Utterly misanthropic today. Doesn’t happen often but every once in a while the idea of disengaging with the rest of the human species sounds delightful. Sure it’s impractical and caves are damn cold and damp. Maybe I’ll run into D.B. Cooper. But more likely a bear. Rawwwrrrrr! Poor bear.

We All Play by the Same Rules or Not

On the Point of Contact blog a while back was a post called Buddhists, racism and the selective application of local ordinances . It was about the recurring problem of Buddhist sanghas to obtain permission to build temples or conduct Buddhist practices in some areas. Zoning regulations among other things have been used to keep Buddhists out of neighborhoods or at least from making their presence well known.

Jack wrote there:

"…privilege and racial/religious discrimination does not necessarily come in a fury of angry voices, drama or violence. It is a cold, logical and well-rehearsed application of an undue burden placed upon certain groups while not on others."

"unreasonable expectation of burden" is a critical observation in how privilege plays out in this and other scenarios. It is the crux of privilege.

Privilege isn’t just about money or aristocratic behavior when we are talking about it in the socio-political sense. It is about access.

Money can buy a certain amount of access in many situations but the fact that it has to be bought by certain groups and is not afforded automatically again falls under the expectation of burden. To the privileged group a considerable amount of access is afforded automatically.

And that is why when privilege is enacted those who enact it don’t see it. There is often the retort "Everyone plays by the same rules". The questions are who set up the rules and who is enforcing them? Who is being complained against when the rules are violated? When rules and their social enactment are already stacked against a group then violations are pretty easy to come up with.

This reminds me of that business with the atheists and the cross at the 9-11 site. Atheists objected to a Christian symbol being portrayed. They were told to just shut up and get over it. Yet when Muslims wanted to build a community center in the vicinity-not even at the site-the backlash was long and loud.

It happens in many communities and on large and smaller scales.

I’ve gone to local planning meetings over the years and the NIMBY sentiment is definitely alive an well. The list of things people don’t want in their neighborhoods is long indeed.

Some I’ve noted, even in open minded Vancouver Canada include:

-certain kinds of ethnic restaurants (usually applied to late night sushi places even though there are bars across the street which are open later and are much noisier)
-half-way houses of any kind
-homeless shelters of any kind
-charitable organizations that deal with mental health issues (drop in centers, clinics)
-drug rehab facilities
-religious institutions who’s architecture doesn’t fit with the "character" of the neighborhood (this most usually applies to Hindu and Sikh temples)
-signage in languages other than English or French except in certain areas or if the signs have E/F as well.

Even within condominium complexes or apartment buildings there are often coded rules that are thinly disguised racism, mostly to do with cooking (“smells” or “odours” that might pervade hallways), the type of draperies one can use on their windows (no colors, only a white backing-this means no signs or flags as well), what can be done on balconies-no laundry hanging or "excessive" gardening. Some of these can get pretty detailed.

This is all what may be called the institutionalization of privilege. It’s written into various rules and enforced by the dominant groups. Of course it isn’t stated directly as racist or discriminatory and all kinds of other rationalizations are given but when you look at the actual practices and who is always on the receiving end of the additional scrutiny, it shows up pretty clearly. Those who set the rules win.

All playing by the same rules. I don’t think so.

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:


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.

Capitalist rehab

‎There’s some interesting stuff coming out of the Occupy movement. Found this today on the Internet

1. We admitted we were powerless over Capitalism – that our lives had become unmanageable.
2. Came to believe that the power of the people could restore us to sanity.
3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of the people as we began to understand them.
4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of Capitalism and our relationship to it.
5. Admitted to the people, to ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our delusions.
6. Were entirely ready to work with the people and remove all the effects of delusion.
7. Humbly worked with the people to remove our shortcomings.
8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
11. Sought through struggle and dialog to improve our conscious contact with the people, struggling only for the knowledge of their needs and the power to fulfill them.
12. Having had a social awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

a dharma talk from Anonymous

As someone who has an interest in and has studied social change movements within the context of the social sciences it’s always interesting to note the way many of them develop over time.  Opinions and actions from the margins are what actually frame the larger scale social debates in societies even though they are rarely acknowledged openly. One cannot tell how big an issue is unless one seeks out or at least feels the influence of those margins.

