As a “social networking volunteer,” I’ve agreed to post links to videos from the organization Tergar from time to time…  Here is the first one, discussing Mingyur Rinpoche’s entrance into a three-year wandering retreat.  Wow.



Atheists who are white, middle-class, and convinced that religion is the only thing standing between us and a glorious proletariat revolution.

They go something like this:

White Middle Class Atheist: Did you hear about the awful thing the Pope said? Religion is a tool of the patriarchy!

Me: It sounds like the Pope is a tool of the patriarchy, but maybe not all religion?

WMCA: No! Religion is just a load of patriarchy.

M: What about Native American religions?

WMCA: I don’t know anything about those. But I’m sure they’re a tool of the patriarchy.

M: What about liberation theology?

WMCA: I don’t know anything about that. But I’m sure it’s a tool of the patriarchy, too.

M: You know, there are a lot of traditions that aren’t like white conservative American middle-class Christianity.

WMCA: What? Sorry, I wasn’t listening.

M: Never mind. Do you know anything about Sufism?

WMCA: Islam is a tool of the patriarchy.

M: Right. It’s just, you know, contemplative traditions aren’t usually all that invested in human hierarchies. In fact, I think these traditions might be really useful in ending patriarchy. Their whole focus is on our interconnectedness, and love.

WMCA: Hippie. Contemplation is a waste of time. We have science now.

M: Scientific studies have actually shown that meditation has a lot of physical and mental benefits. It reduces anxiety and depression, increases happiness and empathy, decreases the amount of distress you feel when you are in pain, and is associated with greater ability to concen…

WMCA: You know, Buddhist priests in Japan took part in the war against Korea. Religion is a tool of oppression.

M: Religion is made up of people, and people are imperfect. It was scientists who conducted the Tuskegee experiments, but that doesn’t mean all of science, or the scientific method itself, is a tool of oppression.

WMCA: That was bad science. Good science is perfect.

M: But that’s holding science to a standard that is completely different from the one you’re holding religion to. Anyone who does something wrong is just doing “bad science,” and their actions have no implications for science as a whole, but if any religious person does something wrong, you dismiss all religion.

WMCA: There was Catholic priest sex abuse!

M: I know. That was terrible. I just don’t think the actions of some priests in the Catholic Church implicate Quaker or Baha’i practitioners, or, for that matter, the Catholic nuns who are willing to spend their lives in prison to stop nuclear proliferation.

WMCA: Whatever. I’m just a skeptic. I only believe what I can see.

M: That’s not true. We all make tons of assumptions to make it through a day, including assumptions about our own experiences. Besides, you also believe in things you’ve been told. You believe in atoms, right?

WMCA: That’s different. It’s science.

M: Well, you have a reasonable belief that scientists are telling you the truth when they say they’ve observed something, so you believe them. Couldn’t the practitioners of shamanism be making a similar choice?

WMCA: No. That’s all primitive monkey-heart-eating nonsense.

M: That’s a pretty racist thing to say.

WMCA: It’s not, because I think exactly the same thing about conservative white American Christianity.

M: Except the only religion you actually seem to know anything about is conservative white American Christianity. You’re making generalizations about other traditions that sound a lot like the stuff colonizing Christians said. You’re completely unwilling to doubt your epistemology, even for a second. You’re just as dogmatic as the people who make you so angry. Anyway, if native traditions are so useless, why do pharmaceutical companies keep stealing their medicine?

WMCA: That’s not stealing. It’s scientific discovery. Anyway, I just think we’d be better off if everyone was an atheist.

M: Maybe we’d be better off if fundamentalists gave up their rigidity, but religion is a mixed bag in terms of its impact on the world. It inspires people to work harder to do good. It inspired Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi. Sure, it can be harmful, but that’s true of any institution. You’re a socialist, right?

WMCA: Sure.

M: Well, then you know that even though governments are often forces for terrible things, it is possible to make better, more democratic governments that serve people. A radical corporatist takes one example of bad government and uses it to justify taking away the possibility of government doing anything that’s useful to people. You’re doing the same thing with religion.

