Carrier Takes on Feser …

February 23, 2018

So, after taking on a host of Plantinga’s arguments, Richard Carrier Feser’s Five Proofs. I haven’t read the book, but I have read a number of Feser’s posts on the topic, and so I was interested in seeing what Carrier had to say about it. Of course, the problem with Carrier’s posts is that they are probably at least twice as long as necessary, which, I suppose, isn’t something that someone who calls himself “The Verbose Stoic” should comment on. However, I think it is fair to note that for the most part the posts spend far, far too much time insulting and making snarky comments about the people he’s commenting on, as it seems that he spends as much time trying to convince the reader that the people he’s commenting on are ignoramuses as he does trying to demonstrate that the arguments are wrong. As as I’ve said a number of times in the past, the problem with that sort of approach is that you had better be right, because if you are wrong then you look really, really bad.

Carrier, it seems to me, gets quite a bit wrong in this post.

I’m not going to deal with everything that was said in the post, instead hitting on a few ideas that strike my fancy. After all, I haven’t read the book and so can’t defend the full arguments. That being said, surely Carrier will hold to the basic notions of academic integrity and quote enough so that I won’t need to read it to understand what Feser is arguing, right?

Let me start with a rather odd constant gripe of Carrier’s, in that he criticizes Feser for the number of premises that he uses in his arguments:

Feser’s formalization of this argument appears around page 35. It has 49 premises. I **** you not.

I’m not sure why this should be seen as an issue. A large number of premises in an argument, especially if they are all directly outlined as such, would merely suggest a potentially complicated argument, which is certainly not something to be surprised or annoyed at. And outlining that many premises directly will make it more difficult to have hidden premises that Feser isn’t acknowledging. Does Carrier not like reading or something? Does he want his arguments as short soundbytes as opposed to full arguments? I don’t know, but it seems rather odd for Carrier to harp on the number of premises, and he does that in pretty much every point he addresses.

But let’s get into the arguments. The first one is at least one version of the “Unmoved Mover” argument, and the first thing Carrier does is to make a move that I’ve seen before — and probably talked about — and is, well, a pretty bad one, as he tries to demonstrate that a real nothing will invariably produce a something (as usual, Carrier italicizes too much for me to go back and fill it all in, but go look at his post to see his emphasis):

But what happens when you take away everything except that which is demonstrably logically necessary? Not what we “conjecture” or “wish” were logically necessary; no, we don’t get to cheat. No circular arguments. Only what we can actually formally prove is logically necessary. And that means, prove now, not at some hypothetical future time. We don’t get to “conjecture” or “wish” into existence some new logical necessity we have yet to really prove is such. Well. What happens is, we get a nothing-state that logically necessarily becomes a multiverse that will contain a universe that looks just like ours. To a probability infinitesimally near 100%. See Ex Nihilo Onus Merdae Fit.

A quick and dirty way to phrase that argument is: if nothing exists, then by definition no rules exist limiting what will happen to it; if no rules exist limiting what it will happen to it, it is equally likely it will become one of infinitely many arrays of things (including remaining nothing, which is just one of infinitely many other things no rule exists to prevent happening); if we select at random from the infinitely many arrays of things it can become (including the array that is an empty set, i.e. continuing to be nothing), the probability is infinitesimally near 100% the array chosen at random will be a vast multiverse whose probability of including a universe like ours is infinitesimally near 100%. Because there are infinitely more ways to get one of those at random, than to get, for example, the one single outcome of remaining nothing. There is no way to avoid this. Unless you insert some law, power, rule, or force that would stop it, or change the outcome to something not decided at random. But once you do that, you are no longer talking about nothing. You have added something. Which you have no reason to add. Other than your human desire that it be there. Which is not a compelling argument for it being there.

This is, to me, an argument that is so bad that it’s hard to know how to attack it. This is not a case where it seems like there’s something wrong with it but I can’t say what, like is often said about the Ontological Argument, but instead that there are so many things wrong with it that it’s hard to know where to start to express that clearly. Well, let’s start with this: the reason that an absolute nothing can’t produce anything is not because of some rule that says that it can’t happen, but because it lacks specific powers, namely all causitive and creative powers. There are no movers in absolute nothing, and no potential movers, and so no potential movement (referring back to the “Unmoved Mover” discussion mentioned above, which relates more to causes in general in today’s terms than mere movement in space). No potential movement, no possible way to change. Thus, nothing can ever change and so nothing will ever happen to it. Thus, no random events that will eventually likely produce a multiverse.

Carrier is going to try to argue that we still need a rule to say that, and so a rule has to exist, and so I wouldn’t be talking about nothing. I think he explicitly says that in the linked post in the quote above, that you have to have rules of logic to say that and rules of logic are things. But, the rules of logic don’t work that way. It is not the case that if I try to create something in this world that it is logically impossible to create, I can get part way through the process but at the point where the logical impossibility would kick in the law of non-contradiction intervenes and causes the attempt to fail. I just could never do it. For Carrier’s argument to work, the laws of logic would have to be things that have causal powers. And at least in how we use them they, in general, aren’t things that have causal power in and of themselves. We use them to, essentially, describe what is true and what is false about a given situation and set of entities. In the absolute nothing, there is nothing to describe. Whether we can say the laws of logic “exist” or not is tricky and plays terribly with our intuitions, but it is definitely true that there is nothing and no relations to describe, so their application to the absolute nothing would be meaningless. And so we’d return to the basic presumption we’d need for something to be considered an absolute nothing: there is nothing there that has causal powers, and no laws or relations and nothing to have relations with anything else there (because there’s nothing there). And if nothing has any causal power or any potential for change, then nothing can change. If Carrier wants to argue that we’d still have to have laws of logic and so wouldn’t have nothing, that’s fine, but even if we remove them we’d still have to maintain there there is no causation and so no possibility of change … and we’d have to doubt that any kind of absolute nothing of the sort Carrier describes — and uses to build out his multiverse theory — could ever work because the only reason we insist that the laws of logic exist in Feser’s absolute nothing is because we know about them and can apply them there. Carrier would need an absolute nothing where we couldn’t say anything about it … even that anything can happen in it and does happen in it at random, which is what he needs to make his case.

Carrier seems to miss the key point here: the absolute nothing has nothing that has any casual powers, and so nothing can happen in it. In order to get something from that nothing, he has to find something that has causal powers that exists in it, and there can’t be any such thing. And if he tries to invoke causation from outside of it — by claiming that there is another universe that triggers us to arise from “nothing”, for example — then we don’t have absolute nothing because that thing outside of that nothing exists and is not nothing. Feser doesn’t have that problem for God because he explicitly denies that we started from nothing. Carrier, on the other hand, is trying to start from nothing, and that causes him all sorts of problems.

