Thoughts on “Ready Player One”

April 23, 2018

So, I finished reading “Ready Player One”, and overall found it … okay. I’m going to talk about it in detail, and even though the book isn’t that recent the movie is so I’ll continue below the fold:

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Carrier On Moral Reasoning …

April 20, 2018

So, recently Richard Carrier put out a post about things to consider while doing moral reasoning. There are a number of issues with his moral system and moral reasoning that come up there, and so I want to go through some of them. The whole post is at the link if you want to look at some of the things I’m going to skip, and since it’s a bit disorganized itself my post here is probably going to jump around and back at bit, both in terms of what I reference from the post and in terms of the actual content I talk about, so be prepared.

Anyway, Carrier starts by talking about the Golden Rule, and then says this:

For example, you would not want your neighbor to neglect you if you were starving, therefore “do not neglect a starving neighbor.” This is not doing what you would not want done to you, yet amounts to positively doing what you would want done for you. Every positive action can be reframed as a negative being avoided. “Be generous” and “do not fail to be generous” are identical statements. That one is positive and the other negative is wholly irrelevant.

The problem is that in doing this he ignores a critical distinction, which is the difference between an action that is morally desirable and is morally obligatory. A maximally moral person will always want to help a starving neighbour, true. But does that mean that if they fail to help a starving neighbour that then then are acting immorally? Are they morally obliged to help a starving neighbour? It’s pretty easy to come up with cases, like the neighbour case, where while it would be morally desirable to do something and it is almost certainly the case that more moral people will do that, we also can see that it isn’t morally obligatory. Risking your life by running into a burning building to save someone’s life, for example. Or donating an organ to save someone else’s life. While we think that better people will do that, we also don’t really hold it against someone if they don’t. So there is, then, at least in theory a potential difference here, and the difference is that the negative statement always implies a moral obligation, while the positive one doesn’t. So you can’t simply take the positive statements, negate them, and come up with a statement that has the same moral force. It might, but in general the negative statement is going to have a stronger moral force than the positive one. In fact, a way to test for moral obligation is to take the positive statement, negate it, and see if it remains true. If it does, then it’s a moral obligation. If it isn’t, then it’s not. So taking Carrier’s example, we can see that “Help a starving neighbour” seems true morally, but “do not fail to help a starving neighbour” is far less certain, because it’s difficult to see how someone would necessarily be acting immorally if they didn’t.

Now, Carrier has long held a view that all moral classes — deontological, consequentialist, and Virtue Theory — are all the same, and can be reduced to each other. He continues that here, and unfortunately continues to start from a misinterpretation of Kant, assuming that Kant’s categorical imperative applies to what we would want to be the case rather than to what can be universalized without logical contradiction. It is always from the first that he derives the compatibility of Kant’s deontological view, at least, with consequentialsm:

The notion that circumstances and consequences must be disregarded is contrary to the Kantian principle itself, since we would never will to be a universal law that circumstances and consequences be disregarded.

But could we do that without logical contradiction? This is also a bit confusing, because it’s certainly the case that at least for any practical morality we are going to have to consider individual situations but deontological views will deny that the action is right simply because it produces a specific consequence or outcome. So while consequences and circumstances aren’t going to be irrelevant — and so can’t be disregarded — it’s never going to be the case that we can point to the consequence itself and say that that is what makes the action immoral or moral. Only by appealing to the general and set principles will we be able to determine what is morally right and what is morally wrong.

To be fair, most consequentialist theories have a set principle that is used to determine what the right or acceptable consequences are. But in general the distinction between those loose class of theories is that deontologists define the rules and act accordingly, and those rules aren’t adjusted if they produce a seemingly “bad” outcome, whereas for consequentialist views if the rule seems to be producing bad consequences it’s adjusted accordingly. In short, we are supposed to accept the consequences if we have justified the rule in deontological views, while in consequentialist views if the consequences don’t seem proper it’s far more reasonable for us to change the rule.

Carrier makes this comment about Kantian views in particular:

So-called “deontological” ethics (morals that derive from the nature of the act itself rather than its consequences) were first formally defended by Immanuel Kant, who declared the true moral rule to be that you ought to “act only in accordance with a rule that you can at the same time desire that it become a universal law.” Like the Golden Rule, this also leads to error when applied superficially. For example, some Kantians imagined this ruled out killing in self-defense, but in fact we “can at the same time desire that it become a universal law” that everyone be allowed to kill in self-defense. In fact, we probably would all will that to be the case.

The problem here is that the admonition against self-defense does not directly follow from the first formulation of the Categorical Imperative, but from the second: Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end. If someone is trying to kill me, and I then kill them in self-defense, aren’t I really just using their life as a means to an end, the end of my own life? That would surely be treating them as merely a means, and that is therefore immoral. While most Kantians — and most moral codes, even that of the Stoics — can probably find a way to justify self-defense when someone is deliberately attempting to kill you, the interesting question arises when we talk about “innocent” self-defense (note, I read about this on a set of questions and answers after doing a search, but am not going to bother referencing it. Just note that this isn’t entirely my own idea). If someone is innocently threatening my life — ie they don’t intend to but the consequence of their actions will result in my death — am I allowed to kill them to save my own life if that’s the only way to do so? That seems to more directly contradict the idea of treating them as ends in themselves, but then again in most moral systems and even in our moral intuitions this is a case where most people will at least wonder if doing so is morally correct, so it wouldn’t be an error. Asking what we’d want to be the case in these cases isn’t going to settle the problem, and in fact shows the futility of interpreting the first formulation in the way Carrier does, because we want moral codes to tells us what we should do regardless of what we intuitively want to be the case. Yes, we all might agree that we’d like to be able to kill people, even innocent people, in self-defense, but does that, in and of itself, mean that we should? And if we shouldn’t want that, then we should change our wants.

(To be fair to Carrier, he doesn’t apply the rule that simplistically, noting that our wants can indeed be in error. But this just leads to an inherent tension in his view where he wants to appeal to our satisfaction to justify moral precepts while having to introduce all sorts of empirical claims to insist that we are getting our satisfaction wrong.)

And recognizing the second formulation also demonstrates the big incompatibility between Utilitarian views and Kantian ones, because Utilitarianism inherently reduces all people to means to produce the end of maximizing happiness. We are all expected to sacrifice our own ends and even personal happiness to produce the most happiness overall. So while Kantians insist that no one be treated as a means to an end — including ourselves — Utiltarians insist that everyone should be treated as a means to an end, including ourselves. You can try to reconcile them by appealing to the idea that Utilitarians would say that all people should have “maximizing global happiness” as their end, but this would be a shallow reconciliation, one that doesn’t actually resolve any of the issues and conflicts between the two systems.

Which, of course, is the precise level at which Carrier reconciles them:

And yet all the merits and problems of Mill’s system are analyzable with Kant’s rule: contrary to Kant, who actually was trying to overturn teleological ethics, we “can at the same time desire that it become a universal law” that we “act so as to produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number.”

