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Josh Fredman
I live on a remote mountain observatory, but I don't work there! I work for the Internet.
I live on a remote mountain observatory, but I don't work there! I work for the Internet.

Josh's posts

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This article is part of a series about gut health, but its relevance here is that it compares an erstwhile cultural obsession with constipation the same way we think about obesity today: Advances in biology led not only medical professionals but the public at large to assume that constipation was a major health problem, and they become so fervent about it that it rose to the level of a moral panic, exactly like the "obesity epidemic" of today--and with comparably vacuous and misguided scientific underpinnings.

I think it's useful to draw attention to other moral panics in history, as a way of putting the panic over obesity in context, as sometimes people may struggle to answer the question "How can it be a moral panic when there's such overwhelming consensus?"

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The "fat" in fat acceptance typically refers to body fat, but it extends sometimes to our ideas about dietary fat. In particular, dietary fat has long been viewed as a villain in our culture--and still is, despite a growing amount of evidence to the contrary over the years (with the exception of trans fats). In particular, saturated fat has been in the news again and again in recent years as new studies have found that it may not be as unhealthy as previously believed.

Here's a link to a story about a study finding that full-fat dairy correlated with lower rates of diabetes. Is a correlation the same thing as a causal mechanism? Obviously not, but if you're trying to build a better picture about which forms of dietary energy are healthier than others, I think this study counts as another grain on the scale in favor of the argument that, generally speaking, it doesn't make much sense to pit proteins, carbohydrates, and fats against each other in that fashion.

I am still bemused that, as hunger has been largely eradicated in America and most people no longer need to live lives of hard labor, and have thus "reverted" to the natural state of heaviness that has always existed for us in times of ease and plenty, our cultural response to this magnificent, hedonistic abundance of flesh has been revulsion, hatred, despair, and harassment. Maybe being thin is good if your ambition is to climb mountains or run marathons, but most of us have no desire to do anything more physically demanding than a day's hike in the woods. Given the almost universal human desire to eat, we should be just about as heavy as we are. That would be the best reflection of our desires: fat enough to show our love of food and culinary community, but fit enough to go about our daily lives. That our society has selected extreme thinness (for females) and preposterous muscularity (for males) as beauty ideals seems like a surreal joke. I say, if you've got a tummy, give it a squish and count yourself lucky and happy to live in an era when one of the greatest human driving forces--hunger--has been brought to heel, and all the pleasure that goes with its satisfaction is just a breadbasket away.

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When this kerfuffle erupted over the holidays, I was firmly on the side of the Cutes. I understand people being disappointed that their chocolate blobs didn't have sharper angles, but come on. Chocolate blobs are cute too, and it tastes just as good. You want fancy shapes, pay more money for hand-crafted chocolates.

Anyhow, I'm mentioning it now because I only just recently saw this image on a size acceptance blog. I think it's adorable!

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The same tribalistic elements of the progressive movement who want you to buy into their beliefs that your privilege makes you a bad person unworthy of having a voice have also had their usual, poisonous say about the fat acceptance movement--namely that finding fat people beautiful or connecting it to human sexuality is demeaning and objectifying unless you're a fat person yourself. It's not, of course, and here is an article with a much healthier point of view: It opens right up by noting that the fat acceptance and fat admiration movements are deeply intertwined and have always been that way. And it only gets better from there.

Here's an excerpt:

"I seriously hope that one day, things like "fat sex" or naked fat ladies won't scare the shit out of so many people. I hope that I can have a conversation with someone about the pleasure you can feel when you embrace your fat body in the bedroom without them blushing. I hope that ideas of "fetishism" and non-cookie cutter sex broaden to a point where we can be accepting of those whose kinks differ from our own. I hope that fat women who dare show off their rolls via utterly beautiful, important nudity aren't slut shamed for it. I hope that individuals who find empowerment, sexual gratification, and/or pride in gaining weight aren't deemed lepers and pariahs."

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An opinion piece in the New York Times:
Yes, I'm Fat. It's OK I said it.

I posted the following commentary in my journal, but obviously it has a place here too.

“Fat derangement syndrome” is a real thing. As the author’s protagonist learns, in her novel, “a person can never simply be fat; a fat body always needs to be fixed.” There, as in the real world, whenever a person says something that deviates from that social commandment, there is a certain subset of the general population who utterly and absolutely lose their fucking minds.

