Archive for June, 2012

Income Disparity Interviews …

June 29, 2012

I found this article interesting. It’s a set of interviews that one person did with people at five different levels of income (roughly multiplying up by 5 each time). The author isn’t exactly unbiased, and clearly has an opinion, which seems to skew his perceptions a bit, but overall it’s interesting.

I have two points that you should consider when reading this:

1) At each stage, you need to ask yourself what Hughes — the billionaire — being a billionaire has to do with the people in that stage and in their lives.

2) Consider that if, say, I was able to eke out my current income with investing — which is upper middle class, about half of what the author makes — I would be able to to pay the 18% tax rate as well, and save myself a lot of taxes. Think about this when wondering why Hughes is upset at being considered the enemy of America, since he simply plays by the rules that everyone else does, and simply follows the rules. Where is the justification for treating him differently than everyone else simply because he’s successful?

The AA Code of Conduct

June 28, 2012

So, recently the American Atheists have launched a Code of Conduct, that many people are happy about. I don’t really have easy access to docx documents — really, you can’t use HTML on your flippin’ website? — so I’m going to reply to the type-up at Greta Christina’s blog:

American Atheists is dedicated to providing a harassment-free conference experience for everyone, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, or religion.

We expect participants to follow this code of conduct at all conference venues and conference-related social events.

Standard boilerplate, not unreasonable, moving on:

Yes means yes; no means no; and maybe means no.

What the heck is this doing in a code of conduct? What is this to refer to? And why the canard that “maybe means no”? If I ask someone if they’re going to the bar after, and they say maybe, am I supposed to plan on then not being there? If I ask someone if they think the Jets will win the Stanley Cup, and they say maybe, does that mean they think they won’t? Okay, okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but this line was, in fact, absolutely and totally irrelevant and unclear, especially in conjunction with the next line:

Please take no for an answer for any request or activity.

Oh, is that all you were trying to get across? Sure. But, then … does that include maybe? Again, what are you trying to get across with that first sentence, other than to spout feminist catchphrases so that all the feminists will nod happily?

You are encouraged to ask for unequivocal consent for all activities during the conference.

So … more than taking no for an answer, then, right? Getting unequivocal consent is a bit stronger than that, one would think. So, that means, translated into English, that you have to be absolutely certain that they agree before engaging in any “activities”, whatever they are. Does “activities” include, say, asking for another player for bridge? Is a reluctant “yes” to that problematic?

Look, yes, I’m getting really heavily into the mocking here. But why dont they just call a spade a spade? Why not say that this is about sexual activities, including flirting? The way it’s phrased, it sounds a lot more general than it needs to be, and a good code of conduct should not require me to do conceptual analysis on it or, in fact, to already know what they’re talking about to know what they mean by it. This is really sounding like one of those policies that sounds good but is mostly meaningless.

That changes:

No touching other people without asking. This includes hands on knees, backs, shoulders—and hugs (ask first!). There are folks who do not like to be touched and will respect and like you more if you respect their personal space.

This one is clear,at least, although repetitive, as the first sentence says don’t touch without asking and the sentence in parentheses says the same thing. And as someone who does not like to be touched, I totally and completely respect their assumption about who I will respect and like more [sarcasm].

Look, people touch a lot in conversations. It’s a lot more common than people think or realize. While people touching me can make me uncomfortable, what would make me even more uncomfortable is to see someone take an automatic action to touch, remember that I don’t like it, and then stop. I’d feel bad about them having to change perfectly normal behaviour just because of my own peculiarity, and so that would make things awkward. If it was too bad, then I’d say something, but usually I can put up with it so that, overall, the comfort level is as high as it can be, given the personalities of the people involved.

And I know I’d be put off by this:

“Can I touch your arm?”

“Okay.”

“Can I lightly swat you on the shoulder?”

“Okay.”

“Can I give you a sympathetic hug?”

“Okay.”

“Can I … “

“OH FOR … just do it and get it over with already!”

More on this a bit later.

