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10 Misguided Social And Political Movements Of Our Time
Most people have the best intentions, and we all want to create a better world for ourselves, our families, and wider society (in roughly that order). But some social and political movements are so misguided that they do more fundamental damage than the oppression they think they are fighting against.
10 Men’s Rights Activists
In recent years, many men have campaigned online for men’s rights, also known as “meninism” or “masculism.” Men’s rights activists, or MRAs, condemn feminists as having reduced all men to sexist pigs or rapists as they slowly take over society. They point to the unfairness of men being sent to war, dying younger, suffering higher rates of imprisonment, being denied custody of children, and increasingly earning less than women in some industries. But many of these claims can be refuted with hard evidence.
The judiciary system comprises mostly men, so it’s hard to blame women or feminists for denying men custody of their children. As for women earning more, that argument is swept aside when you factor in the fact that that many more women work in part-time positions. Men still have significant financial advantages in terms of lifetime earnings and compensation packages.
The more reasonable complaints of the MRA movement stem from societal expectations of men and strict gender roles, which is precisely what the feminist movement has been opposing for years. Many feminists point out that sending men but not women to war, assuming men are unfit to raise children, and dismissing men’s emotional concerns are all reflections of sexist assumptions in society—exactly what feminism criticizes.
The rage of the MRA movement is a reaction to the existential fear of a historically dominant group losing its competitive edge, similar to the hysteria of some white people over immigration and the rising economic, social, and cultural influence of people of color. The MRA movement also overlaps significantly with the pick-up artist (PUA) movement, which is characterized by rampant misogyny and the exchange of manipulative tips to trick women into having sex.
Many MRAs congregate on the website AVoiceForMen.com, which has a declared mission to “expose misandry on all levels in our culture,” “promote an end to chivalry in any form or fashion,” and “educate men and boys about the threats they face in feminist governance.” They claim a commitment to nonviolence, but not all of their supporters got the memo. The language used to describe women and feminists on this site and others is usually extremely hateful and misogynistic. It combines faulty statistics with accusations that women are lying about discrimination in the workplace, sexual harassment, and rape.
The attitude can be seen clearly in the words of one MRA and PUA blogger: “I’ll be the first to admit that many of my bangs in the United States were hate f—s. The masculine attitude and lack of care these women put into their style or hair irritated me, so I made it a point to f— them and never call.” The abhorrent website Boycott American Women explains their view: “I think we should export all american [sic] b—–s to other countries and take in women from other places. [. . .] Have you noticed how fat these sluts get AT AN EARLY AGE [. . .] If you were allowed to beat your wife we wouldn’t be dealing with this crap.”
If you’re posting heinously misogynistic comments in one place, no one is going to take you seriously when you cry misandry somewhere else. Some fear the MRA movement is inspiring attacks on women, like those of Elliot Rodger, George Sodini, and Ben Moynihan, all of whom turned their murderous rage against women because they couldn’t find sexual partners.
9 TERFs And SWERFs
Every political movement attracts a lunatic fringe, and feminism is no different. Witness trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) and sex worker exclusionary radical feminists (SWERFs), who are often one and the same. Many of the arguments of both groups are more in tune with traditional anti-feminist ideas than the radical feminist ideas that emerged in the 1960s.
TERFs believe in a rigid definition of birth sex, defining a woman as a person born with a vagina. They view trans women as perverts and trans men as vaguely traitorous. They boast an ideology of “shared girlhood” by which those born women have a universal understanding that trans women are physiologically incapable of understanding. Many feminists claim TERFs can’t be described as radical feminists at all, as the radical feminist movement is committed to opposing the sex-gender system that places men and women into strict gender roles, a system that has been used historically to dominate women. By refusing to accept transgender people, TERFs reinforce that system of oppression.
SWERFs, on the other hand, are those who target feminist women who choose to work in the sex or porn industry. SWERFs argue that sex workers who claim to be feminists are deluded and have bought into an exploitative industry for the pure benefit of men. Many feminists refute this. There has been a recent movement to create and popularize feminist pornography, which portrays women as an equal sexual partner deserving of respect and the right to sexual desire, pleasure, and satisfaction. The idea is to make porn that portrays sex as an act shared between partners, rather than something a man does to a woman. Porn actress Nina Hartley once wrote that feminist porn could potentially “change men’s and women’s attitudes at their deepest neurobiological level.”
SWERFs oppose the sex and porn industries carte blanche, however. Many are prone to using pejorative words like “whore” and “harlot” to denigrate sex workers as they support methods of tackling the sex industry, like forced rescue of sex workers. Many of the arguments between TERFs, SWERFs, and other feminists seem to resemble the conflict between Marxists, Leninists, and social democrats during the early 20th century, which is not an analogy you want to have applied to your cause.
