Disappearance of the “Scarlet A”, and musings on “Atheism Plus”…

AIn October of 2007, if you were a reader of my old blog, you may have noticed my signing up to The Out Campaign; a campaign where atheists donned the now near-ubiquitous (in one form of another) “Scarlet A” – outing or presenting themselves as godless in response to a world where godlessness isn’t always tolerated.

I make no reservations about declaring my “post-atheist” condition; I have never actually been religious; I don’t live in a culture where I am oppressed on account of my lack of religion; I live in a culture where in general, I am tolerated. Unlike some of my fellow Freethinkers from “post-atheist” cultures though, I have no intention of belittling the struggles of atheists in less tolerant climates, even in less-than-tolerant developed nations like the US.

(I.e. I’m not going to play that game).

Back in 2007, I had a Catholic friend who shunned me when I revealed that in fact, I was irreligious. Our friendship was originally fuelled in no small part by our mutual concerns about social justice. And then it was over…

Did I suddenly identify as oppressed? No. However, in a process resulting from this shunning, somewhat like being injected with the proteins of a virus, I was in a sense inoculated against the real thing. I found it easier to empathise with people who were oppressed, or at least marginalised on account of their atheism.

The “Scarlet A” then, was about solidarity.

It’s now 2014, and things have changed. The website for The Out Campaign is clearly no longer properly maintained, at the time of writing featuring broken image URLs. Iterations of the “Scarlet A” have mutated, speciated and in some cases metastasized.

While I don’t object to most instances of the use of the “Scarlet A” still in use, it’s just lost relevance to me. It’s not clear that it symbolizes what I wish to convey by displaying it, so I’ve recently dropped it from my sidebar. Indeed, I’ve been  meaning to do so for some time.


“Atheist plussers”…

I’ve nothing against the “Atheism Plus” crowd, and I utterly object to the abuse they’ve received – abuse both leading to the creation of “Atheism Plus” in the first place, and abuse directed at them afterward. I wish them all needed respite from this abuse as well. This alone, depending on your definitions, may or may not make me one of them, although I’m not giving you a stake in my identity either way.

My interest in social justice has me holding a number of values also shared by the “Atheism Plus” crowd (“Atheism Plus” essentially being atheism “plus” social justice). This may or may not, depending on your definitions, also mark me as objectively fitting in.

Only, I have next to no interest in identifying, nor being interpellated* as such.

I’ve said it before over the years and I’ll say it again; I’m a lefty before I’m an atheist. While I may have many of the same priorities on my list as “Atheist Plus” atheists, I’m likely to order my priorities differently. Also, given my experiences on the left seemingly being different to that of many of the “Atheist Plus” crowd, I suspect it is likely that there will be concerns I have that we don’t share.

There’s also differences between the American and Australian left to consider. In Australia, we haven’t slid as far down the path of neo-liberalism and anti-unionist culture, and hence aren’t likely to have all the same invisible assumptions about such things – the kinds of assumptions that can be unwittingly adopted even by their opponents.

(I see this to some extent in the small-business-owner-like culture surrounding a number of social-justice-oriented public speakers and writers from the US, not limited purely to those from an atheistic background).

Generally, what’s the “Atheist Plus” take on the Reaganite union bashing of the 1980s, and its spread via globalisation? I don’t know. This isn’t a criticism of “Atheism Plus”, but rather an observation of potential sources of difference of priority.

This may or may not signal a conflict between myself and any given “Atheist Plus” position in the future. And if it does, people involved may want to know where I’ll be coming from should this happen; all else being equal, if it’s a choice between acting on the material left-wing concerns of a unionist/worker who happens to be religious, and entertaining an abstract theological point raised by an atheist who happens to be leftish, I’m not going to be siding with the atheist. (Also, theology doesn’t interest me that much).

(I happen to suspect that there is too much of what could be considered tantamount to class blindness in “Atheism Plus”, albeit not wilfully so. Considerations of class aren’t as prevalent amongst “Atheism Plus” as I’d be happy to see in a left-wing movement/organisation. It all comes across as being a bit too exclusively white collar).

Such a conflict may never occur, however a fundamental difference in the sorting of our priorities remains, even if our values are largely compatible. This matters to me.


