The Cycle of Uncritical Thinking in the United States

I found this amazing comic on CampusProgress yesterday, and I just want to say a word before I share it.

This “circle of stupidity,” as the comic is called, is exactly why I write this blog. It is exactly why I unabashedly challenge religion at every opportunity. Critical thinking is sorely lacking in our society on all fronts, and it is the same thinking that keeps people buying into religious beliefs, superstition, astrology, homeopathy, and all the other bunk that’s out there.

The end result, as the comic demonstrates, is injustice. The only way to move forward is to force people to think for themselves instead of mindlessly accepting what they’ve been spoon-fed since birth for generations.

If this comic or the things I write on this blog offend you or if you vehemently object, please read it anyway and share your objections. Let’s at least have some healthy dialogue so that together, we can break the cycle.

Click to embiggen:

Check out more from Jen Sorensen at Slowpoke Comics.

The first Circle of Stupidity can be found here.



Personal Experience Doesn’t Count; Wanting Truth Is Not The Same As Finding Truth

I mentioned briefly back in January that Liberty University was going on an expedition to find Noah’s Ark. Well, it turns out they found it! Look! Here’s some wood:

Believe them now?

You shouldn’t, even though all of a sudden Christians were buying into carbon dating. In fact, as if you needed it, PZ reported today that the researchers were duped. Imagine my surprise.

I want to take this moment to meditate for a moment on the concept of religious thinking. So often, religion is defended by personal experience. People have heard God speak to them (or through them?). People have felt God protect them in a car accident. People give God credit for winning the big game or race or whatever. None of these stories have anything to do with God. They’re about people wanting to believe in God.

Religious thinking is inherently biased. It puts the answer out before the evidence and then only looks for the answer it wants to see. So, of course, it sees that answer EVERYWHERE. We are familiar with the concept of pareidolia, seeing religious imagery in mundane things, like Jesus in a toasted cheese sandwich or Noah’s Ark in a mountain range. People flock to these images because they want them to be true. They worship these items. They pay stupid-loads of money on eBay to obtain these items. They waste hours, dollars, and brain cells fawning over discoveries that they see as evidence for their beliefs.

But think about it. Beliefs, by definition, are unsubstantiated. Beliefs are beliefs specifically because they are not facts. If they could be proven, they wouldn’t even be interesting anymore. I don’t believe the sky is blue; I understand it. I don’t believe the Earth revolves around the Sun; I understand it. I don’t believe in evolution; I understand it. I don’t believe, because I don’t “have faith.” So here are people who hold these beliefs (for which they have no reason to hold) squandering their lives looking for reason to substantiate the unsubstantiatable! It’s the ultimate dupe—and look how religious organizations profit from it!

People believe God can speak to them, so he does. They believe God sends signs, so they see them. They believe in religious ecstasy, so they experience it. The mind is a powerful thing, and so is the placebo effect. Take a look at this poor girl giving the benediction at Texas’s Midwestern State University’s commencement (hat-tip PZ, again):

Her mind has so been twisted by what she has been taught to believe that it takes over her physical health. She trembled, convulsed, spoke in tongues a bit, and then fainted! But this does not speak at all to the power of God, only to the dangers of submitting to belief.

Testimony is not evidence. Personal experience is not evidence. Optical illusion is not evidence. These all work against critical thinking. They all work against scientific literacy. We really should not tolerate it.

Our universities should be working against this kind of irrational thinking. We should be outright criticizing religious beliefs and we should be discouraging students from buying into such nonsense. We are so quick to humor the myth, the fantasy, the urban legend—without recognizing the harm they are all having on our capacity to think.

So let me say it here: No, God didn’t talk to you; you just thought to yourself. No, God didn’t protect you in the car crash; you just happened to have an accident without getting hurt (and I’m glad you’re okay). No, God didn’t help you win the big game; your skills and teamwork served you well on the field. No, there is no Jesus in your anything; your brain just tries to make meaning of patterns that resemble faces. No, God is not making you shake or speak in tongues or pass out; you just need to eat something and get some psychological help.

And if you have used any of these experiences to make life-changing decisions, that is both laughable and pitiable.

I do not care how significant these experiences have been for you personally; I will not respect you for these beliefs. I will not silently humor these beliefs. These beliefs hurt you, they hurt me, and they hurt our society. They are absolute bollocks, and we should have no tolerance or respect for them.

We’re alone in this universe and that’s cool. It just means we have to work harder to take care of each other. One of my ways of helping is to discourage you from living your life around delusions.



The Social Justice Ally Refresher We All Need

Check out this awesome video!

Dr. Omi Osun Joni L. Jones gives 6 rules for allies (cross race/gender/sexuality/nationality/religion etc) in her keynote speech given 2/19/10 at a luncheon sponsored by Abriendo Brecha Vll Conference and The Seventeenth Annual Emerging Scholarship In Women’s and Gender Studies Conference UT Austin (hat tip: Sharon Bridgforth):

Being an ally is a very challenging thing. It’s easy to say, “I’m an ally, I support you.” It’s very difficult to follow through on that. There are many ways I try to be an ally and often feel I fall short. I also get easily frustrated with alleged allies who choose not to measure up to the title.

I’d like to highlight Dr. Jones’s six rules with some of my own thoughts as well as some current events from as early as a few hours ago. You can read the full text of her speech here (PDF).

Rule #1: Allies know that it is not sufficient to be liberal. In fact, the liberal position is actually a walk backwards.

