Saturday, February 22, 2014

"Woman" Is a Slur

First as required by the obvious ethics I will note that I am male and that what I'm writing here is informed by radical feminists and other feminists, and women in general. I can only thank them for forming my understanding of my personal experience and reality. This post is more of a thought experiment than it is a statement of my personal beliefs; that said, the lens I lay out below has allowed me to understand the world more clearly than any other way of thinking.

A lot is discussed regarding gendered slurs: the b-word, the c-word, the s-word. But I think that "woman" is already a slur. As is "girl". You can see this with clarity by observing what happens when a young boy is called a "girl".

What is a "slur"? A slur is a violent word used by the socially powerful to refer to the socially powerless. The word "woman" is the combination of the Old English words for "wife" and "man", or in other words "property person". So the word "woman" was born of violence: the violence inherent in female-as-property, female-as-vessel. The word was created by men (who else?) and is still used by men as a slur. Most female people call themselves "woman", as in reclaim it, put it in a different context, as has been done with slurs in history. But for men the original connotation survives today: "woman" still refers to property (public and/or private), to vessels of reproduction.

As soon as the doctor claims "it's a girl", the parent(s) react to the charge. "Toys" are purchased that train this child for their future state of subordination. The child is marked with colors and fashion that delineate their status. They are discouraged from engaging in activities reserved for ordinary human beings, for they are a "woman". This is violence that a parent can invite on a baby of theirs, even if the child is male, by using the word "girl" for them, since the biological markers aren't yet present; no one checks the genitals of a "girl" before inching the rug out from under "her" year by year ("...much like drips of water onto a rock; you don't notice the erosion it causes, because it's subtle, and it's daily, and it's by inches...") -- it is all based entirely on an imagined inferiority.

What is the exact meaning of the slur "woman"? I feel that if we imagine a society in which humans have invented service robots that look similar to humans, but are not as capable and obviously not conscious, we can maybe imagine "woman" as a slur akin to a casual denigrating nickname for these robots. "Woman" refers to a multipurpose android (literally "man-shaped"): it dispenses PIV (penis-in-vagina sex) and performs the visual arousal associated with it, and handles child incubation and care, attention-giving, and a few other things.

"Women"-robots used to be considered strictly privately owned, but with time they have achieved the status of public property (if such is their programming). "Women", when they are "girls", are not usually educated in the sciences and arts that concern human beings, but instead are trained ("groomed" is a word used by some radical feminists) for their small set of future tasks, to be completed over and over until death.

"Women"-robots (who, after all, are actually people) have had to make progress in lifting off corners of this blanket of cultural slander and oppression completely on their own, and it has taken thousands of years to expand the definition of the slur slightly to perhaps mitigate some types of violence it inspires, but the slur remains, albeit buried under popular culture and various kinds of appropriations. But burying something does not change its usefulness, its gravity, its potential to mold the target for use by men.

A "woman"-robot function of particular importance is PIV-dispensing. A subset of men, for some reason, like to do things with each other that are akin to PIV-dispensing (the prostate gland is a pleasure center for many/all males after all), which confuses other men who see this as wrong -- a human being shouldn't be doing that kind of thing. Some men find the idea of robots and being a robot fun, for some reason. They become cyborgs (attempting to gain the functionality of "women" through medical technology) and assert that they are now "women". Other men find this confusing and wrong too. These men are treated like "women"-robots, mentally ill people, or otherwise inferior beings.

Some "women"-robots are "born without" PIV-dispensing programming (i.e. they don't want to do it) or decide to stop dispensing PIV. It seems they are subjected to what one would expect, though I can't speak for them.

In interpreting "woman" as a slur that implies a certain "functionality" for the benefit of the (hu)man, the oppression and violence women face is indeed "biological" in that sense. The bodies of women, and the physical movements of those bodies, are resources, whether viewed individually or collectively. A "woman"-robot's failure to live up to what it has been told is its programming often results in a range of attempts at self-troubleshooting, which can reach self-destruction, for example "eating disorders".

