What I Finished, What I Played in 2016

January 23, 2017

This year I finished Dragon Age: Inquisition, Conception II, Knights of the Fallen Empire, XBlaze: Code Embryo and Huniepop. I just played Cross Edge, Record of Agarest War Zero (a “just played” yet again),Corpse Party: Blood Drive, Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines, Valkyria Chronicles Remastered and Pinball Arcade, a game that I picked up and have enjoyed playing even though it doesn’t include my favourite table, the Star Wars one.

I didn’t really finish that much this year, although you might have to add the last The Old Republic class stories to that list. But it wasn’t a bad year, although my stack of games keeps growing and I didn’t really play a lot of games on my vacation … and am likely to busy enough again this year that I might not have that much time to play games. We’ll have to see.

Discussion of Objective Morality: Cross Examined on Objective Morality

January 20, 2017

So, I’m planning on writing on a post by Richard Carrier discussing objective morality, and as a kind of preamble to the post I’d like to examine this post by Cross Examined’s Bob Seidensticker attempting to show that objective morality doesn’t exist. Maybe. Well, at least it is aimed at showing that a specific argument for objective morality is wrong, which makes it worth looking at at a bit.

Seidensticker starts with this claim in response to Tim Keller’s argument that we think that the extermination of the Jews was in fact utterly immoral, no matter what the Nazis or anyone else thought of it:

There’s a difference between a widely believed or strongly felt moral opinion and objective morality. Don’t make the remarkable claim of objective morality (Keller’s “moral standards exist, outside of us”) without evidence.

So, parsing this, it looks like he’s arguing that the claim that there is an objective morality is a remarkable claim. But on what grounds does he assert that? Keller’s argument is that for the most part when we think of morality we think of these clear cases, and think that morality implies that these are, in fact, morally true regardless of how anyone thinks of it. This implies that we think that moral standards exist and apply independently of what people think they are. How is it that the predominant characterization of morality, based on our moral intuitions, is the remarkable claim? Especially considering that those moral intuitions are, in fact, pretty much the only evidence we have to say that anything like morality exists and is worth talking about. Sure, we could be wrong in our moral intuitions, but you need more than the idea that we could be wrong to call the objective morality claim remarkable but the non-objective morality claim not.

Moreover, this reply is utterly pointless, because the question is: Does Seidensticker believe that the extermination of the Nazis was immoral regardless of how they, or anyone else, thought of it, or does he reject that? If he accepts it, then he accepts objective morality. If he rejects it, then he has to accept some consequences, not the least of which is that he would have a very hard time justifying being able to argue against those who held that it was okay. Either he goes full-on relativistic and so can’t argue on any basis except for that person’s own beliefs, or he divides up his relativism but then has a hard time drawing the line of relativism and saying that relativism only applies this far and no further. And none of that would allow him to declare certain propositions objectively moral and claim that others aren’t, because if he does that then he accepts that there are objectively true moral propositions as per those who support objective morality, and is just quibbling over what those moral propositions are.

Which leads in to his reply to J. Warner Wallace. Wallace argues that there are exceptions to rules like “Don’t kill people” and “Don’t lie”, but that this doesn’t prove that objective morality is false. If we alter the rules to be “Don’t kill people just for fun” and “Don’t like just for fun”, then like the Holocaust example we can see that everyone agrees that these are, in fact, just objectively true, no matter what anyone else things about it. Seidensticker replies:

So we shouldn’t kill or lie just for fun. I confess that I’m unimpressed. Do we now have a useful moral roadmap where we didn’t before? Does this rule illuminate issues that frustrate society like abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, and capital punishment so that the correct path is now clear to all?

Nope. We’re no wiser than we were before. And note that the Nazis didn’t kill Jews just for fun, so this rule does nothing to help Keller’s example.

The point of this exercise is only to spit out yet another example that we can all agree to. Keller pointed out that exterminating Jews was bad, and Wallace points out that killing or lying without justification is bad. I’m sure we all agree with these claims, but this isn’t news. Nothing has been illuminated.

Well, except that, as stated above, if Seidensticker agrees that these are, in fact, moral truths independent of us, then he has conceded that those who think that morality is objective are, in fact, correct. It doesn’t matter that these specific moral principles won’t necessarily help us solve all of those other related questions, because they weren’t really meant to. Obviously, if there are obvious answers to those moral questions, we’ll then discover equally “unimpressive” objective moral principles that answer those questions. Or we’ll find a more general objective principle that has as its consequence all of those. At any rate, that’s all irrelevant. If Seidensticker agrees that that this is, in fact, always morally wrong — or “bad” — then that’s an objective moral principle that is independent of what we believe is moral. And that’s all these arguments are trying to establish.

Seidensticker tries to argue for a more plausible view of morality than objective morality:

The problem, of course, is the remarkable claim of moral truth grounded outside humanity—“moral values that are valid and binding whether anybody believes in them or not” as William Lane Craig defines it. Why would you pick this explanation? A far more plausible explanation is morality as a combination of

a fixed part (moral programming that we all pretty much share since we’re the same species) and
a variable part (social mores).

This explains morality completely without an appeal to the supernatural.

Question: what makes those things “moral” in any way? If he wants to appeal to our moral intuitions about morality — ie what we think is moral — then he has to accept that we think that there are some things that are moral regardless of our species or social mores. Out own intuitions, then, don’t make his account any more plausible. He can lean on that “supernatural” part but a) that would only work for naturalists and b) there are a number of philosophers who have perfectly naturalistic ideas of objective morality. So why does he think his is more plausible when his account might not be any kind of morality whatsoever?