Nothing has fundamentally changed about me regarding these matters over the past ten years. The only thing that has changed is the broader context I find myself engulfed in. I doubt I’m alone in this.

At any rate, I’m not going to make declarations of loyalty to groups that I know in advance that I may not be able to honour. And the “Scarlet A”? Gone.

I will however say this much; I am still an atheist writer, only I’m not just an atheist who writes. Often I will focus on issues from an atheist perspective, however my perspective isn’t solely defined along such lines. This may be a source of future conflict.

Allies who fail to understand this may wind up feeling betrayed. Enemies who fail to understand this risk making themselves look foolish.

~ Bruce

* Also, I don’t think my status as a subject is secondary in the generation of my identity, thank you very much anti-humanists.

Apparently my droogies ain’t hardcore, no more…

A couple of years ago, I wished Archbishop Dr Jensen, amongst others, a Happy Easter, for what was in my view, a gift – in particular, his over-privileged, petulant whining about atheists who wouldn’t submit to the will of Archbishops God. It was political gold.

But I’d like to thank another Jensen from the Sydney Anglicans for yet more wild speculation about people they’re in-touch with. I wish him a Happy Easter as well.

This time it’s not atheists being discussed, at least not directly (I mean, you can refuse The Lord’s message, and go for a bit of the biff), but brawlers.

All cities are violent, even though cities were ostensibly founded to protect us from violence. But among Australian cities, Sydney is famous for its love of a good ding-dong, a donnybrook, a barney. Cultured Melbourne is far too genteel for that kind of behaviour; sweet Adelaide even more so. – Emphasis added.”

(Michael Jensen, 2012)

Jensen waxes nostalgic about biff-clichés, but I’d like to think I can be a bit nostalgic about that kind of ‘sin’ as well. Let me tell you a little about my experience of Adelaide, South Australia, and its surroundings.

If cities are violent, such as being worthy of note, you’d expect country towns to be comparatively peaceful. In Port Lincoln, South Australia, I got into plenty of stupid fights as a kid; I got into my first knife fight at age eleven or twelve. (An interesting side note to all of the knife fights, then and since; the other guy always had the knife).

In 1991, amidst other adventures, I took a number of thumpings (under pillow, or Yellow Pages), and enjoyed a brief encounter between my scrotum and a hot lamp bulb, to see if I could be trusted to keep a secret. Fun stuff.

In 1992, after escaping Port Lincoln, one of my former acquaintances blew the brains out of one of my Father’s weed-smoking buddies, and brain-damaged another poor fellow, in Lincoln National Park. Glad I missed it, even as ‘genteel’ as it must have been.

A number of the people who managed to escape, have similar tales to tell, although I guess technically, if I’m to adhere to Jensen’s wisdom, I’d have to confess that a former mate, who I’ve been informed was killed a few years back by a screwdriver through the neck, met his end in Perth. You are probably well aware, this is nowhere near Adelaide.

Then there’s the sweet tales I could tell of my sweet stay in Elizabeth Vale; a suburb in Adelaide’s north, where I lived within walking distance of one of the homes of the Snowtown Killers (at around the time they were actively bumping people off for their Centrelink payments).

Two murders (not including any of the Snowtown murders) within the first two months of living in the area. Knife-fights between neighbours; knife-on-bare-fist; knife-on-knife; knife-on-garden-rake; knife-on-shard-of-glass…

…don’t get me started on the car-on-bedsit, or the syringe-based violence.

Sweet, genteel, Adelaide!

This is anecdote, of course. Not statistics. I’m sure throngs of people from Sydney could tell similar tales.

And what anecdote may Mr Jensen have by way of example? I’m sure those having experienced violence, those in need of respite and pastoral care could take, if not solace, then a sense of solidarity, or even awe, from Mr Jensen’s tales.

“The churches of this town have not always been above a bit of brawling themselves. You have to be tough to survive as a god-botherer in a town that despises wowsers so much. The Presbyterian minister John Dunmore Lang was himself a famously strident and uncompromising debater in his time.”

(Michael Jensen, 2012)

Cool story. I’d almost mistaken Jensen’s article for a middle class, toss-fest.

Happy Easter, folks.

~ Bruce

(HT: Neil).