The movement that has been labeled Anonymous is very diverse, has no unifying stated goals (except maybe lulz) and seems to embrace a huge spectrum of political opinion. The one thing that I can put my finger on about it is a certain amount of discontent with the status quo from a very small personal scale to a very large global scale.

imageBy and large religion is eschewed within the group as far as I have noticed unless it is for the purposes of criticism. This criticism has taken its most public form by way of of attacks and protests against Scientology (Project Chanology) and against the Westboro Baptist Church,whose website has been downed more times than I can count. The latter seems to be something of a sport similar to shooting at highway signs from moving cars.

This morning as I was scanning the Twitter chatter I came upon an interesting piece of writing which was an exchange of views between a couple of self-identified Anons about the philosophy of the movement. Buddhism was brought up. This is not the first time I’ve seen Buddhist principles discussed in these open memoranda or on Twitter or elsewhere but it is one of the more comprehensive.

It’s not for me to say if this constitutes Right View or anything else of that nature but it’s interesting to note that one can run into discussions of Buddhism just about anywhere.

The discussion began with @AnonyOps describing the non-unanimous viewpoint of Anonymous…that it is not a cohesive whole following any one particular line of thought or motivation. That is the encapsulation of the argument mentioned as being reposted below the response.

The most poignant line in the response comes at the end:

Everyone, you’re on your own, but let’s all try to act like we’re not.

Here is the exchange verbatim. From 

First, read this: (also re-pasted below)

@AnonyOps makes a good point, but it doesn’t go far enough in explaining the problem, or how to go about solving it. It’s certainly an astute observation about the perception of this context-less tide of individuals and small groups called Anon, acting in some vague sense of service to others; namely, that it doesn’t get recognized as such. Noble intentions are obscured by the sensational examples of mayhem that inevitably sprout within a movement characterized by such an undirected release of energy. It is driven more by an ideal, a system to fight against, an e-Mubarak, than a coherent agenda and resulting organized action.

First, and most obvious, an uncontrollable movement by unpredictable people wielding asynchronous power and talent (the last of which is mostly all that distinguishes Anon from the tea party rank and file; go figure) is both the scariest prospect and juiciest opportunity for cooption one could imagine, especially in fragile times like these. Evil peaks even as good rises to meet it.

However, much of the source of the problem @AnonyOps seems to resent is probably less malice than laziness, naivety, and conditioning to abandon nuance for drama. The disappointment is natural, the reaction to plead for clarification on non-Anon-unanimity ™ is useful, but to succeed, we need context.

And no one provides context like the Buddha. No, seriously, it’s really simple. A timeless spiritual tradition boils down to one thing: slowing the mind down to the extent possible, with stillness representing the divine. But, change is constant along this vast spectrum of speed, and everything that is happening now, each moment, with each of us, falls along this spectrum.

The way that energy affects matter, moving it between the 3 states we know so well, is a perfect metaphor for this all-important spectrum, and it is this metaphor which puts the current struggle of Anonymous, and the struggle of all dominated people, in crystal clear context.

When matter is a solid, lots of inertia. Think of a sleeping herd of cattle; dead weight. This is the worst possible situation. This is the nameless, barely-penetrable state against which Anonymous rebels, at widely-varying levels of self-understanding.

When solid melts into liquid, that energy finally begins to move matter around. More energy, less inertia; cattle begin to stir as they’re warmed by the first rays of sun. Sound like now? But! The liquid result is more unstable than it was, sloshing around shapelessly, lapping tiny tsunamis all over as it settles in the path of least resistance. Sound like now? Surely this is better than inertia, but it is, shall we say, ineffective even against the astonishingly few true common enemies of humanity. What a surprise.

