Intersectionality and Midclusion

Many people claim, often jokingly, that there are only two kinds of people in the world. Which these two kinds of people would be varies between different discussions as well as between different jokes. The truth is that each human being belong to many different categories, in many different categorizations.

Imagine this guy named Bob. He has an office job and has playing chess as one of his greatest hobbies. Sexually, he’s mostly into BDSM and mostly attracted to women, although he does have some sexual interest in vanilla sex and men as well. Physically, he happens to need a wheelchair because of a problem with his legs. He also happens to be white.

Many categories there, easily labeled by names such as office worker, chess player, bisexual, sadomasochist, heterosexual, and disabled.

A person does not have a skin-color, a gender or a sexual orientation. Instead, each person has a skin-color, a gender and a sexual orientation. As well as many other traits.

When a person or society does categorism… treats you in a certain way, based on their ideas about categories… when they discriminate you or display prejudice or bigotry… it is typically based on several of these categorizations rather than just one. Interaction between categorizations is known as Intersectionality.

The concept of intersectionality (not the word itself, but the modern concept associated with the word) comes from Kimberlé Crenshaw, who in an essay (published 1989) argued that feminism and anti-racism both tend to exclude black women: Feminism by focusing on women (who are assumed to be white), anti-racism by focusing on people of color (who are assumed to be male). In other words, white people and men are what I call the zero-category: The category which is perceived as so normal that people are simply assumed to belong to it.

It is easy to make up a dichotomy between two categories, where one is constructed as privileged and the other is constructed as underprivileged or oppressed. To make such a distinction can often be a useful analytical tool to help identifying when people are getting mistreated in society. It is a privilege to be the social norm, the zero-category.  As a person in a privileged category, your life may still be hard… but at least you are considered normal, as long as you conform to the right stereotypes about your assigned category.

However, one implication of intersectionality is that there is no such thing as a normal person:

1.) Each person can be categorized in many different ways.

2.) While a person is likely to belong to the zero-category of most such categorization, they will still belong to the outsider category of some categorizations.

3.) If there would actually be a person who is ”normal” in EVERY categorization, then this in itself is actually extreme rather than normal.

Now consider another fact: Categorizations are social constructs that we human beings do. The categorizations do not have any existence of its own. While a categorization may be invalid, bad, okay, good or better at describing whatever thing we are talking about, it can never be ultimately accurate in itself.

We draw a line somewhere, because our minds need lines to be drawn. The line itself does not exist, except in our minds. Reality is full of sliding scales, not dichotomies.

When people are divided into two groups, there will always always be people who do not fit into such black and white thinking. People are too complex to be reduced to simple dichotomies.

When people get stuck between categories, they suffer from midclusion. This is to be between inclusion and exclusion, but not necessarily a stable point between them: A person who suffer from midclusion may be fully accepted in both groups at one particular time, and fully excluded from both groups at another.

Because of intersectionality and midclusion, the idea that each person is either privileged or oppressed would be wrong even if it were true that a category is some sort of monolithic universal structure. Which it isn’t.

While trying to make people understand that there is a difference between individuals and social structures, it is too easy to talk about ”individual level” and ”structural level” as if they were on the same scale. However, they are actually different kinds of levels.

Instead, we need to treat individuals, groups and systemic patterns in society as one sliding scale  from micro level to macro level. Different kinds of social structures – discursive, normative, social inertia and so on – is a separate system which intersects the first. Sample levels versus structural levels. Actual laws and similar formal rules should probably count as a third separate set in its own right.

Anyway. Lets return to Bob, our hypothetical example of a person suffering from midclusion.

So. Bob is sexually attracted to both men and women. This is simply a fact of life for him, not any identity. The fact that he have had boyfriends in the past is enough to make homophobes hate him, threaten him and discriminate against him.

Yet, the fact that he is mostly attracted to women makes it easy to dismiss him as not sufficently gay to count. Some people argue that he should be labeled as straight, and that straight people should be banned from Pride.

This particular form of midclusion is far from unique. It happens to many people who are attracted to both men and women. Especially if they are more attracted to one gender than the other and doesn’t overcompensate by going out of their way to publicly build an identity as bisexual or pansexual – and even if they do, people may still accuse them of being ”fake”. Because after all, ”there are only two kinds of people in the world”. In this case, meaning that everyone is either heterosexual or homosexual whether they like it or not.

This version of heteronormativity also includes these two absurd assumptions:
1. That identity and practice has to be the same thing. Bob is required to identify as bisexual because he have had sex with men, AND is required to have a sufficient (yet unspecified) amount of sexual encounters with men to ”qualify” for “not being straight”.
2. That certain practices are always identity while other certain practices are never identity. Bob’s bisexuality must be identity, while his sadomasochism must not be identity.

Meanwhile, people at the office and in the disability community may harass and belittle Bob for his sadomasochism, while claiming that their behavior is okay because being into BDSM ”isn’t a real identity” anyway. When people defend Bob, they might accept this premise while trying to claim that he should be protected because he’s bisexual. At the same time, Bob may not be able to attend events for LGBT or BDSM because these events are held in buildings which are not accessible with a wheelchair.

All these problems can be dismissed by dancing around with the categorizations, always refusing to see the intersectionality and the midclusion. As they thus keep excusing prejudice, bigotry and discrimination against Bob, they can always top it off by affirming that Bob is a white man and therefore by definition privileged and therefore by definition a person who cannot be oppressed or whatever.

There are many people like Bob out there, in all kinds of categorizations. Midclusion is common.

