Archive for November, 2013


7 Reasons Why It’s Easier for Humans to Believe in God Than Evolution

What science can tell us about our not-so-scientific minds.

—By 

The ascent of man? José-manuel Benitos/Wikimedia Commons. Photoillustration by Matt Connolly.

Late last week, the Texas Board of Education failed to approve a leading high school biology textbook—whose authors include the Roman Catholic biologist Kenneth Miller of Brown University—because of its treatment of evolution. According to The New York Times, critiques from a textbook reviewer identified as a “Darwin Skeptic” were a principal cause.

Yet even as creationists keep trying to undermine modern science, modern science is beginning to explain creationism scientifically. And it looks like evolution—the scientifically uncontested explanation for the diversity and interrelatedness of life on Earth, emphatically including human life—will be a major part of the story. Our brains are a stunning product of evolution; and yet ironically, they may naturally pre-dispose us against its acceptance.

1871 satirical image depicting Charles Darwin as an ape.

1871 satirical image depicting Charles Darwin as an ape. The Hornet/Wikimedia Commons

“I don’t think there’s any question that a variety of our mental dispositions are ones that discourage us from taking evolutionary theory as seriously as it should be taken,” explains Robert N. McCauley, director of the Center for Mind, Brain, and Culture at Emory University and author of the book Why Religion is Natural and Science is Not.

So what can science tell us about our not-so-scientific minds? Here’s a list of cognitive traits, thinking styles, and psychological factors identified in recent research that seem to thwart evolution acceptance:

Biological Essentialism. First, we seem to have a deep tendency to think about biology in a way that is “essentialist”—in other words, assuming that each separate kind of animal species has a fundamental, unique nature that unites all members of that species, and that is inviolate. Fish have gills, birds have wings, fish make more fish, birds make more birds, and that’s how it all works. Essentialist thinking has been demonstrated in young children. “Little kids as young as my 2 and a half year old granddaughter are quite clear that puppies don’t have ponies for mommies and daddies,” explains McCauley.

If essentialism is a default style of thinking, as much research suggests, then that puts evolution at a major disadvantage. Charles Darwin and his many scientific disciples have shown that essentialism is just plain wrong: Given enough time, biological kinds are not fixed but actually change. Species are connected through intermediate types to other species—and all are ultimately related to one another.

Teleological Thinking. Essentialism is just one basic cognitive trait, observed in young children, that seems to hinder evolutionary thinking. Another is “teleology,” or the tendency to ascribe purposes to things and objects so as to assume they exist to serve some goal.

Recent research suggests that 4 and 5 year old children are highly teleological in their thinking, tending to opine, for instance, that clouds are “for raining” and that the purpose of lions is “to go in the zoo.” The same tendency has been observed in 7 and 8 year olds who, when asked why “prehistoric rocks are pointy,” offered answers like “so that animals could scratch on them when they got itchy” and “so that animals wouldn’t sit on them and smash them.”

Title page of the Reverend William Paley's 1802 work Natural Theology, which famously propounded an argument for God's existence based on the appearance of design in nature.

Title page of the Reverend William Paley’s 1802 work Natural Theology, which famously propounded an argument for God’s existence based on the appearance of design in nature. Wikimedia Commons

Why do children think like this? One studyspeculates that this teleological disposition may be a “side [effect] of a socially intelligent mind that is naturally inclined to privilege intentional explanation.” In other words, our brains developed for thinking about what people are thinking, and people have intentions and goals. If that’s right, the playing field may be naturally tilted toward anti-evolutionist doctrines like “intelligent design,” which postulates an intelligent agent (God) as the cause of the diversity of life on Earth, and seeks  to uncover evidence of purposeful design in biological organisms.

Overactive Agency Detection. But how do you know the designer is “God”? That too may be the result of a default brain setting.

Another trait, closely related to teleological thinking, is our tendency to treat any number of inanimate objects as if they have minds and intentions. Examples of faulty agency detection, explains University of British Columbia origins of religion scholar Ara Norenzayan, range from seeing “faces in the clouds” to “getting really angry at your computer when it starts to malfunction.” People engage in such “anthropomorphizing” all the time; it seems to come naturally. And it’s a short step to religion: “When people anthropomorphize gods, they are inferring mental states,” says Norenzayan.

There has been much speculation about the evolutionary origin of our anthropomorphizing tendency. One idea is that our brains developed to rapidly assume that objects in the world are alive and may pose a threat, simply because while wrongly mistaking a rustle of leaves for a bear won’t get you killed, failing to detect a bear early (when the leaves rustle) most certainly will. “Supernatural agents are readily conjured up because natural selection has trip-wired cognitive schema for agency detection in the face of uncertainty,” write Norenzayan and fellow origin of religion scholar Scott Atran.

Illustration by Rene Descartes of the pineal gland, which he believed to be the location of the soul within the brain.