Carrier tries to call out one of Feser’s premises as being a false dichotomy, but does so in a way that’s … suspicious, to say the the least:

Most of them are uncontroversial on some interpretation of the words he employs (that doesn’t mean they are credible on his chosen interpretation of those words, but I’ll charitably ignore that here), except one, Premise 41, where his whole argument breaks down and bites the dust: “the forms or patterns manifest in all the things [the substrate] causes…can exist either in the concrete way in which they exist in individual particular things, or in the abstract way in which they exist in the thoughts of an intellect.” This is a false dichotomy, otherwise known as a bifurcation fallacy. It’s simply not true that those are the only two options. And BTW, this Premise, is the same key premise (hereafter always hidden) in all five of his arguments. We can thus refute all of them, by simply refuting this single premise (more on that later).

So let’s do that.

Ironically, a third option that in fact I’m quite certain is actually true, is the very option described by Aristotle himself. Aristotle took Plato to task for the mistake Feser is making, pointing out that it is not necessary that potential patterns actually exist in some concrete or mental form. They only have to potentially exist. Hence Aristotle said of Plato’s “world of forms” what Laplace said to Napoleon of God: “Sir, I have no need of that hypothesis.” Potential things are by definition not actual. So obviously we don’t need them to be actualized to exist. That’s a self-contradictory request. It’s thus self-contradictory of Feser to insist that potential things must be “actualized” somewhere (a mind; concrete things). Obviously there is no logical sense in which they must be actualized in that way.

Aristotle argued that potentials exist inherently in everything, without anything further needing to be the case. A cube contains the potential to be a sphere (by physical transformation); but not as if that potential is some sort of magical fluid contained physically inside the cube. It’s simply a logically necessary property of any material that it can be reshaped; if it can have shape, it can have any shape. Period. It is logically necessarily always the case.

So, Richard Carrier found an argument in Aristotle that Feser, who primarily works in Aristotlean and Thomist philosophy, missed, and seemingly is obvious as it seems to be a major argument that Aristotle made against Platonic Forms. Um, yes, that’s entirely credible and I immediately grant that. Or, rather, not. If the argument is as obvious as Carrier makes it sound, then I certainly would expect Feser to have caught it. You can argue that this is an Argument from Authority, but I have to ask you what seems more reasonable: that Feser, a trained philosopher who specializes to a great degree on Aristotle missed such an obvious counter, or that Carrier, who is primarily a historian and is an amateur philosopher, missed something in Feser’s argument that would show why Aristotle’s counter doesn’t apply to his argument. And Carrier only provides a small snippet of Feser’s overall argument here, so I can’t even check to see what Feser might have said to dodge this counter … although one obvious immediate and likely idea is that the forms and patterns Feser talks about are not Platonic Forms, and Aristotle’s alternative only applies to Plato’s Forms. But that’s as far as I can get without reading Feser’s book or without Carrier quoting the context more and outlining the details of the argument. Without that, however, I’m not going to accept that Feser missed something so obvious just on Carrer’s say-so.

Carrier next tries to address the ultimate substratum, and then to propose an alternative to Feser’s ultimate substratum — space/time — without having the need for it to be intelligent and conscious:

So Feser is just arguing space-time is God. Mindless, valueless, merely physical space-time. That’s just atheism.

What this means is that Feser’s entire book is about a single maneuver: trying to dodge that outcome by trying to bootstrap space-time into being an intelligent consciousness. But that’s where his argument becomes 100% bullshit. In no way does the substrate having these other properties entail it’s “intelligent.” Intelligence is only a potential thing space-time can manifest, being an organized complexity; and being an organized complexity, it cannot be a property inherent in space-time itself, which is simple and uniform. Nor would it be “omniscient,” knowledge being another organized complexity, and thus only something that space-time can be organized to manifest, not a thing space-time itself is. All possible knowledge and all possible intellection is inherent in space-time as a potential, but that is not what we mean by knowledge and intelligence. Potentially knowing everything, is not the same as actually knowing everything. A clump of goo is potentially intelligent. Organize it into a functioning brain, and it will be actually intelligent. They are not the same thing. And “we” are indeed a way the universe becomes conscious of itself; but that does not make the universe a god. Not by any definition pertinent to anyone, least of all Feser.

Now, I do know quite a bit about the ultimate substratum, having talked about it before on a number of occasions. I’m pretty sure that Carrier doesn’t think such a thing is actually necessary, but is going along with it for the sake of argument. Fine, but if he does that then he needs to accept the reasons that Feser feels we need an ultimate substratum, and the reason he says we need it is because no property at this level can be actualized unless that property is actualized in the ultimate substratum. And so if it can’t be actualized at this level because it doesn’t exist in the ultimate substratum, then we can’t have it as a potential at this level either. Thus, a brain could have no potential for intelligence and so we could never have actualized intelligence in a functioning brain, no matter how we organized it. Thus, no inherent potential for intellection without it being actually actualized in space-time, thus making space-time intelligent. And if he has to add in all of those mental properties, then he ends up pretty much with a god.

That’s one of the most common mistakes people make in dealing with these sorts of arguments. Carrier presumes that Feser is starting from God and going from there to say what properties the ultimate substratum has to have, which is why he thinks he can get away with simply inventing something else that has those properties. But that’s not Feser’s argument. Feser is looking at what properties are actualized at this level and from there arguing to what properties the ultimate substratum has to have, and then saying that pretty much seems to be God. And if Carrier can in any way break the argument that the substratum doesn’t have to actualize the properties of this level, then he doesn’t need the space-time alternative to test, as he would have dealt the argument itself a major blow. So space-time does not do as much work as Carrier thinks it does. Which is a problem because he relies on that to do much of the work in the remaining points as well.

I’m going to skip the second argument as it mostly repeats the comments from the first argument, while focusing on “holding things together” which I can’t be bothered to get into, especially with Carrier’s sparse quotes on what Feser is actually arguing. I’ll also skip the third argument because that relies on Carrier’s odd idea of universals, which I’d rather get into when I talk about morality (which I still hope to do at some point). So now I’ll start talking about essences:

Even from a formal standpoint, this one is just a terrible mess. His syllogism has a ton of boner mistakes in it; for example, Feser’s Premise 2 (around page 128), asserts that “If [the distinction between an entity’s essence and its existence] were not a real distinction…then we could know whether or not a thing exists simply by knowing its essence.” Um. Yeah. That’s how we know dragons and unicorns don’t exist, and lions and tigers do. Because it would be impossible to know the complete essence of, say, a unicorn, and not notice that among its properties is the feature of “being fictional.”

Earlier, Carrier dismisses the idea of essences actually existing, which is not something that I’ll challenge here, especially since, again, due to a dearth of context I’m not sure how Feser is using “essence” here. But I will say that in this counter Carrier confuses essence as thing vs essence as set of essential properties that a thing must have. From later:

A fully informed account of an entity’s essence would include when it exists or didn’t. It is essential to Hitler, for example, that he did not live in the 21st century. It is essential to Yoda, for example, that no one could ever have spoken to him—other than in fiction or pretense. You could not fully understand what “Hitler” or “Yoda” were if you weren’t informed of these facts. And just excluding that one piece of information, literally the most important one, from what you will arbitrarily classify as “an essence,” is just a semantic game. And semantic games can’t get you to any grand realizations in metaphysics.

