Discrimination Against Atheists

September 27, 2006

Submitted without comment: Brent has a story about how socially accepted American atheists are.

We met a couple that we know slightly, Jim and Adele, mainly because their daughter and our daughter competed a few years ago in local singing contests. Their daughter was an exceptional singer who I could very easily see picking up a record contract if she tried hard enough. Her parents were pretty controlling, though, and they pushed her hard to become a “star”.

In any case, we had not seen them for quite some time and we shook hands and I asked Jim how his not-so-little-anymore girl (she’s 19 now – she was 13 and 14 when we knew them) was doing with her singing and such.

“Don’t know,” said Jim with a little half-smile. “She moved out.”

Adele, her silver cross necklace winking in the fluorescent lights of the big box store, eyes shining with holy fervor, took up the story from her husband. “She’s living with some atheist. Walked away from a million-dollar record deal because of her atheist boyfriend.”

The way she venomously spat out the word “atheist” caused The Inscrutable Wife to step back a half-step, and look at me uncertainly. Even when their daughter the singer was 14 we both knew that she would eventually tell her controlling parents to take a hike and get out on her own. With a voice like hers, I really don’t think that she will ever have any trouble finding work in any bar band in any state for the rest of her life, or even getting a record deal, if that’s what she wants to do.

As for million dollar record deals… Well, we only have the Adele and Jim’s word on that. They were always the type to embellish things a bit beyond what they actually were.


Stop Stop the ACLU

September 27, 2006

Hat-tip to Echidne: anti-liberty organization/blog Stop the ACLU is trumpeting a new bill that underlines the point I made on Monday about enforcing the Constitution. The ACLU explains a little more:

The American Civil Liberties Union today expressed its dismay as the House Judiciary Committee approved H.R. 2679, the “Public Expression of Religion Act of 2005” (PERA). The bill would bar the recovery of attorneys’ fees to those who win lawsuits asserting their fundamental constitutional and civil rights in cases brought under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

“If PERA were to pass, Congress would isolate and discourage enforcement of a specific piece of our Bill of Rights,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “PERA advocates are seriously misguided in their claim of defending religious freedom. This legislation would in fact weaken the very freedom they claim to be protecting. We are deeply disappointed in the committee’s decision to allow PERA to come to a vote.”

Stop the ACLU has a list of talking points in support of the bill, and the ACLU’s rhetoric in opposing it is weak, so let me give a few pointers.

1. Civil liberties must apply to all citizens, not all citizens who can afford to pay for court protection. Just like the US was not a free state until slavery was eliminated, even though the majority of its residents were free, so will it have no real civil liberties if those too poor to avoid a lawyer can’t have them.

2. If I sued someone in a civil court and won, he’d have to pay my legal expenses. Lawsuits against the state shouldn’t be any different; to privilege the government from having to pay implies that violations of freedom of speech and religion are lesser crimes than torts.

3. Historically, civil liberties litigation often relied on outside sources of funding, including governmental payouts. Black victims of racial oppression in the 1950s couldn’t pay legal expenses out of pocket.

4. If taxpayers have the right not to pay for lawsuits they disagree with the results of, then criminals have the right not to pay fines or serve jail terms they disagree with. When a court decides the government violated someone’s freedom, it’s incumbent on the government to comply with the court’s sentence. If you do the crime, you serve the time; similarly, if citizens collectively elect government officials who violate the Constitution, the citizens need to at least pay the litigants’ legal expenses.

New Category: Race

September 26, 2006

Over the last few days, I’ve realized I’ve written many more posts about race and racism than about language or academics, both of which have their own dedicated categories. So now I have to hunt down every post I’ve written and see if I need to add it to the new category.

Arbiters of Normality

September 26, 2006

LizardBreath’s responded to the feedback she received about her whiteness post, including my post about the issue (welcome, all Unfogged readers). She raises a valid point about decentering identity, namely that it makes the default group – in the USA’s case, whites – the arbiter of what’s considered mainstream.

This does not appear to be the case: people who commented in the thread (and others) came down pretty heavily on the side of thinking that this is a bad idea — that whiteness should, rather than being treated as a marked ethnicity, be de-emphasized until it essentially disappears as a concept, and is just what people without any other strong ethnic identity do (eat meatloaf, Mexican, and Chinese food; decorate holiday cookies; dance poorly and without enthusiasm). People with no other ethnic identity just end up partaking in the melting pot of all the various ethnic stuff that’s gotten normalized as American over the years; people with a strong ethnic identity can do the same at will, or not, as they choose. And I can see that maybe this might work: I can’t imagine being able to erase ethnicity at all from people’s minds, but I can see it being possible to sort of erase whiteness — it’s what the discomfort I talked about in the earlier post leads people to want to do.

I’m curious about this, though — doesn’t it still leave people like me, white folks with no other particular ethnicity, as the arbiters of normality? Ordering take-out Chinese food is a normal, ordinary American thing to do, because white folks like me do it. Naming your daughter Tamesha on the other hand, is a weirdo ethnic thing to do, because white people don’t do it. And I come back to thinking that treating being Anglo as a marked ethnicity is necessary. A white boss shouldn’t have any more reason to think that a black employee’s being named Tamesha rather than, oh, Karen is abnormal or bizarre, than a Latina boss would have to think that a white employee’s being named Karen rather than Rosita is abnormal or bizarre — in each case, it’s a wildly unimportant expression of ethnicity.