In conclusion, the struggle for human dignity and human rights need to be universal rather than based on categories of people. When we base it on categories, there will always be people who falls between the cracks. Eventually, anyone & everyone might fall between the cracks. Every person is excluded from the social norm in some way and to some extent. While we need to highlight categories which are especially targeted for categorism, this must be a part of the universal struggle rather than being the main thing in itself.

Rawls morality applied to sexuality

The philosopher John Rawls has a very interesting theory of justice. The basic concept is that when deciding to what extent a society is just, we should imagine ourselves to be what he calls POP – “people in the original position”. Which means that we would be hypothetical persons in a hypothetical society. We do not know who we will be. We do not know whether our parents will be rich or poor, or whether they’ll be caring or abusive towards us. We do not know to what extent we’ll have good or bad genes and traits. How intelligent we’ll become, how easily we’ll have to learn. How healthy or unhealthy we will be. And so on.

Rawls argue that these POP would want a welfare state where everyone has a decent life. They would accept inequality only when it is on the whole beneficial, or at least harmless, to those who are least fortunate.

Try it yourself… Imagine that you will be reincarnated into a future civilization… and that you have no idea whether you’ll be rich or poor, strong or weak, healthy or disabled, and so on. Would you want a social security system that helps you if you need it, but costs you some tax money if you don’t need it? Or would you prefer to suffer horribly if you happen to be born into an unfortunate situation, just so you can be even richer in case you happen to get born as a healthy kid in a rich family?

Today, I heard someone trying to refute Rawls philosophy by applying it to sexuality. But before I get into his argument, lets have a look at the idea itself.

Would it be a good idea to apply the idea of POP to sexuality?
Oh, it definitely would!

Lets say that you are honestly trying to use Rawls’ idea of POP (“People in the Original Position”) to figure out how sexual morality should be organized. What should be accepted and what should be taboo? What should be legal and what should be illegal?

As a POP, you don’t know any relevant facts about yourself as a person. You don’t know how what body type you’ll have, you don’t now how much stamina and libido and so on you’ll have. Also, you don’t know whether you’ll be male or female… or intersexual/nonbinary/genderqueer/whatever. You don’t now whether you’ll be gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual, kinky, vanilla, asexual, and/or something else.

Any rational POP would favor acceptance for sexuality, including sexual minority practices that can be indulged in a consensual way. They don’t know what sexuality they will have, so of course they will want acceptance for everyone. They wouldn’t want any minority stigmatized, just in case they’d turn out to belong to that minority. At the same time, they would want strict laws and social norms against rape and other sexual abuse, as they would not want to risk becoming the victims.

Thus, they would accept heterosexuality, homosexuality, sadomasochism, fetishism, or any other sexuality that can be expressed alone or in mutual consensual relationships. They would not want society to accept pedophilia, as they would not want to risk becoming the victims of pedophiles during their vulnerable childhood years. At the same time, they would want to make a clear distinction between pedophilia and pedophiles: They would want society to be compassionate to any pedophile who abstains from having contact with children, just in case any of them happens to grow up to have such an unfortunate sense of sexual attraction towards people who don’t have an adult sexuality and are too vulnerable to give valid consent.  As a POP, the risk of becoming lonely and sexually frustrated will most likely seem insignificant compared to the risk of becoming sexually abused.

Of course, most people who are lonely and sexually frustrated are simply unattractive in one way or another. After all, a lot of people have times in their lives when they are lonely and this becomes a bad spiral. How would the POP feel about the risk of simply being unwanted?

Surely, the POP who would think “if I turn out poor or sick, I want a government to provide healthcare” may also think “if I turn out unattractive, I want a system where I could get laid anyway”. The difference is that while they would think “if I’d turn out rich, I wouldn’t mind paying taxes”, they WOULDN’T think “if I’d turn out pretty, I wouldn’t mind getting raped”.

So, what WOULD they do to safeguard themselves just in case they turn out to be unattractive? Well, I think there are two things they would do.

First of all, they would want to establish norms where sex is not seen as a competition or issue of status. It should never be considered shameful or whatever for someone who’s considered attractive to have sex with someone considered less attractive.

Second, they would want to establish norms where its okay to have sex for many different reasons. Including the reason of getting paid. While they would be against all kinds of trafficking and sexual exploitation (as they would not want to risk becoming the victims), they would also be in favor of sex workers being accepted and protected in society. After all, some of them may end up in a situation where becoming a sex worker or a client seems like a good option.

All in all, Rawls theory of justice isn’t hard to apply to issues of sexuality. So, what about that guy who tried to use that as a method of refuting the theory of justice?

Well, he correctly made the assumption that the POP shouldn’t know how attractive or unattractive they will be. At the same time, however, he made the HUGE error of assuming that they ought to know that they will all be male and heterosexual. That’s where the example turns into utter garbage. Instead, the POP ought to know that they’ll have an even chance to be male or female. As well as a fair chance to be bisexual, gay, sadomasochist or whatever.

Such POP would NOT want a “redistribution of women to fuck”, as this would put them at risk of becoming the women to be “redistributed” for men to rape. Of course they would prefer the risk of having to limit themselves to masturbation if they turn out to be unattractive, over the risk of being forced to have sex with men they wouldn’t be attracted to.

When someone makes an argument based on the implicit assumption that “money is people” or that “women are not people”, then any logic built on that assumption becomes nothing more than GIGO: “Garbage In = Garbage Out”.

