Thursday, November 16, 2017

How *Not* to Cope with Politics and Stress

The Philadelphia Gay News's Kristina Furia wrote something truly shocking and benighted in her psychology column last week. I've submitted this letter to the paper:

Your editorial was quite correct in saying Donald Trump's election "was unanticipated by many on the left -- a fact that may speak, in part, to why Trump was victorious."

Which is why this statement by Kristina Furia is appallingly bad advice: "It's crucial that we try our best to avoid situations where political discussion with people of opposing views is likely." Has she learned nothing from last November?

I've been repeatedly bemused to hear people say they were "shocked" and "devastated" by what happened that day. I was mildly and momentarily surprised when I saw Trump take the lead -- the polls had given Clinton the advantage, but not a huge one. (Like presumably most people at the Mt. Airy watch party, I'd pushed the button for her, but reluctantly, trading my preference for Jill Stein with someone in California who voted for her in my place.)

Why the different reaction? Because, unlike Furia and many people I know, I make a conscious effort to expose myself to other ideological viewpoints, via both mass and social media. This means not only that I had a better sense of how many people in the country don't share my social and political attitudes but, equally important, an awareness that not everyone interprets Trump's statements and actions the same way.

For instance, many people think he was, in fact, simply engaging in "locker room banter" with Billy Bush, not describing anything he'd actually done to women, let alone against their will. Diana Davison even made a video detailing why she thought so:

When one has an awareness of these different perspectives, an outcome like last November's is not only less surprising, but also less disturbing -- because it doesn't mean millions of people are OK with sexual assault, for instance.

For this reason, Furia's advice isn't just bad civically and democratically, but psychologically too. People following it are more likely to experience psychological trauma when someone they don't like is elected, because their skewed information diet gives them an overly dire sense of what other people's voting behavior signifies.

The grain of truth in her advice is that discussing politics the wrong way certainly can be bad for you. When people approach each other as antagonists who must be defeated, they are apt to end up reinforcing and intensifying their stereotypes of each other. But if, instead, you try to just listen and really understand the other person's point of view, you may well end up both more politically/sociologically knowledgeable and less scared -- even if you disagree with them just as much as before.

On a mass media level, Clay Johnson's book The Information Diet has some good tips on how to un-skew your information intake. A good place everyone can start is to regularly reset your search and social media platforms so they're not just feeding your own biases back to you (the "filter bubble"). If possible, use platforms that don't track you in the first place, like the search engine DuckDuckGo (better for your privacy too).

On a person-to-person level, I'd encourage everyone to look for opportunities for regular conversation with people who don't think alike, such as the Philadelphia Political Agnostics meetup group.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

On Islamophobia, a Miseducated Left Will Aid and Abet the Right

A little while ago Greens4RacialJustice, an arm of the Green Party of the United States' Coordinated Campaign Committee, did a webinar on Combating Islamophobia. I've submitted a comment on the G4RJ site and Green Facebook groups, and now share it here:

I'm concerned about some seriously wrong information that was imparted a few weeks ago during the webinar about combating Islamophobia. The webinar leader said one should never use the term "Islamist," and that this is just a "euphemism" employed by people who don't want to say "Muslim."

I was so taken aback by this incredible statement that I didn't know what to say in the moment and, being conflict-averse and not too good at cutting in, said nothing at the time. But the fact is this statement was seriously miseducational and could jeopardize both our work in combating Islamophobia, and our ability to recruit people from the Muslim community.

Roughly speaking, "Islamist" is to "Muslim" as, in this country, "Religious Right" is to "Christian." It's synonymous with Muslim supremacist, and calling it a euphemism for Muslim is just as wrong-headed as calling Religious Right a euphemism for Christian.

In fact, many Muslims have been actively engaged in combating Islamism from what they consider an authentically Islamic standpoint, and would probably be quite insulted that a group such as ours is saying their religion is synonymous with it.