So, here, the issue is that you can’t universalize the idea that you should always treat people as a means and never as an end, if for no other reason than that you need some end to appeal to. But Utilitarianism doesn’t insist on that, but only that at times people are treated as means to an end, and that probably is universalizable. So I think Carrier is right here that the first formulation doesn’t rule out Utilitarianism. (Of course, Kant derived the second formulation from the idea of our free will, so there still might be a conflict there). But that you might be able to universalize that principle doesn’t make them interestingly compatible if Kantians reject it, and Carrier’s second attempt to reconcile them doesn’t work any better:

Similarly, when we look at problems with Mill’s rule (e.g. it can lead to “the ends justifies the means” thinking which can result in causing widespread harm in the name of a “greater good,” an outcome we don’t like and don’t want to be on the harm-receiving end of), the same follows: we do not will that it be a universal law that the ends always justifies the means, therefore we do not in fact will that it be a universal law that we “act so as to produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number,” but that we act in respect of all individuals so far as we are able, because as individuals ourselves that is how we would want to be treated. Sometimes that requires causing harm as the lesser of two evils, but only when there is no third option (and even then it is not desirable but a forced necessity we have no reason to like).

If we don’t actually will that it be a universal law that we “act so as to produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number”, then we are rejecting the basic Utilitarian principle, at which point we’d be trying to reconcile something that isn’t and can’t be Utilitarianism with Kantianism, defeating the entire point. Carrier can try to argue that sacrificing one person’s interests — or those of a minority — for the happiness of the majority will violate that rule — perhaps because most people won’t be happy in a society that advocates for that — but that’s, well, pretty much been the focus of most attempts to repair Utilitarianism, and doesn’t solve the problem: Kantians insist that you have to respect the wishes of each individual person, and Utilitarinism’s big benefit is that the wishes of each individual person must be subordinated to the happiness of the most people. Even if Carrier’s move worked, there’d still be a huge fundamental difference that would have to be resolved. So, no, they don’t reduce to each other.

Even at the level of agent-becoming this is the case: Kant might say that in doing a certain act (e.g. murder), we become a certain sort of person (e.g. a murderer), which is a consequence in and of itself that we would not like (were we to honestly admit the fact). But this is teleological thinking, and thus in accordance with Mill: part of the consequences to human happiness are indeed the consequences to the individual of becoming a certain sort of person in their actions (e.g. a mass murderer for “the greater good”), and the consequences to the society of endorsing it (e.g. a society that allows mass murder for “the greater good”), which may in and of themselves damage human happiness and thus run afoul of Mill’s own rule. Thus, no matter how you turn it, Mill and Kant were really just saying the same thing, and really just trying to explore the implications of the Golden Rule from different perspectives, neither in themselves complete.

Except that Kant would certainly not draw the conclusion that committing murder is wrong because it would make us not like who we are (a murderer) which would, presumably, make us less happy. Kant criticized the Stoics for being too focused on happiness (in his objection to Eudaimonic theories). And Mill wouldn’t argue that if you had to sacrifice the minority to save the lives of the majority that you would therefore be a “mass murderer”, because at least morally you wouldn’t be committing murder. So Carrier’s argument that they are saying the same thing relies on contorting the views to say things that they aren’t saying and would explicitly deny. If you’re willing to ignore what the views actually say, you can make them say anything, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve discovered something meaningful about them.

Carrier next turns to Virtue Theory:

The latter derives from the first logic-and-science-based moral philosopher whose work substantially survives for us to read it in its entirety: Aristotle. Aristotle would say that we ought to act in accord with those virtues of character the pursuit of which will lead to a life of personal satisfaction and fulfillment, and not in accord with those vices that will lead to a life of discontentment and dissatisfaction. Doing so will in turn produce a harmonious society, and we will enjoy the company and community of those behaving the same way.

This is again the same thing, only now we are looking not at rules of behavior but at their motivating dispositions (which David Hume would likewise focus on). This is therefore one more level deeper in analysis.

Putting aside the fact that Aristotle, in and of himself, likely wouldn’t justify the virtues simply on the basis of a harmonious society, there is reason to think that Virtue Theories and deontological/consequentialist theories don’t have to be mutually exclusive. The big issue Virtue Theories have to address is defining the virtues and vices, and it’s relatively easy to use another moral theory to define that and use the Virtue Theory to then determine what kind of person a virtuous person has to be (I take this approach in combining Kant and the Stoics). So this one isn’t necessarily ridiculous. However, there are definitely certain deontological and consequentialist theories that are incompatible with Virtue Theory in general and with certain specific Virtue Theories, so they can’t be reduced to each other, so this doesn’t seem to get us very far.

Carrier then returns to his pet theory, hypothetical imperatives espoused by Philippa Foot. This is an issue for his attempts to reduce all moral theories to each other since Kant explicitly rejects hypothetical imperatives as being capable of producing morality, but that’s not important here. What is important is the ultimate end that Foot aims at:

Foot concluded that we ought to act in accordance with true facts of the world in such a way as to maximize our ability to love our life and get along with other people. Morality is therefore a system of hypothetical imperatives, aiming at the most efficient achievement of an over-arching goal, which is a fulfilling life within a well-functioning social system.

The thing is that at least Kant and the Stoics would deny that morality is determine by what will satisfy us, instead insisting that we must be satisfied by what is moral. Thus, if we find ourselves not being satisfied by acting morally, we need to change ourselves so that we are indeed satisfied by that. Foot’s views — and certainly Carrier’s derivations of them — have this the opposite way around, where if we find ourselves not being satisfied by morality, then there’s something wrong with our view of morality. Oh, sure, Carrier also appeals to us not simply being aware of the proper “facts”, but those definitely include moral facts. Thus, it is possible for them that we need to change our view of morality if it isn’t making us happy, which both Kant and the Stoics deny. That’s a pretty fundamental disagreement to resolve, and Carrier doesn’t, in fact, resolve it.

He also says this about the view:

Foot, in my opinion, is the only philosopher who saw the forrest for the trees, and produced the most correct and usable analysis of moral reasoning and its proper roots and motivations.

Of course he’d say that, because it allows him to pursue his own satisfaction and never really have to choose between making himself happy or acting morally. But that’s not necessarily a good thing, as Enlightened Egoism not only allows for the same thing, but is explicitly the same thing, and I suspect that Carrier is not, at least openly, as sympathetic to that view as he is to others. However, his derivation of Foot seems, to me, to pretty much be Enlightened Egoism. And this follows on in his discussion of “risk”:

We might now say this in terms of risk theory: the probability of that outcome is greater on that behavior than on any alternative behavior, such that even if the outcome is not guaranteed, it is still only rational to engage the behavior that will have the greatest likelihood of the desired outcome. By analogy with vaccines that have an adverse reaction rate: when the probability of an adverse reaction is thousands of times less than the probability of contracting the disease being vaccinated against, it is not rational to complain that, when you suffer an adverse reaction from that vaccine, being vaccinated was the incorrect decision. To the contrary, it remained the best decision at the time, because the probability of a worse outcome was greater at the time for a decision not to be vaccinated. Analogously, that some evil people prosper is not a valid argument for following their approach, since for every such person attempting that, thousands will be ground under in misery, and only scant few will roll the lucky dice. It is not rational to gamble on an outcome thousands to one against, when failure entails misery, and by an easy difference in behavioral disposition you can ensure a sufficiently satisfying outcome with odds thousands to one in favor—as then misery is thousands to one against rather than thousands to one in favor. This is also why pointing to good people ending in misery is not a valid argument against being good.