Next:

We have many different folks attending this conference: sexualities, genders, races, ethnicities, abilities, beliefs—these are just a few. Blatant instances of racism, sexism, homophobia, or other stereotyping and harmful behaviors should be reported to conference staff immediately.

Well, I’m not sure what counts as blatant, or why harmful seems to be attached specifically to the stereotyping of that, but that’s a bit of a nitpick. Presuming they’re reasonable about it … sure.

Please do not wear heavy fragrances—including perfumes, colognes, scented shampoos, etc. Some of those attending have allergic reactions to scented products. No one will object to the smell of your clean body!

This, I guess, would include aftershaves … which some people say they need for other reasons (I generally don’t use it). And my shampoo does have a smell, as does my soap, as does my underarm deodorant. Is that too much? How much is too much? Is this meant to be a ban or just a caution to not use too much? Yes, I know that people have allergies and so are impacted, but it’s really hard to enforce this in any way that makes sense. These sorts of warnings kinda annoy me, but I can also see the other side and also don’t see a good way of dealing with this. So, give it a pass for annoyance.

Please respect the sessions and the speakers. Turn off cell phones and other electronic devices, take conversations and noisy children outside the session room, and move to the center of your row to make room for other attendees.

There are chairs and spaces at the front and back of the room that are marked “reserved.” The front row chairs are reserved for attendees with vision or hearing impairments. The back rows are reserved for attendees with mobility accommodation needs. Please leave these chairs and spaces free throughout the conference for those who may need them.

I always find it amusing that you have to list basic courtesy in codes of conduct …

This conference welcomes families with children and expects all attendees to treat these families with courtesy and respect. Parents or guardians bringing children are responsible for the children’s behavior and are expected to remove disruptive children from the session. Parents or guardians should be aware not all language may be suitable for children.

Don’t you expect everyone to treat all people with respect and courtesy? The last two sentences are the meat, while that “courtesy and respect” line is just a motherhood statement.

American Atheists does not tolerate harassment of conference participants, speakers, exhibitors, volunteers, or staff in any form. Harassment includes offensive verbal comments related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion, sexual images in public spaces, deliberate intimidation, stalking, following, harassing photography or recording, sustained disruption of talks or other events, inappropriate physical contact, and unwelcome sexual attention.

Standard boilerplate. Although those last two phrases could likely have replaced that “touching” paragraph, since that is the sort of touching they want to get rid of.

Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately. Conference participants violating this policy may be sanctioned or expelled from the conference (without a refund) at the discretion of the conference organizers.

And here’s the meat of it: what happens if you do wrong? Well, there’s a hint that you might get a warning, but it immediately says that if you violate the policy — I presume that that refers to the entire code — you can be sanctioned up to being kicked out of the conference if the conference organizers think you should be. And it can’t be the case that you must get a warning first, because some of these things are serious enough that you should be kicked out immediately. So, if you violate the code of conduct in any way, you can be kicked out. You have to rely on the reasonableness of the reporter and the conference organizers to avoid that. Which means, that if you want to actually follow the rules, your conversations would look something like this:

“May I speak with you?”

“Sure”

[conversation]

“May I place a friendly hand on your arm as a gesture of understanding and friendship?”

“Sure.”

And, well, you get the idea from what I said above. But, of course, no one is actually going to do that. They’re going to act as normal. Hug their friends, shake hands, touch as normal, break into conversations, and so on and so forth. That’s because they will mostly read and ignore the policy, believing that they what they do is, in fact, perfectly normal and reasonable and so not problematic … which it will be most of the time. The only people who will actually think about acting that way are the Lawful types or the socially-awkward types who will either think that these are the rules, rules are good, so they should follow the rules (the former) or those who are worried that they might not have the social skills to avoid giving offense and so will want to use the rules to ensure they don’t (the latter). And these rules will lead to messy, unnatural and awkward interactions for anyone who tries to actually follow them … which is not what you want from rules.

