It’s a Joke!

Someone I know on Facebook wrote something in their status a couple of weeks ago that I took great exception to. It was a little story. I’m going to include a redacted version here because it was too vile for me to feel comfortable reproducing completely.

A study has revealed that the kind of face a woman finds attractive on a man can differ depending on where she is in her menstrual cycle.

For example: if she is ovulating, she is attracted to men with rugged and masculine features. However, if she is menstruating or menopausal, she tends to be more attracted to a man with [redacted because of extreme violence some of it of a sexual nature]

No further studies are expected on this subject.

When I read this the first time my response was WTF?

One commenter, a man, responded first:

This is very disturbing.

Then I made several comments. [of course] A summary, for they were long ones:

Why do you want to perpetuate this ridiculous stereotype? Do you hate men? Do you hate women?

On Twitter a couple of weeks ago there was a meme going around which was #reasonstobeatyourgirlfriend (Reasons to beat your girlfriend) A lot of guys put some really nasty shit there. Much of it related to women and their hormones. A lot more people objected to not only the hashtag itself but the vile content. Some guys said "It’s just a joke"…

Violence is not a fucking joke. Portraying women as hysterical out of control maniacs is not a joke. Men and women have enough problems trying to understand each other without people reinforcing the problems and exaggerating things… this is just vile. If you have some issues deal with them…don’t make it worse for women and men who are trying to overcome that with this kind of joke.  If this is what passes for humor among your Mafia Wars crowd or other friends then maybe you ought to examine the company you are keeping.

The original poster had written BTW, in response to the first comments that objected to the content:

IT’S A JOKE!!!

Screamed at the reader in big bold ALL CAPS!!! Which got the response:

Would it be a joke if a woman was being described as being violated in that fashion? It’s a joke doesn’t cut it an an excuse.

That resulted in an unpleasant personal message to the effect that I should have kept my comments to myself and if I couldn’t then at least sent them privately even though the item was posted publicly. Then I was unfriended. And blocked. And this person, who happens to be a close relative, has not communicated with me since.

Interestingly though, the posting was removed and an apology to everyone still in the loop was posted instead. OK.

This kind of thing is a fairly common occurrence. Places like Facebook have rape joke groups/pages and Twitter hash tags often have this kind of material. On the Facebook issue, Violet Blue has written a post Facebook Finally Removes Its Pro-Rape Pages.

Sexual violence can be directed at women or men, although a far larger amount is directed at women. It’s just distasteful at it’s mildest and offensive and incitement to criminal activity in the more extreme cases.

A lot of it has to do with gender stereotyping. Here’s another example from the beloved [I’m going to color all snark a puky green] online publication Elephant Journal Are Women Mentally Ill? [link is to the Google cache version because of the paywall-you can find all their stuff in that cache BTW without having to let your browser touch their actual website] The article is an attempt at humor, I am supposing, since I can’t find any other reason why anyone would want to write something like that. I’m not going to get into specific critiques of EJ articles much any more as that could potentially become a full time job and the pushback tends to be a irrational mess of irrelevant ad hominems and other non sequiturs. Mindful insults I suppose.

There was another piece there about “Yoga for Black People”, ostensibly a joke or attempt at humor of some sort as well. That particular piece came along with public humiliation for those that questioned, no matter how politely, the wisdom of such postings.  Nathan at Dangerous Harvests summed the situation up nicely in the post Elephant Journal’s Got Issues and the comments are equally interesting. But I don’t want to dwell on these specific situations when this trend is becoming ever more common.

The trend I mean is one of diminishment of others [and sometimes one’s self] for the sake of humor followed by a dismissal of their hurt.

The It’s a Joke Rationalization

Humor has a lot of uses in society. Humor is useful for illuminating many of the uncomfortable aspects of our society without seeming to be critical or dour and to avoid directly offending an audience. Professionals like George Carlin and Chris Rock do this very well. But since it is mainly described as entertainment, contrasted with “serious” work, there is also the tendency to attempt to justify pretty much anything as humor in order to give it a pass rather than serious examination.

From another perspective humor is an effective means to normalize and continue social stratification, exclusionary behavior and oppression. It very much depends upon who is making the joke and who is the target of the joke. Power relations play into that.

This also has a long history wherein those labeled “Other” become the butt of jokes involving stereotypes. The powerful, in whatever capacity are often deemed more acceptable targets since they often have means to silence/ignore their critics in some form or another. The humor at their expense does not endanger their positions or security or well-being. The marginalized however have a different and somewhat diminished degree of protection in this regard. They do not often either have the power to silence nor do they often even have the power to respond with a similar level of social impact. Yet with the label of “just a joke” we are conditioned to laugh and dismiss commentary of this nature. It is generally meant in the latter case to disguise hostility and enforce existing power relations. Those who do not go along become similarly marginalized. This is the same sort of social mechanism as the average bully uses to bolster their position and security. A thin disguise indeed.

Shame and guilt are very strong motivators for social behavior. Humor when directed at the more powerful is about shame and guilt for behaviors that diminish others who are less powerful. It is a form of social address that has been invoked for centuries. That’s why the political comic genius of a George Carlin still contains strong messages. The court jester was tolerated and the member’s of the king’s court laughed at his mockery of royal power for exactly the same reasons. It is a social leveling mechanism in these kinds of instances.

