Of pink boys, the man box and gayness in Hebrew


Maybe my expectations of society have gotten too high– after all, it was just in my father’s generation where left-handers like him were forced to write with their rights hands. But with the super rapid pace of change that’s happening these days, one can always hope that all the changes I wish to see will happen within my lifetime…

Three things to share today.

1. Pink Boys: Gender is not binary!

What’s so bad about a boy who wants to wear a dress? is an article from The New York Times. I really agree with what it says, and wish everyone would read it and broaden their perspectives a little. Some excerpts:

“…gender is a spectrum rather than two opposing categories, neither of which any real man or woman precisely fits.

It might make your world more tidy to have two neat and separate gender possibilities, but when you squish out the space between, you do not accurately represent lived reality.”

 

“In the 19th century, both boys and girls often wore dresses and long hair until they were 7. Colors weren’t gendered consistently. At times pink was considered a strong, and therefore masculine, color, while blue was considered delicate. Children’s clothes for both sexes included lace, ruffles, flowers and kittens. That started to change in the early 20th century.”

 

“These days, flouting gender conventions extends even to baby naming: first names that were once unambiguously masculine are now given to girls. The shift, however, almost never goes the other way. That’s because girls gain status by moving into “boy” space, while boys are tainted by the slightest whiff of femininity. “There’s a lot more privilege to being a man in our society,” says Diane Ehrensaft, a psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, who supports allowing children to be what she calls gender creative. “When a boy wants to act like a girl, it subconsciously shakes our foundation, because why would someone want to be the lesser gender?””

2. The manbox and why men must and should be liberated from its walls.

Tony Porter: A Call to Men, at TEDwomen

You can find the transcript helpfully typed out here at Shakesville as well. Excerpts below:

“I can remember speaking to a 12-year-old boy, a football player, and I asked him, I said, “How would you feel if, in front of all the players, your coach told you, you were playing like a girl?” Now, I expected him to say something like, “I’d be sad; I’d be mad; I’d be angry,” something like that. No, the boy said to me, the boy said to me, “It would destroy me.”

And I said to myself, “God, if it would destroy him to be called a girl, what are we then teaching him about girls?””

 

Well, just watch the video, it’s only 12 minutes long. And it speaks The Truth, a truth that you need to know!

3. Pretty girls, thorny religious plus gender plus lgbt themes all wrapped up in an exotic foreign language (everything sounds sexier in a foreign language, no?). What’s there not to like? 8D

The Secrets

The 20th Israel Film Festival (IFF) in Singapore is happening from 5th – 11th of September this year and Cathay will be screening this film. I definitely plan to catch it!

Synopsis: Two brilliant young women discover their own voices in a repressive orthodox culture Naomi, the studious, devoutly religious daughter of a prominent rabbi, convinces her father to postpone her marriage for a year so that she might study at a Jewish seminary for women. Naomi’s quest for individuality takes a defiant turn when she befriends Michelle, a free-spirited and equally headstrong fellow student. When the pair encounters a mysterious, ailing foreigner with a disturbing past, they begin a risky journey into forbidden realm, opening up overwhelming new horizons. The girls soon find themselves caught between the rigid male establishment they grew up in, and the desire to be true to themselves, no matter the cost.

Accolades
9 Nominations including:
Best Supporting Actress and Actor, Ophir Awards 2007
Best Feature, 2008 Jackson Hole Film Festival

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The Righteous Mind; Overcoming blind intuition


Why Won’t The Listen? ‘The Righteous Mind’ by Johnathan Haidt

Great article and sounds like a great book!

Some quotes from the article, and some of my thoughts.

people are fundamentally intuitive, not rational.

Which is why it takes effort: we need to be constantly on our guard to make sure we’re not committing logical fallacies, because we are prone to doing so! But the first step is being self-aware, the first step is ACKNOWLEDGING that we’re prone to… all these things the article mentions. Only then you can start to evaluate yourself. Think about your own thinking, behaviours, beliefs.

“We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided.”

Because in a historical context, if we were to always logically and painstakingly weigh all the pros and cons before acting, we’d be dead. We’ve evolved to make quick, snappy judgements. So again, once we’re aware of this we can guard against it, now that we have the luxury of time and knowledge to weigh the pros and cons properly.

Evolution pushes us to give us what works in a given environment. It doesn’t push to give us the truth or the most factually accurate answers. Just what works (at that time).