See, the secret here is that all of these policies, at the end of it all, come down to a reasonable person standard, because they’re really aimed at having a recourse when someone is being totally unreasonable. We expect that all actions that a reasonable person would make will go unremarked, and that if there’s a simple minor misunderstanding the people will work it out like reasonable people. It’s only for persistent or, well, blatant cases that the policy should ever be used or required. So we rely on this pre-filtering. So, really, the purpose of these policies is to have an official way to deal with the really bad cases, and a standard to compare cases against so that if someone complains and the other person says that the other person is really simply overreacting both sides have something to appeal to.

Which, of course, is why I hate the “If they feel harassed, they are” standard. You can neither verify nor argue that, and so to actually use that as a standard and have it work relies on the whole “reasonble person pre-filtering” happening and working.

Thus, harassment policies that go into too much detail are problematic if it would mean changing how most people naturally and unproblematically act. If you are going to get into specifics, they have to be specifics that can be applied, and if they can’t, then you shouldn’t get into the specifics. Hence my mocking of the “Ask before doing anything” and “Get unequivocal consent”, as those are vague enough to apply broader than intended and if applied even at the level they talk about would be horribly unnatural and forced. No one will actually do them … but if you don’t, then you can be complained about and the organizers — if they actually try to follow their own policies and not their own judgement — will have no choice but to accept the complaint. Or act on their own conscience, which might leave them erring on the side of their own view and, thus, not catching some of the cases that the people in this debate want caught.

This is what happens when Chaotic individuals try to write rules [grin].

f you are being harassed, notice that someone else is being harassed, or have any other concerns, please contact a member of conference staff immediately. Conference staff can be identified by t-shirts/special badges/other ID.

Conference staff will be happy to help participants contact hotel/venue security or local law enforcement, provide escorts, or otherwise assist those experiencing harassment to feel safe for the duration of the conference. We value your attendance.

[Email address for organizers]

[Phone number for conference security or organizers]

[Phone number for hotel/venue security]

[Local law enforcement]

[Local sexual assault hot line]

[Local emergency and non-emergency medical]

[Local taxi company]

These are standard boilerplate. Just trying to be complete [grin].

Case in point …

June 27, 2012

I think these two sets of posts and especially comments highlight what I was talking about in this post.

The latest flap is between Myers/Watson and Coffee Loving Skeptic. CLS posts here. Myers replies here.

Read the comments. At CLS’ blog, most of the people think that CLS is obviously right and Myers is basically being totally irrational. At Myers’, it’s the exact opposite. They can’t both be right, so what’s the difference between these sharply divided views? Right, which one they agree with.

My take: Myers has the right to block tweets from people he doesn’t want to read. That doesn’t mean that his reasons for doing so don’t matter and don’t say something about him. Myers is perfectly within reason to say that even if CLS didn’t use the C-word, he doesn’t want to read someone who was as hard on Watson as CLS was. However, Watson does need to correct her claim that CLS did use it if he didn’t, and Myers can be judged on how open and intellectually honest it is to block people who simply disagree with him.

The Gnu Atheists Prove Accommodationism …

June 27, 2012

Okay, everyone knows that there’s been a massive … schism, maybe? … in the New/Gnu Atheist movement. Honestly, it started a year ago with Elevatorgate, and has continued on this year with the new fight over TAM and all of the stuff over that. And you have atheists griping about FTB, atheists on FTB griping about each other, people griping about Skepchicks and Rebecca Watson, and everything in-between. People are blocking and banning and treating as the enemy people that they used to like and respect, and saying that now they know what the person is really like. Russell Blackford — who, despite his tendency to say really incorrect things when he gets angry — has now been declared essentially persona non grata for a, well, tirade that’s both right and wrong all at the same time.

Since I’m not a theist nor a skeptic, if I was the sort of person to take pleasure in the problems of my opponents or who thought of opponents as enemies, I’d be laughing right now. As it is, I’m going to settle for saying “I told you so”.