Further, they correctly point out (in this statement, for instance: that by making this false equation, we are actually aiding and abetting the Islamophobes. Hate groups like Stop Islamization of America advance their agenda by telling people who don't know better that all Muslims support the Islamist agenda and that this is inherent in the religion. By saying essentially the same thing from the other side, we would be doing the alt-right's propaganda work for them.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The Daily Pennsylvanian Needs Some Education About Due Process

An article appearing in yesterday's Daily Pennsylvanian (to which I'll link once it's posted on line), titled "A look at Penn's sexual assault investigation policies," suggests that, at my alma mater, student journalists are now worse than administrators when it comes to understanding due process issues. I wrote them as follows:

Dear editor:
I'm perturbed by your failure to follow the good example set by Penn administrators when it comes to the language used in writing about sexual assault investigations.
You write, "Harley's office uses the word 'complainant' to describe people who reported the incident of sexual harassment or violence and 'respondent' to identify the person the complaint was against." Wrong. They use the word "complainant" to describe someone who alleges an incident of sexual harassment or violence. Your use of "report" and the definite article implies all complaints are of real incidents, disregarding the presumption of innocence. This wrong-headed usage is repeated throughout the article.
The administrators' choice of words reflects at least a degree of respect for due process. Yours should too.

Friday, October 13, 2017

_The Pulse_ Gets It Wrong on #Gamergate

WHYY's The Pulse aired a show today about nerds, which is good. One of the segments relied on Brianna Wu for information about #Gamergate, which isn't. I submitted the following comment on their Facebook page:

Great that you've done an episode on nerds. But you shouldn't have relied on Brianna Wu for information on #Gamergate -- she's very much an interested party and has been a major part of the disinformation campaign about this movement, which feminist scholar Christina Hoff Sommers has described as "a consumer uprising" against unethical and authoritarian practices in video game journalism and criticism. (You can hear her discuss it at length here: Contrary to the disinformation, Gamergaters are video gamers from all walks of life and of all genders, ethnicities, and political persuasions. They've received just as much harassment on line as opponents of #Gamergate, and quantitative studies have shown that tweets associated with the hashtag are no more likely to be abusive than tweets are overall. A particularly common form of abuse is anti-Gamergaters' "silencing" female, POC, and GBT Gamergaters by accusing them of not being who they say they are. A group of GGers targeted by this kind of abuse put together a video in response: "Giving Voice to the Voiceless: The #NotYourShield Project":

Saturday, September 30, 2017

To Enable, or Not to Enable?

There was a rally today at the corner in Mt. Airy where I often sell One Step Away newspapers. P'nai Or Philadelphia gathered to promote anti-hunger efforts in the community. I stood with them for a while as they took turns speaking, singing, chanting, and reading certain lines about social justice from scripture.

As they started to head toward another destination, one of them asked if I could take some pictures of the procession before it was gone, adding that she couldn't as she lent me her camera phone. As I was in a good mood I obliged her.

Not long after she thanked me and joined the procession, I started to feel some resentment. When she'd said she couldn't take the pictures herself -- and I could see that her hands weren't full -- I'd inferred that this was for religious reasons. In retrospect I felt a little used and started thinking I should have insisted in getting the photo credit if I was taking the pictures.

Then I recalled a line of thought I'd had a few years ago after hearing someone on the radio recount how, as a boy, he'd been a paid "goy" for an elderly Jewish man in his neighborhood. I'd felt that if the man chose to believe something that inconvenienced him, he should experience its full consequence himself, rather than paying someone who didn't share his belief to relieve of him of it. It  seemed hypocritical, and I imagined that if I were in that boy's position, I would decline the job.

So I started having the same feelings again in the wake of today's experience. If I accommodate someone in this way, am I enabling irrationality? Would I be doing that person a better turn if I said to her, "No, I want you to experience the inconvenience you've chosen for yourself, so I'll leave you to it"? That's the way I'm leaning right now.