WMCA: That’s totally different.

M: It’s really not. Institutions are populated by people, and people do crappy things sometimes. You could abolish all social structures, but then you’d still have people, and they’d still do crappy things sometimes. The only way that will change is with a genuine, heartfelt effort that can only come from within. Ironically enough, that’s exactly what most religions are designed to inspire. Most of the major social justice movements have had a religious element. Do you think that’s just a coincidence?

WMCA: Yes. You just want everyone to learn creationism. You’re like the Taliban!

M: What?

WMCA: Why do you hate science? I’ll bet if you were sick, you’d take Western medicine.

M: What? I don’t hate science…

WMCA: If you had cancer, you’d get chemo! Why do you insist on defending the Crusades?


WMCA: It’s people like you who killed George Tiller!

M: I’m pro-choice!  Listen, I just believe that religion has value. I’m not the Grand Inquisitor.

WMCA: You know what’s great? The Flying Spaghetti Monster.

M: Finally, something we can agree on.

Just A Friendly Reminder

January 21, 2010

See, I work in a hospital, so I know something that most people kinda sorta know, but most of the time try to ignore:

You are going to die someday.

No, really. You. It will happen to you. And everyone you know! Sometimes it happens to really young people. Sometimes it happens without any warning at all.

There’s no time to lose.

So Mike Tyson enjoyed a great big lovefest for his cameo in The Hangover this Sunday at the Golden Globes. For those who have forgotten, the lovable Mike Tyson is also a convicted rapist.

It seems to me that if one is convicted of rape (a highly unlikely occurrence which generally requires massive amounts of irrefutable evidence), one should lose one’s status as a pop culture hero.

I realize that this is a radical sentiment.

Entertaining as it might be, it would take a lot of time to follow Mike Tyson to various auditions with signs pointing out the fact that he is, in fact, a convicted rapist.

So how’s about from now on, we just don’t pay for movies by directors who knowingly hire convicted rapists to star in their films?

p.s. Roman Polanski can kiss my ass.

Self-love is Revolutionary

November 21, 2009

Still working on being this awesome.

As promised, I’ll be posting a bit about NPD. It’s not the focus of this blog, but enough people are coming here looking for info that it seems I should put a little something up.

There are a ton of internet sites talking about how to deal with people who have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and a ton of people on message boards discussing the issue. However, a lot of the people on those boards and blogs are not actually dealing with individuals who have NPD. They’re dealing with individuals who are what mental health professionals refer to as “assholes.”

Not every jerk has a personality disorder, and we certainly shouldn’t pathologize everyone who causes us problems in an attempt to feel better about ourselves. If you’re looking for someone to tell you that your enemies are bad bad people who are much worse than you, join a fundamentalist religion or something. I’d argue that managing to get through life without major brain damage shouldn’t be the rock we build our self-esteem on. People with NPD most likely have a genetic neurological issue, similar to autism or retardation, and they live in constant anguish. It doesn’t make much sense to hate them.

It sure does make sense to avoid them, though.

So how can you tell the difference between NPD and a narcissistic asshole?

Well, there are diagnostic criteria. But most untrained people can’t really evaluate someone using those. And even mental health professionals have a tough time with diagnosing personality disorders until they’ve got a few years of experience under their belt and have had a chance to see firsthand what they look like.

Ultimately, only a mental health professional (and I’m not one) can make a diagnosis for someone. But in my experience, and from what others who have actually had direct experience with NPD have told me, there are a few things that can help your average person get a pretty good idea of whether they’re dealing with a garden variety jerk or a personality disorder.

Test 1: Rage

The big “tell” is Narcissistic Rage. I don’t mean someone who gets angry a lot, or someone who uses anger to manipulate you. Those are asshole behaviors, but not necessarily NPD behaviors. I’m talking about someone who flips out at very strange moments. To psychologically normal people, these moments at first seem random and unpredictable, but they are not. Someone who flies into rages for no particular reason is an asshole. Someone who flies into rages for a few very specific but very strange reasons has NPD.

