Archive for December, 2012

Vacation …

December 30, 2012

So, I’ve recently had quite a bit of time off. It’s amazing how fast time flies generally, but with about a week left it’s a good time to see how my vacation went.

In terms of games, I:

– finished Persona 4: Golden
– finished Persona 4: Arena
– am well into Persona 3 PSP
– didn’t play The Old Republic anywhere near as much as I wanted, due to how my schedule worked out and due to an area that was kinda frustrating me that I, well, clobbered yesterday. Yay me!

In terms of DVDs, I:

– finished Charlie’s Angels
– watched all of Married … With Children
– will certainly have watched Babylon 5 (and likely Crusade) by the end of my vacation

In terms of reading, I:

– finished Polkinghorne
– finished Plantinga
– might be into or through a lot of Feser by the end of my vacation, depending on what I do

In terms of this blog, I:

– posted to it
– posted to it more irregularly than I would have liked
– restarted the “Philosophy and Popular Culture” series, and will try to keep on with it
– need to write up the Plantinga/Dennett stuff by the end of my vacation

In terms of general projects, I:

– didn’t do a whole heck of a lot, and am not likely to do a whole heck of a lot before I go back.

So, did a decent amount on my vacation, but not as much as I might have hoped. A standard vacation, then.

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Sophisticated Theology: Meaning and Truth

December 25, 2012

So, in a burst of theological examination, I finished both “Where the Conflict Lies” by Plantinga and “Science and Religion: Are They in Conflict?” where Dennett and Plantinga go at each other. To be frank, I fail to see why people think that Dennett refuted Plantinga there, since he seems to spend little time talking about the things that Plantinga said or what Plantinga considered important. I hope to talk about both books more in the near future, but I want to highlight something here that Dennett said:

As I have said, our brains are syntactic engines, not semantic engines, which, like perpetual motion machines, are impossible. But syntactic machines can be designed to track truth, and that is just what evolution has done. A useful comparison might be with a hand calculator.

(pg 34)

Now, here’s where this goes wrong. What it means to be “semantic” is, basically, to relate to meaning. The semantic properties of a sentence, for example, track its meaning while the syntactic properties track its general form. So, if the brain is a syntactic and not semantic engine, then it does not track meaning. And if it doesn’t know what the things it is working on mean, then how can it be deriving true statements? Basically, no semantics, no meaning … and no meaning, no truth.

Thus, this counter — if it is the only way to have our natural cognitive abilities evolve — supports Plantinga’s point, because if the brain is manipulating syntactic symbols without knowing what they mean — because it isn’t doing anything semantically — then any link it has to “truth” is merely accidental. The only want to get non-accidental truth is to base your calculations on what the symbols and the syntax mean or represent, and not on the symbols or representations themselves. Effectively, for Dennett the brain would be like someone who memorized the times table up to 10 by doing nothing more than memorizing how those symbols join together, and so they can see that “2×2=4” because it recognizes the symbols “2”, “x”, “4” and “=” but they have no idea that they are, in fact doing multiplication or, possibly, even that they are doing mathematics at all.

Or rather like a hand calculator.

And if this is the case, then any belief formed by our cognitive faculties links to truth only by accident, if it does it at all. And this, then, would undercut our warrant for thinking that our cognitive faculties — and, by extension, the things produced by them — are reliable. Which means that even the proposition that they seem to work and therefore produce truth would be unreliable, but we couldn’t appeal to any method to save them. That, I think, would be bad … and it all follows from something that Dennett says.

Sophisticated Theology: Final Thoughts on Polkinghorne

December 25, 2012

So, I finished reading “The Polkinghorne Reader”, and overall it was a decent book. It lost me a bit in some of the later stages, especially since it seemed that I needed to know more about both science and theology to not only understand what Polkinghorne was concerned about, but to even care about what Polkinghorne was talking about. For the most part, a lot of the concerns raised are things that don’t really bother me one way or the other, although I think that there are ways to solve the problem. It’s also not written for the average reader, as even I struggled with some parts and I know something about the issues.

A few comments:

1) Polkinghorne talks a lot about how we should do scriptural interpretation, and at one point he talks about how we can — and potentially ought to — take events that made sense in context in the Old Testament (say) and translate them to having new meaning related to the current context. I think that this is risky, as it implies that that event or passage should have events that make sense across contexts. But there’s really no reason to assume that. If something really seems to, it wouldn’t be smart to ignore that, but how do you easily tell when you’re adding meaning to it or reading what it has? At the very least, we shouldn’t really expect this to occur.