The four basic ideas of rights

There are many different ideas of what is or isn’t worth fighting for. As far as I’m concerned, they tend to fall into four basic camps.

1. Human Rights, by which I mean the idea of equal rights and responsibilities for human persons.
2. Living Rights, by which I mean the idea of rights without responsibilities for all living things.
3. Group Rights, by which I mean the idea that we need to fight for specific groups of people.
4. Supremacism, by which I mean the idea that one group or another has a special right to be above everyone else.

Of course there are overlaps. When people fight for a specific group of people, this may be a matter of fighting for human rights which are often denied people in the group. It may also be a matter of fighting for supremacy of the group. Or it may be a bit of both, on a sliding scale.

Likewise, some ideas of human rights may be included in an idea of living rights and vice versa, while others may not. Two very important differences are the right to life and the rights to democracy. These are very important human rights, but cannot be extended to all living things.

All animals eat other living things. Either they eat each other, or they eat plants. Either way, this would violate the right to life if all life did have a right to life. Humans have the right and responsibility to elect the leaders of the world. Animals as a group or as individuals could never have such a responsibility. And thus they could never have such a right, either.

Children as a group could never have this right and responsibility either, but each individual child will get there as they grow up. Human children are human persons, only that some of the things this entails needs to be put on hold until they have matured.

Personally, I have dedicated myself to fight for Universal Human Rights. I reject all forms of supremacism between adult human beings. I consider struggle for oppressed groups to be good as it is based on universal human rights for all. And I consider it necessary for as long as people are denied their rights based on their gender or skin-color or whatever.

While I do want animals to be protected from needless cruelty, I don’t think animal rights are at all comparable to human rights. If they were, it would be our duty to outlaw nature itself, reshaping our world into a perfectly controlled park where we can protect all animals from each other. Some animal rights activists like to compare animals to children. While they certainly do have a point, they should also consider this: We would never let our human children live unsupervised and free to kill each other. Right?

Human rights, living rights, group rights or supremacism. Which of these four would you say is the core of YOUR political struggle, whatever this struggle might be? Why is this one the core? And how do you relate to the other three? Think about it for a bit.

What we should mean by Empathy: A communication, not a trait

The concept of empathy is often praised but rarely discussed. What should we mean by empathy?

A dictionary definition has it that empathy is “the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings”. However, I find this definition very problematic. It doesn’t really make any distinction between ACTUAL understanding and deluding yourself into believing that you understand.

It treats empathy as an inherent trait, something that you either have or doesn’t have. I don’t think it works that way. You don’t understand everyone equally. Instead, you understand different people differently well, and a big factor here is how much you work on it. Actual empathy is a relationship. Something that exists between people rather than within them.

Imagining how the other person feels should not count as actual empathy. It is merely the middle step between listening to their experience and then re-checking that you got it right. Empathy in any meaningful sense of the word requires a lot of communication. Mutual communication.

Just like power is a dynamic between people rather than something that a person inherently have or lack, empathy is a dynamic between people. Beware of self-proclaimed empaths who feel entitled to tell you or others what YOUR true feelings are.

Each person have their own internal realities. We are connected to each other by the physical and social realities between us. At best, empathy is about communication. At worst, “empathy” is about imposing your own fantasies on other people. Either way, empathy is about building a representation of another person’s internal reality within your own internal reality. Are you building this representation TOGETHER with the actual other person, making a mutual effort to explore their actual feelings? Or are you simply doing your own thing, pretending to yourself an others that this private fantasy of yours is actually true for the other person as well?

Don’t do that. Don’t try to impose your fantasies about other people’s feelings and needs on them, pretending that it is theirs. Listen to them instead. Try to understand each other. Together.

Respect and sex!

Having good sex can be based on many different things. It might be a matter of mutual attraction, interest, affection, love, or some combination thereof. Either way, it needs to be based on mutual respect. To respect each other, and respect yourselves. Having sex, unlike masturbation, is something that you share with another person. So you’d better make certain that it is something positive that you do together, not something negative that one of you inflict upon the other.

If you don’t respect a certain person, why would you lower yourself to having sex with that person? Why would you lower yourself to having sex with someone you don’t respect?

* One answer could be that you are getting paid, in cash or similar.
* Another answer could be that you are desperate for attention and validation. That you consider sex to be a key to attention or validation or both.
* A third answer could be that you have totally divorced your sexuality from your emotional life, a gulf inside you that make you regard other people as pieces of meat rather than as actual human beings.

So much for having sex with someone you don’t respect. But what about having sex with someone who don’t respect you? Again, I can think of three different reasons.

* First of all, you might have the kind of bad self-esteem where you realize that the disrespect is bad but mistake yourself for not deserving any better.
* Second, you might have the kind of bad self-esteem where you mistake disrespect for intimacy. Finding someone who seem to dislike you as much as you dislike yourself.
* The third reason is that respect is a two way street. When other people disrespect you, it sort of gives you a bit of a free license do disrespect them right back. And that’s where the previous three reasons not only comes back, but comes back with a vengeance.

If you want to use someone for money or other resources, a mutually beneficial business deal is usually preferable. But if you want to exploit the hell out of someone, it is much easier for you to feel good about it if you see that they believe themselves to be the ones using you. The same goes for if you want to use someone for attention or for validation. As well as if you want to use their bodies without connecting to them as persons.

So far, I have been talking in gender neutral terms. Since I have talked about problems that are often used as negative stereotypes about women, you might have assumed that I was really referring to women rather than people in general. However, that’s not the case. I do mean everyone, regardless of gender. And since a lot of people don’t realize that it is true for men too, we do need to talk especially about men. My next video will be about why the concept of “alpha” is worthless bullshit.