Feser actually burns a few pages arguing he is not engaging in this confusion. But alas, his protests make no logical sense. He insists if you mistakenly think lions are fictional monsters, “you have not misconceived what it is to be a lion.” Um. Yes. You have. You’ve totally misconceived what it is to be a lion. Only if you arbitrarily demarcate how you’d test whether a lion existed, with the outcome of that test—as if somehow the latter was not an attribute of the lion—can you get to Feser’s ridiculous premise. But that’s completely arbitrary. Why are we demarcating away that single property of lions as no longer essential to being a lion? Just because I know how to detect a dragon if one existed, does not mean I am necessarily fully informed as to what it is to be a dragon. If, unbeknownst to me, dragons exist, then I am simply misinformed about dragons.

In order to test whether dragons or unicorns exist, the first thing we need is a set of properties that would allow us to determine whether something is or is not a dragon or a unicorn. Ideally, we’d want the ideal set of properties that identify a dragon and only a dragon, the set that all dragons have in their entirety and nothing else does. Thus, we’d want to understand what it would mean to be a dragon completely and totally. If Carrier is right here, then that understanding would have to include whether or not it exists, as that’s part of the full understanding of what a dragon is. But then Feser’s counter comes into play: if we knew what its essence was, then we would always know whether or not it exists, and we can add on then that testing for it would be pointless. So if we need to test to see if it exists, then we have to test before we understand what its essential properties are, and if we wait to test it until we know what its essential properties are, then testing it is pointless. All of this points to the idea that whether or not something exists is not an essential property of the thing. And this is particularly true in this case, since what we are asking if the set of dragons or the set of unicorns is non-empty, and so we certainly need to know what would define that set before we can ask if it has any members.

Ironically, Carrier’s own space-time hypothesis works against him here, as it implies this:

Spacetime can be completely empty. And still have the potential to form up into matter, and thence a tree. In fact, it’s statistically inevitable that every bit of spacetime there is, will. Someday. It’s a Boltzmann necessity.

Essentially, the idea is that since space-time can and does change at random, eventually some part of space-time will form a complete brain without a body. Carrier seems to extend that to everything here, as that is the implication that allows for Boltzmann Brains. But then this means that at some point in time in the universe that a dragon will exist, or a unicorn will exist, for at least a brief period of time. And if that’s the case, then it could in fact be that way right now. Add in parallel evolution on the infinite number of planets that exist in the universe and the chances of a dragon or a unicorn existing somewhere in the universe are pretty good, much better than the 0% that Carrier needs to make his point here. And while with Hitler or Yoda he could avoid this by talking about a specific case, here he can’t, because we aren’t talking about specific dragons or unicorns, but instead about instantiations of the overall category, and so if any dragon or unicorn exists anywhere that would, according to Carrier, change its essential nature.

On top of all of that, this works out badly with the potential/actual model that Carrier is supposedly sticking to for the sake of argument here, because if you change the essential properties of an object then it by definition is a different object. Thus, an object that comes into existence does not merely actualize its potential, but instead changes into a completely different object. That’s not how I see actualization of a potential, even that of coming into existence, to work, and so that his move here makes that model problematic suggests that, again, he’d have to abandon that model for his argument, which would be far more serious an issue.

The last argument relies on the space-time alternative that I’ve already shown problematic, so this is a good place to stop.

I’m not saying that Feser’s arguments work; in general, I don’t buy those sorts of arguments myself. I’m not saying that Carrier hasn’t found problems with Feser’s arguments; the context is so vague that I’m not really sure what Feser’s argument really is most of the time. What I’m saying here is that a lot of the key arguments Carrier relies on are … not good, to say the least, and are not good in ways that really, really bug me. Hence, the post pointing out those not good arguments and showing why they are not good.

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The downside of Amazon …

February 21, 2018

So, if you’re a regular reader of this blog — and if you are, thank you! — you’ll recall that I started doing Not-So-Casual Commentary on shows as a semi-regular feature, and that right now I can only do half-hour shows due to my time constraints. I also used to do a lot of shopping, especially around Christmas, at HMV, which usually had some really great deals on some box sets which let me pick up shows like WKRP in Cincinnati and Charmed, and a number of others over the years. It was a pretty good place to browse for things, although for me that was mostly TV shows and sometimes music CDs (especially Christmas CDs).

And, as I discovered this year it closed.

Now, the big reason given for stuff like this is the growth of digital distribution and on-line shopping. Since I buy a lot of things directly from Amazon, this seems not unreasonable. But in looking for either a new store — which is hard to find outside of Walmart, that doesn’t have as good a selection — or a new way to buy these sorts of things, I’ve discovered a major issue with Amazon, at least for me: browsing on Amazon really, really sucks.

If I know what I want to look for, Amazon is usually … well, not great, but generally quite serviceable. I type in what I want to look for into the search engine, select the department to search in, and let it go. Yes, there are often duplicates and it doesn’t always get what I want, but it’s usually pretty good, if they stock it. However, what I really liked with HMV was the browsing, which let me find things that I didn’t even know existed … and didn’t remember that I wanted. And if they were on sale, the sale prices were listed on the box, letting me do a quick calculation of whether or not it was worth it. This is why I could justify wandering into there (or, at times, Best Buy) every six months or so and see what I wanted, often coming out with a lot of things (and sometimes coming out with nothing).

I tried doing some browsing on Amazon. I browsed in the DVD category, and in box sets specifically. And found that it often considered full season sets to be box sets, which is not what I wanted. I also thus got a lot of repeats if there were multiple offers for the same series, including different types of box sets. And that made it difficult to simply quickly skim the shelves looking for something that stood out. At the end of the day, it seemed that Amazon’s browsing worked better the more I knew what I was looking for, which is precisely what I didn’t want.

Is this generally the case? Are we going to sacrifice easy browsing for extra convenience when we know what we want to buy? Are we going to get browsing improvements that end up proving that the business heads here were right, but way too early? Or am I just missing the wonderful options out there that already exist? I have yet to see any online shopping system that had any stock where browsing wasn’t a pain, if for no other reason than that there was always too much stock to look at to make sure that you found everything you might want without using specific search terms that leave things out.

If this can’t be done online, and more and more stores move away from stocking these things because of online competition, then I have to say that I’m gonna miss browsing.

Thoughts on Thrawn …

February 19, 2018

So, after watching and not being very impressed by “The Force Awakens” I was pretty much ignoring the new Star Wars canon, and haven’t even watched “Rogue One” or “The Last Jedi” yet. However, I was browsing in the local Chapters — picking up a slew of Pierre Berton books — and I went to look to see what they had for Star Wars books. I came across one written by Timothy Zahn, simply entitled “Thrawn”. Since I knew that Thrawn had been added to the new canon, and since I had already written that using him would have solved many of the problems with “The Force Awakens”, and since it was written by the person who created the character and who, you know, could actually write, I thought I’d give it a try.

