Vintage …

July 24, 2017

So, for a long time now I’ve been looking for a channel or channels where I can have the TV on for noise when I want or need noise — like when I’m reading or playing a game or writing blog posts — but where I can also look up at times and just watch for short periods of time. I had news channels for a while for that — and still have some of them — but at times they switch over to shows which aren’t as interesting. I did end up getting the Stingray channels because my 5-CD player stopped working and you just can’t get those things anymore, and that worked pretty well, but those channels don’t work well while I’m playing a game, downloading things, or waiting for someone because when I look up all I see is an album cover.

Then, at some point recently, I saw an ad for Vintage TV. This channel plays music like the Stingray channels, but instead of having a large number of channels covering a huge number of genres, they have one channel that kinda mixes genres — but mostly focuses on rock and some country — but also plays videos while playing the music. If they have access to an actual video, they use the actual video … which includes concert or TV performances. If they don’t, they have semi-related and semi-themed video to go along with it, which sometimes at least tries to fit in a narrative.

So far, I’m quite enjoying it. Not all of the music is what I personally like, but my tastes are pretty varied so most of it is at least tolerable. The videos can be interesting, and at least are something to look at when I don’t want or need to look at my own screens for a while. Thus, at this point this seems like a good channel to fill my need for a channel that can provide easily ignorable noise and images while being interesting enough when everything else I’m looking at is more ignorable.

Philipse on the Probability of Theism

July 21, 2017

So, in Chapter 11, Philipse starts talking about whether or not theism is probable, and what it might mean to determine that. However, what we see here — and have already been seeing in previous chapters — is an odd sort of issue based on the fact that Philipse himself both seems to want to go after theism in general but focus on Swinburne specifically. Thus, Philipse ends up focusing very much on Swinburne’s specific views while still talking about what theists would do or problems they would have in general. It seems that Philipse wants to focus on Swinburne at least in part because Swinburne accepts some of the issues Philipse has with theism and so at least in general more directly addresses those concerns. In fact, we see on a number of occasions Philipse using Swinburne to argue for Philipse’s main points. The problem with this approach is that Swinburne’s view isn’t that of all or potentially even most theists, and so if someone isn’t convinced by Philipse’s arguments they aren’t likely to be convinced by Swinburne’s either, and also won’t find the discussions of the specific solutions Swinburne advances and the problems Philipse has with them all that interesting. Yes, there are solutions and issues with them, but those solutions are addressing problems that many theists think are only issues if you buy somewhat dubious premises and propose a rather odd solution to those problems. This makes chapters that claim to make general points but that focus on Swinburne specifically seem somewhat irrelevant.

Here, in this chapter, I want to ignore all of the points about Ultimate Explanations and Swinburne’s specific use of that and the problems of it. I’m not convinced that even empirically any of this matters, especially considering that I rejected the need for “immunization” of theistic belief last time. I’m also not convinced that the right way to determine which is the more reasonable theory is by using probability — I’m inclined towards Quine’s “Web of Belief” model and so think general fit is better — and am certainly not convinced that Bayesian approaches are the right ones. So most of the chapter is predicated on my accepting premises that I don’t accept, and so the specific arguments aren’t that interesting. Thus, I’m going to focus somewhat briefly on two specific points. The first is a discussion over how probable a belief must be before we are justified in accepting or believing it, and the second is a discussion over the empirical background, which is about as close as Philipse gets to actually arguing for the theistic belief being improbable.

So, let’s start with the first point. Philipse talks constantly about “religious belief” in that section, and talks about “justified” in that context. When he talks about how philosophers view “justified”, and particularly when he talks about it having to be “highly probable”, he ends up shifting definitions here, talking about justified as it is used in “justified true belief” … which is to say, in terms of knowledge. But all we’re talking about here is which theory is to be preferred given the evidence we currently have. That’s probably not a knowledge claim. Sure, if we want to claim that we know God exists based on that reasoning, we’d want a very high probability, but to merely say that it is the most probable given what we know at the moment should only require it to be more probable than all of the competing theories … and Swinburne wanting it to have a higher probability than 1/2 guarantees that. So unless Philipse wants to demand that before we can reasonably think that a theory is the best candidate we have to know that it is the true one, or else wants to insist that one cannot reasonably believe that the best candidate we have is true, he’s just confused here about what belief and justification for belief has to be, conflating belief and knowledge.

Now, the next issue is when Philipse discusses the “empirical background knowledge”, which is critical for a Bayesian analysis and, it seems to me, provides the best reasons to think that Bayesian analysis is less than useful. While Philipse points out that some Bayesians think that the analysis can be subjective, in order to work as an argument against anyone else the probability of a theory given the empirical background knowledge has to be objective enough that your opponent can’t just reject your probability and blunt your argument. Thus, it can’t depend on things that you believe but that others might not. So let’s look at a couple of possible arguments that might make theism improbable based on the empirical background knowledge.

I’ll start with Philipse’s. His main argument is that God, as defined, is a personal being with consciousness, but he argues that “… all empirical investigations suggest that mental phenomena cannot exist without neural substrata.”[pg 205] In short, his big argument here is that you can’t be conscious unless you have neurons and thus are physical, and God is a non-physical spirit. Philipse has ridden this rather dubious argument for the entire book, and it’s still dubious here. First, if we are talking about an “ultimate” consciousness, then if it exists it would have to be able to compute without any limits. But any physical implementation of consciousness would have limits. Thus, an ultimate consciousness would have to be non-physical to avoid physical limits. Philipse could reply, then, that this would mean that an ultimate consciousness is impossible, but then he’d need far more evidence than “So far, all the conscious things that we’ve found are physical!” to demonstrate that. Second, AI is not going to have a neural substratum and we think that it is at least possible that we could get a conscious AI, and there is no empirical evidence that it can’t and at least some empirical evidence that it might be able to from AI implementations. So we have good reasons to find this purported piece of empirical background knowledge a bit dubious.

Richard Carrier, in a recent post addressing Swinburne and another Bayesian theist, brought in another argument:

If we count up all the things in history we at some point couldn’t explain, or thought was explained by magic or ghosts, and then securely found out what the actual cause was (so that it is now approximately a universally accepted fact of science or history), how many of those things turned out to be magic or ghosts? If the answer is zero (and it is…and anyone who denies that, is literally insane), and the number of those things is in the millions (which have reached that degree of investigation, so that it is now a known fact of the world what causes them; not just a belief or speculation), then the prior probability the next thing you ask the cause of will have been caused by magic or ghosts is logically necessarily millions to one against. And if the number of such things is in the billions, it’s billions to one against; if in the billions of trillions, then billions of trillions to one against. There is no rational escape from this consequence.

Well, there is indeed one: call it what it is, the inductive fallacy. This is essentially like saying that you’ve examined millions and millions of swans and so if someone says they’ve seen a black swan the empirical background knowledge makes that radically improbable. The problem here is not so much in saying that it is reasonable to believe that there are no black swans given what we’ve empirically examined, but is instead in choosing to use that as an argument that black swans don’t exist when someone gives you a reason to think that they might. The same thing applies here: if we think that in this specific case that a supernatural explanation makes the most sense for other reasons, saying that we’ve never had one of those doesn’t impact that assessment because it doesn’t — and can’t — address the reasons we had for preferring the supernatural explanation.