Illustration by Rene Descartes of the pineal gland, which he believed to be the location of the soul within the brain. Wikimedia Commons

Dualism. Yet another apparent feature of our cognitive architecture is the tendency to think that minds (or the “self” and the “soul”) are somehow separate from brains. Once again, this inclination has been found in young children, suggesting that it emerges early in human development. “Preschool children will claim that the brain is responsible for some aspects of mental life, typically those involving deliberative mental work, such as solving math problems,” write Yale psychologistsPaul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg. “But preschoolers will also claim that the brain is not involved in a host of other activities, such as pretending to be a kangaroo, loving one’s brother, or brushing one’s teeth.”

Dualistic thinking is closely related to belief in phenomena like spirits and ghosts. But in a recent study, it was also the cognitive factor most strongly associated with believing in God. As for evolutionary science? Dualism is pretty clearly implicated in resistance to the idea that human beings could have developed from purely natural processes—for if they did, how could there ever be a soul or self beyond the body, to say nothing of an afterlife?

Inability to Comprehend Vast Time Scales. According to Norenzayan, there’s one more basic cognitive factor that prevents us from easily understanding evolution. Evolution occurred due to the accumulation of many small changes over vast time periods—which means that it is unlike anything we’ve experienced. So even thinking about it isn’t very easy. “The only way you can appreciate the process of evolution is in an abstract way,” says Norenzayan. “Over millions of years, small changes accumulate, but it’s not intuitive. There’s nothing in our brain that says that’s true. We have to override our incredulity.”

Group Morality and Tribalism. All of these cognitive factors seem to make evolution hard to grasp, even as they render religion (or creationist ideas) simpler and more natural to us. But beyond these cognitive factors, there are also emotional reasons why a lot of people don’t want to believe in evolution. When we see resistance to its teaching, after all, it is usually because a religious community fears that this body of science will undermine a belief system—in the US, usually fundamentalist Christianity—deemed to serve as the foundation for shared values and understanding. In other words, evolution is resisted because it is perceived as a threat to the group.

So how appropriate that one current scientific theory about religion is that it exists (and, maybe, that it evolved) to bind groups together and keep them cohesive. In his recent bookThe Righteous Mind, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues that religions provide a shared set of beliefs and practices that, in effect, serve as social glue. “Gods and religions,” writes Haidt, “are group-level adaptations for producing cohesiveness and trust.” The upside is unity; the downside, Haidt continues, is “groupishness, tribalism, and nationalism.” Ideas and beliefs that threaten the group or the beliefs that hold it together—ideas like evolution—are bound to fare badly in this context.

Everett Collection/Shutterstock

Fear and the Need for Certainty. Finally, there appears to be something about fear and doubt that impels religiosity and dispels acceptance of evolution. “People seem to take more comfort from a stance that says, someone designed the world with good intentions, instead of that the world is just an intention-less, random place,” says Norenzayan. “This is especially true when we feel a sense of threat, or a feeling of not being in control.”

Indeed, in one amazing study, New Zealanders who had just suffered through a severe earthquake showed stronger religiosity, but only if they had been directly affected by the quake. Other research suggests that making people think about death increases their religiosity and also decreases evolution acceptance. It’s not just death: It’s also randomness, disorder. In one telling study, research participants who were asked to think of a situation in which they had lacked control and then to “provide three reasons supporting the notion that the future is (un-) controllable,” showed a marked decline in their acceptance of evolution, opting instead for an intelligent design-style explanation. (Another study found that anti-evolutionists displayed higher fear sensitivity and a trait called the “need for cognitive closure,” which describes a psychological need to find an answer that can resolve uncertainty and dispel doubt.)

Such is the research, and it’s important to point out a few caveats. First, this doesn’t mean science and religion are fundamentally incompatible. The conflict may run very deep indeed, but nevertheless, some individuals can and do find a way to retain their religious beliefs and also accept evolution—including the aforementioned biology textbook author Kenneth Miller of Brown University, a Catholic.

Second, while there are many reasons to think that the traits above comprise a core part of who we are, it doesn’t automatically follow that religion is the direct result of evolution by natural selection. It is also possible that religion arises as a byproduct of more basic traits that were, in turn, selected for because they conferred greater fitness (such as agency detection). This “byproduct” view is defended by Steven Pinker here.

In any event, the evidence is clear that both our cognitive architecture, and also our emotional dispositions, make it difficult or unnatural for many people to accept evolution. “Natural selection is like quantum physics…we might intellectually grasp it, with considerable effort, but it will never feel right to us,” writes the Yale psychologist Paul Bloom. Often, people express surprise that in an age so suffused with science, science causes so much angst and resistance.

Perhaps more surprising would be if it didn’t.

More: 7 Reasons Why It’s Easier for Humans to Believe in God Than Evolution


No, Obama Is Not Closing The Vatican Embassy

Preview Image
BY JUDD LEGUM

shutterstock_164253056

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

The internet is ablaze with some fairly shocking news: Obama is closing the Vatican embassy! “Obama’s call to close Vatican embassy is ‘slap in the face’ to Roman Catholics,” proclaims the Washington Times, in an article that has attracted more than 2700 comments and was prominently featured on the Drudge Report. “OBAMA ‘INSULTS’ CATHOLICS IN VATICAN-EMBASSY SHUTDOWN,” reports WND. The Daily Caller piles on with “Catholics furious over Obama plan to close Vatican embassy site.” Breitbart reports that “the Obama administration is trying to diminish and discredit the Vatican’s role in the world because it’s pro-life, pro-family, and pro-religious freedom values is at odds with the Regime’s pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage stance.”