Someone with NPD will fly into rage because you have destabilized their false and grandiose vision of themselves. You can do this in one of a few ways:

-By offering intimacy (intimacy makes them more like you—they aren’t as “special” if they’re like other people)
-By pointing out the positive qualities in someone other than the person with NPD
-By disagreeing
-By criticizing
-By failing to offer praise when the person with NPD is in crisis
-By telling them that someone they think of as an enemy doesn’t care enough about them to perceive them as an enemy (I know this sounds really weird, but that’s why NPD is a mental illness!)

Try some of the above behaviors sometime when you’re definitely safe and when the person you suspect of having NPD can be sure there won’t be any backlash for blowing up. And stand the hell back.

Test 2: Everyone Else Is Boring

You can also try talking about yourself for a while. Notice the reaction. Someone with NPD will look totally zoned out and even annoyed when you’re talking about yourself. Unless it relates to them, they are simply not interested. Bring the conversation back to them, and they become animated and interested. Talk about something that just has to do with you, and they may even try to leave the conversation if they can.

Generally, other people only interest someone with NPD if they can be held up as an example of someone who is deeply inferior to them, or if that person is offering them “narcissistic supply,” which is anything that makes the person with NPD feel special. Any kind of special is fine, which is why people with NPD like to have enemies. Anything that makes them feel like the center of someone’s attention is fine by them.

Test 3: Instant Rage-Off

Another peculiarity of people with NPD is the fact that they are terrible bullies, but can be easily stopped in their tracks by the threat of abandonment. Your average asshole will yell at you, and then yell louder when you yell back. A person with NPD will bully and yell at you only so long as you try to appease them. If you yell back, they will instantly become docile (this behavior is so instantaneous, and so fuckin’ weird, there’s just no mistaking it).

Test 4: Zero Empathy

For me, this is the more important test of whether someone has something seriously wrong with them (i.e. they aren’t just an asshole, they have a personality disorder). The tough thing about testing someone’s empathy is that people can and do fake empathy, since it is socially expected that we will care about others. But generally, what you’re looking for is callousness, stuff that shows an inability to relate to the emotions of others, and a lack of concern for other beings. There isn’t any one test of empathy, but if you hang out with someone long enough, you can figure out whether they’ve got it or not. The difference between someone with empathy and someone without it is every bit as big as the difference between someone with psychosis and someone without it. There’s hearing your inner voice and then there’s hearing voices. They are very different. Same goes for the asshole with narcissistic tendencies vs. the person with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Someone with NPD is someone who is mentally ill, not just someone who is a pain in the butt.

Anyway, hope that helps you out. Good luck and Godspeed.

Blog Review: My Ecdysis

September 19, 2009

My Ecdysis is a somewhat rarely updated blog, but the posts are worth the wait. Lisa, the writer, has been blogging for three years, and she’s grown and shifted through those years in really interesting ways. For me, one of the best qualities of Lisa’s blogging is the way she doesn’t just talk about the ways our personal lives have larger political and social meaning—in fact, she rarely explicitly mentions it. Instead, she talks about her life, the the radical nature of that is just taken for granted.

Lisa gets major credit for introducing the word “kyriarchy” to a broader audience of feminist bloggers. If it hadn’t been for her popularization of this concept, which came out of an obscure theologian (as a theologian, I can tell you that hardly anyone pays attention to theologians except other theologians), a lot of really important discussions would never have happened in the feminist blogosphere. Her blog also gives a particularly subtle and interesting take on spirituality and feminism, a subject close to my own heart. Her contributions on that subject are well worth pondering.

Overall, My Ecdysis is definitely worth checking out.

A few great posts at My Ecdysis:
My Nicaraguan Father: Reflections on Feminism, Letters, and Digital Media
No Country for Men and Fathers?
No Person is “Born to Rape”

Today in fauxgressive land, this article, complete with simplistic graphs, makes the dubious claim that women’s happiness decreases with better opportunity. It is yet another in a series of what seems like about seventy bajillion similar pieces earnestly wondering why women are so unhappy, what with the fact that feminism fixed all that pesky inequality, and hinting that maybe feminism really just makes the ladeez miserable. Basically, author Marcus Buckingham points to two findings: women’s unhappiness increases as they get older, and women’s unhappiness has increased over the past thirty years. Men have shown the opposite trends. From this he draws the following:

Wherever researchers have been able to collect reliable data on happiness, the finding is always the same: greater educational, political, and employment opportunities have corresponded to decreases in life happiness for women, as compared to men.

