One reader's rave

"Thanks for the newspaper with your book review. I can’t tell you how impressed I am with this terrific piece of writing. It is beautiful, complex, scholarly. Only sorry Mr. Freire cannot read it!" -- Ailene

Cassie Jaye, the day before I met her at the _Red Pill_ world premiere

Thursday, July 09, 2020

The lesson urged on conservatives here applies to progressives too, as I've discussed previously ( you can't reliably predict how justices will decide cases. And even when you get a "win," it's not a durable win if it's based on a tortured interpretation of the law. Real progress on social issues requires winning in the court of public opinion, as reflected ultimately in legislation; trying to get by on litigation alone evokes reactance on the part of the unconvinced majority, creating a needless obstacle to progress. Indeed, I think this is one of the biggest reasons for the culture wars which have played such a major role in retarding the development of working-class consciousness in the US.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

The First Amendment: It's Not Just for Conservatives

Val Wilde has posted an article on the Patheos Friendly Atheist blog titled "Wedding Photographer Sues For 'Artistic Freedom' to Deny Service to Gay Couples." Like many others, her habit of viewing everything through an identitarian lens prevents her grasping the First Amendment issues involved. I try to explain them in my comment, copied below.

Okay, so imagine I'm a photographer and I advertise that I do photographs of graduation ceremonies, including graduations from recovery programs. Now a young man comes to me and says, "I've almost completed this program my pastor recommended to me. In ten days I'll be graduating reparative therapy, freed from homosexuality through Christ, and I'd like to hire you to photograph the ceremony!"

I would feel absolutely entitled to say, "Sorry, you'll have to find someone else. I believe it's a dangerous delusion to think you can change your sexual orientation, and I'm not going to create art promoting the idea that you can."

Now suppose this man sues me, claiming I've discriminated against him based on his identity as a born-again Christian, since I'm willing to take graduation pictures for other people. I defend myself by saying I'm not discriminating against him, I'm discriminating against an idea I don't believe in. After all, I'm perfectly willing to photograph his graduation from other kinds of programs; and if a relative of his asked to commission me to photograph his "ex-gay" ceremony, I'd still refuse, even if the relative isn't born-again herself. So it's the idea I'm discriminating against, not the person.

In defending myself in this way, I'm asserting my First Amendment right to freedom from compelled speech, just as the photographer in this case is (even if he prefers to use the language of religious liberty).

To see this argument presented with more legal precision, read what the First Amendment Lawyers Association had to say about the Masterpiece Cakeshop case:

Friday, July 03, 2020

My Most Interesting Lies

Someone on Quora asked, "What was your most convincing lie?" Here's the answer I gave (at

Strictly speaking, any lie that is believed is 100% convincing, so all successful lies are equally convincing. So the more interesting question would be, what's the lie I've told that's most impressive for having been believed?

Two stand out. In 2002, I decided to volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement, which tries to help Palestinians survive the effects of occupation by providing nonviolent accompaniment as nationals of powerful states. It was suggested that when volunteers arrived in Israel, they should say they're tourists.  But since I'd never been interested in tourism, I doubted I'd be convincing if I said that.

To avoid raising suspicion, I had decided to bring only non-political reading matter on the trip. It so happened two books I'd purchased recently were on the subject of alleged paranormal phenomena, so I chose them to bring along. Prompted by something my landlord said when I told him this, I also made this my cover story: I had come to the country to do paranormal investigations.

I dressed the part by wearing every suitable button in my possession: Mr. Spock, Men in Black II, and The SETI League. While on the shuttle from the plane to Tel Aviv Airport, a young Israeli told me he agreed with my button. I asked which one and he said, "All of them." I smiled.

When I arrived in the building, sure enough I was approached and asked if I could answer a few questions. So I was taken into a room where two airport police asked me about my plans. It seemed like ten minutes but perhaps only felt that way because I was tense. I made sure to put the book I'd just started reading on a filing cabinet near my seat, with the binding facing the two men. I relished the irony of the title in this context: The Trickster and the Paranormal.

I clearly made them comfortable. Toward the end one of them asked if I could bend spoons. We both laughed as I said, "No, I thought that was what your people did!"

The other time was in 2010, when I was invited to attend a Meetup group's book discussion of Ayn Rand's novella _Anthem_. I'd joined this group online when all I knew was that it described itself as a philosophy club. I had subsequently figured out it was actually an arm of an Internet-based anarcho-capitalist cult called Freedomain Radio, whose leader is known for always trying to persuade followers that their families of origin are "toxic" and should be cut off ("de-FOOed").

Years earlier I'd taken an intellectual interest in Rand's ideas and had read some of her works, including _Anthem_. More recently I'd taken an interest in the ideas of Robert Jay Lifton, considered foundational for the cultic studies field, and it occurred to me that the society depicted in the book illustrates several parts of Lifton's eight-point description of ideological totalism. So I re-read it and composed a review of the book in these terms to present at the meeting. I made enough copies for all who'd RSVPed, plus one for myself to refer to during the discussion.