But the point here is not to refute these two arguments, or even to say that it is unreasonably for them to hold them (although I think that these particular arguments are so bad that it is indeed unreasonable to hold them). What is important is that these are justifications for very important premises that will greatly impact the prior probability Philipse and Carrier assign to the theistic hypothesis … and are premises that someone might, at least, reasonably not accept. No one need accept Philipse’s idea that mental activity must have a neural substrata or Carrier’s idea that the success or failure of previous supernatural explanations are relevant to this one. And as soon as someone does that, the whole Bayesian analysis — at least, one using priors, and it seems like there is little reason to use Bayesian reasoning if you don’t include priors — goes out the window. All I have to do is say “I don’t think this piece of empirical background knowledge is true” or “I don’t think this piece of empirical background knowledge is relevant” and the whole analysis collapses. Thus, the empirical background knowledge, well, has to be knowledge for it to work here: things known to be true and known to be true by all parties. And the implications have to strongly follow. This is, in fact, a pretty difficult thing to achieve, and neither Philipse nor Carrier achieve it.

Now, the thing is that it’s reasonable — or at least, not unreasonable — for Philipse and Carrier to hold their beliefs. Philipse is a physicalist and denies the existence of immaterial things, and Carrier is a naturalist who denies the existence of the supernatural. As beliefs, they certainly have sufficient reason to believe those things. But others have sufficient reasons to believe otherwise, or at least to withhold judgement on those propositions. And as soon as they do, the priors falter and their arguments for why theism is improbable evaporate.

This result is consistent with my general view on belief, which is that we assess the “likelihood” of a proposition or theory being true based on how well it aligns with our current “Web of Belief” (which includes but is not limited to what we know). If someone is a naturalist, any supernatural explanation will seem incredibly unlikely. If someone is not, then that it is supernatural might count in its favour, or at least will be neutral. And I will argue that this is perfectly reasonable. Moreover, it’s all we can do. Any objective Bayesian reasoning will try to make the assessment give an initial assessment that is the only reasonable one to accept and then move by objective steps to new probabilities as new evidence is introduced, but to do so it can’t rely on anything that we don’t solidly know and so can’t account for differing beliefs. Either we can’t believe what we don’t know — which is wildly impractical — or it will splinter into subjective Bayesian as soon as there’s a belief that is in dispute that at least one party thinks is relevant. And subjective Bayesianism is nothing more than a mathematical complication of what we’d do naturally anyway, as the number it comes up with is meaningless without the context that spawned it.

This, then, is the issue with arguing that theism is “improbable”. You need an objective standard for that to have meaning, but that standard has to be based on subjective beliefs. In general, the insistence of probabilities strikes me as a way to claim objectivity while hiding the subjective premises that underlie the assessment … which explains why these arguments always devolve to arguing over those specific premises in the end.

Next up, cosmological arguments.

Seidensticker’s Spectrum Argument for Abortion

July 19, 2017

So, Bob Seidensticker over at Cross Examined recently revisited his “Spectrum Argument for Abortion” in response to a criticism of it brought up by a secular poster. However, I don’t actually feel that Seidensticker’s responses actually defend the argument at all. The best argument that isn’t in the original is the one about whether at least part of the argument is relevant or not:

Seidensticker’s point about how evangelicals thirty years ago supported abortion is simply irrelevant.

Not to people who bring up Christian arguments! If it doesn’t apply to a secular perspective, fair enough, but I was addressing more people than just you.

Actually, yes, it’s still irrelevant to bring that up, even to Christians. First, not all Christians are evangelicals. Second, that evangelicals supported it thirty years ago is irrelevant to arguments raised today. If you are going to use that, what you want to bring up is why they supported it then, to see if that argument still applies today. If it does, then you have an argument to use against them, and one that has and so potentially undercuts the religious basis they have for their stance. But simply pointing out an inconsistency in view only works if you insist that they cannot possibly ever have made mistakes in their interpretations and arguments and insist that they can never, ever change their minds about something. Since one of the main criticisms of religious arguments is that they can never change, that’d be a very odd — and potentially self-defeating — position for an atheist to take.

Anyway, onto the actual argument, which was originally raised, according to Seidensticker, here. The summary from the more recent post is this:

Consider the above figure of the blue-green spectrum. We can argue where blue ends and green begins, but it should be easy to agree that blue is not green. In other words, the two ends are quite different.

The same is true for a spectrum of personhood. Imagine a single fertilized egg cell at the left of the nine-month-long spectrum and a trillion-cell newborn on the right. The newborn is a person. And it’s far more than just 1,000,000,000,000 undifferentiated cells. These cells are organized and connected to make a person—it has arms and legs, eyes and ears, a brain and a nervous system, a stomach and digestive system, a heart and circulatory system, skin, liver, and so on.

The first problem here is this: this isn’t an argument. Seidensticker is arguing that we have a spectrum here and linking it by analogy to the visible spectrum — and a number of others if you look in the original post — but he hasn’t actually established that what we have is a spectrum and not just a set of differences of the same thing. There’s no such thing, for example, as a spectrum of vehicles, but a transport truck is quite different from a compact, which is quite different from a pick-up truck, and so on … and that’s if you don’t count boats and bicycles as vehicles. And if you don’t, then consider “modes of transportation”, which can range from walking to airplanes to trains without there being any kind of spectrum involved. So pointing out that the fertilized egg is quite a bit different from a baby does not establish that there’s even a spectrum here to consider.

The second issue is that all he establishes is that they are different, but not that they are different in the way we need to claim that the fertilized egg ought not be counted as a person for the purposes of the abortion debate. He deliberately doesn’t want to get into the debate over when it ought to be considered a person:

Yes, it’s important to get the OK/not-OK dividing line for abortion right, but that’s not my interest here. Legislators deal with tough moral issues all the time. Take the issue of the appropriate prison sentence for robbery. Six months? Five years? What mitigating circumstances are relevant? Does it matter if a gun was involved? What if the gun was used as a threat but it wasn’t loaded? What if some other weapon was used? What if someone was hurt?

It’s a person’s life we’re talking about, so the sentence must be decided carefully, and yet penalties for this and a myriad other specific crimes have been wrestled with and resolved in 50 states and hundreds of countries.

The same is true for the cutoff for abortion—it’s a tough decision, but it’s been made many times.

Now, just like in those other cases, we can indeed claim that they’ve gotten it wrong and work to change it. But that’s not actually important here. What’s important is determining that these differences between the two are sufficient to claim that the fertilized egg should not be considered a person for the purposes of the abortion debate. Otherwise, I can concede that the fertilized egg is radically different from a baby but insist that that’s not a difference that matters wrt the fertilized egg being treated like a person in this case. As seen when we look at one of Seidensticker’s more … whimsical examples:

I addressed this in the original argument, but let me illustrate the issue with a quick round of “One of these things is not like the others.” Our candidates today are an adult, a teenager, a newborn baby, and a single fertilized human egg cell. Okay, candidates, raise your hand if you have a brain. Now raise your hand if you have a pancreas. If you have skin. Eyes. Nose. Bones. Muscles.

Now raise your hand if you have hands.

