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Tag: politics

List of “Abominations”

It is commonly said that the term “abomination” (תֹּעֵבַה) used to describe homosexuality in Leviticus is exceptionally strong – so strong that it renders this command binding to Christians, quite unlike the similar commands in Leviticus that concern (for example) dietary restrictions and are unquestionably no longer binding. However, this is rarely backed up with evidence.

This, then, is a list of things that are described as תֹּעֵבַה in the Bible:

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Would You Vote for a Rapist?

So I’ve been reading through the Twitter of Kate Harding, the author that awful “as a feminist, this is why we shouldn’t punish Al Franken” twitter essay that was later republished as a Washington Post op-ed.

I could probably write a lengthy blog post consisting entirely of reasons she sucks – and she does – but I don’t really want to pick on her. (Besides, she’s getting more than enough hate-mail at the moment.) No, what interests me more is the line of reasoning:

“Politicians who commit sexual assault suck, but it would be even worse to not get our agenda implemented.”

Kate’s twitter is, of course, filled with discussion of the Roy Moore statutory rape case. And this is, of course, the exact same line of reasoning that allows some people to vote for him (although not enough for him to win, probably):

“I’m torn between voting for a pedophile and voting for a person who believes in abortion.” – [src]

Is this line of reasoning wrong?

Intuitively, it seems monstrous. But from a utilitarian perspective, assuming you accept the premise that one political party is significantly better than the other in term of actual effects once elected, the case seems rather strong.  A few lives ruined here and now, in exchange for hundreds, maybe millions of lives improved by the better policies of [insert party here].

My instinct is that “people won’t vote for a rapist” is an important safety mechanism – we have a justice system, sure, but social consequences and risk of being fired are supposed to operate at a level below that.

So it’s really more like: a few lives ruined here and now (although given the increased scrutiny once sexual misconduct has already been revealed, how many?) plus a slightly decreased incentive for elected officials not to sexually abuse people, versus the better policies of [insert party here].

Even so, does the math work out in favour of ousting abusers?

At the end of the day, it depends on how politically polarised you are. How terrible is the other tribe, how glorious our tribe in comparison to their evil?

That’s going to vary from person to person. And political polarization is on the rise.

Ireland is considering criminalizing the possession of smartphones by minors

Seriously.

This testimony saw children’s rights groups [sic] claim that unfettered access to the internet was “among the greatest threats facing young people”.

Daly wants it to become an offence for parents to allow children below the age of 14 to own devices with full internet access. Going further, the bill could make it illegal for shops to sell these products to children of that age.

The West Cork TD told TheJournal.ie: “I do not see this as nanny-state policing, but rather a law in place to assist parents to say no to their eight, nine or 10-year-old”

There’s some suggestion that this bill would criminalize giving children access to the internet altogether:

“The proposed regulation will also force parents to take responsibility for their children’s access to internet,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“It’s not about unsupervised access, we do need to regulate. Essentially you are allowing a child of seven or eight years of age to have a mobile device that allows them to access unlimited pornography of every type, they can go gambling, cyber bullying.”

This insanity is the brainchild of Fine Gael’s Jim Daly, who has just lost my vote in perpetuity.

This is how to contact him, this is how to contact his bosses. Here’s a website to help you contact your own TD and express your disapproval.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings

[Content note: this post is aimed at liberals who follow US politics.]

Because intentions govern their policies, liberals show no interest in looking at evidence. Their denial and disregard of evidence is another reflection of their dislike of reality. Evidence is about reality; intentions are about fantasizing and self-indulgence.

-Spectator.org, The Liberals’ Reality Problem

In a time when the Republican POTUS is a guy who claims the streets of New Jersey were filled with cheering Muslims on 9/11 and global warming is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, it’s important to remember that most conservatives don’t hate science or reject the concept of objective truth.

In fact, most conservatives feel the exact same way about you.

They see people claiming biological sex doesn’t exist. They see people openly advocating  genocide, and other people blindly refusing to admit this. They see liberals sharing conspiracy theories and hoaxes and “fake news” that support their worldview, ignoring any debunking, and quietly moving on to the next fake scandal. They see – or at least hear about – obviously rigged studies from the social sciences, and they see climatologists and sexologists and ecologists who openly state that their goal is to manufacture evidence of their political views, and they see scientists who disagree with the liberal consensus ridiculed and denigrated.

They see liberals openly attacking  conservatives for offering “alternative facts”. Imagine that, folks! They admit they don’t want you to see the facts unless they’re their facts, packaged and spun the way the media likes it!

And, of course, they see liberals advocating a bunch of stupid policies that ruin the economy and get people killed – in the face of all the evidence – and when challenged, responding with emotional anecdotes and bad arguments.

***

Yes, there are totally innocent explanations for all those things.

That’s not the point.

When Donald Trump makes what is – to them – obviously a harmless locker-room joke, and see liberals accusing him of rape, they feel exactly the same way you do when alt-righters seize on someone complaining about “white people” and proclaim them a genocidal racist. Because things Donald Trump says are deserving of charity, there’s no reason to think he’s not a decent guy, whereas some SJW is obviously evil and this is proof.

My point is not that liberals and conservatives are “equally right” or just as bad as each other.

My point is that both sides are equally human, and “my beliefs are objective truth and the other side just hate facts” is a natural human response to political disagreement, not necessarily a sign that you’re omniscient.

Surprising Sense of Fatalism Grips Nation

Faced with the abject failure of all their predictions about Donald Trump, Americans are reporting a new sense of certainty in their latest predictions about Donald Trump.
“First it seemed like he would drop out of the race early on, and he didn’t,” said one reporter. “Then it seemed like he would probably be defeated by more establishment candidates, and he wasn’t. Now it seems like he might actually win, so that’s definitely going to happen.”