So you might be surprised to learn that, in fact, Obama is not closing the embassy — or diminishing U.S. diplomatic relations with the Holy See in any way.

There are no embassies for any country in Vatican City itself — there is simply no room. All countries locate their embassies in the city of Rome. The United States has decided to move its embassy from its current location — an unremarkable converted residence — to the same compound as the U.S. Embassy to Italy. It will have it’s own separate building and a separate entrance on a different street. The new building is actually a tenth of a mile closer to the Vatican than the old one. There will be no reduction in staff or activities.

This hasn’t stopped 5 former U.S. envoys to the Vatican — including James Nicholson, the former chair of the Republican National Committee — from protesting. Nicholson characterized the move as “a massive downgrade.” Raymond Flynn, the first ambassador under Clinton, told the National Catholic Review that “It’s not just those who bomb churches and kill Catholics in the Middle East who are our antagonists, but it’s also those who restrict our religious freedoms and want to close down our embassy to the Holy See.” Flynn “described the move as part of broader secular hostility to religious groups.”

The plans for the move actually started under President Bush, whose administration purchased the buildings adjacent to the U.S. Embassy to Italy.

The State Department says the move, which will actually occur in 2015, will save $1.4 million per year and allow for greater security.

Preview Image


Right-Wing Evangelicals Claim ‘Good Christians’ Can’t Get PTSD

On a Veteran’s Day broadcast, two of America’s most influential televangelists claimed that good Christians can’t get PTSD.

Kenneth Copeland, who is famous for pitching a fit [3] when a senator tried to investigate his nonprofits and for inspiring [4] a measles outbreak, said, “Any of you suffering from PTSD right now, you listen to me. You get rid of that right now. You don’t take drugs to get rid of it, it doesn’t take psychology; that promise right there [in the Bible] will get rid of it.”

Copeland’s guest, conservative revisionist historian David Barton, agreed, adding, “We used to, in the pulpit, understand the difference between a just war and an unjust war. And there’s a biblical difference, and when you do it God’s way, not only are you guiltless for having done that, you’re esteemed.”

Barton believes that anybody who behaves “biblically” during war can’t get PTSD. Unfortunately, there is a logical flip side to this statement: someone who has PTSD must have not been biblical in his actions, and thus he is ultimately responsible for his own PTSD.

Understandably, a lot of people are upset by Barton and Copeland’s assertion. Even the staunchly conservative Gospel Coalition [5] (TGC) and America’s largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention [6] (SBC), made no bones about their distaste for Copeland and Barton, the former calling them “profoundly stupid,” the latter “callow and doltish.”

That’s an aggressive attack, especially given that a significant number of Christians, including leaders at SBC and TGC, share Barton and Copeland’s belief that mental illness can be cured by faith. A September survey [7] by LifeWay showed that fully 35 percent of Christians and 48 percent of self-identified evangelicals believe prayer alone can heal serious mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, major depression and bipolar disorder.

The idea that major illnesses can be cured by prayer feeds the idea that mental illness is the fault of the ill. A 2008 survey conducted by Baylor psychology professor Matthew Stanford showed that 36 percent of mentally ill church attendees (and former church attendees) were told their mental illness was a product of their own sin, while 34 percent were told their illness was caused by a demon. Forty-one percent were told they did not really have a mental illness, and 28 percent were instructed to stop taking psychiatric medication.

These numbers reveal an ingrained distrust of mental illness and the mentally ill. This distrust has a dramatic and negative impact on people’s lives, alienating them from their peers and causing them to question the validity of their own experience, a process that often causes Christians to leave their churches. One of the participants in Matthew Stanford’s study described his experience:

“I felt shunned at the church. A lot of the other members acted as though they didn’t want to get close to me. A lot of people were afraid of me. The pastor didn’t want anything to do with me. Therefore, I no longer attend any church at all. I watch church on TV. I am already paranoid; I didn’t need anyone keeping their distance from me. It makes me depressed to go to a regular church in person because of how I am treated.”

Stanford, a self-described, “very conservative, evangelical Christian” is quite critical of how his fellow Christians handle the issues surrounding mental illness, claiming that the mentally ill are “modern-day lepers”: treated as “unclean and unrighteous” and “cast out” from their communities.

Amy Simpson, another popular Christian voice who critiques mental health stigma in the church, echoes these sentiments. She wrote in her book, Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission, “The church allows people to suffer because we don’t understand what they need and how to help them. We have taken our cue from the world around us and ignored, marginalized and laughed at the mentally ill or simply sent them to the professionals and washed our hands of them.”

This widespread stigma has its genesis in an attempt to create a system called “Nouthetic” or “biblical” counseling, a system that was supposed to fix the damage psychiatry caused to Christianity. Biblical counseling had its genesis in the anti-psychiatry movements of the ’50s and ’60s, which united leftist intellectuals like Thomas Szasz with conservative Christians and fringe groups like Scientologists. The founder of biblical counseling was author Jay E. Adams, whom Stanford called the “Moses of the biblical counseling movement.”