2) Contrary to assertions from a few incompatibilists, Polkinghorne is clear about the relation between normal, experiential religion and theology. Theology cannot strongly conflict with experiential religion; in some sense, the religion described by theology must align with that that the ordinary religious person experiences. But it is not bound by it, and so does not have to accept the naive interpretations of that experience by ordinary or folk religion. Thus, if it conflicts with those interpretations it must have a reason for it, but is allowed to say that the interpretations are uneducated, in much the same way as science cannot simply dismiss common sense experience without reason. Thus, if someone is interested in whether or not God exists, or if religion is true, one cannot split religion and theology and say that they are interested in the former; if they do that, then they are not interested in the truth of the proposition, but in something else entirely.

This is a book that I might have to revisit, since there’s a lot there but I’m not at the theological level to care enough to get through it yet.

The Traditional …

December 25, 2012

I’d like to wish a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to the reader of this blog.

Don’t you mean, the readers?

Nope, WordPress says it’s still pretty much just the one.

And now, a public service message …

December 24, 2012

On this Christmas Eve, make sure you watch out or this might happen to you:

[ From: http://www.metrolyrics.com/grandma-got-run-over-by-a-reindeer-lyrics-christmas-carols.html ]

Grandma got run over by a reindeer Walking home from our house Christmas eve. You can say there’s no such thing as Santa, But as for me and Grandpa, we believe.

She’d been drinking too much egg nog, And we’d begged her not to go. But she forgot her medication, And she staggered out the door into the snow.

When they found her Christmas morning, At the scene of the attack. She had hoof prints on her forehead, And incriminating Claus marks on her back.

Grandma got run over by a reindeer, Walking home from our house Christmas eve. You can say there’s no such thing as Santa, But as for me and Grandpa, we believe.

Now were all so proud of Grandpa, He’s been taking this so well. See him in there watching football, Drinking beer and playing cards with cousin Mel.

It’s not Christmas without Grandma. All the family’s dressed in black. And we just can’t help but wonder: Should we open up her gifts or send them back? (send them back!)

Grandma got run over by a reindeer, Walking home from our house Christmas eve. You can say there’s no such thing as Santa, But as for me and Grandpa, we believe.

Now the goose is on the table And the pudding made of fig. And the blue and silver candles, That would just have matched the hair in Grandma’s wig.

I’ve warned all my friends and neighbours. ” Better watch out for yourselves.” They should never give a license, To a man who drives a sleigh and plays with elves.

Grandma got run over by a reindeer, Walking home from our house, Christmas eve. You can say there’s no such thing as Santa, But as for me and Grandpa, we believe

This is one of my favourite Christmas songs, but I heard it from the Irish Rovers — and they have two different versions of it — instead of from Elmo and Patsy, who originated it. I have on CD the Elmo and Patsy version and one of the Irish Rovers’ versions, but not the one that I like the best. That being said, I still like the Irish Rovers’ version better.

I Hate Uneven Difficulties …

December 24, 2012

So, I started playing Record of Agarest War 2, on Easy, and had little problems up until this point. Sure, in my last fights I was only hitting B rank, but it seemed to me that that was because I was facing a lot of new enemies, and the previous boss fight was trivial, and so I went into this next fight seemingly a bit underlevelled but I thought it might be okay.

And I was killed in two rounds, before I was even able to kill one of them.

How do you move from handling enemies with relative ease to being out-and-out slaughtered? We really, really need a better progression of difficulties. And I wasn’t really liking the fighting system already, and so turned off the PS3 in a huff, basically.

Do I try it again and grind to get to a high enough level, or give up and move on to another game? I’m not sure.

Privilege, Again …

December 24, 2012

So, as promised, I want to take on part of the FAQ about feminism from the finallyfeminism101 site. And I want to look specifically at privilege, with an FAQ on male privilege and one on female privilege.

So let’s start with male privilege, where privilege is defined as this:

Privilege is: About how society accommodates you. It’s about advantages you have that you think are normal. It’s about you being normal, and others being the deviation from normal. It’s about fate dealing from the bottom of the deck on your behalf.

So … it’s about being normal, or having a norm? Well, um, sure but this seems to be utterly unavoidable and likely to be part of any system we could possibly have — there will always be a norm in any system — so it seems like something that you wouldn’t be able to build an actual movement around (although it does make for some interesting philosophical fodder.). So there has to be more to this:

Male privilege is a set of privileges that are given to men as a class due to their institutional power in relation to women as a class. While every man experiences privilege differently due to his own individual position in the social hierarchy, every man, by virtue of being read as male by society, benefits from male privilege.

Note the immediate gender distinction, but I can’t fault them for that … yet. But we immediately start by talking about “institutional power”, without ever really clarifying what power really means, and without ever really examining whether that sort of power is good or bad, or whether it conveys more privileges than detriments. This is one of the big problems I have with this, because philosophically we’ve discovered that assumptions of power or benefit can be shaky at best. So, what we’d need to do is look at it from the perspective of men as well as the perspective of women to conclude that it’s a privilege overall. And we see the problems with this in the first example (given by Lucy):

[T]rue gender equality is actually perceived as inequality. A group that is made up of 50% women is perceived as being mostly women. A situation that is perfectly equal between men and women is perceived as being biased in favor of women.

