That’s not my religion

I’ve figured out the perfect response to those occasions when someone starts to lecture you on concepts from social justice or critical race theory. You know those discussions. Where they’ve decided that a field that didn’t exist 50 years ago (e.g., African American studies) gets to dictate the meaning of already-defined English words like “racism.” Or where they tell you the fact that you’re wearing certain clothes or hairstyles is “hurtful” or “offensive.”

It’s a very simple response that does not invite argument: “That’s not my religion.”

Perhaps a devout Muslim is offended that as a woman, you’re out in public without a hair covering. If they tell you it offends them, a perfectly reasonable response is, “That’s not my religion.” It acknowledges that they have a set of beliefs you aren’t going to argue with, but firmly asserts that you have a different set of beliefs and are not inclined to live by theirs just so they aren’t offended.

The same phrase and concept can be applied to the following conversations:

“Black people can’t be racist because racism is a combination of prejudice and institutionalized racism.”

That’s not my religion. I believe anyone can be racist.”

“It’s wrong for [insert celebrity name] to wear cornrows because that’s cultural appropriation.”

That’s not my religion. People should wear their hair however they like.”

There is no sense in arguing with people who tell you they’re offended and therefore, you should live your life differently. You’re never going to convince them that their way of looking at the world is, at best, unhelpful. It’s exactly like an argument about religion: it’s a set of strongly held beliefs with no possibility of objective proof. But that doesn’t mean that we have to give in and concede to live by whatever others find most comfortable. We can simply declare that it isn’t our religion and continue living by our own beliefs. I hope you’ll join me in making this response a common one whenever faced with complaints about the hurtfulness of increasingly petty perceived racial slights.

Check your privilege

It’s a phrase thrown around by social justice types, but it’s also a fun game. My contention is that everyone has a set of privileges and while you might think someone else has a better set than you, it is often the case that they’re looking at you and thinking the same thing. Just like people with straight hair who want curly hair and vice versa.

Here are my privileges in no particular order

Privileges of small breasts

  • Bras are for decoration only, and cheap. Can find them for $2.50 on clearance because no one buys my size.
  • No back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, strap pain, constriction pain. No pain at all.
  • No one stares at my chest.
  • I never have to wonder if someone only likes me for my breasts.
  • Every clothing item my size fits and looks “professional”

Privileges of being Asian

  • Anywhere I go, people assume I belong there because Asians are “rule-following.”
  • I am assumed to be competent, especially at subjects like math.
  • If security screening is discretionary, I am never chosen for additional screening.
  • I am never suspected of shoplifting.
  • Even when I haven’t washed my hair in a month or changed clothes in a week (and look utterly homeless) strangers treat me with respect. Sales clerks especially.
  • When I look at a stranger, they smile at me. (Maybe I smile first. I don’t know.)

Privileges of being short

  • I can buy clothes from the children’s section. Usually about 50% less expensive.
  • I am comfortable in economy class and can sleep during long haul flights.
  • I never, ever hit my head on fixtures, doorways, or anything hanging from ceilings.
  • I can outsource all tasks requiring height.

Anyway, this game works for any category you can think of. If you’ve decided that privilege is something only certain categories of people have, you’re wrong. No matter what category you fall into, you have your own set of privileges and you may as well make the most of them instead of being bitter about the privileges others have that you don’t.

Aerie “real” campaign

I had a few Aerie / American Eagle gift cards languishing and I thought, why not put them out of their misery. I opened up the AE website and started shopping for bras. But it was so distracting! A strange shadow here, a fat roll there, and not at all model-sized models sprinkled throughout. It drew my attention from the clothes to the bodies. If Aerie is trying to sell clothes, not the trivially true idea that many body types exist, this is not a good thing: I was unable to concentrate enough on the actual clothes to choose something I liked.*

Confession: I like watching obese bodies move. Have you ever seen those videos where dogs with curtains of hanging skin run in slow motion and all of their skin undulates and flaps with such joyous absurdity? It’s art. Just like how obese bodies move. Think of the fluid dynamics! Some have so much fat on their thighs they have to improvise a waddle. It’s so interesting to watch. It’s nothing sexual, just one of the small pleasures of life like flossing or plunging your hand into a cool sack of dry beans.