Adams’ quintessential work, the 1970 Competent to Counsel, proposes that mental illness occurs not because one is “sick” but because one is “sinful.” Psychiatry, in attempting to treat a disease, is thus ineffective. This idea led Adams to create a method that addressed the sinful roots of mental illness and was based on scripture.

This method was Nouthetic counseling, which comes from the Greeknoutheteo, meaning “to admonish.” Adams believes in solving people’s mental health problems by “confronting” them over their lack of faith. He posits that the best way to deal with sin is to meet it head-on, bible in hand.

Adams’ methods were a product of their time. A negative attitude toward the mentally ill pervaded America in the ‘70s and ‘80s, embodied by the Reagan revolution, which stigmatized America’s homeless and destitute and blamed the downtrodden for their own plight. Meanwhile, Christians had come to distrust the secular world, which they believed was responsible for dissolving marriages, encouraging homosexuality and undermining the Christian faith. They wanted to set up their own institutions that would be separate from the secular world, and thus needed their own psychiatry. In this milieu, Jay Adams’ ideas found the perfect ground to grow in.

The philosophy introduced by Adams in Competent to Counsel birthed a movement, and Nouthetic counseling grew to become a discipline. Although Adams’ specific brand of Nouthetic counseling has gone out of style, biblical counseling, which builds on his ideas, is in.

Nowhere is biblical counseling more in vogue than the Southern Baptist Convention, which adopted a resolution on mental health last August that supported “research and treatment of mental health concerns when undertaken in a manner consistent with a biblical worldview.”

In fact, it was the boss of the SBC spokesman who called Barton and Copeland “callow and doltish,” Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president Russell Moore, who brought counseling into the SBC. In 2005, as the dean of theology at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Moore unmade the school’s trademark “Pastoral Counseling” program, which integrated psychology with theology, and replaced it with an Adams-inspired biblical counseling program.

While the SBC doesn’t agree with Adams on every issue, it hasn’t tried to hide his influence in its current curriculum. The resources page for SBTS’s Biblical Counseling department contains nearly 30 of Adams’ works, alongside works of conservative Calvinists like Sovereign Grace Ministries’s disgraced founder CJ Mahaney and megachurch pastor John MacArthur.

If the resources page is any indication, most of the people SBC considers adept biblical counselors also happen to be staunch theological conservatives. This is perhaps because anti-psychology tends to fit in with the conservative mindest: Matthew Stanford mentioned that in his personal experience, a significant number of pastors distrust psychology because they are angry the APA stopped calling homosexuality a mental disorder.

Stanford said, “They bring up homosexuality, and say ‘why did the APA take it out of the diagnostic manual?’ There’s this idea that psychology is legitimatizing sin, or saying it’s okay to sin.”

Perhaps this is what Moore was talking about when he claimed that, in a speech on SBTS’s new biblical counseling program, “There’s an ideology driving the research” of psychologists, or when he claimed that pastoral counseling failed “because it is so naive about the presuppositions behind secular psychologies.” Even if he isn’tspecifically talking about homosexuality, Moore thinks that psychology has inherent anti-Christian undertones.

This might hint at why Copeland and Barton felt the need to speak out against PTSD treatment on TV in the first place, and why the contemporary church is so prone to stigmatizing the mentally ill: seeking treatment for clinical depression, even being clinically depressed in the first place, can be construed as being anti-Christian. It can indicate that somebody has embraced the “psychiatric mindset” instead of trusting God with their mental illness. In this world, the mentally ill are not just stigmatized, they are suspected sinners.

See more stories tagged with:



400 Vaginas in a row. Well, hell, why not? (Warning, explicit photography; work warning.)

Via:-
http://wp.me/p1LY0z-10P

Preview Image

WELL, THIS IS WHAT I THINK

Some time ago – and for a second time soon, I trust – I visited the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart.

A short boat ride (or bus) from Constitution Dock in Hobart stands the amazing "MONA". Just go. Trust me.

Mrs Wellthisiswhatithink and I raved about it: to each other, and to anyone who would listen. It was an utterly mesmerising and fascinating experience, combining everything from Egyptian mummies and Roman coins to the most modern video and physical installations and everything in between.

MONA 2

Sidney Nolan’s “Snake”, one of the feature pieces of Hobart’s new Museum of Old and New Art, with its own purpose-built gallery – the first time the work has ever been seen in its entirety.

It was confronting, funny, exciting, brilliantly staged, and above all, free. Frankly, it’s worth the cost of a flight to Hobart and back without question, regardless of all the other wonderful things to do in that most charming of small cities.

I believe it will come to be considered one of the most remarkable art spaces in the world, made more remarkable by the fact that the entire effort is the private gift of one somewhat eccentric self-made millionaire called David Walsh, God bless his cotton socks.

Anyhow, one of the most unusual and commented upon works in the gallery is a version of “The Great Wall of Vagina” by British artist Jamie McCartney.

This plaster cast wall consists of panels made up of, in total, some 400 vaginas, in plain, unadorned white, starkly displayed all along one wall in the heart of the museum. As the artist explained, the artwork was created from “over the course of 5 years, the vaginas (well the vulva area in fact) of hundreds of volunteers. It is an exploration of women’s relationships with their genitals.”

