A row has erupted in the atheist/sceptic community over a female member’s complaints and Richard Dawkins’ response to them. Basically Rebecca Watson, a commenter on Skepchick (a sceptic blog), made a video blog about her experience at an atheist conference. She had made a point in a panel discussion about women being discouraged from getting involved in the sceptic community because they were constantly hit on. She mentioned in her vlog that after being in the hotel bar until 4am she went to bed. A man followed her into the lift and invited her back to his room. The vlog can be found here and hopefully the link leads straight to the relevant part of the video.
Rebecca’s message basically boils down to, “hey, it’s a bit creepy, don’t do it guys.” So far, not really all that controversial. Unfortunately Richard Dawkins decided to comment. Basically he wrote very sarcastically about the bad things that happen to Muslim women and how Rebecca Watson had nothing to complain about. To be fair to him, he did admit that Muslim women having it worse is not in any way a legitimate argument. What I find interesting though is the need to make a viciously sarcastic comment about what was a very mild complaint. This might have been appropriate if she had made a series of hyperbolic comments. In fact she was more restrained than I suspect I would have been. “Guys, don’t do that, it makes me incredibly uncomfortable…” seems to be an entirely reasonable response.
Anyway, my interest in Richard Dawkins is limited. I have lost respect for the man, but what I found really interesting about this case is the responses from men in general. Rebecca Watson has mentioned getting threats of rape (including from members of the atheist community), I’ve seen a wide variety of offensive responses myself on blogs and forums.
I find it disturbing that when a woman makes some sort of fairly mild complaint about male behaviour, it gets treated as some kind of hysterical overreaction. Sure people have a point that propositioning someone in a lift is not all that bad on a grand scale of things. That’s not what’s going on though. Instead people take a very mild complaint about something that is definitely worth complaining about, even if it isn’t the end of the world and treat it as if the complainer has gone off in a hysterical rant about how every man is a rapist. It’s an interesting phenomenon because it involves people who, I am sure, would swear blind that they believe in gender equality essentially characterising mild comments about male behaviour as women engaging in hysterics.
I think this is indicative of a major problem with getting men onside with certain feminist (and other oppressed groups’) issues. That men don’t understand some of the problems affecting women. They dismiss them based on their own experiences and this simply doesn’t work because those experiences are different. I am a large, fit male and so have never felt trapped with someone who could physically overpower me and wants to have sex with me…
Obviously, people formulate an initial opinion based on their own experience. Normally it wouldn’t even occur to me that a woman might feel physically threatened by me. After all, like most men, I am not a violent person and am not trying to intimidate anyone. However, many people’s problem is in accommodating extra information. It’s not unreasonable to use your own experiences, it is unreasonable to dismiss other people’s experiences when they are going to have a better understanding of the circumstances. There is a need for simple empathy and understanding.
Really my point here boils down to this (unfortunately I suspect I will be preaching to the converted). The way that people tend to dismiss women’s concerns as overblown is indicative of deeper problems in societal attitudes towards them, and it’s always worth examining your own reactions to the concerns of any minority group.
Sometimes people will indeed overreact and be paranoid. Keeping with the case of propositioning people for sex, it’s an incredibly complicated area and people’s opinions on acceptable behaviour vary wildly. However, if you don’t try to empathise and understand things from others’ perspective before coming to such a conclusion, then you will be on the wrong side of the argument. So, watch yourself.
Edit: I’ve been directed to this blog post on privilege and perception and it’s definitely worth a read.
I’m not sure I have many regular readers, but apologies to them for the long hiatus. My exam period, along with a couple of other stresses left me with little energy for blogging and, more importantly, no inspiration. Hopefully normal service can now resume.
So, today there were significant public sector strikes over the cuts to pension provisions. Normally I wouldn’t bother with this topic because the arguments are being rehashed over and over again by better writers than me. I’m making an exception because there seems to be a significant number of people who are furious about cuts because the financial crisis was, ‘all the bankers’ fault and if it weren’t for them we wouldn’t be having any significant problems and there would be no need to cut entitlements for public sector workers.’ To be honest I’m not convinced they use the word ‘entitlement,’ but I’m sure you get the gist.