Facebook is participating in harassment of people who have unusual names


People sometimes punish other people simply for being different. I’m not taking about merely being suspicious and having a slightly hostile attitude. No, I’m talking outright punishment. Active, punitive action.

Facebook has a system for harming anyone who happens to be from any ethnic minority or subculture where names are different from mainstream society. As well as harming individuals who for any other reason happens to have unusual names. This system of systematically harming innocent individuals and groups is designed so that everybody who participate can blame each other, thus avoiding any personal responsibility for their actions. It has been made easy for users to accuse, and for Facebook itself to ban people based on accusation alone. The accuser can put the responsibility on Facebook, and Facebook can silently deflect the responsibility on whatever anonymous person who might have done the accusation. With no-one taking real responsibility, the blame is instead shifted onto the victim. The system constructs the situation as if the problem was the name itself, rather than the system’s own discriminatory policies.

Banning people for no good reason
If Facebook merely demanded that people use their real names, it would merely be somewhat problematic. If Facebook simply demanded that people prove their name by sending in ID, it would simply be somewhat more problematic. There is much to be said both for and against such a policy. Sadly, Facebook’s handling of names go much further than that. When somebody accuses somebody else of using a “fake name”, Facebook will in many cases not check ID. Instead, Facebook will simply ban the victim. Which in many cases means banning an innocent person, simply for having an unusual name. Thus automatically validate whoever made the accusation, while causing a lot of trouble for whoever got targeted.

Lets say that you are a reasonable person, debating against some white supremacist male chauvinist who calls himself “Lord Awesome”. So, you report his name. This gets him banned. Facebook has validated you, good for you. But what if he calls himself “Adam White” instead? Facebook will not ban him or ask him for ID. It might not be his real name at all, but there’s nothing you can do about that.

Now, lets say that you are this hypothetical white supremacist male chauvinist who call himself Adam White on Facebook in spite of having a very different name in real life. You start reporting trans people, subculture people, feminists, LGBTQ activists, immigrants, women, people from ethnic minorities, and so on. Anyone who might annoy you in one way or another. Facebook will assist you in your crusade for white supremacy and (cis-)male supremacy, by banning non-mainstream people you point your finger at. Facebook has validated you, good for you. Never mind that these people are using their real names, while you are not. Upholding an superficial appearance of normality is what seems to matter here, not actual truth.

This system have hurt a lot of people. Especially trans people, ethnic minorities and activists in undemocratic countries.

Validating racism, transphobia or any other focus of categorism is bad on many levels. For starters, people who indulge in categorism do not want to see themselves as racists or any other form of categorist. They want to see themselves as normal and get validated in their belief that “the other” is not normal. To validate their bigotry is to reinforce and encourage it.

Two ways of making it even worse
As if the frivolous bannings wasn’t bad enough, Facebook makes it worse in two ways. Lets call them the block appearance problem and the catch 22 problem.

The block appearance problem is that when a person is banned, everyone else are led to believe that they have been blocked by the banned person. Facebook users who seek the banned person on Facebook will not get any clear message that the account has been suspended while investigating the name. Instead, they will be unable to reach the person or see the person’s messages. Looks as if they had been banned by this person. Thus, Facebook doesn’t stop at banning people for no good reason. It also indirectly send a false message to the friends and allies of the victim – telling them that the victim isn’t in trouble but simply has chosen to turn their back on them.

The Catch 22 problem is that while Facebook demands to see ID to restore the name, it is very bad at providing ways to actually show them ID. You can’t log in to Facebook without showing ID first, and you can’t show ID without logging into Facebook first.

Could you get around the Catch 22 problem by simply changing your name on Facebook to something that isn’t your real name? Probably. Except that Facebook is very clear that this violates their rules. This creates another Catch 22: Requiring people to lie about their names to prove that they are telling the truth about their names – while reminding them that they may be stuck with this new fake name for 60 days or even be banned permanently for using it. Keep in mind that if you change your name and then upload ID to prove that the previous name was correct, you also provide evidence that your new name was fake and against their rules.

My own story
Towards the end of Mars 2015, I stumbled upon a heated debate about trans people and social services. There was a certain child who was born with female body, but didn’t want to wear pink or dresses or be called a girl. The parents and the daycare center agreed to simply let it be and see how it develops over time. But when the child moved to another daycare, someone in the staff there demanded that the parents must force the child to dress and behave in a feminine manner. When the parents refused, social services stepped in to investigate them. Sadly, this is not all that uncommon: People who demand that everyone must be entirely cis-gender often lash out at the families of children who show any sign of being trans or non-binary. Baseless accusations to social services are not uncommon, and can go quite far if it gets a social worker who shares the bias.

In the debate over this issue, two women who claimed to work for social services insisted that Social Services never do anything wrong and that the mother must be a deeply disturbed person. These two women got quite hostile when I and another guy disagreed with them. One of them looked up an organization the other guy was active in, and publicly made a complaint to the president of this organization. The other started asking hostile questions about my professional life, questions that seemed designed to mine for something to twist and use against me in real life. And suddenly, bam, I happened to be banned from Facebook. Somebody had accused me of having using a fake name. On this anonymous accusation alone, I got banned for five days.