The difference between newborns, teens, and adults is negligible compared to the single cell at the other end of the spectrum, which has nothing that we commonly think of as a trait of personhood. The commonality across the spectrum is that they all have eukaryotic cells with Homo sapiens DNA. That’s it. That’s not something that many of us get misty-eyed about. Very little sentimental poetry is written about the kind of DNA in the cells of one’s beloved.

So, having hands is a prerequisite for personhood? Who knew? And whether or not we get “misty-eyed” over the DNA is irrelevant. I can concede that the fertilized egg doesn’t have hands and concede that the only commonality is what Seidensticker says and still insist that that’s enough to confer personhood status on it, and Seidensticker would have, at least, no immediate reply. Especially given what he says about the naming (from the original post):

This game where pro-lifers deny names to the spectrum quickly gets tiring. I really don’t care what the spectrum is called—humanity, personhood, human development, like-me-ness, whatever—call it what you want as long as the naming acknowledges the stark difference between the newborn (with arms and legs and a circulatory system and a nervous system and eyes and ears and so on) and the single fertilized human egg cell.

But the thing is that the name of the spectrum is the important thing here, which is why pro-lifers are so careful not to concede too much wrt that name. Because the name isn’t just a name, but points to a concept. If we are forced to concede that Seidensticker’s spectrum is a spectrum of personhood or humanity, then it would be much harder to argue that personhood rights should be conferred upon the fertilized egg. If, however, Seidensticker’s spectrum is not only not personhood, but also doesn’t have any direct relation to what makes something a person, then it is irrelevant and meaningless wrt the abortion debate. Take this example of naming. I accept Seidensticker’s spectrum, and name it the Grogiland Spectrum. At the one end — where the baby is — I call it a Flugelwant, and at the other end I call it a Steinertran. I then insist, however, that both Flugelwants and Steinertrans still count as persons. I expect that Seidensticker would call this yet another pro-life game, but I would reply that Seidensticker only says that because his spectrum is always presumed to be personhood, or at least directly relevant to it. Thus, it’s only if he can establish that, at least, his spectrum tracks personhood can his argument get off the ground … which is precisely the thing that he refuses to demonstrate and argue for.

His argument also has an interesting consequence. By his argument, we have a baby — including newborns — at one end of the spectrum, and fertilized eggs at the other end. Because this is a spectrum, this means that if we presume that babies are persons and fertilized eggs are not the line between the two — and thus, the line where the entity becomes a person — is somewhere between those two endpoints. Which means that it must be at some point before birth. Many religious pro-lifers and pretty much all secular pro-lifers will gladly trade considering a fertilized egg not being a person for an acceptance that the entity becomes a person at some point before birth, and thus that at some point abortion is immoral. And Seidensticker can’t even retreat to a “bodily autonomy” argument to save those cases because if that argument works when the entity is definitely a person it works when it clearly isn’t, and so Seidensticker’s “primary focus” actually is utterly superfluous to the debate. I’m thinking that most pro-choice advocates aren’t going to be that receptive to an argument that has as a consequence that at least some abortions are immoral.

So this argument fails in a number of ways. First, it isn’t actually an argument as presented by Seidensticker: he asserts but does not demonstrate that there is even a spectrum here to be concerned with. Second, he never establishes that this is a personhood spectrum or indeed a spectrum that is at all relevant to the abortion debate, simply assuming it … and, in fact, refuses to even engage in that discussion. And, finally, his argument has a consequence that many pro-choice advocates would reject. As a “primary focus”, it seems to be superseded by far more interesting pro-choice arguments, including ones that directly try to determine what makes something a person, which Seidensticker again refuses to do. As such, it seems to add little to the abortion debate.

Thoughts on Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2

July 17, 2017

So, Despicable Me 3 has come out, and they were selling Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 in a Blu-Ray combo back for a decent price, so I bought and watched them. Now, I had watched and enjoyed the original when I had shomi (and I still haven’t replaced shomi) but this time when I watched both of them I noticed something, likely because it was even more pronounced in the second movie than in the first one:

The movies are overstuffed with shallow story and plotlines, so much so that the only way to really get the plotlines is because they are so tropey that we immediately recognize the scenes and what they indicate even if things aren’t set up properly in advance.

Margo (who might be my favourite character) gets hit the hardest by this. In the first movie, she gets mostly a perfunctory plot around not trusting that she’d really get a parent, ending with an emotional final “I love you Dad!” to Gru. But that wasn’t really touched on in at all in the movie, and her character — essentially being the mother figure for the girls — wasn’t going to admit that publicly anyway … or, at least, not where the others could hear it. So that final scene becomes “Oh, yeah, I see that she might have had that sort of feeling from some minor thing that she did earlier”, which loses the emotion of the scene. Sure, you can argue that the scene where she has to trust Gru to catch her counts, but again that wasn’t really set up that well and is one of the minor events that might indicate it but doesn’t strongly telegraph it. In the second movie, she has the whole sub-plot with the son of the villain, who ends up dumping her … but we get a short scene with her with the sombrero of depression or whatever that was and that’s about it, other than it getting them into the villain’s mansion and giving Gru a chance to act protective for about five minutes. That’s not enough to deal with the first crush and the depression of her heart being broken. Again, we recognize the events because we know that this is what happens, but they aren’t developed enough in movie for us to really get the emotional connection to work.

This is also seen with the scene where the agent is pondering leaving Gru in the airplane, and decides to go back to him. While, yes, we were aware that they were heading towards a relationship, this scene just jumps into the middle of the action with little set-up, runs through quickly, and ends with a flourish that isn’t justified by what they’ve done up to that point (they kinda had one date). Again, we recognize the trope, so we understand what’s happening, but we don’t get the emotional oomph from it.

And we see this with the head of the division, who is the interfering boss just because that’s what he is, and with the youngest girl’s mother speech, and in a number of other cases. We have common tropes tossed out there so that we recognize them, but each aren’t developed enough to generate the strong emotions of those tropes on their own.

Now, you can argue that these movies are aimed at kids, and kids don’t need and aren’t going to appreciate taking the time it would take to set these things up. The first response is that given that children are not going to be as steeped in tropes as adults relying on trope recognition to carry the plot is a risky move. The second response is that they could fix most of this by reducing the number of subplots which would give them the time to do them properly, and they can be done in a humourous way, since other works have done that time and time and time again.

That being said, the movies are paced well and entertaining, but the scenes where they rely on my recognizing the trope to really appreciate an emotional sequence kinda bug me … especially since there’s no reason why they have to do that.

Philipse on the Immunization of Theism

July 14, 2017

In Chapter 10, Philipse examines the need — at least according to him — for theologians to “immunize” their theology from science, by which he means that they have to make it so that their theories cannot be disconfirmed by future scientific discoveries. The main issue that undercuts pretty much all of this chapter is, again, that natural theologians and any theologians who are attempt to approach their theology empirically and scientifically ought to be as worried about future scientific examinations disproving them as, well, scientists are … which is to say, not one bit. Philipse seems to want to put theology in general into a bind. He wants to argue that theology can’t be respectable unless it accepts the standards and methods of science, but then should theology actually attempt to do so insists that it can’t be taken seriously in science unless it meets higher standards than general scientific theories have to. In short, if theologians promote more conceptual theories, he’ll dismiss them as not being scientific, but if they promote empirical or scientific theories, if Philipse can come up with any explanation that isn’t supernatural he will claim that those are to be preferred to even the empirical and naturalistic theological theories. At which point, if theism accepts the moves, there is no way for theism to win even if it’s true. But there’s no reason for a naturalistic theologian to accept that there is a problem if it is possible for future scientific discoveries to impact their theory, nor is there any reason for a conceptual theologian to accept that their proofs need to be empirical or scientific in order to be respectable.