And if you don’t believe me, you’ve never been a married woman who kept her family name. I have had students hold that up as proof of my “sexism.” My own brother told me that he could never marry a woman who kept her name because “everyone would know who ruled that relationship.” Perfect equality – my husband keeps his name and I keep mine – is held as a statement of superiority on my part.

Well, the issue here is not so much a sort of institutionalized idea that gender equality, in and of itself, is perceived as inequality. It is right to suggest that because the norm is that women take the name of their husband, people wonder when that doesn’t happen. And they start to look for reasons, and the general reason that’s given is a feminist one, that in some sense the woman thinks that it’s sexist to follow that tradition and is imposing that on her husband, who it is argued has no reason to prefer her keeping her own name. Thus, the comments about it being her who would rule the relationship, because she is imposing something very dramatic and noticeable on her husband who presumably both doesn’t want it and, presumably, should care about her taking his name.

And from this, we can see one of the main issues in the analysis: there is a cultural norm, and it is presumed by everyone — including our feminists like Lucy — that the man should find it a benefit that his wife takes his name. Even the men who object might simply object to wasting time and resources and inviting hassles over something that they consider at best symbolic and at worst meaningless; they’d be perfectly happy with it if it was the norm, but since it is not it is just easier to go with the norm. Thus, for them it’s not inherently a benefit at all, but following the norm is. But, more importantly, all of these issues arise even if the husband would rather she keep her own name. Perhaps she has a relatively famous name that she can trade off of in her work, and changing it would cause them financial problems as she works to re-establish her name. Perhaps he is a feminist and really believes himself that her taking the name is sexist. And God forbid if he thinks there’s a reason for him to take her name.

Now, the immediate objection here is that privilege is being talked about in general, as a social or institutional rule, and that it’s acknowledged that some individuals won’t benefit. But my point here is that in all of this analysis, the male perspective is never considered. It is assumed that this is something that benefits men, but no analysis is done to see if it actually does, or if it does how it does, and if it does if that’s something that we still need. I find it unlikely to be the case in the “taking the last name” case that there is a significant benefit that it would severely disenfranchise men if they lost it … but that’s mostly because I don’t see it as a benefit for men at all. And so, in my ideal egalitarian approach, I wouldn’t be arguing that this is some kind of sexist social structure, but simply say that it was a social tradition that we simply have no need for anymore, and that in a lot of cases it’s a massive difficulty for them to overcome. Again, no notion that this is something that men are supposed to want or benefit from, or that it represents a male perspective, because it doesn’t. Most of the opposition to changing this is not because from the male perspective it’s seen as being good, but because it’s seen as being a norm that people see little need to change. Pointing out why it should change because it is overly restrictive is the best way to fight a norm.

And this is where part of the problem comes in. If you represent having the wife take the husband’s name as a benefit, then eliminating that practice or even choosing not to take it looks like taking away something from the husband, at which point they can ask what they get in exchange, and what improvement in actual, real terms is being made. This is a hard argument to make for this name case. But if instead it’s presented as something that people ought to be able to choose and that right now they can’t, then there’s no need for men to feel like they’re losing anything. Men, then, would see this as a gain … a gain in freedom for themselves and for their wives and for women in general. Presenting it as part of a move to reform society for the benefit of everyone is less likely to meet resistance than presenting it as a move to take a benefit away from men to give … something to women.

Moving to the analysis:

In this case the inequality is perceived, in part, because taking one’s husband’s name is considered “normal” for a woman, whereas choosing to keep one’s own name deviates from that. Popular culture often labels this behavior as “emasculating” to a man, but never bothers to question how a woman might feel being asked to give up something that has been part of her since her birth. This is an example of a culture of male privilege — where a man’s position and feelings are placed above that of the woman’s in a way that is seen as normal, natural, and traditional.

But the problem is that this analysis ignores that the man’s position and feelings as an individual are still not being taken into account, and that the alternative — women should be able to choose what they take — places her position and feelings above his because she’s given the choice based on what she wants. What we have is a restrictive system that assumes what everyone’s feelings are and cares not one whit for what they actually are being replaced with a system that runs the risk, at least, of making the woman’s actual feelings paramount. To determine if this is true, I would like all feminists to ask themselves this: if the husband doesn’t want her to keep her name, and she does, or if he wants her to keep her name, and she doesn’t, whose opinion should be taken in this case? I suspect that for most feminists the idea would be that she should have the choice, or else she’s being restricted in her agency … but then this holds no matter what the reasons actually are, which is a problem. Now, wouldn’t everyone agree that whether any name gets changed should be a completely joint decision of the couple just like all others in an equal society? If it is, then shouldn’t it be presented as a choice that people aren’t getting as opposed to a reflection of a culture of male privilege? Isn’t that just a more accurate way of describing it?

