Saturday, 9 July 2011

Silver Linings and Suchlike

Let's get into some proper posts, shall we? Sometimes it's hard to classify things as either good or bad news. But I'd like to take a creative crack at it.

First, the bad news: This. Some Icelanders are claiming invisible elves are pissed off with them over some major earthworks. Elves. Iceland isn't supposed to disappoint me with literalist fairy tales. Sure, they've got a bad habit of killing whales, and that needs to stop, but they also gave me EVE Online, the bestest MMO of them all (which is feeding far more Icelandic mouths than whaling ever could). And yet... Elves. Not only is it crazy to believe there are invisible elves that nobody could possibly find (and yet we still know they hate avalanche barriers and love crappy folk music?), but if it is true, then presumably these elves would qualify for citizenship and so should be engaging with the duly elected authorities directly, rather than sabotaging state equipment and hiding from their responsibilities as voters. There is no way that this story reflects positively on Iceland.

But! Good news: People are angry and shouting at each other. In this case, it's a kerfuffle within the Skeptical community (summed up here) over what constitutes sexism and sexual harassment. I'll lay out my hand right now: Rebecca Watson was right to object to a pick-up attempt under those circumstances. Richard Dawkins was wrong to belittle her objection, no matter how right he is that Islam is generally bad for women. At best, I'd say he's so devoted to putting down religion that he couldn't see past the opportunity to knock Islam a (perfectly justified) bit. But realistically, I think he just didn't get Watson's complaint.

And now it's become a free-for-all, skeptic vs. skeptic. Emotions are flaring and names are being flung (particularly names like "misogynist" and "feminazi" and, cruelest of all, "irrational"), but the good news is that it is getting discussed and progress will certainly be made. It is the fiery crucible of wossname that shapes  superior new behaviour and burns away the nonsense (or, through natural selection, breeds hardier nonsense). But whatever comes from this, it's better that it's being addressed, rather than kept quiet. I can't abide suffering in silence. It's self-censorship.

What's bothered me most has been the male reaction. A lot of the male arguments have looked suspiciously similar to the anti-affirmative action arguments I see from racist whites here in South Africa. True equality, they argue, means we must be absolutely blind to all differences. Sounds sweet, but really what they're saying is that we should ignore the fact that historical biases have placed them in an unfairly advantaged starting position that others will struggle to compete with, which they can take advantage of to perpetuate de facto dominance. It sickens me.

But what I'd really like to see coming out of this debate now are some serious practical suggestions (use the comments form below, please) that we can use to level the gender playing field for a rousing game of Call of Cthulhu (because fuck sport metaphors).

(Edit: Thanks to darling Sita for helping me get the background image looking just right. She managed more in under 20 minutes than I did in 2 days.)