And, overall, it’s a pretty good book, with one glaring error that drags it down. Since I’ll be going through that error — an entire character arc — in detail, I’ll continue below the fold:

Read the rest of this entry »

Early Thoughts on Olympic Women’s Curling

February 16, 2018

I didn’t actually plan on talking about “traditional” curling at the Olympics until it was over, but the first three draws have been noteworthy for Canadian fans and so I thought it would be a good thing to talk about it.

The big news is that Rachel Homan has struggled out of the gate, and is now 0 – 3 after her first three games. I think that if she runs the table she can still make the playoffs, but it’s going to be tough. This is a huge surprise considering that Homan is one of the best teams in the world. Falling to Sweden is not that surprising, as Anna Hasselborg is also one of the best women’s teams in the world, falling to South Korea is a bit surprising but she has beaten Homan twice in the recent past, but falling to Denmark is a huge surprise and one of those games that you really, really need to beat as they are the lesser known team (and, right now, their only win has come against Canada).

The good news if you’re a Homan fan is that the games have all been close. Two games went to extra ends, and even the rather lopsided game against South Korea — Homan had to take 2 in the 10th end just to make it 8 – 6 — was a game where it was 5 – 4 heading into the 9th end and all Homan needed to do was blank that end and take the hammer into the 10th down by 1. Instead, she seemingly decided to go for a multiple score and her team missed some shots, while South Korea made some shots, giving up a steal of 3. This is despite the fact that a multiple score in that end wouldn’t have helped her that much. Sure, being up by 2 — if she scored 3 — would have been good, but she was only likely to score 2, which would have given South Korea the hammer one down, and despite the statistics from the current Grand Slam tour suggesting that that isn’t likely to give you a win, I’m going to stick with the conventional wisdom and say that it’s better to be one down with the hammer than one up without, as that has been tried and tested for years by some of the best curlers the sport has ever known, and statistics can fluctuate a lot (especially since this strategy will end up in an extra end a lot, which is going to be a coin toss a lot of the time). There was no reason for her to be that aggressive there, and it cost her badly, as she had absolutely no chance of winning after that end (and I was surprised that she even played it out).

What I realized watching the games — I couldn’t watch the Denmark game — is that this aggressive style is pretty much Homan’s hallmark: she comes out aggressively, makes everything complicated, and then trusts that her team will make more shots than the other team will. It is a credit to her team that this works out so often, as it indicates that they are strong enough top-to-bottom that she can rely on them making more shots — or missing less — than her opponents. But this is a risky strategy, because if your team misses shots or the other team makes them, things can be awfully close. And in the South Korea game, Homan’s team missed shots and the South Korea team made them, which usually results in a bad day at the office for the Homan team (and lead to that steal of 3 that cost her the game). However, this strategy also means that if her team can figure out the shots she can go on a run … and she’s going to need that now just to have a shot at the Olympics.

There was also some controversy in the Denmark game, where Homan asked that a stone that was “burned” — the sweeper had touched it on the way down — be removed instead of just leaving it in place. While that is in the rules, in general in curling if it isn’t felt that the burn greatly impacted where the stone ended up it’s left in place, or perhaps a minor adjustment is made, and in fact in one of the Canadian men’s games Kevin Koe burned a stone and that’s what they did. I haven’t seen the game, but I did watch the shot, and it seems that it happened right at the end with no real impact on the stone itself. Yes, what Homan did was within the rules, but curling has always been a more “friendly” sport, where the players settle things themselves with remarkable sportsmanship, and so I think that Homan broke that a bit in sticking to the rules so strictly. That she ended up scoring four in that end makes it seem so much worse, as it looks like it was a convenient way to eliminate a shot that would have caused her problems in the end. I agree with McCusker that it was a reaction out of frustration, and Homan says that it has happened to her at Worlds before but, really, she should have just let it stand … especially since leaving it is, indeed, within the rules.

Meanwhile, the men’s team is cruising at 3 – 0, as expected.

We’ll see how things work out as the draws continue.

Thoughts on Mixed Doubles Curling

February 14, 2018

So, Mixed Doubles curling has made its debut as a full Olympic sport this year, and the first medals have been awarded. Team Canada — Kaitlyn Lawes and John Morris — won the gold with a dominating 10 – 3 win over Switzerland. I watched most of the draws, which obviously for me focused on Team Canada. One thing that’s interesting (at least to me) is that the team they beat to make it to the Olympics was Val Sweeting and Brad Gushue … both of whom I’d rather watch than those two (although it’s not like I actually dislike them either). Ah, what could have been. Then again, Val Sweeting has a tendency to falter under pressure, so maybe they wouldn’t have won if they had made it.

It’s certain that the two of them wouldn’t be as good at sweeping as Morris and Lawes, who are incredibly strong brushers, and one thing that was obvious is that sweeping is incredibly important in mixed doubles. You generally only have one sweeper, and the general practice was to have the thrower hop up and sweep their own rocks while the other player called the line from the rings, except on some shots. With only one sweeper, that sweeper is going to have to be really, really good at it to hold the line or make it curl, and it’s likely that you aren’t going to be able to get away with having a weaker female sweeper, so both players are going to have to be good at sweeping. This also might meant that skips aren’t going to be as good at mixed doubles as, say, thirds are — both Morris and Lawes are or have been thirds for a significant part of their curling careers — since thirds both have to sweep and make the big and finesse shots. Skips don’t tend to be as good at sweeping as thirds are, just because they don’t have to do it as often and in as important circumstances as thirds do. Sure, you can get skips who can really sweep, like Rachel Homan, but still you aren’t going to say that she’s better at it than her third Emma Miskew is, and she isn’t that much better at the big shots to make going with the skip the better option. And most skips don’t sweep as well as Homan does (for example, Jennifer Jones often looks downright awkward when she has to sweep, as she had to once playing mixed doubles at the Continental Cup).

Another thing that is interesting is that Canada sent a team that was formed out of existing curling teams that didn’t make it to the Olympics. Lawes and Morris had only played 22 games together … counting their games at the Olympics, and obviously the games they played together in qualifying. Joan McCusker commented on the coverage that they were the most accomplished curlers in the field, but that the other teams had a lot more experience playing mixed doubles and, in general, playing together in mixed doubles. And other than the first game, Lawes and Morris ran the table, and ended up beating every single team in the field at least once. This might suggest that it’s more important to have strong curlers than it is to have an experienced mixed doubles team … which is not something that people who would want mixed doubles to become a respected sport out of the shadow of curling would want. If you can take the best curlers from the four-person team game and have them beat the best mixed doubles team most of the time, then mixed doubles isn’t that different from four-person curling in terms of skill set and there’s no reason for curlers to dedicate themselves to the sport.