More than the number who'd RSVPed showed up, however. It was a good thing I'd held on to one copy of the review, because I recognized (from her name and picture on the group's Meetup page) one of those who arrived later as the daughter of one of the de-FOOed parents with whom I was acquainted. She was eager to learn "how to tell who's mind-controlled," and I eagerly gave her the review.

I didn't tell any actual lies at this meeting, but many half-truths. For instance, I truthfully related to Emily how I'd been involved in a socialist political cult in my adolescence. I just didn't mention the part about my still being a socialist. As the conversation splintered and drifted away from the book, it became increasingly indistinguishable from others I'd taken part in, like my atheist Meetup group, and my tension lessened as fitting in became less calculated.

Some months later I learned this local branch of the cult had been discontinued by its organizer. I couldn't tell whether my intervention had contributed to this development, but I like to think it may have, by providing the members with some psycho-education in a context where they weren't defensive since it didn't appear to be aimed at their group. On one subsequent occasion Emily very briefly dropped in on a monthly local meeting of the International Cultic Studies Association (where I'd met the de-FOOed parents) with a bunch of her friends to say hello to her mother; there was no indication whether she recognized me sitting at the same table.

Metro's Mystery Mongering

Wednesday's issue of Metro featured an interview with Giorgio Tsoukalos, described as "the leading expert and co-executive producer of the television series 'Ancient Aliens.'" I've written the following letter in response:

"I am dismayed by your uncritical interview with mystery monger Giorgio Tsoukalos in Wednesday's edition. The only reason he sees mysteries is that he doesn't bother to do any actual research, only reading books by other mystery mongers before visiting places.

"Concerning various ancient structures, he says 'many people do not know how they were built,' but as noted in the Wikipedia article on Puma Punku, 'Current understanding of this complex is limited due to its age, the lack of a written record, and the current deteriorated state of the structures due to treasure hunting, looting, stone mining for building stone and railroad ballast, and natural weathering.' In other words, if there's any mystery about these sites, it's the  result of human misdeeds, not alien intervention. And if 'you don't make sense of anything' when you visit them, it's only because, like Tsoukalos, you haven't bothered to learn what the real researchers -- scientists -- have already figured out.

"His lack of intellectual seriousness is revealed when he calls the Big Dipper 'a constellation that can hardly ever be seen.' Excuse me, but I've seen it countless times; it's one of the easiest ones to see. And he claims that various 'mysterious' sites are 'millions of kilometers apart.' A million kilometers is more than twice the distance from the Earth to the Moon, so enough said about that.

"Fundamentally, this kind of credulousness reflects a lack of faith in humanity and a childish wish for someone bigger to do things for us. That's the kind of attitude we have to overcome, if we as a species are to overcome the crises we face today."

The point about how the "ancient astronauts" quasi-religion is at odds with humanism was made to me by my father when, as an adolescent, I enthusiastically told him about what I'd read in Erich von Daniken's _Chariots of the Gods?_. I was initially put off by his reaction but later realized the truth of it.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Wednesday of last week, having been at a couple in-person protests before deciding not to do any more, I got myself tested for COVID-19. A couple days ago my doctor called to tell me the result was negative.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

This Fathers' Day, Give More Than a Tie

For Fathers' Day, please watch this video and then consider supporting the launch of a Canadian Center for Men and Families in Vancouver! Introducing CCMF Vancouver via @YouTube

Saturday, June 20, 2020

A Foolish Thing to Do, and a Wrong-Headed One Too

Krystal Ball: "Relying on the courts as the sole focus of your political project is a very foolish thing to do." Progressives, take heed! . . It's not just that justices won't reliably vote the way you expect them to. It's that they shouldn't do so, and it's undemocratic to try to rig the courts so that they will. And that sort of mischief has major knock-on effects: it can be held largely responsible for the escalation of the US culture wars of recent decades, because nothing gets people riled up more than the sense that their democratic choices have been nullified by unelected judges acting as legislators. That polarization has in turn played a big role in retarding the development of working-class consciousness by keeping people distracted with cultural issues. . At the ultimate root of this politicization of the courts is our archaic first-past-the-post voting system, which pushes people into just two parties, each of which inevitably sees judicial appointments as an issue it can campaign and win elections on. I don't think it's coincidental we don't hear about comparable levels of political polarization or complaints about judicial activism in the countries of continental Europe, which all employ some variety of proportional representation instead of first-past-the-post winner-take-all elections.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Self-Improvement vs. Social Improvement -- or Self-Improvement FOR Social Improvement?

Coleman Hughes asks, "Is it racist to observe that whites are more likely to drive drunk than blacks are?"

Communicative impotence isn't the Right's only problem here, however. The more fundamental one is its hostility, not only to clientelist non-solutions, but also to universalist real solutions of either a reformist social-democratic or a revolutionary socialist variety. The greatest value of constructive behavioral advice is that it not only helps people to do better within the present system, but helps them build capacity for organizing to replace it with something qualitatively better.