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This latest campaign has confounded expectations in many ways, including the surprising success of Bernie Sanders, who will definitely stop doing about as well as Clinton and drop out any day now, and remarkable voter turnouts in key states. But it’s unthinkable that any candidate who’s done so well in the early days could possibly face problems later. Many are starting to agree that despite polls predicting Trump’s success among Republicans from the very beginning, the fact that they show he can’t possibly win the election probably really is a statistical fluke.

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“Both Clinton and Sanders have received overwhelming support from their party from the very beginning”, said our usual political columnist, who declined to give his name. “And both poll very well among Republicans, almost as well as Trump does. Sanders actually polls higher, which is unprecedented. But the idea of Americans voting for a woman or a liberal who promises “change” is absolutely unthinkable, whatever the actual voters say.”

Even the man on the street seems to be considering voting for Trump.
“I realize he’s an abject liar who constantly lies about everything, and definitely lied about all the things I disagree with,” said one man this reporter met on the street. “But I’m pretty sure he’s telling the truth about the issues I care about. Like, he’ll definitely deal with our immigration problem, despite having married two immigrants, one of which he has three kids with. He mentions that he’ll do something about immigration a lot.”
The man lapsed into silence for a minute.
“Yeah, he’ll definitely do something about immigration. And the jobs. He seems like a guy who cares about the working man. He tells it how it is, you know? Not like the liberal media.”

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Trump’s Daughter doing her best impression of Trump the time he admitted to her they were bankrupt. No, really.

“He can afford to say what he wants, because he’s worth, like, ten billion dollars. I heard his campaign is almost entirely self-funded, that’s why it’s important to donate. He seems like a guy who doesn’t care what people think,” said the one guy, who’s probably a representative sample, of the candidate whose campaign is one-third funded by donations and two-thirds funded by a personal loan which his campaign is going to pay back with interest out of donation money, and who obsessively pesters a reporter who called him a “short-fingered vulgarian” with pictures of his hands, facts never reported by a blatantly liberal media who are definitely trying their hardest to take down Trump.

Cb3XxqOUsAApk_8.jpg“Yeah, I’m sure the public will continue to warm up to him,” said the man, who declined to give his name in case his neighbours or family found out he was considering voting for Trump. “He’s bravely told his supporters to beat people up, after all, and then bravely lied to people’s faces, claiming that he didn’t promise to pay for their legal fees when they’re inevitably arrested even though it’s on video they can play opposite this astounding claim. I wouldn’t have the guts to do that, even if I did have a Secret Service detail.”

 

Meanwhile, experts agree that a non-politician like Trump with no political experience couldn’t possibly win based on sheer charisma, pointing to the examples of Ronald Reagan, Eisenhower, Teddy Roosevelt etc, and a political tradition dating back to noted politician George Washington.

Personally, I have faith in democracy and the American people, and all this only proves that the American people are idiotic racists for disagreeing with me.

Apocalypse joke!

Some Thoughts on Jesus on Political Correctness

Political correctness is a weird concept.

Donald Trump: “I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct,” says the Irish Times. WikiHow tells us, “‘Politically correct’ is a bit of a misnomer—it isn’t about being right, it’s about being respectful and considerate.”

(Those are the top two Google results I got for “politically correct” that weren’t dictionaries or Wikipedia, by the way.)

As always, in these troubling times, we must turn to the Bible.

Nah, just kidding. But I was looking at Bible quotes (specifically, a list of “Bible quotes on politics”,) and I noticed something.

See, political correctness isn’t new. The term is new, sure, but the actual phenomenon? People dancing around stuff because it isn’t “politically correct”? That’s ancient.

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words.16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?” – Matthew 22:15-17

Now the trap here – as you’re presumed to know – is that it’s politically unpopular to support the occupying army’s right to levy taxes (for obvious reasons); but, for equally obvious reasons, the Roman Army will be gravely displeased with anyone caught preaching that you shouldn’t pay their taxes.

“Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are.”

What is our hero to do?

We all know how this ends. Money is a construct of the State, or of the World, render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, etc etc.

***

Guys, it doesn’t matter which word you use. Seriously, it doesn’t. This is the smallest of small things. You are literally debating over which of the mouth-noises … dear God, people!

Quick question: was I just yelling at liberals, or conservatives?

***

Have you ever noticed that, statistically, you’re probably wrong?

I mean, about half of everyone disagrees with, approximately, the other half. So almost half of everyone is wrong. And it seems, just thinking about history, like the correct answer a lot of issues turn out to be something revolutionary neither side realize, right?

Like, it’s great that you think John the Fourth would make a great king, and they think Edward the Twelfth would make a great king, but actually you’ll all be outcompeted in about a hundred years by mega-states run by a “democracy”, which … uh, have you heard of Athens? It’s like them, only … not, and … anyway, they’ll have a much better standard of living than any unelected dictator has, and …

But of course, you have the facts on your side. Not like all those people who just think they have the facts on their side.

***

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10 As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11 knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. – Titus 3:8-10

WHAT I’M SAYING IS SHUT UP ABOUT POLITICS YOU’RE DUMB EVERYONE IS DUMB EVEN I’M DUMB NONE OF THIS STUFF MATTERSCrazy Straws

Sick and Wrong

[content notes: homophobia, spiders, liberalism, conservatism, conclusions drawn from introspection rather than evidence]

There is a popular refrain in liberalism: “just because something grosses you out, doesn’t mean it’s actually wrong.”

When asked to defend this, the usual defence of this sentiment is that something is “not hurting anybody”. This is, taken literally, nonsense.
Look, everybody likes hedonic utilitarianism. Pain is bad, pleasure is good, right? I tend to use it as a rule of thumb myself, sometimes. But isn’t *true*. Pain is bad, pleasure is good, yes (maybe – there are probably exceptions to that rule.) But people want *more* than pleasure and the absence of pain.