Another thing that was interesting is the “power play”, and how the typical strategy is to use it to try to generate more offense and big ends. For those unfamiliar with the game, in mixed doubles the ends start with rocks in play: one belonging to the team with hammer at the back of the four foot, and a center line guard belonging to the team without hammer. If the team with hammer invokes their once-per-game “power play”, the guard moves over to cover the corner, and so does the rock in the rings. Since this is what regular curling teams use to set up multi-end games, it would seem that this would be used to generate big ends. Except … I never saw it happen. The most I saw was 2, I think, and there were a number of 1s scored which is absolutely not what you wanted out of that. To make things worse, there were a number of large ends scored without the “power play”. And it seems to me that this is going to be the case, because without the “power play” what you usually ended up with was a very crowded button area, and if you manage to get a few convenient misses — and in mixed doubles there are a lot of misses — you can end up with a lot of your rocks crowded and frozen together with no way to move them and no way to bury or freeze a rock to stop them from counting. With the “power play”, however, you can’t pack a lot of rocks under the corner guard without leaving a draw or freeze that can cut down how many rocks of yours will count at the end of it. So it seems to me that its best use is defensive: you put on the “power play” when you really don’t want the other team to steal on you and you want to make sure that you score at least 1. The “power play” draws the play over to the edges, which usually leaves you some kind of shot to get 1 if you need it, and starting with one buried gives you a decent chance to get 2. So it’s a good thing to use like Lawes and Morris tried to use it: in the last end if you are tied or even down by 1 with hammer, since you’ll probably get at least 1 and have a good chance of getting 2, which is all you need. On the other hand, without that “power play” if you are the team that makes the convenient misses you could end up giving up a steal, and potentially a steal of a bunch. So I’m not sure that the “power play” is really doing what they want it to (although it is claimed that it can be used defensively, but most teams use it offensively when they are far behind and need to generate some offense, and it seems like it hampers offense more than helps it).

So, at the end of the day, as this was my first real, concentrated exposure to mixed doubles, what did I think of it? I think it’s … okay. It does have faster moving ends than four-person team curling … but that’s because the teams throw three less rocks. And there’s a lot more scoring in mixed doubles, but that’s only because there are a lot more mistakes in mixed doubles than there is in four-person team curling. The games are shorter which means that if a game starts at 7 pm I can easily watch the whole game before having to go to sleep, but that’s not that much of a benefit for me — although I fear that it’s a big benefit for broadcasters and a lot of other people. In general, I find the games to be far more reactive tactical games than the rock-by-rock tactical games of four-person curling. Play is almost always right around the button and not in the wings at all unless the “power play” is on … and that also happens to be, in my opinion, when the play is most boring. Shots are missed a lot and so there’s a constant readjustment based on the miss they made or the miss you made that they capitalized on. This makes it hard to plan out sequences and play them out, adjusting accordingly but keeping an overall strategy in mind. So to me it loses the thoughtfulness of four-person team curling and replaces it with an “anything can happen!” excitement.

Ultimately, I think I could enjoy watching mixed doubles … but I don’t want to see it replace four-person team curling, which has the elements that I really like and are the elements that get me watching curling in the first place.

Next up are the men’s and women’s four-person team events.

First Thoughts on “Wings”

February 12, 2018

So, I should be just about finishing Season 4 of Wings, and so am about half-way through. When I talked about Frasier, I noted that Frasier wasn’t a typical sitcom, having a bit of a different structure and thus being able to do different things than a normal sitcom would. Wings … is pretty much a typical sitcom.

This isn’t a bad thing. Wings is, in fact, a pretty well-executed and entertaining typical sitcom. It has the typical mix of odd and zany characters and uses the airport and small town situation to generate standard comedy storylines when appropriate and different ones as per the situation. It’s usually at least mildly humourous and is entertaining in general.

That’s not to say that it doesn’t have its issues. One of the bigger problems with it is that to contrast the steady and reliable Joe they have the roguish and spontaneous Brian, and their clashes drive a lot of the humour. This is good. The problem is that Brian isn’t the standard “willing to lie and cheat to get what he wants” character, but instead seems to be someone who revels in lying and taking advantage of people. He does so even when it would be easier for him to just be honest and get things the honest way, and his first inclination is always to scam people. He has more in common with Harry the con man from Cheers than he does with the typical rogue characters like Sam from Cheers, and he’s only slightly more moral than Roy is, who is established as a terrible person who scams and takes advantage of them with no remorse. Brian gets a few instances where he can be said to have a “heart of gold”, as he definitely cares a lot for Helen and even Joe, but overall he seems to be someone who is totally in it for himself and willing to scam anyone to get what he wants. This makes him an unsympathetic character.

This also bleeds over into their overly aggressive female characters, like Helen and Alex. Now, I really do like Helen. But she is presented as having a really bad temper, and acts out on it often with little consequences. After she and Joe break up, she gets upset and drives her Jeep into his office, destroying it. She then acts like his asking her to pay for the deductible is unreasonable, despite the fact that she had left him for over ten months, and he didn’t tell her that he was seeing someone else because her life in New York was miserable but she wouldn’t have come back if she had known that he was seeing someone else, which everyone acknowledges. Yes, she was hurt, but this was one instance where Joe was lying to her that wasn’t for his own self-interest or convenience, and Helen doesn’t really acknowledge that there. Overall, her personality is abrasive but we’re supposed to like her anyway. The same thing applies — but even more so — to Alex. Yes, Brian and Joe act very immature towards her — and overly so, because she’s not that much better looking than the other women they’ve dated — but she’s pretty abrasive from the start and Brian even gets derailed into being more sexist than he might be expected to be to give her a chance to react badly to it (we expect it from Roy, but no one needs a reason to dislike Roy). There are some instances where Alex softens a bit, but she’s still pretty annoying.

And it’s a good thing that Wings isn’t more than a typical sitcom, because it tends to screw it up royally when it does. Between seasons 3 and 4, they try for a multi-episode arc, where Helen finds out that she was accepted as part of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the gang decides to fly her out to watch it, the plane crashes, they get rescued, and Joe has to resurrect the business and get himself a plane. The problem is that everything is so contrived that it’s unbelievable: Helen happens to run into the guy after ruining his jacket, berates him for not responding to her audition tape, he says that it was good but that they had lost the label, then their second cello can’t perform and Helen is offered the spot, and they are playing the precise piece that is her warm-up piece, no one can make it but then there’s a string of events so that everyone can make it, there’s a string of improbable failures that cause the crash and then more things that make their situation extremely dire … for less than a minute as they are conveniently rescued by the Coast Guard, and then Joe has to wade through problems getting a plane, but then his is salvaged, and then somehow they repair it and get back into business. To be honest, I kept waiting for them to reveal it as a dream because it was so contrived, and every minute that they didn’t just made it less and less entertaining.