Now, Dear Reader, should you be inclined to be cynical and remark that a giant series of plaster casts of vaginas is (a) not art (b) sensationalism for sensationalism’s sake (c) a con, or (d) puerile and disgusting, well, frankly, I would dispute you.

“What is art?”, is, of course, an endless and usually ultimately sterile discussion anyway, but I will say that not only is the work striking and somehow – surprisingly – weirdly beautiful, and not in the least erotic, (well, to my eyes, anyway), but it also clearly engenders the debate on women’s usually-hidden parts that the artist was aiming for.

What I think is more interesting is whether women actually need to consider their “relationship with their genitals”. And based on recent studies, I really rather think they do.

"It's lovely dear, honestly it is." "You really mean that?" "I do, please don't worry." "Righy-ho, then."

“It’s lovely dear, honestly it is.” “You really mean that?” “I do, please don’t worry.” “Righty-ho, then.”

After all, it’s always been easy for men to consider their genitalia and their “normality” or otherwise.

Classical art is chock-full of gravitationally-enhanced examples of the penis and its attendant testicles. Not for nothing do women gaze at Michaelangelo’s David with relatively unabashed admiration.

But as we can see in this charming little vignette of family life, women’s genitalia has long been considered something to be somewhat prudishly kept from public view. The female pudenda is either lost behind some casually draped snatch of material or, even worse, simply ignored, replaced with a suitably sterile smooth surfacesans any worrysome dangly bits. It appears that vaginas are somehow, dirtily, ashamedly … well, just plain rude.

Well, this is what I think. For a start, this is a distinction I have simply never understood, this difference in the public acceptability between the male body and the female.

A man can walk around topless for days and no one will comment (unless their top looks like mine, in which case they will probably get asked to put it away) but if a woman lets so much as a glimpse of nipple hit the light then all hell breaks loose. (Janet Jackson, anyone?) Newspaper columnists fulminate darkly about whether or not women should be allowed to breast feed in public. And the exterior of the female sex organ is apparently a step too far for nearly everyone.

Clearly we have a long way to go before womens’ naughty bits are ranked at the same level as mens’. This is obviously because women are inherently the deceiving, wanton, lustful sex, luring poor helpless out-of-control men from their allotted paths of bonking-free righteousness. It’s a feminist issue, of course, and it’s a nonsense, but for today’s purposes I digress, so I will move on.

Hidden deep in the cavernous interior of MON A are 400 vaginas. ooo-er missus, will the honoured burghers of sedate Hobart ever survive the shock?

Hidden deep in the cavernous interior of MONA are 400 plaster vaginas in all their glory. Ooo-er missus, will the honourble burghers of sedate Hobart ever survive the shock?

The real reason women need to know what vaginas look like – and lots of vaginas, preferably – is because psychologists tell us that in fact many women have only a passing idea of what their own genitalia looks like.

This is as opposed to men, of course, who from the age of about two, as any parent of a male child can confirm, start obsessively studying their schlong, regardless, usually, of where they are and who might watching. Little girls, famously and alternatively, are taught from an early age to keep their knees together, and in some Roman Catholic convents in my youth, even forbidden to wear shiny or patent leather shoes, lest they unexpectedly catch sight of a reflection of their own vagina and become … well, I dunno what, exactly. Raging harlots destined to end up marked with a red “A for adulteress” on their shirt or perhaps preggers by sixteen to a village lad or somesuch. That wicked vagina, Lord knows what it could lead you into …

That’s why one of the very first exercises conducted in many psycho-sexual therapies for women having difficulties relaxing and enjoying their own bodies is to encourage them to get a hand mirror and have a good look at their nether regions, becoming familiar with their folds, wrinkles, innies and outies, clitoris and surrounding tissue et al. Many women apparently find it a liberating and fulfilling experience, and good on them. Many of the volunteer models for McCartney’s work also found themselves feeling “empowered” by the experience, whether they were an 18 year old or a 79 year old, and everyone in between.

But even that isn’t the best reason to go look at 400 vaginas in plaster cast. Surely the best reason is that the bloody beauty industry, which obviously isn’t making enough money out of making women feel insecure and in need of spending more money, is convincing more and more women to go under the surgeon’s knife to hack away at their inner labia (lips) so that they look “neater”. Or even, at the patient’s request, and without any medical reason for doing so, to remove their inner vaginal lips entirely.

This is the brave new world of labiaplasty. And it’s all the rage.

As Australian blog Mamamia commented: “And it’s why a ‘Barbie’ is no longer just the name of the beloved childhood doll whose hair you cut and whose bizarre shaped feet you squeezed into painful looking plastic shoes. If only.

‘The Barbie’ is so nicknamed because the procedure involves removing the inner lips of the vulva entirely so that only the outer lips are visible. In other words, it makes the genitalia of real life women look like Barbie’s.”

This horrifyingly unnecessary (and like any surgical procedure, risky) activity is a great way for surgeons to make a quick buck. Increasingly, young women pop into a clinic or hospital for a quick nip and tuck while on holiday in countries where the procedure is cheaper, such as Thailand. And labiaplasty is on the rise even though the invasive and irreversible procedure is only rarely carried out for medical reasons.