Seidensticker then tries to address Wallace’s defense of moral disagreement, the challenge to objective morality that says that because people do not and have not ever agreed on what is moral, then that must mean that morality is not objective (or, at least, strongly implies it). Wallace first starts with the argument that on what basis do “moral reformers” have to argue for moral reform if not by appealing to the idea that there is an objective morality and that what people think is morally right is actually morally wrong? To tie it back to Seidensticker’s “plausible explanation” above, they are not appealing to the fixed part since as we are all the same species we’d already have that, and not to the variable part because the social mores are, in fact, saying that what that reformer says is morally wrong is really morally right. So, under Seidensticker’s explanation, there is no rational or logical basis for them to make that argument.

Seidensticker first wants to claim that it can’t be to objective morality:

Obviously not through an appeal to an objective moral truth. If such a truth were accessible to all of us, how could we be in disagreement? Or does Wallace imagine that objective moral truth is not reliably inaccessible? But if it’s inaccessible, what good is it?

Seidensticker assumes here that if a truth is objective, then it must be self-evidently so, and so everyone must immediately and always see it as being the case. Otherwise, it is inaccessible and useless. But a truth can be accessible and yet not evidently so, and not without reasoning and theorizing and argumentation and experimentation to find out what the truth really is. For example, it is not self-evidently true that the Sun does not rotate around the Earth, and given the fact that we see that the Sun moves and don’t see that the Earth moves it is even the case that the Sun moving around the Earth is intuitively obvious. The same could be said about the rotation of the Earth; it may seem ridiculous to suggest that the Earth rotates since, well, we don’t feel it moving. The entire history of science has been taking this naively intuitive claims and proving that they are, in fact, actually false, with claims that are accessible yet not always intuitively obvious. Is Seidensticker going to claim that all of those truths then were “inaccessible”? Why should our naive intuitions about morality be given more weight than our naive intuitions about reality?

Wallace puzzles over how MLK could’ve caused change, but where’s the difficulty? History tells how it happened. America is not a simple democracy where the majority rules. We have a Bill of Rights that protects the minority against the tyranny of the majority. We have a free press. And we have a long history of (slowly) changing our minds on moral issues.

The majority opinion is that and nothing more. The moral claim “Jim Crow laws are wrong” is grounded only by everyone who agrees with the statement. It’s not objective moral truth.

So, if someone doesn’t agree with that statement, then, they are not, in fact, immoral or violating morality in any way. This means that Seidensticker has no grounds on which to claim that someone who disagrees is, in fact, wrong about what is or isn’t moral. Thus, the Nazis did not do anything morally wrong. Nor would someone who killed someone just for fun. You know, the obvious examples that Seidensticker claimed were too obvious and that everyone accepted, and thus were being used as an invalid bridge to objective morality?

Seidensticker closes off all avenues here if he wants the idea that something is morally wrong to have any weight whatsoever. If it’s all personal, then what someone says about anyone else’s morality is meaningless. And if he retreats to majority opinion to argue for why we should take the claim that Jim Crow laws or the Holocaust are meaningfully morally wrong, then MLK was wrong — and all reformers are wrong — to try to encourage that transition through argument, because the answer to what is morally right is just what the majority says it is.

Seidensticker can’t oppose morality this way without both contradicting his own explanation and making morality meaningless. It’s a double-whammy for him here. And at the end of the day, his objections to morality only end up making morality meaningless and contradicting the idea that there’s any kind of objective truth at all, undercutting science. This means that his arguments walk him into the very problems that philosophers use objective morality to solve, while refusing to concede that he’s willing to live with those problems. His “plausible explanation” isn’t one, and his appeal to history ignores the underlying philosophical arguments and the reasons why the appeals to morality were … appealing in order to support his own personal view, which he then makes meaningless and contradicts while doing so.

My contention is this: if morality is not objective in at least some very interesting senses, it is meaningless. Seidensticker’s take is one of the ones that makes it meaningless.

Comic Lapse …

January 18, 2017

I think I’m letting my Marvel subscriptions run out next year.

I’ve already talked about the problems I’ve been having with it. They’ve continued to get worse. Agents of SHIELD is over. Darth Vader is over. I’m not enjoying X-Men ’92 that much. I ended up taking Star Wars: Han Solo … and it ended, to be replaced with Darth Maul. I’m not interested in the replacements, had already been having a hard time finding good series to replace the ending series with, and am not interested in scouring the lists every few months to find something cool. The only series I still like is Deadpool, and I’m tempted to just wait and buy the trade paperbacks. Sure, price-wise they’re more expensive, but then I get the entire story one-shot, too, and have an easier time storing them.

It’s been a while, certainly, and if things hadn’t kept changing so much I would have stayed. But it changes too much to be worth it for me right now.

Hugo Award Assessment: Final Thoughts

January 16, 2017

So, my final thoughts on the 2016 Hugo Award Best Novel nominees:

If this is the best science fiction and fantasy have to offer, then I weep for science fiction and fantasy. The works here were “Meh” at best, and utter crap at worst. I find much less flawed and even philosophically deeper works in the X-Wing series, and it’s not even really trying to do that. Even worse, in order to keep my mind uncluttered I refused to read any actual science fiction and fantasy novels, and since reading is my major pastime I ended up reading graphic novels and, most importantly, the “Order of the Stick” books, and found that that stick-figure comic had better characterization, plots, and generally was more entertaining than any of the Hugo Award nominees. To rub salt in the wound, I read the “Order of the Stick” books twice while reading these works, and can’t think of a book here that I would ever read again. Science fiction and fantasy is in dire straits, it seems to me.