"Women" must remain resources; they must be convinced that the extent of their resourcehood is literally their worth (wouldn't you want your robot to want to perform its functions?) Collective action by "woman"-robots is concerning to men (wouldn't you be concerned if your robots started organizing?), but luckily it was and is not too hard to apply pressure to keep the ideologies that equate functionality with liberty in the mainstream, and to marginalize the movements that threaten to trace and describe reality, like radical feminism. By natural selection, the most libertarian feminism will be the most widespread; it criticizes the activities involved in resourcehood the least, with "non-consensual" PIV-dispensing as a notable exception, in that it very difficult to present this activity to women as something that could be free from criticism, what with "Woman"(-Robot) Rights already enacted in the "Western world" (but men frequently succeed at convincing women anyway, for example in the BDSM community).

The word "woman", then, is an umbrella term for the functionality of the "woman"-robot I'm describing here. The word "woman" is used by men to refer to female people by the degrading, literally dehumanizing acts involved in carrying out womanly functionality as a service to men. Young boys are highly perceptive and pick up that "woman" is a bad thing to be, but they can't possibly figure out why (it took me a couple of decades); they just know it's bad and don't want to be called one. (Young "girls", highly perceptive as well, pick up that gendered insults like "manly" are bad because, well, that's not being functional.)

It's always been this way and still is. Men do all this and they know they do it. Men would probably not know what to do if "women" rejected slurs and refused resourcehood. The rage that men direct at radical feminists can be taken as an example of what might happen in a situation like that. I'm not saying that dropping the word "woman" is The Answer (once again I know that "woman" is used by a lot of people a lot of different ways), or that mass refusal of sex with men and childbearing is The Answer, I'm just observing that I just don't know what men would do if that became a thing.

"The ideologies of colonial cultures – race, class, gender – all serve the purpose of normalizing and rendering invisible the mechanics of resource extraction." -Rachel Ivey

Sunday, January 12, 2014

What do people mean when they say "I'm not surprised by the NSA revelations"?

In part because of my unhealthy infatuation with most things that Glenn Greenwald writes and does, I've been following the Snowden leaks and most of the little details about them since they began in June last year, and sometimes I glance at the comments sections of articles or Youtube or skim stories that I don't really care about and there's this very interesting ubiquitous trend where some people declare "I'm not surprised about any of this" and then just leave it at that, or talk about something else in a new paragraph.

What is the purpose of this? People do things because they feel uncomfortable with the prospect of not doing them. More specifically, it seems that when people are in settings where they know other people will see what they do, they behave in a specific way that they believe they should, to satisfy how they want to be perceived. Social theory often refers to this as "performativity." People feel the need to air this declaration before going to do something else. What are people "performing" when they say "I'm not surprised about any of this"?

When people write their version of that specific sentence, they have in their mind the people who are going to read it. They think something along the lines of "lots of people on the internet are going to read this and [something]".

What I think that "something" is, is something along the lines of "a lot of people are going to agree with me and give me upvotes or props," and/or "the people who are acting surprised and excited are going be humbled by my cynicism/complete lack of emotion." It's perhaps sort of a modification of macho superiority. People who are acting surprised and excited must be more childish than I, less worldly than I, and so I must be a good role model and donate my comment to the unwashed, illiterate masses.

She's not surprised about what Snowden revealed either

So from what I can tell, either these people fundamentally misunderstand the point of why other people are acting surprised and energetic (because they think things should change ASAP), or they understand it and wish to exploit it for their own benefit (pretty much just +1's on a website) and/or for empty boosts of self-esteem. Maybe both sorts of people are making this comment.

I'm not surprised by the NSA revelations. When I read each article as it came out, I didn't gape at my computer screen, I didn't leap out of the proverbial bathtub and go running through the streets naked. What I felt like doing: I felt like learning cryptography programming, I felt like going to the DC protest (but didn't make it), I felt like talking to people I know and writing about the issue, I felt like helping my friends secure their computers. What I didn't and still don't feel like doing, is making sure that the world knows that I was/am not surprised. Some people are at a young age or have other things on their plate and simply have not had time to read all the books you have.

