Archive for February, 2013

Too Innocent?

February 25, 2013

So, with work being busy at the moment which means that basically I’m either working or don’t feel like doing much of anything, I obviously haven’t been writing posts much. However, I did manage to break my “no games” run and started playing Persona 2: Innocent Sin on the PSP, as I’m a huge fan of the Persona games and had never played it.

So far, though, it’s been disappointing.

I think I could get past the 8-bit nature of it; it was a bit jarring at first, but not a real problem. However, that 8-bit nature leads to some … odd motions and animations, which contributes to my main issue with the game: for having such serious content, it really doesn’t take itself seriously. There are a lot of jokes and things that are just odd or ridiculous in the game. The initial rumour — that wearing the school badge deforms the face of the students, but that the badge of their rival cures it — is something that’s deeply serious … except that it’s treated for laughs a lot of the time if you talk to people about it, including the case where the party member from the rival school gets mugged for his badge in a rather ridiculous animated scene. The negotiations with demons is interesting, but the actions and results are often, again, ridiculous. The way to try to break the curse — run around the school and break the clocks — is also ridiculous. And jokes are slipped in, such as banter between Lisa and Boss(?) and Maya hitting on Tatsuya. It just seems discordant; the game is making far too light of a serious situation.

And then there’s the dungeon. So far, the game has done a really good thing in integrating the dungeons into the story and letting you save anywhere. This is great. Unfortunately, it uses the standard “We’ll pop up random encounters at various times so that you can level up” mechanic, removed in Personas 3 and 4. Which means that as I’m wandering around and looking for where I’m supposed to go, I get stopped by a fight, and then have to remember where I’ve already been and where I was going. It’s not as annoying as Suikoden V was, but it’s still a bit annoying. Add in the negotiation with demons and I don’t know if I’m fighting enough to be a high enough level for the game, which was my big problem with Record of Agarest War.

But the real issue is the discordance of tone. I’ll have to decide if it’s worth pushing on with this game to see if it gets better … once I get some free time [grin].

Well, at least I’m not addicted …

February 15, 2013

… but I am probably at the point where it is reasonable to say that I really, really should find a way to insert some video game playing time into my life, because I haven’t played a video game in at least 3 weeks. Despite having my long list of games to try to play and finish.

The reasons for this are pretty much the same reasons why I haven’t posted on the blog in over a week:

1) It’s a fairly busy time for me at work, as I’m approaching one of those intermediate deadlines on my feature. At some points, my feature was going poorly, and now while it’s going better I still have to put in a fair amount of time on it, which means for me working more on weekends. This cuts into my free time.

2) I was sick a couple of weeks ago, and was still working roughly my normal schedule. That meant that my free time went to basically sitting around and watching TV while I tried to recover.

3) Around that, we also have some snow, which required me to shovel it, which not only cut into my spare time but just gave me more encouragement to sit around and read when I finished (it’s not intensely difficult, but enough that you might not feel like jumping up and running to play a game after doing it).

4) I recently bought the entire series of the old gothic horror soap opera “Dark Shadows”, which had over 1200 episodes. I started watching it. I like it. But if I watch it at a decent pace it will still take me until sometime in June to finish watching the whole thing. That’s a long time. So I feel some pressure to try to finish it. But I watch it on my TV, which limits the games I can play. Obviously, since the PS3 uses the same TV I can’t play PS3 games and watch the show at the same time. And PC games like The Old Republic suffer from being in another room and from the volume on this TV not really penetrating to there; I can see the screen if I look up but if I’m playing a game I don’t look, and I can’t even really hear the conversation with a game that was any sound effects.

5) The two games I’m pushing at the moment are TOR and Persona 3 PSP. Both of them require a bit of time to play, more time than I really have. It takes me about 3 hours to clear an area in TOR, and the dungeons in P3 have always required a significant time commitment to play. I don’t really have that in the evenings, especially since there are at least a couple of days where I don’t want to play games in the evening anyway. And the fact that playing a game right up until the time for me to go to sleep is a quick way to insomnia. Add in that I want to spend a good bit of time watching Dark Shadows and evenings aren’t that great for me. I could play the PSP while watching Dark Shadows, but P3’s dungeons take a long time and usually dedicated time to do, and are the worst part of that game for me, so it doesn’t work out so well. And I’d try the previous game, but I’m not sure it’ll be any better. The PS2 would work as well, but there isn’t really anything that grabs me on it.