“The problem isn’t that people don’t reason. They do reason. But their arguments aim to support their conclusions, not yours. Reason doesn’t work like a judge or teacher, impartially weighing evidence or guiding us to wisdom. It works more like a lawyer or press secretary, justifying our acts and judgments to others. Haidt shows, for example, how subjects relentlessly marshal arguments for the incest taboo, no matter how thoroughly an interrogator demolishes these arguments.

To explain this persistence, Haidt invokes an evolutionary hypothesis: We compete for social status, and the key advantage in this struggle is the ability to influence others. Reason, in this view, evolved to help us spin, not to help us learn. So if you want to change people’s minds, Haidt concludes, don’t appeal to their reason. Appeal to reason’s boss: the underlying moral intuitions whose conclusions reason defends.”

Is your belief holding up your reasons? Or are your reasons holding up your belief?

Admittedly, because no one is a blank canvas, it’s pretty difficult to erase all beliefs and start with reasons (as decartes tried to do), from the ground up. No assumptions. Not very possible in the practical sense. So probably, a compromise: acknowledge that most of the time it’s your belief propping up your reasons. So be on the look out for beliefs that keep having the reason knocked out (and keep scrambling for new ones) yet continues to float in your psyche without reasons. Maybe for those you should make a closer inspection and knock away all assumptions and start from ground up. See what you get.

“Liberals don’t understand conservative values. And they can’t recognize this failing, because they’re so convinced of their rationality, open-mindedness and enlightenment.

This reminds me of the article about more education and intelligence making people, ironically, more set in their (wrong) views. Honestly? I’m in constant fear that I’m making this mistake. That I’m being as hypocritical and close-minded as the people I charge with being hypocritical and close minded.

“In his view, for instance, liberals can teach conservatives to recognize and constrain predation by entrenched interests. Haidt believes in the power of reason, but the reasoning has to be interactive. It has to be other people’s reason engaging yours. We’re lousy at challenging our own beliefs, but we’re good at challenging each other’s.

I totally agree with this. While I like to hope that I read all decent, well thought out articles indiscriminately, the truth is obvious that most of the time, I will gravitate towards articles that share my views. The chances of me getting to a well thought out article that challenges my view is slim– not because they don’t exist, but because my tolerance for not-well-thought-out articles that support my view is much higher than for articles that don’t support my view. Meaning I would wade through several mediocre or lousy articles if they share my view to get to that one good one, but I probably wouldn’t do the same for an opposing view.

If 90% of the view points I hear are similar to my own, that means my views are not only not being challenged, they’re being affirmed. And that produces a subconscious effect whether I like it or not. So to friends who don’t share my views… please help me by challenging my beliefs.

“First, we need to help citizens develop sympathetic relationships so that they seek to understand one another instead of using reason to parry opposing views. Second, we need to create time for contemplation. Research shows that two minutes of reflection on a good argument can change a person’s mind. “

To truly want to understand an opposing view point– that’s really difficult. You may say, “I want to understand why you think that.” but at the back of your mind, a voice adds, “so I can correct your mistake/so I can show you why I’m right.” Even if you’re not interested in correcting others… there’ll still be a small voice going, “… but I know I’m right.”

It’s not too difficult to admit that you can be wrong– after all, we know our limits; we’re only human. But to go from that abstraction to being able to admit that you may be wrong about a specific belief of yours– that’s harder. If you’re sure of that belief– you think it’s something you know— it’s pretty difficult to get rid of that voice at the back of your head reminding you that you ‘know’ it. And if you can’t let go of that, it would be pretty difficult to ever be able to see how someone ‘knows’ something that is the opposite of what you ‘know’. You can’t truly see through someone else’s eyes, can’t truly walk in their shoes, if you’re standing firmly in your own shoes, in your own skin. You’d still be postulating and projecting what you think they see from over there, while you’re over here.

I know I’ve moved away from truly wanting to understand and closer to just wanting to defend my own views. Mainly because i got too frustrated and impatient. Hopefully I can move myself back to that point.

Keep reminding myself of this lesson: You have nothing to lose.
If your view is right, you have nothing to lose by gaining a deeper understanding of why other people don’t think so.
If your view is wrong, you have everything to gain by being able to correct your view.
So don’t hold back.

If someone holds a different view from you, the best testimony to your view is if you can understand 100% why they think that, and be able to point out were they ‘went wrong’. Rather than dismissing it as ‘they’re just deluded/not being honest with themselves/ignorant.’ They certainly don’t think that. Which means you’re still not thinking what they’re thinking. And therefore not fully understanding why they think it.