Now I have personally used this sort of shaming humor, generally in the form of snark, in a response to organizations/publications/individuals in positions of power. Deliberately. And I will no doubt use it again in a situation where I am speaking from a position of a)defense b)against a relatively powerful corporate entity c)marginalization d) injustice or wherever there is a justifiable power differential in play that diminishes the less powerful.

In other instances, where the target is one of lesser social power there is no social leveling going on but a reinforcement of hierarchy and status quo power positioning. I won’t personally go there (no matter how tempting) and will, if I have the energy, challenge that which does. In that instance, humor and accusations of lack of appreciation for a particular form of humor are used as a way to shame, silence or misdirect people so that they don’t question or challenge what the joke actually means or what effect it has in a larger context.

In that case those who seek to induce a sense of shame or guilt in others by using such humor and attacking those who don’t go along, are attempting to control the behavior. When one questions or objects to an offensive joke some people are quick to remark that you are being overly sensitive, weak, negative, ruining the community, too serious or lacking a sense of fun or a sense of humor in general. 

Most people don’t want to be written off as the overly serious, stuck up person who can’t take a joke. Why are you getting so upset? It’s just a joke! This is the threat of social ostracism and marginalization. It means “If you don’t go along you’re out of the club.” According to the psychologist Maslow (hierarchy of needs) a sense of belonging is a significant human need in order to have a fulfilled life. To have this sense threatened is a powerful psychological motivator.

In another psychological way there is something satisfying about transgressing boundaries. It reinforces a sense of autonomy. The edge, which is where boundaries are transgressed, has an excitement to it that is hard to resist. There is something that feels a little like courage or bravery to go against the grain. Whether it actually is courage or something else depends a great deal on the variables of the situation.

The biggest variable relates to the issue of power relations. It does not take courage to  mock others who are at the same or lesser social level than one’s self. That’s pretty easy since the weight of an institution, a crowd or other forms of heavy social capital are not even needed and may even be on one’s side in those instances. In that case it is something else, most likely fake bravado disguising insecurity or actual lack of courage to look at the more powerful rather than the less powerful. Any oaf can squash ants but not many want to look within for the resources to challenge that which is larger. Lots of reasons why that happens. Then again there are a few who don’t see a difference as long they are not on the receiving end. Perpetual perpetrators who cry victim if they are called on it. Or in it for the lulz, as popular parlance would have it. Either way the type of empathetic insensitivity, often accompanied by grossly exaggerated and distorted personal sensitivity that comes with that kind of terrain is too mind boggling to get into. [AKA Troll motivation 101]

Moving on.

Here’s an interesting piece that appeared recently on Scientific American blogs, The Joke Isn’t Funny—It’s Harmful. The author is voicing criticism of another blog piece that appeared on the site Nature, in which a lot of stereotypical gender behavior is used in an attempt at humor. That happens every day but it doesn’t generally happen on internationally known science based websites. So there was controversy.

The author does a good job of outlining the concept of stereotype threat and how it affects individuals and groups in terms of social advantage and disadvantage. You can read that for yourself at the link but one point that is brought up in the comments is the idea that these sorts of “jokes” are somehow validated by science, that is women are by way of evolution less rational, particularly regarding certain social behaviors.

A stereotype is a social instrument to validate those in positions of power and privilege. People become conditioned by social means which appears to validate stereotypes but this does not provide factual or provable means of demonstrable proof. Some women may themselves say they become “insane” due to hormonal changes. This does not mean it’s a scientific fact, only that upon encountering the stereotype long enough it becomes inculcated as a behavioral pseudo-explanation. Sort of like religion and its “The devil made me do it.” Pure bullshit based on pop cultural reinforcements.

It’s the same kind of “argument” (though it’s not even worthy of that term) as “men are “natural” providers/athletes/fathers/leaders/lovers/mathematicians etc or white people are more “naturally” rational/accountable/responsible/etc.

These are all culturally defined/conditioned/sanctioned/emphasized/learned behaviors. There is no universal human gene for “leadership” just as there is none for “shopping ability” despite what some “evolutionary psychologists” might postulate-and that is all they can do is postulate because they haven’t proven a damn thing with their status quo reinforcing theories. (tempting to go into the tangent of so-called “alpha” behavior, as in “alpha-male” or “alpha-bitch”[notice the dehumanization when the colloquial “alpha” term is applied to the female?] as that’s equally as culture-bound, learned and fully bogus, but I’ll save that for later)

There’s the difference between a truism/stereotype and a demonstrable factual explanation. This gets into all kinds of things like logical fallacies and rationalizations used as fact. The Colbert truthiness factor abounds.

Advertisements

Math, Stereotypes and the Gender Wars Mess

Why Pretty Girls Can’t Do Math is an article that appeared on the Psychology Today website about a study that seems to indicate that when women think about romance they can’t think subsequently think about math.

The subjects were shown some imagery and conversation that had either to do with romance or intelligence and were further asked to keep journals or do tasks. Only the women who received the stimulus related to romance temporarily lost some interest in math and related subjects.

I saw this study noted in a couple of places and finally at one of those places left a comment about it , which I want to amplify a bit.