Note, some vaginas look like this, but not very men. Virtually all vaginas in porn magazines look like this. It's called Photoshop. And it's a lie.

Note, some vaginas look like this, but not very many. Virtually all vaginas in porn magazines look like this. It’s called Photoshop. And it’s a lie.

Mamamia again: “The real reason labiaplasty is going gangbusters is that women and girls have become more concerned about the asthetic appeal of their baby making parts. This has been prompted, at least in part, by the fact that our society’s view of what ‘normal’ even looks like has been vastly distorted by what photoshopped vaginas look like in porn.”

This all leaves many women feeling insecure about what their vaginas look like. In some reports, the women seeking surgery are as young as 12 years old, supported by their mothers. Words fail me.

Commonly cited insecurities amongst women of all ages seeking labiaplasty include being worried that their vulva is uneven or unsymmetrical, or thinking the inner labia is ‘too long’.

Kristen O’Regan, a writer for art and politics magazine Guernica, went undercover to find out more about the surgery.

Kristen made an appointment with a plastic surgeon and told her that she was interested in labiaplasty. Kirsten was told, “Oh yes, you’re not alone.”

Dr. Red Alinsod, who invented the ‘Barbie’ surgery explains the reasoning behind it, to Kristen.

This results in a “clamshell” aesthetic: a smooth genital area, the outer labia appearing “sealed” together with no labia minora protrusion. Dr Alinsod tells me he invented the Barbie in 2005. “I had been doing more conservative labiaplasties before then,” he says. “But I kept getting patients who wanted almost all of it off. They would come in and say, I want a ‘Barbie.’ So I developed a procedure that would give them this comfortable, athletic, petite look, safely.”

And how many people are getting surgeries like these?

The American College of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons recorded 2,140 vaginal rejuvenation surgeries in 2010. The International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons estimates that 5,200 procedures are performed annually.

According to the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, the vaginal rejuvenation industry was worth around $6.8million in 2009. This number is now undoubtedly much higher and does not take into account any procedures performed by gynecologists.

This is despite the fact that the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have issued statements advising against vaginal cosmetic procedures, because the safety of the surgery is questionable. And in Australia requests for labiaplasty – which is available on Medicare – have more than doubled over the past 10 years.

So as blog Mamamia asks, (and good on them for pursuing this issue consistently over a number of articles), “we’ve got patients who don’t really need to be patients and doctors agreeing to operate anyway. Why would that be?”

The answer of course is the great God money – and the fact that women are worrying completely unnecessarily about the shape of their vaginas.

great-wall-of-vagina-exhibition

That’s why Jamie McCartney’s work is valuable, (just one of the ten panels is shown here), why it deserves to be seen, and discussed, as widely as possible. And why MONA deserves praise for making room for it.

Because women need to know, whatever shape their vagina is, whatever its component parts look like, whether the lips stick in or out or simply hang about in the breeze, it is 99.99999% certain that their vagina is entirely normal.

And they really don’t need to worry.

There is not a man alive who could care less. Trust me.

You might also care to read: http://www.mamamia.com.au/social/let-it-all-hang-outie/

Preview Image


Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

Mia Freedman

It’s the Year of the Bunny and I have no idea what that really means except that a bunch of Playboy memorabilia is being auctioned by Christies. Among the items for sale are some original prints of Playboy bunny centrefolds complete with their original mark-up notes. These are the written instructions given by the art director about what must be digitally altered.

stretchlinesbutt 11 18 Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

The nearly invisible stretchmarks on Brande Roderick’s bum, are circled with the annotation, ‘Kill stretch lines.’

largepores 1118 Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

According to art directors, Shauna Sand’s pores were too large

Even though these proofs are from the 90s, before air-brushing became as extreme as it is today, there are still loads of alterations to ‘soften’ nipples, ‘remove stubble’ and ‘thin’ pubic hair as well as remove all stretch marks, blemishes and cellulite.

But what about the vaginas? Oh yes, they have to be air-brushed too. Although I’m not sure if this is enshrined in law like it is in Australia.

The debate around censorship and female body parts in magazines is one that I dealt with at Cosmo, you can read more on that here. In short, the laws in Australia legislate that you MUST air-brush vaginas to ‘heal it to a single crease’ so that no outer parts of the labia are shown, apparently it’s too rude to show what a REAL vagina looks like.

Earlier this year, journalists Kirsten Drysdaleand Ali Russell investigated the link between censorship and the increase in labiaplasty amongst young women and I wanted to share with you Kirsten’s blog post which was first published on Hungry Beast. It’s brilliant.

4403219366 0a0fd61c91 Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

.

If I handed you a pencil and paper and asked you to draw a vagina*, odds are you would come up with something like this:

Which is interesting, considering only a small minority of mature females actually have fannies that look like that. Little girls – yes, that’s pretty much what they all look like. But grown women? The vast majority have a least a peep of their ‘inner lips’ showing, even when standing upright with their legs together while sipping Earl Grey from gold-rimmed Royal Doulton and nibbling on homemade shortbread. For many women, it’s more than just a ‘peep’ – some have full-blown dangly blossoms on display. This has nothing to do with how much sex they’ve had, their state of arousal or whether they’ve borne children (although, so what if it was?). It’s simply the way they are built.