Beyond that, though, the characters and interactions work. The sibling rivalry between Brian and Joe works based on their personalities and histories, and it is established early that they can be remarkably immature about it. Lowell is a generally lovable idiot, Antonio works as a semi-competent and somewhat lovable loser, Roy works as a foil, and Fay works as a pleasant and eccentric person who can play dumb when necessary but also smart to buttress jokes at Lowell’s expense. The mix allows for various jokes to be made in various situations, with characters often trading off roles in a way that could be seen as out of character but end up fitting in with the characters. So far, it’s entertaining enough, although I can generally read through it.

What Message To Listen To …

February 9, 2018

So, Anita Sarkeesian decided to take a little trip to Bioware Edmonton. She decided to talk about it on Twitter. Shockingly, people responded negatively to it. Even more shockingly, Sarkeesian decided to call out this “negativity”. But in a move that is surprising, Sarkeesian focused less on talking about how bad the criticism was and more about calling out her supporters to post positive support:

I say this not to bring people down, but to encourage people to act! If you’re glad to see things like this happening, tweets expressing support can go a long way toward countering the torrent of negative reactions such occasions always elicit from those people who are still fighting to maintain the old sexist status quo of gaming, and who see it as a tremendous threat when a feminist drops by a gaming studio for tea.

It may not occur to you to think that your positive reply or supportive comment would matter, but it does! Too often we tend to be silent and let the angry naysayers dominate the conversation. Those of us who want to see games become more diverse and inclusive need to show those studios who are actively taking part in the ongoing dialogue our support and encouragement. So the next time you see a game studio welcome a cool guest or take action toward a more equitable gaming landscape, let them know you approve of what they’re doing! Because almost certainly, hundreds of other people will be letting the studio know they don’t.

Since for the longest time I’ve been calling on them to talk more about the things they like and focus less on the negatives, I certainly see this as a step in the right direction. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t find some oddities in this.

First, why is Sarkeesian so happy to go to Bioware, and why would they want her there? In her “Tropes vs Women” series, Sarkeesian rarely had anything good to say about Bioware, even when they write the subversion that she claims she wants to see. Bioware employees would be right to think that she treated them unfairly, and given her comment above she clearly thinks she would be going there to help them “improve” their games to make them less sexist, when it can be argued that not only do they not need to learn anything about that from her she could indeed learn some thing about that from them. That’s not something that you should address with this simple message:

I had such a great time touring @Bioware’s Edmonton office and having tea with this great group of women (and allies!). Thanks for your hospitality.

Also, it’s not clear how positive this visit was. If you look at the picture, there are a small group of people in it, and all but one of them are women. I couldn’t find the actual headcount at Bioware Edmonton, but I have to think that this is a minority of the people who work there, if for no other reason than programming and technical positions — especially in game development — tend to be male-dominated and, while this is Canada, it’s very unlikely that this represents the actual mix at the company. So why, then, are there relatively so few people with her? Either she hand-picked people who supported her and excluded those who didn’t or — more likely, in my opinion — a couple of people there invited her and these were the people who showed up when she visited, with many not showing up for reasons likely ranging from they didn’t care to they disliked her shots at the company to they disagree strongly with her stance. This then risks either creating or revealing large rifts in the attitudes of the people who work there, which can cause problems if the people respond to those disagreements in what seems to be the standard way these days (see Google, for example).

Hmmmm. Suddenly, the “absurd” reaction — as Sarkeesian puts it — of saying that her visit meant the end of Bioware doesn’t seem so absurd.

But let me reiterate that I like the idea of them promoting more what they like and being “positive” than focusing on criticism all the time. And yet, a thought occurs to me, reading the post and the Twitter replies that Sarkeesian finds “hateful”. The point of publicly stating what you like or dislike is, as Sarkeesian herself points out, to influence the people inside these companies. If they make a move that might support one side and all they hear is criticism, they are likely to think that the people who care didn’t like it, and shy away from that in the future. But if they get a balancing positive response, then that at least gives them some reason to think that it might be appreciated, and so gives them some impetus to decide if the positives balance out the negatives enough to keep doing it, or alternatively feel confident that this is not a move that enough of the people they care about like and so avoid doing so in the future. Listening only to the people who scream the loudest is generally not the way to keep most people happy, because the people who scream the loudest aren’t always — and I’d say aren’t usually — representative of what most people want to see.

This, however, leads to a more serious thought: who should a company like Bioware be listening to? The problem is that this debate in games — and in all sorts of other media — has become politicized, by which I mean there are lots of people talking loudly about the debate who care more about the external political and cultural implications of the debate in games than they do about games themselves. Yes, there is a culture way going on here, between SJWs and, well, the only label I can give them is anti-SJWs. The “Cuck” Twitter reply that Sarkeesian references strikes me as an anti-SJW comment as opposed to one that is a strict gaming comment — and, ironically, the “this is the death of Bioware” comments are more of a gaming comment — while it’s pretty obvious that Sarkeesian cares more about sexism in general than in what that means for games. But Bioware shouldn’t be listening to the politicized responses because, well, those people generally don’t buy their games, or games in general. They aren’t the audience, and aren’t the ones keeping them in business. If either side manages to “win”, it’s not that likely that they’ll stick around to consume the media they fought so hard to create. This seems especially true for the SJW side, since they tend to wander into fields that they don’t care and haven’t cared much about to protest the impact on the overall culture (anti-SJWs, I’ve found, tend to get drawn into it when the war hits something they like and they start to feel that the culture war is “ruining” it).

This puts the companies in a bit of a bind: the people they need to listen to to be successful — and so keep running — are their actual audience. This means that when sorting through the feedback they need to be able to identify who are their actual audience and who are posting to participate in the culture war. But their actual audience may indeed share the same concerns as those on either side of the culture war, so they can’t decide on the basis of content who cares about their games and who cares about the impact of their games on this cultural conflict. And if they pick wrong, then they could end up destroying their game company while both sides of the culture war shrug and say that it was good that they died, while their actual fans are the ones upset and frustrated that they were a casualty in this war, and lament that if only they had listened to them and not to the people who didn’t care things would have worked out differently.

Right now, in so many ways, so many things are pawns in various larger struggles, larger struggles that get so much social and mainstream media attention that content producers feel that they have to respond to the struggles or else be swept away by the currents into oblivion. But the current that they decide to follow or steer themselves by might sweep them into the rocks, or over a waterfall. This is coming in a time of great upheaval in media itself, given advances in online streaming, the increasing costs of AAA gaming, and all sorts of other technical revolutions that threaten to reshape how we consume media completely. Right when these companies are grasping at some kind of marker to guide them into the future, this culture war is obscuring the landscape and making it harder to tell what people really want.

Ultimately, my advice to companies is this: do what you want, and let the sales decide. Fight back against misrepresentations from both sides, do your marketing, and do what you want. Because right now, the loudest voices have even less clue what most people want than you do. And that’s sad.

