A general series of philosophical observations following weird dust-ups on social media.
1) Humanist/secularist notions while they can often operate on a utilitarian ethic do not absolve us of the prospect of entertaining ourselves before discharging some grand moral duty. Life is itself a (quasi) measurable reward that includes pleasures of more selfish nature. Indeed, I'd suggest that ignoring our selfish nature leads us away too often from moral duties. What our selfish nature does do, taken to its logical conclusion, is recognize that other people have needs and wants and concerns and that if we want to satisfy our wants and needs and have our problems resolved, we must also seek to satisfy some of theirs. Call it friendship if you want. Or it can be more transactional and more obviously set in a reciprocal altruism sense. Or it can be Adam Smith's invisible hand, guiding us to act in the service of the community by recognizing and meeting its needs through operation of business. There are numerous interpretations of this as a social order.
2) Humanist/secularist notions are not distinct from feminist notions. What they (both) often identify is that the particular target of some abusive or oppressive behavior/policy/action is, even in a modern developed country, very often a woman, and that this therefore means that an oppressive agent must not be tolerated or must be stopped on these grounds. Not because it's a woman but because there is oppression. The oppression and abuse exists because it can oppress or abuse a woman more easily than it might have a man. That's not "feminist" to point out; that's realism. The "feminism" part is deciding that the solution is to empower women and to remove the anchoring weights of abuses or oppressive agents of society that all people might flourish.
3) This does not mean that other kinds of oppression or abuses of power and authority do not exist and would be tolerated or ignored. Racism or religious intolerance, say, does not exclude or compete with oppression of women. It competes to some degree with the amount of outrage energy available. But if oppression is a vehicle of political activism, and responding to it is likewise, then there's not a top limit on the amount of capacity to respond to it or to impose it. The limitation is the apathy of the oppressed or those who work on their behalf with the implication that it cannot be changed.
4) There are various reasons that particular kinds of changes may not work or be as successful, and I think we should assess a particular kind of change on these grounds to wonder whether or not it will actually and usefully advance the cause it claims to advance, and not whether or not the intentions behind the proposal say so. Just because there is a problem in any society does not imply that a) the government should do something about it, that b) whatever X we are suggesting we do about is the only and best solution, or that it is in fact a solution at all, or couldn't make it worse. It's very probable we overlook very effective solutions in the haste to satisfy our demand for good intentions. Example, the focus on "equal pay" for women overlooks that a very large portion of the supposed discrimination is not from greedy employers trying to scam a female portion of the work force into working for less money than men, something that basic discrimination legislation would assess and could help deal with, but from a systematic issue with how women have come to interact with the workforce while still often juggling a home life based on traditional norms and our modernizing economy has failed to recognize this and offer ways to juggle successfully. The discrimination is still there, but it is much smaller and more manageable. The bulk of it is still probably discriminatory but the fault is more our own (as a society) so we're trying to pass the buck to make someone else pretend to do something about it.
5) Feminism, like other unpopular labels, has an image problem that causes some people to recoil from the label. Some of this image problem is the fault of more radical feminist notions (see: environmentalists setting fire to vitamin A enriched rice because "it's a GMO!" or atheists with a deliberate intention to stir the shit rather than advance secular ideas). But most of this image problem is a public relations issue caused by media and entertainment coverage and the public's mental framework working as stereotyping.
6) Labels or the rejection of same should not excuse people from practicing ideals and values consistent with those labels overall goals that they otherwise would agree with, say, religious (or non-religious) freedom, or the relative economic and social equality of women and girls. The "no true Scotsman" fallacy applies in both directions. If these are your ideals, fight for them in politics and society, practice them in life as best you are able, and argue over them to examine them from time to time to assure that you are practicing them as best you are able or that they are the best ideals you can put in practice available, and don't worry very much about what other people try to call them as a package of ideas. You can decide that. Atheism can become both the flying spaghetti monster and scientists and scientific literature using neurological behavior, evolutionary predictions and behaviors, anthropology and so on to explain the phenomenon of religious belief. Environmentalism can be both Greenpeace and getting a Prius and pushing for wind or solar power adoption (but probably not getting solar panels on your house since most of us would put them on the wrong side of the house). Feminism can be both the cause for more gender-balanced societies and the associated expansion of opportunity for women, or even for families and children regardless of gender issues, and so on (say, better family leave, paternity and maternity, or more flexible work schedules and telecommuting opportunities to allow whoever to stay at home when possible.)
7) Feminism doesn't remove or exclude the prospect that men and women can or should get along, that they couldn't approach one another, can't flirt, can't have (casual) sex, can't enjoy off-colour remarks and the like in mixed company, or couldn't discuss sexuality at all, and that somehow the only relationships between men and women must be completely sterile and platonic friendships mixed with somehow, someone becoming (mutually) attractive as a physical partner once in a while on top of that. I have no idea why this argument persists (naturally among men) that the issue is somehow that approaching and talking to an attractive woman is in some dystopian future liable to get a sexual harassment lawsuit. Depends on how that talk went, or what behaviors went along with it. There's nothing inherently wrong with recognizing attraction or even making people uncomfortable with potentially offensive remarks. There's something wrong with not recognizing that they are making others uncomfortable, using them out of context, or persisting in that attraction when it is not desired to be pursued or acknowledged.
And in particular, in not acknowledging a variety of wholly legitimate reasons why that lack of interest could be true that are not "I have a boyfriend/husband/significant other". Such as "you might be an asshole, go away". Possibly learning how to listen and talk to women, or just talk in general with other human beings, would be a great improvement for much of humanity. I do not consider myself a master at this, but other people seem capable of listening and responding to me in what we might fashion to call a conversation.
8) Most people do not give a shit. About you, or much of anything, often including themselves. What that means is not "they will run over you in a truck to get their way", or our sometimes more likely interpretation "they will run over you with the truck in order to make their way". What that means is mostly they will ignore you as you would ignore a bug on the sidewalk and they're not actually a problem. They are not plotting your destruction, injury, and harm. The general status quo of other people is apathy and ignorance toward the general status quo of other people. They are not interested enough to come and bother you, deliberately inconvenience you, find you absurd and worth their shame and derision, and so on. This implies both that we should be less wary of other people and that we should pay attention when they are paying attention to us or doing something that we feel is worthy of our attention.
Linky Friday: The Scientific Darkness
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