I love it when Lydia curls up in a tight ball, with just one back leg sticking out. I love it when she curls her tail over her paw. And I'm entertained by the image of the cat falling asleep in front of the TV while channel surfing.
This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. Note: The piece doesn't talk about my personal sex life per se, but it makes a couple of oblique passing references to it. Family members and others who don't want to read about my sex life, use your own judgment on this one.
The inquisitor had a fetish for being shampooed; didn't know how to find a female partner who would play along; and had been trying -- unsuccessfully -- to pay hair salons to give him the pleasure. Dan's response (apart from "Get some social skills") was, I thought, very sensible:
Find a sex worker.
It's advice I think a lot of sexually dissatisfied people would benefit from. If there's a special kind of sex that you really love and haven't been able to find -- or there isn't, but you're just not getting laid at the moment -- paying a professional would seem, if you can afford it, to be a fairly obvious solution.
But it's also advice that a lot of people reject out of hand. Not only do they reject it -- they're offended at the very suggestion. "I'm not going to pay for it." "What kind of loser has to pay for it?"
Part of it is a moral issue. Many people believe that prostitution, even among completely consenting adults, is immoral on the face of it. And part of it is an understandable emotional barrier: if what you want is not just sex but sex with someone who loves you and vice versa, then a pro isn't going to do the trick. (Sorry for the pun.)
But for plenty of people, it seems to be simply a matter of pride. Being able to get a sex partner is proof of manliness, womanliness, coolness, evolutionary fitness, whatever. If you "have to pay for it," it means you can't get it on your own, which de facto makes you a loser.
Does paying a restaurant to feed you a meal make you a loser? Whether you eat out every night or only do it as an occasional treat; whether you're looking for a special meal you can't get elsewhere or simply want the convenience of getting dinner without any hassle... does it make you a loser? A pathetic nobody who can only get fed if he pays someone to do it?
You can argue that sex is different. But food -- especially providing other people with food, and the experience of cooking and/or eating together -- is a powerful, complex, culturally rich experience that's loaded with emotional implications. And yet we have no shame at all about paying for it.
Come to think of it, I could easily imagine an alternate reality in which paying for sex is an openly practiced, completely accepted part of the economy and the culture... but paying for food is considered shameful at best and immoral at worst, an illegal black market economy in which the providers, no matter how skillful they are at their craft, are defamed, marginalized criminals, and the customers are mocked into thinking there's something sordid and pathetic about what they do.
"I'm not going to pay someone to cook for me. What kind of loser has to pay for a meal?"
If that doesn't make sense when it comes to food, then why does it make sense when it comes to sex?
If you don't want to see a sex worker, of course you shouldn't see a sex worker. Not everyone likes going to restaurants, either. But I've never understood the sex-positive attitude that embraces and celebrates sex workers while still looking down on their customers. There are lots of reasons people pay for sex -- they're partial to a particular kind of sex that not many people enjoy, they're in a place in their lives where a relationship isn't a good idea, their dating life is in a dry spell, they enjoy a variety of partners, etc. It doesn't make them losers. If you've ever paid for sex, or if you pay for sex now, there's no reason to think that it makes you a loser. And if you've never paid for sex, there’s no reason to think that it'll make you a loser if you decide to try it out.
I have a nosy question for my godless readers. If you had to pick a religion to belong to, which one would it be?
Is there any religion that appeals to you, with rituals and politics and practices that strongly resonate with you? Do you ever have moments, listening to a church choir or attending a peace march, when you wished you had whatever it is believers have -- and if so, which believers made you feel that way? Is there any religion that you'd kind of like to join, if it weren't for that pesky business of believing in God?
To put it another way: Let's pretend God exists. Let's say He/She/It appeared to you, in a way that completely convinced you that He/She/It was real and not a figment of your imagination. Let's say He/She/It asked for your worship... but said you could do it any way you wanted to. What would it be?
Quick guideline here: "I'd worship God by sitting on the sofa eating chocolate chips and watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is not an acceptable answer. As Russell's Teapot said, it has to be a real religion, "not just made-up by someone." :-)
Myself, I usually lean towards Quaker. I like the leaderlessness of it: the idea that a worship service involves anyone speaking who feels moved to do so, instead of one person who supposedly knows more about God than anyone else standing in front of the room telling everyone else about it. I like the peacefulness of it, the spareness, the quiet. I like the idea of a worship service where you sit together in a quiet, unadorned place, each person looking inside themselves but everyone doing it together.
Plus I like the idea of a religion that has, as one of its central tenets, the notion that they don't know everything; that truth is available to everyone, not just Quakers; and that believers need to be flexible and adaptive about their beliefs.
And of course, I like the whole social justice aspect of it. I like the Quaker history of involvement in the Underground Railroad; their history of anti-war activism; their history of supporting racial and gender equality.
If it weren't for that pesky business of believing in God and Christ, I'd be all over it.
But Christ is a deal-breaker for me. There are way too many things about the Christ myth that give me the willies. And besides, Christianity has been in my face my entire life. It's by far the religion I'm most intimately familiar with... and as a result, it's the religion that angers and upsets me the most. Christianity in America is, overwhelmingly, a ghastly example of political and cultural hegemony at its worst, and I want no part of it -- even a radical, progressive, alternative-y part.
So paradoxically, the very thing that makes the Quaker religion feel familiar and resonant -- the fact that it's part of the Christian tradition, where my own cultural roots lie -- is the very thing that makes me flinch away from it.
I was planning to put this up on Thursday, but I was out of town for the long Thanksgiving weekend, and it turned out that I didn't have wireless access and couldn't connect my laptop to the Internet. Sorry for the late-itude. I'm home now, and will be back to my regular blogging schedule as soon as I get some sleep.
It's traditional, on or around Thanksgiving, for writers to write about the things they're grateful for. Family and friends; happiness and comfort; health and home -- these typically lead the pack.
Of course I'm deeply grateful for all that. But I don't think I have anything very original or interesting to say about it. So I want to say this instead:
I'm grateful for the atheist blogosphere.
(Or, as I've been calling it lately, the atheosphere.)
The quote unquote "new atheist" movement, and in particular the atheist blogosphere, has given me the sense of being part of something bigger than myself. It's given me the experience of participating in an important social movement that's changing society in ways nobody can predict, and that's touching people I will never meet or even know about. It makes me feel both powerful and humble... both in really cool, amazing ways.