I got banned on Saturday the 28:th Mars 2015. It lasted until Wednesday the 1:st April.
At this point, Xzenu had been my legal name as well as my Facebook name for roughly a decade. Before that, my legal name as well as Facebook name was one letter shorter. I added the “z” to avoid getting mixed up with fictional characters such as Xena the warrior princess or Xemu the space emperor.

On Saturday the 28:th Mars 2015, I suddenly got a message that my session had expired and that I had to log in again. When I tried to log in, it said that I had to use my real name. When I re-entered my real name, it said that no, I had to enter my REAL name. Also reminding me that if I use a fake name I will be stuck with it for 60 days and maybe also lose my account forever. The site provided information that I should send them a copy of my passport or similar, but did NOT provide any actual email address or upload button for actually sending them this information. They leave me no way whatsoever of contacting them. While one page has a link labeled “let us know”, it simply leads to a message saying “you must log in to continue”. Unsurprisingly, using this page to try to log in simply returns me to the “Enter your authentic name” page. Another page simply said that they don’t verify identities in my region.

Since it looked to everyone as if I had blocked them personally, I had to contact a lot of people on my contact list to inform them that the problem wasn’t with them. Some of them said that they would try to use their contacts in the Facebook company to get my unbanned. Another asked if she may forward my contact information to her contact at a major newspaper.

On Monday the 30:th Mars, I get a call from this newspaper. The next day, 20 minutes before midnight (so it can’t be mistaken for an April’s Fool Joke), they publish an article about the incident. On Wednesday afternoon, it starts going viral. On Wednesday evening, my account works again. Good for me. But the bad system itself still remains.

Facebook need to change their policies. It is not okay to validate bigotry and unwittingly participate in harassment campaigns against minorities and activists. It is not okay to ban innocent people, or to force people who use their real names to adopt fake names instead. The later is not only insulting and a form of public shaming, but it also make them vulnerable to further accusations. Finally, it is not okay to lock people out without giving them an easily accessible way of contacting actual support about it. Thus:

If Facebook should use the “real ID” requirement at all, it shouldn’t ban people without at least giving them some time to show ID first. If a ban does happen, it should still be easy to upload ID and possible to contact Facebook staff about the banning.

Was Plato actually truly great?

Having been dreadfully obsolete for several hundred years, it is a tragedy that Plato’s theory of ideas is still being taught as if it were fact. Plato’s influence might have been good in the past, but today it is destructive.

While all education is based on concepts, students rarely get to study the nature of concepts as such. They need to understand the distinction between terms, concepts and phenomena. We humans use terms (especially in the form of single words) to refer to concepts, and we use concepts (especially in the form of categories defined by being distinguished against each other) to comprehend phenomena. Terms and concepts are created, developed and reproduced in human brains and cultures. They are subjected to neurological quirks of human brains, as well as to all kinds of quirks of social dynamics. They are socially constructed: Terms and concepts is something that humans DO, they are active discursive actions.

We need to distinguish between physical reality outside us, internal realities inside us and social realities between us. While many phenomena exist in the physical world, the concepts we use to understand these phenomena (as well as the terms we use to refer to these concepts) exists only in our multitude of internal and social realities. The places where terms and concepts exist are the places inside us and between us.

Yet, Plato’s theory of ideas teaches us something completely different. It teaches that concepts comes from outside and above, not from within and between. It is an authoritarian theory, and Plato uses it to argue in favor of imposing a harsh dictatorship upon mankind: A theocracy of philosophy, where philosophers take the role of priest-kings. Philosophers set to interpret the true concepts, just like priests and oracles were set to interpret the true will of the Gods. Plato was an enemy of democracy, an enemy of intellectual freedom. Based on his theory, it is all but impossible to reach any other position.

Yet, this absurd theory is still taught as fact. Be it grade school, high school or university: If any theory of the nature of concept is taught at all, it is usually the pre-Kant theory of Plato that is being taught, rather than Kant’s far better theory regarding “the thing in itself” or any post-Kant theory.

As destructive as this may be, it is a modern problem. The pre-Kant world can’t be blamed for refusing to spread ideas that hadn’t been invented yet.

My question, then: What did Plato’s idea of “the world of ideas” truly contribute, in its own age?

Did it (A) discover the basic truth that phenomena and concepts need to be distinguished from each other?
Did it (B) strongly contribute to establishing philosophy as separate from religion?
Both (C)?
Neither (D)?
Something else (E)?

If A or B or even C, then Plato’s contribution to mankind is truly remarkable. Personally, I’m most inclined to believe in D.

Did Plato truly discover the concept of “concept”? Surely the basic realization that our concepts about things are separate from the things themselves must be much older than a mere 2.500 years? There were other philosophers in Greece, and no matter how much western culture loves to deny it there were also philosophers elsewhere during and before the same era. Yesterday I read a book which sort of attributed this breakthrough to Plato. At this point I remain unconvinced, but I can’t disregard the notion that it might actually be true. If it is, then he did indeed contribute one of the greatest breakthrough in the history of human civilization. Far greater than the discovery of the number “zero”.

Did Plato really lay the groundwork for secular philosophy? Well, this can be seen in two very different ways. One is what his idea in itself contributed, while the other is what social acceptance of his idea contributed. To me, the concept of a “world of ideas” being located above and outside of us humans seems like a way of neutering secular philosophy, bringing it back into the fold of theocratic thinking while merely replacing the concept of “Gods” with the concept of “Ideas”. Then again, this kind of neutering may very well be what was needed to get theocratic civilizations to accept philosophy. Giving philosophy an excuse to exist, and thus a chance to grow into something that could eventually liberate itself from dogmatism.

