondering how this could happen yet again.

Immediately, as with prior mass shootings, we got a 24 hours a day news cycle of misery-porn dealt to us by cable news stations sensationalizing the story around the clock to boost ratings. In these news cycles we inevitably get so-called experts talking on screen to spread moral panics about whatever forms of media they happen to not like, be it rap music, heavy metal music, rated R action flicks and, of course, videogames.

Videogames have been blamed in every shooting spree I can remember in my lifetime, from the allegations of DOOM helping to train the Columbine shooters to World of Warcraft and Call of Duty being blamed for the massacre in Norway perpetrated by Anders Breivik. Aaron Alexis is no different, with pundits from the NRA and Fox News, as well as many tabloids, claiming that he was influenced by marathon sessions of Call of Duty, simulating his killing techniques over the digital space before enacting it in the reality space.

But is there any truth to the claims that all of these mass shootings of the last 20-ish or so years are being caused by some minds being warped by DOOM, Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty? Seeing as how the videogame industry in the past decade surpassed the movie industry as the top revenue generating entertainment form in the world, surely one should expect there to be quite a few studies linking this extremely popular media to criminal activity if the pundits are correct.

But that's not what we find, anywhere, except in NRA and Fox News statements. At best study after study shows, at most, a correlation showing that the shooters played some M rated violent games. One of the best sources I found on this topic is the following website,  http://videogames.procon.org/, which offers both sides of the argument, along with links to associated studies. Time and time again as I evaluate the arguments, the claims that M rated games cause kids and young men to go shoot people in real life are just rehashes of the same old correlation stats. Meanwhile we have the FBI and other law enforcement agencies releasing figures that violent crime rates overall amongst these demographics are decreasing while the sales trackers of electronic games show that game sales are rapidly increasing since the 90s.

Looking through as many of the sources as I could, nobody could find a causal link between playing a videogame and murdering someone. Law enforcement studies, pediatric and adolescent researchers and psychologists from around the developed world have looked into this for the last 2 decades and have yet found no evidence or hard data linking real life rampages with killing polygonal avatars on a television screen with polygonal bullets. To say that some of these killers playing a game is the cause is about as sound in my opinion as blaming the eating of McDonald's cheeseburgers, because as Americans they likely also did that at least once in their life too.

What is going on here appears to me to be a desperate bid to pin the blame on one easy scapegoat and not evaluate things deeper or deflect criticisms of pet issues by some pundits and so-called "experts". It's such an easy kneejerk for the morality police to simply point the finger at videogames, as they once did at heavy metal, television, gangsta rap and horror flicks, and try and convince people that if we just got rid of this one thing that everything will be alright and we'll have magically solved society's ills overnight.

If only reality were that simple.

The truth is these events are an intricate mess of complicated and hotly debated political issues. Poverty, quality of mental health care and gun access are subjects which are not easy to deal with in a society as polarized as modern America is. Even trying to discuss these topics often leads to shouting matches and accusations of right-wing and left-wing extremism. Without the maturity to deal with these topics in an adult fashion as so many other first world nations have, I fear we'll continue to see these tragedies occur while we do nothing, paralyzed by our own innate tribalism in politics and the easy comforts of rallying behind simple scapegoating answers for complex problems.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Tale of Racism and Privilege

Check your privilege.

If you've ever seriously dove into the world of internet "social justice" circles you've probably seen this term pop up quite often as a silencing weapon in debates and discussions. I myself first encountered this phenomenon last year when I started reading the Atheism+ forums and several Tumblr blogs dedicated to feminism and intersectional/kyriarchy theory.

Inside these blogs and postings I was presented with a theoretical model of society that almost read like some RPG statistics chart designed to calculate how much "Privilege" one has based on inherent traits like gender, skin color, neural capabilities and such. Based on these inherent traits, a person deemed to have less privilege than their discussion partner could, at any moment when they didn't like what they read, simply slap "Check Your Privilege" down as an instant win. This was the perfect derail, an unchallengeable claim (lest ye be banned) that the other has no qualifications and no right to speak to them on a subject because their higher degree of alleged privilege leaves them absolutely blind to the oppressions of the lesser privileged.