I haven't felt this way since I was immersed in the dildo wars, the raging debate over porn and sex toys and bisexuality and SM in the feminist/ lesbian communities of the late '80s and early '90s. When I get emails or comments from people saying that I changed the way they think or live, that I helped them out of a suffocating religion or inspired them to write, it gives me that rare flush you get when the chatterbox in your head shuts up for ten seconds and you feel completely present in your skin, and in your world. It makes me feel alive, and connected, and like the meaning of my life is being fulfilled. Being part of the atheist blogosphere makes me feel like part of history; like I'm jumping into the river and helping to shape its direction, instead of just camping out on the riverbank watching it go by.
And it's more fun than a barrel of monkeys.
For all of that, I'm grateful.
Gratitude can be a tricky emotion for the godless. When we feel grateful for good fortune that we didn't particularly earn, we don't always know who to thank for it. Sometimes there isn't anyone to thank, and the gratitude just sort of floats out into the ether with no object to attach to, in a way that feels vaguely disconcerting.
But in this case, there are people to thank. And so I'm thanking them.
I'm not going to thank all my favorite atheist bloggers by name. I know I'd miss someone, and that wouldn't be right. But I am inexpressibly grateful that, when I started to blog, the atheist blogosphere, and the contemporary atheist movement, was here for me to come home to. Y'all rock.
I'm travelling for the Thanksgiving weekend, and I thought I'd have reliable Internet access but I don't. So that's why I haven't been posting. I'm coming home on Monday, and should be putting up a proper post on Monday evening. Sorry for the interruption; I miss you all, and will talk to you soon.
This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. Please note: This piece discusses, not so much my personal sex life, but my tastes and preferences in porn, and it does so in some detail. If you don't want to read that, please don't.
It's almost a throwaway line. And yet it's stuck with me for weeks.
"I figured out pretty soon that, to get a video that pushes all your buttons and doesn’t grate on any squicks, you have to win the lottery and produce it yourself."
This is spanking model Adele Haze, in a blog piece titled Why I Modelled for Lupus Pictures. It's a smart, insightful piece about why she was willing -- not just willing, but happy -- to perform in a spanking video for a production company that she knew was going to physically push her much, much harder than she liked. The piece has some compelling implications, not just about spanking porn or even porn in general, but about any kind of sexual relationship, and indeed any kind of job.
I've written about those implications elsewhere. But right now, I'm fixated on this one comment she made almost in passing. Again:
"I figured out pretty soon that, to get a video that pushes all your buttons and doesn’t grate on any squicks, you have to win the lottery and produce it yourself."
I think this is one of the smartest things I've read about porn. I think it has important implications, for both porn critics and porn consumers alike. And I think it has even bigger implications for porn creators.
I've been a porn consumer for close to thirty years now, and a porn critic for over a decade. And as both a consumer and a critic, I've definitely fallen into the trap Haze is talking about. I've griped about porn -- videos, stories, photo collections, comics, whatever -- being too arty, and I've griped about them being too raw. I've griped when porn took forever to get to the good parts, and I've griped when it rushed to the sex too soon. I've griped when the porn I was watching was too soft-focus and romantic, and I've griped when it treated its characters like meat. I've griped because the performers didn't spank as hard as I liked, and I've griped because they spanked too hard.
In other words, I've definitely griped about porn because it either didn't push all my erotic buttons just right, or because it grated on some of my squicks. I've griped when it hasn't fallen into my perfect window: the perfect amount of artistry without sacrificing spontaneity, the perfect amount of teasing and buildup to get me worked up without getting me frustrated and bored, the perfect degree of roughness or kink to be convincingly real without being terrifyingly brutal.
And I -- along with every other porn consumer and porn critic -- have to acknowledge that this really isn't fair.
Of course I have a right to my erotic buttons. I have a right to express those erotic buttons. And I have a right to seek out porn that pushes them. Absolutely. But it isn't right to act as if porn creators have done something wrong for failing to push them.
Besides, and much more to the point...
The porn that I've loved most passionately hasn't necessarily pushed my erotic buttons at all. And some of it has definitely grated on my squicks. The porn that I've loved most passionately has been the porn that most effectively got across how the people in it felt about the sex they were having -- regardless of whether the sex they were having was sex I wanted to have, or even wanted to fantasize about.
If I can be drawn inside the head and the skin of the performers/ characters/ models, if I can be made to really feel what it feels like to be this person/these people having this sex and to feel what they find hot about it, the actual content can be just about anything. It can be content that would usually bore me, and it can be content that would usually squick me. If I can get why they find it hot, I can generally find it hot myself.
This is the main reason I'm so rabid about authenticity and enthusiasm in video porn. An authentic, enthusiastic performance in a porn video will completely bypass the presence or absence of my erotic buttons, and will turn me on by the sheer force of the performers' own excitement. A competent piece of push-the-buttons porn will only get me off if it hits my buttons successfully.
And I think that's a lot of what's wrong with so much porn. Mainstream video porn especially, but it's true of almost any commercial porn. I think way too much porn focuses way too hard on maximizing their button pushing and minimizing their squick-grating (emphasis on minimizing their squick-grating). They spend way too much time and energy checking off boxes on the "positions and sex acts" checklist (did we get the blowjob? did we get the reverse cowgirl? did we get the anal?) and making sure none of the "avoid at all costs" boxes get touched (did the guys' dicks touch each other? does the girl look even slightly fat?). And as a result, they all too often forget the entire point of the exercise -- namely, to show how exciting it feels to have great sex.
There's something I've been noticing lately about the ongoing, increasingly-robust religion/ atheism debate. And that's that it's really two debates. Very different debates... which sometimes get confused and conflated.
By both believers and atheists.
There's the debate about whether religion is true or false. God, the immortal soul, mystical spiritual energy -- do they exist, or do they not exist? Is religion an accurate hypothesis about the world, or is it a mistaken one?
Or, to be more accurate, since the God hypothesis can't be definitely disproven: How plausible is it that God exists? Is it a reasonable hypothesis supported by evidence, or is it a self-contradictory myth that requires a metric shitload of circular defense mechanisms to support it?
And then there's the debate about whether religion, on the whole, has a positive or negative influence on the world. Does it provide comfort, hope, social cohesion? Does it promote gullibility, intolerance, the rejection of reality in favor of dogma? If both, then which is more common, or more important? Can the good things done in the name of religion really be chalked up to religious belief itself, or would people have done them anyway, and religion just gave them the inspiration? What about the bad things done in the name of religion, ditto?