6) I’ve been re-reading the X-Wing novels and some other books, which fits well into watching DVDs but not so well with playing games. And it actually fits better into watching DVDs than playing games does.

7) And some nights and days I’m just tired and don’t want to play anything.

But, still … at least 3 weeks without games when I have a list of the things I want to play. And took a look at Rampant Games again which has a number of games that look interesting and are reasonably priced. I really need to find some time for games again …

Movies Feb 6

February 7, 2013

So, after taking a week off last week due to weather and to watch “Dark Shadows”, this week I again wandered down the block to rent movies. Now, one of the reasons I rented “The Apparition” last time was because the next big movie on my list for new releases was “Captain America” … and I was worried about being disappointed. I watched the original set of Spider-man movies and liked them, watched the original X-Men trilogy and liked them, rented Thor and liked it, and bought The Avengers and liked it. On the other hand, I found the Iron Man movies to be watchable but disappointing and was disappointed in the Fantastic Four movies, not to mention the one Hulk movie I watched as well as Daredevil or Elektra, and Captain America was a movie that they could do wrong in some many ways. I also hadn’t been thrilled by what I had read in the reviews. But with nothing else being appealing, I had to break down and rent Captain America, and paired that with Transformers 3, despite my being disappointed by them as well.

I fell asleep during both of them, but again that doesn’t really say whether the movies were good or not.

So, to start my commentary, let me just note that Transformers 3 is a longer movie than Captain America, despite the fact that as the third in the series it has less backstory to fill in and has, in fact, less plot. The plot of that movie simply can’t stretch long enough to cover that much time, and so it seems to get filled in by unfunny attempts at humour and mindless, pointless action scenes. Again, Captain America had more plot and didn’t skimp on the action scenes, and yet was about a half hour shorter.

The second problem with Transformers 3 was that it focused far too much on the humans and on humans fighting against Transformers and less — to little — on the interactions between the Transformers themselves. Now, it can be argued that the whole series has a focus on humans more than on the Transformers and that that is a good and interesting thing to do, but it’s a very risky move when the really unique and interesting thing about the movie is the Transformers. I mean, there’s a reason it’s called “Transformers” and not “Spike Witwicky and the Humans”. If you are going to take the focus away from the thing that makes your story different, you had better have a really good story to replace that with.

And that’s the third problem: the human-focused stories aren’t interesting. The closest thing we have to a plot/character arc is Spike’s, starting from a recent college graduate who has somehow been dropped from the work the Transformers are doing and who is struggling to get a job and following him through his life until he gets back into the main fight again at the end. The problem with it is that it is mostly incredible, and incredible to the point that even the lampshading of it only draws attention to the flaws as opposed to being a wink at the camera. Why, since he knew everything about the Transformers and was still associating with one, didn’t the government just hire him into the project? Considering the budget it had, he’d have been a rounding error, and they were already paying for his college. Did they really want him to be working for someone else, or selling out what he knew to the highest bidder to make money? And from that, it looks like the difficulty finding a job was just something tossed in to cause problems and laughs, and not as something that would lead him to some kind of character revelation. And because it isn’t that sort of thing, the character revelation at the end doesn’t have its thrust; sure, he overcomes a seeming lack of confidence, but to even get to where he was required that, and there isn’t enough of a gap between himself and Carly to make that reunion carry the emotional weight. It’s just unsatisfying and it’s the big character development in the movie … even though Optimus turns killer with little fan fare.