Off For the Olympics

February 7, 2018

So, as I’ve already said, my work schedule shifted, which allowed me — and pretty much made it mandatory, or at least a really, really good idea — to burn off some of my vacation time in February. Last year, I took off two weeks to watch the Scotties and then do other things in the second week, while this year I’m taking off the entire two weeks of the Winter Olympics. Mostly because I like to take vacation in the winter and at least there’ll be something to watch in the mornings.

Now, the last time I took vacation I made an explicit plan to not have any goals and just have things that I wanted to get started. As noted, that … didn’t work so well. This time, I’m doing the exact opposite: I have goals set out for things to finish and don’t really have any things that I just want to “start”. This includes finishing my third playthrough of Persona 5 and a number of other household errands.

No, this isn’t a reaction to what happened during my last vacation, where I think “That didn’t work, so let me do the exact opposite and see if that works”. No, the reason for this is that I’m trying to get some of the inside stuff done so that when the weather turns and I have outside work to do I won’t have to worry about it so much, and also because the dedicated time for gaming makes it a perfect time to play some games. Also, the schedule works out really well for this: play games in the morning while the Olympics are on, do things in the afternoon when it isn’t. So the timing of the vacation and the timing of my vacation schedule just works really well for this sort of plan.

Now all that’s left to see if it will work …

Scotties at the end …

February 5, 2018

So, the Scotties has ended, and I generally got to watch one full draw and part of another every day during it. Here are my thoughts on it:

Jennifer Jones beat Kerri Einarson again 8 – 6 in the final — which started too late for me to watch — to take her record-tying sixth Scotties championship. This was a rematch of the 1 – 2 game (between the first place and the second place team in the playoffs, with Einarson getting a second chance to make it to the final by beating the winner of the game between the third and fourth place teams) which Jones won 9 – 7. Einarson had managed to beat Jones in the Championship Round 6 – 4 to take first place, but didn’t carry that on to the elimination games.

However, it is interesting to note that these teams were probably the teams that are the best known or had the best records on the Grand Slam tour, although I don’t think Einarson is a constant playoff team there yet. All of the teams that were semi-regulars on the Tour made it to the Championship Round, and the only two of those teams that didn’t make it to the playoffs were Casey Scheidegger’s team — and this was her first Scotties, and she’s still a relative rookie on the Tour — and the very Scotties experienced Michelle Englot, who in general is streaky on the Tour. The teams that made it through that weren’t really known on the Tour were Mary-Ann Arsenault’s team — where she has had tonnes of experiences with Colleen Jones and I think this was at least her fourth Scotties as a skip — and Tracey Fleury, who if I recall correctly does play at least peripherally on the Tour. And you can add in that the Tour teams all had strong records (Englot’s was a bit weak) and that many of them had an easy time in the round robin, with Jones, especially early, completely running away with games to the tune of double-digit points when her opponents had around two or three. This is not something that often happens on the Tour, and certainly didn’t happen at the Roar of the Rings. Even with the Wild Card team — which was Einarson — the provincial format simply didn’t have the quality of teams that you’d expect to see if you really had the best teams in Canada participating, and Arsenault pretty much had to shoot the lights out to make it as far as she did (which she may not be able to replicate next year).

This is not to say that the curling was bad, because at times it was really, really good. But it seems to me that there are too many teams that are weaker, and so those matches aren’t generally that interesting and they often tend to get destroyed when they hit the better teams. At the end of it all, Jones and Einarson were the class of the field and Einarson rarely beats Jones. At best, Jones had some games that she would expect to lose on occasion on the Tour. Sure, she’s one of the best curlers in the world, and maybe the best — although Homan would certainly contest that — but it seems, again, that the Tour is much more challenging to her than this was, which is probably not what we want out of the Canadian Championships.

Also, there were some comments from the commentators that it’s hard to come back in these games, but my impression was the opposite, mostly because while on the Tour the games are eight ends, here the games ten ends. So if you give up more than you’d like in the seventh, you can come back just because you have three more ends to go, instead of only one more end. I watched Hollie Duncan from Ontario do that a lot; she’d make a mistake in either strategy or in shot-making and go down by two or three and I’d think “Well, she’s done” and she’d come back to eventually win the game. They’re talking about going to the five rock rule (and I think they already do that on the Tour) but the continual updates to how many rocks you can throw in the free guard zone in the hopes of generating offense seem to be a bad idea to me. Offense can be fun to watch, but if there’s no strategy to the game curling would lose what makes it great. Sure, you can argue that without that everyone finds the ideal strategy and there’s no variation either, but I think that it might be worthwhile to let players come up with new strategies to take advantage of the set strategy more often. After all, the original rule change soon resulted in the adoption of the “tick shot”, where you move the guard over and out of the way without removing it, which Lisa Weagle of Rachel Homan’s team excels at. I think that offensively-minded teams will find a way to break through defenses and make things tough for defensively-minded teams, and tweaking the rules so much discourages that sort of thinking.

However, the curling was still entertaining to watch if you weren’t watching one of the blowouts, and the semi-final — which I was able to watch — mixed incredibly offense in the first half with solid defense in the second half.

Next up: the Olympics.

Pronouns the Third …

February 2, 2018

Okay, yes, I’m going to do it. I’m going to wade into the whole “preferred pronouns” debate, mostly because I think there’s some interesting philosophical issues around it that, as usual, are getting completely ignored while people scream at each other based on emotional assessments.

Jordan Peterson is now a relatively well-known personage around the world, and he has gone on record opposing, to some extent, using or being forced to use the preferred pronouns of trans individuals. Depending on who you believe, he objects to using preferred pronouns in general, or to using the new invented ones like “xe/xir” or whatever they are asking for now. You can find more details throughout the comments section of the post that I’m linking this one comment to, although I want to focus on this specific comment from gijoel:

@Danny Husar. So Jordan wouldn’t mind if I referred to it as it? It would understand that I refuse to bow to its ridiculous demands, and use pronouns that it prefers. Surely it would.

Now, in the context of the discussion, my immediate answer would be that it should be fine as long as gijoel uses “it” to refer to everyone. If that’s the third-person pronoun that gijoel wishes to use for all people, then at least no one can assume gijoel of aiming to mislabel or insult Peterson specifically. We might want to know the reason why they chose that specific pronoun to use, but surely Peterson ought not take that usage personally, if it is just gijoel’s specific usage.

This, then, reveals an issue with preferred pronouns. By definition, the preferred pronouns that we’re talking about are third-person pronouns, which means that no one uses them — or at least ought not use them — when talking to the person themselves. This would be how they, in fact, refer to people who are, well, not there and are being referred to indirectly. Given that, why should we worry about that person prefers to be referred to indirectly? It’s indirect. Moreover, if people are inventing new pronouns that they happen to want used, then this would force someone to keep a huge list of these special cases and remember which person wants to be referred to by which pronoun when they are, in fact, not talking to them and the person is not around. If these new pronouns have a purpose, then shouldn’t the people inventing them simply use them themselves to refer to everyone and try to convince other people that they are the better pronouns to use? Even by their standards, this doesn’t seem to be something that individuals should individually impose on others; either people should always use these pronouns to refer to everyone, or else everyone should be able to decide what pronouns they want to use to refer to others for themselves without imposition from others (assuming the choice is made in good faith).