You know the anti-GMO people? The anti-vaccination people? The anti-circumcision people? The chemtrails people? The anti-EMF people? The Gamergate MRAs? The anti-Israel people? All of them have the same underlying condition: derangement syndrome. They are pathologically incapable of being open-minded or even tolerantly neutral on the subject of their respective obsession. They cannot process contrary evidence. They cannot muster an impartial mindset for the consideration of alternate views. In derangement syndrome, the victim loses their powers of individual thought and becomes a mindless part of an inevitably hateful, moralistic mob.

The author of the NY Times essay once went to an event at the Sydney Opera House called the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, the premise of which is to challenge people’s accepted notions surrounding the important issues of our time. Essentially, read “Dangerous” as being dangerous not intrinsically, but to people’s prejudices and lack of thought. A festival of mind-opening. And even here, at such an event, where people are explicitly attending with the expectation of being challenged to open their minds, there was that cadre of people in the audience who just could not escape their derangement.

I am reminded of an interview on NPR where a researcher, who had debunked various claims against “GMO” food, asked an anti-GMO bigot—who had refused to accept these findings—what it would take for them to change their mind: The answer was “nothing.” No, it was worse than that: Not only did they say that nothing would change their mind, but they also said that they were smart enough not to trust scientific studies.

There are many popular arguments in anti-fat bigotry, the biggest of which by far is the claim that being fat is inherently unhealthy, full stop, and always needs to be “fixed.” But it’s not true. It’s wrong on so many levels, the most important of which is that, even if being fat were inherently unhealthy—which it’s not, as proven both by samples from the general population and by the growing body of medical literature on the subject—it would never justify the hatred against fat people that it is nevertheless invoked to justify.

Fat bodies don’t need to be fixed, not usually and never inherently. Anti-fat bigots are deranged. They’re the ones who are unhealthy, who are costing society with their reckless behavior.

So what are we to do? Sadly, diseases of social derangement don’t simply disappear overnight. If the conditions are right, they can persist indefinitely, across the generations, for thousands of years. The victims are generally a lost cause: Individual rehabilitations are sometimes feasible, but the best we can generally hope for is to neutralize people’s risk as transmitters of the disease. In other words, an anti-fat bigot is probably always going to be an anti-fat bigot, but it is possible to change the circumstances of their life such that their anti-fat bigotry becomes less of a priority to them.

From there, the bigots can only be replaced. That is to say, general change is required. Many bigotries can only be overcome by a society when the bigots themselves die off and are not replaced.

Therefore, we must focus on building awareness in the people who don’t have fat derangement syndrome. We must continue to be vocal to them about three things: that being fat is generally fine and is never grounds for degrading somebody’s humanity, that anti-fat bigotry is evil, and that a healthy consideration of the physical issues surrounding fatness (health, economics, the environment, etc.) looks nothing like the hateful tirades that the bigots indulge upon.

Fat derangement syndrome is bigger than all the other derangement syndromes I listed. There are more anti-fat bigots out there than there are anti-vaccine ones, or anti-Israel ones. And they are more virulent, and they benefit from far more cover and legitimization by our unwitting traditional media, and by our anti-fat prejudiced social mores in general. And, as is often the case with bigotry, there is an intersection with sexism that makes anti-fat bigotry even worse for females. Because of the prevalence of fatness in the modern world, and because of the extreme hatefulness our cultures channel against fat people, fat acceptance actually is one of the big issues of our time. It probably doesn’t seem like it to you, because it’s not so evidently high-stakes as things like climate change or religious fundamentalism. But to the untrained eye the patterns of the big picture can be misleading, and when you get close—when you get into the area of people’s everyday lives—you begin to realize that the psychological toll and social corruption that occurs because of anti-fat bigotry is much more harmful, to far more people (at least in the developed world), than, say, climate change or religious terrorism.

And if you are open-minded about this, that should cause something to click in your head.

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I've got a little bit of a backlog of stories for Humanist Fat Acceptance, so this one came out a few months ago.

Anyhow, it reaffirms what I've been saying for years: There's no such thing as intrinsically healthy or unhealthy food. It varies from person to person--and I fully expect it varies on situational circumstances too. Listen to your body first, your doctor second, and to generic media advice not at all.

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My Take on Privacy

Here's a nice conversation-piece video on privacy that you should watch before reading my comments below. Also, check out the rest of this mate's YouTube channel: Most of his videos are much shorter, and belong to a series called "Things You Might Not Know." It's really worth watching--and quite different in tone from this particular video, which is a live talk.