I’m sure there are some things that some men could be exposed to that would cause them to lose their interest in math as well. Ask a male football or hockey fan to divide the length of the field or rink by the width and express it as a decimal fraction while the Superbowl or Stanley Cup finals are on. Or to discuss the angle of incidence as it pertains to the angle of reflection on the mirrored ceiling of their favorite porno movie. (bonus points if you can also account for the refractive properties of an 8 mm. thickness of the mirror glass)  Here is some study help if you need it. No its not a porn site but a physics site.

Try this during or after pretty much any other enculturated dopamine inducing activity. We are taught from a young age not only “gender-appropriate” activities which include heavy emotional content (dolls, war toys), but also we receive positive reinforcement, which is a dopamine (among other neurochemicals) boost, for engaging in those activities.

Girls play princess and hear “You are so pretty.”  or “When is your prince coming?” Boys often receive praise, particularly if they go on to become university students, for good grades particularly in traditionally male dominated fields like math or the sciences.

There is no reason then for men to respond to the romantic stimuli in the same way as women. they have not been conditioned to that as children. The women who received the stimuli related to intellectual topics fared the same as men.

So basically the study proves that women are conditioned to respond to attention to their attractiveness and partnering ability. Pretty old news.

That some would try to make this study into a verification of biological determinism, meaning “Pretty girls can’t do math” as the title suggests is really bogus.

The same old problems exist with this study as with most psychological studies;limited sample size, lack of diversity in sample size, and so on. These romantic images would not generally translate cross-culturally. So any conclusions have to be limited to a subset of a subset. The study is highly gender and culture and class bound. There is a correlation but that is not definitively or necessarily even demonstrably causative.

In general if someone is distracted they are not going to focus on another activity that is of lower priority and especially if they have not been conditioned to it. So the researchers should have first done some investigation into what the participants considered their personal priorities or preferences and set up the experiment using that.

Beyond this the same author who wrote this article mentioning this study wrote another one only a couple of months back about the Japanese women’s soccer team beating the American women’s soccer team at the World Cup. Now I didn’t care for the first article I cite here but it is not based on the author’s own field of specialization.

In How Japan Captured the World Cup Title the author does rely on her own area of expertise to put forward a theory as to the reason why the Japanese women, despite just having been through a devastating earthquake and nuclear reactor melt down went on to win.

It had to do with simultaneous multiple identities. The women were less stressed because they were not only focused on winning a match. It would not be the end of the world if they didn’t win. The other team were there for one purpose only hence their expectations were heightened and the pressure for that particular match was extreme.

She writes:

The mere act of realizing you aren’t just defined by one dimension – your SAT score or your ability to make a penalty shot – can be enough to help curtail those worries and negative thoughts that sometimes interfere with your ability to perform at your best. In essence, thinking about yourself from multiple perspectives can help relieve some pressure that you feel to excel in one area of your life.

Suppose we apply that to areas of traditional gender roles and the gender conditioning children go through.

I have a friend with a young son. Her husband has insisted on training the boy in hockey since he was old enough to walk. He was determined that the kid would be the next Wayne Gretzky. The kid doesn’t really like hockey. The mother enrolled the boy at age 4 into Hip Hop dance class. He loves it and he’s really good at it. He, now at age 6, wants to learn music and singing so he can be a performer. They are fortunate enough that they can afford all of this although I suspect that in the next year or two hockey is going to fade away.

The child could have been kept within a narrow conditioned path and maybe he would have become some kind of athlete. Or maybe he would have become rebellious. No one can say for sure but with a broader range of options the likelihood of him finding something that really gives him a good quality of life, a great deal of pleasure and not just a big paycheck, later in life is substantially increased.

The point is social conditioning has an effect that we can only overcome if we are conscious of it. If we have to spend a good deal of our time thinking about or enacting a particular gender performance (masculine/feminine) and that becomes our priority especially if we feel some element of insecurity in that area, then it will become magnified in terms of priorities. That puts other elements…oh like rational thought, coherent analysis and linguistic ability somewhere out of the ballpark. This is pretty evident if you follow the so-called “Gender Wars” debates. The extremists at both ends can’t manage to see much beyond the genitals of the various situations and take facts into account.

Nathan had a good post today on his 21st Century Relationships blog called “Men Want to Feel Manly” which was a quote from a comment someone had left. The quote he took issue with was:

I think what it boils down to is men wanting to feel manly but still appreciated. I would always offer, but any man who allows you to pay (especially on a first or second date) is probably not that invested. When guys like you, they want to impress you. They do that by proving they can provide for you. It’s an instinctual thing.

He made some very good points about the kinds of assumptions that are wrapped up in this comment. It denies people’s true natures and it turns dating into a capitalist activity. Read the whole thing.

I agreed but went a bit further in the comments:

You didn’t rant so I will.

That biological determinism trope has got to end. We are not our biology, men or women. It all fits so very neatly into the complimentarian scheme of things which basically states "For every manly man there is a womanly woman."

Cut and dried little boxes.