Really I just want to address the idea that everything is the fault of the bankers. First though, I am going to put in a proviso, because this post is going to make me feel like a neo-liberal rightwing type.
Bankers did indeed contribute to fucking up of our economy, and yes they got off much more lightly than they should have. In my view the government’s failure to fully separate retail and investment banking operations is exceptionally foolish. However, beyond better regulation, I’m not sure how they could be punished more than they were without some fundamentally dangerous changes to our legal system.
Anyway, here is why blaming the bankers annoys me. Firstly, the cause of the financial crisis was subprime lending. Banks lent money to people who couldn’t pay it back when house prices fell. The bankers should have known better, they are meant to be the financial experts; it is undeniable that they should take a large share of the blame. That doesn’t mean no one else is to blame though. It’s all very well to say that they shouldn’t have lent money, but equally people shouldn’t have borrowed it. Borrowers have to take on a certain level of responsibility too.
Secondly, we were running a significant budget deficit even at the height of an economic boom. Much of the UK’s growth in recent years has been debt fuelled. If you’re borrowing to consume then eventually you are going to hit a point where you have to stop borrowing because otherwise people won’t lend to you. In a democratic country people have to accept responsibility for their government’s borrowing. If we had been using the boom to pay down our debt we would be in a far better situation than we are now.
Finally, regardless of blame reality needs to be faced. In 2010 the UK had a budget deficit equal to over 10% of GDP. It seems that many people *cough*Johann Hari *cough* don’t understand the difference between a budget deficit and government debt. They say that the government is trying to reduce our debt and this is unnecessary because our debt is not at dangerous levels by international standards. That’s actually partially true, if our debt was stable then it would be unproblematic. What these people don’t seem to want to realise though is that actually the government is trying to reduce our deficit – the amount by which our debt changes each year. They’re not even trying to eliminate it, just shrink it, so our debt will be growing more slowly. Last year the budget deficit meant that the debt owed by UK taxpayers (i.e. us) went up by over £2000 per person. Remember, that’s on top of personal debt and it has to be paid back at some point.
The private sector has already taken a massive hit from the recession while the public sector has been largely insulated and enjoy undeniably better benefits and arguably better pay.* Why should the private sector pay still more for the public sector to continue to enjoy better conditions? I’m not being vindictive, the public sector provides vitally important services to this country. I just don’t see why the rest of the country should have to doubly suffer to pay to insulate it from the crisis.
So, simple conclusion, yes we all dislike what bankers did but that is not an argument against current government economic policy.
*I am finding conflicting sources on this. The consensus seems to be that public sector workers definitely get more pay on average but the comparison may not be meaningful because of difficulties comparing jobs.
When I started writing this my flatmate asked me, “are you going to be writing about the boring kind or the good kind?” Luckily this post is all about the ‘good’ kind of pirate. I have nothing but respect for the ceaseless struggle of copyright holders. Endeavouring to protect us from the horrors of spotty teenagers torrenting their products, but let’s face it: desperate men with AK 47s are much more exciting.
The coolest kind of pirates.
Somali pirates have repeatedly made the for hijacking various ships and holding them and their crews to ransom. Of course the ransom money is not actually the main cost of piracy. You also have to take into account higher insurance premiums, less efficient routing of ships and the deployment of naval assets. Altogether, the cost of Somali piracy was estimated at around $10 billion in 2010. That’s more than one Macedonia or roughly 1/16th of an NHS.
This is a huge amount of money and it’s set to increase. So, what should be done about it? Unfortunately Somalia is a failed state where there are virtually no opportunities available to people to make an honest living. Crime is rife, warlords rove, European fishing vessels deplete their stocks and there is the occasional foreign invasion. Given the difficulty of even eking out a living as a subsistence farmer is it any surprise that many Somalians are keen on becoming pirates? It’s risky, sure, but life is cheap over there and the potential rewards are very high.