It’s neurologically trivial to constantly stimulate the areas of the brain responsible for “pleasure”; even before you figure out how to fiddle with the insides of people’s heads, most societies have crude biochemical ways of approximating that. But this is almost universally regarded as a pretty sorry fate. This isn’t sour grapes, either, born of the practical difficulties of financing a life of bliss; most people, if you give them the choice, don’t *want* it. People want occasional moments of pleasure, yes, but there is no demand for wireheading, and – anecdotally – people don’t take drugs if they *expect* to become addicted. It’s a *risk* they undergo to have a bit of fun.
Conversely, chloroforming a homeless person so you can murder them in their sleep is generally considered unethical, even though it wouldn’t *hurt* them at any point in the process.
Look, what humans value is complex. We want art and happiness and meaning and challenge and and and … not all of that can ever be reduced to “happiness” or “preferences” or “telos” or whatever other simplification you just came up with, in my experience.

But that isn’t to say morality doesn’t exist, anymore than pointing out how complicated math is means 2+2 doesn’t equal 4. Some things are just inherently wrong. (Let’s not get into what “inherently” means, here, please.)
We don’t actually need to understand what that means, to discuss it meaningfully. Because *we care about morality.* Our consciences point us toward *something*, and we can talk about that-thing-our-consciences-point-toward as the Good.

So … when feel like something is disgusting and, in a word, wrong – that *is* evidence that thing is unethical and should be prevented?

Kinda.

My suspicion is that there are two feeling that are being conflated here – grossness, and wrongness.

Grossness – the feeling that something is disgusting, gross, horrible – is a real and important feeling.
It’s roughly analogous to taste. Some things taste really bad; that’s because we evolved to instinctively avoid them, because they’re usually dangerous and unhealthy. Other things taste delicious, which is because we instinctively seek them out. Which is perfectly reasonable; you can’t expect humans to understand everything on the first try, and some things are important.
But there’s more to it than that; much of our tastes are learned, unconscious associations (for example, if you fall ill immediately after eating something, you’ll probably go off that food; even if it had nothing to do with it.) Others are genetic. Some are even based on other, subtler things; what you “need” at a particular time can be down to a complicated combination of biochemistry, neurochemistry, and Pavlovian association.
In short, we can *account* for taste. Cyanide is known to be both poisonous and fairly tasty, so we avoid it. Pizza is known to be delicious but relatively unhealthy, so we try to eat some (to experience the pleasure) but not *too* much. Many medicines taste disgusting. But *by and large*, we just go with it.

 

Grossness is similar. SPIDERS!

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SPIDERS EVERYWHERE
Personally, I rather like spiders. I think they’re cute little things. But even I freak out a little when I look at my reflection to find there was one sleeping on my headphones and it is now exploring my face.
This makes perfect sense. You don’t want to get creepy-crawlies anywhere they shouldn’t be, in case they lay eggs or whatnot. Spiders are *inherently* gross (to humans); but I’ve learned not to find them disgusting most of the time.
And in some cultures, they eat spiders.

 

Being gay is bad for you.
There’s a higher risk of disease transference, at least among men. But worse still, it’s bad for your *genes*. Making out with someone of the same sex – even if you don’t mean it to go anywhere – would risk activating all the handy mechanisms evolution has set up to make mates pair-bond and look after the children; and human children do need such a lot of looking after. From an evolutionary perspective, having this misfire is Very Bad Indeed, even if the host were to live *longer* (lesbians are less likely to go through humans’ unusually risky childbirth process, for example.)
– Science would like to chime in and say that, while there are almost certainly genes that are more or less correlated with homosexuality in humans, that is probably a *tradeoff*. Any gene that made everyone that had it would almost certainly go extinct. Such genes as persist are surviving by providing other advantages. (Fruitflies with gay siblings have been found to have more children, as this logic would obviously predict, although research into humans has yet to show anything really conclusive.) Personally, I’d imagine there are quite a few such genes, impacting homosexuality risk in different ways and offering different reproductive advantages –
So it’s not surprising that gayness is kinda gross. When internet trolls want to gross someone out, there are four things they go for – serious injury, particularly horrible diseases, bodily fluids, and gay sex. Preferably in combination.
… seriously, ew.

It’s also not surprising that some people don’t share that taste. Entire civilisations have institutionalized gay sex of various kinds. I’m *not* going to list fetishes that are kinda gay in one way or another, if it’s all the same to you, but they exist.
And then there’s the gender stuff. Heterosexuality has to activate based on both you and your partner’s sex, just like a taste for various nutrients has to activate when you’re in need of those nutrients. People who are atypical of one sex or another might accidentally activate the recognition mechanisms for the other one in people. The mechanisms for creating disgust at the idea of your on sex might fail to activate, and the mechanisms for creating desire for the opposite sex can likewise fail. And let’s not even get into how much of gender is designed to conform to semi-arbitrary signals decided on by your society, or to be learned via association with other things throughout your life, or even based on your own explicit beliefs about things.
There are just … *so* many ways it can fail. But how should we react when it does?

Because, ‘yknow, just because something is gross doesn’t mean it *isn’t* bad. Horrible torture is really, truly*disgusting*, but it’s also one of the most obviously, uncontroversially Bad things out there. Slipping faeces into someone’s food is both pretty disgusting and, y’know, terrible. Indeed, because our instincts were created largely to warn us against things *we don’t want to happen*, things that are absolutely horrible also tend to be terrible ideas.
We could try reasoning from first principles, but of course most of us don’t actually *agree* on those very much. I think you’ll agree that most people’s attempts at “first principles” are horribly flawed. I’m sure Objectivists have no problem with homosexuality, but “A=A” is not actually a good or even sane principle to extrapolate your ethics from. To be fair, though, most sets of First Principles can only be argued to condemn homosexuality if some external source of ethics condemns it; if God wants it, and humans “really” want it, then that wipes out most of the possibilities; and both of those, as Jesus tells us, essentially reduce to morality.
So *is homosexuality wrong*?