And he just can’t figure out why!

So if it’s not the hours, or the attitudes, and if the inequality of home-work is fast disappearing, where does that leave us?

Let’s assume for a moment that it has actually been conclusively shown that these factors are not linked to happiness in women. And let’s take a stab that gets at one of many reasons life gets harder for women but easier for men with age.

Women are taught to value themselves according to how attractive they are to men. They are also taught to value romantic relationships highly, and to expect that getting married and having babies babies BABIES will make them happy.

How do you think women’s lives mesh with those expectations as they age? I propose: often not very well.

Men, on the other hand, are told to value themselves according to how much money they have.

In general, would you say that men have more or less money as they get older?

Oh! And excuse me Mr. Thousand Pound Gorilla in the corner? Would you say pressure on men to live up to the ridiculous standards of patriarchal masculinity is greater or lesser as they age?

Not surprisingly, becoming invisible and being devalued by society is distressing to most women. I actually look forward to some aspects of it (you can do all sorts of exciting things when no one notices you), but that is because of a lot of conscious thought on my part about what it means to age as a woman in a patriarchal society.

Not surprisingly, life is easier for men when they’re not constantly being asked to “prove” their masculinity, and when they feel they have accomplished the things society expects of them.

I don’t see what this has to do with increased opportunities for women. I really don’t. Do you?

The loss of happiness in women over the past 30 years could seem to have a greater correlation to increased opportunities for women, if you believe that feminism really did win educational and employment opportunities for women without any losses in other areas that impact our quality of life.

However, you may have noticed that there has been a slight rabid backlash to the feminist movement. This backlash has focused in large part on women’s physical appearance. As women’s access to the public sphere has increased, media images of female beauty have become increasingly unattainable, and women have been increasingly encouraged to value themselves according to how sexually pleasing they are to men.

You may also have noticed that this backlash has included a small uptick in crushing pressure to be “perfect” according to wildly different and even contradictory standards.

If you ask me, a more valid study of whether women’s happiness goes down when they have more power, money, and opportunity would not just measure whether women in the U.S. have become happier since the feminist movement, since feminist gains have been uneven and often counterbalanced by losses, and since all kinds of other factors (like how acceptable they feel it is to express unhappiness, and whether they feel they should have lots of opportunities) have an impact on women’s self-reported happiness over time. It would measure whether women in countries that have more power, money, and opportunity are less happy than their counterparts in countries where women have less power, money, and opportunity.

It tuns out that this information is, in fact, available.

Drumroll please.

Women in more gender equal societies like Denmark are generally happier than women in less gender equal societies like Poland, Slovenia, and the Ukraine!

Men in more gender equal societies are also generally happier.

In fact, overall, EVERYONE is happier in more gender equal societies!

But then, I suppose Feminism Makes People Happy wasn’t the headline they were looking for.

So Self-Righteous

September 13, 2009

I always find it ironic when someone accuses activists of being self-righteous and judgmental. Because, hey, person criticizing and passing judgement on another person’s behavior? By criticizing someone for being self-righteous and judgmental, dontcha think you’re being a little self-righteous? And judgmental?

Despite the fun irony, I do have to recognize there are some serious implications to accusations that people who oppose the status quo are self-righteous. That trope prevents a lot of people from doing social justice work, or calling other people out for their misogyny, racism, heterosexism, etc. They don’t want to be uncool and no fun, so they shut up. They focus on not-self-righteous things, like watching football, or wearing the right American Apparel leg warmers, or reading the New Yorker, or whatever it is not-self-righteous people do.