A short civics of sexual envy

There are any number of common phrases that rub me up the wrong way, and among them is “sexual jealousy”. Usually the term is applied to some poor sod who either hasn’t got his (and it’s usually a guy) wick wet in a while, or harbours a resentment towards people who have a sex life.

Why is this a problem? Envy is when you harbour a desire for something you don’t have. Jealousy is when you harbour a desire for something that has been taken away from you.

Even if it’s over an ex sexual partner, it shouldn’t be called “sexual jealousy” because neither one’s ex-partner, nor their sex, is something for another person to own. They own themselves and they own their sexuality, and they grant access as they see fit. Nobody’s taking anything.

The only way sex can be taken away from someone is when one’s own sexuality is impaired by an external force – say chemical castration or a particularly nasty accident that leaves one physiologically unable to engage sexually. But this kind of thing isn’t usually what is on one’s mind when they say “sexual jealousy”.

So for a start, let’s begin by calling what we are talking about by the term “sexual envy“.

I find people who manage their sexual envy poorly particularly irritating at times. And so do a lot of people. The negative consequences of poorly managed sexual envy can be anywhere between someone being a bit of a jerk, to being a sex offender.

I’ve been meaning to post on this as a “people who shit me” post for a while now (it’s been an issue of annoyance for years and years of living amongst geeks), but I think I’ll play it a bit less rhetorical this time.

Feeling entitled to something nobody is entitled to

It becomes a lot more obvious when you appreciate that sexual envy finds its foundation in sexual entitlement – “I should have that”. Sexual envy isn’t just a melancholy over not having one’s desires met. Furthermore, sexual entitlement, if true, would necessitate sexual obligation on the part of some other sexual partner irrespective of consent.

Sex is a private matter. Not necessarily private in that we shouldn’t hear about it in public, but private in that it is in no part whatsoever a part of the commons. Consent via a private social contract is therefore necessary and thus entitlement to a sexual partner is impossible. People who seek to appease their own sexual desires by avoiding these contracts are what we call sex offenders.

The first and foremost thing that the sexually envious have to come to terms with is that they aren’t entitled to a partner, and therefore there is no justification for their envy – just explanations. They don’t have a reason to be envious, just reasons that they are.

It’s not always a serious problem

To a small extent, this is understandable and can be tolerated.

To cite a different instance of akrasia from my own life, I have moments of anger over a number of tragic deaths that have occurred amongst friends and family. I’m not entitled to have my friends enjoy immortality, or for them to be immune to risk. Death happens.

I don’t think it too much to expect that I get a bit of consideration around these kind of events, that I’m not going to be able to be entirely reasonable. But I still have to come to terms with, and properly manage this anger as best I can so that it doesn’t consume me, or become a problem for other people. When the shit isn’t hitting the fan, I think I do pretty well.

Similarly, I think we can afford to tolerate the occasional “all the good guys are either taken of gay”, or “I won’t be getting any tonight” by the sex-starved. This much is just harmless venting. A minor akrasia with the implicit, stoic recognition that things are what they are.

But there are plenty of ways in which poorly managed sexual envy, short of motivating sex offences and other, more disturbing phenomena, can still be the basis for antisocial behaviour.

Plans and pick-up lines

“I’m planning to get laid tonight!” says the young guy who has no idea who he is “planning” to have sex with. Given that consent is required, plans shouldn’t be made in the absence of the other, prospective partner. “I want to get laid tonight” is far more appropriate. If you do, you do. If you don’t, you don’t. And it’s not just rhetoric this. How many young men (and it’s usually men) go out for a night on the town with expectations (i.e. sense of entitlement, predicated on the obligation of a stranger) of getting laid, only to wind up in a fight? Or looking stupid (which they probably deserve)?

At the very least, this kind of attitude shows a premeditated disposition of bad faith towards potential sexual partners. It’s the kind of motivation that lay behind many a rehearsal of pick-up lines, which largely fail for this reason – if not the pathetic desperation, the inept attempt at manipulation is the ultimate turn off. The object of affection is left in the position of accepting the advance at the expense of their self-respect – “I actually slept with him after he used that line?”

For anyone to say “yes” to this kind of approach is to humiliate one’s self. “If I told you that you had a nice body, would you hold it against me?” Seriously, does anyone seriously expect another human being to abandon their self-respect just to get into the sack with someone spouting this kind of rubbish?