Here, Philipse is trying to use the argument of “God of the Gaps” to argue that natural theologians need to immunize their theories against potential future scientific refutation of their explanations. The problem is that the “God of the Gaps”, when it’s used as an argument at all, doesn’t work that way. The basic “God of the Gaps” is simply noticing that theistic explanations were used in a lot of places, and then science came along and replaced them with actually better explanations. If this is used as an argument, it’s an inductive one that says that since scientific explanations have replaced theistic explanations so often in the past, we should presume that for any phenomena where we want to use a theistic explanation we should probably just wait for a scientific one instead of doing that. This is, of course, an invalid argument that at best only means that if you want to promote a theistic explanation for a certain phenomena you need to provide a reason other than “Science can’t explain it” … which we probably should be doing anyway. And if a natural theologian has an explanation for a phenomena that requires there be a God and has reasons for thinking that God is the best or a good explanation of that phenomena, they should not be at all concerned about the possibility that science might come up with a better theory at a later date. Yes, it might … and it might not. We can only assess what is the best explanation looking at what we know now, not by what might happen later. So the need for immunizing theism from future scientific discovery seems to not be a need after all.

However, Swinburne tries to do so, arguing that there are some phenomena that are too weird or too big to be handled by science. I’m not going to talk about the “too big” argument, because that’s essentially cosmological arguments and, well, it’s better to handle that by looking at those arguments specifically and seeing if they work than by worrying over whether science could ever find an explanation for those phenomena. I will talk a bit about the “too weird”, which is basically miracles, and Philipse focuses on the Resurrection as a specific example to look at to purportedly prove his case.

Philipse’s argument is essentially this: if we accept Swinburne’s idea that miracles are too weird to fall under science, then we have to accept that they are, well, improbable given what we know about the world. That’s rather the point of a miracle. But if they really are that “weird” and improbable, then if we are told about one or see something that might suggest that it actually happened, what we probably should do is doubt that the event happened rather than proclaiming it a miracle. Thus, the very characteristics that would cause us to classify it a miracle should also cause us to be skeptical that it actually happened.

This might sound good at first, but when we put it into the context of Hume’s argument which inspires it, we can see the problems with it. Recall that Hume’s argument was, essentially, that miracles are so improbable that no matter how trustworthy we think a witness is it is always more probable that they were lying or mistaken than that the miracle actually happened. Philipse is more generous, conceding that we might be able to have a witness or set of evidence reliable enough to establish a miracle, but that that standard has to be enormously high given that we are talking about a miracle. But the problem is that these arguments smack of denying that an event occurred only or at least primarily because they don’t like the implications of that event actually happened. Sure, they talk about probabilities so as to make it sound more reasonable, but remember that for Hume he would have argued that for someone that you think is completely reliable, has no reason to lie, and who was definitely in a position to affirm that the event happened, it would still be more probable to deny that the event occurred than to accept that a miracle actually happened. Ultimately, then, the argument seems to translate to “If this event occurred, it would be a miracle, and therefore I will deny that the event occurred”. But you can’t deny that an event happened just because you don’t like the implications if it did. You can’t argue that the reliability of someone’s testimony is determined by whether or not you want to believe that the event they’ve testified to actually happened, or that someone’s senses must have been deceived just because of what they saw. Ultimately, that really seems like an argument that you will deny all possible evidence because you don’t like the conclusion that evidence leads you to.

We can see this more fully when we look at Philipse’s analysis of the Resurrection. Philipse wants to jump through all sorts of hoops to deny that the event occurred, but all he ends up doing is showing us what we ought to already know: we don’t have enough direct evidence to accept that the Resurrection actually happened. We, at least in modern times, don’t have anything like direct testimony from a reliable witness or set of witnesses that were in an appropriate position to witness the event. Instead, we have second-hand testimony passed down primarily by word of mouth until it was written down, which allows for corruption and the introduction of false and misleading testimony and evidence into the record. So we have reasons to doubt that the event happened independently of what actually happened … or, at least, to say that the evidence we have for it isn’t sufficient to establish that the event actually happened.

Now, if Philipse could argue that it is the “oddness” of the event that drives our skepticism, then he’d have a point … but that’s not what drives our skepticism. Yes, we tend to demand stronger evidence for stranger beliefs, but as it turns out a “miracle” being ascribed to a purportedly supernatural being is less improbable than if it is being ascribed to a natural being. For example, in a series like the Elenium or the Amber series we’re not going to blink an eye if someone casts a magical spell, but we’d be dragged completely out of immersion if, say, Jack Ryan did that. Since Jesus is purportedly a supernatural being, His being involved in a miracle is consistent with what we’d expect from such a being. No, what makes us skeptical about the Resurrection is less its oddness and more its importance: it is absolutely critical to Christianity that it happened, and so those skeptical of Christianity are going to peruse it in detail before accepting it. In general, it is always at least a combination of oddness and importance that drives how easily we will accept certain claims. If someone said that Jesus ate fish on a particular day, we wouldn’t subject that to any scrutiny. But if someone argued that a certain important event depended on Jesus eating fish on a particular day, we in general would want to make sure that we had really good evidence that that did, indeed, happen on that day.

And as we saw above, “oddness” isn’t really “improbable”, but is instead more “inconsistent”. If, say, someone said that I ate fish on a particular day, that would strike at the “oddness” criteria, even though people eat fish every day. The reason is that _I_ don’t like fish, and so I don’t eat it very often. So someone being told that about me would find it puzzling and would want more evidence before accepting it. And if my eating fish that day mattered for some reason, then that inconsistency might even drive them to strongly doubt that as confirming evidence. This is why Jesus performing or being part of a miracle is less odd than, say, my doing it would be; it is consistent with our expectations for a supernatural being like Jesus and inconsistent with our expectations for a natural being like myself.

So this defense of “oddness” doesn’t work. Ascribing supernatural actions to a supernatural agent won’t trigger than criteria in our skepticism. The Resurrection triggers skepticism because it is a important event that we have little solid evidence for, not because someone being raised from the dead is just that odd. And even if it was, demanding exceedingly high standards of evidence can only be seen as an attempt to set the bar so high that the atheist need never accept that a miracle or the Resurrection ever occurred, which is not a reasonable position to take, and is a position that no theist need accept. Ultimately, the best way for a theist to approach the arguments in this chapter is to simply refuse to accept the presumptions that underlie them, and thus to deny that there is any problem at all, requiring Philipse to put forward far better arguments for them than he has.

Friendzoning Myths …

July 12, 2017

So, over at Everyday Feminism, there’s a post about 5 myths about Friendzones, or 5 reasons why we need to ditch the concept entirely, depending on what parts you believe. The problem is that it fundamentally misunderstands both the original concept and how it is used in its more recent and more combative form, and so all of the myths and recommendations are, well, at best wrong and at worst damaging.