Here’s how I would have done it differently: instead of having Spike be cut off from the Transformers by the agency, have Spike walk away. Have him decide that what he really wants is a normal life and not to get involved in all of this business that has almost gotten him and his girlfriend killed a number of times. Have a grateful government accept that and offer to pay for his college to help him get a normal life. Hint that Michaela left him because in his attempt to return to a normal life he lost the qualities that made him interesting. Have Carly meet him while he was in that normal life, and perhaps be unaware or only vaguely aware of the past, and aiming far more at a normal life. Then have him get that ordinary job not out of real frustration, but out of an acceptance that that was what life was like. Then have him get involved with that VP again, and see the major issue and have to go to the Autobots again. And then when he meets the head woman have her animosity not be that he isn’t qualified, but that he walked away and now wants back in. Have Carly get involved again and get kidnapped and held hostage, but then Spike’s strong desire to rescue her would be motivated by the real fact that he had gotten her sucked into that world that he was trying to get away from, and an underlying fear that she will blame him for ruining her normal life, just as he feels he did to Michaela. This would lead to an understandable fear, even as he rescues her, that she will walk away as well. In the middle of the battle, it all comes together and he discovers who he really is … and he isn’t someone suited for a normal life. He’s a hero, not a messenger (and he could be taunted with being a messenger a couple of times previously without it causing issues). Then, the ending is of him becoming a hero again … and of Carly finding that it actually completes who he is, and liking it. Thus, them getting together having a strong emotional meaning.

But, they didn’t.

As for Captain America, all I can say is that it was actually a pretty good movie. It could have gone off the rails, but it handled even the bits that seemed shaky — Captain America being sent out to drum up sales of War Bonds, for example — in a reasonable and believeable fashion. Cap is a believeable character, and they prove to the audience why he was chosen to be Captain America with a couple of great scenes where he demonstrates his intelligence and heart, which are the things the Super Soldier serum wouldn’t give him. His way of speaking is a bit Boy Scout but again a believeable one. Overall, it was an entertaining movie.

Of the two, I would definitely add Captain America to my collection of movies, but will only add Transformers 3 if I see it cheap to be a completist (I own the first two because I, well, got them cheap at a used DVD store.)

Equal time, and criticism, for both sides …

February 7, 2013

So, over at Lousy Canuck Jason Thibeault has posted a link to a radio show that he thinks is aiming at strawfeminism. I decided to listen to it, because long experience has taught me that I really can’t trust anyone who simply says “This is stupid”, and I can report that Thibeault is completely wrong in this assessment: they’d have to actually be making arguments before you could claim they’re taking apart strawpersons.

They have two big “arguments”:

1) There are two types of feminists: attractive ones and not-so-attractive ones. The attractive ones use their attractiveness to their advantage and gets jobs and families and good lives, while the not-so-attractive ones get jobs in academics and government and are very angry about their lack of attractiveness.

2) Feminists and women are acting only in their own interests, and so don’t care any more about family or anyone else.

Now, on the first claim, this is actually provably untrue, because I personally know — dealing with academics a fair bit and feminists — that there are a number of quite attractive women who are feminists of the sort that they seem to deride as falling into the unattractive category in terms of behaviour, and an number of less attractive women who use their skills and marketing to get jobs in industry. I know that feminists here will be exasperated that I am opposing their argument by focusing on the attractiveness of the women, but my reply is that when their entire argument and distinction is based on judging the attractiveness of the women involved the easiest way to tear them apart is, in fact, to point out the factual error instead of trying to get into a debate over whether they should be judging on attractiveness or not, especially since logically if I did try that they could easily point out that we should do that in this case because it is the differentiating factor. Thus, I point out that it ain’t, and refute their point, instead of dancing around it in an attempt to shift the focus to a topic more, uh, correct.

Going further, they might have been able to draw a distinction between women who are willing to use their attractiveness and sexuality as a selling point in order to get ahead in life and women who find that to be sexist and objectifying and so detrimental to women as a whole. This would actually be a reasonable debate in feminism, although it’s clear that a number of women who might be associated with that attitude due to their results would deny actually doing that or thinking it acceptable, so it’s a bit shaky. But at least it would have been a point that isn’t just clearly factually wrong; the whole debate over women and sexuality seems to relate to attitudes kinda like this. So there’d be some intelligence in making a point like this. Guess what they didn’t do?

On the second claim, it’s probably true … but not limited to feminism. We are a far more individualistic society than we used to be and a far more selfish one, or at least it seems that way to me. I’m not even going to say that I’m immune, given that I can be fairly selfish far too much of the time. So that women are being encouraged to put their own interests first and reject the old-fashioned ideas of sacrifice and concern for others is a sign of the overall society, not of feminism, and so we shouldn’t expect feminism to be immune from that. Thus, here, they relate something that is at least arguably true … but miss that it’s a societal trait, not a feminist trait.