You know what? Activists are self-righteous. Damn straight. We believe in our personal system of ethics and values, and we try to live up to those values. We take them seriously. I don’t think this is a problem. Because, when you come down to it, anyone who has a meaningful sense of lived morality does the same thing. They really believe what they believe. They think other people should too. There’s nothing wrong with that.

People who don’t have a sense of morality of some kind are generally quite mentally ill, and while they may not be self-righteous, they have other issues that make them a difficult golf buddy.

The only difference between those who oppose the status quo and those who support it is that those who support it are rarely put in a position where they must either accept behavior they feel is unethical or speak out against it. Their values are upheld by all of the institutions and structures around them. They rarely see violations of their ethical code, because their ethical code is dominant. When they do see violations, they can usually be sure that most people will agree with them, and violators will be punished by existing systems.

For instance, most people believe that serial murder is wrong. No one is considered “self-righteous” for saying that serial killers should not do what they’re doing. In fact, a judge at sentencing could give a long-winded, harshly worded speech about why a murderer should not have killed people, and most of us would consider that judge to be giving the murderer the talking to he deserves.

However, most people do not believe that war is wrong. So a pacifist saying that we shouldn’t go to war and kill people will not receive the same social approval as the judge. The pacifist will often be labeled self-righteous, although they really have not done anything different from your average murder denouncer. Even if they’re gentle and respectful and try to express their beliefs in the most loving way possible, people are likely to view them as a little bit sanctimonious. Just ‘cuz they’re challenging the Way Things Are and Always Will Be, and no one is supposed to do that.

There’s nothing wrong with trying to convince other people that your ethical code is worth following. In fact, I think it’s silencing and stifling, and even dangerous, to try to force people to keep their ideas about right and wrong private. We need people to challenge the status quo, and we need to have public conversations about ethics. The more we tell anyone questioning The Way Things Are to shut up because they’re being self-righteous, the less likely we are, as a society, to get ourselves checked when we go off the rails. When we start torturing people, or destroying civil liberties… You see where this is going? We need people who are willing to stand up for what they believe in.

When people get called out on stuff or have their privilege questioned, they get defensive. So they respond with a counterattack, claiming that whoever called them out has some kind of problem that devalues their observation. And anyone who won’t just let it lie when they see harm being done gets labelled “self-righteous,” “judgmental,” and “preachy.”

You know what? Martin Luther King was so preachy he was a damn preacher. There are worse things to be.

Ah, the unintended consequences of blog titles.

This is a blog devoted to discussing various aspects of systematic oppression, especially gender oppression.

However, it would appear that a surprising number of people do google searches on pathological narcissism every day, and they’re ending up here.

So, in the coming weeks, I’ll be writing a little bit about Narcissistic Personality Disorder. As it so happens, I have a bit of experience with someone who has NPD, and I know that people are probably in a pretty terrible place if they’re googling that particular beast.

In the meantime, if you’re looking for resources, you might want to check out this blog. It’s not being updated anymore, but there’s a lot of good info there. The author definitely takes an angry, even vengeful approach to people with NPD that I don’t share, though I certainly understand it. But despite the anger, the information is good. And there’s a healthy dose of self-protection in righteous anger sometimes.

There’s also a bunch of stuff online by someone who has NPD, Sam Vatkin. The information he gives is often good, but you must remember that he has the disorder, which means he is a sadist with an inflated sense of himself and a disdain for others. Including you, his reader. He sneaks sadism into his writing, because that’s who he is. He says things that have the potential to make you feel bad about yourself, particularly if you have been victimized by someone with NPD. It’s also important to note that he’s not a mental health professional. He’s just someone who can speak from experience because he has NPD. So, I’m not going to link to him. But, being warned, you can check out the information he offers. I did find it helpful myself, in concert with the blog I linked to above.

If you’ve never dealt closely with someone with NPD, neither Vatkin or that blog will make much sense to you. Thank your stars, hope it never will, and go get yourself an Icee.

If, however, you have experienced abuse at the hands of someone with NPD, the descriptions will instantly make what seemed like unrelated events fall into place. I’m sorry you’re going through whatever made you google your way here, and I hope that things get better for you soon.