So, a little background. I’ve posted on various forums in my life, from ones that talked about feminism to ones that talked about shyness to ones that talked about religion and atheism. And there is one thing that I’ve seen that’s been a constant. On all of them, you will always have the people who are aggressive, angry, mocking, sarcastic and strident. In other words, the perfect “Gnus” as opposed to the accommodationists. And, not surprisingly, their tone will offend people; it’s generally never pleasant to have to wade through mounds of vitriol and insults to get to what might be a decent argument, and even worse to have to see those responses when you were having an interesting discussion with someone else. But those people will get laughs from the people on their side, and dismissive complaints about what would be tone trolling if someone complains. Ultimately, the answer will be the one that the Gnus give to accommodationists: suck it up and take it.

And then one of those people defending the “Gnu attitude” will disagree with one of these strongly “Gnu” people.

The “Strong Gnu” will, of course, pound on them in the same way as they pound on anyone else they agree with. They’ll use the same insults, mockery and same “if you’re not with me you’re against me” attitude as they use on the other people. Except that invariably the person targetted doesn’t find it funny anymore, but is in fact offended. And the people who agree with the “Strong Gnu” will defend their insulting that person in the same way they defended them before … as long as they agree with them. Otherwise, they’ll end up arguing that the “Strong Gnu” is just being a jerk, being mean, is out of line, isn’t addressing arguments, is relying on ad hominems, etc, etc.

And the people who were formerly the targets can only think “Now you know how we feel when they do it to us”.

This is exactly what’s happening in the “Gnu Atheist” movement. What we have is a serious disagreement over how things should work, and both sides are jumping on each other, and treating each other in the ways that they used to only treat theists and accommodationists. And, surprise, surprise, they don’t like being treated that way. And so they get offended, and fire back. And things escalate.

But the key is this:

ERV is just treat Watson like she treated everyone else she disagrees with.

Myers is treating those he disagrees with the way he treats everyone he disagrees with.

Watson is treating everyone like she’s always treated everyone.

Stephanie Zvan is treating everyone like she’s always treated everyone.

Thunderf00t is arguing the same way he’s always argued.

Jason Thibault is acting like he’s always acted.

Chris Hallquist is acting like he’s always acted.

Ophelia Benson is acting like she’s always acted.

Greg Ladon is acting like he’s always acted.

Essentially, everyone is acting just as they’ve always acted, arguing in the same ways they always argue. So, if you now see them as being void of content, impossibly missing the point, and acting like jerks they always did that. You just didn’t notice because you agreed with them, and you were then happy to see the people you also disliked get slapped around by them. But now it’s different. Now, you don’t agree with them, and now it seems to you like they’re building strawmen, mocking instead of arguing, and just being jerks. They haven’t changed; all that’s changed is whether or not you agree with them.

And look how “productive” those exchanges have been. The number of people who have changed their minds in this debate is vanishly small. Instead, for the most part, people have entrenched and doubled down. If anything, they’ve become less willing to listen and respond to arguments, or even make their own. Yes, there has been some progress on the harassment front, with some conferences adopting policies, but the divisions in their “movement” haven’t shown any sign of healing. In fact, they’ve grown deeper and wider.

So, what about the vaunted “But our style works and is needed” reply? Well, it doesn’t work. Sure, you can browbeat some people into agreeing with you or choosing the path of least resistance, but those aren’t rational conversions, but are essentially bullying. Essentially, sure, the uber-aggressive style works, but it only works — to quote Star Wars — on weak minds, on people without the will to withstand the aggression and hold the line on rational grounds. The precise people that it would most suit at least these “Gnu Atheists” to convert are those who are rational and willing to be rational, who will not be swayed by emotion but only by arguments … who will then entrench when they are faced with passion instead of substance.

