About 'Alpha+Good'

Alpha+Good (a bad wordplay on Orwell's "double plus good" and old machismo - I'm the realest after all) is a side project that belongs to 'Onklare taal' ('Unclear' or 'Unripe language'), the umbrella of several literary projects in Dutch.

This section is almost exclusively in English and comprises my ongoing thoughts on progress, gender, politics and various other social themes. Why is this in English why everything else in Dutch? Because I want to gun for a much wider audience here. Also, my literary English isn't good enough, otherwise I would always write in English.

Are you a little lost? This link will take you right back to my home page.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Treating everyone like shit

There's this thing in comedy, especially brutal, cynical comedy, where no one is safe from harm. As I said before, everything and everyone can be the subject of a joke, satire or parody. It's also the first line of defense that people bring up against critics of South Park, Team America: World Police, the Grand Theft Auto games and similar cultural products that leave no political side, no gender and no ethnic group unmocked. The basic attitude is: nobody should be exempt from criticism and comedy.

Basically, I agree with this. It is certainly miles better than comedy that, out of ignorance or malevolence, singles out groups of people that are relatively powerless. A good and often-used example is making a joke about rape that rapists will think is funny but that degrades victims.

Some would argue that comedy that singles out white people, the rich, or heterosexuals also falls into that category. It might, depending on the circumstance, but the fact of the matter is that these groups are 'the norm' and hold a lot more sway in society than other groups. As a group, they tend to be fairly well insulated against prejudice and discrimination.

That's what makes the 'everybody is shit' comedy a little disingenious sometimes. Mocking everyone and everything is all well and good, but it doesn't level any playfield. It keeps the status quo as it is. Everyone is stereotyped, yes, but some stereotypes are more harmful than others.

'Everybody is shit' is another way of saying that the truth is somewhere in the middle, which is certainly not always true. There is no middle ground between the Ku Klux Klan and the Civil Rights Movement, for instance. There's no truth to be gleaned from taking a position in the middle between climate change deniers and environmentalists.

There was a case in France, recently, where an advertisement for students was pulled because it was 'sexist', while it clearly stereotyped everyone involved. Did censors go overboard on that one? That's a debate in itself. But it's also a fact that debasing everyone isn't going to take care of a lot of social progress. An increasing objectification of men, for example, has led to a greater number of boys developing eating disorders in the past two decades.

The above is why I maintain that social progress is not about taking away privileges from everyone that has them: it's about bestowing them on everyone, and that's not the same. So, treating everyone like shit may sound like the ultimate in democracy, but at best, it only serves the status quo, and at worst, it ends up with everyone in a worse position than before.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Atheist? Good, just don't be an asshole about it

As far as religion is concerned, I'm lucky to live in Belgium, a nominally Catholic country where being agnostic or atheist is nothing out of the ordinary. In a broader sense, Europe - with some notable exceptions - is spectacularly different from the rest of the world, where not believing that there is any god can still get you in serious trouble, and religion is a dominant force in politics and socio-cultural life.

So, I can sympathise with American atheists and their frustration at the constant poisoning of public debates by religiosuly inspired anti-gay, anti-abortion or anti-science advocates. I also agree with some radical atheist positions that we still give to much deference to organised religion where none is warranted.

However.


I severely dislike the way that atheists on the Internet want to rally around the idea of being atheist, as if this is a morally superior road. Atheism is a very simple thing: not believing in any god. Internet Atheists' weird reverence for scientists such as Richard Dawkins or Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the way in which logic is celebrated by them and they celebrate ideologically bankrupt philosophies such as libertarianism or pseudosciences such as evopsych, is just a straight-up replacement for worship. It's nothing more than another justification for a worldview without the necessary self-criticism.

I don't like the contempt and condescension of Internet Atheists. Yes, I suppose that if I was to live in an area surrounded by people who actually believed dinosaurs and humans co-existed and the world is only 6,000 years old, it would inspire me to ridicule as well. But the pervasive sense of smugness of Internet Atheists has already succeeded to turn potential allies against them. I happen to believe in treating people well and not mock what they choose to believe in if it isn't forced upon me. Most people who are religious to an extent can be pretty tolerant, and most people believe things that are logically at odds with one another.

It speaks volumes for the movement that Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens are held in such high regard. While the former is a brilliant scientist and an eloquent speaker, he is also overly dismissive of the plight of any sort of people who are not white and male, and Hitchens was an all-round boorish individual who was needlessly antagonising. Lastly, a YouTube troll like the self-styled 'Amazing' Atheist still has droves of followers, despite being violently misogynist and clearly out of his depth with any subject that pertains to anything else than 'not believing in God'.

Listen, it's cool that you discovered, through reasoning, intuition, a flash of insight or whatever, that there are no gods (or, that it's almost certain there are no gods). That does not make you a superior person, it doesn't validate any other opinions you might hold, and it certainly doesn't make your positions exempt from criticism. Be a little nicer. If you truly want to stop religious fundamentalism, lead by example.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Why I am a feminist ally

This is a response to a tumblr entry on how male allies to feminism can be a burden, too, but you can also read it as a stand-alone post.

Ah, that Question

Most male allies to feminism will get the Question once in a while: why? Feminism is for women, isn't it? It's a weird question, really. Do you ask someone who supports socialist policies whether they are working class enough? Do you ask an environmentalist whether they are a tree?

Most of the time, it doesn't come packaged as the Question, but an offhand remark on how peculiar it is to dedicate time and resources to support feminism as a man. Some think it's a devious plot to get into women's pants (which betrays more about their own thinking than about mine), others think it's some sort of misled cry for attention, and for MRAs, it's nothing less than cutting off my own nuts. That's all rubbish, of course.

Outsourcing emotion

Now, the tumblr post to which I'm responding touches upon the fact that some well-intentioned men will try to 'outsource' their emotional confusion about patriarchy and sexism and turn to women to make sense of it all for them. I agree that can be taxing.

Some men really do this, and some women do it too: dropping a bomb of personal history tangentially related to the discussion and leave it to the others to make sense of it. I am also not anyone's therapist, so I agree with the sentiment that allies and feminists alike are better allies and feminists if they can start to figure out their own emotional issues, too.

At the core

The tumblr entry further states that male allies should find something in feminism for themselves to fight for. Something that they, themselves experience as shitty situations in the context of patriarchy that affect them, and use that as an emotional core to get inspired. In other words, men needn't squire for feminist knights, trying to get a grasp on situations that don't directly affect them.

I don't agree with that. I also don't see how that would be linked to some who try to lean on feminism as an emotional support group. The ill effects of patriarchy on my life are minor because I - externally - fit the template of the white, straight, able-bodied male in the prime of his life (privilege with a tasty side-dish of privilege!). I'll get the occasional stupid remark about appreciating art and poetry or talking frankly about experiencing emotion, but that's it.

A strange animal called empathy

The reason why I support any emancipatory movement is really simple: it's because I'm deeply convinced everyone is deserving of a fair chance in life. Empathy with people who suffer under oppression is not an emotion that confuses me or that I need personal guidance for. Of course, I'm only speaking for myself here, but I truly don't see why having empathy would confound someone.

In addition, if it's genuine empathy, it's not that hard to deduce the right course of action from it in who and what you choose to support. The reason why I focus more on feminism than, say, socialism is because I feel my contributions can be stronger in the former field. I don't need to fight for a personal victory against patriarchy, or something that will benefit me as an individual - turning my privilege into a useful tool to convince other men of the necessity of feminism is more than good enough. And yes, that often means taking a backseat to women's voices. I don't mind that at all.