In the world of social justice dogmatism, Privilege is the ultimate sin, and many intersectional theorists seem to compete in a never-ending arms race of who has the most negative points against them. If person A is heterosexual white female, she can silence any white, hetero, cisgendered, neurotypical male at will by playing the privilege card. She, in turn, can be instantly silenced in the same fashion by a lesbian or bisexual woman, or any person of non-white ethnicity. Intersectional theorists in this regard can be described as playing a mental game of rock, paper, scissors wherein they try to up the ante over those whom they debate by declaring more oppression. You see, it's not so much the arguments in these debates that matter, because most of these people declare that they have the final answers before the first word was spoken, it's really down to who is making the argument.

To be clear, all of this is not to say that the concept of privilege itself is invalid, because obviously there are people in this world who are more privileged than others. Anyone with a functioning brain can see that in many instances there are people who suffer undue hardships because of the inherent traits they possess like their sexual preference, their ethnicity or any disabilities they live with. But the absurd, almost numerical and chart-like model of determining privilege and oppression utilized by these social justice warrior internet slacktivists has about as much relevance to dealing with real life flesh and blood people as an astrology chart.

It is with this in mind that I want to relate a brief story from my own childhood that deals with the subject of bullying, privilege and race that I think details in a small way why I think the "Check Your Privilege" crowd is fallacious in their thinking and application of their pet theories.

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I was about 8 or 9 years of age when this story begins. I attended elementary school in your typical and boring middle class suburban neighborhood, although the way the districts lined up we got in our fair share of kids from lower classes as well. The school was majority White, although we had a pretty large chunk of Hispanic/Latino kids, some of whom had to be taught in special classes due to being behind the curve in English.

I was one of the "others". If the school ethnicity trends were displayed in pie chart form, I'd be in that tiny little chunk where they mix all the statistically insignificant groups together. I wasn't the only Asian kid in the school, but you probably could count on your hands how many Asian kids there were and not run out fingers.

For the most part I had a pretty normal experience in elementary school. I got along with all the White and Hispanic kids just as well as they got along with each other, and I never really had any issues pop up until 4th grade, when a girl who I'll call "Sally" was placed in my homeroom.

Sally was a rude and spoiled little girl, the kind who seemed to think everyone was beneath her. She was one of the most popular kids in class, always accompanied at lunches and recess by a pack of girls who seemed to function as a cult of gossip, and prone to teasing anyone they could to heighten their own status. In my 4th grade classroom, these girls were the alpha females, and Sally was their leader.

For some reason, which I'll never know, I became a target of Sally and she proceeded to make my school life a living hell that year. It started with the usual kid stuff like making stupid comments and jokes at my expense, but apparently I wasn't reacting enough to Sally's insults so she decided to get really mean and start making racial comments. She started calling me "Ching-Chang" in a sing-songy voice that sounded like the stereotypical Asian-immigrant-with-an-accent tone. Sometimes she would walk by me, pull back at the sides of her eyes and say "Hey look! I can be like Ching-Chang too!", usually to the laughter of her little clique of sycophants.

At first I didn't know how to react to her daily vitriol and race-based bullying. I would sometimes just walk home from school by myself in tears, unable to grasp why I was hated and mocked simply for being what I was born as. I often dreaded going to school because I was always outnumbered by these girls, and Sally seemed to take special delight in tormenting me. Unable to react, I felt completely powerless, and it didn't help that the teachers never seemed to notice just how vile and repulsive Sally's behavior towards me was. As the days and weeks wore on and the abuse continued, I began to develop a very ugly side. It wasn't that I was merely saddened or depressed by the treatment I received, I began to truly foster an intense feeling of hate for another human being for the first time ever.