The problem here is that Carrier has no grounds for talking about “evil” people, or even “good” people, outside of his moral system. So if someone is pursuing their own satisfaction, determines that an act that Carrier would call “evil” will definitely increase that, and is right about that, then Carrier has no grounds on which to claim that what they did was actually evil. He talks about risk here, but it is certainly conceivable to think of cases where the risk that being “good” will result in less satisfaction is higher than the risk that being “evil” will. In fact, almost all moral dilemmas are built around such cases, where I will be objectively worse off if I act morally, but the action is clearly the “good” thing to do. And I return to the example of Russell from the first episode of “Angel”, where he says that he follows the rules and pays his taxes, and in return he gets to do whatever he wants. Surely it was the case that the risk of Angel coming along and being willing to murder him in broad daylight was less than the probability that he’d be able to keep going on being “evil” and thus be able to pursue his interests indefinitely. How does Carrier refute that case? Even society isn’t inordinately harmed by that, and having an “evil” society can obviously benefit people who are in a position to exploit, which means that they have the power to impose it on others. As long as the society is beneficial to most people enough to forestall revolution, on what grounds can Carrier insist that these “evil” people are assessing their own interests incorrectly?

Carrier talks a bit about it later, but the general refutation of his “better society” idea is that the ideal is for all of those pro-social attitudes to hold and for everyone to act on them unless they can get away with it. Even if in practice this produces the same society — almost everyone all the time acts pro-socially because they don’t want to take the risk — there’s a difference between acting pro-socially when you perceive that it will benefit you and being a pro-social person. The former is Enlightened Egoism, and is the view Carrier holds. The latter is, at least, what Virtue Theories would insist on.

Carrier then insists that tit-for-tat and the Golden Rule are not incompatible:

Notably, contrary to some analyses, tit-for-tat does not actually contradict the Golden Rue, but actually correctly realizes it, in the same ways I noted above. To satisfy the Golden Rule, as much and what kind of mercy and forgiveness we would want, must correspond to the amount and kind we give to others. And when we think that through, we’ll realize we would not really want everyone to let us exploit them without retaliation. Because that means letting them do the same to us. And the world that would result would be disastrous for us. We would not will that to be a universal law.

The problem here, again, is that they start from two completely different principles. The Golden Rule is a guide for behaviour, and is optimistic in that in its application it actually presumes that everyone ought to — and so, hopefully will — follow it. Tit-for-tat actually assumes that people will, in fact, treat people badly if given a chance, and so enacts harsh penalties for people who do so. We can see this by looking at the Prisoner’s Dilemma. The Golden Rule would engender trust, and so we wouldn’t betray our partner because we wouldn’t want them to betray us. Thus, there would never be any reason for anyone to betray, and in an ideally Golden Rule world, betrayal in those circumstances would inconceivable. However, with the tit-for-tat approach, all that would stop someone from betraying would be knowing that the other person will retaliate when they can. We would always be willing to assume that they would betray if they felt the retaliation wasn’t going to be a strong enough motivation. And, in line with his comment above, we’d always want it to be the case that others follow the rules while we don’t, but we’d know that much of the time we couldn’t get away with it. But if we could get away with it, due to imbalances of power or secrecy, we would. And yes, we’d know or expect others to do that, too. At the end of it all, we might end up with precisely the same sort of societies — as no one would feel that they can get away with those sorts of actions — but the Golden Rule world is a world of trust, and the tit-for-tat world is a world that runs necessarily on constant vigilance and distrust. So, no, tit-for-tat does not “correctly” realize what the Golden Rules asks of us.

And, finally, let’s talk about villainy:

In the end, everyone sane enough to understand the matter wants to be the hero and not the villain in the world. Are you the sort of person you like, or the sort of person that in fact you loathe? The truth, once honestly realized rather than delusionally hiding from, may lead you to loathe rather than like yourself. And no life satisfaction can then be possible. That can only be solved in either of two ways: changing the sort of person you are (which requires a lot of continuous work, contemplation, habituation, and practice); or lying to yourself about the sort of person you actually are. But can you be comfortable knowing that maybe you are the one living a lie? That really, you are an awful person, whom even you would hate?

But what, to Carrier, counts as a villain here? How do I determine what the right person to be is if the only basis Carrier gives for determining that is my own satisfaction and that’s exactly what I’m questioning here? If I’m happy doing “evil” things and someone calls me evil for doing them, am I necessarily wrong? Yes, if I’m unhappy then I have reason to ask whether I should change, but not if I’m happy.

And this ignores the big thing about heroes: heroes are heroes not because they are happy, but because they are happy being good. A hero can sacrifice everything that generally gives our lives satisfaction and still, in the end, at least be content because they did it in the service of doing good. Carrier’s view defines good as being happy, and so at best is circular and at worst would treat the “hero” as someone misguided for sacrificing what gives our lives satisfaction. The person who gives up their greatest dream for someone else is not a good person, not the hero, but is someone who has done the wrong thing. Maybe.

Carrier can’t escape this by appealing to empirical data, because he has to settle what criteria is used for good before he can determine what the empirical data means. If he sticks to the simple idea of satisfaction — as he usually does when citing empirical data — then these problems arise. And if he tries to expand it — as he usually does when talking about “evil” and “good” people — then he needs to have a criteria for what is really satisfying, even if most people don’t think it such. Either way, villainy and heroism is far more complicated for Carrier than he will admit.

And, ultimately, that’s my comment on Carrier and morality: morality is far more complicated than Carrier will admit or understands.

Final Thoughts on Blue Reflection

April 18, 2018

At the end, when you go around to talk to all of your companions about the huge decision you’re supposed to make and when you face off against the final boss who talks about doing something that no human should want because it would be better off for humanity, the game finally, finally started to give me the feeling that a Persona game gives me. I think the game series has potential if it can improve on its stumbles and figure out how to make the things it does well work, and so I hope it does well-enough to spawn a sequel. But as a game itself, it’s at best a “Meh”.

I’m going to talk about the plot in detail, so the rest will be below the fold:

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Born in the USA …

April 16, 2018

So, the Player’s Championship was this weekend, and Jennifer Jones was defeated by Jamie Sinclair, who was born in Alaska and raised in Ottawa, and ended up being recruited by the U.S. curling federation and then disappointingly lost the trials to go to the Olympics. She ended up breaking Jennifer Jones’ 27 game winning streak, stopping her from making it 28. She also became the first American team to win a Grand Slam of Curling title. And I found it really neat that when she won, the arena PA system immediately spun up “Born in the U.S.A.” for her … even though the song gives a more depressing idea of America than you’d think appropriate for such a big win.