The gaseous state of matter rectifies the drawbacks of liquid shapelessness. Like the (unfulfilled) Anonymous ideal, it cannot be destroyed, captured or controlled, because it fills all possible space immediately. In individual Buddhist philosophy, this steamy mental state simply means focusing on one thing at once with full attention, with calm, patience, determination, and most importantly, a broader desire to serve others, or at least do no harm to others as you help yourself, or execute a means to a noble end.

We’re individuals, and all of our civilizationary systems are ostensibly, but decreasingly, built on individual rights, freedom, and choice; we’re separate. Hence, in Buddhist terms, we live in a world of separation (from each other). And yet, most of us, deep down, know what Gandhi told a ‘depressed’ 1931 America via delicate transatlantic radio: there is some indefinable thing that pervades everything and connects us all. Many feel it though none see it. It is this unseen connection which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof, because it is so unlike all that any of us perceive through our senses. (

Religion, blah blah blah, but really, the only remotely religious implication any of this paste has is that ultimately, though we die as individuals, we live together, and we are generally happiest when those around us are happy and safe. But assuming one can accept as truth that the current system seeks to divide us, and our task is to unite ourselves in well-meaning triumph, such acceptance implies and implores consciously attempting to follow something along the lines of the following principles:

1. Seek to act in ways that leave innocents unharmed. Why release bystander personal information for the rabble of exploiters when one could execute the hack to prove the vulnerability, warn all affected consumers and coordinate public embarrassment by the deserving target who left its stakeholders unprotected. This is easier than it seems, but it takes much more coordination than apparently exists now. By doing this, one puts others first, and it feels better to turn minions on masters than to punish minions for being minions, guaranteed.

2. Beware of trying to accomplish anything through tactics that harm others or generate negative emotions. Any darkness can be made light, so the negative solution, resorting to violence, is never necessary. Oppressors never look worse than when they crack down on peaceful protests, and never look or sound more justified than when they prosecute hooligans hurting innocents. Luckily, the vast majority of protests so far in this building crescendo of global revolution have been overwhelmingly peaceful. Despite the rushing release of rage, time is on our side.

3. The best way to ensure that energy can be released in effective ways is to slow down, do less out of emotion. It helps to realize that you are not your mind. Read that again. Think of your mind as a car you drive or a television you control by remote. It generates roads and channels, you dictate where you drive and what you watch. By slowing down, you can train your senses for optimal concentration and results, even while hax0ring. Most well-executed Anon publicity already has this element of thoughtful action, but most loic’ing and destructive ops, sadly, do not. It’s really something that only each individual can do, consciously, all the time, so this is probably the toughest nut to crack.

If you skimmed this, you didn’t understand it. Thanks for reading. Someone over my shoulder just said that some worthwhile coverage of the current mess in the bay area is being assembled by thenextweb, sf appeal, and the east bay express. Judge for yourself, and cultivate friendships with bloggers, so that you maximize the chances of true stories getting told. See? Connection is good.

Everyone, you’re on your own, but let’s all try to act like we’re not.

End of transmission.

Anonymous is not Unanimous.

Anonymous has a perception problem. Most people think we’re a group of shadowy hackers. This is a fundamental flaw. Anonymous is *groups* of shadowy hackers, and herein lies the problem. Anonymous has done a lot of good in just the past 9 months. It has helped with other groups in providing aid to people on the ground in countries where "democracy" is a bad word.
The mainstream media needs to understand that Anonymous isn’t unanimous. I’ve yet to see wide scale reporting make this distinction. A destructive minority is getting a majority of the press, while those of us who toil in the shadow doing good work for people at home and abroad go unthanked.
BART protestors didn’t spring up out of thin air this week. Protests against BART have been ongoing for years. Where’s the media coverage? If the media paid more attention to peaceful protests and general social unrest, I think hackers would be far less inclined to do things such as leaking data just to get the attention of the press.
Finally, hacking isn’t just about breaking into web servers and leaking data to the public. Far from it. Hacking is just as much about breaking out of things as it is about breaking into things. Hacking is lifestyle, and a mindset. It is about learning more about the technologies we use and social norms we are subject to.
Don’t let the actions of a few skew your perception of hackers as a whole.