8 North Korea Apologists
Considering the bitter reality experienced by the vast majority of the North Korean population, it is amazing that there are still apologists for the regime—but exist they do. Within South Korea, many people adopt the ideals and propaganda of North Korea as a way to rail against conservative governments and pursue an anti-American agenda.
Some believe South Korea is being occupied by American forces to prevent unification and that national autonomy is more important than freedom or democracy. Others believe wholeheartedly in the ideology of North Korea, seeing it as a country united by love for their leader. Still more believe they are merely fighting for freedom of speech and bridling under national security laws that can get someone arrested simply for retweeting a message from the North Korean Twitter account as a joke. Regardless of their motives, followers of the movement have caused violence and turmoil. In March 2015, United States Ambassador to South Korea Mark Lippert required 80 stitches after he was slashed in the face by a North Korea sympathizer demanding an end to joint United States and Republic of Korea military drills.
In the West, sentiment in favor of North Korea tends to be based on the idea that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” They reason that if they hate the government and the government hates North Korea, then North Korea must not be so bad after all. Members of the Workers World Party even picketed a 2013 screening of the Red Dawn remake, which featured North Korea and other communist countries invading the United States, calling it a lying propaganda piece designed to whip the American population into war.
The problem with this sentiment is that it usually comes with a progressive and liberal political position. If expressed by a North Korean citizen, that political position would likely get him or her sent to a concentration camp. Those who believe North Korea is a united and happy country can hardly explain why so many North Korean citizens flee the country, let alone why so many are tortured and killed in concentration camps. They say it’s propaganda, but to fake an entire regime of terror would be even more implausible than staging a fake Moon landing.
7 Anti-Halal Movement
In Australia, many food products are labeled with a halal certification, indicating Muslim consumers who adhere to religious dietary restrictions may safely consume the product. This simple label has sent Australia’s xenophobic fringe into a tizzy, under the impression that the halal certification process somehow funds terrorism and is contrary to “traditional Australian values.”
One prominent site, Halal Choices, claims the certifying bodies provide a “constant stream of funds to support Islamic projects which contribute to the advancement of sharia (Islamic law) here and around the world.” Organized through Facebook and other social media platforms, the movement has accused Australian companies of being sympathetic to terrorism, including Vegemite, Kit-Kat, and, bizarrely, Jacob’s Creek Wines. (Alcohol is haram, so Muslims can’t drink it anyway.) Those in opposition to the halal labels argue that they are simply fighting for consumer rights to information, targeting those who receive halal certification but don’t display it on their products.
There is no evidence halal certification has any link to terrorism, and the campaign against halal certification may damage Australia’s economy due to high levels of food exports to the Middle East. Some more skittish Australian companies have dropped their halal certification, such as Fleurieu Milk & Yoghurt Company, which is said to have gotten the certification to reflect a $50,000 contract to supply yogurt to Emirates airlines.
The Aussies fighting halal certification are doing more damage to Australian businesses than they are to any terrorist group or sharia law advocates. Gaafar A. Mohammed of the Islamic Co-ordinating Council of Victoria put it simply: “Australia is the biggest producer of halal food since the 1960s. The market is worth billions of dollars [a] year to Australia.”
Meanwhile, claims by some that halal slaughter constitutes animal cruelty are also wrong—or at least disingenuous. By Australian law, all slaughterhouses stun cattle before doing the deed, halal or not. The idea that halal certification somehow helps support terrorism or sharia law is sheer nonsense. Halal certification generates very little revenue, and some do not even have to pay to get the certification. Javaid Qureshi from KJ Halal Abattoirs put it succinctly when asked by food blog Cook Suck: “Trust me mate, we don’t make enough money to fund terrorists.”
6 Freeman-On-The-Land Movement
Emerging from the tax protester and sovereign citizen movements in the United States in the 1970s through the ’90s, the Freeman-on-the-land movement entered its current form in Canada in the 2000s and has now spread to plague court proceedings in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and elsewhere. They hold the opinion that any law or debt they are obligated to honor can be ignored by refusing to consent to it.
They often make a spurious distinction between themselves as flesh and blood individuals and themselves as a legal entity created with a birth certificate. For example, if a Freeman is named John Smith, he will insist on referring to himself by variations like “John of house Smith” and “John smith.” They believe they can separate themselves from their legal identity, which they call a “strawman,” and that withdrawing consent allows them to ignore any laws or debts they like. For them, the only true crimes are harming another person or their property and deception in a contract. Other laws, like carrying a driver’s license or paying taxes or debts, are optional.