Another thing I noticed in every work is the focus on super-competent and generally female protagonists, being able to do what no one else things wise or even possible. Gwen in “The Aeronaut’s Windlass”, all of the “Seven Eves” in “Seveneves”, Breq in “Ancillary Mercy”, the main protagonist in “Uprooted” … all of them are hyper-competent and almost never fail due to their own fault. I had thought for a while that “The Fifth Season” would avoid that, but even though Syenite isn’t as powerful as Alabaster, even in those sections she does almost everything of importance and never fails, and even the trans character (male to female) is overly impressive in a number of ways. Jemisin only avoids doing this outright because she really fails to establish anything about any of the characters beyond soundbites, which leaves little room for them to be overly impressive.

Now, people may reply that male protagonists were always that hyper-competent, and it’s just that when it’s women that I’m objecting. To counter that, let me present characters from the Amber series and from David Eddings’ “Elenium” and “Tamuli”, all of which are among my favourite works. Corwin in the first Amber series starts off with amnesia and has to trick others into helping him, and relies on Random and Deirdre to fill him in, protect him, and get him to the castle. In the first book, he joins with another sibling to take the throne of Amber, and fails miserably. Later, it is implied that he was actually manipulated by his sibling. He is blinded, and recovers his sight, not because of some super-special ability, but because he is arguably better at doing what all of his family can do … which only means that he does it faster, not that they wouldn’t recover in the same way. And, when his sight recovers, it’s not portrayed as this huge victory, but instead as a spur for him to escape because if he doesn’t he’ll be blinded again. As he escapes, he curses Eric … and opens the way for the forces of Chaos to attack Amber. He returns in the second book to take the throne, and wins because of unique weaponry … that he discovered not because he was some sort of great chemist, but instead purely by accident. For the rest of the series, he investigates various things, almost gets killed on a number of occasions, and arguably screws everything up in trying to save it. He learns humility and decides that maybe his feud with Eric — and the fight over the throne — wasn’t worth it, and while he meets his son, at the end of it all he wins neither the fair maiden nor the throne, and loses his most beloved sister … and is mostly content with that.

In Eddings, the most powerful character is … the secondary female character Sephrenia. And while she is very wise and experienced and very powerful in magic, she’s pretty vulnerable to weapons, and so has to be protected a lot of the time. Thus, she fits neatly into the mentor/wise advisor role. Sparhawk, the main character, is important because he has a destiny and is generally a jack-of-all-trades: he can fight and use magic, but isn’t necessarily the best at any of them. And at the end, when he gains ultimate power, he gives it up because he doesn’t like the person he becomes while using it … and only uses that ultimate power to fight the other ultimate power.

Good heroes need weakness and flaws to exploit. They need to struggle and fail, and overcome it all in the end. Modern science fiction and fantasy — at least in these Hugo nominees — seem to attempt to take away the struggle … but heroes who never struggle are uninteresting to us, and plots featuring them are boring. “Uprooted”, “Seveneves” and “Ancillary Mercy” are prime examples of how uber-competent protagonists kill any drama in the plot.

Okay, all that aside, here are my picks, starting from the worst and working my way up. If you’ve read my commentaries, the work at the bottom of the list will not surprise you, but the book at the top might:

5) Seveneves: This work is just terrible in every way imaginable. It’s only interesting at all as hard sci-fi and doesn’t even do that right. This is the only work that I’d even consider “No Awarding”.

Hugo Award standings: 4th.
Vox Day’s standing: 2nd.

4) The Fifth Season: While last place (and first place) were pretty much clear for me, 2 – 4 was a tight race. For the longest time, I had this in third, but the primary job of the first book in a series is to make us want to read the next books in the series, and it’s clear that the way Jemisin chose to do that falls completely flat due to a lack of development. It fails at its main goal, and isn’t really good at doing anything else either.

Hugo Award standings: 1st.
Vox Day’s standing: No Award.

3) Ancillary Mercy: For all of the time that this languished in fourth place, I was torn over it … and am still torn over putting it third. The problem is that most of the problems with this work are not the fault of it, but are instead the fault of the other works in the series. If it had tried valiantly to save the series and failed, I would have been more charitable, but at the end of the day, it didn’t.

Hugo Award standings: 3rd.
Vox Day standing: No Award.

2) Uprooted: While it is still terribly flawed, boring, and suffering from an utter lack of drama due to an overly powerful protagonist, it manages to come in second by being pretty much a standard if lackluster fantasy work. One ought not be proud of coming in second because the work wasn’t specifically horribly flawed.

Hugo Award standings: 2nd.
Vox Day standing: 1st.

1) The Aeronaut’s Windlass: The work is boring at times and relies heavily on us feeling an emotional connection to people, places and things that it doesn’t do the legwork to ensure that we do develop that emotional connection. But … it actually has a plot and some interesting characters, which is enough to get top spot. Again, that’s not really something to be proud of; I would think that all authors would want to achieve something more than “well, there’s a bit of a plot and characters there, so you win!”.

Hugo Award standings: 5th.
Vox Day standing: 3rd.

There you have it. I was starting to read “The Mote in God’s Eye” (which so far was “Okay”), but I now think that I need to cleanse my palate, and go read something that I actually like. And I’m going to try to sell all of the Hugo Award nominees if I can, because I will never read any of them again.

Continental Cup …

January 16, 2017

So, the Continental Cup was on this weekend. This bonspiel is essentially curling’s equivalent of the Ryder Cup in golf, where they take teams from North America and pit them against teams from the rest of the World in a number of different types of games, specifically team, skins and mixed doubles. North America won the event for the second year in a row, although they won it much more convincingly this year than last year.