I see three ways of solving the problem. Firstly we could try to build up a government which could then clamp down on piracy and bring stability. Basically use our wallets and/or military might to turn Somalia from an anarchic shithole into a functioning state. Unfortunately we’re not very good at this kind of thing. The war in Afghanistan has cost the US alone over $400 billion so far and I’m pretty sceptical about the country’s prospects once the US withdraws. The Somali government barely controls any land outside the capital and is in the middle of a civil war with the Islamic Al-Shabaab group. Basically we have a choice between ruling the place ourselves, backing a nutty Islamist group or backing a government that doesn’t deserve the name. None of those sound like particularly viable options to me. So, a superficially attractive option but not one we could actually pull off.
I suppose military force is also a possibility. We have lots of warships, the Somali pirates don’t. It would be pretty easy to simply sail along the coast blowing places up until they stopped bothering our ships. The simplicity of this approach is kind of attractive. Those who live by the sword die by the sword etc. Unfortunately I have some moral qualms about mass murder as a response to piracy. It feels like the kind of solution that was only morally acceptable in the 18th century and I like to think we’re at least a little better than that. It would also be horrendously expensive. A cruise missile costs about £500,000. Compare this to the cost of a small boat with an outboard motor and a few AK-47s. Military force would be even more horrendously uneconomic than building a government.
Cheap Not Cheap
The third option may well be the best. It’s a little like the first option, but with a bit of Terry Pratchett added in. Given the government’s are failures and the immorality (not to mention cost) of bombing Somalia into submission, why not go for a more market-capitalist solution and back the pirates? Find some pirate leaders we can work with and offer them a carrot and stick approach. Western governments could turn a blind eye to their activities but attack smaller pirate groups and rogues. This would encourage the consolidation of pirates into larger groups with more organisation and leaders. This is a situation we could work with. Big pirate groups could be played off against each other. With careful support and nurturing and maybe the odd knife in the back we could create one overarching pirate organisation. A kind of Guild of Pirates.
That may sound like a horrendous idea, but it’s not. After all, what is a government but an organisation with a monopoly on the use of force? We’d have finally created a government in Somalia. This organisation could improve the lives of normal Somalis. Their organisation would require infrastructure, provide courts and raise revenue by taxing (extorting) the actual pirates. Now, I admit I’m not 100% sure that this would solve the problem of piracy, but it would probably improve the lives of individual Somalis. When it comes down to it, Somali pirates don’t actually tend to kill people, they just cost us money. Considering the colonial legacy the Western world left Somalia with and the way our fishing vessels continue to deplete their waters of fish it’s the least we could do for them. Our own costs could be reduced by a lower naval presence and the ability to buy ‘insurance’ direct from the pirates.
Ok, I accept that helping pirates to get more organised is not going to be a popular strategy unless it also helped eliminate them. So, it’s worth remembering, organised pirates are much much easier to negotiate with (and to threaten). Their leaders with much more to lose, there are locations that are actually worth targeting and people capable of following through on agreements.
In the end the pirates are, as far as I can see, basically capitalists and in this world of free-market economic orthodoxy perhaps it would be appropriate to back them over the irrelevant* or the ideologues.** It’s not like Western governments don’t have a long history of working with thoroughly unpleasant people to protect ‘capitalism’.
*The central ‘government’
What if the Rapture actually had happened? Find out:
I should probably apologise, I just couldn’t resist having another dig. I suppose the Rapture believers should be kind of admired though. Why? Well it’s quite simple. They are a very rare example of the highly religious offering a testable hypothesis. Almost all of the time religions fail to offer any predictions about future events that can actually be tested. These people who insist on a particular day for the end of the world are putting their faith to the test in a way that others are either unwilling or unable to emulate.
I’m quite interested in the reactions of those whose predictions have failed though. Apparently Harold Camping, who predicted the Raputre, was ‘flabbergasted’. I’d like to know his (as yet unrevealed) explanation and also how his followers will react. Apparently he already has one failed prediction from the 1990s, and that doesn’t seem to have dented his popularity.
People may or may not be aware, but this evening the Rapture will apparently be taking place. So today should be a day of joy for the highly devout and one of wailing and gnashing of teeth for us horrid atheist types (not to mention the few billions of non-Christian religious people).
What is it?