In this debate, one side typically lines up Gandhi, Martin Luther King, charities and hospitals run by religious groups for centuries, etc. The other side lines up the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, witch burning, 9/11, and so on. And these avatars for religious evil and religious good all duke it out on the Internet, like some wild, absurdist multi-player computer game. (The Simpsons episode where Homer's hallucinations and Mr. Burns's hallucinations get into a battle in the ski cabin comes to mind...)
The thing is, these really are two different debates. Religion could theoretically be correct, but still overall be a harmful influence on human society. And it could theoretically be mistaken, but still overall have a beneficial effect. (Although... well, we'll get to that in a moment.)
But I've noticed that these debates tend to slop over into each other. People will be arguing over whether some piece of religious doctrine is plausible... and then someone will start going on about Martin Luther King or the Inquisition.
The reverse also happens, of course. People will be debating whether religious charities and social movements outweigh religious atrocities and intolerances, or whether it's the other way around... and then someone starts saying, "But it doesn't matter, because my religion is the Truth, inspired by the True God, and all the religious atrocities in the world aren't an argument for why it's false." Or they start saying, "But it doesn't matter, because religion is a mistaken theory about how the world works, and all the charities in the world aren't an argument for why it's true." The slopover happens from both sides.
And that makes for some very muddled, meandering, frustrating debates. It is worth remembering that each side could theoretically be right about one of these questions and wrong about the other. Again, religion could theoretically be correct, but still overall have a harmful influence on human society. And it could theoretically be mistaken, but still overall have a beneficial effect. These really are two separate arguments, and I think we might be better off keeping them separate.
See, here's what makes this even more confusing. Here I am, arguing that these are two separate debates, and that in the interest of clarity we should try to keep them separate.
But I also think they're connected.
Because if religion is mistaken -- and I think that it is -- then that makes it harmful.
Basing your life on a false premise is going to lead to you bad decisions. It's the old "garbage in, garbage out" saying about data processing. You can see this in very mundane, practical areas of life. If you think fish are poisonous and inedible, you're more likely to starve and die out when you move to an island nation. If you think malaria is caused by unhealthy vapors in the atmosphere, you're more likely to make bad decisions about public health policy. Etc.
Of course this applies to religious premises as well. Possibly even more so. If you believe in a rain god, you're more likely to make bad decisions in times of drought. If you believe that God will be on your side in all battles because he wants your people to conquer the world, you're more likely to make bad decisions about military strategy and foreign policy. If you believe the Apocalypse is coming in the next century, you're more likely to make bad decisions about the need to prevent global warming.
And when the premise is not only a false one, but one that actively resists correction the way religion does -- one that actually has an elaborate system of defenses against correction -- the "garbage in, garbage out" problem is compounded.
In particular, the idea that religious faith (i.e., believing in something for which there is no hard evidence and can be no hard evidence) is in itself a virtue, something that makes you a good person... this idea leads both individuals and societies not only to a resistance to reality that contradicts their faith, but to a general gullibility. It makes people extra-vulnerable to faith healers, charlatans, frauds of all stripes, from Jim Bakker to Richard Roberts. And that's harmful for very obvious, very pragmatic reasons.
So in other words:
Even if there were no religious intolerance or oppression; no Spanish Inquisition or 9/11; nobody burned at the stake for being Protestant or Catholic or insisting that the earth moves around the sun... even if none of the awful shit that happens in religion's name ever happened, or had ever happened in all of human history, I think religion would still, on the whole, have a harmful effect.
Simply because it is mistaken.
What's more, I agree with the point Daniel Dennett made in "Breaking the Spell." He argues that, because religion isn't based on actual reliable evidence but only on tradition and personal experience and other stuff people made up, and is in many cases flatly contradicted by both evidence and reason, this actually makes people cling to it harder, defend it more passionately... and behave more oppressively and intolerantly towards non-believers and infidels and others who put chinks in the armor.
Obviously there are exceptions to this rule. There are individual people and individual faiths that are tolerant and ecumenical, towards people of different faiths and towards people with no faith at all. But alas, hostile intolerance toward those who don't share the faith appears to be the rule in religion, not the exception... so much so that it seems to be, not a foundational cornerstone of religion exactly, but one of its most natural and common consequences. Intolerance towards doubters and outsiders is one of religion's primary defense mechanisms, one of the main ways that it stays alive.
So back to the actual topic at hand:
I do still think that, as a general rule, the "true or false" and the "helpful or harmful" arguments are different arguments, and that the religion debates would be more productive if they were kept more separate.
But I also think it's worth remembering this:
A mistaken idea is pretty much always a harmful idea.
Typepad is having sporadic problems with commenting on their blogs, including this one. Occasionally, for no apparent reason, people are posting comments that are showing up in the "Recent Comments" list (as well as in my own blog management software), but that aren't actually appearing in the comments themselves.
If this happens to you, please let me know. When it happens, I can fix the problem temporarily by re-publishing the entire blog. (Typepad is working to fix the problem permanently.) So as always, if you're trying to comment and it's not working, please let me know. Sorry for the inconvenience, and thanks for your patience.
Please note: This post, and the post it links to, contains very explicit details, not so much about my personal sex life per se, but about my fantasies and my tastes in porn. Family members and others who don't want to read that, please don't.
I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog -- with a nosy little poll at the end of it, aimed at readers of all stripes but especially at other sex writers and educators. It's called On Surfing the Web for Spanking Porn, and it begins very much like this:
Honestly, I'm a little embarrassed by it.
I know that seems weird. I've been writing in shameless detail about my sex life, my sexual fantasies, and my tastes in porn for years. Why should I be embarrassed about surfing the web for spanking porn?
I think I'm embarrassed because I'm so single-minded about it. As a porn critic, I pride myself on having eclectic tastes, on being able to be turned on by almost any sexual scenario if it's executed with passion and skill. All of which is true.
But when it comes to my free time, my "me" time, my non-professional "looking at porn just to whack off" time, I'm very single-minded indeed. I want to look at photos of women being spanked.
I haven't been posting much about sex here lately. Except for the stuff about the sexual hypocrisy of right-wingers, of course. Which is entertaining in its own way; but not exactly hot.
So today I'm posting a dirty story from the archives. (Family members and others who don't want to read my porn, now would be a good place to stop.) This piece was originally published in the Five Minute Erotica anthology, a collection of short-short (1000 words or less) erotic fiction edited by Carol Queen. As usual with my fiction, I'm not illustrating it with any pictures, since I want you to visualize the characters however you want. Enjoy! Story begins below the fold.
I have to give an enormous grateful shout-out to Mr. Inquisitor. He tagged me with one of these "blog tag" memes, this one being "Pick out five blog posts that illustrate the evolution of your blog, link to them, and comment on them."