Well.
There’s a trick I know, for telling what motivates your distaste for something.
It doesn’t tell you what’s *right*, because you don’t know that. It only draws on what’s already in your head, on your own motivations. If you don’t know that berry is poisonous, you *really do* hate it because it’s bitter, not because eating it is a bad idea. But nevertheless.
Do you care if something is going on where you can’t see it?
With torture, the answer is obviously yes. I care a heck of a lot if someone is being tortured in the next room, or even in Guantanamo Bay.
But with *images* of injury – which are equally disgusting, often worse, because they can be taken with an aim to shock – not only do I not care, I’m positively glad that doctors with stronger stomachs are doing it for me.
So … gay sex?

Guys: please do not have gay sex next to me. Or anywhere I might see you. In fact, let’s just extend that to any sex that doesn’t involve someone I’m attracted to, shall we?
(Insert “sexy lesbians do what you want, please” joke here.)
But elsewhere …

Look. I like to think I understand sexuality and attraction in relatively excruciating detail.I don’t care who you are; there are people out there who find things sexy that would *boggle your mind*. But as long as your weirdness it doesn’t cross any lines, nobody really tends to mind. So, based on what we know of sexuality … *is* it crossing any lines?

Having children is good, and gay people tend not to be doing too much of that. And surrogacy – of which you could argue adoption is an involuntary subset – has other problems, not least of which is that kids tend to want to *know* who their biological parents are and were, no matter how much they may well love *you*.
But gay relationships are still *ordered toward* having kids together, even if it’s physically impossible to have any within them; they still pair-bond, they’re still just as likely to *want* children as anyone else. It’s the same emotional architecture, just pointed toward someone other than normal. It’s like infertile people; sure, no children, but everything else we value is still there in the relationship. Even the Catholic Church says it’s OK to have sex in ways you anticipate won’t produce children, as long as it doesn’t break any other rules.

Yeah, yeah, there are minor disease risks, less with our current technology, gay people already know about those, let’s move on.

It’s not injuring anyone, consent seems to be OK, no obvious psychological or safety risks beyond the usual and homophobic –
– can we talk about what a terrible word that is? Homophobia? It’s not a phobia, people. Phobia has an established meaning, and you know full damn well that’s not it. It means we don’t even have a damn *word* for *actual* homophobia, which almost certainly exists and is a real, if hopefully not too crippling, mental condition. Literally the only reason for using that word is to take cheap shots at your intellectual opponents for being “irrational” when they’re not able to complain about it. It’s stupid. I’d suggest using “heteronormativity”, which is a preexisting if slightly longer word and slightly more accurate from a social perspective to boot-
– heteronormative objections, attacks, prejudice etc; which are pretty obviously fading into nothingness with astonishing rapidity in our culture.

So yeah, I think people’s objection to homosexuality starts out with “it’s gross” – a reasonable starting place! – and continues to a few relatively flimsy objections, which are basically false and/or misguided. People think homosexuality is wrong because they think it’s sick. But it’s just kinda weird.

Gayness is, I think, about as objectionable as the way your favourite food is made. Kinda gross, yeah; maybe even slightly unhealthy. But the end product is love, and I think we can all agree that stuff is very tasty indeed.

In The Future, No-One Will Care About Security

The present is weird.

The present is always weird, of course – because every age is a product of a thousand strange and complicated forces, and they twist our societies into truly odd shapes. And people always seem to forget it, every time, because “normal” is … normal, to us. Even if it might take years of study for an outsider to understand our particular period in history. If you were an outsider.

***

Anyway, this is on my mind because I was reading some reviews of the classic sci-fi short story The Cold Equations. I won’t spoil it, if you haven’t read it – although it’s a pretty straightforward piece, especially now, when the twist feels less twisty because we’re not in the same cultural context it was written in. (Good, though, in my opinion.)

The story opens with a conventional-ish rocket being launched on a vital supply mission from a Hyperspace cruiser dropped briefly into realspace. The lone pilot in this stripped-down little ship – which has distinctly limited fuel – discovers a stowaway hiding in the cupboard …

… and about half of the reviews I’ve seen begin complaining that this is completely impossible.

Now, you can quibble over whether the cupboard is clearly far to large for a supposedly bare-bones mission – whatever, it’s part of the conceit, who died and made you in charge of worldbuilding? The author says the cupboards on a mission like this are big enough, just go with it. But the biggest sticking point seems to be the simple idea of stowing away on something.

After all, why didn’t they have tighter security? Someone could have put a bomb in there, or something! What were they thinking?

***

Modern terrorism is really quite interesting. Yeah, I know, I’m on a watchlist now. But it is.

I’m Irish, so perhaps I have a slightly unusual relationship with terrorism. It wasn’t so long ago that being literally blown up by terrorists was an actual, ever-present threat in parts of Ireland. That, and the fact that every flight I’ve ever been on had holes in their security you could drive a truck though (I know, watchlist) makes the whole “war on terror” thing seem … a little silly?

And it is silly, I should make that clear. Not because I’m Irish; the same sort of overreaction happens all the time and everywhere, now. It’s not a national thing, it’s a cultural thing.

(Hmm, how long ago would that sentence have been an oxymoron, because “cultures” and “nations” were the same thing?)

Some kid goes into his highschool and shoots the place up. Now, there are genuine questions why this happens (it doesn’t, here in Ireland.) But still.

There is an immediate national, even international crisis. Is is because gun laws aren’t tight enough? Is it because our modern media glorifies violence? Is it because of videogames, or mental illness, or are we not reaching out to kids enough? Is it … across the country, across the goddamn world, debates rage and untested new policies are implemented … because of, perhaps, at worst, maybe two dozen people died.

In a world of seven billion people. In a world where, by my back-of-an-envelope calculations, your child is about five hundred times more at risk crossing the street. This is such a miniscule risk the human brain is literally incapable of comprehending how small it is; it is so small you physically can’t take it into account without overcompensating by several orders of magnitude.