Now, you’d think that this would be an event that interested me, but it didn’t. While in the past I found it easy to cheer for North America and against the World, this year I found that I didn’t care that much. Part of this was because the teams that represented North America — especially on the women’s side — were at least teams that I has no real opinion on (Chelsea Carey), didn’t know at all (Jamie Sinclair) or didn’t really like (Jennifer Jones). About the only team on the North America side that I might consider cheering for on occasion was Kevin Koe’s team … and at least part of that was his reaction to the mixed doubles which was a “Tell me what to do, and I’ll go out there and do it”. Thus, I didn’t really have any strong reason to cheer for North America, or pretty much any of the teams on either side.

So I didn’t really watch that much of it. But let me comment on a few things I noticed when I was watching.

The biggest thing is, of course, the mixed doubles, which I had never really watched before. I don’t think I like it. While a lot of that might come from the bad ice conditions and players who are not used to mixed doubles being forced to play it, I found that it relied far to much on mistakes to generate its offence. Yes, there were a lot of rocks in play and that led to big ends, but a lot of the time that only happened due to bad strategy or, more often, shots that missed. With more experienced players, either that will happen less or the lack of sweeping and a broom to aim at will keep the players struggling. Neither is good for the sport, as the former will return to a low scoring game with less strategy than a full team game, while the latter will essentially reduce the sport to a comedy of errors, and thus a sideshow when compared to curling. It may be fun, but so far it is not curling.

Also, it generates a lot of its offence by restricting what can be hit when. This is not a good long term strategy, because players who want to play defensively will keep finding ways to do so despite the existing rules. For example, curling introduced the four rock rule where you can’t remove a guard with the first four stones. Almost immediately thereafter, teams developed the “tick shot”, which moves the guard out of the way without actually removing it, making the rule much less effective. In mixed doubles, since the men generally throw rocks 2, 3, and 4 (out of 5) I can see them letting the first four build up and then throwing really, really hard with runbacks and the like if they want to play defense … as happened in a few matches. In general, you want players to use their creativity to try to overcome the strategies the other players have adopted, not to overcome your rules.

Other points:

– Jennifer Jones is surprisingly awkward on the ice for someone who has curled for so long. This was made apparent on the few occasions when she had to sweep during the mixed doubles.

– I’m reminded about why the women’s game relies more on the soft weight shots than the men’s game does. It’s not that the men can’t make those shots, it’s that freezes and taps are less useful when the opponent will toss it as hard as they can and knock things out. In fact, at one point in the mixed doubles Kevin Koe saw a potential triple for the opposition, but even the commentators conceded that the woman player probably wouldn’t have the weight to make it.

Cruel to be Kind …

January 13, 2017

Miri is talking about the difference between niceness and kindness:

To most people, those are probably synonymous; Merriam-Webster uses “kind” as part of its definition for “nice.” I’m probably the only person who defines these words the way I do, but that’s okay. I’m aware of how other people use them, and that allows me to be clear with others. But when I need to be clear with myself, my definitions are much more useful.

The first thing to think about when someone uses a different definition for words than everyone else because they find them more “useful” is whether or not this is, in fact, actually rationalization. Are they changing the definition so that it can make them feel better about themselves or because it lets them do things that otherwise they wouldn’t be able to do? Sure, sometimes words get redefined for clarity and to help sort things out properly, but there’s always a risk that it’s not making it clearer, but instead is making it work better for you, specifically.

And Miri’s main statement of its use does not exactly fill one with confidence:

The reason these redefinitions are so important to me is that they create space for me to be good to other people without necessarily making them happy. A lot of the discourse on boundaries attempts to reclaim the idea of selfishness as a positive, and while I find this extremely valuable, I also think it sets up a false dichotomy in which setting your boundaries is “selfish” (whether that’s a positive or a negative) and doing what other people want is “selfless” or “nice.”

So, setting boundaries is important to Miri. She also has a reaction to setting boundaries being considered “selfish”, and the redefinition allows her to not consider setting boundaries as selfish behaviour. We’ll come back to the details later, but right here alarm bells should be going off suggesting that rationalization is what’s happening here.

But let’s look at the definitions:

To me, niceness is making others feel good or comfortable. Niceness is being polite. Niceness happens in those moments when the way you want to treat someone aligns well with the way they want to be treated by you. Niceness is when both of you walk away from the interaction with a smile on your faces.

Kindness is being genuine. Kindness is looking out for someone’s long-term growth or needs. Kindness may be nice, but it doesn’t have to be. For instance, helping someone move into a new house is both nice and kind. Telling someone that they have hurt you may not be nice, but it is kind–both to yourself and to them, because it allows them to improve and to preserve their relationship with you if that’s what they want to do.

These definitions are, in fact, a bit vague, odd for a post intended to talk specifically about these definitions. Let me try to clear things up — and, oddly, shorten them a bit — by grabbing what I think is the heart of the definition that she wants to use here:

Niceness is primarily concerned with how a person feels.

Kindness is primarily concerned with their well-being.

Put this way, we can see that, yes, they might come into conflict. Someone might be hurt if you tell them the truth, but in the long-term they’re better off if you do so than if you don’t. This also fits into her comments on breaking up with someone:

Similarly, breaking up with someone or saying “no” if they ask you out on a date may hurt them, but it’s also the kinder choice. The alternative is leading them on or confusing them when you already know you’re not interested.

Unfortunately, she immediately follows that up with a comment on raising conflicts between the two based on assuming that being nice means “making them feel good” rather than “making them feel as good as reasonably possible”:

That’s why making it a goal to always make people feel good–that is, prioritizing niceness–can actually be very harmful in the long run, both to yourself and to others.