I guess what I’m getting at is that model-thin bodies make good models precisely because there are not many ways to be model-thin. There’s a certain uniformity achieved there (for example, look at a Victoria’s Secret catalogue). After a few pages, one automatically starts ignoring the bodies and focusing on the clothes because the bodies are an unchanging stimulus in the environment which naturally fades into the background. On the other hand, there are many different ways to hang an obese amount of fat onto a body. It’s a combinatorics problem: there are n different places on the body to grow fat, and there are k pounds of added fat, so how many ways can we distribute that fat over the body? The variety of fat bodies is probably why most clothing manufacturers don’t bother with that range despite the sizable (no pun intended) market share.

Why use model-thin bodies? Then the observer can concentrate on the clothing and not be distracted by the diversity of ways in which one can carry fat. We can admit that there is a diversity of intelligence levels without insisting that people of all intelligence levels be represented as neurosurgeons or janitors. Surely we can do the same with fat bodies and modeling.

* Yes, one may argue that in the case of gift cards this is great for business, but I just bought accessories to zero out my gift cards and in general, it’s not great to distract your customer from buying your products.

Shaun King: unwitting tool of white supremacy

Shaun King is a black lives matter activist. I follow him because it’s good to see what points others have, especially if I don’t agree with them. He claims to stand against all injustice, but a quick review of his social media posts reveals that he heavily favors painting whites as evil and blacks as innocent victims. He often leaves out relevant facts or neglects to correct previous misstatements if doing so makes the story less enraging.* He also paints incidents as racist when there’s no evidence of racist motivation.** As a result, his followers stay at a low simmer of rage and frequently comment in favor of starting a race war or getting weapons and protecting themselves [against the police].

How does his work benefit white supremacists? They can point to Shaun King’s poorly informed followers (mostly black) and generalize about the ignorance of black Americans. His followers are angry and comment on nearly every post in favor of starting a race war. This fuels the narrative that blacks are hostile, threatening, dangerous, and need to be shot before they can hurt others. Psychology research shows that feeling annoyed, feeling you’re the victim of injustice, makes you more likely to commit antisocial acts. This creates a vicious cycle of law enforcement treating blacks as a larger threat, blacks feeling this is unjustified, and subsequently behaving in antisocial ways that make cops see them as even more dangerous. Relatedly, feeling the world is targeting them makes them commit more criminal acts, also raising the rate of incarceration and contributing to violent crime stats which white supremacists can point at in support of the idea of segregation. they can say “it’s not about racism, it’s about safety.”

An activist truly concerned with improving the lot of black folks wouldn’t focus so heavily on police violence or interracial violence because it’s a relatively small portion of all violence visited upon the black community. Sure, it’s injustice, but isn’t all violence a form of injustice? Shaun King’s work may punish individuals for acts perceived as racist, like Permit Patty, but his activism does more harm than good if he’s helping perpetuate white supremacist stereotypes about black people being ignorant and violent with his deliberately inflammatory and one-sided reporting.

*examples where Shaun King presents stories without all of the facts, in a way that maximizes outrage:

  • He initially reported Antwon Rose‘s age as 13, never corrected this mistake
  • He never reported that Rose and another passenger were suspected shooters in an earlier incident, and that the car had ballistic damage that matched the shooter’s car.
  • Markeis McGlockton‘s girlfriend was parked in handicapped spot and was confronted about this — he presents it as a man threatening someone over “a parking spot,” making the man sound crazy.
  • He says McGlockton was “defending his girl and his kids” without mentioning that he escalated to physical violence first by shoving the man to the ground.
  •  He never mentioned Permit Patty‘s claims that she tried to talk to the girl and her mother to have them be quieter, but the mother cursed her out instead of cooperating, which led to the cops being called.