This is probably the hardest one. It’s a challenge both for allies as well as for those in-movement. I think today we saw an interesting juxtaposition between the HRC rally and the GetEqual direct action. HRC had Kathy Griffin who was taping for My Life on the D-List, and really, who cares? Lt. Dan Choi showed up and was like we can do better than a rally and went over and chained himself to the White House fence. He and two others were arrested (Towleroad has updated coverage here). The difference between the two is striking.

Allies who really care about standing up for oppressed groups have to do more than vote for democrats. Sometimes it takes more than just showing up at the rally! Action has to be taken. (Photo courtesy @piconico).

Rule #2: Be loud and crazy so _____ folks won’t have to be!

This is so true. I think many allies simply wait to be told by the oppressed group what they should do. What a difference it would make if groups didn’t always have to advocate just for themselves. In a way, this should be kind of obvious. Allies should care at least as much as any member of the group they are trying to be an ally to.

I was excited to see a Bilerico-led blog swarm today calling for passage of ENDA. Despite my impatience at employment inequality though, I have my reservations about the effectiveness of such a swarm when Congress is already being inundated with feedback on healthcare reform, which is why I haven’t actively participated. I did try calling Speaker Pelosi’s office, only to get a busy signal and then no answer.

But look at the participants in the blogswarm. It’s almost all the LGBT blogs you’d expect, which is great, but where are our allies? Daily Kos is apparently participating, but you can’t even find the swarm on the homepage! It shouldn’t be up to just the same old folks to be advocating against the same old inequality.

Rule #3: Do not tell anyone in any oppressed group to be patient. Doing so is a sign of your own privilege and unconscious though absolute disregard for the person with whom you are speaking.

I couldn’t agree more. And the cry of “wait!” takes many forms! The waffling and call for more studies on repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is a great example. Anytime you hear “We’re not ready yet” or “We have to study this more” is just an excuse to delay justice. I’ve written on this one before, so I think we can move on.

Rule #4: Recognize the new racism, the new sexism, the old homophobia. It is institutional and structural… The absence of ____ in any space cannot be accounted for by chance or accident… Allies know that racism, sexism, and homophobia are real and NEVER tell people, “You could be wrong, you know.” Such a statement presumes that you have greater insights than those with lived experience inside of multiple oppressions.

This is also a difficult one, and one that I know I’ve definitely struggled with as a white man working to be a better ally. I think back to my recent outcry about the way my identity was edited out of my local newspaper. It really doesn’t matter if I’m wrong, I can’t change that the way my identity was edited out is only one of many microaggressions I have experienced for being gay. Seeing that incident as an attack on my identity is the only way I can see it, because I have to constantly be on guard for such attacks.

Rule #5: When called out about your racism, sexism or homophobia, don’t cower in embarrassment, don’t cry, and don’t silently think “she’s crazy” and vow never to interact with her again… Be grateful that someone took the time to expose yours—remember, exposure allows the wind to whip away isolation and fear. Exposure is a step toward freedom. Allies welcome an opportunity to see how their choices, ideas, words may be erasing those around them… Allies want to know when they have been contributed to the very oppressions they oppose. Allies know they are not above reproach.

I try to relish opportunities to admit that I’m wrong. That’s why I’m so willing to put myself out there. I can’t be afraid to be wrong, because then I will never learn and grow.

For example, I was totally against the National Equality March as it was getting organized. It seemed like it was not actually organized at all, I bought into what a lot of the big groups were saying about it, and it just didn’t seem like it would be effective. As it came together and I chose to participate, I saw just how important this new way of thinking about activism was. I saw how my socioeconomic privilege was actually clouding my ability to truly appreciate the importance of grassroots efforts toward queer equality. I was wrong for opposing it, and I’m glad I figured that out before it was too late.

There’s a reason I always encourage people to comment on my blog. I like to hear when people disagree with me! I like to argue and work through new understandings. I hope that as an activist and ally, I am not above reproach.

Rule #6: Allies actively support alternative possibilities… because allies believe “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” allies consider the transgressive power in alternative academic strategies, a power that works to undo patriarchy, white supremacy, the insatiability of capitalism, and heterosexism. Supporting alternative possibilities is the only way we can all dream ourselves into the world in which we want to live.

This is another one of the reasons I was mad about my newspaper’s censorship. I knew that my opportunity to perform was an opportunity to offer a liberated message, as it was for my graduate capstone. At the performance last night, I successfully did it again. My opening monologue included some vague allusions to my gay identity and I also sang “Maybe This Time,” complete with male pronouns, and people left the event asking if I was gay or not, because they weren’t sure. That was specifically my intent, and I was successful, but it would have made a lot more sense if the proper context had been set up in the article.

This also makes me think about how the rest of my professional field might feel about my blogging, as I wrote about last October. For higher education, blogging is still a unique medium. It’s not an academic journal, nor should it be read as one. There are surely folks who do not appreciate what I write, because it is not their tactic. Similarly, I disagree with the way social justice education is so focused within the academy and our professional organizations rarely speak outwardly about the values they claim to uphold. I’m proud I have this venue to creatively share some fresh points of view and get people thinking in new ways, as well as to push myself to continue to learn and think in new ways!

Being an ally is tough, and I know I feel very refreshed by Dr. Jones’s words. They present new challenges for moving forward, but I’d rather struggle toward liberation than settle for oppression.