Sally and her friends brought out a part of myself that was bitter and wished for nothing more than to lash out in revenge with extreme prejudice. I didn't merely want to get Sally back equally; to make her cry like she made me cry so many times. No, I wanted to punch her right in the face, I wanted her to bleed, I wanted her to fucking beg for mercy while I spat on and laughed at her. I fucking HATED that bitch! And make no mistake, I was far from some tomboy who could have bested Sally and her flock of sycophantic little twats by physical violence, in fact I was just as girly as any of them, and their numbers would have surely left me ruined if things came down to hitting.

This internal furnace of anger and hatred brewed within until one day when things came to a head in class and I finally snapped. Out of nowhere I started screaming at Sally from across the room when she was doing that fucking slanted eye thing at me and I just couldn't take it anymore. I don't remember now what I said but the teacher ended up pulling me out of class immediately, and while in the main office I was asked why I had the outburst and a few month's worth of tears and emotions came pouring out as I explained in full detail what had been going on. Following this cathartic release I was still sent home early for disrupting class, but it became the talk of the school over the next week that Sally got pulled out of homeroom that day too after I was gone and was present in a very unpleasant and tear-filled conference with the Vice-Principal.

After this event Sally went out of her way to avoid me. There was never any actual conflict resolution as we never talked and never worked out our differences. I guess you could say Sally's run-in with the school authorities caused her to dial back from outwardly shooting ballistic missiles of hate to being in a state of silent cold war, and for the rest of my 4th grade year we were pretty much dead to each other.


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This pretty much wraps up my tale of this particular episode of my childhood. You may now be asking just what any of it had to do with the commentary on privilege-checking and social justice at the beginning of this blog post.

Well, if I were a proper social justice slacktivist, I would claim that this story was one demonstrating the inherent White Privilege. Sally, the White girl, was using her status and her place in the Privilege pecking order to bully and harass a person of a minority ethnicity. This narrative is true if we're just discussing Sally the individual, but what happens so often in the world of social justice internet slacktivism is that Sally's racist behavior gets applied universally to all the other White people in her peer group. Sally becomes not a case in one mean little girl acting terribly, she becomes an avatar for an entire ethnicity, a case study of the "White +2" offense stat overriding and oppressing the "Asian -2" defense stat.

While most sensible people could see that these broad and sweeping generalizations are a poor methodology to discuss social issues, such tactics are adhered to dogmatically in social justice warrior hubs. These people end up alienating the allies who are alleged to be privileged by default, shaming and demonizing them for things they had no control over, all the while infantilizing and portraying all people of the minority groups as perpetual victims who need special treatment. In this framework, you are not an independent and free-thinking adult with unique circumstances, you are either an oppressor or one of the oppressed.

Social justice warrior 101 would claim that because Sally behaved as someone blinded by her privilege, that all the other White kids in her peer group were blinded by privilege too, regardless of the fact that some of them maybe had abusive parents, came from welfare level poverty or potentially suffered from a learning disability, all of which would, in real life, put them in a less fortunate situation than the one I was raised in.

And in real life, I wasn't the only girl bullied by Sally. Sally also liked to pick on another White girl whom I will call Janet. Janet was a nice girl, but awfully quiet and definitely not a social butterfly. Janet would be considered a geek by most standards, something I knew firsthand because she and I were friends who often sat together at lunch and hung out on the recess yards, playing games and talking about all the normal stuff that grade-school aged girls talk about. Janet, in privilege theory charts, would probably be tied with Sally. Both were White and both came from 2 parent middle class households, but Sally liked to bully Janet just as much as she liked to bully me, and in doing so I seriously doubt most people would legitimately think Janet was more "privileged" than I was.