The fear of accommodationism — of the sort of the “Don’t be a dick” of Phil Plait — is a fear of arguing only in a milquetoast fashion that is devoid of committment and passion. If the “Gnu Atheists” want to change the world, they are right that you don’t do that by acting as if the issues aren’t important to you. Passion is required, at times, just to let people know that the issue is important to you. But passion isn’t to be used as a strategy. You shouldn’t replace argument with passion. Passion is used for emphasis, not as the constant state. Sometimes, yes, you need to get angry. Sometimes, yes, you need to rant. But all of this should be done almost apologetically, with an understanding that simply insulting or mocking or being angry isn’t the rational approach, but that being human and really caring we can’t always restrain ourselves to the arguments. Trying to win an argument through anger is nothing more than trying to win an argument through browbeating, and when it works it’s bullying and when it fails, it really, really fails.

The worst sin of them all is polarization, the treating of opponents as enemies. People who disagree with you are … people who disagree with you. You may agree on many, many things … just not this one. They are not an enemy to be overcome through any means necessary, but are instead someone that you want to come to a consensus with. At work, I often disagree with people, and always get annoyed at dismissive answers that try to ignore or unilaterally settle the disagreement. If two people who both have the best interests of the product in mind don’t agree, there are reasons for that, and we have to figure out what those reasons are, and then settle it knowing what’s at stake. The basic starting point of intellectual charity is to always remember and assume that the person you are reading or listening to has reasons, and that the goal is not to win, but to find out those reasons and see what they’re really saying.

The schism in “Gnu Atheism” strikes me as indicating the failure of the anti-accommodationist stance, as it demonstrates clearly that when calm, rational discussion is required the anti-accommodationist stance simply can’t provide it. Thus, anti-accommodationism is nothing more than a way for bullies and jerks to wrap their bullying and jerkiness in the cloak of respectability and good of all, and thus allow themselves to hide from the fact that they really are nothing more than bullies and jerks for just a little while longer.

For rational discussion, we don’t need it. We can be passionate without being insulting, show we care without giving in to anger, disagree without becoming enemies. Anything else is irrational, useless and dangerous … as the recent kerfuffle as amply demonstrated.

A Dizzying Array of Options …

June 24, 2012

The latest Not-So-Casual Commentary is up.

I did manage to figure out how to use TPs, and am a lot further in the game now than when it was originally written. But it’s still dizzying …

“You Cannot Escape Your Destiny” (Or Can You?)

June 22, 2012

The first essay in “Star Wars and Philosophy” by Jason T. Eberl (“You Cannot Escape Your Destiny” (Or Can You)?) is an examination of free will and destiny. Both Anakin and Luke Skywalker had many prophecies and attempted prophecies about their lives. Sometimes, seeing their futures is harder than you might think; on a number of occasions, such luminaries as Yoda profess that their futures are clouded, and even he can’t tell what is going to happen. Palpatine himself believes that he has foreseen Luke joining him … and then is killed by Darth Vader before that happens. While the Jedi can get great insights into the future, those insights often are murky or even just plain wrong.

Thus, the Force’s precognitive powers look like a slightly more accurate version of astrology or various psychics: it gives vague perceptions that sometimes turn out to be completely wrong. This is completely different from the sort of completely clear and infallible knowledge that someone like, say, God has. Now, in the latter case many people think it clear that such foreknowledge would mean that there is no free will, and some might be tempted to say that to the extent that the Jedi precognition is accurate it precludes free will in those cases as well. One might argue that the cases where the Force is vague or inaccurate are, in fact, the only cases where free will exists.

Eberl compares these two cases specifically, by using Thomas Aquinas’ view of God being outside of time as an explanation for how God can know the future. Ultimately, if God resides outside of time, then for God all events happen simultaneously. For God, there is no such thing as the past, present or future. All God has is a myraid present, where everything that has ever happened and everything that will ever happen and everything that is happening are all, well, happening. You can think of it like God literally simultaneously watching an infinite number of security cameras all at once. It’s inconceivable to our time-embedded minds how any mind could possibly experience the world like this, but then we aren’t God and are time-embedded, so of course we are incapable of even imagining such a thing.