Religion Motivates Racism: The Supporting Research

Yes! It’s another research study being featured on ZackFord Blogs! As per usual, I’ll break things down and share some highlights so you get the most out of the research without digging through the whole report yourself.

Today we’re looking at “Why Don’t We Practice What We Preach? A Meta-Analytic Review of Religious Racism” by Hall, Matz, & Wood, published December 16, 2009 in Personality and Social Psychology Review (hat tip: Joe.My.God.). The goal of this study is to look at how religiosity impacts racism. The results may or may not be surprising, but they’re certainly interesting.

Before we even look at the abstract, I just want to clarify what a meta-analysis is. In this study, the researchers looked at 55 studies conducted between 1964 (when the Civil Rights Act passed) and 2008 and developed measures to synthesize the results of all of those different studies into one cohesive report of conclusions. In other words, the report we’re reading today tells us what we can learn from 40 years of studies on the topic of religious racism.

The Abstract

Here’s the gist:

A meta-analytic review of past research evaluated the link between religiosity and racism in the United States since the Civil Rights Act. Religious racism partly reflects intergroup dynamics. That is, a strong religious in-group identity was associated with derogation of racial out-groups. Other races might be treated as out-groups because religion is practiced largely within race, because training in a religious in-group identity promotes general ethnocentrism, and because different others appear to be in competition for resources. In addition, religious racism is tied to basic life values of social conformity and respect for tradition. In support, individuals who were religious for reasons of conformity and tradition expressed racism that declined in recent years with the decreased societal acceptance of overt racial discrimination. The authors failed to find that racial tolerance arises from humanitarian values, consistent with the idea that religious humanitarianism is largely expressed to in-group members. Only religious agnostics were racially tolerant.

Basically, religious people see other races as other religions. Because they see their own religion as morally superior, they are more likely to see other races (religions) as morally inferior. Also, the more likely people are to conform and uphold tradition, the more likely they are to be racist. As we know from recent disaster relief efforts in Haiti, religious groups are more concerned with helping (or converting and then helping) members of their own religion, which reflects what the researchers found that humanitarian values do not motivate racial tolerance.

And yeah, did you see that last little part? The only group who was found to be consistently racially tolerant was the group that regularly questioned religion. Huh.

Read on for more detailed excerpts from the study!

Considering Religious Identity

First, consider the ways that simply identifying with a religious group might motivate racism (p. 3, emphases added):

To the extent that religion tends to be practiced within race, people of other races may appear to belong to religious out-groups. Thus, one basis for the religious identity–racism link is that race serves as a proxy for religious affiliation. Another reason for this link is that people who strongly identify with a religion may be ethnocentric in general. Especially when people undergo early socialization into a particular religion, they might develop a strong tendency to differentiate their own faith from others, and social categorization that contrasts an “us” as opposed to “them” might generalize to other social distinctions including race (Altemeyer, 2003). Further supporting race distinctions, people who appear to be different from the self may be judged to hold different values, perhaps values that are in competition for resources such as political representation or even religious converts. Such perceived competition promotes intergroup prejudice (Sherif, 1966). For example, religious fundamentalists discriminated against homosexuals and single mothers to the extent that these groups were judged to threaten their personally important values (Jackson & Esses, 1997).

It seems as though subscribing to religious belief motivates a characterization of “other” as “bad.” This fits with what Dahlia Lithwick wrote in Slate today about how people’s disgust with homosexuality leads them to condemn it (a worthwhile read itself).

Religious racism also correlates with fundamentalist religious beliefs as well as extrinsic religiosity (religion motivated by social status, security, and acceptance from others) (p.3, emphases added):

Like religion, racism is a set of beliefs that explain societal traditions, especially those associated with social hierarchies involving White dominance in America. Consistent with this reasoning, stronger values of social conformity and traditionalism are associated with greater intergroup prejudice (Schwartz, 1996). Similarly, political conservatives in the United States are more likely than liberals to endorse ethnocentrism and racism (Federico & Sidanius, 2002; Napier & Jost, 2008). Also relevant, the traditional values associated with the Protestant work ethic are central components of ambivalent racism (I. Katz & Hass, 1988) and have been linked with the expression of modern racism (McConahay, 1986) and symbolic racism (Tarman & Sears, 2005).

Studies have also shown that highly religious people “endorse benevolent values of humanitarianism, which reflect selflessness in relations with close others…but not universalism, which involves accepting diversity and expressing concern for the welfare of all people and nature” (p. 4). In other words, humanitarianism itself does not promote racial tolerance because it does not explicitly address out-groups.

Individuals who were intrinsically religious (i.e. “committed to religion as an end in itself”) were more overtly racially tolerant, but were not necessarily less racist (p. 4):

…intrinsically religious people may report racial tolerance largely because of a desire to appear nonracist (Batson & Stocks, 2005) but nevertheless may show racial prejudice when it is indirectly measured.

They talk the talk of tolerance, but they don’t walk the walk of tolerance.

The study also looked at agnosticism, or what they call a quest motivation (a spiritual quest or readiness to face existential questions,  acknowledge religious doubts, and accept change). This definition totally confirms my point of view that some clear distinctions can be made between agnosticism and atheism, though the study found that “quest and racial tolerance in the general population are best understood in terms of a lack of religiosity” (p. 4). The important piece here though is that there were positive associations between quest and racial tolerance.