Regardless of this, Platonism must have done wonder for many intellectuals self-esteem if not for their actual thinking. Elevating them to the status of being the true oracles, the ones who has the power to reach the World of Ideas.

One book I once read claimed that Plato wasn’t actually regarded as a very good philosopher by his own peers. In his own age more famous for arguing that the books of rival philosophers should be burned than for his own contribution, having been elevated to the status of The Greatest Philosopher of All Times only after many centuries had passed.

Me, I don’t know. But I want to know more. As deeply embedded in western cultural identity as Plato is, historical fact is even harder to distinguish from propaganda in a case like his. Please tell me if you have any good sources to recommend.

Honest liars and selfish memes

A thought that got stuck in my head the other year is that lies are actually far less common that we would like to believe. With “lies”, I mean people trying to make other people believe things they don’t believe themselves.

By this definition, it is not a lie to tell other people what you believe to be true. Even if you happen to be incorrect. When people say things that we find incorrect our outright absurd, we like to think that they secretly agree with us. That they are being dishonest when they present things differently from what we consider to be true. That they simply choose to withhold the validation we feel that we know that we deserve. Thus, I think it is very easy to overestimate how much people lie. As well as to underestimate how much people are simply wrong about things. Note that “people” here refers not only to other people, but to ourselves as well.

What we believe to be true or untrue is not merely a matter of facts seen from various perspectives and viewpoints. It is also very much a matter of what seems to be socially appropriate. There are two basic ways of learning things. One is to try to understand and evaluate, the other to simply mimic and digest. With this second way of learning, which is probably far more common than the first, “the truth” is simply whatever people will like you to believe in.

This view was reinforced as I read Goffmans “Social life as Drama”. In this essasy, Goffman argued that people appreciate other people both for agreeing with them and for being honest. Thus, critical thinking is not a good thing if you want to be popular: If you openly disagree with people, you make yourself an outsider… and if you secretly have reservations about the things you are supposed to agree with, this makes you a bit of a dishonest hypocrite or liar. When you think for yourself, disagreeing with other people is a matter of “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t”. No, the socially appropriate mindset is to blindly swallow anything people tell you. That way, you will give people not only the outright agreement they appreciate but also the honesty they also appreciate.

Another perspective on lies is presented by Richard Dawkins in his most famous book, “The Selfish Gene”. Dawkins argues that animals can be seen as liars in a biological (but not moral) sense when evolution shapes the bodies of edible insects to save them from getting eaten by mimicing insects that are poisonous. Or shapes part of the bodies of fish to mimic edible insects, as a way of luring in prey. Or urge birds to make sounds that are false alarms to other birds, leaving the offending bird to eat all the food while the other birds flee as they would from a predator. The animals have no idea that they are doing this, but it still happens. Simple natural selection.

Similar processes are at play in social life. We are likely to adapt by adopting patterns of thought and behavior that tend to have good consequences. For example, making us popular. Or at least abstain from making us unpopular. Social reinforcement in school and play teaches all the kids that the truth is whatever happens to be popular. Just go with he flow. Internalize any bullshit you hear, and be honest about it. At least when it comes from someone who is popular, or who is in a position to hurt you in one way or another. Such as humiliating you, freeze you out socially, or lower your grades.

In school, we learn so many facts and stories about the world. Indirectly, we also learn that all this information is true… not because of evidence, but because we will personally be failures if we don’t agree with the books and teachers. Each time a new lesson in how to not think.

For Dawkins, these thoughts led him to a sense of revulsion against religion. For me, I’m sort of starting to feel a similar kind of revulsion towards all political ideologies. Including the ones I agree with. It is not the beliefs themselves that are the problem. It is the herd mentality, the basic foundations that certain things are true or untrue because you live in a subculture where it is socially appropriate to believe them or disbelieve them. Empty slogans, aggressive oversimplifications, and the constant dividing of people into the righteous in-group and the blasphemous outsiders who more or less deviate from the one true party line. The worst part of it all… is the honesty.

Feminist and antifeminist positions and narratives

Ideology, just like religion, is very much about telling stories. It is a matter of creating a narrative with heroes and villains, forces of good and of evil. It is common for a True Believer (of any faction) to do what I like to call narrativism: To disregard all facts and perspectives that does not fit the narrative.

Last week, a certain narrative about feminism was shared on facebook. The basic story was that all feminists are evil, and that everything good feminism has done doesn’t count because that was a different and better kind of feminists. The author claims to not be an MRA, and we can assume that s/he honestly does not identify as MRA. Nevertheless, s/he is parroting MRA narratives as if they were gospel. Repeating the classic MRA talking points about how all feminists/women are evil and only live to hurt and harm innocent men. And for no good reason at that, since misogyny and rape culture never even existed in the first place… because we said so.

For those who are not familiar with the MRA, they are what Hannibal The Victor on Youtube has named “the male supremacy movement”. Personally, I find this term far more accurate than their own self-styled identity as “Men’s Rights Activists”, just like groups who fight for the Aryan Race are usually white supremacist movements no matter how much they prefer to call their struggle “white rights activism”.

It is generally accepted that feminism has developed in three main phases, called waves. With the “feminist sex-wars” between the second and third phase. The first wave was about winning basic rights like the right to vote, the second wave about fighting patriarchy and structural oppression of women, and the third wave about becoming wider and more inclusive.

There are many kinds of feminism. Liberal feminism developed as a part of the first wave, radical feminism as part of the second, and queer feminism as part of the third. Personally, I am in favor of queer feminism as well as liberal feminism, but like so many others I consider radical feminism to be obsolete and highly problematic.