And it was actually a big win, as Sinclair won 7 – 2. She stole 4 in the first four ends — stealing 1, 2, and 1 in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th ends, with the 1st end being a blank — and then rode that to the victory. Jones took one in the fifth and stole one in the sixth, before Sinclair taking three in the seventh sealed the victory and ended the game.

One thing that I noticed watching the Grand Slam again after watching the Olympics, Scotties and World Championships is the difference between the 8 end games of the Grand Slam and the 10 end games of the international tournaments. Despite the general consensus that the five rock rule makes comebacks easier than the four rock rule, there were a lot of comebacks in the international tournaments I watched. The reason for that, it seems to me, is that with the ten end games there’s just more time to come back than there is with the eight end games. After five ends in the Jones/Sinclair game, Jones was down 4 – 1. That meant that in the sixth she had to press for a steal, as if she forced Sinclair she’d be down by four with two ends left, and couldn’t afford to blank or even take less than two or three, and still have to hope for a steal to take it to extra ends. In a ten end game, she could force Sinclair, take two herself in the seventh, and only be down by two with three to play. If she managed to get three, then she’d be right back in the game. The ten end games allow for more strategy and for teams to either extend their leads or make comebacks more gradually, with good strategy rather than aggressive shot-making.

However, curling is trying to fix the perception that it is boring by promoting that sort of aggressive play. At one point, they talked to Kaitlyn Lawes about mixed doubles, and both she and the commentators talked about how many people really like the speed of mixed doubles and that that sort of thing is the future of curling. The problem is that I found the mixed doubles faster, sure, but not more interesting, because it relied a lot on loading up the centre and missing less shots than your opponent did. It relied on this so much that invoking the “power play” — which was supposed to be used to generate more points — in general resulted in fewer big ends than without the power play. That’s fast and exciting, but it’s not very strategic or tactical. Reducing the number of ends results in shorter games — 2.5 hours vs 3, generally — but it doesn’t allow for the chess match and move/countermove style of curling that is what I enjoy. If this is the future of curling, I may not watch as much curling as I do now.

And on a final note, Rachel Homan returned to curling after her disappointing Olympics … and promptly went 0 – 5. They took some time off after the Olympics and don’t play well after a layoff, but that was still a disappointing result. I’m very curious to see what happens with their team after the season, because the period after an Olympic cycle always brings a lot of changes, two of their members are out in Alberta right now as far as I can recall, and they haven’t said anything yet about whether they are staying together or not.

The last tournament of this season is the Champion’s Cup starting on the 24th.

Income, Satisfaction, and Empirical Data

April 13, 2018

So, Richard Carrier insists that we can settle moral questions objectively using empirical data and science, and that all moral questions ultimately boil down in some way to questions of personal satisfaction, with a number of riders to get around the fact that someone might think themselves satisfied with things that don’t seem very moral or substantial. So, ultimately, his overall view is that what is moral is what gives us the most satisfaction given that we have all of the right empirical facts, as determined by science. He is very … insistent on this, in fact. As is highlighted by a recent post, where he makes a callback to a post he made five years ago calling out Michael Shermer for citing a study that demonstrated that the higher income you have, the happier you are, and extending that claim to be true no matter how high an income you have. Carrier criticized the study then, and here is citing a new study that argues that there is an income beyond which your happiness does not increase, and in fact might even decrease. Carrier takes from this some rather strong “tentative” conclusions:

The only credible core goal in life is personal life satisfaction (satisfaction with yourself, who you are and have become; and with your life, as lived and achieved). Any objectively true moral system (relative or universal, it makes no difference) follows necessarily from what is the ultimate goal in any prospective moral agent’s life (as I’ve demonstrated formally in The End of Christianity; though I’ve briefed it many times on my blog, perhaps most succinctly in my amusing debate with Ray Comfort last year). So it’s of great significance that income levels beyond six figures are useless to that goal. That’s an empirical fact. We should aim our life goals then to the realization of no higher an outcome; and we should not treat those who acquire more, as morally equal to those who don’t. What that translates to in particulars, would require more empirical evidence and argument to reliably know. But it’s a data point we need to start working with from now on.

In the area of the political, I would tentatively suggest the following appears to be the case: our progressive tax system should be steeper for the wealthy; and indeed, I’d argue, in the U.S. our standard deduction on income taxes should simply be half our lowest average satiation income. Only people who earn more, should pay at all (of course they always still do pay, in sales and other taxes, regardless; but maybe those taxes shouldn’t even exist). The desire to attain happiness (and escape struggle) will continue motivating people to earn taxable incomes. And those well above satiation incomes literally don’t need their surplus, in the way those below satiation incomes do. Retaining it should therefore be treated as a privilege and not a right. The ultra-rich are hoarding, not sharing. Insofar as they can do external good with it (philanthropically and economically), I do not think it makes sense to tax all of it away—most of all to avoid over-centralization of power by having governments do all the hoarding instead, which is no better an outcome; and to remain competitive with other countries. But I suspect we could be retasking half of beyond-satiation surpluses to national welfare, security, research, and infrastructure, without folly. As many other nations do.

Thus, we get the common weaseling that Carrier constantly engages in when dealing with questions like these. He makes some strong recommendations that he claims follow from the empirical data, but then retreats to “But of course we’d need to scientifically study all of this to make sure we get it all right”. And yet he doesn’t really seem to have any desire to actually do that, and still, again, makes those very strong claims based on rather thin data. Especially since at least here he makes one big mistake: thinking that data can have meaning without being in the context of an explanatory theory. See, the interesting question here is: why is it that we have a satiation point — given as about $100000 — at all? He quotes the reasons suggested in the study:

Theoretically, it is presumably not the higher incomes themselves that drive reductions in [subjective well-being], but the costs associated with them. High incomes are usually accompanied by high demands (time, workload, responsibility and so on) that might also limit opportunities for positive experiences (for example, leisure activities). Additional factors may play a role as well, such as an increase in materialistic values, additional material aspirations that may go unfulfilled, increased social comparisons, or other life changes in reaction to greater income (for example, more children or living in more expensive neighbourhoods).

But even he says that these are speculations. And yet even though they give their theory as saying that it isn’t income but other things that probably cause the disparity, Carrier is rather insistent that people who earn more money than the satiation point should not be considered morally equal to those who earn less and insists that “being rich sucks”, reducing all of this down entirely to income. He does the same thing for education:

The only major outlier were people deprived of a high school diploma or equivalent, who experienced significantly lower maximum life satisfaction on all measures (life eval and emotionality), regardless of income, proving the importance of a secondary school education to human happiness. That’s not surprising, though. Similarly, college education produces a bump in achievable levels of life satisfaction as well.