But niceness doesn’t mean that every action that you take has to make them feel good, or as good as possible. Niceness is concerned with their feelings, not with them having to always feel good no matter what. Thus, there may be times when you have no real choice but to hurt their feelings in some way, but niceness says that if you have to hurt someone’s feelings you try to minimize that as much as possible. The reason that this is important is that ignoring this leads people to think that if they can’t make them feel good then they can’t be nice and so there’s no point in trying to be nice. Miri herself isn’t obviously doing that — although a lot of her situations could imply it — but many atheists have indeed argued in the whole “accommodationist/Don’t Be a Dick” fiasco that religious people are going to be upset anyway, so there’s no reason to try to avoid upsetting them. That is in fact “not nice”, and is a niceness that is, in fact, achievable.

The danger here is that trying to drop niceness becomes a way to rationalize selfishness/self-centeredness, by defining what you’re doing as really being kind — concerned with their well-being — and so not having to worry about their feelings at all, and thus dropping one of the reasons that would get in the way of you doing what you want. And her examples have a startling tendency to not think about others except when convenient:

But just like authentic, meaningful, and productive interactions don’t always feel good, interactions that feel good aren’t always authentic, meaningful, or productive. If a coworker irritates and frustrates me by trying to start conversations with me early in the morning before I’m ready to interact with people, I may choose to just be polite and smile back and chat with them rather than letting them know that this isn’t a good way of interacting for me. They get to leave the conversation feeling good, but neither of us has moved forward in any way.

Note that here all of the considerations are from her side. She’s not ready to talk yet, but the co-worker is trying to, but since she feels it’s easier to just be polite. Here she uses this as an example of it not being authentic or meaningful, but let me recast it in a way that might suggest otherwise:

I, myself, get in to work at 5 am. Imagine that I work with Miri, and she gets in at 9 am. Imagine that both of us are generally ready for and strongly desiring conversation about 2 hours into our workday. Also imagine that by 6 hours into our workday, we aren’t really interested in conversation, and are already thinking about ending the day and going home. At 9 am, when Miri is so irritated, I’ve spent 4 hours at work and at this point would be desperate for some conversation. On the other hand, when Miri is ready to have some conversation, I’d be pretty much wiped. Now, Miri could say at 9 am that she isn’t ready for conversation, and at 11 am I could return the favour, but all this means is that neither of us get conversation when we really want. Alternatively, we could both understand this difference, suck it up, and work to give the other person what they need. This would be both nice and kind, and more importantly would be entirely authentic; my main goal is to engage in conversation with them when they need it, and I need not pretend that I need or desire it as much at that point as they do.

Contrast this with Miri’s later comments on why you might still do it:

First of all, kindness tends to involve a lot more emotional labor. We may not always have the capacity for that, or be willing to spend that energy in a particular situation. Second, kindness may not always be the wisest course of action. Telling my coworker how I feel about early-morning conversation may help them be more considerate towards me and maybe others too, but it can also cause unnecessary workplace conflict and give me a reputation for being cranky and unfriendly. That sort of thing is always an individual’s call to make–for you, getting someone to stop bugging you at 8 AM may be important enough to risk that, but for me it isn’t.

It’s all about how it impacts or could impact her. The co-worker isn’t being considerate to her — by doing things that, you must note at this point, they can’t know bother her because she didn’t tell them — but there’s no reason for her to be considerate of them, unless being considerate works out for her. As my redefinition says, being kind means being concerned for their well-being, and there’s no consideration for their actual well-being here, except as per how it can work towards or against her own well-being.

You may think it’s kind to rush over and help a stranger at the gym when you see them lifting weights improperly, but they may see this as intrusive, nosy, and rude. On the other hand, if you’re a personal trainer, letting your client know their form is off is definitely the kind thing to do (not to mention part of your job), even if it makes the client feel embarrassed or frustrated. The difference is that your client consented to have you comment on their workout; the stranger didn’t.

Well, not usually, no. How you approach this and what the circumstances are matter. A personal trainer who is training you was indeed paid to teach you to have as proper a form as they can, and so comments on your form being improper are indeed always just part of them doing their job. And they have clear expertise and so even if you disagree you are likely to think that they are, in fact, right. For a stranger, they don’t have any of that, and so it can come across as you trying to show off how much better you are at this than they are. This, of course, can be emphasized or diminished by how you approach. If you rush over to tell them that because they are likely to injure themselves, they’re more likely to accept that than if you rush over to tell them that because if they did it your way they’d exercise four more muscles and so be more efficient. And an off-hand comment of “The trainer showed me to do this way because it was more efficient” is more likely to get a reasonable response than “You’re doing it wrong!”. Again, the example often involves being both self-centered and not worrying about the well-being of the person. If their thinking you’re rude will put you off correcting them, then they can’t be doing it all that badly, can they? Either that, or you’re willing to put the risk of them saying harsh words to you ahead of their well-being.

Let’s return to boundaries:

While setting boundaries can hurt people’s feelings and is therefore not exactly a “nice” thing to do, it is a fundamentally kind thing to do–not just for yourself, but for them. When you set a boundary with someone, you are giving them important information that they need. You are helping them figure out how to maintain a healthy relationship with you. You are trusting them and letting them get to know you better. You are relieving any anxiety they might’ve had about whether or not they were crossing your boundaries–now they know for sure, and can avoid doing it in the future.

This is pure rationalization, and rationalization that allows her to avoid feeling selfish — after all, knowing her boundaries is “better” for them — and allows her to avoid having to question whether setting those boundaries is inappropriate, and whether or not she’s overstepping the bounds of boundaries. After all, it’s just information about her, information that the person needs to know in order to maintain a healthy relationship with her. How can simply saying what she needs be out of bounds? So it can’t be really selfish, and it really does in fact work for the other person’s well-being, so that they can stay in the relationship with her … or, presumably, leave if they find it unreasonable.