Radical Feminism is a faith that combines a modified version of communism’s class-war with a modified version of American Conservative Christianity’s hatred of sexuality.

In the communist faith, everything revolves around the struggle between the proletariat and the bourgeois. Built on a strict dichotomy between men as the oppressors and women as victims, radical feminism imported this analytical model and narrative structure – simply replacing class with gender.

In American Conservative Christianity, sex is something filthy that men does to women. Radical feminism adopted this narrative, replacing the notion that women are filthy sluts who are defiled by sexuality with the notion that women are victims who are harmed by men. Thus changing the narrative role of men from being entitled to consume and destroy women to being vicious predators who are to blame for what they according to both versions of the narrative does to women.

Radical feminism is a core part of second wave feminism, and it is unlikely that the second wave would have succeeded without it. It was a strong counter-narrative to the misogynistic narratives of conservative Christianity, and it provided a simple platform for political struggle. It was, of course, also a deeply problematic construct. Digging mental trenches, spreading bigotry against GSM (Gender and Sexual Minorities) and against sexuality as such.

As for bigotry against men, that has certainly been a problem for some individual men and boys trapped in situations where radical feminists have had power over them. But men as a group was never truly threatened, unlike the gender and sexual minorities. Bigotry against trans people, sadomasochists and sex workers was often disastrous for these groups. And a civilization so deeply saturated in shaming of sexuality, did it really need even more of that burden?

Thus the feminist sex-wars, with sex-positive feminists revolting against the radical feminist hegemony.

Gender identity and Sexuality was not the only problematic issues within the second wave. There was also a lot of racism, classism and so on, with a “sisterhood” that claimed to be universal but which many felt was only ever for those women who happened to be white and so on.

With the third wave, any notion of one single unified feminist movement is long gone. Feminism is a diverse field, and the sex-wars were never truly resolved. The worst kinds of sex-negative feminism is becoming marginalized, it is no longer “in” to hate GSM. “Radical Feminism” in general and “TERF” (Trans Excluding Radical Feminism) in particular are dirty words within much of contemporary feminism. Instead, intersectionality is in. This is the notion that each person belong to many categories, not just one. While white people and men are privileged categories in mainstream western society, a white man who is gay, disabled or socially marginalized is still underprivileged (or even oppressed) in those regards.

Getting gradually pushed out of academia and feminist activism, radical feminism is making an absurd comeback in the form of the so called Men’s Rights Movement. Which, as far as I am concerned, is radical feminism all over again – only gender inverted, and with a pinch of Ayn Rand style rightwing extremism thrown in to make it even more absurd. Based in the fantasy that having to pay taxes is the one true oppression and that everyone who can’t work (including those who are forbidden to work) are parasites who oppress the rich and powerful, prominent MRA activist Karen Straughan will even argue that Afghanistan under the Taliban regime is an example of how women are always the privileged gender and that men are oppressed by these women.

Several prominent MRA:s has their background in second wave radical feminism. A classic example is their chief ideologue Warren Farrell himself. His is the author of “The Myth of Male Power”, which pretty much was THE book that got the MRA movement started. And he used to be a board member of National Organization for Women back in the most radical feminist days of that organization.

While all of the above is written from my own point of view and I encourage you to research the issues for yourself, I am quite confident that my narrative is compatible with all relevant facts. The same can not be said for a narrative that try to construct second wave feminism as all good and third wave feminism as all evil. Thus we return to the text I read last week. Titled “What Is Feminism?”, the text is a complete revision of history: Taking radical feminist ideas from the second wave and claim that the third wave invented them instead – up to and including the absurd claim that the idea that our culture is misogynistic and that women has been oppressed throughout the ages (a cornerstone of the second wave) was really invented by the third wave. While also claiming that misogyny and rape culture don’t exist (and never existed?), but simply was some kid of lie perpetuated by evil third wave feminists in order to harm innocent men. As well as spreading the propaganda that the wage gap is only a lie/myth/conspiracy.

Why pretend that “everything we disagree with in the second wave didn’t really happen then, it was instead invented by the third wave”? Well, my guess is that the author is simply misinformed… Relying on information from MRA:s who build their narratives for the purpose of depicting all feminists as evil. By letting the actual historical radical feminism of the hook, they can (falsely) exonerate their own movement’s radical feminist roots, but more importantly pretend that their hatred against all feminism doesn’t put them dangerously close to attacking the accomplishments of the first two waves of feminism. (In my experience with MRA propaganda, they are mostly against the achievements of the second wave, sometimes even the first. As for actual oppression against actual men, they don’t really care beyond using it as cheap talking points. As in complaining that some men are homeless, while also arguing that the taxes that fund goods such as homeless shelters should be removed – because such taxes are good for women and other parasites.)

Feminism is a wide field, containing many contradicting ideas. Some of them are indeed problematic. The text brings up notions that exist-but-are-very-marginalized within this field, such as the idea that all men are rapists. (However, the example used for this claim is actually a fictional example of the facts that rapists exist, that a woman can’t know for sure who is a rapist and who isn’t, as well as that women are to a large extent socialized to be afraid. Which is NOT in any way any claim about men in general.)