My take on privacy is that privacy is far less important than we perceive it to be. My full explanation would be obscenely long in the form of a YouTube comment, but the bottom line is that corporatism has overpowered traditional tyranny in civil democracies, and corporatism, unlike old-style tyranny, requires us to be appeased rather than oppressed--which entails us having a society that grants us materially adequate lives and a semblance of personal freedom sufficient for most people to live in comfort and happiness. Most of the human nature is animalistic, and, in a healthy society, the structure of the society and the customs of the people are such that we become our own pets. We put systems in place that tell us what to do, when, and how--where to go to eat, who to hang out with, how to speak, and what to buy. I'm not talking about the future either; we do all of this already. We always have. The specific technology is new, but the practices are very old.

The desire for privacy is predicated on the notion that we're vulnerable, that if others learn who we really are they'll use it to hurt us, or the authorities will get us in trouble. And there are contexts where this is true: for example, when we're being stalked, when the authorities are tyrannical, when our competitors stand to outflank us, or when we're behaving unlawfully. But I've already spoken of the decline of old-fashioned tyranny, and if the authorities are even remotely competent--and believe it or not they're actually, slowly getting better over time--then we can expect some level of protection from them as a benefit of their interest in stable society. What about the vulnerability of our trade secrets and ideas? Believe it or not, these are fairly easy to protect from public consumption even today, and will continue to be. They exist separately from our faces and our GPS status. Lastly, as for unlawful behavior, that's a complicated issue but look at what happened with music piracy: Virtually no casual pirate went to jail, or even got fined. They got away with it. Despite conspiracy theories about a big shadowy all-powerful government, the pirates stole their music just fine. What this means is that laws that go against common customs and practices are generally not all that much of a threat to us, because democratic power is unwieldy. Suppose the police developed technology to identify every time you speed. Multiplied out in its full glory, that would mean trillions of dollars of speeding tickets. Society wouldn't stand for it, and a compromise would be reached. Unlawful behavior isn't particularly risky: Unlawful behavior that ~(virtually) no one else is doing~, that's when you're at risk. And, by definition, very few of us break laws in ways that stray from the norms. We all speed; the flow of traffic on the freeway is frequently above the posted speed limit. We get away with it. It's that one maniac who's doing 90 who's going to get pulled over.

Meanwhile, there are far more scenarios where we think our privacy protects us when it doesn't actually matter at all. The scenarios where a lack of privacy genuinely makes us vulnerable, they are the exception. Most of the time, even though it doesn't ~feel~ like it, we put ourselves at no additional risk by disclosing information about ourselves. The fact that information-sharing has already enjoyed the level of success that it has is proof of this. We grouse about losing our privacy, and fear the consequences, but very few of us are actually being hurt by it. If that weren't true, the policies would change. Maybe not immediately, especially in the US where the Republican Party is presently insane, but, eventually, they would change, and the agitation for change would already be extremely strong. Instead, most agitation is toward the direction of even more information-sharing, even more interconnectedness and convenience.

Many of my friends cite fear of losing out in the job market as a key reason for their decision to be private about their personal lives. The fact of the matter is that companies don't have the power to pass over us for the indiscretions in our past. They are currently in a privileged and unsustainable position, in that they can google the people who share a lot about themselves and find out those people's dirty laundry, and then pass those people over as job applicants in favor of people who have no dirty laundry available on the Internet. But this won't last. The younger the demographic, the more information-sharing people do. It's just the natural thing to do when you grow up with the Internet. Eventually companies are going to discover that everyone has dirty laundry, and that it actually doesn't friggin' matter if an applicant has strong political views or a weird fetish or autism or has occasionally faked sick to get out of work. Why? Because ~everyone~ has dirty laundry. None of us is alone in being weird in some way or another, or in being near some kind of extreme, on some particular axis. All that really matters is the candidate's ability to do the job they're applying for.

Someone else in the YouTube comments mentioned that the very notion of having the expectation of privacy is a historical aberration, and it's true. In the past, and in many small towns even today, your neighbors would know all about you. Any attempt to keep secrets would cause trouble on grounds of being considered a threat to the group. That's how society works. Cities can grant the illusion of anonymity, but even those of you in the biggest cities still have your actual circles of people that you interact with. You divulge your personal information to these people. You give up your privacy. And if things work out badly with any of those circles, you just cultivate new circles. That's the magic of cities: There are always more circles to be had, if things don't work out with the ones you've got. Privacy actually has nothing to do with it. Sheer numbers is what it's all about.