The plans and rehearsals are predicated upon a lack of respect, a failure to fully appreciate the concept of consent and again, as sense of entitlement. And it doesn’t go unnoticed – which is why it doesn’t work, except with the most sad and desperate and most willing to humiliate themselves.

Envy as ulterior motive

You’ve probably seen this oodles of times. People who go around critiquing other people’s relationships in instrumentally misleading fashion.

“She’s not good enough for him”. “He doesn’t treat her right”.

Either through gossip about how Ms X was a tramp, or how Mr Y doesn’t pay proper attention to his partner, it’s pretty much the same formula at its roots. Feign genuine concern for the welfare of the object of desire, cook up charges against the competition and naturally it (conveniently) follows that one’s self is the best candidate as lover.

It’s about as obvious to everyone as plans and bad pick-up lines. Everyone except perhaps the person performing the mental gymnastics. And again, it is predicated upon a lack of respect for the person desired, a failure to fully appreciate the concept of consent and yet again, a sense of entitlement.

Do you really think that she’d let her boyfriend talk to her like that? Do you really think she has so little self respect? Could it just be that they are having a bit of a joke? Do you really think so little over her to think that she actually needs your critical analysis?

Do you really think that just because they let you into a part of their lives, that they’ve invited you into the most personal aspects of their relationship? Did they consent to you being there?

What makes you think that you’re even a candidate for replacing the existing partner, even if she does give him the flick? What a sense of entitlement!

Emotional fallout

When there is a stoicism involved, with the implication that there is no entitlement, the emotional fallout from a friend with a lousy sex life is one of those things that friends just put up with. When the problem is amplified by depression, or anxiety, support should be able to be found from the appropriate health care professional – such support in my view, unlike sex itself, being a part of the commons. (Indeed, I think that those of the sexually envious denied a nationally funded mental health care scheme when they need it, have grounds to be angry – on this count they are entitled.)

But when it gets to the point that entitlement is surreptitiously assumed, as is the case when the sexually envious think their envy is justified, and people start to be treated in bad faith, that’s when tolerance can quite reasonably be wound back.

“Take me out with you so I can get laid as well!”


For one, and healthy minded outing doesn’t treat sexuality as some kind of hunt. Sex just happens. A healthy sex life is a function of a healthy social life and a “hunt” isn’t healthy.

If your friends are getting laid, and they’re not hooking up in dubious arrangements, odds on they’re not “hunting” . Odds on they’re just treating people right.

And seriously, do you think the guys or gals or guys and gals want to go out for a night on the town, with someone who views the outing as a “hunt”? Someone with a penchant for “she’s not good enough for him”, or “he doesn’t treat her right”?

The only sexual entitlement is for one’s sex life to be free of coercion from outside of one’s mutually informed and consenting partnership. Being cock-blocked by the sexually envious,  constitutes such a form of coercion. Sure, the guys and girls may have not been out on the hunt, but if they hook up in good faith, who is the sexually envious to get in the way?

Entitlement squared

The emotional fallout can be hard on people having to deal with the sexually envious and putting up with it, when entitlement is assumed, is really an act of charity. People don’t have to put up with behaviours motivated in bad faith, not even from their friends.

I’ll say it again – it’s charity. And I mean “charity” with a specific meaning.

Welfare can come from the commons, in which case people have an entitlement and should expect it (within the limits of the tragedy) from a civilised society. Welfare can come from charity, which is not a part of the commons, which therefore people don’t have an entitlement to.

When sexual envy dominates a certain kind of private social interaction, to the extent of motivating behaviour in bad faith, the sexually envious remain within the private social setting from the charity of the other parties. They aren’t entitled to get laid on a night out on the town, and they aren’t entitled to being taken out on a night on the town by their friends if they’re going to behave like that.

I think this is true in a broader range of social settings, if not all social settings.

If the sexually envious insinuate themselves closer to someone else’s partner at a social gathering, they can expect to be ejected from it. They can expect to be ejected from their network of friends altogether. In a workplace setting they can expect their due warnings, then to be fired.

The sexually envious aren’t entitled to sex, and they aren’t entitled to having their sense of entitlement entertained.

After an extended period of this kind of behaviour, or if after due warnings, the sexually envious need to realise just how much their relationships are an act of charity on the part of other, private citizens. Charity that can be repealed with out further warning.

