Dear Male Geeks: A woman is not a Rubik’s cube that turns into a fleshlight when you win.

Nerd Assertiveness and Blindness To Privilege (guest post) by Matt Kopas at Sociological Images (emphasis mine):

Today’s XKCD strip bothers me, a little. It reminds me of the discussion about assertiveness amongst nerd guys brought up when Gabe and Tycho at Penny Arcade were talking about “pick-up artists” (PUAs) a while back.

[…] But I also think that messages like the XKCD strip really reinforce that idea of isolation and make the world out to be filled with potential mates — if only you’d just talk to them! There’s some truth here, in that it’s pretty hard to meet people if you find it hard to talk to communicate with others. But the more insidious, unintended message I’m seeing is one that just feeds into the PUA logic — given enough confidence and skills, all women are yours for the taking.

myoxisbroken of the XKCD forum said it best:

Because so goddamn many of you [nerd-men] believe, for whatever reason, that interacting with women is like solving a Rubik’s cube that turns into a Fleshlight when you win.

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Making a difference is not about creating a heroic image.

When good intentions are valued over effective change, resources that should be used for effective change are diverted to create an image of moral goodness or greatness.

In the article, Raising the World’s I.Q., Nicholas D. Kristof of The New York Times suggests that a worthwhile initiative for positive change in the world is often overlooked because of its image problems:

Travelers to Africa and Asia all have their favorite forms of foreign aid to “make a difference.” One of mine is a miracle substance that is cheap and actually makes people smarter.

Unfortunately, it has one appalling side effect. No, it doesn’t make you sterile, but it is just about the least sexy substance in the world. Indeed, because it’s so numbingly boring, few people pay attention to it or invest in it. (Or dare write about it!)

It’s iodized salt.

Almost one-third of the world’s people don’t get enough iodine from food and water. The result in extreme cases is large goiters that swell their necks, or other obvious impairments such as dwarfism or cretinism. But far more common is mental slowness.

When a pregnant woman doesn’t have enough iodine in her body, her child may suffer irreversible brain damage and could have an I.Q. that is 10 to 15 points lower than it would otherwise be. An educated guess is that iodine deficiency results in a needless loss of more than 1 billion I.Q. points around the world.

Development geeks rave about the benefits of adding iodine and other micronutrients (such as vitamin A, iron, zinc and folic acid) to diets. The Copenhagen Consensus, which brings together a panel of top global economists to find the most cost-effective solutions to the world’s problems, puts micronutrients at the top of the list of foreign aid spending priorities.

“Probably no other technology,” the World Bank said of micronutrients, “offers as large an opportunity to improve lives … at such low cost and in such a short time.”

Yet the strategy hasn’t been fully put in place, partly because micronutrients have zero glamour. There are no starlets embracing iodine. And guess which country has taken the lead in this area by sponsoring the Micronutrient Initiative? Hint: It’s earnest and dull, just like micronutrients themselves.

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Anti-racist terminology is not pedantic. The systematicity of racism is visceral, and your skepticism derives from your ethnocentric worldview.

Some individuals believe that the terminology used to discuss racism beyond personal experiences is unnecessarily pedantic and elitist. There are at least two plausible explanations of the reasoning behind this sentiment. One possibility is that the individual in question does not understand the systemic problem of racism, and believes that racism is something that is done by only crazed individuals. This first possibility will be discussed in this post.

An individual who thinks that racism is merely individual acts of hatred by mentally-ill white individuals does not understand that racism is systemic and pervasive. Racism is not exclusive to the political right and political conservatives, and hatred (explicit or implicit) against a racial group x is not necessary for holding racist beliefs about racial group x. Political liberals and even the political left may harbour racist beliefs that are based on misconceptions* about others’ lack of competence rather than hatred. Even people of colour of any political orientation may be racist against their own racial group and other racialized groups because they have internalized the racist belief system that permeates our culture.

If an individual does not understand the systemic problem of racism and believes that racism is about random acts of hatred committed by crazed white individuals, then it is reasonable to infer that she also thinks that terms like ‘systemic racism’, ‘internalized racism’, ‘racialized’, ‘microaggression’, and ‘microinsults’ have nothing to do with reality and are academic posturing. If she does not directly experience systemic racism, internalized racism, racialization, microaggression, and microinsults, then she would probably believe that these are merely theoretical constructs invented by academics in ivory towers. If this individual believes that to use such terms is to complicate things, then she likely has a very simplistic and superficial understanding of how racism works. If an individual does not experience microinsults herself and thinks that the idea of ‘microinsults’ is meaningless academese, then she is merely projecting her own detachment and opaqueness with respect to racism on to the term itself.

That something is ‘complex’ or ‘elusive’ to white people does not mean that it is universally complex and elusive to all humans. There can exist things that are experienced at a very basic level of perception by one group of people, yet not be recognized by another group due to the other’s lack of experience or lack of conceptual background. For example, East Asian cultures generally perceive umami or xiānwèi as a basic taste, but most Westerners would have to expend cognitive effort to taste it as ‘umami’. Moreover, the type of Westerners who would use the word ‘umami’ tend to be more educated than the general population, but this does not indicate that the concept of ‘umami’ itself is elitist and academic.

Ultimately, if an individual feels that terms like ‘systemic racism’, ‘internalized racism’, ‘racialized’, ‘microaggression’, and ‘microinsults’ have empty referents, it is a manifestation of her aloofness, not the academic’s.


* White liberals and white leftists may travel to ‘Africa’ or another geographical region and expect that they can help non-whites, assuming that the problem is lack of ingenuity on the part of non-whites. Often, these self-styled ‘philanthropists’ assume that they are competent enough to solve other people’s problems without researching the situation or without having any working experience in such projects. They assume that poverty in developing countries is about lack of resources and ignore Western complicity, because they would like to maintain their self-perception as white saviours.