Most people do not think twice about a woman who shares the same name as her husband; they simply assume that the shared name is his family name. This is an illustration about how male privilege operates in stealth. When a wife does not share the same name as the husband, however, it often leads to confusion and even anger — as Lucy’s example illustrated. This is because the male-oriented option (wife taking husband’s name) is seen as default, and the neutral option (both parties keeping their original names) is a deviation from that norm and therefore comes across as privileging the woman because it doesn’t privilege the man.

The problem here is that the options are being classified as “male-oriented” and “neutral” when they actually really aren’t. The idea here is that keeping the husband’s name is male-oriented because it, well, is the male name. And the neutral option is neutral because it doesn’t. But in terms of actual situations that people are in when they are deciding this, the fact that taking the husband’s name is the norm changes things up, because the easiest thing to do that has all of the structural support is the supposedly male-oriented option. So, in that sense, it is the default: you just do what everyone does because it’s pragmatically easier, and so in that case and in the minds of most people it isn’t male-oriented. And since the “neutral” view is not the norm, it requires an explicit reason, and a lot of that reason as expressed here is not neutral but women-oriented, an idea that at least some women feel that they’re being forced to give something up just because they’re women. But that is a female-oriented view. In real terms, though, the reasons given are how you should judge the orientation of an option, not some sort of abstracted notion that doesn’t apply to most of the decisions being made.

Now this, of course, can be seen as the problem: patriarchal structures set out these sorts of “male-oriented” options as the default, and then it looks like any attempt to move away from that to a neutral position is being female-oriented. I do concede that in some sense, although I would disagree that these structures have to be seen as “male-oriented”. If someone goes to the owner of a stadium and says “I’ll pay you $X to change the name of the stadium from yours to ours”, that’s not a “payer-oriented” move. It’s an exchange, and so is potentially, at least, equal. So since it is unlikely that changing the name was instituted to oppress women, we would need to wonder why it was instituted, and what exchange went on to guarantee that. As will be seen in the article on female privilege, one reason might well be that women were supposed protected by their association with a man, and changing the name while married made that clear. There are also potentially issues around property inheritance, and an idea that you had an exchange where women got their children supported while men got a guarantee that the children were theirs. None of these seem to be required anymore, and so analyzing it from this perspective that makes no presumptions about it being unequal seems to provide the best possible argument you could think of for why it’s simply unnecessary in this day and age. And demonstrating that leads us to being able to point out cases where people would rationally choose not to change the name, and then we can make a pretty solid case for why society and our institutional processes should change to make making that choice easier for everyone. And ultimately, isn’t that what feminists should want?

So, now, on to female privilege, or rather why women don’t have it:

Short answer: No, what is commonly called “female privilege” is better described as benevolent sexism. Systems like the draft and chivalry often seem advantageous to women at first glance, but when examined more closely they in fact reinforce sexist institutions that keep both women and men from true equality.

So, in answer to the short answer, the question is why all the instances of “male privilege” cannot be seen as things that look advantageous to men at first glance, but really reinforce sexist institutions that keep both women and men from true equality? Again, note my rather long discussion of how having the wife change her name doesn’t really seem to benefit men themselves, and is limiting to the sort of relationship they might want. It reinforces a specific role for men, but one that is sexist. So why insist that it be called privilege?

We see kinda why later:

However, the difference is that the status quo for men is one which grants them status and power in both the public and private spheres, whereas the status quo for women is one which limits their power to the much smaller, and more specific, domestic sphere.

And this is, again, one of my main issues with feminism, as they rightly identify that patriarchy divides men and women up into gender roles and limits them to specific spheres … and then decides that the one sphere is better than the other and so men have it good and women have it bad, end of story. But the real issue, and one that has plagued feminism for decades, is that having power in certain spheres isn’t in and of itself good, but is only good if you like having power in those spheres. Having power doesn’t just grant benefits, but also grants responsibilities. While men, for example, may have had the power to run a household they also, generally, had full responsibility for what happened to it or in it. While a man had the power to work, they had the responsibility to provide for their family, and if they didn’t manage that they were failures, often even to their wives. A man, then, who had a skillset that better suited them for the domestic sphere than for the public sphere was a failure, for no other reason than that the social structure set them out for a role they couldn’t possibly succeed in. And even if the woman was better suited for the public role, they simply could not swap the two of them out. Society had left them stuck.

Thus, having power in the public and private sphere or in the domestic sphere is only food if you are suited for that sphere. Again, the real problem with patriarchy is that it imposes a specific role on people that don’t want it and aren’t suited for it. The key to eliminating patriarchy is not to define one sphere as being better than another, but in recognizing that the whole problem is limiting people to spheres in the first place. If a woman only wants to be in the domestic sphere, more power to her. If she wants to be in the public sphere, more power to her, too. And the same thing applies to men as well.