If these things are really something she needs, then it’s reasonable to say that this is the way it needs to be. But this entire approach shields her from ever having to ask if she in fact really needs that and if she might have to loosen up her boundaries in order to make the relationship work. This allows her to dodge the selfishness — or self-centered — objection and argue that being clear about — and sticking to, presumably — her boundaries is actually good for them, even if it forces them to allow Miri to push their boundaries, or at least guilt them into accepting what they feel are unacceptable boundaries in order to maintain a relationship that is arguably at this point more important to them than it is to her.

This attitude carries through the end of the post:

Sometimes I like being nice. Doing little polite things for people or making small talk with a coworker may not be particularly genuine actions–especially not these days when I’m pretty depressed–but they make people feel at least a little bit good and as a result I feel good too.

Sometimes I decide that being nice is not my priority. As a therapist, I can’t always be nice. However gently I hold clients accountable for harming themselves or others, it’s not going to feel good. As a partner, I can’t always be nice either. However hard I might try to keep the terseness out of my voice when I say I’m too tired for something or that I need to stop what we’re doing, some part of my pain or irritation will seep through and that’s okay.

Some people don’t deserve either niceness or kindness from me, but distinguishing those two things helps me avoid mistreating people when there’s no need to. Just because I can’t be nice to them doesn’t mean I can’t be kind; just because I can’t be kind to them doesn’t mean I can’t be nice.

But as I pointed out above, niceness should entail making them feel as good as possible, which includes making them feel less bad. Presumably, Miri is going to pick the gentlest way possible to “hold them accountable”, which is a rather odd thing to suggest doing to one’s patients. Shouldn’t you, instead, simply try to fix the problems that cause that behaviour? At any rate, Miri is more than willing to make people feel good when it makes her feel good, not when they need to feel good … except for those people who deserve neither. For some reason, we know not what.

It is always possible to be both kind and nice to people, because both are fundamentally concerned with caring about other people and thus it is always possible to do what is best for others taking both feelings and overall well-being into account. Sure, you have to consider yourself in that calculation as well, but nice and kind people don’t have to be doormats either. All that is required is that you consider your needs and the needs of others and proceed in a way that ensures your needs and desires in the way that also maximizes their needs, desires and feelings. If you have to hurt someone’s feelings, do so in the way that hurts them the least. If you need to put your well-being ahead of someone else’s, do so in a way that hampers their well-being the least. This does not seem difficult … or, at least, it doesn’t seem that difficult when your main goal is everyone and not just justifying your own desires.

Reading Into Attraction …

January 11, 2017

So, I came across this post by Benny Vimes talking about “sapiosexual” and how people don’t like it when they get accused of being ablelist when they claim to be “sapiosexual”:

I recently participated in a discussion on Facebook about the word “sapiosexual” and how it is ableist, among other problems. While many responses were good, several people objected, claiming that we were telling them who they should be attracted to or who they should sleep with. I’ve seen this with many other discussions about people’s attractions related to race, weight, and other traits as well. Someone usually comes into those discussions and says “I can’t help who I’m attracted to! I can’t just decide to be attracted to someone!”

So, before we start into the details of how people should react to these assertions, let’s look first at what the heck “sapiosexual” actually means:

One who finds the content’s of someone else’s mind to be their most attractive attribute, above and before their physical characteristics. From the Latin root “sapien”, meaning wise. The term is now becoming mainstream with dating apps such as OkCupid and Sapio giving users the ability to define their sexual orientations as “Sapiosexual.”

For many, defining oneself as Sapiosexual is also a statement against the current status quo of hookup culture and superficiality, where looks are prized above all else.

Now, I don’t normally use the “Urban Dictionary” for pretty much anything, and as I go through some of the other definitions below the “Top Definition”, I can see why. I can also see where some of the reactions might be coming from:

A shibboleth used by poseurs attracted to the appearance of intelligence rather than actual intelligence. People genuinely attracted to intelligence know that the word “intelligence” is derived from the Latin “intelligere”; that the Latin participle for wisdom is “sapiens,” not “sapio”; and that the Latin “sapio” means something that tastes good.

Something you put on your dating profile if you want to be pretentious.

I’m so intelligent that my sexual kink is attraction to Mensa members. I’m a sapiosexual!

So, given that there are some … strong reactions to the term, Vimes nevertheless wants us to accept that the criticisms aren’t something to get upset about:

I think what isn’t clear to some people is that we’re not asking people to be attracted to people they’re not attracted to. Rather, when someone’s preferences are in line with some axis of oppression, it’s worth examining how society has lead us to those preferences. It is absolutely not true that our desires exist in a vacuum – they’re a product of our culture, and our biases.

If you defend these preferences aggressively when someone points out you may be coming from a place of prejudice, then you especially need to examine your biases – they’re showing.

Now, recall that “sapiosexual”, in the top definition, refers to preferring mental traits — intelligence explicitly, but arguably also personality and values — over physical traits, explicitly physical beauty. The whole theory of sexualization from feminism is that this is, in fact, precisely what people ought to be doing: preferring the traits that reflect who the person really is. And Vimes insists that this is problematic because it is “ableist”, presumably against people who are … let’s say “less intelligent”. So, if someone can’t prefer someone for their looks, and can’t prefer someone for their intelligence, what’s left?

It gets even worse when we note the concept of “fetishization”. While Vimes here suggests that the preferences are in line “with some axis of oppression” which implies preferring the non-oppressed to the oppressed, the idea of fetishization would also kick in if someone preferred the oppressed to the non-oppressed. We can obviously see that wrt intelligence, again, where if a man preferred “less intelligent” women that would be seen as being sexist. When you put it all together, there doesn’t seem to be any preference that wouldn’t trigger this call for soul-searching. Sure, they haven’t gotten into not caring at all about anything yet … but at that point you wouldn’t have anything that looks like preferences at all.