They weave pseudo-legal arguments based on misinterpretation of laws, twisting words and appeals to the concept of “legal rebellion” derived from the Magna Carta. There are numerous problems with this approach. For one thing, consent for the government to pass and enforce laws is collective consent of the voting population; individual consent does not apply to individual laws.
Further, the government has the ability and will to enforce laws, whatever an individual tries to call himself to wriggle out of it. This has not prevented many individuals from trying to use Freemen-on-the-land arguments in courts, which inevitably results in failure and wasted court time dealing with perpetual recurrences of pseudo-legal rhetoric. Some Freeman-on-the-land advocates are simply con artists peddling a line of legal gibberish to sell as books and DVDs to the credulous and ignorant.
5 Sad Puppies
Every year, the Hugo Awards for science fiction and fantasy writers are voted on by paid members of Worldcon, the World Science Fiction Convention. Popular nominee books, movies, and commentators are placed on a shortlist of five, which are then voted on. The system is relatively easy to game, but this was not previously a problem as the majority of voters simply voted on individual taste, and popular authors knew campaigning for the awards would be in bad taste. That was until the Sad Puppy movement came along.
The Sad Puppies believe the awards have been taken over by excessively progressive authors and fans. Right-wing author Brad Torgersen describes them as “niche, academic, overtly to the Left in ideology and flavor, and ultimately lacking what might best be called visceral, gut-level, swashbuckling fun.” The Sad Puppies believe science fiction and fantasy have lost their way and want to return to a sci-fi golden age. They see a liberal conspiracy to promote authors who are female or minorities, supposedly alienating a fan base of primarily white males. Their vision of the future has no place for social science fiction or the influence of feminists, LGBTQ advocates, or liberals.
In 2013, the Sad Puppies began organizing a slate of authors they wished to promote, primarily right-wing and anti-progressive authors. In 2015, this tactic was finally successful in skewing the vote in the system, as there was no unified opposition. A concurrent slate called Rabid Puppies was organized by controversial iconoclast Vox Day. The Rabid Puppies abandoned all pretense of civility, expressing open homophobia, racism, and misogyny.
They claim to be merely fighting for a silent majority, but for science fiction and fantasy to prosper, it cannot remain the private reserve of heterosexual white men with 1950s social views. The increasing inclusiveness of science fiction and the rise of influential female, homosexual, and non-white authors threaten their prior dominance, and they lash out with an organized conspiracy threatening to destabilize and discredit the Hugo Awards entirely.
4 Earth Hour And Earth Day
Earth Hour was first organized in 2007 by the World Wildlife Fund as a way to raise awareness of human impact on the environment by having people turn off their lights and live by candlelight for an hour. While the intentions of this political stunt are good, it unfortunately causes a precisely opposite effect on the environment.
Centralized electricity networks fed by large power stations don’t react well to sudden troughs in electricity demand. They have to anticipate a sudden spike in energy needs once the hour is over, so fossil fuel plants keep burning in what is called “spinning reserve mode.” Once the hour is over, electricity demand suddenly spikes because turning on an appliance needs a higher current than one that is already running. The end result of Earth Hour is more carbon emissions than would have been generated from a normal hour of electricity usage.
Meanwhile, every April 22 since 1970 has been celebrated as Earth Day. The holiday is meant to allow people to reflect on their own effects on the environment and make a commitment to recycle, plant a tree, and examine their own habits. But it is all too easy to forget all those resolutions when Earth Day is over. It is easier to spend a day installing energy-efficient lightbulbs or pay attention to environmental causes and then forget about it than it is to make a concerted effort to change one’s habits.
Not to mention Earth Day puts all the pressure to reform habits on consumers, but there is a serious need to encourage more significant polluters like corporations and governments to change their habits. Instead, all a corporation has to do is send a vaguely pro-environment tweet on Earth Day and be off the hook for the rest of the year.
While Earth Day was an important institution for raising awareness in the 1970s, many of the issues are well known today. Many environmentalists believe the support for Earth Day should be reframed in a way that encourages thinking about environmental issues on a more regular basis.
The environmentalist group Grist has launched the Screw Earth Day movement, explaining:
Screw Earth Day was born from mixed emotions about a day that we purists think doesn’t do enough to get the message across about what individuals can and should be doing to protect the environment. While even the most jaded Grist staffer gets a little excited on Earth Day, as lots and lots of people gather together in communities around the world to do something good for our dearly loved Mother Nature, in the back of our heads we’re thinking, “It’s not about a single day, dude, it’s about living green every day.”