Thus I can quote one voice in Wizardry 8 in reference to this clip: “It is void of content.”

Atheist Virtues …

February 6, 2013

Alain de Botton is an atheist who wants to maintain the more, well, I guess “spiritual” is a decent word for it, attributes of religion and how they build a community in a form that is atheistic and so doesn’t rely on a belief in any god at all. Most of the New Atheists have basically mocked him for this. His most recent move is to define a set of virtues for the modern — and presumably atheist — era. Both Stephanie Zvan and Russell Blackford have commented on them.

What comes out in both posts and annoys me is a worry that these things aren’t virtues because there are cases where you shouldn’t engage in them. Zvan, for example, makes this the heart of her criticism of “Resilience”:

Look, resilience has distinct advantages in a lot of situations. Being broken by the small things isn’t anything anyone looks for. Being stopped by every trifle doesn’t get you very far. But sometimes quitting really is the best solution to a problem. Do you want to keep beating your head against an abusive “friendship” trying to get it to change? Is that a virtue?

There are times when treating resilience as a virtue is dangerous. There are times when it’s too much. Then, calling it a virtue is an active harm.

Blackford also hints at this as an issue, but as you might expect has read Aristotle and so grasps the way around the problem:

In some cases, I think that impatience, of a kind, might be a virtue – if it means, for example, impatience with bullshit. Aristotle would probably say that the trick is actually to be patient at the right time, with the right people, for the right reasons, and so on (and similarly to be impatient at the right time, etc.).

What annoys me is that this is somehow raised as an objection against de Botton, who never actually implies that considering these things as virtues means considering them as virtues even when the reason they are a virtue isn’t in play in a situation. Something like Aristotle’s “moderation” idea should always be in play when considering why a virtue is a virtue, because at the very least virtue should never, ever require you to act like an idiot in order to act virtuously. Two of the original Virtue Theories — Aristotle and the Stoics — both insisted that that wasn’t the case: Aristotle with his idea that the moderate is the virtue, and the Stoics with their idea that virtue was defined by doing what is the rational thing to do. It’s become a throwaway, strawman point to talk about the virtuous having to act on that virtue even when it doesn’t make sense to do so, but Virtue Theories don’t rquire people to become “Lawful Stupid”, following the letter of a definition of a virtue while ignoring the reasons that thing is called a virtue in the first place. Resilience, for example, is defined by de Botton as this:

Keeping going even when things are looking dark; accepting that reversals are normal; remembering that human nature is, in the end, tough. Not frightening others with your fears.

But where does this imply that you keep going even when there is no hope of being successful? Where does this imply that you don’t try to avoid or reverse reversals? Where does this imply that you don’t recognize when things are too tough? Where does this imply that you don’t frighten others when they need to be frightened? Again, there is no reason to assume that de Botton’s virtues imply that you should be an idiot in service to virtue, and so it is indicative that one of the first criticisms against anyone who advances virtues is “Well, in this case you shouldn’t act what you call ‘virtuously’ because it won’t give you what you think the virtue will give you.” The reply to that is “Duh! Virtues are defined in relation to a purpose, and if in a case you wouldn’t fulfill the purpose then, well, acting that way isn’t a virtue.”

Zvan relates Virtue to Sin:

Elevating resilience to the level of a virtue does more than just change it from a tool into a fetish. It also casts lapses in resilience as lapses in virtue–sins. This does what religion all too often does, forces people to choose between what is good for them in any one situation and avoiding sin/maintaining virtue.

Which is precisely why this annoys me, because both Virtue and Sin relate to an overall principle or idea of what is good for people. Thus, neither can indeed actually clash with what is good for a person because if the action would lead to what is considered the overall good for a person, then it is virtuous/not sinful even if a strict definition of the virtues or sins might suggest that, and if it would not lead to that overall good for the person then it is not virtuous/is a sin no matter how closely it might resemble one of those virtues or not be considered a sin by strict definition. So what we see here is precisely the wrong sort of objection to a Virtue or Sin Theory, where she attacks it based on an idea of “good” that isn’t the one being used. In this case, it seems — especially with the link to religious sin — that she’s using the idea of personal pleasure/pain as her good, and saying that in some cases you might end up more miserable if you try to be Resilient, so that forces you away from doing what is really good for you. Now, it is possible that de Botton wants a sort of “happiness” justification for his virtues, but then being Resilient when it won’t bring happiness, even long term, wouldn’t be a virtue for him. For religions and for the Stoics, being “happy” isn’t what is good for people, and so simply clashing with happiness is not in any way making it so that someone is choosing what is not good for them. In short, avoiding sin/maintaining virtue always is what is good for a person in all situations … it’s just what is thought of as “good for a person” varies.