But in examining this, we can start to see where this sort of simple analysis falters. Why would it be the case that simple education level would reduce life satisfaction regardless of income? The general theory is that the link between education and happiness is that on average people with less education make less of an income. While one can argue that people who don’t achieve a high school education could have deficiencies that prevent them from achieving a good life — although the fact that many people who haven’t often are better at organizing their lives than people who do have more education — this doesn’t really seem to apply when moving between high school level and college. It seems very odd to suggest that someone who was successful without a high school diploma would be less happy just because they don’t have that than someone who got it. Now, Carrier will likely insist that the data says what it says, and so we know that this is the case. The problem is, of course, that data in and of itself isn’t simply fact. Yes, there is a correlation here, but that doesn’t mean that the problem is, in fact, merely the lack of a high school education. For example, it’s possible that the reason that people without higher education have less life satisfaction has less to do with them, and more to do with how other people or how society treats them. If they feel or are made to feel inferior because they didn’t achieve that level of education, that has to impact their life satisfaction, but this has nothing to do with whether or not they should or should have gotten a high school diploma. And since this is the common argument used against using the data that gay and trans people are more depressed and therefore that those conditions are psychological problems, this isn’t an argument that Carrier can dismiss lightly. Another example in line with the theories above is that people who have less education have to, in general, work harder to achieve the same income as people with higher levels of education, which then drags on their life satisfaction.

We can see that the same sorts of questions apply to income overall. The general theory that people like Shermer appeal to here is that if you have a higher income, then you have less barriers to getting the things you want to increase your happiness and also have less worries to deal with. For example, you wouldn’t have to worry as much about financial security or sudden bills because you’d have more savings, and if something came up it would be far easier for you to pay to make it go away. Of course, that assumes that you have more savings; if you have a higher income and yet still don’t have significant savings, that’s going to add a lot of stress to you, more than it would for someone who has a lower income but less savings, since they have an excuse. It’s also reasonable to think that people who are making very high incomes work or feel the pressure to work harder because of those incomes; the more you’re being paid for a job, the more likely you are to feel that you need to produce to maintain it, and the more you’ll worry about losing it since it’s maintaining your lifestyle. It’s also possible that people who earn that high an income deliberately choose jobs to maximize income rather than personal happiness, meaning that maybe those specific people just need to take a different job, while others who like or are better suited personally for those jobs should take them.

Which leads to the big flaw in his conclusions. What he has are statistical averages, but what he hasn’t show is that if you took the same people and replaced that condition with the other condition that their life satisfaction would increase. It’s entirely possible that those people who didn’t get that high school diploma would not have been happier if they had achieved it. After all, they may have hated school and not been at all suited for it, and doing so would have not only made them a lot less happy, but it might have impacted the success they did have, because they couldn’t have started working when they did. This, then, would leave them with less life satisfaction from the schooling and less income and less of a satisfying career, and so would leave them, as individuals, worse off than they would have been otherwise. The same thing applies to people with higher incomes. They may not be quite as happy as people at the satiation point, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t at their maximum happiness. They might have more expensive tastes and preferences than others, and so are deliberately trading off the sacrifices required for a higher income because if they didn’t have that income they wouldn’t be able to do the things they want. As an example, some people might really like to travel, and you need a good income for that. Some people, however, don’t care about traveling at all. So it would be easier for the latter people to not pursue income as much as the former people, because they don’t need that extra money to travel. But if the people who really liked traveling simply abandoned that extra income, they might find that they can’t travel as much as they’d like — because they can’t afford it — and so find that they aren’t as satisfied with their life as they would be with a higher income even taking the detriments of that job or life into account. Just because their job makes them slightly less happy, that doesn’t mean that without that job and that income they’d be overall happier.

Now, I don’t know that this is the case, although all the arguments seem reasonable. But it’s certainly something to consider. And if Carrier is really interested in using data to do this, he’s going to have to sit down and at least come up with these sorts of potential confounds, and figure out how to deal with them. And that is the big mistake he makes here, as he never bothers to ask those questions or look for those confounds, but instead comes to the shallow conclusion that income over six figures doesn’t make someone happier, even though it actually might. This also causes issues for any scientific approach to life satisfaction, because those in general can deal with statistical averages but individual people might not fit those averages. What method does Carrier propose for allowing someone as an individual to determine what it is best for them? Statistics will almost certainly say that having a group of friends or more socialization will make people’s lives better … except very strong introverts will need far less of that than the average, while strong extroverts will need much more. Carrier’s whole approach is to take the statistical average and insist that that’s as much or is in fact all that anyone would need, but the mean and the median never take into account the extremes. If everyone tried to accomplish the averages, there would be many people who would end up less happy. No, we shouldn’t want too much “empirical data”, but instead the ability to critically self-examine ourselves to determine what we, ourselves, want given who we are. To be fair, Carrier tends to call for that as well, and scientific and psychological data can help, but Carrier tends to insist that the averages just are determinate facts, especially in this article. And that’s simply not true.

Why Aren’t There Better Persona Clones?

April 11, 2018

It should come as no surprise to anyone who reads this blog for any length of time that I’m a huge fan of the Persona games. It also, then, shouldn’t surprise anyone that I seek out and have tried most of the games that claim to be Persona clones or Persona inspired (even if the game itself doesn’t claim that but reviews or the premise hint at it). I’ve tried Sakura Wars: So Long My Love, Conception II, Mana Khemia, lately Blue Reflection, and a host of others. Suffice it to say that if it’s one of these games, I’ve probably tried it, and if I haven’t I want people to tell me about it so that I can try them out. And there’s been an idea hiding in my head that finally came to the fore while playing Blue Reflection:

Why, in the twelve years since Persona 3 came out, has no one managed to create a game that rises to its level, as the series has advanced throughout the years? Why don’t we have anything as good as Persona 3 when Persona 4 and Persona 5 have both, in general, improved on the basic model?

Conception II comes pretty close wrt the overall feel. It pretty much nails the “Dungeons for plot and combat and daytime for S-links and events” feel of Persona 3, but the combat is inferior and the S-links are more shallow, and less numerous. Blue Reflection — more on this in a future post — has the number of S-links, but doesn’t capture the right feel for them — are you supposed to go out with your friends after school while your classmates are having emotional breakdowns? — and has a vastly inferior dungeon and combat system. And these are probably the best examples, and they’re vastly inferior games. Which doesn’t mean that they are bad games, per se, as I’ve enjoyed, in greater and lesser amounts, most of the games. But as games in roughly the same genre as the Persona games, they aren’t even close. And don’t even get me started on the Western system like, well, everything Bioware does. I like at least some of the games and the romance systems, but even as they are mechanically more deep than the Persona games they don’t capture the feel at all.

Why is this? Why is it that despite having the Personas as examples for over 12 years no one else can even come close to what the Personas give? Is it that hard to clone? Do most of them feel that they’ll make enough money without having to put in that much effort? But then some of the things are just plain obvious and don’t seem hard to do — like having explicit free time and a deadline in Blue Reflection, or more in-game mechanisms to encourage socialization — so that doesn’t seem to be the case. So why can’t people clone and improve on or even match what the Personas do? That’s happened in other genres, so why not here?

This really does boggle my mind. In a lot of other genres, the big popularizing game that is used to define the genre often seems limited when it’s played by someone who only played the later games, or who has played them for a long time and wants to revisit the game that started it all. Compared to the latecomers, Persona 3 would still be a far better game and a far better example of the genre. How often does that happen without all of the competition being idiots who missed the point of the genre and what people liked about the game? In short, how often does that happen without killing the genre? But I don’t think the genre is dead, and I think the opportunities are there, given the reception of Persona 5 and how many other games are expanding their mini-games and social aspects. So why hasn’t anyone other than Team Persona gotten it right yet?