” Evolution itself has evolved: as humans became increasingly social, the struggle for survival, mating and progeny depended less on physical abilities and more on social abilities. In this way, a faculty produced by evolution — sociality — became the new engine of evolution. Why can’t reason do the same thing? Why can’t it emerge from its evolutionary origins as a spin doctor to become the new medium in which humans compete, cooperate and advance the fitness of their communities? Isn’t that what we see all around us? Look at the global spread of media, debate and democracy.”

Free Will: Articles and Some Thoughts


I came across this special issue by the Chronicle of Higher Education dealing with the question “Is Free Will an Illusion?” It features 6 short essays on the topic. Pretty interesting, give it a read!

I’ve been vaguely fascinated by the topic of free will for some time. I found myself, through my own random musings, being lead more in the direction of determinism, or denying free will, which at first alarmed me because such a position felt so counter-intuitive; surely most people would reject such a position as ridiculous. Imagine my surprise and delight when I found, upon reading up more on the subject, that this was actually a pretty common position amongst those who have explored these issues!

My thoughts on free will started from thinking about religion and belief. To me, free will was religion’s ‘trump card’, the reason why suffering exists, why God cannot simply pluck us out of disasters, and essentially why I’m going to hell: because I choose to reject God.

I argued that no one chooses that. No one would ever say, “Yes, I know God is my Creator, I know he is Truth and I know the consequence of rejecting Him. But in accordance to my right to free will, I can choose to reject Him, and I do.” No body chooses to reject the truth.

I’ve heard some arguments from the religious about why God doesn’t just reveal himself to all that run as such: If God were to do that then people would be forced to believe in Him, but God wants us to come to Him of our own free will.

So… knowledge eliminates free will but ignorance allows it??

When you say, “I don’t believe in God.”, it hardly feels like a choice. Given my background, the way I approach problems, all that I know and I that I’ve read up till today… couldchoose to say instead, “I believe in God.’? No. The reason why I don’t believe in God is that the concept doesn’t make sense to me. I can’t believe in God, at least not right now knowing and having experienced all that I have. Just take the case of those who deconvert– they certainly didn’t choose to lose their faith, and often times they really, really, really want to keep believing, but found that they couldn’t do it anymore.

I also wondered about when a decision counts as a choice.

If you’re ignorant and have no knowledge–say you’re given three blank doors with no clues as to which contains the prize– is it an exercise of free will when you pick one?

Or when you’re in possession of a lot of information about two different options– say you have to pick between two types of medical procedures– is it an exercise of free will when you weigh all the pros and cons and pick which one you think is best? But given the information that you had, and coming to the conclusion of which looked like the better option, could you have not picked that option?

Maybe free will and true choice only exist when there are no right or wrong implications to the choice, that is, when it is a subjective choice. For example, choosing between vanilla or chocolate ice-cream. Seems I could easily choose one or the other freely. But then again… that’s determined by some sort of internal bias– chocolate tastes better to me, or I’ve subconsciously come to prefer chocolate because there’s a subconscious, cultural implication that vanilla is for girls and sissies. If you hate durian or classical music, can you really choose to love them?

All just preliminary thoughts on a very complex issue. Hope to continue reading more and thinking more about it. :) :)

Although I’m not sure I fully support his dating analogy, the basic message is the same: it’s not a choice and no one chooses to reject God.

Double-Edged Sword of Intelligence and Knowledge


One thing that has always bugged me about religion is the fact that many of the religious people I know are highly intelligent (much smarter than me), well read and well educated (more well read than me), really nice and generally very awesome people who seem to have their lives completely figured out. In other words, many of them were people I really admired and looked up to. Why and how did they believe? They’re intelligent, logical people. Plain ignorance or misguided thinking can’t be the reason. It seems much more likely that I’m the one missing something rather than them. What is it that they can see, that they can understand, that I can’t?

For that same reasons, on the flip side it’s comforting to me to read or hear of people– scientist, pastors, friends-who-are-awesome — deconverting; It’s an even stronger ‘case’ this way round: The religious whom I admire have maybe only ever been on that side of the fence. But people who deconvert- especially pastors, for example- would know the religious side really well! It couldn’t be that they are ‘missing something’, because they obviously knew it before. They must know something that those still religious are don’t.

It’s really tempting and intuitive to do that, pointing to authority figures to support your point. But it’s also lazy, and isn’t really proof of anything. It’s basically saying something akin to, “Look, even Albert Einstein thought so; are you so arrogant as to think you’re smart and know better than Albert Einstein?” Er, no, definitely not. But are you suggesting that Albert Einstein is correct about everything just because he’s smarter than you or me?