And it isn’t just a call for soul-searching anyway, to look at how culture impacts what you find attractive:

In other words, if you find you are only attracted to white people, it would be a good idea to examine your feelings about race. If you find you are only attracted to thin people, you may have underlying negative feelings about fat people. If you only are attracted to people you deem to be “smart enough” it’s likely you need to think hard about your ideas about intelligence.

Note the progression here, with race getting the “good idea to examine”, weight getting “may have underlying negative feelings”, and intelligence “likely you need to think hard about your ideas about intelligence”. The last one is not a simple call to look at the impact culture might be having on your preferences, but is pretty much a claim that you have some wrong ideas about intelligence. Now, as far as I can see there are two likely reasons for this progression:

1) Vimes is more upset or more certain about the idea that preferring intelligence is an indication of a problem.

2) Vimes considers them all at the stronger level, but is building an argument and a case to lead people to accept his argument and not simply react at the first step.

The problem with the first idea is that when it comes to providing evidence, it is the other two that he gives evidence for:

In fact, there is evidence that prejudice corresponds with sexual attraction in these cases. Last year an Australian study found “Sexual racism, therefore, is closely associated with generic racist attitudes, which challenges the idea of racial attraction as solely a matter of personal preference.” Body size preferences also seem to be influenced by culture, according to this study which found “The universality of an ideal [waist-to-height ratio] is thus challenged, and historical changes in western societies could have caused these variations in men’s preferences.” In other words, our culture and the biases of that culture influence our sexual preferences.

Now, neither of those studies are particularly good, as they do nothing more than establish the last point: our culture and the biases of that culture can influence our sexual preferences. But, of course, so can a lot of things. Vimes gives no reason to think intelligence particularly bad … or that it even is impacted by any of this at all. And it gets worse because he’s trying to make a case that preferring intelligence means having certain ideas about intelligence, but this can only refer to, say, preferring strict IQ to EQ, for example. I can’t see any reason to bring that up other than to say that our traditional, academically-oriented ideas of intelligence leave out other perfectly valid forms of intelligence. Except that people who say that they prefer “intelligence” might, in fact, understand that, and either a) are only referring to people who don’t really have intelligence at all or b) might have good reasons for preferring that specific form of intelligence. Using myself as an example, I have quite a bit of academic-style intelligence and reasoning ability, and my interests focus on that. It’s quite possible to suggest that, say, a woman might not have all of that “book-learnin'”, but be instinctively really good at figuring out how to build and fix things. And that’s great. But as I personally have no such talent and no interest in that sort of thing, what in the world would we talk about or do together? Thus, specifying “intelligence” in the way that pretty much everyone understands it would make sense, and wouldn’t necessarily mean that I’d consider that person “stupid”.

So, Vimes uses the strongest language for intelligence, but provides no evidence for it playing a role there and intelligence, in fact, is one of the cases where it seems to be a more reasonable consideration and thus less shallow.

But putting aside the fact that the argument isn’t all that great, what does Vimes want us to really do wrt these suggestions:

No one is saying you have to be attracted to people you’re not attracted to. Attraction doesn’t generally work that way. However, since attraction is in part based on our subconscious biases and prejudices, we can use our attractions to help us better recognize in what areas we may be judging people unfairly. Furthermore, I suspect working to become less racist, sizeist, ableist, and otherwise oppressive will likely change our sexual preferences over time. Challenging our own prejudices often changes many things about our views of the world, and I doubt that excludes our sexual outlooks.

But … is attraction the easiest way to determine that we might have subconscious biases? What Vimes is generally doing here is suggesting that if we have attraction preferences that look like they might possibly have some kind of link to subconscious racist, fatphobic or ableist beliefs, we ought to use that as a trigger to do deep soul-searching to see if those really exist. But this only works if these preferences are a) strong indications of some kind of subconscious, invalid preference and b) there aren’t other behaviours that would be better indications. The problem with basing this sort of analysis off of attraction is that attraction is relatively complicated, as a lot of things can go into it. Someone might find Asian woman more attractive because of a cultural belief that they are submissive and sexually available, or because they are petite and dark-haired and so look “nice” or “sweet”. Also, certain cultures might have different styles of dress, and so one might find someone more attractive because they dress more formally, or more conservatively … or less conservatively. Even if someone can find these patterns — and these patterns tend to be vague for most people anyway — there’s no direct link to any other underlying beliefs. If someone really does have underlying problematic ideas, then it would see that they have other, more directly related impacts on their behaviour, which the person should use as the basis to challenge their prejudices.

This only becomes more true when we look at the last statement, where Vimes says that changing those prejudices may change our sexual outlooks. If true, then again the right approach would seem to be to challenge the prejudices when they manifest other, more clear behaviour, and then that would eventually change one’s sexual preferences. Also, sexual preferences are, in fact, preferences for most people, and so are already challenged in some ways. As preferences, the idea is that you tend to like one group more than another, but not that you don’t find any members of other groups appealing (usually). So what would working on your sexual preferences do? It’s already likely to be less strongly attached to underlying preferences than anything else you might do or think.

At this point, we can see the problem that Vimes is ignoring: he bases an assertion or conclusion about what might be going on in that person’s subconscious based only on their sexual preferences. But most people don’t really understand their sexual preferences, already have experienced a disconnect between “hot” and “someone I should really date/like”, have a wider range of sexual preferences than Vimes allows for. Thus, it seems like Vimes is insisting that they have invalid prejudices against certain groups based only on what their sexual preferences are. Thus, their sexual preferences are wrong … or, at least wrong if they want to claim to be interested in equality. Thus, the underlying assertion that if they were really and truly “fixed” wrt privilege, they’d have different preferences. Which leads to the reply that they are attracted to what they are attracted to, and that it doesn’t necessarily reflect their subconscious prejudices, and certainly not necessarily the ones Vimes ascribes to them.