To see how this relates to free will, though, we can move to the competition, and look at “The Prophets” from Star Trek. They also lived, essentially, out of time, experiencing everything as a universal present. The idea of linear time completely and totally confused them, leading them to, in fact, actually screw up in returning someone far past the time where they started from, and having no idea that that was what they had done. They share prophecies with the people of Bajor, and they turn out to be quite accurate, if a bit vague and flowery.

And yet, it doesn’t seem like this knowledge impacts the free will of people like Sisko, their Emissary. This is because — as seen most clearly in the episode “Destiny” — it isn’t the case that what Sisko will do is predetermined. Quite the contrary; they only know what will happen because of what Sisko freely chose to do, and the actions taken by all parties. The Prophets, from their perspective, don’t have foreknowledge, but in fact only have plain old ordinary knowledge. And plain old ordinary knowledge doesn’t impact free will.

Eberl brings up some of the issues with this, which centre around the future actually already existing at the time Sisko made his choice. If the choice is already made when Sisko makes it, then it doesn’t seem to be a free choice in any interesting sense of the word, does it? But I think this analysis is again trying to apply a linear perspective to a non-linear one. It’s saying that the future has, essentially already happened. Except, of course, from the linear perspective, it hasn’t. The future, at the time Sisko makes his choice, is still wide-open. All the Prophets or all God can see are the results of Sisko’s choice, which for Sisko he hasn’t yet made and for the Prophets and God … well, the idea of having made a choice is kinda incoherent.

The Force, however, is different. It certainly doesn’t seem to be as perfect, and it isn’t as certain. The Force, to me, looks like a way of predicting the most likely outcome, which we do all the time. If everyone acts the way you’d expect them to, then you can predict with fairly good accuracy what they will do. The better you know someone, the better you can predict what they will do. As the Force is tied into all living things, it has access to pretty good information about pretty much every living thing that could impact the outcome. But any outside Force — that is outside of the Force — can bring the whole thing crashing down, and leave a bad prediction. So the Force’s powers of prediction are always limited by random events or even, perhaps, odd choices. As such, it depends on, in fact, predicting what people’s free choices will be. Since, just as above, it relies on free choices, it can’t actually be limiting them through its foreknowledge. And so it also looks like you can have free will and the Force’s form of foreknowledge, especially as it is imperfect.

(Note that determinism would predict that you could do this sort of prediction without any vagueness or error. If the Star Wars universe is deterministic, the Force can’t easily get all of the relevant factors when it makes its prediction.)

Another thing we can note about both forms of prediction is that neither of them actually in any way cause the choices that are being made. God doesn’t as a general rule impose what He sees us doing on us; the Prophets must interfere in the normal manner; the Force generally doesn’t directly cause it. Any causal impact is indirect, and mostly done by telling people what outcome was foreseen and letting that impact their decisions. So these visions don’t causally determine the events themselves, and it is difficult to imagine that something that has no causal link to the events could, in fact, actually change them from being free choices into being non-free. Thus, it must be the case that if foreknowledge means that there is no free will, it is because the possibility of foreknowledge means that the choices have to be predetermined or destined before they’re made, such as determinism implies to anyone who is not a compatibilist.

Thus, it seems to me that the specifics of the method of gaining foreknowledge are crucial to determining if that method means that we don’t have free will, and so you cannot simply say “There is foreknowledge, so we don’t have free will”. I have argued here that in these two cases neither method means that we don’t have free will since both of them rely on the free choice being made before the “foreknowledge” can occur. Thus, the Force, the Prophets, and most importantly for philosophy in general God can have their forms of foreknowledge while we can still make free choices. If Luke Skywalker, Benjamin Sisko, or we ourselves don’t have free will, it’s not due to what the Force, the Prophets, or God know about our future.

Fixing Shyness Will Not Fix Your Life …

June 22, 2012

One of the most pervasive myths that I encountered reading the shyness newsgroups was the idea that if the person could only fix their shyness, then their life would just be unconditionally and completely great and wonderful. They’d get a girlfriend. They’d get that job they wanted. They wouldn’t be poor anymore. They’d no longer be depressed, and feel that they fit in and really connected to society. They’d have tons of friends, and a completely active and engaging social life. All of these things would just magically occur the instant they stopped being shy.