Now, it can be pointed out fairly that because of the underlying social issues, if things are left as they are men and women will drift into those roles anyway because of the momentum of social attitudes. And yes, we need to do a lot of work to change those attitudes. But it surprises me not at all that feminists get push back when they adopt a strategy that says that the public and private spheres are where all the goodies are, and men have to get out of the way and let women get some of the goodies, too. It looks like an attempt to push men out of the things that are good because women want them, or want them too. But if it was expressed as being choices, and choices that everyone needs to and should make, with neither being considered necessarily any better or any worse than the other, then we can get to real choice and real equality.

Now, I can say this because I don’t think that each role is inherently better than the other, which is something that feminists seem to deny. I also think, however, that all roles are necessary, and if it could be demonstrated that one is inherently worse than the other stressing the necessity of those roles and that they must be performed by those who are better suited for it. The risk of this approach is that people will use it as a justification for saying that women are in general better suited for it and so should stay there, but I think that’s easy to refute and that sort of approach removes the idea that men have to give up something because women want that thing too, but instead places it entirely in a context of “This is what we need to do to have a free and equal society”.

See, I think that some of the problems that men face now- some of the things that people like Burton complain about and see as examples of female privilege over males- are a direct result of the flaws a patriarchical system. It’s not that women have more power than men, it’s that patriarchy is an inherently flawed system that sets standards that are harmful to everyone. It’s a double edged sword. And as attitudes have changed and feminists have helped to break down some of the systems that have held women back and prevented them from reaching their full potential, some men are finding that, shock of shocks, there are some serious problems with the way things are.

I agree with this, but must ask: why isn’t things that are seen as male privilege seen the same way?

To summarize the point of this section: When it’s called benevolent sexism it’s recognized to be tied to the system of sexism, and can therefore be fought (successfully) with tools like feminism, whereas when it’s called “female privilege” the solutions called for tend to call for strengthening the status quo, which ends up making it harder to end the offending practices

So, let’s imagine that we didn’t introduce this distinction, dropped the notion of “privilege” entirely, and called all of these instances whether for men or for women “benevolent sexism”. Why wouldn’t this do the same thing? Why wouldn’t this make all of the instances of male privilege recognized as tied to the system of sexism itself, and so things that should be fought, whereas when it’s called “male privilege” it’s seen as something men have that they shouldn’t really have, and so it looks like an attempt to take things away from men and give them nothing in return? Because as Roy said in the above quote, it’s really not hard to see things that patriarchy imposes on men that are hugely problematic. As feminists themselves say, patriarchy hurts men, too. So instead of dividing it up into men versus women, why not just collapse the difference, call any of these cases “benevolent sexism”, tally them all up, order them by actual, objective severity, and see what needs to be done? Why not muster everyone — including the MRAs who are really interested in eliminating the harms that patriarchal sexism does to men — against the patriarchy as a whole, instead of setting up a hierarchy of an outside group that’s benefiting from the situation? Why don’t we find out just how many people want something other than the traditional gender roles, and work to find out just what those roles should be?

The instant feminists introduce privilege, they place their arguments in a divided context, where men and women do not have the same interests and where men, in theory, have an interest in preserving the status quo and women do not. This is flatly contradicted by reality. For the most part, everyone has an interest in moving to a post-patriarchal society that judges you by your own interests, desires and capabilities and not by a defined set of gender roles that doesn’t reflect how most people want to live. By working in a philosophical structure that pays at best lip service to this, feminism actually impedes progress in this manner. By attacking “men” as privileged and needing to give up some of that up, they place men on the defensive and raise anger for men who don’t find this supposedly privileged life at all fulfilling, and the emphasis on women finding a fulfilling life looks like feminism taking things away from men to give to women so that women can have something that many if not most men never had. If feminism is going to make life better for everyone, its underlying core principle and all of its actions should be demonstrating that as much as it possible can. That for the most part its principles and actions seem aimed at make life better for women is, for me, telling.

Feminism and Anti-Feminism …

December 24, 2012

So, I posted comments on a post by P.Z. Myers asking anti-feminists why they’re anti-feminists. This is because, as I said there, I debated feminism for quite some time and was called “an anti-feminist who doesn’t seem to hate women”, which I think is accurate. The link to my comment is here. My main purpose was not to prove my position or convince them that anti-feminism was right, but was simply to express clearly what my issues were and why I hold what I hold so that they might understand even if they don’t agree with it. I even stated repeatedly that the views were debatable and might be wrong.

Well, Myers has posted the “results”, and claims that everyone in that comment thread failed miserably. His criticisms are these:

I didn’t realize how badly they would flop, however. 760+ comments, and not one could present a reasonable argument: no explanation for why they oppose feminism, no evidence that feminism is bad, but lots of non sequiturs and emotionalism.