The last part in all of this is the response to those who go "Well what about me? I'm special. I'm a free-thinking, independent person. I'm not a pet. I make my own decisions. I want my privacy!" To them I say: No one's saying you can't have privacy. Just be discreet about the details you post on the Internet, and don't worry if some damn security camera at the grocery store records your face. It doesn't matter. You're not that important. Meanwhile, no one's saying you're not allowed to think for yourself and make your own decisions. We all do that. Our animal nature is only part of the human condition. We're also independent agents--and some of thus value this more than others. No one's stopping you from figuring out for yourself where to go for dinner instead of asking your phone to do it for you. No one's stopping you from behaving differently from the norm. Just be civic-minded and be aware of the law, and don't be a wannabe terrorist, and you'll be fine. There always have been and always will be highly independent people on the fringes of the social bell curve. Be one of those people, if that's who you are. The disappearance of privacy as we know it poses no threat to you--and, ironically, it's people like the off-the-gridders and the preppers and the gun-toters and the survivalists, who react so badly to the perceived threat of state and corporate intrusion into their lives, that end up behaving like predictable animals who don't think for themselves.

Anyhow, believe it or not this is the short version of my take on privacy. Great video, and a great conversation piece, even though as Tom himself says the future he envisioned isn't going to be the one that actually happens. (Also, as a nitpick: Twitter is not the most recent revolutionary advance in tech. Crowd-sourcing/funding/planning is.)

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US Military Will Accept Females in All Roles
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This is a truly historic day, a wonderful day. For the first time there will be full equality of access in the military regardless of sex. And while the United States isn’t the first nation to take this step, it’s certainly the most far-reaching and consequential nation to do so.

There’s so much I want to say. I’ve agitated for this for years. I’ll sum up my emotions by just saying how proud I am of those responsible for making this possible over the course of the past several years, from the people at the top all the way down to the female servicemembers who were willing to put their blood and sweat on the line to pursue their passions and pave the way for others to do the same.

Besides emotion, there are a number of other things that I do need to address:

Worthiness and Willingness

Female servicemembers have already shown the willingness and ability to pass the toughest challenges the military has to offer. (See links below.) This is crucial. It means the facts themselves refute one of the most common arguments against female inclusion into all combat roles.

Equality of Application

There will be no separate physical standards for female applicants for any given position. This too is a common argument against female inclusion, and it has been completely circumvented with the new policy.

It should also be noted that it is not intrinsically a diminution of military efficacy if the standards, practices, and policies of the military gradually evolve to reflect the ideal servicemember rather than the ideal male servicemember. Comparing females against male standards begs the question that male-optimized standards are inherently superior. I expect this will prove to be incorrect from time to time.

The Controversy Is Cultural, Not Physical

Females have turned out to be capable professionals in other physically demanding roles, including firefighters and fishing boat laborers—two of the more physically challenging roles in the world. There are female loggers, female miners. There are female stunt performers who do things that would make a lesser person puke. There are female SWAT team members. There are female astronauts and fighter jet pilots. At every one of these juncture to inclusion, it was said by sexists and skeptics that females were physically or psychologically incapable of making the cut, and, every time, the facts proved otherwise.

Female servicemembers will acquit themselves competently in all the roles of front-line combat in the military as well. The military is not going to collapse or become second-class. Those same arguments have already been made and debunked of police departments, fire departments, and even the military itself in its previous stages of including female participation.

Modern military effectiveness does not depend on the brute strength of the soldier but on the skillfulness, preparedness, and discipline of the unit. Females are modestly physically weaker than males on averages, yes, but in this statistical deficit they do not make intrinsically inferior servicemembers to the organization as a whole. Perhaps the absolute best of the best will continue to be male for the foreseeable future, if only because they’re that extra bit stronger on top of being otherwise maxed out in every other category of excellence, but females as a whole will spread out across the entire spectrum of value. There will be good female troops, great ones, average ones, poor ones, excellent ones, incompetent ones…just as with the males.

And yes, there will be fewer females serving in these combat roles, for many different reasons, but that is meaningless when it comes to determining whether they should have access to the front lines of combat and the most demanding physical roles. If one female servicemember anywhere is both qualified to take a role and wants to take it, she should have the right to apply. As it is there are thousands of females who want to take a crack at it—right now—and now they’re going to have their rightful chance.

All of the noise that detractors make on female inclusion rests on some version of the premise that females are not fit to serve—that either females don’t want to serve or they can’t handle it—and that belief is bunk. It is bullshit. It is ready to fade into history.