It’s a small flipping risk, is what I’m trying to say.

But it’s a news story. So it’s available.

And people rail at Republicans for wanting to play with their guns at the expense of children’s lives – won’t somebody please think of the children! – even when, as far as I can tell, the best available (terrible, unreliable) evidence suggests that guns in the US save a slightly more than they kill. Even when, according to this random internet article I just googled up for a handy talking point, the GOP preventing people from getting “Obamacare” cost maybe 10,000 lives in 2014.

But yes, I’m sure fifteen, twenty people a year dying from something you have no actual evidence is causally connected to Republican policies is just as important, maybe more so.

(Not that conservatives are exactly off the hook, since “videogames/rock music/D&D are corrupting our kids!” codes conservative, and the anti-videogame thing has been almost exclusively founded on the idea that they somehow caused school shootings.)

Why do we do this? Why do we panic about school shootings and terrorist plots, and pass stupid laws to “stop” them? Why do we freak out about illusionary plagues and This New Sex Thing kids these days are totally doing and crime waves that are absolutely sweeping the nation, we swear, look here are three similar news stories (one of which is fake and one of which is out of context)?

Well, duh, it’s the media.

But seriously, this is massively skewing our society’s perception of the world and it’s risks. Why do you think we don’t let children play on the street anymore? Why do you think we have fad diets, and health scares, and Cancer Cured In Mice Using Lingonberries?

There’s no War On Heart Disease, or War On Malaria, or even a War On Cars.

***

Gosh, but terrorism is really popular among … well, even in the “western” world, honestly. Makes you long for the days when wars were fought by armies lining up in neat lines, doesn’t it?

(Yes, it does. The Geneva Convention is founded on the premise that combatants won’t attack civilians or use unnecessarily inhumane weapons, on the understanding that enemy combatants will do the same. Asymmetrical warfare breaks that essential symmetry.)

So … why?

Personally, I blame Western Imperialism. But not for the reasons you think.

See, The West(tm) has a significant tech advantage in warfare. But more importantly, they have a significant money advantage, and and industrial complex backing them.

In the Bad Old Days, this meant you went and found someone who didn’t have those things and told them you were in charge now, Or Else. (And then you shot a few, just to be clear on that Else was.) These days, this generally considered uncouth and in any case too hard, so we just roll in when someone’s doing something we don’t like for *ahem* incredibly subtle strategic reasons. Same difference. You show up with an army, to a place without much of one.

When the other side has tanks, and air support, and more troops, and is usually armed with better weapons, and they have some fancy new toys they’re dying to try out … well, it’s a tricky strategic problem, to put it lightly. The Roman Legions couldn’t have done it, for all that they toppled nations and steamrollered vast armies. Historically, quite a few civilizations have essentially (to simplify a bit) been wiped out for having much lower military disparities with their enemies. If this was an episode of Star Trek, it would be beyond Kobayashi Maru it would be somewhere between the Borg, and one of those space-god races from TOS that you tried very carefully not to offend in case they squished you.

How do you fight a war against an enemy that’s more powerful on almost every conceivable dimension?

Well, a solution was found, of course. It’s obvious to any modern tactician.

That solution was that you find one of those big, powerful military installations; or, better still, a bit of the huge civilization backing them; and you blow it the fuck up. And then you disappear, and you do it again and again, and again …

… it’s actually kind of a terrible strategy, in a way. You pretty much have to use isolated cells, because otherwise you’re too easy to find; which means it’s impossible to call off the attack or make any kind of coherent demands. It’s pretty much impossible for you to take down a civilization that way, and it’s close to impossible to take down much in the way of serious military infrastructure that way. You’re now engaging in the aforementioned asymmetric warfare, which means you’ll be treated somewhat worse than most societies have traditionally treated spies and traitors and criminals. You’re massively, massively pissing off the enemy, which means your “side” will suffer atrocities.

In fact, there’s a serious case to be made that terrorism has never worked – and I say this as a citizen of a state that was literally founded by terrorists, as a result of a lengthy terrorist campaign. The only way terrorists ever win is when both sides are so tired of fighting they both give in to each other at once; and even then, it’s a leaderless cell structure, so all the worst bits of your “organization” will cheerfully keep on going until they’re all dead or they find something better or even more illegal to do.

Even the silliest organization tends to realize that negotiating with blackmail is a bad idea, so you don’t even have that. You just … fight.

But it’s the only weapon that works against the imperial war machine. You can see yourself, your movement, is making a difference, making the enemy hurt some fraction of the hurt they’ve caused. And the effect is magnified, compounded, in the funhouse mirror that is modern media; until your little campaign becomes, reflected, a vast host marching beneath a glorious banner, rising up to overthrow the Empire …

It’s all smoke and mirrors, of course, even if the smoke is coming from the barrel of a gun. But in a world where things are just right, when the panopticon sees enough to be afraid but not enough to catch you, when you’re vastly outclassed but can still improvise large-scale devastation on a short timescale, when every attack that fails is forgotten while every attack that succeeds is written in fire in the minds of nations … it can work. For a while.

It doesn’t work for anyone, of course. But it works, just the same. For a moment, when things line up just right.

For the present.

A Meditation on Mutually Assured Destruction

I

From The Sixth Meditation on Superweapons, by Scott Alexander:

Suppose you were a Jew in old-timey Eastern Europe. The big news story is about a Jewish man who killed a Christian child. As far as you can tell the story is true. It’s just disappointing that everyone who tells it is describing it as “A Jew killed a Christian kid today”. You don’t want to make a big deal over this, because no one is saying anything objectionable like “And so all Jews are evil”. Besides you’d hate to inject identity politics into this obvious tragedy. It just sort of makes you uncomfortable.

I know a guy who feels uncomfortable with Scott’s writing.

He enjoys, and agrees with, most of Scott’s essays. They’re both useful, and informative. We often discuss things Scott has written on, and make use of concepts Scott has invented or popularized.