** examples where Shaun King claims racist motivation without evidence

  • Nia Wilson: “Investigators are still trying to determine what led to the attack. Rojas says they have no information it was racially motivated, but they are not discarding that as a possible motive.
  • Donesha Gowdy: He claims this would never have happened “to a white girl” — implying racism. In the comments, some claimed the cop was also black, further complicating matters.
  • Chicago bait trucks: He calls this “fundamentally racist” — which is not true unless it’s his contention that blacks are less able to avoid committing theft than people of other races.

Being frugal is for everyone

Everyone smart, that is. I read an article claiming that being frugal is for the rich, and I wanted to use it to point out a common fallacy: that because there may be larger societal-level factors at play, it doesn’t matter what the individual does. This simply isn’t true. Sure, making coffee at home instead of buying Starbucks daily won’t make you a billionaire, but it also can’t hurt your finances!

In general, there’s too much of this type of argument. “Look there! A Big Societal Reason that explains the unfortunate situation you find yourself in. See? Not your fault. All you have to do is continue to call it out.” In other words, we are taking from people perhaps the last thing they have: their agency. Even worse: we’re taking any sense of control they have over their own life outcomes. Is it ever useful to have individuals with little power focus on the larger scheme of things that may take generations to fix? Especially to focus on those factors as an excuse to ignore very simple choices that they can make for themselves every day?

I find that there’s no contradiction in saying that the U.S. health care system is one of the most inefficient in the world and also that personal expenses should be cut where possible. The latter won’t fix the former, but I think everyone can agree that a financial setback hurts less when there’s a savings/investment cushion to fall back on. And such a cushion can be built, at least in part, by frugality. Put another way, the fact that you’re saving money by going to clothing swaps rather than J.Crew in no way detracts from whatever work you do towards getting single payer health care enacted. You can do both. What’s harmful is saying “there are problems much larger than my shopping habits” and using that as an excuse to do nothing to reign in unnecessary spending.

The author brings up financial savvy and either growing up with wealth, or having high income as factors which are “glossed over and not given the weight they deserve.” While I agree that it would be useless to take advice on financial independence from a wealthy heiress like Paris Hilton (who has a situation that few could hope to replicate in their own lives) the popularity of bloggers like the Frugalwoods or Millenial Money Man comes from their situations having the feel of replicability. Financial independence blogs generally share that critical piece that not everyone was raised with: information. They take the form of “I did this, and so can you. Here’s how.”

What is the complaint really? That the masses are being deceived into thinking that being frugal like Warren Buffett will make them billionaires like Warren Buffett? That really it isn’t frugality that leads to financial independence, but starting with a high-paying job and parents who taught you about finances? That mitigate, on an the individual level, the harms from the less than stellar economic prospects we’ve inherited from previous generations absolves them of the bad decisions that put us here? I don’t think any of these are true, but even if they were, I wouldn’t take any of them as an excuse to throw aside the useful tool of frugality in favor of complaining about what a sad financial situation we were born into. We can acknowledge a bad system without ignoring the things we can do to make our own lives better.

Why I don’t read sci fi*

I know, what a snob. It seems strange that I don’t, given that science fiction is probably one of the favorite genres of those in my social group. But I have reasons!

Bad writing. People are quick to make fun of the writing abilities of authors of romance novels like 50 Shades of Gray and Twilight and bodice-rippers. But somehow the same formulaic overuse of adverbs and descriptions of things no one cares about is fine in sci-fi.

Unnecessary terminology. I get it. It’s often set on a different planet, in a different universe, where people look different, etc. But it doesn’t matter. The distracting new terminology is never necessary. Remember Dune? I tried to read that book, and the author made up so many new terms for mundane things that there was a glossary. I wish I were joking. No, somehow it was necessary to call a poisoned needle on a thimble a “gom jabbar”.