Some Interesting Findings – Imagery, Cognitive Style, Doubt, and Sex Differences

Here are some of the other interesting ideas from the discussion and conclusion (p. 10, emphasis added):

A related reason why religious in-groups may be prejudiced toward dissimilar others is that the divine in religious worship is often imbued with in-group attributes. That is, religious figures are constructed in believers’ own images. As Xenophanes in the sixth century B.C. noted, “Greek gods were invariably fair skinned and blue-eyed whereas African gods were invariably dark skinned and dark-eyed (joking that cows would surely worship gods that were strikingly cowlike)” (quoted in Epley, Waytz, & Cacioppo, 2007, p. 865).

This discussion point reminds me so much of the movie Dogma (the linked clips have spoilers!). How different would Catholicism be with “Buddy Christ” instead of a crucifix? What if Jesus was black? What if God really was a woman? Imagery reflects and impacts believers in profound ways.

Here we see the way dualistic thinking or belief in one truth over other ways of thinking has profoundly negative consequences (p. 10):

Religious fundamentalism is associated with a rigid, dogmatic cognitive style that preferences one truth and way of being over others and thereby promotes in-group favoritism and out-group derogation. In support, the positive correlation between fundamentalism and prejudice disappeared after controlling for authoritarianism. Thus, the religious fundamentalism–racism relation plausibly was because of authoritarian beliefs as well as conformity values.

In other words, if you don’t believe that there is only one true set of answers to life’s questions, you’re less likely to be racist.

Their research found that “quest” more often reflected agnostic doubt about religion than it did a type of religion itself. Since it was the questioning agnostics who were more likely to express racial tolerance, this added to their conclusion that “religiosity is not associated with racial tolerance” (p. 11).

Another interesting metaregression used distinctions between men and women’s motivations for religiosity to confirm the way values and prejudice are related (p. 11, emphases added):

Additional support for our inference that basic life values underlie religious racism comes from supplementary analyses on the sex composition of the samples. Religious racism should vary with sex because women, compared with men, tend to hold stronger benevolent values that promote religiosity and stronger universalist values that promote tolerance toward out-group members (Schwartz & Rubel, 2005). ….

studies with higher percentages of women were more likely to report that religiosity promoted racial tolerance. In summary, analyses on the attributes of the participants in the original studies were consistent with our claim that basic life values underlie the religion–prejudice relation.

Conclusion

In addition to concluding that “the intergroup dynamics established by religious identification along with conventional life values appeared to drive religious racism” (p. 11), the researchers also defend the generalizability of their findings (p. 11, emphases added):

The participants in the studies we reviewed were predominantly White Christians in the United States. To what extent can our conclusions about religiosity and prejudice be generalized to other cultures and religious faiths? Given that divinities are accorded attributes of the religious groups and that all religions teach moral superiority, we anticipate that religious group identification is typically associated with out-group derogation. An additional reason to suspect that our findings hold across world religions comes from evidence that the conservative values that promote both religiosity and racism are stable across cultures and across religious faiths. …

Moreover, we found no relation between the endorsement of religious doctrine specific to the Christian faith and racial prejudice. It thus seems that the motives to be religious also are a motivator of racism, and these motives appear to be broadly applicable as a framework for understanding religious racism.

So, next time you hear someone arguing that religion can be a force for good in the world, ask them, “at what cost?” and use this study to support your argument. If we want to have a real conversation about “Science vs. Religion,” we can just look at the mounting evidence confirming the negative impacts of religion on society. It’s disturbing and alarming, but honestly, it’s not that surprising.

Some related posts:

» Society Is Better Off Without Religion: The Supporting Research (12/7/09)
» We Have To Stop Letting God Be A Crutch For Hate (11/6/09)



A Single Man’s Defense of Valentine’s Day

I had nothing new to say about Valentine’s Day for 2011, so I stickied 2010’s post to the top for the day. Make it a special one for you and your loved one(s)! ]

Yes, the intent of this post is to defend Valentine’s Day, but in the interest of pathos, allow me to share all the many reasons I have to not like it.

I am single. I do not have love. I do not have someone to share V-Day with. It is a reminder of the fact I am alone, and at times, lonely.

I am gay. Even if I can appreciate the huge visibility of romance, I still rarely see my kind of romance represented.

I’m actually relationship-oriented. If the dating pool weren’t narrow enough being gay, being a gay man who values love, romance, and commitment makes it even smaller.

I despise capitalism. It’s too easy to see February 14 as an exploitative holiday for the economic benefit of florists, chocolatiers, candlemakers, fancy restaurants, and of course, greeting cards.

I’m an atheist. If all of the above weren’t enough, I have to be reminded of a holiday that has a name derived from a saint that nobody even knows anything about. Not only am I single, but religious privilege continues to dominate my life!

Is that enough pathos for you all? Don’t worry, “Singles Appreciation Day” folks, I’m SAD with you.

Still, I’d like to offer a defense for Valentine’s Day.

Two words: love and hope.

Love is an amazing sensation. Even though it hasn’t panned out for me, I can at least say that I’ve experienced love. Love can be wonderful and love can be dangerous. For all its pros and cons, it sort of represents a pinnacle of the human experience. It is arguably the most powerful emotion we can experience. Wouldn’t we be doing our existence a disservice to not recognize the influence of this impactful human experience?

It’s true, the day kind of divides us. There are those of us who have love and love having love and those of us who do not have love and resent not having love. If you think about it though, that’s not really a divide. It means we all respect love; we all aspire to it.