NHL Playoff Predictions: Round 1

April 10, 2018

So, it’s that time of year again, where I try to predict the outcomes of the various series in the NHL playoffs. This year I think I’ve actually watched less hockey this year than in previous years. When the games are on is still an issue, and the team that I follow — the Senators — ended up dropping off a cliff in the standings, and so by the end of the season there wasn’t any real reason to even follow the standings. I’m pretty sure that at one point the Senators were playing a rare afternoon game and I watched curling instead. So, suffice it to say, while I’ve kept up with what’s happening in the NHL, I’ve paid less attention to it than I have in previous years. We’ll see if that has any impact on my predictions.

As usual, I’ll also keep track of what the results will be if you only picked the teams that had home ice advantage.

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay vs New Jersey: New Jersey had a better season than many expected, and Taylor Hall is being touted as an MVP candidate. Still, Tampa Bay has the overall better team, and Hall, if I recall correctly, dominates his team in scoring. It’s relatively easy to shut down one line or player in the playoffs, so Tampa probably won’t have any issues here.

Prediction: Tampa Bay.

Boston vs Toronto: Good young teams can be frightening, and Boston kinda backed into the playoffs — losing a couple of games that could have given them first in their division and in the conference — but they are and have proven themselves to be the better of the two teams. Add in inexperience and Boston will probably pull this one out.

Prediction: Boston

Washington vs Columbus: Washington is a weaker team this season after having lost some key players, and has never had great playoff success. However, they generally get beaten by Pittsburgh, and Columbus had an up-and-down season this year. I’ll give Washington the edge here.

Prediction: Washington

Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia: They’re the two-time Stanley Cup champions looking for a third and aren’t worse this year than last year. Murray has not played that well this season, but has already pretty much won two Cups, which can’t really be said for Philadelphia’s goaltenders. Pittsburgh potentially can roll three lines that can all score, so that depth will probably carry them through.

Prediction: Pittsburgh.

Western Conference:

Nashville vs Colorado: Colorado was lucky to make it into the playoffs, which was still an unexpectedly good season for them. So they’ll have to settle for making it to the show, as Nashville is too good a team to lose out to them in the first round.

Prediction: Nashville

Winnipeg vs Minnesota: Minnesota has more experience overall, but Winnipeg is, again, overall the better team. So I’m going with Winnipeg on this one.

Prediction: Winnipeg

Vegas vs Los Angeles: Vegas is an expansion team that everyone doubted for the entire season, and who nevertheless made it into the playoffs and had a great record. And I probably would give them the edge, except that they are playing L.A., who has a core that has won Stanley Cups and has played together through them. That will probably give them the edge, but this one will probably be close.

Prediction: Los Angeles

Anaheim vs San Jose: Anaheim and San Jose are both known for underachieving at times. I think Thornton’s leadership will probably carry more than … whoever the leader is on Anaheim.

Prediction: Anaheim


Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay vs New Jersey Correct
Boston vs Toronto
Washington vs Columbus
Pittsburgh vs Philadelphia Correct

Western Conference

Nashville vs Colorado Correct
Winnipeg vs Minnesota Correct
Vegas vs Los Angeles Incorrect
Anaheim vs San Jose Correct

Overall Record:
Home Ice Advantage Team Record:

Thoughts on “House of Demons”

April 9, 2018

So, when I made my original purchase of three horror movies, I thought that they were essentially B-movies. That turned out to be a bit of an incorrect assumption, but my expectation was that maybe they’d be clunkers, but maybe they’d be interesting. And as it turns out, I actually somewhat liked both “Living Among Us” and “Family Possessions”.

Well, two out of three isn’t bad.

Again, this is a recent movie and I will be spoiling the plot in detail, so I’ll continue below the fold:

Read the rest of this entry »

Walk (Up) of Life …

April 6, 2018

So, recently, Miri at Brute Reason wrote a post criticizing “Walk Up”, where students are encouraged to try to walk up to the socially excluded instead of walking out to protest gun violence. Miri is completely opposed to this. She starts her post with this:

I had a double mastectomy a week ago, which for the context of this article means two things: 1) I was unable to participate in the March For Our Lives yesterday, although I really wanted to; and 2) I’m not in a particularly charitable mood. You might even say, in fact, that I’m feeling extra protective of this fragile corporeal vessel I’m forced to inhabit.

I don’t think you could find a better example of passive aggression if you tried. By bringing up her medical issues and tying them to her attitude in the post, she accomplishes two things. First, any criticism that she’s being too uncharitable gets blunted, because you’d be seen as targeting someone who was going through a rough time. Second, even criticizing her too harshly can be criticized, because she’s going through a rough time and picking on someone under those conditions seems harsh and unreasonable.

Well, aside from this comment about passive aggression, I’m not going to talk about tone, and while I’m not going to be nasty, I’m not going to pull punches either. If that makes me a meanie, then I’m a meanie.

So let’s get into the breakdown:

I’m not surprised that at the heart of this infuriatingly condescending meme lies a fundamental misunderstanding of social dynamics among children and teens, because adults (at least, the ones who don’t study this academically) seem to have always had difficulty grasping what most kids (yes, even the “socially awkward” ones) know intuitively.

When I was little, this manifested itself in ways such as classroom rules (formal or informal) about having to give a Valentine’s Day card to each student in the class, or invite each student in the class to your birthday party, so that nobody feels excluded. Never mind what a creepy message this ultimately sends, or how humiliating and uncomfortable it would be (and was, for me at times) to receive cards and party invitations from kids that you know hate you.

Of course, the alternative, especially for very unpopular kids, and those in smaller classroom settings, is to get visible and direct confirmation that no one likes you. In fact, this can even be used as a form of direct social exclusion, as the more popular kids convince those of middling popularity to not invite those kids, even if they might have otherwise. The idea behind the school rule — and I think it makes sense for younger kids, at least — is to avoid any attempt at that, at least in school. If you do something in school — like invite kids to your party on school time or engage in the activity of giving out Valentines — then you can’t pull these kind of exclusionary tricks. Yes, this means that kids will get invitations and Valentines from people they know hate them … but they knew that already, so it wouldn’t be a surprise (and obviously they’d be doing the same thing in reverse). But this also provides cover for kids who want to give invitations or Valentines to that kid but don’t want to risk the ire of the popular kids. They have to invite them, and that might mean that they get to talk to them, like they’d want to.

She talks about modern trends that bother her:

I don’t know if kids still give out Valentines, but I do still see headlines now and then about elementary and middle school students being forced to say “yes” to anyone who asks them to a school dance [2], or being banned from having “best friends” so that nobody feels excluded [3]. To these things I can only say: yikes, you guys. Yikes. Are the adults okay? Who hurt you? (Apparently, the kid in your 6th grade class who said no when you asked them to the dance.)