So from a purely statistical standpoint, there’s something fishy about the fact that none of the women in soft porn mags have ‘outies’. Go and see for yourself – flick through Picture, People or Penthouse and see if you can find a single instance of a punani that looks like this:

4402427219 e18942cf93 Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

.

You won’t.

And it’s not because they’ve chosen to only photograph women with ‘innies’. Many of those models actually have outies in real life, which have been ‘healed to a single crease’ (that’s the charming term used in the magazine industry) with the aid of image editing software. Think of it as ‘digital labiaplasty’.

It’s important to be clear that this is not something magazines do to suit the taste of their readership. Although mainstream pornography is hardly known (or appreciated) for a commitment to realism, in this particular case it’s a different issue. They’re not removing lady bits because people don’t want to see them, in the same way they smooth out cellulite or remove blemishes. They’re removing them because as far as the Classification Board is concerned, the labia minora are too rude for soft porn. It’s as though the censors think you could only possibly see it by spreading your legs or pulling your flaps apart.

If you still don’t believe me – go and pick up a copy of the ‘Unrestricted Category’ (M15+) Penthouse and compare it with Penthouse Max (the ‘Category 1’ R18+ version of the mag). I did this at the recommendation of the Classification Board, and found it a very enlightening little exercise. You’ll see exactly the same girls, from exactly the same photoshoot – and in some cases, exactly the same photographs – which will illustrate very clearly how they’ve been ‘tidied up’ in the softer version.

And they don’t even have to be very ‘messy’ to begin with. Take this example from the February editions of Penthouse and Penthouse Max:

4402449021 8c711f205c Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

February editions of Penthouse and Penthouse Max

Heaven forbid minors – or people in Queensland, where only the Unrestricted category is legal – see what a real vagina can look like!

There’s a clause, you see, in Australia’s Classification Guidelines that concerns how much nudity is acceptable for soft porn. It says:

“Realistic depictions may contain discreet genital detail but there should be no genital emphasis.”

Need I point out the irony in the fact that the way the Board applies this rule results in highly unrealistic depictions of nudity? Or that at a time of fierce debate over whether a person’s physical appearance (regardless of their actual age) should be a factor in deciding whether they could incite paedophilia, the Classification Board is preventing obviously mature pussies (the growth of labia minora happens during puberty) from being shown in soft porn?

And WTF does ‘discreet genital detail’ mean anyway? Well, according to the Board member we spoke to, it’s obvious:

Yeah well I guess genital detail’s that, we can have discreet genital detail in Unrestricted and I guess that means genital, well, detail is pretty straightforward, so discreet means little or no or very little detail or not prominent, so it’s sort of quite clear on what is not allowed, if that makes sense…

No, it doesn’t really.

Well, genital detail. It’s just the detail of the genitals. Like if it’s not specific in our guidelines we use the Macquarie Dictionary meaning for those terms. And genital detail is details of the genitals. So, I guess in Unrestricted you can have discreet genital detail, and whatever that means, you combine that also with a pose, and with everything.

Clear as mud. And highly subjective. One person’s ‘discreet’ could be another’s ‘explicit’. And detail? What exactly constitutes ‘detail’? Can you show pubes? Can you show the clitoris? Can you show the eye of the penis? Can you show the wrinkles of a scrotum? Or can you only show genitals in soft-focus giving a general idea of shape?

The Classification Board’s denial that they are effectively censoring a particular body type is a first class lesson in spin. Have a read of their response to our written enquiry seeking clarification on the rules about nudity in ‘Unrestricted Category’ publications and how they pertain to the depiction of labia minora for yourself:

In considering each classifiable element, including nudity, the Board makes classification decisions based on the impact of individual elements and their cumulative effect. Both the content and treatment of elements contribute to the impact. The Board takes into account the concepts underlying individual descriptions and depictions, and assesses factors such as emphasis, tone, frequency, context and the amount of visual or written detail in those descriptions and depictions.

This is the same excuse they’ve been using ever since these guidelines were redrafted in 1999. Because no one factor alone is used to classify an image or publication, they can claim that photos of women with protruding inner lips are refused for any one of those other reasons – ‘oh, we can’t speculate on individual cases, but it must have been something else that was a problem, there’s nothing in the guidelines that says labia minora aren’t permitted’.

Horse’s arse.

They don’t allow it, and they know it.

Screen shot 2010 11 23 at 5.26.34 PM Why Australian law demands all vaginas be digitally altered (NSFW)

By Kirsten Drysdale

*DISCLAIMER: Yes, I know I should be using the word vulva. The vagina, technically, is the ‘muscular tube leading from the external genitals to the cervix of the uterus’. The vulva refers to the external part (the ‘lips’, clitoris, etc) which is obviously what we are talking about here. However – the term vulva is not used in everyday language to describe the external female genitalia of humans, so for the sake of making the point clear I’ve opted to use the word vagina in this article as it is commonly (though not entirely accurately) used.