So I was going through my archives trying to pick out the five posts that summed up my blog's development... and I thought, "You know, I'd really like for the last one to be that Atheists and Anger piece I keep wanting to write. That would sum up the evolution of my blog quite nicely. I should just get off my duff and do it."
I'd been wanting to write that piece for ages. But I knew it would be painful to write, and I knew it would piss people off, so I kept procrastinating. When I got tagged with this meme, though, I knew I wanted Atheists and Anger to be the capper... and I finally got off the pot and wrote it.
The blog post that changed my life.
I owe you one, dude.
Anyway, here's the meme. The evolution of my blog, summed up in five posts. Except I'm expanding it to six. Okay, seven. Fine, if you're going to be a fascist about it -- eight. But I'm counting two of them as one, so it's really seven.
So I'm breaking the rules. So sue me. I'm a rebel, and I'll never, ever be any good.
This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. Bob Allen was just convicted last week of soliciting a sex act in a park bathroom, so now seems like a good time to reprint this story.
This is just getting ridiculous.
Do you remember in last week's column, when we talked about Florida state representative/ McCain presidential campaign co-chair Bob Allen? The guy who sponsored a bill to tighten Florida's public sex laws, and recently got busted for offering a male cop $20 to blow him in a public bathroom?
The story has taken an almost surreal turn. According to the Orlando Sentinel (and a big thank you to the Bilerico Project for the story and the link!), Allen is now claiming that the scary black men made him do it.
I'm not kidding. Quote:
"'This was a pretty stocky black guy, and there was nothing but other black guys around in the park,' Allen, who is white, told police in a taped statement after his arrest. Allen said he feared he 'was about to be a statistic' and would have said anything just to get away.'"
My question is this:
Just how stupid does he think we are?
Let's back up for a moment, and take this one piece at a time.
First of all: Racist.
That's just obvious, and I don't have much that's interesting or original to say about it. So I'll simply say it once more and move on for now: Racist.
Allow me to quote from the police report:
"I was standing against the far wall of the stall. Allen closed the door behind him and stood against it. I said 'what's up' and Allen said 'Hi.' Allen then said 'this is kind of a public place isn't it.' I said 'do you have somewhere else where we can go?' Allen said 'How about across the bridge it's quite [sic] over there.' Allen engaged me in a conversation in which he agreed to pay me $20.00 in order to perform a 'blow job' on me."
Just to clarify: This conversation happened after Allen peered over the cop's stall -- twice -- and then pushed his way into it. (Read the whole story for more details.)
And he's telling us he was frightened of the big scary black men and trying to get away? Liar, liar, pants on fire. This guy was cruising.
Which brings me to my central point:
Just how stupid does he think we are?
I'm reminded of something I wrote during the Ted Haggard kerfuffle. When Haggard's "counselor" said that, after three weeks of therapy, Haggard discovered that he was "really" completely heterosexual and that "It was the acting-out situations where things took place," I had this to say:
"Right. Because straight men "act out" by sucking cock all the time.
"No, really. It's a natural stress response. Long hours, money problems, illness in the family, trouble at home? Every straight guy I know would be running to the nearest male prostitute to suck his cock. It's a perfectly normal reaction. Very common."
And that's exactly my reaction to Bob Allen's latest statement.
Right. Every guy I know, when he's in a public place in a situation where he feels threatened, tries to get out of it by offering the purported threatener $20 to suck his cock. I mean, that's just self-preservation. It's not like he actually wanted to suck the guy's cock. He was simply trying to defuse a potentially dangerous situation.
Really. You've done that, guys... right? You're in an alley or a deserted park at night, you see a guy you think might be a mugger... you offer him $20 to give him a blowjob. It's in all the police brochures on urban safety. It's just plain common sense.
I said it about Ted Haggard, and I'll say it again now:
Just how stupid does he think we are?
So here's what I think is really going on.
I think it's a bad enough PR problem for Allen's Republican constituents that he was in a public bathroom offering $20 to suck another man's cock. But I think it makes the PR problem worse, by several orders of magnitude, that he was offering $20 to suck the cock of a black man.
That's not just faggotry. That's race treachery. Not something you want to screw around with in the Republican South.
And I think that's why he's offering the "scary black men" defense.
I don't think the "scary black men" defense is racist by coincidence. I think it's very deliberate. He's trying to play on his constituents' racism -- and in particular their racist fears of black men's sexuality -- by shifting the perception of the incident, away from "middle-aged man offering $20 to suck a black guy's cock in a public bathroom," and towards "panicked victim of potential mugging or rape by big scary black men, handling it as best he could."
That's an image his constituents can probably identify with. And he's hoping they will. He's trying to create a smokescreen of racist sex panic that his constituents can sympathize with... in hopes that the racist sex panic will be more emotionally compelling, and more what people want to believe, than the image of the right-wing crusader for sexual morality secretly cruising the public toilets for men to suck off.
I just hope that his constituents aren't as stupid as he thinks they are.
"You're just calling yourself an atheist because it's cool right now, and everyone else is doing it."
"Oh boy, another hanger-on to the (Dawkins/ Hitchens/ whoever) bandwagon." (I was particularly entertained when a recent commenter in this blog accused me of parroting Hitchens -- when I haven't even read his damn book yet.)
"You're just being trendy."
I'm beginning to see this argument -- if you can call it that -- a fair amount lately. The newly visible, newly vocal atheist movement... it's just people trying to be cool, jumping on the bandwagon, finding a new and exciting way to piss off their parents. Denying the existence of God, restructuring your life philosophy to a naturalistic worldview with no permanence and no intent behind it... it's just a fad.
Like hula-hoops, or swallowing goldfish.
So I want to talk about the trendiness of the atheist movement.
And for the 4,626th time, I'm going to make an analogy to the gay rights movement.
There was a period of the gay rights movement, right around the early '90s, when "gay" suddenly became very trendy indeed. The news media was doing tons of stories on us; movies and TV shows were being made about us in droves; publishers were publishing our books; politicians were sucking up to us; advertisers were all over us like white on rice.
And then the trendiness passed. Fewer news stories, fewer movies and TV shows, fewer books being published just because they were about being queer. (I suppose I should be sad about this last one, but it's hard to work up much grief over it, since a lot of those books were really, really bad.)
Now for today's lesson.
Does any of that mean that the queer movement wasn't important? That being queer and coming out was just a fad, a flash in the pan, something people did to be cool? That the queer movement was, and is, trivial?