At this point, it comes across as Vimes trying desperately to find something that he can use to claim that they really have these biases, because if he had evidence based on clearer behaviour presumably he’d use that instead. Alternatively, it comes across as groups that happen to fall into the lower range of what most people find attractive griping that people don’t find them attractive. Neither of these possibilities are going to make someone accept that they are racist or fatphobic or ableist, especially when they don’t think they are and especially when it is important to them that they are not those things. Ironically, these sorts of challenges will induce the harshest responses from the people who would actually care about not being that. Not a good plan.

If Vimes really intends it as a mild “Well, if you see these patterns take a look to see what might be going on under the hood”, then given all of the above he should be willing to drop it and try another tack or look for other behaviour if people don’t think it indicates that. This post suggests he isn’t. He might want to take a look and see why this is.

Hugo Award Assessment: The Fifth Season

January 9, 2017

“The Fifth Season” is the last of the Hugo Award nominees, which means that it’s the one that won. That being said, it’s not a particularly good book.

Read the rest of this entry »

At the hundredth Meridian …

January 9, 2017

So, this past weekend was the Meridian Canadian Open curling bonspiel. As usual, I watched as much of the women’s game as I could and very little of the men’s side.

At any rate, this tournament is a bit different from the normal Grand Slam of Curling events but, I am assured by the helpful commentators, is actually fairly standard for most non-Grand Slam and most non-Worlds/national final events. It’s a Triple Knockout format, where in order to make the playoffs you have to win three games and if you ever lose three games you’re out completely. So they start with a round and everyone who wins stays on the A side (livin’, lovin’) and the those who lose stay on the B-side. Those on the A-side then play each other and the losers drop to the B-side, and the B-siders play each other and the ones who lose move to the C-side. If you’re on the C-side you’re in trouble because a loss would, obviously, be your third loss and you’d thus be out of the tournament. Eventually, the ones who survive from all three sides are in the playoffs.

Val Sweeting and Silvana Tirinzoni came through the A-side with perfect 3 – 0 records. But the biggest news here was that after losing her first two games and despite winning an entire game 6 – 0 on steals (steal away the night) and never having the hammer, Rachel Homan missed the playoffs at a Grand Slam event for the first time ever, losing in a C final to Casey Scheidegger. This streak takes us back to 2009.

Which, I suppose, ends up possibly being even bigger news than Homan not making the playoffs, because this was Scheidegger’s first Grand Slam event, and after beating Homan she then went on to beat Jennifer Jones and then Val Sweeting to face off against Silvana Tirinzoni in the finals. Scheidegger beat her 5 – 4, with a steal in the final end after Tirinzoni’s draw to the four foot came up very short, in an end that most of the commentators said was Tirinzoni’s to lose after one of Scheidegger’s early guards ended up way too high and so couldn’t really be used to put much pressure on Tirinzoni. It was, however, enough to hide behind to force Tirinzoni to draw a turn that she wasn’t used to rather than hitting. Thus, the rookie team managed to pull off the upset.

Some other interesting notes:

1) Rachel Homan has been struggling lately, and whenever I watch her team there seems to be frustration setting in a lot. Obviously, they’re all very competitive but I’m wondering if the team dynamic is working as well as it used to, or if they always used to act that frustrated when things weren’t going well (generally, things have been going well for her so there’s not much opportunity to see what happens when they lose). They’re trying out some new things this season which is a good time to do so since if they work they’ll be well in place by the Olympic trials this December, but still they’ve been a bit off, even losing the Scotties qualifiers last season to Jen Hanna.

2) Val Sweeting continues to play amazingly well early in the events but come up short in the playoffs. She has won events before, but really needs a breakthrough soon, as she’s following up great round robins and early playoff rounds with not even making the finals.

3) Scheidegger should be full marks for the win, but she’s tended to win her games because of the mistakes the other team is making. Jones missed something like 5 of her last 6 shots to give Scheidegger the win, Sweeting struggled early in their game, and Tirinzoni had brutal numbers and, as noted above, missed the critical last shot to give Scheidegger the win. They’ve beaten big names before — they beat Eve Muirhead in another tournament to win that one — but a lot of it seems to come from mistakes from her opponents and not great curling on her part. The commentators noted that Scheidegger doesn’t seem to be comfortable with the five rock rule and prefers more open ends, and I wonder if that difference in style might be encouraging the other teams to press harder to try to get more rocks in play, leaving things open for mistakes.

4) Tirinzoni has made the finals in two straight events and lost both, and both were probably games that she should have won. You have to wonder when she’s going to finally stick one of those finals.

The Continental Cup is this week, and then we’re into qualifying for the Scotties and the Worlds.

2016 in review

January 8, 2017

WordPress didn’t prepare or send me a report this year — either they’ve stopped doing it or I need a higher level account to get it — but I figured I’d still talk about how the blog did this year.

I ended up with about 100 hits less this year than I did last year, which means that I’m still hitting at around 15,000. This is, of course, pathetic compared to many, many other blogs, but is still pretty good for this one. And it’s a surprising result, since I had less posts this year, 171 to 182, and I definitely found that the more posts I make the more hits I get. What I think kept things this close was the fact that I had a lot more visitors this year than I had last year, by just under a thousand. So, last year fewer people read more posts at a time, while this year more people read fewer posts at at time, likely reflecting more people having read all of the interesting things in my archive that the WordPress suggests with each post, and perhaps not missing so many posts and so not having to work backwards from the latest to read what I had posted that week.

Getting the same number of hits only because more people read (overall) is pretty much totally due to the readers, so thanks to everyone who reads this blog.