However, in the world of Tumblr-style social justice, Janet, no matter how much her life was being made miserable in the same fashion mine was, would always be inherently more stained by the original sin of Privilege than me because of our ethnicities. Janet would be accused of inherent superiority and of benefitting from the same racist privilege that permitted Sally to torment me, even though Sally was also tormenting her. If Janet participated in the comments sections of one of these Tumblr blogs or the Atheism+ forums, and dared to question how she was more privileged in this scenario, she would be shot down, attacked and villified for not accepting preconceived dogmas. She would be told that she just doesn't grasp basic social justice 101 and that she needs to be re-educated, and then she would be permabanned in the most visible and attention-seeking way possible, an example to all others just what the price is for speaking heresies.

When one creates hierarchies based on sweeping generalizations it's almost inevitable that they will make gross errors of logic on the individual level with their categorizations. In the narrow-minded world of extreme social justice theories people lose their individuality and become a mere set of comparative statistics to be measured against others. The problem with this is that human interactions and cultures are far too complicated for such easy classifications and simplistic modelling. Every person is a messy and unique mix of experiences, biological influence and nurturing. To try and create an entire social theory based simply on a few universally applied points is an exercise in futility that will inevitably produce very bad results.

I've gone on for too long already to detail why I think it is that the social justice crowd at places like A+ and Tumblr makes these sorts of errors (I may go into that in the future), but I will say I don't think they have bad intent. I think they genuinely believe that they are fighting the good fight against systems which are stacked against people for inherent traits, but they fail to see they are also pre-judging people and categorizing in the same fashion as the sexists, racists and homo/transphobes they claim to be at war against. It's a shame that any and all dissent aimed at these people is decried as being harassing, rape apology, racism and hate, or is silenced before anyone can point out the problems. So often in the world of online social justice slacktivism it's rare that one lets logic and reason interfere with emotions and beliefs.



Sunday, August 25, 2013

My First Time With a Chick

Sometimes living in the Pacific Northwest is a little boring and uneventful if you are an atheist. Yes, we do have our fair share of churches around here, and yes, you will occasionally get the oddball street preacher or door to door Mormon and Jehova's Witness missionaries, but for the most part people around here tend to like to keep their own business to themselves. So it was a bit of a surprise when I came home today from running some errands and discovered something on my door that I thought I would never encounter in my part of the country: a Chick Tract.

For those of you who don't know about these, they are miniature Christian comics produced and distributed by Chick Publications. I had heard people in atheist circles talk about these before, but I always figured that they were more of a Bible-belt, southern US sort of thing and never figured someone would be so kind as to offer me one for free. But hey, as the old saying goes, I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, so thank you anonymous fundie for providing me with some excellent reading material!

I would have posted my own pics of this comic here, but the small size of the book and the crappy daytime lighting in my apartment produced nothing but terrible looking pics, so I'll link to the online version, which is posted here at Chick Publications' website in full, so that you can follow along as I describe my first time with a Chick.
(Might not be safe for mature audiences!)


My date sits on the table, waiting for me, anxious for me to make first contact. Her name is "Camel's in the Tent". Already I'm raising my eyebrow because I'm pretty sure it should be "Camels" and not "Camel's", but that is of little concern right now. I am too eager to get started to worry about a few physical flaws, and she has a cover that needs to be opened ASAP.  

She begins with the tale of a talking camel delicately probing it's snout into the tender slit of a tent door, begging the bearded man to be allowed to enter into this warm place. The camel is permitted to come inside and upon penetrating the tent, he violently forces out the previous occupant, taking the tent by force for himself. So ends the metaphorical foreplay for the tale of conquest and domination that is about to occur. I ready myself for the rough ride to follow.

As I peel each page back, and probe deeper and deeper within, the Chick stimulates my senses with stories of a ravenous band of invaders, who pillage and take all they desire without hesitation or any shame. I feel a faint stirring, an uneasiness, but I must go on. I can't stop now. Her words bring to mind images of pain and sinful disobedience to the invading master who would seek to control me in every way imaginable, and the punishment that follows.