So even if we don’t have a romantic, sexual love to celebrate, Valentine’s Day can be a day to celebrate love itself. We can celebrate the family we love, the friends we love, past love, and future love.

And that brings me to hope! Hope is one of the most influential self-motivators. We all supported Obama when he campaigned because he truly inspired hope, and we’ve criticized him since his election because he hasn’t followed through and our hope has diminished. Hope is the mere idea that things can be better. Though faith and spiritual belief often try to hijack it, hope is an emotion and an attitude.

So on Valentine’s Day, hope is an important thing to keep in mind. For those of us with a Valentine to call our own, we have the hope of our future with that partner. We rekindle that flame of love and look forward to it lasting well into the future.

For those of us on the SAD side of February 14, we have to keep our heads up. It’s too easy to say, “I give up on love.” But who hasn’t said that at some point in their lives? It’s impossible to say today whether we will know “true love” or not, but we should let Valentine’s Day inspire us and give us hope. Look at all the people who have found it and can find such happiness in celebrating it! Yes, we might not have it, but there’s nothing to be gained by being petty about it.

We should all be hopeful about love in our lives. We should celebrate being human and knowing that we are even capable of such a thing. We can’t make it happen, and we can’t guarantee that it will, but it should give us something to look forward to, something to live for.

Fellow SADders, don’t let the day get you down! Don’t be jealous or bitter of the love you don’t yet know. Just be happy for those who have Valentines and look forward to the day you too will have someone to share your love with. Feel free to criticize certain aspects of the holiday, but don’t trash it entirely. Someday you’ll appreciate it.

Last year I shared a clip from out musician (and friend of the blog) Tom Goss. This year I’ll showcase another wonderful out artist, Matt Alber. His song and video for “End of the World” are nothing short of lovely. Happy Valentine’s Day from ZackFord Blogs!



Facebook Populism Wastes Time and Inhibits Activism

Recently, there has been a lot of buzz on my Facebook news feed about my friends joining three Facebook groups: I bet we can find 1,000,000 People who Support Same Sex Marriage, 1 Million Strong For Same-Sex Marriage Throughout The Entire United States, and I Bet We Can Find 10 Million People Who Support Same-Sex Marriage.

To the credit of the first two groups, they actually do have over one million members, while the other group has a long way to go to 10 million.

There is also an epic race between a dung beetle and a poodle wearing a tinfoil hat to outfan Glenn Beck. The poodle has a strong lead, but also a long way to go to catch up with America’s favorite conspiracy theorist.

I am not a member of any of these groups nor fan of any of these pages. Upon looking, I found many of them sitting in my groups and pages and have removed myself from them. I am a strong supporter of marriage equality and think Glenn Beck is a righteous fool, and I don’t think any of my readers would doubt me on that. The thing is, I hate Facebook populism and won’t waste my time or reputation with it any longer.

Why? It accomplishes nothing.

I shouldn’t say it accomplishes nothing, but the net effect is actually negative.

Take all these marriage equality groups. Everyone’s joining, so you’re either getting an invitation or seeing it on your newsfeed. You want your friends to know you support the same causes, so you join too. Great! What a wonderful display of support for an important issue! I’m not really surprised that my friends support marriage equality (or else they might not be my friends), but it’s nice to see lots of other people do too! That’s just swell.

Now what?

The poodle page is full of pictures of cute dogs and posts from people reminding us they’re smart enough to not watch FOX news. The dung beetle group has lots of dung beetle-cheerleaders (Go, dung beetle, go!). The marriage groups are just full of lots of platitudes. For pages with administrators, the pages themselves offer little content except recruitment plugs for the group. There is no movement, there is no planning, there is no rallying. The groups and pages exist solely to be numbers.

And this, I’m here to suggest, hurts our movements. Because, yes, it is nice to get lots of people to attach their names to their support, but this, in turn, gives them an out for nonparticipation!

What have you done to support marriage equality? Oh, I joined the Facebook group!

No really, what have you done? Huh? I didn’t realize I had to do anything!

Where is the education and advocacy? Where are the rallies? Where are the boycotts? Where is the civil disobedience? If we’ve got ALL THESE PEOPLE willing to support or oppose certain things, then shouldn’t that all be put to good use?

But no, that’s never what happens. People join a group then go about their lives, oblivious to the change they’re not helping make happen. The group’s potential for making a difference is lost in the group’s concern for its own self-importance. It becomes more about the group than the issue the group addresses.

Without this impetus for real action, people are left with the satisfying notion that they’ve already acted. In fact, it creates the illusion of different levels of activism, so people can feel like “Oh, I’m not up for that kind of activism, but at least I’m doing something.” Well, no, you’re not. Worse yet, this leads to a kind of support fatigue, where people actually grow tired of being asked to help even when they really haven’t done any helping! So when a real group ready to make a change comes along, like Queer Rising for example, people who might have normally considered stepping up actually step back because they feel like so much has been asked of them already.

Activism takes a lot of energy. It’s not just a choice; it’s a commitment. Even those who believe strongly in an issue must feel energized and compelled that they can make a difference in order to actually try. If you feel like lots of different folks are pulling you in different directions, you might not be inclined to move at all.

One other consequence of such passive populism is the illusion of success. This was something used a lot in the Prop 8 trial. If it looks like lots of people support marriage equality, then it’s almost like marriage inequality isn’t an issue… except that it is. This rift between reality and sentiment does little to fuel our movement toward real equality.