And yet, there tends to be at least the risk of offense if the “wrong” pronouns are used. I have often worked with people from China, and it turns out that in one of the common languages — Mandarin? — while the third-person pronouns for he and she have different characters, they in fact are pronounced the same. Thus, people coming from China and learning English often end up using the wrong pronoun, because they pick the wrong pronunciation. For at least one of my co-workers, I corrected her when she did that, and I did so primarily on the basis that referring to a woman as “he” can be insulting. If that’s true, then perhaps there is reason to think that how you use third-person pronouns can, in fact, be something that a person takes personally even if you’re consistent in how you use it.

The same thing can apply to the comment above. If gijoel referred to me as “it” — like Shale in Dragon Age Origins — I’d probably be a bit offended. But the reason for that is interesting. For Shale, it was an indication that she didn’t consider humans to be actual people, or at least not on the same level as Shale was. It’s a big moment in the companion story when Shale admits that “you” were good to her. Thus, Shale eschewed personal pronouns entirely, thus reflecting that she didn’t think of her companions as people. That, of course, can offend those who think of themselves as people, and thus can seem like an attempt to diminish them, and treat them as less than others, or at least less than the speaker.

The same reasoning applies to “he/she”. For the longest time, those have been strongly gendered. Thus, if you use “he” to refer to someone, you are implicitly saying that they are “male”, whatever that means. If that person is female, and you know that, then that can be insulting. And this is relevant to trans people because their preferred pronouns — if you’re using “he” and “she” — generally are chosen to reflect what they believe themselves to be. If you don’t use the appropriate pronoun, then you would be implicitly saying that you don’t think that’s true. At a minimum, you’d be opening yourself up for a debate over whether or not that is true, and at worst you’d be denying their identity and denying who they are. So, similar to the case of it, we can see why they would take that implication personally.

However, this doesn’t apply to invented pronouns, and in fact to any pronoun that is not, itself, gendered. If gijoel decided that this whole gender thing is ridiculous and he’s going to use “it” because it’s completely non-gendered, no one should be offended by that. I myself have, in general, adopted the “they” usage for people whose gender I don’t know, and if looking at the various gender options I decided to say “Screw it!” and simply always use that to avoid any possibility of misgendering, then again no one should have any reason to be offended. There is no implication of personhood or gender in those pronouns, given the reason they were adopted. So, if their usage is gender neutral and they use the pronouns consistently, then there are no personal implications and so no reason for personal offense.

So then the only case left is when someone insists on using the traditional “he/she” pronouns. The comment section implies that Peterson would insist on using those pronouns and using them to reflect gender, but that he would align his usage with the gender that the person he’s talking about believes they are (or identifies as, if that makes more sense to you). Since this is what trans activists want, there’s no reason for personal offense here, even if that person prefers to use different pronouns. Again, they get to choose what pronouns they want to use for everyone, and everyone else gets to choose what pronouns they use for everyone, and there’s no reason for personal offense unless there are personal implications. However, if someone refuses to align their usage of those pronouns with what a person identifies with, then it means that they are actually in disagreement over something, and there’s a clash in fundamental beliefs that drives the disconnect. So what we have, then, are two people who have a fundamental disagreement in philosophy, and that disagreement is driving their usages and their perceived offense. So let’s look at what these disagreements might be.

It could be because the person disagrees that “he/she” are actually gendered. Given the new philosophical arguments that are being espoused because of trans issues, they could insist that the pronouns always referred to biological sex and so that merely “presenting” as a gender is insufficient to force a change in pronouns. Given this, the only way to object to it is by insisting that the pronouns really do have to align with gender, which would require argument. Additionally, one could argue that doing so will look like simple misgendering unless people know that that is how the pronouns are being used, and that deliberate misgendering — assuming that they accept the idea of transgender, which we should assume in this case — is indeed something that should be considered insulting, and so their solution might not be the best one. But they can still insist that despite the ambiguity in their positions, their view is indeed still right and that that is what they mean by it, and in that case all they are saying is something true that no one should be offended by.

But, of course, it also could be the case that they deny that there is even such a thing as being transgender, that the gender one has is the one that either aligns with their biological sex or is the one assigned at birth, and that’s it. This, of course, is a very fundamental clash of ideas, and even the pragmatic argument above doesn’t work because they are saying and really do mean what that usage implies.

So, if we end up in the case where the the usage and offense are both driven by fundamentally incompatible views, should we force them — either by law or by social consequences — to use the “preferred” pronouns of the other person? Well, you either have to believe that if you do that then that will either cause them to change their beliefs or it won’t. If it won’t, then all you’ve done is bury the discussion; forcing them to use the preferred pronouns is not going to convince them that that view is correct, and is in fact more likely to double down on that specific belief because they had to be forced into it by people who they feel couldn’t make a good argument for their view in the first place. If, however, you think that eventually they’ll change their beliefs once they start using those preferred pronouns, then what you’d be trying to do is force them to change their beliefs without being able to make a strong, convincing argument — at least to them — why they should. If usage of words matters so much that it can shape the hearts and minds of people, then you’d be insisting on the usage for the main purpose of changing those beliefs, and changing it “against their will”, not through arguments but through various types of force. I don’t know about most people, but I’m very wary of trying to change language for the sole purpose of changing people’s beliefs when a number of people strongly disagree. It strikes me as being the precise opposite of what we should do if we want a free and open society.

So, let’s cycle back to the original starting point: Is it reasonable for someone else to determine what third-person pronoun I should refer to them as, or should I get to determine what third-person pronouns I use in general? For pragmatic purposes, it seems unreasonable to ask someone to have to remember the precise third-person pronoun someone for some reason wants them to use, and since those pronouns can have meanings and implications even philosophically it seems like I should be the one deciding that, not them. But those usages can have personal implications, and those personal implications can be offensive. As long as someone is consistent and has a non-personal reason for using what they use, then these personal implications should no longer be present, although in practice there can be some unintentional ones that can make life difficult for people who use them, or at least force them to continually explain why they use the pronouns they do. This consistency would include using gender-based pronouns while making sure that if one accepts identified gender that they refer to people using the gender they identify as. All that’s left are cases where the usage has a personal implication, but that personal implication reflects a disagreement over facts or philosophy. In those cases, a person should be able to speak in such a way that reflects their own views, and not be forced to falsely conform to the views of others. Argument is required to settle the disagreement, at which point the usage ought to change as well, if in nothing else than implication.

So, at the end of the day, I’m unconvinced that anyone should ever try to use someone’s “preferred pronouns”. One should not deliberately misgender someone, but that’s not the same thing, especially if someone is inventing new pronouns that they like better. They can use the pronouns they like, others can use the pronouns they like, and as long as we try to understand why people have the usages they have there should be no implications worth taking offense at.