From personal experience, it just isn’t true. You don’t magically get friends or a relationship or whatever just because you suddenly stop being so shy that you can’t even try to start the process, do job interviews, or carry on a conversation. All of those require more effort, and may well require changes in other areas. You might have to change your style of dress. You might have to improve your skills. You might have to go places you still don’t really want to go. Fixing shyness, for most people, will be the start, not the end.

For me, I’m quite capable of working and improving my skills through education. I can generally interact with people, although I’m still — proudly — a bit odd. My social circle is still pretty limited, and I don’t foresee myself getting a long term relationship anytime soon. But for most of the things I don’t have, a big part of it is, basically, my not really wanting to put in the effort, and that’s a personal choice. One that I may change, one that I may regret, or one that may be right for me. But, again, fixing shyness doesn’t end these choices; in fact, all it does is change and increase them.

You remove shyness to remove one limiting factor, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have others. Which is why fixing shyness is valuable even if, at the end of teh day, it doesn’t just fix your life.

Cultural Catholicism …

June 20, 2012

While following Leah Libresco’s conversion to Catholicism, it started me thinking about Catholicism in general and my Catholicism particularly. For example, a lot of comments on her conversion are insisting that it is wrong and inconsistent of her to support the Catholic organization due to, well, all the usual gripes. But this leads to an important distinction, the distinction between “Organizational Catholicism” where you support the Catholic Church as an organization specifically, and say “Philosophical Catholicism” where you support or approve of the overall philosophical stance and worldview and not necessarily the organization itself. This means that you don’t have to support the politics of the Catholic Church or even the views of the hierarchy or even specific actions of the Catholich Church to be a Philosophical Catholic. In fact, you can even argue that the interpretations of the philosophy by some in the hierarchy are wrong and still, in fact, be a Philosophical Catholic. Leah seems, to me, to be a Philosophical Catholic; she doesn’t seem to agree with all of the interpretations and likely doesn’t support all of the decisions of the hierarchy, but finds the philosophical underpinnings to be mostly right. This means that then, for her, supporting the organization isn’t what she does, but she does support the underlying ideas and worldview.

Now, I used to be what I called a “Non-ritualist Catholic”, in that I held that it was the overall precepts that were important and not the specific rituals. This, then, would likely make me a sort of Philosophical Catholic, but not the same as Leah because I’m not as well-versed in the details of Catholic philosophy as she is. However, after spending lots of time doing philosophy, the gap became even wider because I turn for most of the things that Catholic philosophy would provide to, in fact, philosophy itself, particularly the Stoics and Kant. So, since my philosophical views are not heavily informed by Catholic philosophy, I can’t really even be said to be a Philosophical Catholic; I’d need to know more about and accept more Catholic philosophy to be one of those.

Thus, I think for me the best term, right now, really is “Cultural Catholic”. I grew up Catholic, and still do hold the beliefs outline in at least the Apostle’s Creed. So, it is the cultural influence that guides and maintains my Catholicism, which also means that it is what guides and mantains my theism. But it is indeed only that force that maintains it; there’s little else keeping it going.

It was, I think, a short step from my Non-ritualist Catholicism to Cultural Catholicism. And I’m sure that many people reading this will see that it looks like a fairly short step from Cultural Catholicism to atheism. But it also is a reasonably short step from Cultural Catholicism to Philosophical Catholicism, or indeed to at least a Philosophical acceptance of any other religion. So, in order to settle this, I’ll probably have to break down and look at the philosophy of the Catholic Church. I’ve looked at some already and found it interesting, even if I didn’t quite agree with it, but I’ll have to do more.

I Can Kill Dragons!