Friday, August 25, 2017

KSU Earns FIRE’s Highest Free Speech Rating

MANHATTAN, Kan., Aug. 25, 2017 — The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education is pleased to announce that Kansas State University has earned FIRE’s highest, “green light” rating for free speech. In consultation with FIRE, the university revised its speech-related policies to fully reflect the university’s commitment to free speech. Kansas State University further affirmed its commitment to free expression by adopting a statement similar to the University of Chicago’s laudable statement on academic freedom. 
“This is an important, reaffirming moment for our university,” said Cheryl Strecker, general counsel for the university. “We are committed to our values of inclusion, diversity, anti-discrimination and nonviolence. At the same time, our principles and policies reflect the university’s longstanding commitment to free speech, a commitment that now is also formally expressed in our Statement on Free Speech and Expression. I hope that we can serve as a leader on this front as we and other institutions face the challenges of our day.”
The university became the 33rd green light institution in FIRE’s Spotlight database of nearly 450 colleges and universities, and the third institution to earn a green light this summer. This positive trend is the result of increased cooperation between students, faculty, administrators, and FIRE. In August, Strecker informed FIRE not only that the university had reworded its policies, but also that it had adopted a robust statement of commitment to free speech.
Kansas State University joins a growing list of colleges and universities that have adopted free speech policy statements that closely mirror the University of Chicago’s “Report of the Committee on Freedom of Expression,” better known as the “Chicago Statement.” Kansas State University’s version expands upon the Chicago Statement, acknowledging not only that “the ideas of different members of the University community will often and quite naturally conflict,” but also that “some individuals’ ideas will even conflict with the University’s values and principles.” 
The university’s statement further provides that freedom of speech is “one of our most cherished rights, protected by the United States Constitution. Without unwavering protection of that right, our society would suffer, and the vulnerable in our society would suffer the most. Progress such as civil rights movements and the resulting gains would not be possible.”
“With its robust new free speech statement and its other policy revisions, Kansas State has established itself as a leader in championing the free speech rights of its students and faculty,” said Samantha Harris, FIRE’s vice president of policy research. “We could not be happier to welcome Kansas State University to our list of green light institutions.”
The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.
Daniel Burnett, Communications Manager, FIRE
Jennifer Tidball, Director of Communications and Marketing, Kansas State University: 785-532-2535;
Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE)
510 Walnut Street | Suite 1250 | Philadelphia, PA 19106

Good Video on Stephan Molyneux and Defooing

I discovered this video today and think it's an excellent introduction to what's wrong with Stephan Molyneux and why I advise people to keep their distance from him and refrain from giving him publicity. The group that produced it, FDR Liberated, is a place people can explore anarchocapitalist ideas without being subject to cultic manipulations.

In the International Cultic Studies Association, I've known two couples who were defooed by their children at Molyneux's instigation. Fortunately one subsequently escaped his influence and has resumed relations with her family. I like to think it may have something to do with her having eagerly received the information on mind control I brought to their discussion of Anthem.

Rick Ross on Cultism and the Trump Movement

In this recent interview, Cult Education Institute founder Rick Ross discusses cult-like aspects of the Trump movement:

Two comments:
1) Like a number of others lately, Ross misuses the term "cognitive dissonance." What he's actually describing is cognitive dissonance *avoidance*; if hardcore Trump followers actually experienced cognitive dissonance (as defined here:, their loyalty wouldn't be so stable.
2) He mentions the option of ordering things through amazon. If you care about labor rights, don't. Best is, the online store of Powell's City of Books in Portland, OR, a union shop; if you order through ILWU Local 5's portal, a commission will go to their strike fund. If you set up as a Powell Partner (where state regulations make that feasible -- unfortunately they don't in PA), you'll get a commission when someone orders through your portal.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

CREDO Too Credulous

Today I received an email from CREDO Mobile asking me to sign a petition titled "Betsy DeVos: Stand with survivors of sexual assault." I responded by contacting CREDO with this message:

You should remove this petition because it misrepresents both proposed policy changes and the facts on which those proposals are based.

Contrary to the accompanying
text, no one at DEd is considering taking any rights away from those making complaints of sexual assault on college campuses. Rather, the proposed changes would simply restore Constitutional protections traditionally enjoyed by the accused which have been drastically eroded by the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter issued by President Obama's Education Department Office of Civil Rights. There have now been no fewer than 53 cases in which colleges and universities, acting under the pressure of the DCL out of fear of losing Title IX funds, have been ruled by courts to have violated accused students' due process rights ( In the process, actual victims of sexual assault have also suffered, because these mishandled cases promote cynicism about all such accusations, including the true ones.

Part of the means by which such unconstitutional policies have been promoted has been bogus statistics, such as the "1 in 5" figure cited on the petition page ( Leaving aside purely ethical questions, such fearmongering does college women a disservice by creating needless anxiety, and potentially even dissuading some from attending college.