So to all my friends and fellow facebookers out there joining these groups: thanks for your support. I hope that you can do better than our President’s “fierce advocacy” and put real actions behind your facebook affiliations.



Society Makes You Feel Guilty For Having Sex AND For Not Having Sex

One of the workshops I had the joy of attending at Creating Change was one called Beyond Binaries: Identity and Sexuality, facilitated by the FABULOUS Robyn Ochs, professional bisexual. (If you aren’t familiar with her or her work, then you need to fix that now!)

The main thrust (pun intended, as you’ll see) of the workshop was the way sexuality is so fluid and that the notion that we’re all just gay or straight (or even gay, straight, or bi) is a complete myth. Despite being bright and early Saturday morning, there were a ton of energetic young people there, and it was really great to see them having these conversations about how sexuality changes over time. In particular, it was striking to see the way so many aim for ambiguity, recognizing what they like but not necessarily conforming their identity to match.

I should point out that this phenomenon was evident throughout the conference. More and more people are really moving towards identifying as “queer,” as if to say I’m queer and that’s all you need to know. I kind of wish I’d gone to some of the sexual liberation workshops so I could know more! [Note: I did the following year!]

At any rate, in Robyn’s workshop we did an anonymous survey of how people define their identities, attractions, and behavior over time. After looking at identities and attractions through different lenses, we then juxtaposed those identities with actual behaviors. The results were interesting, because they didn’t always match. Some people reported engaging in sexual behavior that did not reflect their same- or opposite-sex attractions. And in some cases, there was no reported sexual behavior.

It was at this point that Robyn made the poignant point that is the title of this post:

True or false? Society makes you feel guilty for having sex. TRUE.
True or false? Society makes you feel guilty for not having sex. TRUE.

It really is true. All sexual behavior is judged. You either get chided for going for it or for not going for it. There isn’t really a “win-win.”

I don’t know if there’s any more to say about this point than just that, but I still find it amazingly compelling. Just being aware of this point I think lets us think much more openly about sex.

So many of our choices and our “standards” are influenced by the world around us. Just about every single religion has had something to say about the morality of sex, most likely because we’re all sexual beings and it’s a deeply influential method of control. When you really step back and think about it, there really can be no moral question for safe, consensual sex. Yet, we tend to be profoundly self-conscious about our sexual behavior and reputation.

There are some considerations that are important beyond consent. Obviously, sexual contact always include health risks. Trust is also fundamentally important to maintaining the consent and safety of the interaction. And if you value monogamy like I do, it’s important to honor commitments and sexual exclusivity. Lastly, we can’t ignore that for many people, sexual behavior always has an emotional component. Aspects of commitment, dependency, love, and power can affect people well beyond the physical sexual pleasure they experience.

But, if you can account for all of those factors (and I’d personally recommend that you do), is there any good reason to be inhibited as sexual beings? I would say no. This is why I was torn when I was writing that monogamy post a few weeks ago, because even though I value monogamy both sexually and emotionally, I completely understand how and why open couples make their openness work.

Sex is a great thing. I think everyone deserves the opportunity to be sexual beings. I think everyone has the right to explore their sexuality in any way they wish (that honors the values I just discussed). Hell, if we all liked the same things, life would be pretty damn boring! I’ll admit here that I have at least one fetish and that I’m also kink-curious, and honestly, I feel like it takes some courage to put that out there publicly. But really, why should it? Why should I feel embarrassed to say so? Sure, there are probably some of you out there who don’t want to think about Zack Ford as a sexual being, but get over it. You’re a sexual being too, you know.

I think life would be a lot less stressful if society didn’t make us feel so self-conscious about sex. I do think discretion is important, and sexual harassment is a very real and serious concern in our culture. But I don’t think it has to be either-or. I think we can get to a place where we don’t have to be afraid/guilty/ashamed of our sex lives without constantly making overt sexual advancements to every single person we meet. Just as “gay” does not solely define me, I can come out of the closet as “sexual” without letting sexuality control my life.

Why should sex be judged? The young people in Robyn’s session made it very clear that the last thing they want is to be boxed in. Not only do they not want their identities bound by binaries, so too do they want the opportunity to explore their sexuality beyond the “shoulds” and “should nots” that society overwhelms us with.

I feel bad for the people who have been conditioned to be ashamed of sex, one way or another. We only get one chance to explore this thing called humanity, and there seems to be no reason to make the most of it. Thanks, Robyn, and others, for helping me better understand this in my life.



Why You Should Absolutely Care About The Prop 8 Trial (And How!)

You’re a week behind, you know. History’s unfolding. Were you aware? Don’t worry, late is better than never. I’ll help you catch up down below, but first, let’s talk about why you’re here.

I’m just going to assume you’re on my site because you have at least a passing interest in queer equality. Maybe you know the ins and outs of DOMA, DADT, and ENDA, or maybe you don’t. That’s okay, you don’t have to. In fact, all that you really need to do is care in the slightest about what’s happening right now in California and understand why it’s important.

Last week began the trial of Perry v. Schwarzenegger. This case is a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, which ended the state’s recognition of same-sex marriages in 2008. “Perry” is Kris Perry, one of four plaintiffs (two same-sex couples, pictured at right) who are challenging the ban. “Schwarzenegger” is obviously the Governator, but he and his attorney general decided not to defend Prop 8, so the group that originally promoted Prop 8 (Yes on 8, now known as Protect Marriage) is defending in the governor’s place. (They’re called defense-intervenors for this reason.)