So, she characterizes the first one wrong. It’s not asking to the dance, but asking them to dance at the school sponsored grade school — at least in Canada — dance. And the reason they’d do this is to avoid the issue of, well, some people never getting to dance at all. And the situation was, in fact, not even how that was presented:

Students in previous years were asked to turn in a list of the people they wanted to dance with. School staff would then arrange dances based on who requested to dance with whom, district officials said. For example, half of a girl’s dances during the event would be with people she requested to dance with, while the other half would be with people who wanted to dance with her.

That’s no longer the case. Now, students are allowed to reject another student. School officials told CNN they will re-examine their previous method and look for a way in the future to make students feel included — but also free to make their own choices.

So what happened was, to ensure inclusion, the teachers arranged all of the dances. So, no, it wasn’t the case that they couldn’t say “No” if a boy asked her, but instead that each dance was already pre-arranged. And even the statement above is misleading, because the same thing applied to all of the boys. If the dances were arranged and the boy still had to ask her to dance, then he’d be potentially not only be forced to dance with someone he didn’t want to dance with, but to ask for the pleasure. Somehow, that wasn’t a problem, but her having to accept the same pre-arranged dance that he did. And since it was half-and-half, yeah, that dichotomy was there. I think a case can be made that this is too controlling and organized for what a dance should be, but given the motive — ensure that everyone gets to dance while maximizing dancing with people you want to dance with — it’s not an unreasonable plan.

As for banning “best friends”, I think that’s a bit extreme, but note that the reasoning (from that article) is in line with the sort of terminology that Miri and others of that ideological bent like to use:

“The phrase best friend is inherently exclusionary,” writes psychologist Barbara Greenberg. “Among children and even teens, best friends shift rapidly. These shifts lead to emotional distress and would be significantly less likely if our kids spoke of close or even good friends rather than best friends. And, if kids have best friends, does that also imply that they have ‘worst friends?’ ”

So, exclusionary language that can cause splash damage. Where have we heard that before?

And, ironically, that article — which agrees with Miri on this being a bad idea — goes on to advocate for the sort of “Walk Up” approach that Miri is arguing against, and for a form of the “everyone dances with everyone” idea of the first example:

Schools banning best friends won’t change human nature, or undo years of cruelty inflicted by parents desperate for their children to be in a “popular” crowd. But schools can help.

My wife, a teacher, tells me of a great middle school where the kids, like children everywhere, cliqued up, even at lunch. Other children were left to eat alone.

So a wise principal came up with a great idea.

Hand out cards with numbers that corresponded to lunch tables, with new numbers and new tables every day. Some kids balked but they went along. They sat next to students they wouldn’t have talked to otherwise. Eventually, they talked to each other. They learned.

Remember that, because we’re going to talk about inclusion later and using this as an example should be educational.

That means that on the surface, you can’t really tell if a group of kids is avoiding another kid because they think his hand-me-down clothes are ugly, or because he’s a pompous asshole who makes them feel small and dumb whenever they try to talk to him, or because something about him is just…off in a way they can’t articulate but that reminds them of when their parents told them to avoid that creepy old dude down the block because “we’ve heard stories.”

Of course, her final example here is a bad one because a lot of the time that “creepy old dude” is considering creepy not for any real reason — I think she’s trying to imply some kind of molestation here — but because they’re, well, old, possibly grumpy, and not hugely socially active. The main reason I put up Christmas lights, for example, is to avoid being considered that kind of creepy recluse, but otherwise I’m pretty reclusive. At any rate, if that kid is pompous or arrogant and it’s hurting their social interactions, isn’t that something that we want to help them with, especially while they’re kids and can learn better? I mean, ideally we’d want to fix these things while they’re kids, and so we’d want to find out why someone is being excluded and work to fix that. Maybe it’s about them. Maybe it’s about others. Sadly, schools are the biggest source of socialization we have for children and tend to be too busy to do this, but that’s the ideal, isn’t it?

In any case, in situations where a school shooter was bullied or excluded prior to his acts of violence, it’s possible that the social ostracism was less a cause and more a warning sign. Maybe his classmates knew something was up, but they didn’t know what, and they didn’t know how serious it might turn out to be.

Of course, life’s not really that simple. I mean, it’s hard to imagine justifying bullying or deliberate and directed exclusion — including encouraging others to exclude them — because of some feeling they had without acknowledging that that sort of thing is going to have to make things worse, and certainly won’t make things better. There’s a difference between the person who is excluded simply because no one sits with or talks to them and the person who is deliberately excluded and tormented. Miri here, it seems to me, talks about the latter but drives the psychology based on the former, but they aren’t the same sort of thing at all, and I’d wager that situations like the latter are more likely to drive violence than the former.

This means that when you encourage students to “walk up, not out,” you’re not just asking them to walk up to the new kid, or the disabled student, the girl who’s been made fun of ever since she got her period in gym class, or the gender-nonconforming young person. You’re also asking them to walk up to the young white man with violent lyrics plastered all over his locker, who nobody ever wants to talk to because all he wants to talk about are his guns and the need to keep the white race pure or whatever.

But the question is: how did he get to that position in the first place? Maybe he does have other interests, but those are the only ones that give him attention. Or maybe he’s gotten so frustrated with that social situation that he’s given up. It’s certainly not an unreasonable situation that if you have a social context where someone has been constantly told that they are a loser and inferior that they’ll be vulnerable to any group that tells them that they are special and even superior. If the “walking up” had happened earlier, maybe the vulnerability wouldn’t have been there in the first place for those groups to exploit.

Imagine, too, being the new kid or the disabled student who suddenly has a bunch of kids “walk up” to you right after the National School Walkout, only to realize that they’re doing it because they’re afraid you’ll shoot them.

Which is why we do this generically and for everyone, just like that example in the one article. You don’t tell people to “walk up” to stop school shootings, but that they should do it because exclusion is the main problem and school shootings are only one extremely visible manifestation of that.

The idea that the prototypical school shooter is necessarily a “troubled” young person who is cruelly bullied and excluded by their peers is not necessarily based on reality. Even in the case of Columbine, the typical example, it’s straight-up false. [4]

Now, this seemed interesting, so I wanted to look at her source for this. It’s a recent Facebook post, taking the same tack on “Walk Up” as Miri does. This is what it says in support of that:

The myth that school shooters are outcasts fighting back against bullies dates back to Columbine. At the time it was widely reported that Harris and Klebold were social rejects, and much was made of the meanness of popular kids. But the FBI concluded that Harris was a full-on psychopath, and that kids didn’t like the boys because they did creepy things like walking around giving the Nazi salute. Even so, a few days before the attack Klebold took a date to the prom, crammed into a limo with a dozen friends. Still the myth persists.

Now, Miri has gotten a university degree in the Social Sciences. Thus, she has to know what a valid source is. A Facebook post that provides no sources for its claim is not a valid source. What Wald says might be true, but even if it is true it might be misleading or misinterpreting things. We don’t know, for example, the details of that “prom”, and we all know that because having a date for the prom is so important he might have simply gotten that date because all of the friends were going, the girl needed a date, and he was the least objectionable of the guys who didn’t have one … which he might have been aware of. So none of this demonstrates that the example is “straight-up false”.