Endless descriptions. Again, people make fun of Jane Austen novels for going on and on about curtains or clouds. In sci-fi books, the author should describe the scenes to an illustrator and or leave them mostly to the imagination. Long descriptions + bad writing make it hard for this reader to continue.

Lack of compelling characters. The characters are not written in such a way that we can imagine them well or start to care about their struggles. It’s as if after all the effort spent on making up new terms and describing a different world, the author doesn’t have the energy to describe the main characters or give the reader an idea about their motivations or personalities.

Lack of generality. One oft-cited feature of good literature is that there is a timeless portrait of the human condition. It gives us a way to understand ourselves or others better, or see society more clearly or through a different lens. In contrast, science fiction is more of a “what if”. Because it’s speculation on a “what if” situation by a single author, it doesn’t usually give insight beyond what that one person thinks will happen in the event the setting is real. Which makes it less like literature and more like a conspiracy theory.

In the end, reading sci-fi feels to me like a slog through a technical paper written by a crackpot. Maybe amusing for a page or two, but depressing and unreadable after that.

* Asimov is an exception. His work (I, Robot at least) reads more like moral philosophy edge cases illustrated in allegory and he didn’t do anything too frilly with descriptions and terminology.

The ideal society

It’s Japan. Okay, no. But Japan is close. I’m just discussing freedom in this post: public and private freedom. The ideal society has a high degree of private freedom and a low degree of public freedom. Here’s what I mean.

Public freedom

Places with a large degree of public freedom don’t have restrictive laws or social rules about what you can do in public. You can be loud. You can rub yourself against a willing participant. You can spit, smoke, eat, play music, block the street, shout, sing, drink, chew gum. You can go in public without showering first. Hell, in San Francisco you can even inject drugs, piss, masturbate and lay in the street moaning and screaming with few, if any repercussions. I don’t mind if you want to do these things: but do it in privacy. Find a refrigerator box, at least. No one else needs to see it.

Private freedom

In places with a large degree of private freedom, you can do whatever you want in your private life without legal intervention from the state or much in the way of social censure. In Japan, you can have your penis surgically removed, cook it, and feed it to a crowd, and it’s perfectly legal. In privately free places, you can have abortions, get married to someone of the same gender, have sex with a dead chicken and then eat it for dinner*. Whatever you want, as long as it doesn’t involve unwilling victims.

The ideal society

Now, you might think that it’s better to have a society that is free in both public and private spheres. But you’d be wrong. While I agree that government intervention isn’t effective for maintaining a pleasant public experience, places with less public freedom are more pleasant to live in. Think Singapore or Japan. In the latter, I get the feeling that the average person would rather cut off their own arm than get in someone’s way or annoy them in public. This is fantastic. It keeps us from living like lower animals. Imagine if no one was ever in your way. And no one ever made a scene in public unless they were actually dying. No one forces you to listen to their crap music on even worse phone speakers (because they’re doing it on public transit). No one tolerates whiny children. No sexual harassment in the streets. Everyone treats you as if you don’t exist and minimizes their own impact on everyone else.

Generally, people should care less about things that don’t affect them at all. Like what others do in private. In the United States, we care too much about what others do in private. Abortions, gay marriage, laws about what who we can feed our penis meat to…

The ideal is that no one draws anyone’s attention in a negative way. Everyone should live by this principle. It’s easy. In public:

  • Do not make any more noise than necessary
  • Be aware of others, and stay out of their way
  • Do not take up more space than necessary
  • Never be in public with children you cannot control
  • Never be in public smelling strongly of anything
  • Don’t smoke
  • Do not talk to strangers, especially not to sexually harass them

Even in places which are more publicly free, like San Francisco, you’ll find that those of a higher socio-economic status already tend to restrict themselves by the rules above. Maybe we can get someone who appeals to the masses to spread this ideal? Maybe the Kardashians can do a tutorial on how to behave in public?

* This was a real example given in one of my classes.