Now, here’s your first important point. Even though this may just look like a challenge to a state law, it’s taking place in federal court. Why is this important? Because it means the implications of the verdict would apply outside of California. Pretty much everybody expects this case to make it to the Supreme Court. The conclusion of this trial could be epic.

The main issue in the case is marriage, which means that if Proposition 8 is overturned, such a decision could overturn all bans on same-sex marriage, including the federal Defense of Marriage Act. (Even in states with marriage equality, the federal DOMA prevents same-sex couples from enjoying true marriage equality.)

But that’s not all. This trial could also lead to the classification of sexual orientation as a suspect class. Were that to happen, this proceeding would not just affect marriage equality, but would ripple out and truly open doors to full queer equality. Perry v. Schwarzenegger would stand the test of time, being remembered alongside other historic civil rights cases like Loving v. Virginia and Brown v. Board of Education. Gays and lesbians would finally be legally recognized as an oppressed minority.

Now, you might be saying, “But why do I need to care? Whatever happens in the trial happens in the trial.” There is truth in the notion that none of us can actually affect the judge’s decision. We cannot participate in the trial. But this narrow view ignores the significance of these proceedings.

You see, in this trial, it’s not just Prop 8 that’s at stake. It’s our entire community—our entire movement. In order for the judge to make an informed decision, the plaintiffs have to educate the court on why Proposition 8 is bad. That means not just talking about Prop 8, but the entire history of the oppression of our community. This trial brings to light all of the ways society is miseducated about sexual orientation and all of the ways gays and lesbians have suffered as a result. The expert witnesses have given extensive testimony that amount to classroom lectures on the history, psychology, and sociology of gays and lesbians. Take a look at the topics covered in just this first week:

» The history of marriage (Dr. Nancy Cott)
» The history (and presence) of discrimination against and demonization of gays and lesbians (Dr. George Chauncey)
» Same-sex marriage would have no effect on heterosexual marriage (Dr. Letitia Peplau)
» The economic losses from banning same-sex marriage (Dr. Edmund Egan)
» The continued stigma and prejudice gays and lesbians experience (Dr. Ilan Meyer)
» Same-sex couples are just as fit to raise children as heterosexual couples (Dr. Michael Lamb)
» Same-sex couples’s well-being benefits from having marriage (Helen Zia)

And there’s more to come! You see, it’s not just about some law in some state. It’s about our lives.

This is an opportunity for us to educate others. This testimony is to educate the court, but in a public trial, there’s no reason it shouldn’t educate the public too. By taking an interest in this trial, you can share with friends and family the harsh truths of our existence and continue to rally public support.

This is probably the most important point of why you should care about the trial: Our opponents don’t want us to see it. Tell me if this makes any sense to you in the 21st Century: The trial is public. Anybody can go to San Francisco to the courthouse and watch. However, the defendants have fervently campaigned to prevent broadcast of the trial. Why are they so concerned about others seeing it?? If nothing else, this should rouse your suspicions.

Our lives are on the line and our stories are being illuminated through testimony, but our opponents are doing everything they can to extinguish that light. Unfortunately, there’s not much more they can do. We have passionate advocates spending all day in the courthouse furiously typing to make sure that we all have access to these important proceedings. How sad would it be if we were finally granted rights, but most of the public didn’t understand why?

That’s why you should care. We have a duty to join those advocates who can be in the courthouse to continue to raise awareness about these proceedings. We have friends, families, and communities in which we can share the important events taking place in Perry v. Schwarzenegger. All of us who truly have a concern for gay rights need to do everything we can to magnify the accessibility of this trial.

So, I’m glad you’re here. Like I said, you’re a week late, but that’s not a problem, because we can catch you up. It’ll take some reading on your part, but my commitment here on the blog is to provide you as much access as possible so you can peruse what’s right for you. Rather than digging through epic transcripts from the livebloggers (like I do) or trying to make some sense of the case via Twitter, you can turn to ZackFord Blogs daily for a roundup of all the news.

Since you might be brand new to the case, I would start by taking a look at this Prop. 8 Trial First Week Roundup courtesy of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (who are supporting the plaintiffs). This well give you a general sense of what has taken place and who the key players are.

Then, if you want a bit more candid look at some of the drama that unfolded last week, take a look at Karen Ocamb’s piece today on Huffington Post: Supreme Court Camera Ruling Continues History of Anti-Gay Discrimination. She addresses a lot of the events that have taken place outside the trial’s proceedings that are of significance.

And, if you have a little bit more time for catching up, I’d recommend you take a look at the recaps that the National Center for Lesbian Rights’ Shannon Minter has been posting each day over at Pam’s House Blend. He really does a nice job summarizing each day’s proceedings while still providing a decent amount of detail. Here are those posts: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4, Day 5.

I’ve been following the trial in my own unique way, by responding to each of the posts published by Protect Marriage’s Andy Pugno. Pugno has been regularly trying to spin the case to make it look like his side is winning. It’s not surprising that his posts provide limited detail about what actually is said in the courtroom and are also closed to comments. In some ways, the content of his posts actually reinforces the points the plaintiffs are trying to make about discrimination and demonization, so I hope to bring these to light.