And yet.

The other day, we were discussing feminism, and men’s attitudes toward it. We had been looking at a survey that suggested many men – an alarmingly high number – both gave the “correct” definition of feminism (“equality”) and endorsed the statement “men cannot be feminists”. Almost as many men believed “feminism” meant “equality, agreed men could be feminists, and yet were not feminists themselves.

(This was a local, informal study, BTW.)

I mentioned something useful Scott wrote that seemed relevant. But my friend, I learned, had grown somewhat uneasy with Scott’s arguments.

When he read Scott’s recent essay, Untitled – which I rather liked, and said so – something didn’t seem right to my friend. Something, in fact, which he’d noticed a great deal in Scott’s writing.

But also, there was this:

Some Jews are rich, therefore all Jews are rich, therefore all Jews are privileged, therefore no Jew could be oppressed in any way, therefore Jews are the oppressors.

And much the same is true of nerds. In fact, have you noticed actual nerds and actual Jews tend to be the same people?

[…]

And this is why it’s distressing to see the same things people have always said about Jews get applied to nerds. They’re this weird separate group with their own culture who don’t join in the reindeer games of normal society. They dress weird and talk weird. They’re conventionally unattractive and have too much facial hair. But worst of all, they have thechutzpah to do all that and also be successful. Having been excluded from all of the popular jobs, they end up in the unpopular but lucrative jobs, for which they get called greedy parasites in the Jews’ case, and “the most useless and deficient individuals in society” in the case of the feminist article on nerds I referenced earlier.

[…]

So let me specify what I am obviously not saying. I am not saying nerds have it “just as bad as Jews in WWII Germany” or any nonsense like that. I am not saying that prejudice against nerds is literally motivated by occult anti-Semitism, or accusing anyone of being anti-Semitic.

I am saying that whatever structural oppression means, it should be about structure. And the structure society uses to marginalize and belittle nerds is very similar to a multi-purpose structure society has used to belittle weird groups in the past with catastrophic results.

Now, my friend knows Scott wasn’t saying saying nerds have it “just as bad as Jews in WWII Germany” or any nonsense like that. In fact, look above:

… let me specify what I am obviously not saying. I am not saying nerds have it “just as bad as Jews in WWII Germany” or any nonsense like that.

And yet, he seems to be going out of his way to include “Feminism” and “Nazi Germany” together in his sentences.

Why?

It’s not because they’re a good counterexample for “nerds are rich Silicon valley CEOs, you think they’re not privileged?” It’s an actual argument, not just the kind of “your argument proves too much” one-liner Scott is famous for. What is he saying?

the same things people have always said about Jews get applied to nerds. They’re this weird separate group with their own culture who don’t join in the reindeer games of normal society. They dress weird and talk weird. They’re conventionally unattractive and have too much facial hair. But worst of all, they have the chutzpah to do all that and also be successful. Having been excluded from all of the popular jobs, they end up in the unpopular but lucrative jobs, for which they get called greedy parasites in the Jews’ case, and “the most useless and deficient individuals in society” in the case of the feminist article on nerds I referenced earlier.

[…]

There is a well-known, dangerous form of oppression that works just fine when the group involved have the same skin color as the rest of society, the same sex as the rest of society, and in many cases are totally indistinguishable from the rest of society except to themselves. It works by taking a group of unattractive, socially excluded people, mocking them, accusing them of being out to violate women, then denying that there could possibly be any problem with these attacks because they include rich people who dominate a specific industry.

… he’s constructing a reference class.

This is a reference class – a category, a handy box to place things in – that includes two examples: “these feminists I quoted” and “these Nazis I quoted”.

It includes something definitely bad, and your oppenant’s arguments. But what use is this category? What predictions does it make, beyond “badness”?

There’s a name for this. Scott named it. It’s called the Worst Argument in the World.

My friend called it “Godwinning“, and he stopped reading the article.

II

Still, the Jew thing is beside the point, right?

The actual point of the article stands? The other arguments, and the point that Jews are an important counterexample to the idea that “Some nerds are rich, therefore all nerds are rich, therefore all nerds are privileged, therefore no nerd could be oppressed in any way, therefore nerds are the oppressors.”

Even if Scott, understandably frustrated, devoted a little more space than necessary to comparing his opponents to Nazis; shouldn’t we steelman it, pay attention to the strongest version of his argument?

Maybe.

Let’s talk about the correct definition of Feminism.

Feminism doesn’t mean “equality”, except when used between feminists, discussing what would be the “feminist” response to something. Feminism is a movement, and a political ideology. Feminism is a thing people identify as.

It is, in fact, a tribe.

Now: suppose you’re a feminist on the internet. The big news story is about a group of SJWs who said they hated men. As far as you can tell the story is true. It’s just disappointing that everyone who tells it is describing it as “These crazy feminists”. You don’t want to make a big deal over this, because no one is saying anything objectionable like “And so all Feminists are evil” – sure, the people who hate feminists are, but they’re no more credible than conspiracy theorists who think the latest news story proves the government caused 9/11. Besides, it’s important to make sure people know this person is wrong and completely beyond the pale.

The next day you see a popular blogger has written a post on how feminists were awful to him, and sent him death threats, and made vaguely racist and ableist comments. This sort of thing happens a lot on the internet, and you certainly feel for him. It seems kind of pedantic to interrupt every conversation with “But also a lot of feminists have been receiving death threats, and even though a disproportionate number of the people who sent them to you were feminists, that doesn’t mean the feminists are disproportionately active in sending these messages compared to their numbers.” So again you stay uncomfortable.

The next day you hear people complain about the awful SJWs who are ruining politics and oppressing free speech. You understand that really, free speech and and discourse are important topics. On the other hand, when people start talking about “Political Correctness” and “the need to protect men from Feminists” and “rules to stop SJWs from interfering here”, you just feel worried, even though you personally are not doing any horrible stuff and maybe they even have good reasons for phrasing it that way.