When I talk about decentering identity, I talk about a lot more than just retreating into some vaguely defined mainstream identity. My individualist project is about much more than that; it’s about deemphasizing conformity to the mainstream, too, to the degree that it’s possible to avoid conforming at all. It all depends on how daring you are with things, but at a minimum, I’m talking about not even caring about the American mainstream to judge people by.

To put it in less pie-in-the-sky terms, decentering ethnic identities will work because any standard of conformity that’s now applied will have to be applied equally to everyone. (White) racists will obviously have plenty to work with – skin color, hair texture, and accent for one – but it’ll be much harder to devise ostensibly neutral standards to exclude minorities.

The problem of what’s considered normal is more or less independent of that. The standard of “ethnic food is okay for OKOP, ethnic names aren’t” is as far as I can tell universal, though obviously, different countries’ dominant ethnic groups disagree on what’s considered “ethnic.”

So it’s probably not that when ethnicity is deemphasized, the dominant group gets to define what’s acceptable – it’s that certain cultural aspects are considered more acceptable to appropriate. And, I think, it’s generally about what is considered easier to change and less central to one’s culture: food is something you can easily mix and change every day, fashion styles slightly less so, hair style even less, and names even less.

Coming back to LizardBreath’s point about names, I therefore don’t think deemphasizing race will change the current situation. Most Americans are native English speakers, so it’s safe to assume that whatever happens, English names will continue dominating. The trick is not to make Jerry as marked as Tyrone, which won’t happen under any circumstance, but to make people stop caring about whether someone is named Jerry or Tyrone.

Asian Values

September 26, 2006

Someone found my blog by Googling asian values lky (LKY is the accepted acronym for Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s de facto monarch); I Googled it myself to see where my blog places on that search, and found a few very good articles about why Lee’s shrill appeal to Asian values as a reason not to infringe on his inalienable right to exercise sovereignty over 4 million people is wrong.

First, in 1997, Amartya Sen wrote a superb article documenting that historically, Asia’s cultures are as democratic and pluralistic as the West, and explaining that there’s no evidence that fascism is good for the economy. Mind you, that was before the 1997 financial crash, which demonstrated that the basic rules of macroeconomics apply to East Asia, too.

Second, Macam Macam wrote a beautiful piece of snark about the Asian values tirade back in 2004:

Then to think that a Western-style, liberal democracy couldn’t work in Asia just because it hadn’t been part of Asian history. That would have been akin to saying that neither Malaysians nor Singaporeans could rule themselves….because they hadn’t done so previously. And I suppose democracy just popped up in the West, fully-formed like an adult, rather than as concept that evolved in theory and practice over time.

Third, Walden Bello of Focus on the Global South wrote a threepart series about authoritarianism and democracy in Southeast Asia; one of its best gems is,

However, as an Asian observer noted: ”When I first came across Lee’s list of supposed Asian values, I saw values that were not so much specific to Asian culture but good British upper class Tory values dear to threatened elites everywhere.” It was not without good reason that one British cabinet minister once referred to Lee, when he still was known as Harry Lee, as the ”best bloody Englishman east of Suez”.

Remember “We are global, and they are global.”


September 26, 2006

Now that the racial Clinton lunch firestorm has subsided, LizardBreath posts her own white person’s race-blogging. She says, in a nutshell, that whiteness is considered unmarked and other skin colors aren’t, and tries solving that the usual way, that is constructing a non-supremacist white identity.

Reading about race, something that comes up fairly often is that a facet of white privilege is the capacity to think of yourself as ethnically-unmarked: brown people have ethnicites which explain important things about their identities, but white people are just people, and anything they do is a statement of their personal identity, free of the constraints of any ethnicity. This clearly happens, and I get what makes this claim to be free of ethnicity a claim of a special privileged status, which obviously white people shouldn’t be claiming.


I haven’t got any useful ideas here, just that I’ve never seen the embarrassingness of an affirmation of one’s own whiteness addressed in the context of freedom-from-ethnicity as a facet of white privilege.

The problem with that project is that it can only work once racial inequality disappears. The concept of an ethnic identity is inherently racist: it sets up an “us” and “them,” and implicitly others “them.” At the very least, it encourages ethnic conformity among “us.” Obviously, this causes way more damage when a dominant group does it than when an oppressed one does it, but in both cases, it’s useful to no one but a few career politicians.

The successes of anti-racism in the US in the last 50 years have typically been based on integration, which in turn is based on destroying the concept of racial identities (especially but not only white). I can’t see how racial equality will improve if it becomes acceptable again for white people to view other whites as OKOP.

The other way of trying to remove the imbalance is to just obliterate the concept of identities. It’s already done superficially in the sense that it’s considered unacceptable to profile people based on race/ethnicity. The most natural way to extend this is to try convincing people that giving a damn about people’s skin color and family name makes about as much sense as giving a damn about their astrological signs.

A Short Interruption

September 26, 2006

We’ll get back to our usual programming after these few announcements:

1. I hate category theory. I tend to go suicidal whenever someone even so much as mentions “category,” “categorical,” “universal property,” “the Yoneda lemma,” “functor,” “natural transformation,” or, except in the context of this blog, “abstract nonsense.”

2. Lately, the post on this blog that gets the most hits is Porn and Rape. Judging by the dearth of comments on that post, I’m starting to think that the people who find the post are looking for real rape porn. So, let me clue you in: there’s no such thing. All the so-called real rape porn these Russian sites talk about is fake. Also, you’re a demented pervert.

3. Kian liked the latest edition of my book’s first chapter, and so did I; five or six more bad chapters to edit, and it’ll be presentable. Hopefully, I’ll get it done this week.