Um, except that Myers, in fact, didn’t ask for an argument. If he had, I wouldn’t have replied because I wouldn’t have wanted to get into that sort of discussion. He asked for this in the original post:

But anyway, I started to realize something: I don’t understand how these people think at all — they’re completely alien. Regarding feminism with contempt is a bit like regarding science with contempt: it’s incomprehensible to me, and I’m wondering if they really understand what they are throwing away.

So let’s try an experiment. Let’s hear from some of these anti-feminists. I’d like them to comment here and explain themselves, and to do so a little more deeply than just reiterating dogmatic excuses. If you think feminism is a religion, explain why, and be specific. If you think feminism is unsupported by the evidence, explain what evidence opposes the principles of feminism. If you think it’s wrong for the skeptic movement to have a social agenda, explain what you think it should be doing that has no social implications.

Most importantly, if you think feminism, that is equality for men and women and opposition to cultural institutions that perpetuate inequities, is irrational, let’s see you explain your opposition rationally.

He starts from a position that he wants to understand how anti-feminists think, and only asks for evidence for one specific case. But here he — and, in fact, the entire comment thread — treated all responses as if they were supposed to be convincing arguments backed with cites to studies and the like. It was so bad that in some cases — Nerd of Redhead, specifically — commenters were demanding evidence for things that they agreed with and were generally conceded. So, we move from what might have been a legitimate attempt to understand the concerns of a group that Myers admits he simply doesn’t get to a demand that you prove your position to a degree that Myers et al agree with or else you failed … to, presumably, state and explain your actual position so that they could understand it and, in fact, point out what you were missing, if you were.

Well, doing this at a huge site like Pharyngula that has a fairly aggressive commentariat was probably not going to work anyway. But there is a rather interesting progression of comments before I left because I simply wouldn’t be able to keep up anymore over my views with Caine. My overall position is that feminism isn’t an equality movement because it focuses on women’s issues and perspective pretty much exclusively, and any consideration of men’s issues is only tangential, as a way to solve women’s issues. I dislike that approach in general, but am willing to live with it in groups that admit that explicitly, but feel that feminism doesn’t do that, which is more problematic. Anyway, many posters commented that feminism worked for men as well, and brought up the point that “Patriarchy hurts men, too” … which was the reason in my original comment I pointed out that that is all tangential. Anyway, Caine decided to give me a list:

Three things, right off the bat – workplace rights, parental leave and daycare.

My reply was that basically the two that were specific enough to be addressed were things that feminism did that benefited men because putting that in place would benefit women, and she ignored it to accuse my position of being a strawman:

Just because you don’t think so doesn’t make it so. You’ve been building straw structures with every damn overly long post.

What every ***ing thing you said boils down to this: “I’m anti-feminism because feminism does not focus on men as a primary concern and cause.”

Which is a bit misleading, but in some sense she gets it … and calls it a strawman, supposedly proven by her list. That she never defends. But Nepenthe tries:

Yeah Caine, it’s only okay if the action is intended explicitly to benefit men. If it is intended to benefit women, but also benefits men, that’s divisive.

Well, when my complaint is that feminism only does things that benefit men because it benefits women, and that’s being called a strawman up and down the thread, and when Caine’s counter-examples are in fact precisely that sort of case … well, yeah, I think my pointing that out and so it’s doing nothing to show that my argument is a strawman is valid, no?

Anyway, perhaps I should worry about it, because Myers goes on to say this:

I’m beginning to think that this anti-feminism stuff resembles a religious cult, and doesn’t belong in either skepticism or atheism.

Well, being neither a skeptic nor an atheist, I guess that doesn’t apply to me. Interestingly, I’m not those because of philosophical objections, too.

Anyway, I want to go over some of the references given, particularly one on privilege, as it seems to me to exemplify exactly what I dislike about the feminist movement and feminist philosophy. But I’ll do that in another post.

The Lure of the Normal: Who Wouldn’t Want to Be a Mutant?

December 23, 2012

So, the next entry in my “Philosophy in Popular Culture” series takes on something from “X-Men and Philosophy”, a piece by Patrick D. Hopkins entitled “The Lure of the Normal: Who Wouldn’t Want to Be a Mutant”. In it, he talks mostly about the issues raised in “The Last Stand” about the mutant cure, and particularly the reaction of Storm to it. As he quotes her, she demands to know what kind of coward would take the cure just to fit in, and points out Beast’s reply about how many of the mutants have an easier time fitting in even with their powers than others. Hopkins takes off on this to talk about normality, and the conundrum we all face of wanting to be normal enough to fit in, but different enough to be special. Which is all very interesting and worth reading.