The sexually envious really need to take responsibility to stop it getting this far in the first place.

Diminished capacity

It can be argued that sexual envy is in some cases at in part pathological. At least I don’t intend to prejudice this.

But all the same, unless those having a problem dealing with sexual envy are institutionalised or in a prison for sex offences, the odds are that they still have other faculties in tact. It’s just that for the sake of their particular weakness, they lean very heavily upon their social network.

This reasonably comes with a cost and the cost is control.

If the sexually envious acknowledge that they have diminished capacity in managing something that has consequences for others, it falls to the capacity of others to deal with it. In any effective deferral of such capacity comes the deferral of some form of decision making.

This is reinforced by the realisation that one’s social network are within their rights to abandon someone treating them in bad faith. They have an entitlement to say no to private social interaction just the way that a potential partner can say no to sex.

I don’t think this ultimatum is one made in bad faith – the diminished capacity is in itself a kind of ultimatum in the way it limits choices, and having this foisted upon a social network is what drives the ultimatum in the first place. The sexually envious with diminished capacity had an ultimatum hanging over their heads in the first place. There’s no loss of freedom in this arrangement, just accounting.

So when the sexually envious pleads to their social network that they can’t control themselves properly, they are inviting the social network to take control for them. They are inviting the social network to set boundaries for them anywhere between minor considerations to total exclusion. The members of the social network have the right to protect themselves from the full array of antisocial behaviours stemming from sexual envy.

The sexually envious need to realise that this extends to discussion of control. Like it or lump it, the sexually envious need to realise that boundaries preventing discussion of matters of control in bad faith, can include boundaries preventing discussion of control altogether. Negotiation isn’t an option unless given by way of charity.

Ultimately, the sexually envious who plead diminished capacity can reasonably be excepted to accept the terms their social networks give them, or can reasonably be excepted to leave their social networks altogether. And before they whine about being emotionally exploited – their obedience in return for emotional needs being met – they should consider their track record amongst their cohort.

The fact that they are still in the cohort in the first place, with no conditions made before the plea of diminished capacity, shows the good faith and grace they have already been shown – to deny this would be disrespectful. If the seriously sexually envious individual has a cohort willing to take them on board, warts and all, they should be happy and grateful, not spiteful and selfish.

What the sexually envious (from the benign to the malicious) need to really get their heads around

  • Not having a sex life is not pleasant and is clearly sub-ideal, but it is not a problem necessitating a solution. To require a solution would first require an entitlement to be unmet, but there is no sexual entitlement to be met or unmet in the first place.
  • The problem (if any) necessitating a solution in the first place is the treatment of sex as an entitlement, which necessarily presupposes sexual obligation from others. Which is wrong.
  • If they treat sex as an entitlement, it’s probably a good thing they aren’t getting it. People so selfish don’t deserve the intimate trust of others.
  • When they aren’t getting sex because they treat potential partners in bad faith, it’s because self-respecting potential partners are turned off by this. And being turned down in these cases is a good thing because it preserves the self-respect of the person being approached for sex, while costing the suitor nothing worthwhile that they possessed in the first place.
  • Trying to not see sex as an entitlement, to try and get laid, is not a solution. The goal of getting laid, from an envious perspective, presupposes entitlement and is thus doomed to fail if overcoming entitlement is the primary goal. Which it should be.
  • The sexually envious are entitled to medical assistance for depression, anxiety and any other medical reason making things worse. They aren’t entitled to the charity of having their friends deal with acts of bad faith – and in cases of chronic bad faith, aren’t even entitled to the friends they treat this way. Psychiatrists, social workers and others are paid for that and it’s for the sexually envious, not their friends, to pick up the slack.
  • The sexually envious who manage their emotions so poorly as to regularly engage with their cohort in bad faith, can’t expect their cohort to keep them around without conditions being met. Nor can they expect their cohort to be open to negotiation on these conditions.
  • Being sex-starved but keeping your sexual envy well managed, is a better state to be in than being sex starved and rabidly envious. Sex shouldn’t be the goal. Getting over envy should.
  • And finally, because it warrants repeating – there is no sexual entitlement on which to base sexual expectations. Sexual entitlement, not lack of sex, is the problem.

~ Bruce