Before getting into the purported myths/reasons, let me first talk a little bit about the friendzone concept itself. Originally, this concept was nothing more than describing someone — usually a man, since they have to in general do the approaching to start a relationship — who had wanted to be in a relationship with someone that they knew well and when they finally made that clear received the “Let’s just be friends” line. Thus, while it was always seen as a negative and as a rejection — which it was, at least for a romantic relationship — it wasn’t seen as something bad that women did to men. However, with the rise of MRA attitudes, the usage changed to focus on cases where a woman knew or ought to have known that a man was interested in her and yet “strung him along”, using that attraction to get him to treat her better than he would someone that he was just friends with and had no romantic interest in, while knowing that she was never going to actually date him. This often would have to rely on her just being flirty enough to make him think that he had a chance while never following through on any of it.

Now, the new connotation describes the vast minority of friendzone cases, and that this has become a prominent view of friendzoning reflects, I think, two things. The first is an overgeneralization of those cases; they exist, certainly, but most women aren’t really doing anything like that. The second is a bitter and angry reaction to what is perceived, in general, as women using sexual attraction to get things that they don’t really deserve, often by — it is claimed — misrepresenting themselves and the situations. This also applies to “Fake Geek Girls” — women who are not really interested in geeks or geek hobbies but who can get a lot of attention being an even moderately attractive woman in those areas — and “White Knights”. Now, in all of these cases there are indeed examples where that happens, but it’s nowhere near as prevalent as the new concepts make it appear.

Thus, friendzoning as a concept ought to be considered in its original form: someone who wants a relationship with someone beyond friendship who is told that friendship is as far as the relationship will go.

I want to start with her fourth point here, to highlight why the concept is still valid and something that we need to address with more than platitudes:

When say people are ‘friendzoned’ it communicates the idea that they can’t escape being seen in a certain light. In other words, it implies that relationships don’t change – that once you are viewed as a platonic friend, you can’t be viewed as a potential partner.

But friendship doesn’t inherently prevent different relationships from developing further along the line. In fact, I’d argue that friendship is the best basis for romantic and sexual relationships.

This advice is precisely the reason why the friendzone exists and can be so devastating for both sides. The common relationship advice — generally from women — is that if you want to get into a relationship in general and into a relationship with someone in particular, the best way is to become “Friends first”, and then transition that into a romantic relationship. This is precisely the sort of behaviour that many women then call out as indicating that the man wasn’t actually interested in friendship, but was only interested in having sex with them, and so that makes him bad, somehow. Somehow, doing the commonly given advice for getting into a relationship makes them a bad person if it doesn’t succeed.

And the fact is that unless the person you have become friends with was either attracted to you originally and so was playing the “Friends to relationship” game, too, converting a friendship to a romantic relationship isn’t actually all that easy to do. Yes, it happens. Yes, sometimes people will be friends with someone and suddenly realize that they find them attractive or that they would make a good relationship partner. But in general if you start a friendship with someone that you aren’t interested in a relationship with you are far more likely to simply settle into that sort of relationship, and so if they ever make it clear that they are interested in you for more than that your initial reaction is going to be that, well, you aren’t interested in them that way. Because you, in fact, actually aren’t.

And here is where the PUA mindset actually works better. What they insist on is that you don’t do the “Friends first” approach, but that if you want a sexual relationship you start from the idea that that’s what you want. And this works out so much better because from the start he’s making his desires clear — so there’s no feeling that he was hiding that under just wanting to be friends — and she can make it clear from the start whether or not she thinks it possible. Now, since people are people nothing is set in stone and things can change — either way — but starting from what is desired makes everything a lot better. In fact, I propose that what we should be starting from is essentially “I find you attractive enough to actually date, so let’s start with casual dating to see if that still holds and if the personalities match”. And if that’s the attitude we have, then if it doesn’t work out the implication between two nice and reasonable people is “It didn’t work out because our personalities don’t align enough for a relationship”. And then that can move to friendship if that works out.

But pushing the “The best way to get a relationship is to start as friends!” line only fosters all of the things that made people bitter and angry over the friendzone in the first place. And this leads me to the second point I want to address, which is her fifth one:

Myth #5: If You’re In Love with Someone Who Doesn’t Return Your Affections, You Will Be Unhappy

Which also dovetails with her third point:

The idea of the friendzone implies that being friends with someone is inferior to dating or sleeping with someone. It implies that friendship is punishment, or at least, that it’s not as desirable as a romantic and/or sexual relationship.

The thing is, if you want to be in a romantic relationship with someone and they only want to be friends, that’s hard. First, it is a rejection. Second, one of the examples that is constantly given of how this is hard is the woman who complains that she can’t find any decent men to date … to the guy she friendzoned in order to date all of those men who are not “decent”. How should that guy feel there? While this also applies to women, too, at least in general she could console herself with the societal impression that most men are shallow and that it’s just that she isn’t attractive enough — which is cold comfort, I know, but at least she can blame him for that — while for a man in this situation since women traditionally aren’t supposed to be that shallow it has to be a judgement of him as a person. And we see this with the comments that someone who actually tries the “Friends first” approach isn’t really a “Nice Guy”, and so her dating jerks is really her dating the better people … which then would lead to the question of why she ever wanted to be friends with him in the first place.

The fact is that if you want a romantic relationship with someone, being friends with them is, in fact, an inferior relationship. The inverse is also true, but we don’t talk about that because, outside of arranged marriages and the like it never happens. Thus, a someone relegated to the friendzone might, for various reasons, find the friendship too difficult for them and decide to bow out of the friendship. And that’s perfectly acceptable. And if they do stay, we have to recognize that keeping the friendship up is hard for them, in a way that it isn’t hard for the friendzoner, unless that person keeps thinking of them as someone who is primarily interested in them for a relationship and so isn’t really a friend. Keeping the friendzone concept in its original form allows us to recognize this without insisting that the friendzonee just isn’t, in fact, a true friend merely because they are interested in more.

Which then leads to comments on what nice people should have:

Myth #1: Nice Men Deserve to Be with The Women They Desire

To return to the first point, if a man is nice and is following the accepted social rules, then he should have a better than average chance of getting the relationships he desires, just as a woman who does the same ought to. But the accepted social rule of “Friends first” actually gives him less of a chance at succeeding. Thus, those men who are less “nice” have more success, not because they are better or more deserving, but instead because they start from the context of a relationship and if that isn’t forthcoming move on to the next candidate. On the other hand, the “Nice Guys” who are trying to not come across as being primarily interested in sex and are trying to follow the social rules so that they make her more comfortable and don’t risk offending her spend a lot of time chasing people who aren’t and would never be interested in that sort of relationship with them.

So I want to keep the original friendzone concept to say “If you follow the ‘Friends first’ approach, you are likely to end up in the ‘friendzone’, where they see you only as a friend while you are interested in something more. If you are, in fact, interested in something more it is far better to just approach with that in mind.”

Let me wrap up with how the misunderstanding of the friendzone impacts her most Social Justice point, the second one which is the idea that is is heterosexist. She describes a friendship she has with a male friend of hers:

I have a really close male friend who I love and appreciate dearly. A few years ago, a couple of our friends teased us, saying that we were a textbook example of the ‘friendzone’ in action.