Then the next day, you get in an argument with your co-worker. It’s the sort of thing that happens a lot – he was rude to you, and when you complained he started going on about his “rights” and “freedom” and other high-minded things you know he wouldn’t give a damn about at any other time.  He takes you aside and tells you you’d better just give up, admit he is in the right, and apologize to him – because if the conflict escalated everyone would take his side because you’re well-known for being a feminist (and a woman, I guess, in this scenario, because Stereotypes.) And everyone knows that Feminists hate men and are basically bullying self-absorbed conversation-ruining free-speech-silencing scum.

Is he right?

Well, that depends on where you’re having the conversation.

III

Scott would argue that feminists are building a superweapon to attack him. And he’s right, actually. But this isn’t the superweapon.

Neither is this:

Pick any attempt to shame people into conforming with gender roles, and you’ll find self-identified feminists leading the way. Transgender people? Feminists led the effort to stigmatize them and often still do. Discrimination against sex workers? Led by feminists. Against kinky people? Feminists again. People who have too much sex, or the wrong kind of sex? Feminists are among the jeering crowd, telling them they’re self-objectifying or reinforcing the patriarchy or whatever else they want to say. Male victims of domestic violence? It’s feminists fighting against acknowledging and helping them.

Yes, many feminists have been on both sides of these issues, and there have been good feminists tirelessly working against the bad feminists. Indeed, right now there are feminists who are telling the other feminists to lay off the nerd-shaming. My girlfriend is one of them. But that’s kind of my point. There are feminists on both sides of a lot of issues, including the important ones.

You know what transgender people, sex workers; people who have too much sex, or the wrong kind of sex, or kinky sex; victims of domestic violence, and nerds … well, you know what they all have in common?

They were unpopular before feminism.

And that’s the problem, really. That’s what my friend pointed out, and what I realized had been bothering me the whole time. Scott mentions how everyone who posts about this topic gets a lot of messages from people saying “that’s ME!”, and he’s clearly correct, because many of these comments are visible to the public. I’ve seen them. But you know what the most common type seems to be?

“Yes, I experienced this, but it had nothing to do with feminism.”

Let’s look at the insults Scott shows us, that exemplify “feminist shaming tactics”:

Whether we’re “mouth-breathers”, “pimpled”, “scrawny”, “blubbery”, “sperglord”, “neckbeard”, “virgins”, “living in our parents’ basements”, “man-children” or whatever the insult du jour is, it’s always, always, ALWAYS a self-identified feminist saying it. Sometimes they say it obliquely, referring to a subgroup like “bronies” or “atheists” or “fedoras” while making sure everyone else in nerddom knows it’s about them too.

Do any of these strike you as particularly feminist terms?

Because I hang out with a lot of feminists, but I also read a lot of anti-feminist things. And I seem to see a heck of theses terms there. These are not feminist terms; they’re just terms.

But hey, it’s still important, right? Even if it’s not just feminists doing this, they need to stop, right? Shouldn’t feminism be fighting gendered stereotyping and policing, wherever it may be found?

Well, yeah, actually.

But … well, Scott is a better writer than I am:

Sometimes I read feminist blogs. A common experience is that by the end of the article I am enraged and want to make a snarky comment, so I re-read the essay to pick out the juiciest quotes to tear apart. I re-read it and I re-read it again and eventually I find that everything it says is both factually true and morally unobjectionable. They very rarely say anything silly like “And therefore all men, even the ones who aren’t actively committing this offense I’m arguing against, are evil”, and it’s usually not even particularly implied. I feel like the Jew in the story above, who admits that it’s really bad the Jewish guy killed the Christian child, and would hate to say, like a jerk, that Christians aren’t allowed to talk about it.

Scott put it right at the top of the post: this is a ten-thousand word rant about feminism. Not about nerds. Not about bullying. About feminism.

And Scott writes a lot of those.

IV

Is this justified?

I said earlier that Scott is right when he worries feminists are building a superweapon to attack him, and I meant it, too. Modern social justice is increasingly defined, not by their compassion for the victims, but by their rejection of the “oppressors” – and the oppressors don’t exist.

Sexism exists. Racism exists. Many, many other forms of discrimination and stereotyping exist – among them all those attacks on transgender people, sex workers; people who have too much sex, or the wrong kind of sex, or kinky sex; victims of domestic violence, and nerds we mentioned earlier.

It’s easy to demonstrate that women and minorities are, for example, turned down far more often when they submit identical resumes … by both men and women, of all races.

And that’s the problem. Sexism, racism; homophobia and transphobia and every other horrible little stereotype … these are all real problems, real “oppression”. But this oppression is mediated by society, not a separate class of “oppressors” But by attacking the “oppressors”; the “privileged” (and yes, privilege is real); those who aren’t members of those oppressed groups – in short, people like the Scotts and me and the friend who started this essay, white straight cismales – we are not solving the problem. We’re just creating a class of people who think that feminism means “equality”, yet men can’t be feminists, because “equality” means fighting men.

And then Scott and I look around and find we’re the “bad guy”, and everyone knows people like you are racist misogynistic scumbags.

(Although, actually, you know, I’ve never had serious or indeed mild trouble with people telling me to shut up because I’m one of Them … but Scott Alexander has. Serious trouble, quite beyond internet arguments. These things happen. I’m a lucky, lucky guy.)

So if you find yourself looking down the barrel of a superweapon, what do you do? What do you do, when one tribe is gathering strength to attack you, and you’re looking defenceless? Are we justified in building anti-feminist, anti-social-justice superweapons?