June 19, 2012

So, I’ve been playing Record of Agarest War Zero again, and hit a battle where I totally unexpectedly ran into a pair of dragons with various support staff. They mopped the floor with me, by using the annoying “Impulse Wave” ability to take out half my team. So I grumbled, enhanced some stuff, got another level or so, start exploring the quest area in a different direction … and hit dragons again. Although I won this one, at least in part by killing off the support staff first and then clobbering the dragons. So I can now kill dragons without facing a TPK. I can play the game again!

At this rate, I might even finish it by, say, the fall …

Schroedinger’s Rapist and Me …

June 19, 2012

When I was in university, I took an astrophysics course. Part of the course was to plot the course of the Moon across the sky for 30 days. I lived in Residence at the time, as well as a couple of other students, and it was decided to save time we’d go out and do the plot together. However, when the time came only one other student could make it, an attractive young woman. Now, in order to do the plot, you had to go away from sources of noise pollution, which in our case basically meant walking out with flashlights to a nearby field. So, basically, it was just the two of us walking into a dark, deserted place when there was no one around. We did that, took the plot, and then went back.

The next time, it was again just the two of us, but this time the circumstances changed. Instead of meeting out somewhere, she had me go to her residence. She stopped in to check on her sick sister — staying for a bit — and told her to “Keep him here!”, obviously referring to someone who was going to meet her after this. We went out, and came back.

Now, to me it seemed fairly likely to me that this change was prompted by her suddenly realizing that she was walking out into a dark, deserted place with a man that she barely knew. The first time, no one would have been able to identify me, and it was quite possible that no one knew when she would be expected back. This time, her sister had seen me and so could likely identify me, and it was clear that if it would take too long that she would be missed. So, while it’s possible that I was just being a bit paranoid, to my view this was likely a case of Schroedinger’s Rapist.

And yet, I not only am not offended by this, but actually applaud her for being prudent if this is what she did.

I was watching “Angel” again last night, and in the second episode when Kate thinks that Angel is a serial killer and he asks her to meet him at the club, she says “Oh, that’s on my list to do today … walk into killer’s trap” and he replies “Hey, go in armed, wired and covered by sharpshooters. Do whatever you need to to make yourself feel safe”. I think that that sort of attitude is perfectly respectable, reasonable and prudent. I, personally, want women to take whatever precautions they think they need — within reason, of course, as macing any man who gets within 5 feet is clearly not acceptable — to feel safe and avoid being raped. Get off the elevator if you want. Let me pass you. Cross the road. Wait in lighted areas until I’m gone. Insist that we not sit in my apartment or hotel room. Whatever.

So, then, there’s no problem with Schroedinger’s Rapist, right? Wrong. The key here is that I’m perfectly willing to let women do whatever they need to in order to feel safe, but I’m not as willing to let women tell me what _I_ have to do. I know that I’m not a rapist, but if a woman has to treat me a bit like one to feel safe, that’s unfortunate but a part of life, and better than the alternative. I may feel a little hurt, but it’s a hurt that isn’t caused by anything intentional and just by prudence, so I accept it. And I have no problem with a woman doing that no matter how unreasonable I think she might be being; it’s really not my place to judge that. All of that changes, however, when she wants me to change my behaviour based on what makes her uncomfortable. While we all do like and have at least some obligation to not make people feel uncomfortable, no one can be subjected to unreasonable demands because someone else feels uncomfortable. That’s just not, well, reasonable.

The key, I think, is this: if you want me to change my behaviour or take any action, you have to convince me that your desire is reasonable. If you do, then I will generally, of course, make the change. If I don’t, then you cannot expect me to act based on what you want but which you cannot convince me is something reasonable. None of this applies to actions you yourself take; you can take them no matter how unreasonable they seem to me because they impact you, and you are not asking anything from me. And if the actions you take impede my getting something I want, in general I have no right to demand that you change either unless I can convince you. And anyone who denies this is wrong.

Ultimately, it’s all about convincing people to agree, not about imposing actions on people based on your own wants and desirse. That’s always wrong. Treat people as ends, not merely as means, and things will always work out better than if you don’t.


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