However, I want to take a bit of a different tack here, and focus more on issues of group identity and how it relates to personal identity. And I’ll start with a fairly controversial thesis about the similarities between Storm and Magneto in how they react to the cure. Storm says to Rogue, essentially, that you can’t cure being a mutant because there’s nothing wrong with being one. In a very real sense, even her coward example seems to suggest that being a mutant is a part of a person’s identity, that there’s nothing wrong with being a mutant … even in the face of reactions like Rogue’s and Beast’s who point out clear and obvious physical problems that their mutant abilities give to them. Since Storm sees being a mutant as something people are and not a set of abilities or physical conditions, she simply can’t understand how anyone could see that as something to be cured, while for Rogue and Beast it seems to make more sense.

Magneto also has this sort of outlook on being a mutant, which was well-established in the previous movies, but is abundantly clear here. When Mystique is shot with the cure and depowered, Magneto turns to her and says, sadly, “You’re not one of us anymore”. She’s no longer a mutant, and so not part of the “group” anymore. And for him, being part of the mutant group is the important thing, the important factor, and so he leaves her for the authorities, feeling no loyalty to her and, in fact, showing no concern or thought of her as a person. It is, in some sense, as if she’s now a completely different person, and a stranger to him.

Note that in terms of abilities, Storm and Magento are similar as well. Both have powers that make it so that they can easily walk among normal humans when they want to, but that raise them above it in terms of abilities. Both have powers that basically make them gods among humans, but without any really serious detriments. Storm, in fact, in regular canon used her abilities as a goddess, and in one early series of comics is despondent to the point of suicide when she loses her abilities and is returned, basically, to the state of being an incredibly attractive and competent “normal” person. Compared to other mutants, their being a mutant is, in fact, pretty much an unvarnished good except for the prejudices of normals who react with fear towards them.

Thus, I think it fair to say that Storm is, in her way, as much a mutant supremacist as Magneto is. She divides the world up into humans and mutants as he does, and makes being a mutant a crucial part of someone’s identity. And she thinks that being a mutant is good and something to take pride in, because the only way she can tell Rogue that there’s nothing wrong with them (mutants) is to ignore the very serious personal problems that Rogue is having with her powers and to see mutants — and their abilities — as being better than human.

It is interesting, I think, to contrast her attitude with Wolverine’s. Wolverine is someone who sees the conflict not on a group level, but on an individual level. Even early in the film trilogy, Wolverine expresses skepticism about taking sides, while Storm admits to having chosen one and thinks that choosing a side is good and even required. But it is in his reaction to Rogue that we see the biggest difference. When Rogue asks if he’s going to stop her, his reply is “I’m not your father, I’m your friend.” He takes it immediately down to the personal level, and addresses her as a person — friend and/or daughter-figure — instead of as a fellow mutant. And his advice follows that, as he tells her to make certain that she’s doing it because it’s what she really wants and not because she’s afraid that she might lose her boyfriend if she doesn’t. It’s all personal, and he never once talks about what her decision might mean for mutantkind or if being a mutant can be cured or if there’s something wrong with being a mutant. He simply understands that her powers are causing her serious problems and tells her to make sure that she understands what she’s giving up, and that it’s what she, as a person, wants to do.

I think this focus comes at least in part from the fact that unlike Storm and Magneto who have powers that have no real detriments, and unlike Rogue who has a power that has very, very strong detriments that can easily be seen to outweigh the benefits, Wolverine’s powers fit neatly into the middle here. Sure, he has that healing factor that keeps him alive and slows his aging … but it isn’t invulnerability and doesn’t do anything to stop the pain. Thus, he is hurt by and feels all the wounds, but they just don’t kill him. He can fit in fairly well, but his powers also seem to contribute to the animal-like nature and the berserker rages that he struggles to keep under control. For him, his mutant abilities are equal parts blessing and curse, and so he can see why someone might want to give them up while at the same time seeing why it could be considered a gift that people shouldn’t give up. Adding in his normal individualistic nature, and for him whether someone should get the cure or not comes down to exactly whether they feel the benefits of their being a mutant outweigh the detriments, and that’s a personal decision.

Ultimately, the mutant cure debate raises issues about group identity, and to what extent your group identity impacts or determines your personal identity. For some, it is felt that group identity is as important as if not more important than personal identity, and for some group identity is irrelevant and it is only personal identity that matters. Given the interconnectedness of the two in many cases — a lot of your personal identity is developed from how the groups you are part of see the world, and the groups you associate with depend a lot on your own personal views — the truth is almost certainly somewhere in between, and then the real trick is figuring out when to act as if group identity takes precedence, and when to act as if personal identity takes precedence.

Coda for Catholics …

December 21, 2012

Adam Lee has put up another few examples of why he thinks Catholics should quit the Catholic Church. Since I commented on the first set, I consider it only fair to comment on this one.