Kirsten Drysdale is a reporter/presenter for the ABC’s Hungry Beast and a researcher on The Gruen Transfer. She is currently travelling in Africa and working freelance.

WARNING: The video contains imagery that is not safe for work, including a labiaplasty surgery scene. Story by Kirsten Drysdale and co-produced by Ali Russell republished with full permission from the authors.

This should be mandatory reading and viewing in schools. Just like the Dove advertisement which deconstructed what goes on in the making of your typical beauty image, girls and women of all ages need to know that the vaginas (vulvas!) they see in men’s magazines do not exist.

Imagine for a moment if someone in the censor’s office had decided that testicles were too ‘explicit’. Imagine that to be sold over the counter at a normal newsagent, your naked pictures of men had to have their testicles digitally removed.

Yes, digital castration. Think there might be an outcry? Think the censorship laws might be overturned?

So what exactly is it about female genitals that are so ‘explicit’ and offensive that they must be removed?

People need to know about this. Please share it.

[top image]


Christian militia calls for Obama’s assassination on Facebook

According to a report issued by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) dated Nov. 22, the U.S. Secret Service is aware that Everest Wilhelmsen, leader of the Christian American Patriots Militia, is calling for Obama’s assassination.

The Christian American Patriots Militia sent out a post to the more than 1400 members of their Facebook groupdeclaring the militia now has the “authority” to assassinate President Barack Obama:

“We now have authority to shoot Obama, i.e., to kill him,” Wilhelmsen wrote on the group’s Facebook page.

The following is an excerpt from the disturbing post, dated Nov. 19:

“The authority to kill Obama comes from the 2nd Amendment of our Constitution: He is levying war on the United States and aiding and comforting our foreign enemies – the 2nd Amendment gives us the right and duty (authority) to engage an enemy of the United States that does so with the design to reduce us under absolute Despotism. I would be very surprised, if Obama does not leave Washington DC today (Nov. 19th) … never to return, if he is not dead within the month.”

The group’s Facebook page claims Obama’s “rogues and thugs are in fact supplanting our Constitution with a communist Oligarchy of corrupt political and legal elites” and encourages “Christian American patriots” to “rise and fight vigorously to protect our nation and our posterity.”

The SPLC reports a spokesman for the Secret Service would not say if the Facebook post had prompted an investigation: “That’s not something we openly discuss,” the Secret Service spokesman said.

Yet one would hope a group of Christian extremists threatening to assassinate the President of the United States would merit close investigation by the Secret Service. After all, calling for the assassination of the President of the United States is a crime.

For more political news, information and humor see Left Coast Lucy on Facebook. For more news, information and humor relevant to atheists, freethinkers, and secular humanists, see Progressive Secular Humanist Examiner on Facebook. On Twitter follow Progressive Examiner.


NSA spied on porn habits of Muslim ‘radicalisers’: report

Alistair Barr
Opt-in: Under the British model, people would have to elect to be able to view pornography.National Security Agency collected evidence of online sexual activity and visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of six people the agency considered ‘‘radicalisers,” according to a new report. Photo: Jim Rice

The National Security Agency collected evidence of online sexual activity and visits to pornographic websites as part of a proposed plan to harm the reputations of six people the agency considered “radicalisers,” the Huf-fington Post reported, citing documents released by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

The targets, all Muslims, are described in the document as examples of how “personal vulnerabilities” can be learned through electronic surveillance, and then exploited to undermine a target’s credibility, reputation and authority, the Post said in its report.

Among the vulnerabilities are “viewing sexually explicit material online” and “using sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls,” according to the NSA document, dated October 3, 2012.

None of the six individuals targeted by the NSA is accused in the document of being involved in terror plots. The agency believes they all currently reside outside the United States, Huffington Post reported.

Advertisement

However, the agency identifies one of them as a “US person,” which means he is either a US citizen or a permanent resident. A US person is entitled to greater legal protections against NSA surveillance than foreigners are, the report noted.

“The NSA scandal turns a dangerous corner,” Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU Speech, Privacy & Technology Project, wrote on Twitter after reading the report. “I bet Washington is full of nervous people.”

The latest revelations come as the European Union reviews a commercial data-sharing agreement with the US known as Safe Harbor. One EU executive threatened to freeze the pact, which covers commercial swaps between US and European companies, information exchanged to limit international terrorist funding, and the supply of information on transatlantic air passengers.

Huffington Post released an appendix that was attached to the document which lists the argument each surveillance target has made that the NSA says constitutes radicalism, as well the personal “vulnerabilities” the agency believes would leave the targets “open to credibility challenges” if exposed.

One target’s offending argument is that “Non-Muslims are a threat to Islam,” and a vulnerability listed against him is “online promiscuity.”

Another target, a foreign citizen the NSA describes as a “respected academic,” holds the offending view that “offensive jihad is justified,” and his vulnerabilities are listed as “online promiscuity” and “publishes articles without checking facts.”

The Huffington Post said it withheld the names and locations of the six people and noted that the allegations made by the NSA about their online activities in the document cannot be verified.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/world/nsa-spied-on-porn-habits-of-muslim-radicalisers-report-20131128-2yben.html#ixzz2m1zTyWMN