In reality, neither of us wanted a committed romantic relationship with one another. But because of the common idea of the friendzone, people simply assumed that my male friend wanted a sexual and romantic relationship with me.

Something our friends didn’t know at the time was that he’s asexual – he experiences very little, if any, sexual attraction to people. He did not have the capacity to be sexually attracted to me, even though our friends assumed he did.

The thing is … that’s not a case of the friendzone. Not because he’s asexual, but because neither of them are interested in a relationship with the other person. Yes, it’s a problem to simply assume it because one person is a woman and another is a man, but it might not have been an assumption and might have been based on how they acted towards each other. So example, did she act flirty towards him while making it relatively clear that they were just friends? That starts to fall into the deliberate friendzoning thing that I mentioned above which is what she claimed her friends teased her about. Maybe it’s not a heterosexist assumption, but instead an assumption based on how they interact.

Look, we do need to understand that people who might be of the appropriate genders or whatever for a relationship might not want one with each other. I myself have had cases where I got along well with someone, found her attractive, and yet figured that our personalities didn’t work for a relationship. Understanding that this happens is important, but the original concept of friendzone allows for that, as it only applies in the case where one person wants a relationship and the other person doesn’t. Thus if we follow that we can easily deal with these situations by pointing out that neither is interested in anything more, for whatever reason that actually is. Then, any “teasing” is either teasing in recognition that it doesn’t actually apply, or teasing on the basis that one of the parties might not be being honest about that. Which cycles back to “if you’re interested, be direct about that”.

Ultimately, the friendzone concept has to exist because it’s a thing that happens. Even the really negative and exploitative example happens in the real world. We need to avoid overgeneralizing the cases and need to stop assuming that any friendship between people who might be interested in each other is one of these, but it happens and we need to address it, and address the way the social rules actually create these situations. Because no matter what people assert, being in the friendzone is not fun. People might be able to take it, but it’s not going to be what they really want, and it works out badly for friendzoner and friendzonee, and so we need to find ways to minimize the instances and minimize the pain this causes. Abandoning the concept is not going to help with that one bit.

Thoughts After Re-Reading “Polgara the Sorceress”

July 10, 2017

“Polgara the Sorceress” isn’t as good a book as “Belgarath the Sorcerer” was. And I think there are a number of reasons for why this is:

1) Most of the really big events were covered in at least historical detail in Belgarath the Sorcerer. Thus, all there really is for Polgara the Sorceress to do is fill in Polgara’s personal impressions and situation. But this means that we’re going over events that we’ve already gone over in detail again — and again, in some detail — just to add Polgara’s personal impressions to them. But unless you’re a huge Polgara fan, it doesn’t add that much to them. Things get a lot better when they start filling in the details of the things Polgara did while Belgarath wasn’t around — like what happened in Vo Wacune and Arendia — but those segments are too short and too few and far between to save the book. And this is a worse flaw because the two books aren’t really standalone. The framing of Polgara the Sorceress is that Polgara is filling in the details that Belgarath the Sorcerer left out — and often Polgara pokes at Belgarath for simply leaving details out. But despite having read the two books pretty much one right after the other I didn’t really notice any glaring omissions except for the things that Belgarath himself didn’t know. Thus, the framing is both underused and guarantees that everyone will remember the other book first and pretty much note that they should read it first before reading this one. I’m not certain, but I think that there will be places where a reader is confused or feels that something has been left out if they read Polgara the Sorceress before Belgarath the Sorcerer. Thus, you can’t just read Polgara the Sorceress, but reading Belgarath the Sorcerer first will make Polgara the Sorceress seem ponderous and repetitive.

2) The book actually damages Polgara’s character as described in Belgarath the Sorcerer, particularly with how it uses Poledra. In Belgarath the Sorcerer, Polgara was gifted and had a mind that worked in a certain way that allowed her to do certain great feats. In Polgara the Sorceress, much of the time that great skill came from Poledra tutoring her on it secretly. Thus, she didn’t pick it up quickly, but instead had already learned it by the time it came for her to be taught it. At the Battle of Vo Mimbre, the long-standing idea that Polgara had managed to resist Torak’s will which impacted him greatly had nothing to do with her, but was instead only Poledra. If it had been the case that Polgara herself screamed in defiance but that she needed the intimate connection with Poledra to buttress her will and allow her to not have to face Torak “alone”, that would be one thing, but instead Poledra shuffles Polgara out of the way and takes over herself. This makes Polgara a spectator in her most famous event and removes the strongest display of her character in the entire series. After the fall of Vo Wacune, Belgarath the Sorcerer implies that Polgara fell into a great and angry despondency, similar to that of Belgarath when Poledra “died”, which provided an interesting parallel and gave them something in common, a common experience that they could at least arguably build on. Instead, she was pretending to be that way while secretly planning her revenge an organizing the war back in Sendaria/Erat. This a major plot hole because if Belgarath and the others because she acts as if she had to hide that from them, but if they really cared they’d have almost certainly been able to detect her scheming or at least would have paid attention to what was happening back in Arendia and noted her influence. So either they didn’t really care — at which point she didn’t have to hide it — or they did care but then didn’t bother to keep track of her well-enough to catch her influence (and Belgarath the Sorcerer implies that their greatest concern was that she didn’t try to will herself out of existence). But on top of that, Polgara had lost a city that was very important to her and, as she thought at the time, the love of her life … and she’s able to plan an elaborate deception of her father and uncles while coordinating a brilliant battle plan to get revenge? Doesn’t seem like she cared all that much about them, did she? Over and over, events make Polgara less skilled, less complex and less interesting a character.

3) All that there really is to the book is Polgara’s personal impressions, but Polgara isn’t all that interesting a character. Most often, she’s an opinionated bully. Sure, Belgarath is a bully, too, but for him most of the time he bullies people to get the job done so that, mostly, he can get back to doing the things that he really, really wants to do. He admits that he’s lazy and unscrupulous and has numerous flaws, and in general is a more interesting and humourous character to follow. Polgara is often dreadfully serious and seems to have no actual serious flaws, and never really seemed to grasp the import of the Events except perhaps when she was raising the heirs … which is given fairly short shrift in the book. Polgara and Ce’Nedra are both always described as characters that the others make a strong effort to avoid offending, but lots of people are willing to offend Belgarath all the time. Thus, she comes across as a full-on bully: do what I want or else. That’s not an interesting character to follow, and especially when we already know most of the historical details and so there’s little new there to discover. ‘Grat is not nice, but he cops to it. Polgara doesn’t.

At the end of the day, the book wasn’t a waste to read, but reading it right after Belgarath the Sorcerer really, really hurts it, as it has nothing to offer but Polgara, who is not that interesting a character to start with and is undermined by the work itself. For the most part, you could stop after Belgarath the Sorcerer and not really miss much.

Next up: The Elenium and The Tamuli.

Not My Side

July 7, 2017

So, let me talk about the hypocrisy of both sides — and potentially all sides — in pretty much every debate of consequence that we’re having in the world today. I’ve already talked about this before, but let me highlight it in light of a specific comment at Pharyngula on Laci Green in the context of the VidCon mess. It’s short, so let me quote it in full first:

A useful concept, “de facto”. It’s legal if that matters.