This kind of flamboyant posturing often betrays a smug sort of attitude, shared by people all across the political landscape, that posits that focusing on the NSA is futile, for any number of reasons depending on the person. Things like:

  • What we really have to do is overthrow capitalism
  • These kinds of programs have been targeting non-white people forever, so the focus now is invalid
  • What we really have to do is reduce/get rid of the government
  • The Constitution is broken and failed anyway

To me this is like proclaiming that rape victims shouldn't go to the police because the police are historically and presently bigoted racially, and protectors of the ruling class. However accurate a description that might be, rapists pose a real threat and law enforcement has power to protect rape victims. The NSA specifically poses a real threat to real people, and most people find the US Constitution a good ideal for a country to aspire to. Now we need a mass of people to see the connection there, between the NSA and their supposed rights, and what are you doing? If you've ever left a bare "I'm not surprised by any of this NSA stuff" declaration anywhere (before now, obviously), or written a piece where you declare as much, leave a comment linking to it and then tell me what you've subsequently done for real people.

I wrote this without really knowing where it was going to go -- sometimes thinking flows better when I'm writing it out (i.e. Graham's The Age of the Essay). I don't actually know why people make this sort of comment. I just think this particular phenomenon I'm talking about is a good crystallization in which we can see the reflection of what most people aren't doing: learning more, building more alternatives, finding ways to help radically change the way things are in the US government, that allow the NSA to be the way it is.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Where is 2009's John Boehner when we need him?

I was reading a particularly good (albeit imperfect) article about President Obama's Trayvon Martin speech by Esther Armah, and an interesting statement caught my eye:
[ columnist David] Sirota cited the 2009 report from the Department of Homeland Security, Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment. That report came within the President's first 100 days in office and was aimed at giving law enforcement what then Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano called "situational awareness." The report cited the recession, the election of a black president and disgruntled veterans as fodder for growth in extreme groups. Oklahoma bomber, Timothy McVeigh had been a decorated Gulf War veteran before killing 168 people during the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. Napolitano's report sparked widespread outrage from right wing media, veterans groups and Americans across the board. Republicans called for her to step down. Then House Minority Leader John Boehner said: "I just don't understand how our government can look at the American people and say: 'you're all potential terrorist threats.'" The outcry prompted an apology by Napolitano.
This is mid-2009. Since that time, it seems that House Speaker John Boehner may have gained the understanding he claimed to lack:
The House voted 205-217 Wednesday and defeated an amendment to the roughly $600 billion Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2014 that would have ended authority for the once-secret spy program the White House insisted was necessary to protect national security. [...]
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) voted against the measure. He ranked 15th in defense earnings swith a $131,000 take.
What was so unappealing about this amendment? All it would do is restrict the NSA's domestic spying from treating all U.S. citizens as potential terrorists, which it does, as recently revealed by documents leaked by Edward Snowden to the Guardian -- particularly, the dragnet of phone records through an order to Verizon.
Under the Patriot Act, the government only needs to show that the information is “relevant” to an authorized investigation. No connection to a terrorist or spy is required. The amendment would effectively gut the dragnet phone-metadata program that commenced following the 2001 terror attacks by only authorizing the metadata snooping against specified targets that are “the subject of an investigation.” [via]
Should we be surprised? In 2009, Boehner was tasked with responding to the outrage of his voter base: church-going white veterans. This month, his task was to defend those who pay for his campaign and offer him industry positions after he leaves office. That is how you make money in Washington.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Why is Larry Lessig plugging Palantir?

Update (6/30): Professor Lessig has posted a response on his blog, which I thank him for. Providing some disclosure, he states that he has "a high regard for [the] integrity" of the two people from Palantir he knows personally.

Update(7/2, 3:30pm EST): Lessig is currently doing an AMA on; it's not really related to this article, but if you'd like to ask him anything or read his current responses, it's there.

Prof. Lessig, I'm a big fan. Your TED talk had me floored; never had I seen someone elucidate the problem of campaign finance ("legal corruption" as you put it well) in the US and its consequences so effectively. When I saw you had been interviewed by Bill Moyers (me being subscribed to your blog by RSS, and all), I promptly set the video aside for later watching.