No. Of course not.
The queer movement had been happening for decades before it became trendy. And it's continued to carry on after the trendiness faded. It's continued to have major social impact, has continued to shape culture and public policy. Our visibility continues to increase -- not in an, "Oh, my goodness, gay people!" way, but in a "taking us for granted and just assuming we're part of the picture" way. The trendiness came and went; the movement continues.
In fact, none of the trendiness had anything to do with the actual queer movement itself. Nothing had happened within the queer movement to make us trendy. We hadn't all suddenly started dressing cool or something. (We've always dressed cool.)
What had happened was that our visibility had achieved a sufficient critical mass for the rest of the world to sit up and take notice.
The trendiness was not created by us. The trendiness was created by the mainstream world, the largely-straight world. We were willing to ride the wave and use it to our best advantage; but the wave was not of our own making, except insofar as our efforts towards greater visibility and recognition created the conditions in which it could happen.
So what does this have to do with atheism?
It would be foolish to deny that atheism has a certain cachet right now. Atheism is trendy -- in the sense that the mainstream world, the mostly-not-atheist world, is suddenly realizing that we're here... and is finding us fascinating.
Does that mean that atheism is "just a trend"? That atheists are "just being trendy," and when the fad passes most of us will move on to some other popular philosophy?
No. Of course not.
Like the queer movement, the atheist movement had been going on for some time before it suddenly became trendy. And it would surprise me a lot to see it just disappear. There is a world of difference between the realistic acknowledgment that atheism is somewhat trendy right now... and the dismissive attitude that it's "just a trend," or that atheists ourselves are doing it "just to be trendy."
The fact that atheism is having a big rush of attention and prominence in the public discourse right now doesn't mean that it's "just a trend." Quite the opposite. I think the trendiness phase is a natural side effect of any movement whose numbers and visibility have reached a certain critical mass.
I'm sure there'll come a point when there are fewer atheist books being published, fewer articles about atheism in the newspapers, fewer people gassing on about atheism on talk shows. But that won't mean that atheism will just disappear into the invisible margins again. Again, I think it'll be the opposite. Atheism won't lose its trendiness when the "fad" passes, when everyone stops doing salsa and starts swing dancing instead. It'll lose its trendiness when it starts being taken for granted. It'll lose its trendiness when it becomes part of the cultural and political landscape.
Besides... do you really think people could become atheists just on a whim? Any more than people could become queer on a whim? They're obviously not exactly parallel situations -- I don't think anyone is claiming that people are born atheist, the way people seem to be born queer -- but belief isn't subject to your wishes in that way. You can't make yourself not believe in God when you really do... any more than you can make yourself believe in God when you really don't. It'd be like Pascal's Wager in reverse.
The "atheism is just trendy" trope is essentially a way of trivializing atheism and the atheist movement... without actually taking the trouble to point out anything that's wrong with it, or to engage in debate with people who are part of it.
It's the cool, detached, hipster's way of dismissing the movement without bothering to think about it.
And phooey on that.
If you don't want to engage with or think about the atheist movement, then don't. Nobody's making you. But if you don't have anything to say about it, then don't say anything about it. Don't go into atheist blogs and forums, don't get into conversations and debates about the atheist movement, if all you're going to do is unthinkingly dismiss us by saying that our movement is "just a trend." It's insulting and trivializing to us... and it makes you look like a high school kid who thinks that not caring about anything makes you look cool.
Carnival of Feminists #47 is up at Ornamenting Away. I don't have any pieces in this carnival, but it still manages to be a good carnival nevertheless. My favorite piece: The Rule, by Natasha at Homo Academicus, on Alison Bechdel's Movie Rule ("1. There must be two or more women in it; 2. Who talk to each other; 3. About something other than a man") and how it applies to Pixar films.
Correction to this piece: I was apparently mistaken about the use of the terms "micro-evolution" and "macro-evolution" by reputable biologists. My apologies. I still stand by the gist of this piece and the video it links to; but I regret the error and any confusion it may have caused.
And now, yet another video from my new science video hero, cdk007.
This one is on the supposed difference between "micro" and "macro" evolution. In case you're not familiar: One of the arguments used by creationists is that, while of course "micro-evolution" (i.e., the evolution of small changes within a species) can be observed in the field and in the lab, "macro-evolution" (i.e., the evolution of one species to another) hasn't been observed... and therefore it can't happen by itself, and needs an intelligent designer to intervene and make it happen.
First, just so everyone's clear: "Macro-evolution" and "micro-evolution" are made-up words concocted by creationists to make themselves sound scientific. Biologists don't use them. They're scientifically meaningless. They're just different stages in the evolutionary process; "macro" is just "micro" over a longer period of time.
Also, "macro-evolution" (if people insist on calling it that) has been observed, both in the field and in the lab. Just so we're clear.
So this video makes clear the absurdity of this argument, with a beautiful and elegant analogy. Video after the jump.
1. The placement of the paws.
2. The prominence of the black nose dot in the first photo.
3. The way her haunches are spilling out over the sides of the sofa arm.
You can also see the heterochromia (different colored eyes) if you click to enlarge. The funny thing is: When we take photos of Violet and get red-eye, we only get it in the one blue eye. I took it out for this photo, but it's very strange-looking. Like she's possessed by the devil, but in a really half-assed way.
Please note: The post that this links to includes details about my personal sex life, so family members and others who don't want to read that, please don't.
I have a new piece up on the Blowfish Blog. Titled Acting Out, it's on the differences between acting out a sex fantasy and just, you know, having one. Here's the teaser:
Sex advice writers — including me — are always telling people to spice up their sex lives by trying to act out their fantasies.
And when they do, these sex advice writers — again, including me — generally warn people of some issues and pitfalls that can come with trying to act out fantasies. Like: Your partner may freak out when they hear what you have in mind. Your partner may try it, but not really like it and not want to try again. Your partner may like it more than you imagined, and want to go further with it than you want. You may like it more than you imagined, and want to go farther with it than you’d thought you would. (How many people have “tried out the fantasy” of same-sex sex, and had the results of their “experiment” turn out to be, “Okay, I guess I’m gay”?)
But there’s one potential fantasy-acting pitfall that doesn’t get talked about as much, so I want to talk about it now:
It may be disappointing.
Even if your partner is totally game and everything goes according to plan — it may be disappointing.
This piece was originally published on the Blowfish Blog. It was published about three months ago, so of course the "right-wing politician/religious leader caught in sex scandal" du jour has changed. But the gist of the article remains very much the same. FTI, this piece talks about sex, but it doesn't talk about my personal sex life, so it should be safe for family members.