V

This rule of “never let anyone build a conceptual superweapon that might get used against you” seems to be the impetus behind a lot of social justice movements. For example, it’s eye-rollingly annoying whenever the Council on American – Islamic Relations condemns a news report on the latest terrorist atrocity for making too big a deal that the terrorists were Islamic (what? this bombing just killed however many people, and all you can think of to get upset about is that the newspaper mentioned the guy screamed ‘Allahu akbar’ first?), but I interpret their actions as trying to prevent the construction of a conceptual superweapon against Islam (or possibly to dismantle one that already exists). Like the Jew whose best option would have been to attack potentially anti-Jewish statements even when they were reasonable in context, CAIR can’t just trust that no one will use the anti-Muslim sentiment against non-threatening Muslims. As long as there are stupid little trivial disputes between Muslims and non-Muslims over anything at all, that giant anti-Muslim superweapon sitting in the corner is just too tempting to refuse.

Scott is not the only anti-feminist (believe it or not.)

So … yeah. It’s late and I’m tired. You just get a bullet point. Scott is not the only anti-feminist in existence, and they have access to anti-feminist superweapons too. Them man-hating lesbians tryin’ to pretend sex you regret in the morning is “rape”, and all that.

Scott is not the only person out there who objects to something he calls “feminism”.

Even if you are going to use – let’s be clear here: a glaring generalization about how Feminists sure do [thing that everyone does] a lot, huh? – in order to fight Bad Things present in feminism; even if it’s only used to target unfair generalizations about other groups; it can be and, empirically, is used to attack feminism of every kind.

(In other news, I only ever hear people mention Nice Guys in the same breath as complaints about feminism. I Wonder Why. Yes, feminists do talk about it, but not nearly as much as anti-feminists do. And … *sigh* … yes, the same goes for Dworkin, no need to point that out in the comments every damn time, people.)

Now the feminists would say that I too have a superweapon called “patriarchy”, and that they’re just continuing the arms race. This is true, but it doesn’t lead to a stable state like what the guns rights advocates claim would happen if everyone had guns where we would all be super-polite because nobody wants to offend a guy who’s probably packing heat. It leads to something more like a postapocalyptic anarchy where everyone has guns and we’re all shooting each other. If there’s a conflict between a man and a woman, and the people involved happen to be old-fashioned patriarchalist types, then the man will automatically win and everyone will hate the woman for being a slut or a bitch or whatever. If there’s a conflict between a man and a woman, and the people involved happen to be feminists who are familiar with the memeplex and all its pattern-matching suggests, then the woman will probably win and everyone will hate the man for being a creep or a bigot or whatever. At no point does everyone become respectful and say “Hey, we’re all reasonable people with superweapons, let’s judge this case on its merits instead of pattern-matching to the closest atrocity committed by someone of the same gender”.

It also seems to me that the patriarchy is sort of an accident, where men ruled because they were big and strong and couldn’t imagine doing otherwise and their values just sort of coalesced over time, and the struggle seems to be getting them to realize it’s there. Whereas the feminists know all about discourse and power relations and so on and are quite gung ho about it and they’re staying up late at night reading books with titles like How To Build A Much Deadlier Superweapon (I assume this book exists and is written by Nikola Tesla).

I’m all for mutual superweapon disarmament, but I’m not sure I like the whole mutually assured destruction thing as much. My history, and I think the history of a lot of people who are liberal and pro-choice and so on and so forth but really wary of feminism and social justice – is that we spent our college years totally supporting social justice and helping out in the superweapon factories because it’s our duty to fight rape and racism and so on and since we were nice respectful people obviously the superweapon would never be used on us. Then we got in some kind of trivial disagreement with a woman or a minority or someone, or we didn’t want to go far enough. Then they turned the superweapon on us, and it was kind of a moment of “wait, this was sort of the plan all along, wasn’t it?”

Response to Scott Adams on Tom Perkins, Godwin’s Law and Stigmatizing the Wealthy

What the heck. I know I don’t update this place enough, and here’s a ready-made thing I was already ranting about over there, dashed off after I read the article in question.

This is the post I’m replying to:

Scott Adams Blog: Nerds Are Taking Your Lunch Money

And here‘s a example of the stuff he’s responding to – it’s among the most popular examples, and it’s from the Huffington Post. In case the words “Godwin’s Law and Stigmatizing the Wealthy” in the title doesn’t let you predict what they’ll write. In other words, it’s not all wrong, but … pretty much content-free stuff you could generate by the page without needing to know the issue in question or believe a word of it, and possibly without human intervention – never let it be said I didn’t represent an opposing side in an argument fairly.

***

“For starters, using a Hitler analogy is almost always a self-refuting argument. And by that I mean that if you need to invoke a Hitler analogy, there’s probably something deeply wrong with your point of view in the first place.

“But I said “almost always.” Interestingly, the Hitler analogy actually works in this particular case.”

Scott, the problem with Hitler parallels isn’t that they’re factually incorrect – they’re usually true – it’s that the negative connotations are just noise, noise that drowns out any information that was present in the discussion. That’s why they’re the last refuge of the desperate.

The poor and middle-class rising up and dragging the wealthy and powerful from their homes to answer to sham “justice” – this is a legitimate concern (obviously). But if that was his point, he would have used the French Revolution, not Nazi Germany.

Instead, he tried to FORCE the point that demonizing a subsection of your population = BAD BAD BAD, using a cheap trick. No-one can seriously argue that the Nazis were right, and as long as you’re factually correct, arguing that they didn’t do it is doomed. An argument that can’t be defended against no matter if the thing under discussion is actually bad or no – rendering what could be a valuable discussion utterly useless for determining something.

And everyone knows it, so it backfired immensely. Tricking people who know they’re being tricked is hard, especially when you’re too busy tricking them to notice how obvious you’re being.

Now, in my fairly certain opinion, it IS bad bad bad BAD. And while I don’t share your assessment of the odds, there are clearly serious points in favour that need to be discussed – maybe even enough to raise the probability to 5% from the prior.

But that’s not what he tried, is it?

***

This simple comment is already way too long, so I may as well put my money where my mouth is and actually discuss some of those points that need discussion. Read the rest of this entry »