But today, a colleague of mine who got to the interview before me noted that during your exchange with Moyers on the topic of pro-privacy software development, around the 13:30 mark, you mentioned a very interesting company:
And the reality then is that if we don't have technical measures in place to protect against misuse, this is just a trove of potential misuse. Now, that's the part that really frustrates me. Because, I wrote a book in '99 called Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace. My point from the very beginning has been we've got to think about the technology as a protector of liberty too. So code is a kind of law. And the government should be implementing technologies to protect our liberties. Because if they don't, we don't figure out how to build that protection into the technology it won't be there. And what's frustrating to me is to hear a description of a system where we don't have any infrastructure in place really to protect the privacy. We have infrastructure in place to facilitate the surveillance. When there are plenty of entities out there, companies like, there's a company called Palantir who's built a technology to make it absolutely, make you absolutely confident that a particular bit of data has been used precisely as the government says it's supposed to be used. You can find out exactly who's looked at it and for what purpose it's been used at. So the point is there's a way to build the technology to give us this liberty back, this privacy back. But it's not a priority to think about using code to protect us.
Indeed, reading your piece at The Daily Beast, it seems that this company is the only one you can think of that can give us hope in our age of an internet in want of privacy protection.
Because the fact is that there is technology that could be deployed that would give many the confidence that none of us now have. “Trust us” does not compute. But trust and verify, with high-quality encryption, could. And there are companies, such as Palantir, developing technologies that could give us, and more importantly, reviewing courts, a very high level of confidence that data collected or surveilled was not collected or used in an improper way.

But.. Palantir? You mean Barrett Brown's Palantir?
Indeed, in an e-mail from Aaron Barr of HBGary Federal to Matthew Steckman of Palantir Technologies, Barr makes the case for subverting WikiLeaks and its supporters in the “liberal” media–and discusses plans to “attack” then-Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald.
Palantir Technologies ... was founded in 2004 with funds from the venture capital firm, In-Q-Tel, to develop software for fraud detection. In-Q-Tel is a non-profit investment firm chartered in 1999 at the request of the CIA director. In-Q-Tel’s investment is run through In-Q-Tel Interface Center (QIC), an office within the CIA. Trustees from In-Q-Tel hold executive level positions at companies such as Netscape, Sun Microsystems, Time Warner, Federal Express, ATT Wireless, and New Enterprise Associates. Most of its current investments are in the biotechnology and IT/communications industries.
No, it couldn't be that company..

Palantir, which received seed money from the CIA's investment arm, In-Q-Tel, and shares founders with PayPal, made a public apology to the effect that the cyber-plotting did not reflect the company's values, and put one of the employees involved, Matthew Steckman, on leave. A few months later, when the press had lost interest, Palantir brought him back on. Nothing at all seems to have happened to another employee, Eli Bingham, who was also heavily involved. When Palantir throws its annual convention, it still attracts keynote speakers like former DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff – who happens to be on the board of another huge contractor, BAE Systems, which, in turn, happened to have done some business with HBGary Federal, as well. 
Yes, BAE Systems, which just yesterday won $296 million in contracts from the Pentagon for communications tech, to add to its other multi-million dollar deals to make body armor and missile materials.

I would think that you would be familiar with Barrett Brown. He's a young white male subscribing to an ideology demanding the transparency and freedom from corporatocratic corruption, currently facing charges from the government for hacking...

Did you maybe know of Brown's story and forgot Palantir's name for the moment, hear a cool speech on your recent trip to the Bilderberg meet (where you and Palantir's CEO likely met), and didn't think to Google DuckDuckGo websearch the name before you went on television and.. let's call a spade a spade, plugged it? Even then, it's a little bit fishy.