The story is pretty much boilerplate at this point. "Right-wing Republican politician/ prominent Christian Right leader, famous for advocating a rigid sexual morality, caught in sex scandal." It's hardly even newsworthy.
The latest, of course, is David Vitter, Republican senator from Louisiana, who built a career supporting abstinence-only sex education, opposing same-sex marriage, and generally trying to legislate sexual morality... and was recently identified as (and has admitted to being) a client of the D.C. Madam.
There's also right-wing evangelical preacher Ted Haggard, preaching about the evils of homosexuality and supporting a ban on same-sex marriage... having regular sex with a gay male prostitute. There's Republican Congressman Mark Foley, pushing for laws to protect minors from sex predators on the Internet... sending sexually explicit and seductive emails and instant messages to underage pages. There's Bob Allen, Republican representative in the Florida House and co-chair of McCain's presidential campaign, sponsoring a bill to tighten Florida’s public sex laws... getting arrested for offering a male cop $20 to blow him in a public bathroom.
And that's just in the last year.
I'm not even talking about Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Bob Livingston, the widespread pedophilia in the Catholic priesthood, and similar scandals from years past. It seems like cartoonist Tom Tomorrow is asking the right question: "Should we assume that every sanctimonious, moralizing Republican is a closeted sexual libertine -- or just most of them?"
So here's what I’m finding fascinating.
It's not just that these right-wing figures are generally preaching a rigid sexual morality that they don't practice. The pattern I find so compelling is that, for so many of them, the specific taboo sex acts they engage in are the exact ones they publicly campaign against.
Ted Haggard -- preached against the evils of homosexuality; had sex with a male prostitute. Mark Foley -- campaigned against Internet predators endangering minors; sent sexual and seductive emails and instant messages to teenagers. Bob Allen -- tried to tighten bans on public sex; solicited a guy in a public bathroom. And now Vitter -- opposed same-sex marriage to protect marriage's sanctity; cheated on his wife with prostitutes. (In what were reportedly some fairly unusual variations.)
It's almost eerie, how precisely the hypocrisy matches up.
Admittedly, a big part of this pattern comes from the media focus. Hypocrisy in powerful public figures is big news, and I'm sure there's some cherry-picking in the coverage. After all, "Married Congressman caught with hookers -- and he campaigned on the sanctity of marriage!" makes great headlines. "Married Congressman caught with hookers -- and he voted to renew the Farm Bill!" isn't going to make headlines anywhere but the Surrealist Times.
But even given that, there's a precision to the match-ups between the public condemnation and the private behavior that seems like more than coincidence and media focus.
Maybe it's all just smokescreens. You rant enough about the evils of homosexuality and pedophilia, and you figure nobody will suspect the truth about those teenage boys. But if all this sexual hypocrisy is a smokescreen, it's a singularly stupid one. It may protect you from suspicion for a while -- but when the hammer comes down, it's going to come down that much harder. So even from a purely pragmatic angle, you'd think that if you were offering $20 to blow strangers in public bathrooms, you'd pick an issue to campaign on other than the evils of public sex.
Or maybe it's the natural human tendency each of us has, to believe that we personally can be trusted to know which laws and rules should be obeyed, but that other people can't be and everybody else should just obey the law. But while that explains the right wingers' overall willingness to break sex laws and flout sexual taboos, it doesn't explain the eerie specificity with which their law/ taboo breaking matches their public condemnation.
What's that about, anyway?
I'm no expert. I'm not a psychologist or therapist. But based on my years of experience in the sex world, what this smells like to me is sexual guilt -- and overcompensation for it.
I don't think Ted Haggard was happy about having sex with men. I doubt seriously that David Vitter or Jimmy Swaggart felt great about seeing prostitutes. Ditto Mark Foley about being hot for teenage boys, or Bob Allen about picking up guys in public bathrooms. Maybe some of these right-wing hypocrites are laughing up their sleeves about how they've pulled one over on everyone. But for the most part, I think they feel tremendous guilt about wanting, and having, the exact kinds of sex that they believe are destroying society and making baby Jesus cry.
So they overcompensate. They hate themselves for wanting what they want and doing what they do... so they preach against it, and propose legislation against it, and do everything in their power to relocate their guilt out in the world instead of inside their own treacherous minds and bodies. They may even feel that, in fighting the scourge of homosexuality or whatever, they're somehow making up for their own misdeeds. I even have some compassion for them, although I'd have a whole lot more if they weren't screwing things up for the rest of us.
And this is just one more reason we need to work for a new sexual morality -- to shift it away from a guilty freakout over which tab goes in what slot, and towards a morality based on honesty and consent.
Because if people in power weren't so wracked with guilt about their own sexuality, I think they'd be a lot less obsessively controlling about everyone else's. If Ted Haggard hadn't felt so guilty about fucking men, maybe he'd have become a minister in the gay-positive MCC... instead of battling gay rights at every turn. If Mark Foley hadn't felt so guilty about emailing and IMing teenage pages, maybe he'd have felt comfortable going for guys who were young but legal... instead of trying to turn the Internet into a Norman Rockwell painting. And if David Vitter hadn't felt so guilty about wanting unusual fetishistic sex, maybe he and his wife could have come to an agreement about it... instead of trying to protect the sacred institution of marriage from the depraved ravages of gay people in love.
Just got this in my Quotation of the Day email list, and thought I'd pass it on:
"If he is infinitely good, what reason should we have to fear him? If he is infinitely wise, why should we have doubts concerning our future? If he knows all, why warn him of our needs and fatigue him with our prayers? If he is everywhere, why erect temples to him?"
- Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), from The Necessity of Atheism.
Damn. Leave it to a Regency poet to state the "Omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent -- pick two" paradox in such a beautiful, eloquent way.
Q: What do you see as the actual flaws in the Darwin-esque explanations for evolution, and what possibilities can you see for alternate explanations of the phenomena and evidence?
A: Evolution passes all the tests of science to be treated as a fact. But if physicists someday demonstrate that our perception of reality has no connection to actual reality, which I consider likely, then evolution is just a point of view, albeit a useful one.
My main criticism of evolution has to do with the way it is presented to the public. And beyond that, I enjoy yanking the chain of people who think they believe things for actual reasons as opposed to taking a side.
Okay. Deep breath. Solipsism 101, for Scott Adams, the very slow student in the back:
If our perception of reality bears no connection to actual reality, then NOTHING we see or know or understand is true. NO theory of reality is better than any other. NO theory has more evidence to support it than any other theory -- since all evidence is false.