These invaders hold their long, hardened swords and infilitrate with force at every point of entry. I'm told they cause their hosts to lose control as they savage their targets repeatedly. This is all so dangerous and taboo, and I don't know if I should go on, but the next fold calls for me and I find myself gently caressing the Chick as I go further and further, as she reveals that two lords are competing for my submission. If I must be driven to my knees, I can only serve one of these masters, she tells me.

The first master is described as a cruel womanizer who uses his experienced sword with force to take his prize. He likes his women silent, completely submissive and dressed in black coverings from head to toe. This master is reckless and ambitious, with a domineering will and a taste for women of a very young age.

The second master is a father figure, a man with a flaming sword who wants me to get on my knees and beg for him to enter into me, to save me from my own rebellious nature. He offers me a salvation from my own dirtiness and my sins, if only I drink of his blood and feel the taste of his flesh on my tongue.

I cannot take both of these men into my being, I can only choose one, and as we reach the climax, the finality, the Chick indicates that I will only truly save myself by choosing the second master. We reach our conclusion and I lay the Chick down to rest, having opened and seen every part her. Her story has left me feeling dirty, covered in the guilt of my carnal nature because I could make no commitment today. But, this was my first time with a Chick. Perhaps a few more times could help truly discover a longing desire for a master to earn my total and unquestioning submission. Perhaps, I will bend to his will eventually.


And thus ends the story of my first time with a Chick.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Mean Girls of Atheism


Several years ago I watched Mean Girls, a comedy film about the toxic world of high school cliques and drama-rama bullying. Originally I viewed it as a fun and over-exaggerated take on the infighting and "us vs them" mentality of many teenage social situations. Certainly, as with any subject of comedy, there was a degree of inherent truth for the writers to play with, but obviously things were cranked up enough to make for more entertaining plot devices.

Strangely enough I find that as I watch the current infighting within the atheist and skeptic communities online that this film frequently pops back into my mind as a perfect metaphor for the divisive behavior and "with us or against us" bullshit being spewed by certain opinion leaders in the movement. More specifically, Mean Girls seems to encapsulate the girl-on-girl hostility I've seen aimed by women atheists and skeptics at other women in the movement who dare to question their opinions, and it's shocking to me that supposed skeptical thinkers have so easily succumbed to the base primitive instincts for tribal mentality and groupthink, complete with all the slander, mudslinging and "othering" one could expect from a high school lunchroom.

Now let me make something clear here, two years ago when the infamous "elevatorgate" incident occurred in Dublin at an atheist convention I initially fell 100% in line with Rebecca Watson. After all, the only thing she (initially) did was post a video mentioning briefly how uncomfortable she felt being trapped in an enclosed space and propositioned very late at night. As is typical, many people over-reacted, as so much of the internet tends to do about everything. Having been the victim of a real life stalker prior to this, I could empathize with the potential feelings one could have if an unwanted and awkward advance is being made at 3 or 4 in the morning in a space where there is no quick escape. To say that "elevator-guy" chose a bad place and time to make an offer like that is a fair assessment of the situation and I was amazed at the vitriol she recieved from so many for simply saying "guys, don't do that".

However, when Watson then used her platform to shame another female activist, Stef McGraw, as an alleged parrot of misogynist thinking for simply disagreeing with her, all my red flag warning indicators were quickly raised. Disagreement and questioning is misogyny? Disagreement and questioning is a sign of ignorance of basic Feminism101™? So did that make feminism an unquestionable dogma where you HAD to accept certain precepts to qualify or be qualified to speak on? Anyone who dared to question a voice of authority was the enemy? All of this seemed quite Orwellian, and also very reminiscent of the post-Korean War DPRK propaganda of North Korea my grandparents told me about that they witnessed many years ago while living in South Korea. All of this seemed quite contrary to the premise of free-thinking.