Edit: oh boy, didn't expect to hit the front page of HN.. users commenting noted something that I should have included: Palantir apparently "cut all ties" to HB Gary and apologized for the whole Glenn Greenwald thing, according to this article. More discussion here. However, the quote from the 2012 Guardian article by Brown still stands. As does the millions of dollars in government contracts since the apology:
But perhaps more relevant is Palantir’s primary focus: working with the national security apparatus. They’ve done at least $6,378,332 in business with entities like SOCOM and FBI in the last several years. And while they say they have no plans to adopt “offensive cyber capabilities,” that’s not to say they’re not helping the government analyze data on our presumed enemies.
In 2012, they did even better:
Palantir Technologies, Palo Alto, Calif., was awarded a $19,242,997 firm-fixed-price contract.  The award will provide for the procurement of Palantir core CPU server licenses, field service representative support and server hardware.  Work will be performed in Palo Alto and Afghanistan, with an estimated completion date of Sept. 27, 2013.  One bid was solicited, with one bid received.  The U.S. Army Contracting Command, Adelphi, Md., is the contracting activity (W911QX-12-F-0022).  
And if this website is reliable, we have $52 million total from 2000 to 2012.

Edit #2: My colleague alerted me to this article at BusinessWeek about the company, which includes this gem:
Soghoian points out that Palantir’s senior legal adviser, Bryan Cunningham, authored an amicus brief three years ago supporting the Bush Administration’s position in the infamous warrantless wiretapping case and defended its monitoring domestic communication without search warrants.
Cunningham's LinkedIn shows he's "Senior Advisor" at the Chertoff Group, a firm known for representing (and hyping) companies that make full body scanners for airports. Is this the kind of setup Prof. Lessig wanted to foster with Rootstrikers? Maybe he just likes Palantir's people: four out of five of the founders -- Stephen Cohen, Joe Lonsdale, Peter Thiel, and Alex Karp -- are from the law school where he used to be a professor.

I should note again that I respect and admire the professor for the work he's doing; his campaigning for Aaron and for election finance reform are exactly what we need. But the plug of this particular company, in tandem with the Daily Beast article, left me confused. Especially with Palantir's campaign contributions to Adam Smith, affiliate of the American Defense & Military PAC, along with now-president Barack Obama, senator and ardent NSA defender Dianne Feinstein, and the "Promoting Our Republican Team" PAC -- this from a company started with CIA seed money.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Why do people favor statements over questions in discourse?

I'm not a scholar of Socrates, but I feel that I would like him.

The Question is one of the greatest tools of discourse, at least in my opinion, and so I will be making heavy use of it on this blog. It is also, unfortunately, one of the most ignored and tragically underused tools, from what I can tell. With only three simple steps, the Feynman Problem-Solving Algorithm (named after the charismatic and brilliant theoretical physicist Richard Feynman) comes off as a joke to some. To me, the method offers critical wisdom, because "writing down the problem" is its own step. To solve a problem -- to answer a question -- you must write it down first. The step forces you to ask questions about the question. "Is the question I'm asking the right one?" "What assumptions does the question make?" "Does the question even make sense?"

So when embarking on discourse of a contentious topic, how should one start?  I feel that history demonstrates irrefutably that everyone gets much farther when the thing to discuss is a question, rather than a statement with an implicit "is this statement true or false?" Science rests on the doctrine of asking questions.

And when faced with the need to respond to another's message or argument, how should one respond? There is always the option of replying with a statement of your own. But this is poor strategy, in my opinion, for at least two reasons.

First: to make a statement is to claim that you know something, and to state that you know something risks too much. You could be wrong. You could be misinterpreting the other person or people from the start, an error just as embarrassing. Statements are bold assertions of truth when truth is often relative, and often manufactured. Meanwhile, questions require no admissions beside the belief that the question is relevant. There is less for others to disprove, debunk, or attack, if you're good at asking questions.

Second: making statements gives others the option of ignoring you. Not only do you risk being wrong, but you risk being ignored. Questions, on the other hand, demand to be addressed. If no one attempts to answer, it means that it may be a very good question.

I understand why statements are favored over questions. They pack more of a punch. They give the illusion of knowledge on the part of the speaker, and an air of conclusiveness. But can a conversation really ever be concluded?