We need to either discard the "our perception of reality bears no connection to actual reality" theory as both useless and highly unlikely (after all, how likely is it that our species would have survived if our perceptions bore no connection whatsoever to reality)...
...or STOP WASTING THE CLASS’S TIME WITH YOUR STUPID ARGUMENTS! If no theory is any better than any other, then why are you wasting all our time trying to convince us that yours is right?
Now, if your point is that our perception of reality distorts actual reality... like, duh. But that, in fact, is exactly why we have the scientific method -- to screen out human error and bias and the distortions of our perception and understanding, as much as we possibly can.
And the theory of evolution is overwhelmingly supported by the scientific method, from every relevant scientific discipline there is.
In other words, that’s not an argument against evolution.
It's an argument for it.
I mean... "what is reality?" You're really trying to argue "what is reality?" "What is reality?" is only interesting to college freshman. Maybe college sophomores, if they smoke too much weed. It's an important point to understand... but it's also an important point to move past already. As many commenters on F.A. pointed out -- what, you think we're living in the Matrix?
And as to the part about liking to yank people's chains: Oh, for the love of Mike. Not the gadfly fallacy again. "Geniuses throughout history have gotten under people's skin and made them angry. I get under people's skin and make them angry. Therefore, I must be a genius."
If that were true, then Bill O'Reilly would be freakin' Einstein.
"What is reality." Please. Grow up. As people in the F.A. comment thread pointed out, when your opponent starts saying, "Well, how do we know what's real, anyway?" you know you've won the argument.
And on that note, I'd like to leave you with yet another video from cdk007, YouTube science video maker par excellence. Titled "All Ideas are NOT Created Equal," it's a very clear, very funny video explanation of why we don't, in fact, have to give all ideas equal time and equal weight. Tagline: "Truth is not a democracy." Video after the jump.
It's the "Liar, Loony, or Lord" argument for why Jesus Christ must, in fact, be the divine son of God. It's been cited by many Christian apologeticists (apologists?), most famously C.S. Lewis. It's worded somewhat differently by different people, but it goes more or less like this:
Jesus Christ claimed to be the divine son of God, who everyone has to believe in if they expect to be saved. Anyone who would make that claim would have to be either crazy, a liar, or actually be God. But Jesus can't have been crazy or a liar. Because...
...and right around here is where the argument starts to break down. But it usually goes something like this: Because he was so cool. Because he said so many wise things. Because many people who saw him at the time believed he was God. (I've actually seen it argued that Jesus had to have been God, because his Apostles wouldn't have sacrificed their lives for him otherwise... as if nobody ever sacrificed their lives for liars or whackos.) Because he inspired so many people. Because he founded a major world religion. Because he just couldn't have been.
That's the "Liar, Loony, or Lord" argument.
And I hate it, hate it, hate it.
It's not just that it's a bad argument, shot through with more holes than Bonnie and Clyde. Although it certainly is that.
It's that it's such an emotionally manipulative argument. It's an argument meant to make people who argue with you feel like mean, bad people if they keep arguing. It's an argument designed to prevent further argument.
The Humanist Symposium #10 is up at Letters From a Broad. This is the ultra-nifty "atheist blogging on what's good about atheism rather than what's bad about religion" blog carnival: it's always full of smart, interesting godless blogging, and this round is no exception.
Never, in the worst of my worst nightmares, did I think I would ever have to write anything at all defending Fred Phelps.
But it looks like I do.
Dammit, dammit, dammit.
Quick precis, for those who don't know the story: You know Fred Phelps? The evil, hateful, repulsive nutjob who pickets the funerals of prominent gay people, with signs saying things like "God Hates Fags"? Who lately has been picketing the funerals of U.S. soldiers killed in the Iraq war, on the grounds that their deaths are punishment for the nation's tolerance of homosexuality? (I told you -- evil, hateful, repulsive nutjob.)
He -- or more accurately, his church -- was recently ordered to pay nearly $11 million in damages, in a civil suit filed by the father of a soldier whose funeral Phelps picketed. The suit was won on the grounds that the picket constituted "invasion of privacy and intent to inflict emotional distress."
And I'm finding myself very disturbed by this.
Don't get me wrong. I am feeling a certain amount of visceral Schadenfreude about the decision. I won't deny that. As Molly Ivins once said, "Mama may have raised a mean child, but she didn't raise no hypocrites." But as much as I personally enjoy seeing the bastard suffer, I am far more disturbed by the extremely chilling effect that this decision could have for freedom of political speech and expression.
For all of us.
And that's a whole lot more important to me than my personal Schadenfreude.
According to the reports I've read, this was not an Operation Rescue type of deal. There was no disruption of the service, no getting three inches from the mourners' faces to scream at them. The plaintiff himself said at the trial that he didn't even see the protesters or their signs at the funeral. They kept their hateful, repugnant protest a reasonable distance away. So the invasion of privacy thing seems to be pretty much bullshit. It's the "intent to inflict emotional distress" that's the real core here.
And when it comes to political and religious speech, I think the infliction of emotional distress is -- and should be -- a guaranteed, First Amendment-protected right.
Take a look at my Atheists and Anger piece. And take a look at the deluge of comments. 749 comments as of this writing, and still climbing. Almost half from people who were very emotionally distressed indeed by the piece. I knew when I wrote it that the piece would inflict emotional distress on a lot of people (although I didn't quite expect the deluge)... and I wrote it anyway.
I want to be able to write like that again without being sued.
Not a perfect example, I'll admit. People come to my blog voluntarily (although some of them seem to have forgotten that fact), so it could be argued that I didn't inflict anything.
So let's use a different example. I want the right to picket church services with a sign saying, "How's Your Invisible Friend Today?" To picket the opening of a new steak restaurant with signs that vividly describe slaughterhouse conditions. To picket George W. Bush's eventual funeral singing, "Ding, Dong, The Witch Is Dead." I probably wouldn't do any of those things, since I'd consider them in bad taste; but I think I should have the right to do them.
And if this ruling stands, I might not.
Free speech is a human right, one of the central foundations that this country was built on. And that's not just true when the speech in question goes the way we want it. The First Amendment does not exist to protect popular speech. It exists to protect unpopular speech. That's the whole point. We don't need Constitutional protection for our right to publish apple pie recipes or pictures of cute puppies. We need Constitutional protection for our right to say things that make people flee in horror... from "God Hates Fags" to "Gay Is Beautiful," from "Stop the War" to "Bomb Them Into The Stone Age," from "God Wants Our Soldiers To Die" to "God Does Not Exist."