Even though my relationships have primarily been with men, including a long marriage, I’ve begun over the years to adopt the label of gender-queer in terms of the way I think, behave and live. I can’t "think like a woman" whatever that is supposed to mean, nor can I "think like a man" or behave stereotypically as either comfortably. That has always been the case. I can only think and behave as myself, which is not consulting my physiology every time a thought comes in my head to see if it is appropriate for my particular physical configuration. What a load of bollocks.

It annoys me to no end that social structures [and roles] are built based on genitals and what they are "supposed" to symbolize.

I have as many reservations about that comment you quoted as you do. It infantilizes women by suggesting we cannot care for ourselves adequately, turns sex into a commodity to be bargained for by the highest bidder and turns men into johns who are only shopping for a glorified prostitute and whose only worth is measured by their wallet.

Some day maybe more people will see through all this than don’t. I look forward to that tipping point.

I’ve been reading a lot of nonsense over the past week or so about appropriate roles or activities for women and men and the alleged “fact” of male dominance.

I don’t know any men who have such things as their priority nor do I know any women who strive to be “taken care of” as if they were children. I guess I’m just lucky because there seems to be a significant number of people who think and behave as if that were some evolutionary fact.

No doubt evolutionary psychology, which is something I’d call a new form of eugenics, with equally shaky theoretical foundations, has something to do with this as well as the advertising world which continually bombards us with “gender appropriate” propaganda because it’s easier to make a profit if they can convince everyone to buy into the same grand sociological narrative.

And that’s all it is–this sorry story of gender, dominance and the pitiful rationalizations that psychology, religion, society and culture put forward to excuse all manner of atrocity, degradation, abuse, unfairness and injustice.

Unfortunately, until most people realize that these kinds of battles have the stink of brain wash all over them they will keep recurring.

Wikileaks, Raelians, Reincarnation and The Possibility of an Island

Warning-Wikileaks stuff. Though you could probably tell by the title.


Sometimes the Wikileaks cables provide some insight into popular and fringe culture as well as the usual political subjects.

A while back I read an excellent novel that was based on a protagonist’s experiences with a semi-religious group that very much resembled the Raelians. These are people who believe in an extra-terrestrial origin of the human species, that the originators of this species are one day going to return to earth and that by cloning, people will be able to live forever, among other things.

In that novel the main character describes his life through several viewpoints of his various clones throughout time. He is looking back attempting to piece together a mystery regarding his first death.

The award winning novel is called The Possibility of an Island. That book, in summary from the link:

There are three main characters, Daniel, and two of his clones.

Daniel is a successful comedian who can’t seem to enjoy life despite his wealth. He gets bored with his hedonist lifestyle, but can’t escape from it either. In the meanwhile he is disgruntled with the state of current society, and philosophizes about the nature of sex and love.

His two clones live an uneventful life as hermits, in an apocalyptic background far away in the future. They live in a time where the human species is on its last legs (alternatively, on its first legs: hunter-gatherer tribes), destroyed by climate change and nuclear war. The two clones are confronted with the life of the first Daniel and have different views about their predecessor. Scattered around are the remnants of tourist resorts, cities and consumer items and some natural humans living in small tribes without any knowledge of the past or of civilization.

The book was the basis of Iggy Pop’s 2009 album Préliminaires or so states Wikipedia.

[As an aside, it is interesting how interconnected things in this world really are. We’re not even talking six degrees of separation much any more. In this post alone we have genetic science, Iggy Pop, Canadian government legislation, the Marquis de Sade, comics references, Mayans, 2012, US government restrictions on the freedom of information, French language novels in translation, aliens, the annual migration of the Quebecois to Florida for the winter, reincarnation and Wikileaks. Remix culture indeed. ]

Michel Houellebecq the author of the novel is described as:

…a controversial and award-winning French author, filmmaker and poet. To admirers he is a writer in the tradition of literary provocation that reaches back to the Marquis de Sade and Baudelaire; to detractors he is a peddler of sleaze and shock.

~from Wikipedia article Michel Houellebecq

He’s an exceptionally good writer and I enjoyed reading this book enormously.

But Houellebecq is not the only one with interest in the Realians and their beliefs. The US consulate in Montreal Canada took some interest in the topic in the early part of the new millennium.

In late 2002 the Realians announced to the world that they had cloned the first human. It was allegedly a female named Eve. Of course it was a gigantic media hoax but it spurred a lot of press and some concerns within the scientific community as well as everyone was barely over the Y2K scare and all the apocalyptic notions regarding the new millennium.  Superb timing for such a show, wasn’t it?

03MONTREAL1 from 2003-01-03 16:05 is a cable that deals with the Raelian sect of UFO worshippers that began in Europe and has spread, albeit thinly, around the world. Here are some excerpts with my commentary relevant to the above. 

SUBJECT: CLONING CLAIM PUTS SPOTLIGHT ON QUEBEC-BASED 
RAELIAN GROUP 
 
1. SUMMARY: THE FOLLOWING IS SOME BACKGROUND INFORMATION ON 
THE MONTREAL-BASED RAELIAN GROUP, WHOSE MEMBER DR. BRIGITTE 
BOISSELIER ANNOUNCED AT A DECEMBER 27 PRESS CONFERENCE IN 
HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA THE BIRTH OF THE FIRST CLONED HUMAN 
BEING, A 7 POUND BABY GIRL NICKNAMED EVE. AND ITS TWO MAIN 
FIGURES LEADER CLAUDE VORILHON, BETTER KNOWN AS RAEL, AND 
DR. BOISSELIER.  ONE LIKELY RESULT OF THE BOISSELIER 
ANNOUNCEMENT IS THAT CANADA'S PENDING LEGISLATION TO BAN 
HUMAN CLONING COULD CONTAIN STRICTER RESTRICTIONS. END 
SUMMARY. 