As with most issues of religion the answer to this question depends very much on who you ask. However, the ‘orthodox’ view is essentially that those who are ‘in Christ’ will float into the air to meet Jesus as he comes down from heaven. They will then all float away together to live in paradise. (Un)fortunately this belief is limited to only some of the more fundamentalist evangelical Christians, so if you’re Church of England in that vague way that most English people seem to be then you may well be out of luck.
When is it?
Hopefully you have been paying attention in which case you know it’ll happen today. Of course that’s just according to one guy’s careful interpretation of the bible, but he does apparently have quite a few followers and I’m sure he’s thought it through very carefully. I’ve heard 6pm is the time it’ll happen, whether that’s GMT or not I don’t know. The bible is lamentably unclear on modern day timezones.
In case Mr Camping proves to have been incorrect, I have a link to a Rapture Index which measures rapture predicting events worldwide to help Christians know how close we are. Please use this ‘Prophetic Speedometer of end-time activity’ responsibly.
What does it mean for me?
Well you’re probably one of the vast majority of people who will be insufficiently devout to be raptured. A ‘great tribulation’ is predicted to follow on from it. This sounds quite unpleasant and indeed that is exactly what it is. The Rapture is kind of the first class ticket to heaven. There will be lots of war, disease, disasters and such and the anti-Christ (probably one of Barack Obama and the Pope I would imagine) will reveal himself. It’s really going to be pretty miserable for all of us. That being said, conversion is still possible, so not all hope is lost.
What does it mean for everyone else?
Rapture believers are pretty concentrated in the USA, so I imagine that the rest of the world would feel little direct effect from it. However, a significant chunk of the US’ population disappearing would probably lead to an economic collapse which is obviously going to suck for all of us. My advice is to remember, we are British (well, many of us) and so keep calm and carry on! On the plus side our unemployment problems would probably be solved.
I’m scared vicar! What should I do?
- Convert. Immediately! Just make sure you convert into the right branch of Christianity. I don’t think Catholicism cuts it for the Rapture.
- Make some money off it.
- Join the anti-Christ’s legions and hope you don’t get eaten by a demon.
- Join humanity’s armies as we demonstrate why science is greater than demons by crushing them under the treads of our tanks.
I hope you have found this guide helpful. I would write more, but I need to find someone to accept my conversion some time in the next 20 minutes. See you in heaven!
*I know, I know, I’m being horrible and unfair, but this is humour.
Complaints about the opening of new Tesco stores seem to be quite common. In Bristol the issue even seems to have triggered riots. Complaints generally focus on the destruction of the character of local high streets, producing clone towns. I have a lot of sympathy for this, I don’t particularly like seeing identikit high streets all around the country. Once a Tescos moves in the local butcher, baker, grocer etc all go bankrupt and a part of England’s culture dies, the local community suffers and everyone is very sad.
The thing is though, in the end the majority get what they want in the free market. It’s actually really very democratic. No one forces people to go and shop at Tescos, the Competition Commission (hopefully) makes sure that the supermarket isn’t engaging in market abuse to get an unfair advantage. It’s simply cheaper than most small shops. If people continue to shop in the small local shops then they don’t shut down, regardless of the presence of a new supermarket. The problem is that many of the people who are moaning about the supermarkets still go and shop in them. They do, after all, provide lower prices and much greater convenience. They succeed because people want to buy from them.
I find it quite sad that people choose to shop almost exclusively in supermarkets. The thing is though, that taking legal action to prevent supermarkets from being able to open and compete is effectively asking the majority of people, who would take advantage of the many advantages supermarkets bring, to subsidise your own consumption habits. I don’t see why the majority should be inconvenienced and pay more so that a minority can get a feel good factor. This is even more true if you consider that the greatest beneficiaries of cheap food in supermarkets are likely to be the poor and those most concerned with ‘save our high street’ campaigns are generally a bit more middle class.
I don’t much like supermarkets’ dominance but I shop in them and don’t expect people to pay more for my food so that I can feel good about my high street. So I can’t complain. That being said, if someone would open a half decent bakery in my area, you would totally have my patronage, even with higher costs. If the claims of campaigners were true, then small shops would have no problem competing against supermarkets.