Basically no matter what the intentions the result in reality is X. So we have two examples of one person receiving a large amount of negative and violent attention. They are not the same. The “criticism” that people like Anita receive comes from a very different source. She receives a base cultural reaction from a large group of people that resort to personal language, often violent and gendered personal language.
It’s not just Sargon. If not Sargon than some other people trying to apply social pressure about people they want to control. It’s not just Anita, it’s Brianna, it’s Chanty, it’s Hillary.

So the second person is Sargon. He got socially criticized by the first person so that is a defining characteristic. Because he triggered a focus of movement towards Anita means he’s an example of the kind of person who is going to have to be criticized of one wants to shift a society in a more moral direction. Sexed and gendered social abuse requires a response towards such abusers at multiple social levels.

It’s why we focus on Trumps awful personal habits of mind and behavior. He’s the top example. There are others below.

Let me translate this: “Look, we use the same sorts of social criticism against those we disagree with as they use against us. But, hey, they’re bad people, and immoral, and so it’s right for us to do that, because we have to stop their immorality. But when they do that against us, that’s bad, because they’re trying to promote immorality, unlike us, who are promoting morality. You must see the difference, right?”

Let me highlight one particular part:

Because he triggered a focus of movement towards Anita means he’s an example of the kind of person who is going to have to be criticized of one wants to shift a society in a more moral direction.

But who says that what you think of as a “more moral direction” really is? Why do you get to decide that? Many of those critics that she justifies this sort of “criticism” towards — remember, this is calling him a “garbage human being” and stuff like that — think that their criticisms are, at least, defending a moral society. Both sides think that their view of society is the more proper and more moral one. So if they think their criticism justified because it’s moral, and she thinks her criticism is justified because it’s moral, then don’t we just end up with both sides sniping at each other and claiming that the other side is wrong because it’s immoral? Who decides what really counts and moral and what doesn’t?

Remember, in the context of Trump we’ve had people at least marginally on Brony’s side advocating for open violence to shut down speech, with the whole “Punch a Nazi!” thing. Even if we accept that open violence to stop someone from speaking is justified, there’s the little issue of defining “Nazi!”. Even in the comment, Brony tries to justify it based on the necessity of shutting down sexed and gendered social abuse … but defining that is the problem. Does the privilege concept and using that to shut down speech — telling white, cis, men to shut up and listen because their “privilege” means that they can’t understand the issues — count as sexed and gendered social abuse? Or is it a reasonable — if potentially angry — request? If someone uses a term that is sexed or gendered and is seen as a sexed or gendered insult, does that count as social abuse? Does that count even if the person doesn’t think of the term that way? As an example, I went to high school with a literal bastard. And yet I still use the term as an insult. This is not because I see the state of being illegitimate as any sort of negative character trait or as an indication that they are a bad person in any way, but because I no longer associate the word — when I use it as an insult — with that original usage. To me, it’s just a term for a bad person, not someone who is bad like someone who is illegitimate. So, am I being abusive or not? Should we consider the term with its original connotation, or the connotation it now as which is much more neutral? And who gets to decide? The people with the most social power?

This is where the hypocrisy shines. Both sides are flat-out willing to admit that they will use the same tactics as those they hate — and the tactics that they hate being used against them — in service of what they consider “the greater good”. And as I said in my linked post, I know that I don’t see the “greater good” as being what they think of as the greater good. I disagree with both sides. And I know that as soon as I do, whichever side feels offended by my words will muster all of the social pressure they can to either make me change my ways or, at least, to get others to shun me and exclude me from society. Which for me probably isn’t that big a deal, because I don’t really like people anyway, and so if fewer people bug me that might actually be a blessing. Losing my job would be more annoying, though … and both sides are willing to try to get people to lose their jobs and/or incomes if they find their views suitably offensive.

What this results in is there being no room for any sort of moderate. Alt-Right people like Vox Day are explicit that they are opposed to moderates, but those on the Left who castigate anyone who disagrees with them on any matter they consider serious enough are at least doing that implicitly. As soon as someone breaks from what the overall group considers to be the ideology, they immediately apply the same “punishments” to that person as they did to those on the far opposing extreme in an attempt to at least quash the dissenting view, if not the dissenting viewer. This is what is happening to Laci Green right now.

And what is most interesting about these sorts of shifts is the shift in attitude towards the methods and the people who use them. Long ago, I was in a Google group talking about Atheism and Christianity, and there was one poster there who was constantly and continually abusive to the — mainly religious at first — people who opposed him. He was considered quite popular among the atheist side … and obviously less so among the theists. This lasted right up until the point where he had a disagreement with some of the more prominent atheists, and unleashed the same vitriol on them as he had towards the theists. Suddenly, those tactics weren’t so funny or so good anymore, and his posts suddenly didn’t seem like classic criticisms anymore to those atheists … and yet remained as such to those atheists who agreed with him on that topic. And we’ve seen this repeated over and over again in the Deep Rifts of the atheist movement, in the rift in feminism between white and black feminists and cis and trans feminists, in the “cucks vs conservatives” divide, and so on and so forth. Invariably, once the bullying tactics are turned against someone that person is generally far less appreciative of them than they were when they were turned against their enemies.

I really don’t know what to say or think about this. As I ponder it here while writing, for the most part I think I need to do one (or maybe two) things for my own personal sanity. First, I really need to strive to ensure that I never think of or believe that I have actual enemies, at least when it comes to positions on topics. All that exist are people I disagree with and people who are bullies or who are bullying me, and thus I need to respond accordingly. But those who hold different positions from me or even people who bully me are not out-and-out enemies; they are people who, in this instance, are perhaps antagonists that I need to address. And the potential second point is that I don’t have allies either; all I have are people who happen to agree with me on a topic and who aren’t actively bullying me right now, even though all of that will or could change on a whim. The reason for doing this is to hopefully avoid falling into the same trap of identifying people as enemies and others as allies, and cheering the bullying of the allies while decrying the bullying of the enemies. I’ve been trying for the past year or more to make sure of this, and noticing that sometimes I find insults tossed at people I disagree with “funnier” than insults tossed at people I agree with. But insults are never clever, and bullying remains bullying no matter what side it’s in favour of, and I need to make sure that I remember that.

More on the Vidcon Situation …

July 5, 2017

So, much more has come out about this — and, likely, much more will come out between the time I write this and the time it gets posted — but I want to touch on a few things after having listened to and read more on the topic. The major things I’ve seen, at least in part, are Sargon’s long response, Liana K’s take, Sarkeesian’s response, which I’ve linked to elsewhere, and another related video by Boogie2988 about his later interaction with Anita Sarkeesian. I’m probably going to flip between a number of them and may not quote them as much as I should — especially since many of them are videos and text quoting videos isn’t exactly trivial — but I’m going to talk a bit about my overall impressions of this.

I’m not as charitable, perhaps, towards Sargon and Sarkeesian as Liana K is. I don’t believe that Sargon and the others sitting in the front row was nothing more than them wanting to listen to her and/or start a dialogue, with them being clueless about how that might be intimidating to her. Heck, even Sargon’s “prediction” about what would happen if he attended VidCon pretty much reveals that he knew that these things could and would trigger a reaction. So Sargon et al are not stupid enough to think that this would be taken as just them listening to her and wanting to start a conversation. That being said, I agree with him that even being in the audience might well have triggered a reaction anyway, even if they hadn’t taken over the first two rows. But I think that, at a minimum, they really wanted to see what Sarkeesian’s reaction would be.