And the more I think about this case, the more I think it's bad strategically as well as ethically. And for much the same reason. I think this case can and will be used by the Right to argue that queers are demanding "special rights." "Sure, they want First Amendment protections for themselves," they'll say. "But they sure are quick to get off their First Amendment high horse when it's someone they don't like!"
And they'll be right to do so.
I mean, I think that. I'm saying that right now. And I'm queer.
If you want to make an argument that this ruling doesn't violate the First Amendment, then I'd be very open to hearing it. I'm the first to admit that I'm not a legal or Constitutional scholar, and it's possible that a reasonable case could be made that the Phelps protests are not protected speech under the First Amendment.
But I've seen too many arguments on this topic that say, "Free speech isn't an absolute right, there are limits, look at libel laws, fraud laws, etc."... without making any argument for why this particular case should be one of those limitations. Other than just, "The speech is hateful." So far, nothing I have read on this particular case suggests any interpretation other than, "the plaintiffs are getting $11 million because they were upset by the content of Phelps's speech."
Deeply upset, and rightfully so. I get that. But again, that is exactly the sort of situation that the First Amendment is meant to protect.
And I've seen too many arguments on this case that essentially say, "First Amendment, Shmirst Amendment -- I wanna see this bastard go down." I would respectfully like to suggest that that is one lousy argument. The First Amendment is not to be casually tossed aside when it happens to protect a repulsive creep who we want to see fry.
A lot of progressives, people who are normally all over the First Amendment/free speech thing, are unusually willing, even eager, to drop their love of the Amendment in this particular case. And I understand the impulse. This particular case -- this particular person, this particular group -- makes people profoundly angry and upset. It makes me profoundly angry and upset. There's a part of me that would love for some Constitutional scholar to come up with some legal loophole in the First Amendment, just so I can feel good about watching this bastard go down in flames.
But once again -- that's the whole point. The First Amendment to protect speech that makes people profoundly angry and upset.
See, this case is not just about a delicate legal nitpick. It's not just about practical political strategy. It's not even just about the pragmatic, enlightened self-interest desire to protect other people's First Amendment rights so our own will be protected. This case is about the basic ethical principle of free speech. And it's about whether we care enough about that principle to defend it, even when it hurts. It's about whether people have the legal right to say what they want, no matter how vile or upsetting we find it... simply because they do.
So do we really have to defend this guy? Do we really have to stand up and say, "Yes, Fred Phelps has the right to go to funerals and carry signs saying 'God hates fags' and "Thank God for dead soldiers'?"
Yes. We do.
We have to stand up and defend anyone who's trying to communicate an unpopular message that profoundly upsets people. That includes a lot of horrible, evil people with repulsive ideas. But that's the whole point of the First Amendment. It doesn't exist to protect popular speech. It doesn't exist to protect Cute Overload. It exists to protect speech that makes us want to vomit.
I have a new piece up on the Blowfish blog -- True Love Waits... And The Rest Of Us Get On With Our Sex Lives -- about the not-so-joyful joys of waiting until you get married to have sex. The jumping-off point is a letter I saw on Scarleteen (the sex ed for teenagers website), about a couple who had decided for religious reasons not to have sex until after they got married... and found themselves stuck in a marriage with a seriously disappointing, incompatible sex life. Here's the teaser:
There are so many directions I could go with this. I could talk about the ridiculous over-emphasis our society places on marriage: the absurdly high expectations we place on it, the idealistic glow we place around it, the assumption that it will magically transform everything, including and especially sex. (And that’s speaking as someone who is herself married -- ritually, if not legally -- and who does think that her marriage has changed both the relationship and the sex for the better.)
And of course, I could get on my atheist high horse, and talk about the fucked-up effect religion so often has on sexual happiness. That would certainly be a fruitful direction. Of all the dreadful sources of sexual misinformation and general bad sex advice in the world, religion has to take the cake -- because it can't be argued with. It isn't based on evidence, it's based on scripture and religious authority and personal faith... and it's therefore singularly resistant to change, to adaptation in response to evidence or data. About sex, or anything else.
But I want to go in a different direction here.
I want to express my gratitude for the fact that I -- and most of us -- don't live in that world anymore.
To find out why exactly the whole "waiting for marriage" thing makes me kind of sad -- and why exactly I'm grateful for the sexual world I live in -- read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!
This gets at both the precision and the beauty of the theory of evolution in a way that's completely clear, and really fun to watch. (If you're a nerd like me, anyway.)
It's an animated video demolishing the "watchmaker" argument for creationism.
If you're not familiar with the "watchmaker" argument, it goes roughly like this: The awesome complexity of the human body proves that it had to have had a designer. It could not have evolved naturally, any more than the parts of a watch will evolve naturally into a watch. (Or, as the more modern version of the argument goes: The complexity of the human body evolving by "chance" or at "random" is as likely as a bunch of machine parts in a hurricane assembling themselves into a 747. "Chance" and "random" in quotation marks, because natural selection isn't random chance... that's the whole point.)
The main problem with this argument is this: Of course watches and 747s don't evolve naturally. They're not alive. They don't mutate, and they don't reproduce.
So cdk007 (who has a bunch of other evolution videos on YouTube) created a computer program putting a bunch of clock parts together that could combine, mutate, and reproduce; put them in an environment where the ones that kept time the best were more likely to survive; and ran the program. Several times, with an assortment of different parameters such as rate of mutation and number of teeth on the gears, to make sure his parameters hadn't been accidentally fine-tuned.
And got clocks.
Functioning, accurate clocks.
Several times over.
What I really like about this video -- apart from just, you know, everything -- is how neatly it demolishes the "transitional forms" argument against evolution. You know: "Where are all the transitional forms? Why are there these sudden jumps in the fossil record?" Of course there are transitional forms in the fossil record -- lots and lots and lots of them -- but there are also some sudden (well, "sudden" by geological standards) jumps. This video makes it very clear, in a vivid, visual way, exactly how and why that happens in a completely natural system of natural selection. If a mutation comes along that's a very big improvement, it's going to spread very quickly indeed -- so quickly that it probably won't be captured in the fossil record. Note in this video the rapid transition between the Age of Pendulums and the Age of True Clocks.
BTW, you don't need sound for this video. There's a very nice song in the background by Coldplay, but the actual content is all visual. (Not that I'm saying you SHOULD watch it at work...)
Video after the jump, since putting videos before the jump screws up my archives.