Equality of Opportunity

Equality of access is not the same as equality of opportunity, which females also deserve. Access ends on paper. When it comes to the actual opportunity for females to fill these roles and succeed in them, there are still countless institutional, cultural, and individual obstacles to be surmounted. Too many to list here, both in the civilian word and in the military itself.

And because of these obstacles and because of the newness of female inclusion, females participate at a much lower rate, and the small ratio of females in any environment, including the military, is a recipe for sexual harassment and sexism in general—a self-reinforcing system of obstacles.

The real challenge facing females in combat is not their effectiveness on the battlefield. It is the treatment they will receive by their fellow servicemembers—their superiors, their peers, and their subordinates.

The Broader Significance

This isn’t just about female participation in our national defense. That’s only half the story. This is about sexual equality. It’s about who we are as a culture, and what our perceptions of sex and gender are.

The military, as traditionally conceived, is the ultimate expression of masculinity. And militaries decide conflicts and determine the fate of nations. State-sanctioned, organized physical force. In many people’s minds, war is the male’s domain, and, because it is the male’s domain, it is proof of male superiority, or at least proof of fundamental irreconcilability between the sexes.

For females to enter the citadel of masculinity and serve in all the front-line roles of combat, and succeed…it challenges many people’s perceptions of what it means to be a male, and to be a female. It challenges notions of value and self-worth. It is a world-shaking thing, to some. To some people a scary thing, and to others a preposterous thing, and therein lies so much of the derision and harassment and sabotage that people place in females’ way.

Years down the road, when we’ve fought wars with females in the front line, when female special operations forces have helped cut off the head of the Osama bin Laden of the day, when female gunners have carried the heaviest gear and walked the longest marches and fought in hand-to-hand combat together with their compatriots against a common enemy…

Well, let’s not be naïve. There will still be sexism, and there will still be people who deny reality and claim that females can’t do the job. But, otherwise, in that not-so-distant future, there’s going to be a society where a female—a “woman”—can do everything that a male can do. Everything. There will be no more exceptions, no more last frontiers of masculine superiority. And I think, and I hope, that this will touch many people, and draw the sexes together a little bit more, and shake away some of people’s misguided notions about self-worth at the expense of the “other” sex.

Looking Ahead

There’s a lot more to come. Compulsory female registration for the Selective Service comes to mind. Our society needs to acknowledge that, because females can serve, therefore we have to accept the possibility that the day may come where they must serve.

And that’s really just one small detail. We need to do a lot of work in the civilian world to raise more females who will be interested in joining the military, and not just the military but front-line combat roles. Ideally there would be a parity, a fifty-fifty ratio (or close to it), and while I don’t think we’ll see that in our lifetimes I do think we can take steps in that direction and I also think that it is ultimately achievable—and not through quotas or anything like that. If there’s any good in joining the military at all—and there is, or certainly there can be—then it should be desirable to people regardless of sex. I feel that way about all things, all professions.

As our civilization grows farther away from its animal past, and the ideal of sexual equality becomes that little bit less hard to see, we are creating a world where females have opportunities never before extended to them. And it’s a fragile world; it’s a world that can be pulled back, in parts, into an older and more barbaric time by any number of disasters and any number of bad decisions by societies. Females are always the first to suffer these social regressions, and they always suffer the hardest. They have the most to lose. I think this is something we should teach them, when they’re young.

I am something of an admirer of the American military. As far as “institutional death forces” go, it’s hard to think of a nation whose military has behaved more ethically in the most difficult of circumstances. (Granted, it’s a low bar, but nonetheless we must acknowledge it when a military attempts to restrain its troops’ basest impulses and enjoys any significant amount of success at it.) Yes, our military is bloated and enormous, but I think that some amount of military power always has to exist in the world, and that if America weren’t soaking up so much of that requirement then other nations would have it instead, and I don’t think that world would be more peaceful or prosperous than this world is today. It’s easy to say we should cut spending because we’re at peace, but, much like a foiled terrorist plot, it’s hard to see the wars that power prevents. And while I do think we should be spending less than we are, and should be more judicious with how we spend our military dollars, I nonetheless support a large military—large enough that out of context it may seem unreasonably so.

That should appeal to people regardless of sex. The military isn’t just a dinosaur. It stabilizes the world (notwithstanding the disastrous political machinations of certain former presidents). It maintains a peace that I don’t think would exist otherwise. It’s impressive that so much of the world, geographically and per capita, is at peace. I think that ought to be worth a female enlistment or two.



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