 

That’s the short version. The woman doctor named is actually a Ph.D. chemist not a geneticist so that gives you a clue right there about her area of expertise. The long version of the cable, with additional details follows.

2. THE RAELIAN MOVEMENT WAS FOUNDED BY FRENCHMAN CLAUDE 
VORILHON, A FORMER SPORTS JOURNALIST, FAILED SINGER, RADIO 
COMMENTATOR AND AVID STOCK CAR RACER. VORILHON CLAIMS TO 
HAVE BEEN CONCEIVED ON DECEMBER 25, 1945, BY A FRENCH MOTHER 
AND AN ALIEN FATHER. SPECIALISTS SAY HE WAS BORN IN VICHY, 
FRANCE IN 1946. VORILHON WHO USES THE NAME RAEL  (GOD'S 
LIGHT) (PRONOUNCED RA-EL IN FRENCH (RHYMES WITH KAL-EL AND 
JOR-EL)) SAYS HE CREATED THE MOVEMENT AFTER ALIENS VISITED 
HIM IN CENTRAL FRANCE IN 1973. AT THAT TIME, LITTLE GREEN 
ALIENS (APPROXIMATELY 4 FT TALL) TOLD HIM --IN FLUENT FRENCH- 
- EARTHLINGS HAD BEEN CREATED IN A LABORATORY 25,000 YEARS 
AGO. SINCE THESE ALIENS WHICH HE CALLS THE ELOHIM (THE 
HEBREW WORD FOR GOD) ARE 25,000 YEARS AHEAD OF US, RAEL SAYS 
CLONING IS VERY SIMPLE TASK FOR THEM. 

Jor-El and Kal-El are characters from the Superman comics. They are Superman’s father’s name and the original name of Superman on his home planet of Krypton. The author of this cable is certainly well versed in popular culture!

3. ALTHOUGH THE SECT IS BASED IN MONTREAL--AND NOT 
SWITZERLAND AS THE BRITISH TABLOID PRESS HAS REPORTED --RAEL 
MOVED HIS PERSONAL HEADQUARTERS TO FLORIDA IN THE EARLY 
NINETIES. WHEN IT WAS ANNOUNCED RAEL WAS MOVING TO FLORIDA, 
RADIO COMMENTATORS JOKED HE WAS SIMPLY IMITATING QUEBEC 
SNOWBIRDS OR THAT HE WANTED TO GET CLOSER TO NASCAR 
CIRCUITS. HOWEVER, SOME SAW U.S. EXPANSION AS A LOGICAL 
BUSINESS MOVE. ON THE ONE HAND, SINCE THE 1960S, QUEBEC HAS 
PROVEN TO BE TOUGH RECRUITING GROUNDS FOR ALL RELIGIOUS 
GROUPS, MAINSTREAM OR OTHERWISE. ON THE OTHER, THE U.S. 
OFFERS MUCH BIGGER POOLS OF MONEY AND TARGET AUDIENCES FOR 
RAELIAN COMMERCIAL ENTERPRISES. BECAUSE THE GROUP IS 
RECOGNIZED AS AN ATHEIST RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION BY THE 
QUEBEC GOVERNMENT IT ENJOYS THE SAME FISCAL ADVANTAGES AS 
OTHER RELIGIOUS GROUPS. 

Nascar…definitely an interest of the non-terrestrially born.

4.  THE GROUP OPERATES A THEME PARK CALLED UFO LAND IN 
QUEBEC'S EASTERN TOWNSHIPS AREA. THE FACILITY, WHICH 
CONSISTS MAINLY OF A LARGE FLYING SAUCER, A LARGE-SCALE DNA 
MOLECULE AND SOME ROOMS FOR SUMMER SEMINARS AND MEDIA 
INTERVIEWS, WAS RECENTLY VANDALIZED BUT IS SCHEDULED TO 
REOPEN THIS SUMMER. 

UFO Land sounds like a perfect match for Florida though. It could fit along the mysterious tangent made up by Universal Orlando, Disneyworld and LegoLand. In addition to raising some higher vibrations there would certainly be more than a few lost tourists who might wander in and be convinced to lay down a few bills.

5. IN PHOTOS AND TELEVISION APPEARANCES, RAEL SURROUNDS 
HIMSELF WITH BEAUTIFUL WOMEN. RAELIAN MEDIA KITS INCLUDE 
MANY PICTURES OF SCANTILY DRESSED "MEMBERS." RAEL PREACHES 
"SENSUAL MEDITATION" WHICH ENABLES THE FAITHFUL TO REACH THE 
"COSMIC ORGASM." 

While the kiddies are off to ogle Harry Potter replicas with their nannies, Mom and Dad can get some entertainment of their own. Wasn’t this the Rajneesh shtick way back when in Oregon? BTW it still is in India in some of the more remote groups. But you have to be spiritually initiated first. I have yet to find out the cost of that but I gather it’s pretty steep.