A final note on the absurdity of the text is how it refer to the so-called elevatorgate. Short story short, a woman at a conference spends the evening in the bar after holding a lecture about sexual harassment. At 4am she announces that she’s too tired to be social anymore, and just want to sleep. She says goodnight to everyone and leaves. But one of the guys follows her into the elevator, and once they are alone he ask her to come to his hotel room instead. She refuses, and later mentions in a youtube video that she would have preferred if he hadn’t done that. In a world of somewhat reasonable people, it would have ended there.

Instead, thousands of MRA boys at the internet decided that it was their holy duty to never forgive, never forget, and never ever allow anyone else to forget either. Years has passed, and these men are still howling with hysterical rage about the horrible oppression against men this girl committed by not wanting to be cornered in an elevator at 4am directly after she made clear that she don’t want to socialize anymore. Note that she never accused the guy of anything, but merely stated her preference for people to not do that. For that, she received thousands of threats that she would be murdered and raped and so on.

Of course, this perpetual rage over her and the elevator is part of the rape culture they pretend do not exist. To ask for a date at 4am is not to promote rape. But to try to make an example of the girl for daring to say no, that definitely is. In a just society, it is okay to want sex… but it is also okay to have boundaries and to express these boundaries.

While the text “What is feminism?” ridicule women for being nervous about men not respecting their boundaries, it also participates in spreading a clear message that women are not allowed to have boundaries. A message that men as a group has not only the right to ask for sex at any time (including right after the woman has made perfectly clear that she don’t want to interact with him anymore), but also the right to hunt her forever in their eternal quest for revenge if she refuses a man’s advances or even worse dares to say that she don’t want him to hit on her in that situation.

There are many feminist narratives, some of which are deeply problematic in one way or another. The MRA narratives, on the other hand, seem to almost always be deeply problematic. The worst of radical feminism – gender inverted and mixed with traditional misogyny, social darwinism and a deep sense of entitlement.

Are Planets Socially Constructed? Well… yes, but not physically.

There are eight planets in the social system. They used to be nine. But in 2006, one of them ceased to be a planet. So now there’s only eight planets left. To truly understand what happened, we must understand the difference between physical reality and social reality. This case of the missing planet also happens to be a perfect example for explaining the difference between these layers of reality.

You see, humanity has had a lot of impact on planet Earth. We have built cities, roads and canals all over the place. Rearranged the biosphere and changed the climate. Our physical constructions, such as buildings, are also social constructions in many ways, being products of civilization. Thus, physical reality and social reality are intertwined.

While our impact on Earth has been great, we have made only minimal impact on The Moon and on the planet Mars. A flag here, a robot there. Some footprints and tracks. So far, we have had no impact at all on any other planet or similar. Not in this solar system, and not beyond the solar system either.

Thus, the fact that Pluto used to be a planet but isn’t a planet any more… it has nothing to do with humans affecting Pluto itself. It is not Pluto that has changed, only our perception of it. The thing is this: Those things we call “planets” are not socially constructed. Not only are they a part of physical reality, but they are a part that is too far out of our reach to interact with social reality at all. However, the very concept of “planet” is a social construction. All concepts are socially constructed. They are more or less arbitrary, and they are changing over time.

When astronomers made the distinction between planets and stars, only a few planets were known. These were the largest and closest planets, because these were the ones easiest for us to observe. Pluto was the by far smallest of the planets. Later on, asteroids were discovered, but Pluto was too big to be considered an asteroid. So it remained a planet. But then it was discovered that asteroids like Ceres was actually on the same kind of size as Pluto. A choice had to be made. A choice between constantly adding new planets to our vision of the solar system, while having a hard time drawing the line between planet and asteroid. Therefore, in 2006, a new category was created: Dwarf-planets! Pluto, Ceres and three others were exiled to this category. Thus the number of planets in the solar system was reduced to eight.

When this kind of choice is made, it is not a matter of right versus wrong. Pluto is not a planet. This is true by definition, because Pluto does not fit our definition of what a planet is. Pluto used to be a planet, and this was also true by definition. Because Pluto did fit the definition we used to have of what a planet is. The question is not whether the definitions are right or wrong, but to what extent they are reasonable.

Astronomers didn’t discover that Pluto is not a planet, they decided it. But they did make this decision based on the discoveries they made, and this decision was a very reasonable decision to make.

Back in 2006, one of my friends took the decision very badly. It brought her to despair, crying because Pluto wasn’t a planet anymore. Not that she cared about Pluto, her problem was that the universe didn’t make sense to her anymore. If we can’t even trust that the number of planets in our very solar system is correct, what can we trust? She didn’t understand that there was never a truth to trust or distrust. It wasn’t the planets that had changed. Only our conceptualization of them.

Categories and other concepts do not exist in physical reality. They are social constructs: They are things that we human beings make up as we go along. We create and reinforce our categories individually in internal realities, as well collectively in social realities. If we fail to understand that concepts exist only in our minds and in our cultures, we will not be able to understand ourselves and each other. Furthermore, we won’t be able to understand physical reality either.

The universe is vast, and it exists independently of us. It is not socially constructed. Our understanding of this universe, however, is always socially constructed. How tempting it is to believe that our minds and culture shapes the universe around us. To believe that is the universe that is a small part of us, rather than we who are a small part of the universe.

The truth, however is that human perceptions of reality are always limited and subjective. They can be better or worse, especially when it comes to understanding the universe as well as understanding ourselves and each other. While constructs are ultimately arbitrary, they are NOT all equally valid. Some constructs promotes prejudices or misperceptions, while others promote more valid understanding. What we need to do is to always strive towards better perspectives and more reasonable concepts. Not delude ourselves into thinking that our current perspectives and concepts hold ultimate truth.