The first issue is this:

First of all, via WWJTD?, this jaw-dropping story: Pope Benedict met with and personally blessed Rebecca Kadaga, the speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, who’s one of the most fervent advocates of that country’s atrocious “Kill the Gays” bill.

Now, this is the one I have the most trouble with, but it’s also the most unclear. It seems from reading around that he didn’t bless her because of that stance, and I personally find that sort of bill to be UnCatholic. So, if he had blessed her as a specific person based on that stance, that would be a problem. But that doesn’t seem to be the case. What seems to be the case is that she was chosen to lead a specific delegation to a specific event, she presented something on behalf of that delegation, and he blessed her on behalf of that entire delegation. At which point, one might worry about the PR impact, as people might be taking it the way Lee is, but it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near as bad as Lee and some other atheists are making it out to be. Again, it seems they are taking it as a personal endorsement, and I don’t see it as being that. That being said, it might indicate that the Pope needs to be clear about what the Church’s position on bills like that one is, which doesn’t seem to be clearly stated, although I admit that I haven’t really been looking for it either.

The second one is this:

Next up, the Catholic bishops of Poland have blasted a government decision to sign an international convention combating violence against women.

Well, yes, but they did it because it contained this:

The bishops’ objections are apparently motivated, among other things, by language which calls for signatories to fight “prejudices, customs, traditions and all other practices based on the idea of the inferiority of women or on stereotyped roles for women and men”.

So, the Church might think that it doesn’t have practices based on the inferiority of women, but that it has stereotyped roles is probably true. But this is a values clash: it seemed to them that the convention imposed a specific set of values, and ones that they disagreed with (read the linked article from Daylight Atheism if you want to see the full details). And one of the issues with a lot of these conventions is that they indeed presume a set of values that have not been proven true or necessarily good:

It’s a basic fact that violence against women is rooted in patriarchal worldviews which mandate strict gender roles and treat women as inferior and subservient. The way to reduce violence is to abolish these harmful and sexist ideas, just like the way to stop racially motivated violence is to teach and promote the idea of equality between the races. None of this should be the least bit controversial.

The former is certainly controversial; there is little reason to think that having gender roles will necessarily mandate or support violence against women (in fact, in some cultures it in theory would have impeded it as it made it a major social faux pas to every commit violence against women). The latter about treating them as inferior and subservient has a stronger link … but we may not know what that means all the time, particularly in the Catholic tradition. That the main way to reduce violence against women is to abolish those ideas instead of promoting the idea that violence itself is unacceptable is, in fact, highly controversial, and bringing up studies that say that as a society does this the violence drops runs into massive issues with confounds (ie that the changing and attitudes and the drop in violence are both effects, and that it isn’t the case that one causes the other). In fact, even there one may say that campaigns to reduce violence against women change the attitudes. At any rate, this is a clash of values and a clash over methodology, and that’s nothing to quit anything over.

The last one is this:

Lastly, if your jaw can drop any further, this story ought to do it: the church is still paying to defend convicted (not accused) child molesters:

So … Lee would want the Church to not support them in legal cases simply because they were convicted once? Where will their representation come from if they don’t? Should they be unrepresented? The Church’s response is this:

…The order’s executive officer for professional standards, Brother Brian Brandon, confirmed that the order had funded Best and Dowlan’s defences, and said that the order had a broad policy of funding the defences of brothers charged in relation to child sex abuse.

When it was put to him that it was not appropriate for the order to continue funding its members’ legal defences after they had been convicted, he said: “Well, that’s one perspective.”

Lee’s argument is this:

There may, perhaps, be Catholic parishioners who are OK with putting money in the collection plate each week, knowing that it will go to pay the legal bills of clergy members accused of raping children. Perhaps. But how many Catholics, I wonder, want to give money to the church so that it can be used to defend already convicted and imprisoned pedophiles when they’re brought up on additional charges?

I, for one, am completely in favour of the Church living up to its obligations, and rather wish that they’d done so — or defined it more clearly — in the other instances of the pedophile case. This is, in fact, debatable about where the obligations stop. Again, Lee doesn’t like it personally, but then he can go and argue over it and try to convince the Church to change the policy, or at least to convince Catholics to argue for that, instead of trying to convince Catholics that they should stop being Catholics.

As a reminder, here are my four categories from the previous post:

1) The Catholic Church has handled the pedophilia scandal badly (1 – 5, 19, 30 – 39, 48)

2) Lee disagrees with their positions and values (6 – 18, 20, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 44 – 47, 50)

3) Lee thinks they interfere too much in government and society based on those values that he thinks wrong (8, 9, 14 – 16, 18, 21, 24, 25, 26, 41)

4) Simple gripes (23, 40, 42, 43, 49)

The third one is clearly 1. The second one is clearly 2. And the first one is probably 4. So, three more reasons where he might have found one more actual reason, by his standards.