Legal dress code.

After a couple trial runs at city level, Belgium is about to pass a law forbidding the public display of full-head veil in public spaces, and Frogland is next in line — according to the local ruling clique.

What strikes me as fairly dumb in both cases is the pretense under which such laws are pushed through, namely under the guise of protecting women and their humane dignity from oppressive traditions, when it's plain as day the real target here is militant Islam, perceived by some in both countries as a mounting peril for the local culture, and that rubs me the wrong way, as a matter of principle.

See, I'm a sucker for consistency, in game design or in public affairs, and despite my personal understanding of religion as a mental disorder, I can live with the fact constitutionally secular countries such as France or Belgium recognize freedom of faith, and even their endorsing religions to an extent, as long as it's under a principle of equal treatment.

And that's where I see some issues with the dress code laws…
  • Not all Muslim women routinely wear a face-covering veil, but almost all women who wear those (and insist on not removing it in public places) happen to be Muslim. As such, these laws  effectively target and punish people on the basis of their religious affiliation, which both in Belgium and France should be impossible under their respective constitutions.

  • The second argument is public safety, as in wearing a face-covering dress allows one to conceal his or her identity in public and therefore could be instrumental in the perpetration of criminal offenses, encouraged by the increased odds of getting away with it. This may have held at least shallow water, if not for the fact campaigning for those laws clearly revolved around the Muslim veil as topical item, so it's a serious case of 'too little, too late'.
  • The third point, the one the French supporters of this bill plan to hammer on to get it passed into law is the preservation of 'humane dignity' on behalf of the poor, oppressed burqa-girls (although what you mostly — and seldom — see in France is simple niqāb), and this angle qualifies as Broken, For Real™.  This last one warrants a bit of elaborating…
The 'humanist' argument hinges on the assumption women don't choose to wear a niqāb and are — explicitely or implicitly — coerced in doing so by mysoginistic and machist traditions imposed upon them by men in their families and communities. Furthermore, it posits forbidding the cloth will liberate these women and allow them to connect in a 'normal' way with society and with their inner feminist self, thus sapping the foothold Islamic bigots have gained in our precious secular democracies.

Right. This is going to end well, I'm sure.

  • If niqāb-wearing women are indeed victimized by their community and can't stand up to the pressure they're under to dress as told, they aren't guilty of anything and shouldn't be punished for it. Good luck finding a way to establish causality and fine the husband because of the wife's dress code — although this would probably be more effective and could be good fun. Fail.

  • Regardless, helpless-by-definition women (in this context) won't grow a pair because the law says so, so they'll simply stay at home or pay the fines (less likely), with a direct result of alienating them further for lack of opportunity to connect with 'normal' society (which seems to be the purported end goal here). Re-fail.
  • Conversely, if they actually are making a choice in how they dress and express their religious beliefs, then they aren't victimized, and thus there's no legal basis to oppose their behavior, (insofar as it doesn't cause explicit harm to others) unless one purposefully intents on persecuting Muslims, which — as pointed earlier — should prove unconstitutional in either France or Belgium. Triple fail.

Either the 'human rights' proponents of the niqāb ban are right, and these women really are hapless victims, or they're wrong, and the burqa is a matter of personal choice and religious expression… in any case the proposed bill is a non-sequitur.

My 2 eurocents ? Handle religions for what they are: a mental condition ranging from a harmless quirk of personality to a serious psychosis, depending on the severity of the delusional state, and treat it as such. 
Get the patients professional help, don't feed their neurosis by encouraging it, and when necessary, take the usual steps to protect them and society — starting with screening out overcompensating midgets lacking a super-ego *before* they get into presidential office.

For a different take, here's what the hive-mind has to say on the issue. 

My euro-tip: for consistency's sake, if we must harass and fine women to protect them from humiliating themselves as a result of peer pressure, can we outlaw boob enhancements first ? At least there is evidence of bodily harm, there.



Food for thought.

It just occurred to me that in the matter of credit attribution as to where we — as a species — are today, too much is given to our fabled neo-cortex, while way too little recognition goes to our palate and digestive tract's prowess.

So here it is: our gut smarts are underrated.

To clarify, I'm not about to go all redneck on you, and argue the case that guts know better than brains as a rule (even though it may happen sometimes), and I'll leave truthiness to whom it belongs: comedians, teabaggers and choking-on-pretzels ex-POTUS. 
Instead, I'll go out on a limb, as per standard protocol here, and tentatively argue: our guts play an under-appreciated yet decisive part in the historical making of our brains, both as a facilitating agent and enabling device.


Consider this: we humans come omnivores as a standard issue, and tend to embrace it unless constrained to a less diverse diet imposed by circumstances or personal/cultural biases. At face value, our gut would deserve praise if only for its ability to use almost anything we stumble upon for fuel — on the omnivore's radar, anything that is or was alive once could be dinner.
We partly owe to our guts to have survived and thrived in a variety of environments that non omnivorous species can only dream of, but I'd wage that's only half of it…

Opposable thumbs are cool, for sure, but they're of limited relevance if all you do is twiddle them: how and to what end you put those to work is what's key.
Our brains are a spectacular learning machine, a difference and inference engine that can find patterns in a chaotic wealth of information, derive meaning and build narratives or concepts to organize the universe, with us as its focal point. 
As it seems obvious a direct relation exists, between the diversity of experiences and stimuli we're exposed to and the opportunities we get to make new and smarter inferences, anything that helps us survive and explore new horizons is increasing our odds to have a eureka! moment, or its intuitive, less conceptual equivalent.

And just like our opposable thumbs, our guts enable us to explore and experience more, not only by keeping us fueled and clanking beyond the point where the Duracell rabbit would finally stop, but by providing us with the means to experience more. Non-omnivorous animals don't get the chance to try much of the gastronomical aspects of pleasure and discomfort, simply eat whatever limited selection of food they trust to process without falling sick, and won't even think about ordering off the menu, even when it sucks — ask any panda how they feel about their last meal(s) for a very fucked up perspective on this.


Long story short, being able to process diverse foods extends our biotopical reach and our ability to move around, yet also broadens our mental horizons and sense of aesthetics. Diversity of tastes, textures, shapes and colors all give our brain those little jolts that once in a while may spark a new and interesting connection, even though we may not always realize it at the time, and the same goes for those different landscapes, climates and environments we would never have dreamed of, had our omnivorous bowels not kept us alive through there.

Thus, I suggest you make today (which is whenever you happen to read these lines) your personal Gut Recognition Day and celebrate GRD by thinking hard about how much we owe our intestines for coping with our whims as they do, be thankful for that, and vow never to deny your guts their rightful part by ensuring you don't eat the same grub every day from now on, if you can afford it.

Your neo-corticoïdal bowels thank you in advance.