Just because someone smarter than you thinks so, doesn’t mean you accept his opinion uncritically; Don’t piggy-back on other people’s conclusions, do your own thinking and make your own conclusions.

That’s not to say we discredit or ignore all other conclusions, though. Obviously, we still do have to take other people’s more authoritative, expert views into account, because it’s undeniable that they know more than us. Considering their deeper understanding will undoubtedly give us insight. But don’t equate knowledge or experience with infallibility; They may know more than you, but they are as human, and as fallible, as you and I are.

I keep learning that… being incredibly smart doesn’t really mean anything. Being incredibly smart doesn’t mean you’re always right or always come to the best conclusions. It doesn’t mean you never make logic leaps or fallacies, doesn’t mean you can see all sides of the issue. Being incredibly smart in one way doesn’t mean you’re incredibly smart in all ways.

Similarly, being an incredibly loving and caring person doesn’t really mean anything either; It doesn’t mean you’ll never hurt another person.

People, all people, are only human. They do what they can, they do what they think is right.  No matter how incredibly smart, well-educated, earnest and serious they are, they don’t have any magic answers.

This article, The Ugly Delusions of the Educated Conservative, builds on this idea that knowledge doesn’t always equate to credibility, and brings it a step further: contrary to what we might think, more eduction, more intelligence and more knowledge can actually make it more likely for you to hold inaccurate beliefs.

Why? because the smarter, more well educated and more knowledgable you are, the more confidence you tend to have in your own position. Confidence is fine, but it has a nasty habit of stepping over the line into arrogance, if you’re not careful. And arrogance loathes to admit that it’s wrong, which means, if you were wrong to begin with, you’ll probably stay that way.

Education systems all over the world tend to focus on intelligence of the students, and the knowledge they’re being fed. But intelligence and knowledge are a double-edged sword; They can bring you far, but they can bring you far in any direction.

Perhaps what the emphasis should be on instead is Open-mindedness and Critical Thinking; the ability to listen to consider other positions and to evaluate them. Only then can you be sure that knowledge and intelligence are constantly being checked and put back on track rather than veering off on one mistaken tangent, never to return.

While the article refers specifically to conservative republicans and climate change, I feel that it fits the religious as well, or maybe even more so. Wouldn’t the religious commit this crime more readily, for is that not the foundation of faith? You always operate within the faith, the possibility that your faith may be wrong is not an option. If belief in god is held as the foundation, the unquestionable, infallible truth, then all other knowledge that comes in will be twisted to fit that. As with the Republicans in the article, it’s not the supporting reasons that hold up the belief, it’s the belief that shapes the supporting reasons. And that’s the reverse of what it should be.

That said, the crime of being a ‘smart idiot’ (as the author terms it) is one ANYONE can easily make, once they forget to remember that their own opinions may just be incorrect, once they close their minds to all other positions but their own.

Here’s to helping each other make sure we don’t fall into the trap of being smart idiots.

The delightful hot-potato that is Gayness


Just reading this article, One Town’s War on Gay Teens, makes me feel so madder-than-mad at humanity in general and certain groups of humanity in particular.

Recently a friend passed me a book she bought from her church, entitled “Born Gay?” by Dr John Tay. It aims to “examine the scientific evidence for homosexuality”, as stated on the cover. What it does is gives individual summaries (which are slightly too brief, in my opinion) for a relatively large number of scientific papers on the topic and draws an overall conclusion from them: genes don’t fully account for homosexuality (and environmental factors play a bigger role) and therefore homosexuality is a choice.

Well, I’ve so far only scanned through the book, so I hope to give it a thorough reading and a fair hearing in time. I will also hopefully be able to check out those articles he features myself, and find others as well, but in the meantime, here’s my humble two cents on the nature of sexuality:

I think, like so many aspects of human experience, it is incredibly personal and incredibly variable. I think it is definitely a huge dash of nature, and another dash of nurture, and I think even the ratio of nature to nurture differs from person to person. I think sexuality is a continuous spectrum, or rather, two spectrum: gender identity (how much of a man/woman you identify as) and sexual orientation (how attracted you are to men/women/both/none). And I think how fluid a person’s sexuality is (how movable they are on that spectrum over time) is itself another spectrum.

But that’s just one person’s opinion; for it to have any weight you’d need to talk to others, read more, have some evidence to substantial and make sure that your theory actually does match reality and isn’t just some abstract idea that sounds nice on paper. So, still exploring. :)