6. DESPITE THE SECT'S TWO POWERFUL MARKETING TOOLS, SEX AND 
UFOS, THE RAELIANS HAVE VERY FEW MEMBERS.   THEIR WEB SITE 
WWW.RAEL.ORG CLAIMS -IN TWENTY LANGUAGES-- TO HAVE 55,000 
MEMBERS IN 84 COUNTRIES. HOWEVER MIKE KROPVELD, EXECUTIVE 
DIRECTOR OF THE MONTREAL-BASED INFO-SECTE (NO RELATION WITH 
THE PARIS ORGANIZATION OF THE SAME NAME) TOLD POST THAT THE 
RAELIANS INFLATE THEIR FIGURES WITH PAST AND OCCASIONAL 
MEMBERS. BECAUSE OF ALL THE MEDIA ATTENTION, THE GROUP 
CREATES A LOT OF CURIOSITY -A RAEL SPOKESMAN STATED IN THE 
LOCAL PRESS ON DECEMBER 30 THAT THE WEBSITE WAS GETTING ONE 
MILLION HITS PER HOUR ON DECEMBER 26 -- BUT MOST VISITORS 
ONLY ATTEND A FEW MEETINGS. THE ACTIVE MEMBERSHIP IS BETWEEN 
2,000 AND 3,000 WORLDWIDE AND ABOUT 700 IN MONTREAL, SAYS 
KROPVELD. 

Recruiting might be a problem in Florida as silver lame gives quite a heat rash in high humidity.

7. ACCORDING TO LOCAL NEWS ANALYSTS, THE ULTIMATE GOAL OF 
RAELIANS IS TO CREATE LIFE IN A LABORATORY WHICH WOULD MAKE 
HUMAN BEINGS IMMORTAL AND ENABLE THEM TO CREATE ANOTHER 
CIVILIZATION ON ANOTHER PLANET. IN THE MEANTIME, RAEL WANTS 
TO BUILD AN EMBASSY IN ISRAEL TO WELCOME THE ELOHIM WHEN 
THEY COME BACK IN 2035. THE GROUP HAS ALSO BEEN CRITICIZED 
FOR ADVOCATING THE USE OF GENETICS FOR EUGENIC ATTEMPTS AT 
IMPROVING THE HUMAN RACE. THE GROUP'S STRUCTURE WITH PRIESTS 
AND BISHOPS IS BASED ALONG THE LINES OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. 

If you’ve ever encountered the Zeitgeist Movement and their Venus Project some of this may sound familiar. They are the same ones who have made the Zeitgeist movie which conflates conspiracy theory very nicely with religion, economics and utopianism. While the Zeitgeist folks don’t advocate eugenics they are similarly techno-utopian and far-future oriented.

8. UNTIL RECENTLY THE GROUP AVOIDED SERIOUS CONTROVERSY. 
THERE HAVE NOT BEEN ANY STORIES OF FORMER MEMBERS 
COMPLAINING ABOUT BEING CONNED OUT OF THEIR MONEY OR 
PHYSICALLY ABUSED OR SEDUCED, AND NO INVOLVEMENT WITH MINORS 
-- EXCEPT ONE CASE IN FRANCE. 

Well that’s something in their favor, except once.

9.  NONETHELESS, THE RAELIANS KNOW HOW TO PIGGYBACK ON 
STORIES TO GET PUBLICITY. WHEN IN 1993, AUTHORITIES IN 
QUEBEC DECIDED AGAINST INSTALLING CONDOM DISTRIBUTORS IN 
SCHOOLS, RAELIANS VISITED THE KIDS WITH FREE SAMPLES. IN THE 
WAKE OF THE RECENT PEDOPHILE CHARGES AGAINST VARIOUS 
RELIGIOUS ORDERS, THE GROUP WENT BACK TO THE SCHOOLS IN 
QUEBEC. THEIR PLAN THIS TIME WAS TO HAND OUT SMALL WOODEN 
CROSSES FOR THE STUDENTS TO BURN. BUT PUBLIC AND 
GOVERNMENTAL OPPOSITION STOPPED THE LATER PROJECT. IN BOTH 
CASES, ALMOST ALL THE PUBLICITY THEY GARNERED WAS BAD. 

Reproductive issues of all sorts seem to be pretty prominent with this group.

10. SENSING A SIMILAR WAVE OF CONDEMNATION, RAEL HAS 
PUBLICLY DISTANCED HIMSELF FROM DR. BOISSELIER, A RAELIAN 
BISHOP, AND HER CLONING WORK, SAYING HE HAD GOTTEN RID OF 
CLONAID TWO YEARS AGO. HOWEVER, KROPVELD BELIEVES THAT 
CLONING IS BY FAR THE GROUP'S MOST DANGEROUS WORK. KROPFELD 
EVEN DOUBTS RAEL REALLY BELIEVES IN CLONING HUMAN BEINGS 
BEYOND ITS MARKETING POSSIBILITIES FOR HIMSELF AS SECT 
LEADER. 

Always have an underling handy to blame the unsuccessful projects on ~ Cult Management 101.