In addition, I’ve been trying to aggregate all of the various media coverage on the case (and getting better at it by the day). So, at the end of each day, you can come to ZackFord Blogs and get linked to the liveblog transcripts, blogs and recaps about the days proceedings, mainstream news coverage, and the most popular #prop8 links being shared on Twitter. All of this can be found in my Perry v. Schwarzenegger archive:

I hope it continues to be a helpful resource for keeping up with the trial. The stakes are high, and we owe it to our communities and to ourselves to stay informed about what’s taking place.



The Vicious Cycle of LGBT Discrimination: Religious, Legal, Criminal, Social

The idea that religious condemnations of homosexuality impact criminal acts against the LGBT community has long been discussed. I’d offer that the intersections between different realms all reinforce each other. Whether it is criminal, religious, social, or legal, any words or actions the LGBT community only reinforce the idea that such attitudes are okay.

Heard about any hate crimes lately? There were two just this week in Buffalo, a man and a woman (hat tip to my friend Erin for the links). It fact, it’s starting to look like there might be an anti-gay gang in Buffalo. Towleroad also has some updates on other pending cases.

Heard any religious discrimination against gay folks lately? The role of American evangelicals in Uganda comes to mind. That’s besides the point that we hear religious leaders condemning the LGBT community on almost a daily basis…

Heard any discrimination from the entertainment industry? Perhaps the other night when the punchline on Letterman, at the expense of new Obama appointee Amanda Simpson, was the same argument most transbashers have used to get out of their hate crime charges?

And let’s talk about legal discrimination! Despite the fact that the state of New Jersey has a judicial mandate to provide equal partner rights to same-sex couples and the fact that civil unions have been proven not to work in achieving this equality, the New Jersey Senate went ahead and voted against marriage equality today (14-20). (Watching all these votes is getting draining; more on that tomorrow, methinks.)

These forms of discrimination need to be interrupted every time in every venue. They all need to be responded to with the same vigor and fortitude. Every time we just shrug off something like another failed marriage vote, we’re giving our stamp of approval for such discrimination to continue.

We need to be more comprehensive in standing up for LGBT issues. We need not tolerate any person who dares suggest we are less than or not due our turn at equality.

I’m a little too flustered from watching the New Jersey Senate all afternoon, so I’ll leave it at that for now. We will only continue to watch inequality persist if we tolerate it.

Some words of wisdom left to us by Jonathan Larson:

Why do we refuse to hang a light when the streets are dangerous?
Why does it take an accident before the truth gets through to us?

Why should we blaze a trail when the well worn path seems safe and so inviting?
How, as we travel, can we see the dismay and keep from fighting?

What does it take to wake up a generation?
How can you make someone take off and fly?
If we don’t wake up and shake up the nation,
We’ll eat the dust of the world wondering why.

Why do we follow leaders who never lead?
Why does it take catastrophe to start a revolution?

Cages or wings: which do you prefer? Ask the birds.
Fear or love, baby? Don’t say the answer.
Actions speak louder than words.



Secular Humanism’s Easy: Appreciate People In Your Life

My arm and my pride are still a little sore today, but that’s okay. The joy of laughing at three straight men for besting me in Wii “Swordplay,” despite my best efforts, was worth it.

That’s really what life is all about. No matter what happens, the best thing in life is being able to appreciate the time you have with the ones you love. Everything else, if you think about it, is just means to that end.

At one point during my five-and-a-half hour drive home from an amazing New Year’s celebration, I had a good cry. I don’t just mean a hearty or effective cry, I mean a positive, uplifting cry—literally a good cry. For me, the catalyst was this song:

“Childhood Places” by Benjamin Costello

Missing people is an odd emotion. The longing and absence can be absolute torture, but if you really think about it, it’s one of the most positive and reassuring feelings. The only way you can miss someone is to love them. The absence only exists because of an amazingly strong positive emotional connection you have with the people you are missing. Recognizing you have people to miss can oddly be as sweet as missing them is bitter.

Over the past two weeks, I’ve gotten to see some of my most favorite people in the world, many of whom I haven’t seen in two-and-a-half years. And one of the ways you know you have good friends is when 30 months can pass and when you’re together, you can shoot the shit just the same as before. Let me tell you, I have some amazing friends.

When I think about the simplicity of this joy in life, it really makes me glad to be an atheist. The moments of my life that I cherish most?—I can appreciate them simply for what they are. It wasn’t God’s plan or fate or anything of the sort. There is no higher power that dictates who I am or what I will do in my life or who I will interact with. There’s just me. It’s all in my hands. And to have such amazing people in my life, whether I get to see them regularly or not, makes me really feel like I’m getting the most out of life.

I think that’s why so many people cling to God and demand their beliefs be respected. It’s all about fear. God is a crutch and a scapegoat…

God is the source of my morality, so I don’t have to take responsibility for making moral decisions for myself.

God controls the events in my life, so I’ll appeal to Him for what decisions to make.

God created me for a purpose, so if others don’t like what I’m doing in my life, they can take it up with Him.

I think that’s so sad. Yeah, sometimes it’s tough to own your life and own your decisions, but it’s so much more meaningful when you do. God just gets in the way of putting people first. When you just look around and make the most of what you have, the results can be phenomenal, and they’ll always be 100% human accomplishments.

My new year is off to a great start. I hope as Twenty-ten continues, I keep this warm beginning in mind. All of the work and blogging that I do is to allow and encourage people to appreciate interactions with fellow humans int he same way. We’re all here, and we’re all going to die, so let’s make the most of it for us all while we can.

Happy New Year!