3 Trigger Warnings
There has recently been a movement on college campuses to include “trigger warnings” on certain texts and subjects. These warnings indicate material that might be upsetting or even cause symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of rape or war veterans. This movement has had the most support in the University of California Santa Barbara, but it has also spread to other campuses across the United States.
Giving someone a heads up that they are about to be exposed to a depiction of violence or rape isn’t a terrible idea, in and of itself. The problem emerges when people start to take it too far. Proponents have advocated adding trigger warnings to great works of literature such as Huckleberry Finn and The Great Gatsby on the basis of potentially triggering content. Some have likened the movement to the concept of “empathetic correctness” envisioned by Aldous Huxley, which causes the oppressed to learn to love and participate in their own oppression.
Trigger warnings and other barriers are appropriate to dedicated “safe spaces” like counseling centers and certain Internet forums, but they are inappropriate for a public space like a university campus because there are no such trigger warnings in real life. We are never warned before experiencing a horrific accident or attack in the real world, so insisting upon them in places of education serves merely to cloister students away from harsh realities that need to be discussed in academia.
Sociology professor Lisa Hajjar lays her case against trigger warnings: “Any kind of blanket trigger policy is inimical to academic freedom. Any student can request some sort of individual accommodation, but to say we need some kind of one-size-fits-all approach is totally wrong.”
2 Anti-GMO Movement
Many fear the development of genetically modified crops and the consequences of meddling in nature. Artificial crops are seen as a threat to ecology and public health. The problem is largely that while such concerns are understandable, they do not reflect the scientific reality. The majority of scientific bodies, including the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the US National Academy of Sciences, and the British Royal Society have all concluded genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are no more dangerous to consume than conventionally modified crops.
Genetic modification of crops is essentially a more efficient version of a process that has occurred in nature for thousands of years. The notion that everything natural is healthy and everything artificial must be unhealthy is emotional and faith-based. GMO crops are also extremely popular among farmers because they resist drought and disease, control pests without chemical spraying and runoff, allow no-till farming, prevent soil erosion, and limit greenhouse gas emissions.
British environmental activist Mark Lynas spent years fighting against the imposition of GMO crops by companies like Monsanto and Syngenta. This was an ideological stance, but after becoming well versed in the scientific method through dedicated debunking of climate change denialists, he sought to get a similar rational grounding for his anti-GMO views. What he found actually changed his mind completely. Lynas realized the scientific consensus supporting the safety of GMO was very solid. Anti-GMO campaigners were causing starvation by preventing use of vitamin A–enriched golden rice, which can improve nutrition in people in developing countries. The sick irony is corporations are now jumping onto the anti-GMO bandwagon, promoting misinformation and anti-science attitudes in order to peddle their own GMO-free, organic products.
The seed of the current anti-vaccination movement can be traced to a 1998 Lancet article by (former) doctor Andrew Wakefield, who claimed there was a link between the MMR vaccine and the development of autism. His study was rightly criticized for an absurdly small sample set and conclusions which could not be independently replicated, but it launched a paranoid reaction by parents fearful of injecting their children with autism.
Anti-vaxxer doctrine developed into a conspiracy theory that vaccinations are a conspiracy by Big Pharma to extort money from gullible parents. They further claim vaccinations contain arsenic and can injure children but that measles isn’t that serious and vaccines are not proven to be effective anyway. These claims are all laughably false. What’s more, they are dangerous. The movement has very serious consequences for the children of anti-vaccination activists and the wider public.
If a large percentage of the population goes unvaccinated, the door is open for the revival of fatal diseases like mumps, measles, and rubella, which could potentially become virulent enough to infect vaccinated children or babies who haven’t been vaccinated yet. This was the case with 32-day-old Riley Hughes, who died from complications related to whooping cough in Perth. But the opponents of vaccination have turned to zealotry in the absence of evidence. The online anti-vaccination movement has developed into a bastion of strident irrationality, sending their opponents death threats, publishing their private information online, and writing letters to their employers to get them fired.
In January 2015, reduced vaccination rates led to an outbreak of measles in California, sparking warnings for unvaccinated people and infants to avoid visiting Disneyland. In April, an anti-vaxxer mother in Canada recanted when all seven of her children came down with whooping cough. She explained her decision not to vaccinate was based on misinformation and fear, adding, “I’m writing this from quarantine, the irony of which isn’t lost on me.” If the anti-vaccination movement continues to spread, the public health consequences could be dire.
David Tormsen is a one-man misguided movement. Email him at [email protected].