In the two years since I've only become more and more angered by the verbal assaults and smears I've seen prominent, smart and awesome women in the atheist and skeptic circles receive from a group of so-called "feminists" who appear to act as the judge, jury and executioner in the court of public opinion whenever they come under any scrutiny for any reason. Much like the Neo-Cons of the last decade who wrapped their political dogmas in imagery of flags and eagles to tar critics of the Iraq war as un-Patriotic terrorist sympathizers, these mean girls were quick to gain the support of a small, yet loud and angry, army of sycophants who would collectively claim that anyone critical of their particular view of feminism was either too stupid to understand Feminism101™, a scarred victim of The Patricarchy, or just a gender-traitoring token chill-girl who was trying to score some dick within the atheist/skeptic community.

This cancerous thinking, which has spread throughout the thought-leaders and followings of Skepchick, the Atheism+ movement, a few of the bloggers at Freethought Blogs (not all of them, alot of FtB avoids the drama bullshit) and their various allies such as Amanda Marcotte, was enough to cause me to drop the feminist label altogether. In the last 2 years I've seen almost all of the catty judgment and vitriol aimed at the other women I associate with online in the movement emanate exclusively from these supposed feminists and their followers.

Like the best Christian dominionists they project their bad behavior onto their critics and always strive to play the victim card over and over. They claim they are trying to stop harassment, all the while harassing the women who don't step in line with their dogmatic bullshit (and ignoring the harassing behaviors of allies like Greg Laden). I have yet to see one fucking worthwhile bit of real activism any of these self-serving twats has done in comparison to those they so often rally against (unless paid speaking at cons multiple times a year is the height of "activism"). Much like political and religious ideologues they have their own buzzwords and unquestionable presuppositions which have been honed into rhetorical weapons used to shut down and silence any objections. After all, one cannot speak heresy within the church and stand in good graces with the congregation, just as one need only dare to raise a politely worded objection to the dogmatic groupthink (or should that be un-think?) in these communities and be labeled as a misogynist, MRA, racist, transphobic, pro-harassment, rape-apologist piece of shit who needs to Check Their Privilege while the moderators gloat over how awesome they are for silencing all dissent in their ranks.

This is shocking behavior for people who claim to be fighting the magical thinking of the religious, the science deniers and those prone to accepting beliefs without question. It is the very height of irrationality and antithetical to skeptical inquiry. When one goes around telling the religious that no idea is beyond questioning and then turning around and allowing no questioning in their own spaces of their precious ideologies, are they actually any better than the Bryan Fischers, Eric Hovinds and Discovery Institutues of the world? When one constantly belittles and hurls accusations of misogyny at any woman who raises objections, I really have to wonder who the true misogynists are, although I think the word misogyny is being over-used and misapplied so often the actual meaning is becoming obscured and devalued. As such I'll simply label them with the term I started out this post with: Mean Girls.

Friday, August 23, 2013

RFoC Version 3.0

Hello people.

Seeing as I've noticed an uptick in hits on this blog in recent weeks, despite not having posted any new content since sometime around March, I've been pondering whether or not to take up writing blog posts again to get extended versions of my rants and opinions out in the open in a format not constrained by the 140 character limit I have in Twitter posts.

Given that this blog has suffered comatose states twice before due to my tendency to ignore it for long stretches (thanks to my classes and intern work), I hardly expect anyone to take me seriously this time around, but I have decided to try for another reboot and see if the third time really is the charm for Room Full of Crazy.

For the new readers a brief bit about me: I am a 20-something Korean-American female living in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. I would probably be best described as a politically left of center, anti-theistic, skeptically inclined, science-loving geek who is probably spotted playing videogames and watching Adult Swim cartoons and anime when I'm not trying to finish a paper or go into a diatribe about some religious or political news story that happens to get under my skin.

Hopefully with my lighter schedule in recent times I'll actually make this blog functional this time around. Please feel free to visit here from time to time, comment on the articles, tell me how much you think my opinion sucks, or whatever, and feel free to message me on Twitter (@16bitheretic). I promise I won't block you for ideological disagreements, but I will freely ridicule you publicly if you act like a stupid fuckwad and say stupid shit. (^_^)

And with all that said, let v. 3.0 commence...