[two paragraphs of Dr. Boisselier’s biography snipped]

13.  COMMENT. THE PUBLICITY GARNERED BY THE CLONING 
ANNOUNCEMENT MAY BE USED BY THE RAEL ORGANIZATION TO GAIN 
NEW ADHERENTS IN THE UNITED STATES. 

They’d have plenty of competition from the Sedona area.

14.  CANADA LIKE MANY OTHER COUNTRIES IS IN THE PROCESS OF 
ADOPTING LEGISLATION BILL C-113 WHICH WOULD BAN HUMAN 
CLONING. ONE LIKELY RESULT OF THE BOISSELIER ANNOUNCEMENT IS 
THAT SUCH LEGISLATION COULD CONTAIN STRICTER RESTRICTIONS. 
END COMMENT. 

The bill known as C-13 The Act Respecting Assisted Human Reproduction did pass despite opposition from pro-life groups which wanted a ban on stem cell research among other things included, although there have been further developments and court challenges most notably from the province of Quebec.

What is the fascination with cloning? Is it a tangible manifestation of hope towards immortality? Would a clone be a literal reincarnation? What would the relationship be between a source and a clone? Technically they would be temporally separated identical twins. Would their interaction be like talking to themselves? What does a clone do to the concept of identity?

If you get genetically replicated body parts made from stem cells, which is possible right now, how much of your body gets replaced before you are your own clone? Are you still the same person or someone else?

These are fascinating questions that humanity is going to have to answer in the not too distant future.

The principle of anatta is not confounded by these dilemmas fortunately with the illusory self being comprised of the ever changing content of the skandas. We are not even the same as we were when we began reading this blog post. Blood has circulated, cells have died, some have divided, air has come and gone from our lungs, chemical reactions have taken place, muscles have tensed and relaxed, sitting positions have shifted, the sun or moon has moved a fraction in the sky causing a change in the light to which our eyes have adapted, the earth has rotated several thousand kilometers changing our environmental conditions such as the barometric pressure or wind speed to which we also adapt, bacteria and viruses have grown and died within us, thoughts and feelings have come and gone.

We are in unstoppable flux at every moment. With no conclusive beginning or end. Regardless of momentary configurations it continues. Infinitely.

I don’t think aliens or clones or utopian future scenarios are necessary to realize that.

imagePost-Script in the Real (Not RAEL?) World

One might wonder why Buddhists would be interested in aliens. I really don’t know. But some apparently are. Recently I noticed that a locally well-known teacher of Buddhism, a former Theravada monk, and previous to that a Unitarian, has started a UFO contact group in Vancouver, Canada where I stay sometimes.

Brian Ruhe is the author of several books, gives meditation classes, lectures and retreats with the Theravada Buddhist Community of Vancouver.

He is quoted on the contact group site:

“I feel that this world has been engaged by aliens for a very, very long time and that there is hope, there is a future for mankind in space as part of our galactic community. There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.”

He has a whole book on the topic, although it is not too obvious by the title Freeing the Buddha:Diversity on a Sacred Path, which was first published in India. Here’s a Google books excerpt. He also writes about Bigfoot and throws in some Luke Skywalker for good measure as part of a retelling of some Buddhist stories. He doesn’t necessarily state that he’s a believer in all things woo but I’ve only skimmed. The purpose I guess is to try to make the Buddhist stories relevant for a local audience. I think it is not always advisable to go to that kind of length to appease an audience. There is enough confusion on the market already.

Hmmmm.

He is not the only one putting this line forward. Several forums such as NewBuddhist.com have threads on the topic as do websites like one called Wisdom Quarterly and the post on Angkor Wat in Cambodia. If you read through the other topics on these two, which are only examples, there are many more, this alien hype is getting more prominent the closer to 2012 we get.

If you think this is a new trend think again. New Agers have been plying this line for quite some time. But now it is taking on a distinctly Buddhist tone and being labeled as such using sutras and commentaries as alleged evidence, much like 30 or so years ago when the Nazca lines and images in Mayan ruins were being interpreted similarly in questionable works like Eric von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods.

We are going to be hearing a lot more on this topic in the next couple of years.

Take your protein pills and put your helmets on.

Edge

There’s a website called Edge that asks a provocative question once a year to a large group of well known thinkers and collects the answers. They publish them on the web and in a book. Their short description of this:

To arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.

There have been some remarkable questions and answers over the years. This year’s question is,

2011 : WHAT SCIENTIFIC CONCEPT WOULD IMPROVE EVERYBODY’S COGNITIVE TOOLKIT?

I’m working my way through these responses and one that I came upon is particularly interesting. It is from HOWARD GARDNER who, according to the byline on the website is a Psychologist, Harvard University; Author, Truth, Beauty, And Goodness Reframed: Educating For The Virtues In The 21St Century

He wrote:

"How Would You Disprove Your Viewpoint?!"

Thanks to Karl Popper, we have a simple and powerful tool: the phrase "How Would You Disprove Your Viewpoint?!"

In a democratic and demotic society like ours, the biggest challenge to scientific thinking is the tendency to embrace views on the basis of faith or of ideology. A majority of Americans doubt evolution because it goes against their religious teachings; and at least a sizeable minority are skeptical about global warming — or more precisely, the human contributions to global change — because efforts to counter climate change would tamper with the ‘free market’.