Zvan then moves on to talk about the capacity to be Resilient:

That isn’t merely a situational problem either. Resilience has been a hot topic in psychology for at least a couple of decades. We know that resilience can be a powerful thing, so we’ve studied how people can have more of it. The factors that increase resilience are largely beyond anyone’s control. How you are raised, how much trauma you’ve experienced when you encounter a bad situation, how well others support you–these aren’t choices that people make.

Under those circumstances, raising resilience to the level of a virtue as de Botton does is cruelty. We’ve had enough of religions setting arbitrary standards that people can’t meet just by trying, haven’t we?

And the problem here is that it seems to be based on a notion that if you are to be expected to meet the demands of virtue or religion, you should be able to do so by simply trying really hard at it in specific situations. It should never be the case that some people will just naturally have more ability to do it, and so that while it just comes easy to some people others have to struggle with it, and even work to develop it. There is, of course, the reasonable expectation that if we are going to demand virtue from someone they have to be reasonably able to actually do it, but the cases where that might be an issue are cases like the kleptomaniac, not the cases she cites. All of the cases she described are, in fact, controllable at least with respect to whether or not one faces them with Resilience … even if one needs therapy or training in order to get to that point. While one cannot control how one was raised, one can train out the things they were taught or adopted from their upbringing and train in new behaviours and beliefs. One can try to train out or train down the reaction one has had to trauma. One can either build a supportive network or train themselves to rely less on the support of others. While one can say that these aren’t really choices that people make, how one reacts to them and what one does in response to them are, and that is what people are responsible for. No one ever promised that acting virtuously is or ought to be easy, and to become a virtuous person may indeed require a lot of work, and work outside of merely reacting to the situations that you are put in. You may well have to prepare a lot to be Resilient in situations where others are just naturally Resilient. I don’t see why having to put in that strong effort would be unreasonable; you don’t get anything good without expecting to have to work at it.

Zvan also goes after, surprise, surprise, “Politeness”:

Politeness is a set of behaviors that serve a purpose. de Botton is close on that purpose, though I think he’s going a bit grand with “civilization”. Few rules of politeness are that universal. Still, politeness is that set of behaviors that allow a society to function without constantly haggling about how it should be done. It’s a codified nonverbal and verbal language that tells you where you stand in a transaction.

Sometimes we need to haggle over how things are done in a particular society. Societies contain injustices. They can head in a direction that is doomed to failure or even catastrophe. Sometimes there is simply a better way. Sometimes there is virtue in the haggling.

We can’t do that, however, when politeness–separate from the specifics of its function–becomes a virtue. Then the slowing down, even if we gain insights we wouldn’t moving at full speed, becomes the sin. Agitation becomes the sin. Negotiation on how we are treated becomes the sin.

I disagree with this definition of “Politeness”. I would argue that Politeness is indeed a set of social rules and behaviours that are intended to demonstrate reasonable respect. You thus can and should haggling and negotiate Politely. Politeness doesn’t stop you from getting what you want or need, or talking about injustice or trying to head off disaster, but is instead basically a reminder that in your words and actions you always have to treat the other people not merely as means to your end, but as ends in themselves. Or, basically, as people with their own beliefs and desires, and their own goals. It’s always seemed an odd assertion to me that the “anti-accommodationists” have always seen the calls for Politeness as calls to stop disagreeing, as opposed to as calls to treat their opponents as reasonable people who are expressing the beliefs they actually hold. The insistence on calling “lying” saying something that you think is false that they clearly think is true is clearly, to me, Impolite, as is ignoring what a person says their beliefs are and translating them based on what others believe into something you think fits better, because both stop treating the other person as a person deserving of reasonable respect and intellectual charity and turns them into a punching bag for your own beliefs.