It is often very difficult to put all the puzzle pieces together after the fact and figure out whether a shooter was mistreated by their peers or not, especially if that shooter has committed suicide and isn’t around to answer questions.

Part of what makes it difficult is that social dynamics among kids and teens are extremely fluid and can change by the day. Very few kids are always the victims, always the bullies, or always the bystanders. If you examine random slices of my K-12 life, you will find times when I was mistreated and left out, times when I had a healthy, supportive group of friends, times when I stood by while my friends bullied others, and probably even times when I was the bully. If you read my teenage diaries, you might find some wildly conflicting evidence in there.

Sure, it’s complicated. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t look for factors that are likely to play a role. And, in fact, after saying this Miri proceeds to do just that:

Here are some characteristics that many (possibly even most?) school shooters have in common, that aren’t being bullied or excluded: being white, being male, having a record of violence or harassment against women, having an interest or a record of participation in white supremacist/neo-Nazi/ethno-centrist groups. (Another item that doesn’t belong on this list? Mental illness.)

The irony here is that her own source for how exclusion doesn’t cause school shootings explicitly mentioned psychopathy as the explanatory cause for one of them, and the last time I checked psychopathy was, in fact, a mental illness.

Okay, let me address the whole comment about mental illness and these sorts of acts. For any sort of dramatic, abnormal event like this, we are going to want to find a rationale for taking that action. Most schoolkids don’t take guns to school and shoot people, even in similar circumstances, so why did this kid do it? And either that rationale will be intelligible or unintelligible. If it’s unintelligible given all we know, then something went badly wrong in their head. That, then, gets us thinking that there might be a mental illness involved, since doing things for completely unintelligible reasons is, well, a pretty good indication of some kind of mental problem. If it is intelligible — even if horribly wrong — then we likely wouldn’t call it a mental illness and would try to get at the environmental factors that caused this wrong conclusion in the first place.

The reason that people don’t like ascribing mental illness as the cause here is because most people suffering from mental illness are not violent, but this can leave that impression. Except pretty much everyone who uses this does not believe that anyone with any mental illness is more likely to commit violent crimes. They aren’t likely, for example, to think that someone with crippling claustrophobia is likely to commit a school shooting. But some mental illnesses do often increase violent tendencies, and we ought not try to hide that. And, again, the main reason people ascribe mental illness here is because they can’t find any kind of reasonable — even if wrong — reason the act was committed. If we made it intelligible, then mental illness wouldn’t used as that reasonable explanation for an act that has no explanation.

Really, if you wanted to prevent school shootings without having kids walk out of schools and march to demand action on gun control, it almost seems like the most effective strategy wouldn’t be making sure all the loners feel included, but that we intervene when we see young people developing strong sexist and racist beliefs. Almost.

This strikes me as another passive-aggressive response, as she hints strongly that intervening on the basis of sexist and racist beliefs would be a better solution, while denying that it would work so as to maintain her premise that we don’t really know the real reasons. But if the correlation is actually there, then we should investigate why it exists. Considering that by Miri’s own logic everyone has sexist and racist beliefs, and that there are a lot of people who hold strong ones that they don’t express because expressing such things usually results in strong social sanctions, one theory would be that if these people start expressing these ideas it’s because they no longer fear social consequences. And if the social consequences still exist, then they’ve stopped caring about them. If they’ve stopped caring about social consequences, the chances of them committing an act that is prohibited mostly by social enforcement goes way up.

But we should definitely keep looking for ways to determine why people do this and what we can do to stop it. Just eliminating guns and making it harder to kill a lot of people isn’t really a good solution to problems that end up with people being willing to do this if they could only get a gun. Having this attitude simply cannot be healthy.

The generally uncontradictory nature of that statement is probably why many kids already do that. Most kids who are rejected and excluded by some classmates are accepted and included by other classmates. Most “unpopular” kids do have friends—friends who are often also unpopular and can relate to their experience. When I was getting bullied the most—seventh grade—I had a small group of loyal friends who liked me and hung out with me. They just weren’t necessarily in the same gym class.

Yes, those who are excluded from some groups end up in groups … of other excluded people. That’s the same thing as being actually included or accepted. The response here is essentially the equivalent or her saying that it’s okay if the disabled student — her example from earlier in the post — is excluded by some people if they can hang out with other disabled people. It’s still not great to be in a group of what are considered losers. Only people who don’t care that much about what other people think of them can ignore that, and even then most of the time the survival strategy is to deny that you want to be like them anyway, and dismiss their interests in some way. All this does is create more divides, not less. So, no, it’s not “Walk up” at all, nor does it fix the problems “Walk up” was meant to solve.

Being concerned with including other students and walking out to protest gun violence are not contradictory. In fact, they go together. Our schools should be places where all students feel that they belong—if not in every single social group or with their entire class, then in a club or group of friends where they feel wanted and welcome. However, before our schools can be those places, they need to become places where children do not fear being murdered with a gun. Remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. [5] Which of these do you really think we should start with?

The problem here is that this challenges the theory by pointing out that sometimes the things lower in the pyramid depend on things higher in the pyramid, especially when that involves other people. Here, the idea is that someone not having their psychological needs met might result in them lashing out, which then results in other people not having their safety needs met. So you can’t fix the safety needs without fixing the psychological needs of those other people. And that might hold even if they only lash out and don’t have a gun to shoot a lot of people. Heck, the typical Social Justice line of “safe spaces” says that people feeling excluded can, in fact, make them feel less safe by having them worry if others will commit some act of violence on the excluded group. So we can’t simply say “Fix safety and fix psychological needs later”. Maybe fixing safety really does require fixing the psychological issues first.

Kids and teens can be as biased and prejudiced as their parents, but they also often have very well-developed gut instincts when it comes to unsafe people—unless we shame them into suppressing those instincts.

Says who? I haven’t seen any evidence that that’s true at all. A lot of the most directly violent kids are the most popular … as long as they hit the other factors for popularity (attractive and/or athletic). This is an utterly unsupported statement, and yet is the only argument that, if true, would justify her stance.

We should ask ourselves, too, which images pop into our minds when we think about asking kids to “walk up” to someone they’ve excluded. Do we imagine the Mexican immigrant kids, the Black kids, the gender-nonconforming kids, the girls who got labeled “fat” or “slutty,” the boys who wear nail polish, the kids who need IEPs? Or do we imagine the white boys who give Nazi salutes and submit essays about why slavery is morally justifiable?

I tend to think of stereotypical nerds, myself, who don’t usually do those things. Then again, most of the groups she’s talking about her are, in fact, getting explicit support through calls for inclusion, in ways that are similar to the “Walk up” discussion. Is it possible that the reason she’s so opposed to that here is because it is about including these white boys, too, and not just the groups that she wants included?

Further Thoughts on Blue Reflection

April 4, 2018

So, as I write this, I’m around Chapter 7 in Blue Reflection, which is about half-way through the game, and so this seems like a good time to talk a bit more about the game. Since this is a relatively recent game and I might be bringing up spoilers, I’ll continue below the fold:

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