Popper popularized the notion that a claim is scientific only to the extent that it can be disproved — and that science works through perpetual efforts to disprove claims.

If American citizens, or, for that matter, citizens anywhere were motivated to describe the conditions under which they would relinquish their beliefs, they would begin to think scientifically. And if they admitted that empirical evidence would not change their minds, then at least they’d have indicated that their views have a religious or an ideological, rather than a scientific basis.

In the example given this is part of the science vs religion/faith line of thinking which mostly deals with Christian viewpoints. However the answer itself with the question “How Would You Disprove Your Viewpoint?” is a useful one in many other and broader contexts.

We all have a viewpoint and always will as long as we have consciousness so why not at least try to have one that is deliberate rather than conditioned by things we are only vaguely aware of. Why not work towards one that is actually manageable rather than wildly running in all directions without direction?

Disproving, or at least questioning one’s assumptions and so forth is a good start. It can help us to balance out a tendency to get stuck in a view, particularly when that view is not serving us very well but our obstinacy or fear or comfort with that viewpoint precludes letting go of it.

It’s also one of the reasons that some of my blog posts are so long. I try to come up with as many challenges that I can think of to whatever point I’m making, to essentially poke holes in my own argument to see how much, if any, water it holds.

Basically it’s like trolling your own argument. I’ve found it to be a really useful exercise in balancing out my views, rubbing off some of the more pointed ends and curtailing tendencies to kneejerk conditioned reactions. The latter of which may tend to be right in their impulse but definitely get sloppy in execution. Ranting without reflection brings some odd and often unpleasant consequences.

And it’s also useful to think about what you’re thinking. It’s one step in being able to identify your thoughts without getting carried away with them. When we begin to ask questions of our thoughts such as “Where did that come from?”,  “Is that really significant or do I just want it to be so?”, “Do I really need to keep that?”, “Is there an actual benefit there or is it just a habit?”  we start to put the contents of our mental house in order, much like we do when we look into a back closet or attic and examine the contents.

Many folks, when they start meditating don’t realize how much thinking they are actually doing and how they are living and experiencing through those thoughts, mistaking them for reality rather than what’s actually there.

Working with thoughts in this and other ways helps us pry ourselves away from their entrancing power and the effects that unexamined positions and wildly unmanaged thoughts can have on our emotions and our lives.

Maybe this approach is not for everyone but it is certainly helpful to me.

There’s a whole bunch more cognitive tools suggested at the Edge website for this year’s question, “What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?”. Bit of categorical imperative tucked in that one which makes it trickier than it looks. 

The previous year’s questions and answers are pretty good too. They also have articles and conversations on other topics with some of these sharp people. It’s free. Worth a look.

Brain Myths and Bad Science

The Smithsonian magazine has an article about brain myths. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/Top-Ten-Myths-About-the-Brain.html

Item #10 on that list is the myth that there are major differences between male and female brains. The article states:

10. Men are from Mars, women are from Venus.
Some of the sloppiest, shoddiest, most biased, least reproducible, worst designed and most overinterpreted research in the history of science purports to provide biological explanations for differences between men and women. Eminent neuroscientists once claimed that head size, spinal ganglia or brain stem structures were responsible for women’s inability to think creatively, vote logically or practice medicine. Today the theories are a bit more sophisticated: men supposedly have more specialized brain hemispheres, women more elaborate emotion circuits. Though there are some differences (minor and uncorrelated with any particular ability) between male and female brains, the main problem with looking for correlations with behavior is that sex differences in cognition are massively exaggerated.

So of course right after reading that I come across this nonsense in the Wall Street Journal from APRIL 30, 2011.  The Online World of Female Desire.

The author, a computational neuroscientist, draws some of the most ridiculous conclusions from analyzing website data. Read the comments for some of the objections to those. I don’t even want to go into how stupid the conclusions are and how fraught with bogus correlation. That doesn’t even count the abject stereotyping, heteronormative rest of the bullshit.  I’m not a little girl looking for either a daddy or a baby-daddy.

“Feminine intuition” is some kind of stereotypical folk myth that the dude is trying to pump up with statistics but fails miserably. But you know he’s got a book to sell.

And it’s not only about women. Men with “…the much simpler male brain” may have trouble understanding that. Yes he did write that phrase.

If this shit is what passes for science, with it’s alleged objective of truth, then we’d better move back into the caves quick. Ridiculous.

Almost as ridiculous as the recent Kanazawa incident at Psychology today where he tried to put forward distorted data to say that black women were not as attractive as others mostly due to increased testosterone. Not only is the testosterone hypothesis completely the opposite of what is found in most studies the definition of “attractiveness” is not even elucidated. It’s eugenics wrapped up in bullshit evolutionary psychology plain and simple. P. Z. Myers brought up many good points as did some PT bloggers. Here’s a couple of links from Pharyngula blog discussing the matter.

I guess even Psychology Today has limits

Not everyone at Psychology Today is incompetent

When alleged scientists are so biased and blinded by their own social conditioning, beliefs and desire to publish anything at any cost it’s very difficult to take them any more seriously than some of the most wacked out religious believers.