On the other hand, I don’t agree that Sarkeesian’s reaction was spawned by fear or by intimidation. While some will do the standard call out of my judging the reactions of victims and denying their victimhood if they don’t react the right way, I have to say that if Sarkeesian was afraid that there’d be a confrontation, the last thing she’d do is deliberately provoke one. You don’t provoke a confrontation with someone you think is harassing you unless you feel you’re secure and in a position of control or power, and Sarkeesian definitely was. It’s also not consistent with how she generally reacts to these things. Since she knew they were there before the panel started, she could have done as she had done in the past with threats at conferences and the like and talked to the organizers about the potential for there being a disruption and what would happen if there was one. For the most part, for any serious disruption the moderator, the organizers and the other panel members were almost certainly going to be on her side over this, and if she didn’t feel that they would be she could have simply walked away from the panel over those concerns.

So what I think is that Sarkeesian, instead, reacted the way she tends to react when she feels that someone is going after her in some way: she lashes out. The Boogie incident is an example of that, where she felt that his point was targeting her and she reacted angrily and lashed out at him over it. I give her credit for calming down afterwards and having a reasonable discussion with him, but her first instinct is to lash out angrily instead of looking to defuse the situation or, in fact, to just ignore it given that she has more prominence and that therefore her words carry more weight than, well, pretty much anyone who is criticizing her. You can argue that she saw what they were trying to do as an intimidation tactic and then took the angry line that she wasn’t going to be intimidated … but, then, she still responded by lashing out instead of taking the stronger tack of not letting them change how she acts or where she goes.

And I think this leads into an issue that I somewhat agree with from Liana K, where I think that Sarkeesian is often her own worst enemy. While I think it reasonable that Sargon et al at the very least knew that what they did might get to her, Sarkeesian let it get to her. And by lashing out she essentially gave up the moral high ground. Certainly we can’t hold everyone to absolutely perfect paragon standards and never, ever get angry, but Sarkeesian in general seems like someone who is incredibly easy to manipulate by pushing certain buttons. This is a weakness that she needs to address. If she can be dragged off topic and down an angry diatribe that easily, she’s going to be ineffective at presenting her message. For one thing, she has a tendency to respond with over the top arguments, which she may well believe, as we can see in her response message and in how she initially responded to Boogie, which makes her arguments less credible. Second, it becomes an easy way for opponents to drag her off message and so change the focus to something other than her core message. If she wants to get her message out, she’s going to have to stop letting people drag her off message with personal attacks. Which is hard, I know.

I think that Sargon et al ought not have either attended her panel en masse, or at least should have sat less front and centre at it, because, yeah, if she knew who they were she was going to be intimidated. But Sarkeesian ought not have forced a confrontation, and should have let them make the first move. However, I believe that she was angry and her first response when angry is to lash out, and potentially to lash out indiscriminately. Her interactions with Boogie indicate that she can have reasonable conversations with people she disagrees with, and so what I think she really needs to do — and I think it would greatly improve her image if she did do this — is to find ways to actually do that. She has an enormous platform and so there are a lot of incentives for someone to be willing to respond to or debate her on her own platform. Taking it out of her immediate and defensive reactions into a more reasonable discussion would take a lot of the wind out of the sails of her stronger opponents and could even lead to her having a more nuanced view of the whole situation, which can only help her. And there have to be more reasonable opponents that she can talk to. Liana K, for example … and Sarkeesian might want to talk to her directly considering that some of her supporters seem to have treated her very, very badly, and Sarkeesian might want to take a stand to discourage that sort of harassment.

Because Liana K has a point in her rant about the hypocrisy and lack of self-awareness of both sides. I’ll talk more about this in general in another post, but Sarkeesian and her supporters stand on arguing about how bad things are for them while ignoring the things they and people on their side do. I don’t really agree with the idea that Sarkeesian’s criticisms do or ought to traumatize Gamers, but note that a lot of the “harassment” from her opponents seems to be nothing more than criticism, which is what Sarkeesian herself is engaged in. Sarkeesian definitely presents herself and her supporters as acting more reasonably than they do. But, then, so does Sargon. For one thing, he references Boogie’s situation without, as far as I can recall, pointing out that they resolved it reasonably satisfactorily after Sarkeesian’s initial reaction. For another, he gives a number of “reasonable questions” that are trolling at best, such as the person who asked her if she really believed what she was saying. Sure, Sarkeesian could and should have just answered “Yes”, but she was right that it was a stupid question. So Sargon chastises her for ignoring and not answering — or not answering properly — “reasonable” questions that were not reasonable either in content, or tone, or both. As seems to be the norm, both sides think that they’re calmer and more reasonable and that their opponents are angrier and less reasonable than they actually are.

But what really worries me about this is that presumably these are important things to settle and deal with, and yet I can’t see any way forward to settling them. While a lot of the harassment that Sarkeesian — and Sargon, and, well, most people on Youtube, it seems — gets is utterly unacceptable and should be stopped, people aren’t going to be willing to do that for people who in general seem to at least try to give as good as they get. Sargon’s call for Sarkeesian to be uninvited from next year’s VidCon isn’t reasonable given the context, but I don’t have a lot of sympathy for someone claiming harassment when she herself forced a confrontation from a position where she had more power and influence than the person she forced the confrontation with. As someone who, well, disagrees on some points with all of them — including Liana K, who is much more feminist than I am — I want us to settle on what is true, what is right, and what is reasonable, and that requires us, in my opinion, to filter out the simple trolls and get the people who are willing to discuss things reasonably to, well, discuss things reasonably. But it seems to me that mere criticism is enough to get one branded as unreasonable, and no one really seems willing to discuss things reasonably … and those who are generally get lambasted and shunned by what is arguably their own side for having the gall to even attempt it. So how do we resolve these issues when only the extremes are acceptable, and the extremes are always almost certainly wrong? I have no idea.

Thoughts After Re-Reading “Belgarath the Sorcerer”

July 3, 2017

So, as I’m sure I’ve said before, I plan on working through all of my David Eddings books, and while I’m doing that I might as well finish them. I’m concluding my re-reading of the Garion works with “Belgarath the Sorcerer” and “Polgara the Sorceress” before moving on to the series that I liked the best, which are the Sparhawk works (The Elenium and the Tamuli).

Belgarath the Sorcerer is a “and now you know the rest of the story” work. It’s even explicitly set up as such as the framing of the work is that Ce’Nedra wants to know the rest of the story and manipulates Belgarath into telling it, with the help of various others. And as that sort of work, it really does work. It fills in a lot of the details and backstory around what happened, filling in a bit of the lore and giving it more life, while still keeping the style of the original works. Telling it from Belgarath’s perspective really adds to the work, as it allows for a more personal perspective on events that we had only previously heard about from a more dry historical perspective, and keeps it from being a dull recitation of things that happened. The book is long, but like pretty much everything Eddings has done in this series it moves along quickly so it never really seems like a drag.

The book would be absolutely meaningless and uninteresting if you haven’t already read the Belgariad and the Malloreon, but after having read them it does well to fill in some of the gaps in an interesting way.

Next up: Polgara the Sorceress.