So, my challenge on this one is this: do you not think that you can negotiate or disagree Politely? If you can’t, why not? I’ve seen many people who disagree with me Politely on a number of issues, even really important ones, so why can’t you even achieve a modicum of Politeness?

Zvan continues:

This simple list also doesn’t even begin to address the virtues inherent in the “negative” emotions. There are none without uses. Fear is critical in good decision-making, even if it shouldn’t be allowed to rule us. Anger has accomplished much that is good. Even jealously tells us something about our own needs and desires that we can put to good use. Where do we give these useful negatives their due if we raise one set of traits and tools above the others?

Virtues aren’t mere tools, no matter how much Zvan wants to cast it that way. That emotions can be useful doesn’t make them virtuous because it doesn’t make them inherently good, meaning that they aim at the ultimate good for people. A Virtue Theory can give them their due without elevating them to Virtues by evaluating their use at providing the good, and thus judging them against the Virtues so that their entire value comes from how well they support the Virtues. Can it be reasonably argued that anger is good in and of itself? This is unlikely, since it reacts both to the good and to the bad. All emotions, I argue, are reactions that have to be conditioned to reflect the good, but are never good in and of themselves. One can argue that I could “save” anger and the emotions like I save Resilience and say that anger is not really anger unless it aims at the good … but anger and all emotions are actual reactions in us, and likely largely physical ones. Resilence, therefore, can be tied to behaviour and not to the specific reactions that produce it, but it is difficult to do that for anger. Thus, for the emotions, we must consider the physical reactions as what it means to be them, and then when we look at that we discover that they do not aim at the good and so are not themselves Virtues, although they can be of use in aiming at the good and thus in us becoming and remaining Virtuous. But being useful is not enough to be a Virtue.

I’ll end with Blackford, who ends up listing some that he thinks are missing:

But nor does his list contain distinctly opposed virtues, such as skepticism, anti-authoritarianism, sex-positivity, or enthusiasm for change. Surprisingly, the traditional virtue of courage does not appear on the list.

I thought that his version of “Confidence” could probably have taken the place “Courage” normally occupies, but that’s debatable. What I do want to focus on are the others, and question why they should be considered virtues at all. It seems trivially obvious that all of them can be quite problematic if overdone, but it isn’t clear that you can “moderate” them without making them meaningless. If we interpret “Skepticism” to be something like “Do not trust certain forms of evidence/arguments unless it is reasonable to trust them”, this sounds just like normal, everyday reasoning, the kind that most people engage in. If we interpret “anti-authoritarianism” to mean “Only trust reasonable authority”, then again it’s hard to see what special way of living this picks out. And the same applies to all of the other terms. If you try to interpret them “moderately”, it’s hard to see how they could apply to the debates we commonly have over them today, and if you leave them more specific to those debates it’s clear that they can fail to pick out the good.

You could argue that you can define them relative to the good the way I did for Resilience, but if we take “Increase the happiness of people” as our base good you can clearly see the issue. Would those advocating for Skepticism accept it meaning “Act skeptically unless it doesn’t make people more happy to be skeptical”? Would those advocating for Anti-authoritarianism accept it meaning “Act against authority unless it will make people happy to accept authority”. For Sex-positivity, you can see it being utterly meaningless to interpret it as “Think of sex positively unless it won’t make you happy to think that way”, and for Enthusiasm for Change it is equally meaningless to call it “Embrace change except where that would make people unhappy”.

So, then, these don’t see to be things that can be made into virtues, because defined broadly they are meaningless and defined narrowly we can easily see that they don’t always aim at the good. Only if you think of them as being the “moderate” versions can this argument even get off the ground … and then that ends up simply defining them to be the most reasonable positions instead of arguing for them being such, which is something that a lot of the New Atheist arguments end up being: broaden the definitions so much that there is no possible way that any reasonable position could oppose it and declare victory, ignoring that the opponents weren’t arguing about the broader definition in the first place. I’ve seen it with science, with natural and with skepticism, and I don’t want this overdefinition to get in the way of determining and asssesing virtue.

Gender vs Equity Feminism: A Not-So-Uneducated Guess.

February 4, 2013

So, there’s been a lot of talk about “gender” vs “equity” feminism, and various definitions and accusations of what each side holds tossed around, usually with great anger and angst … which pretty much describes most of the history of the feminist movement, to be honest. Now, I’m not fully up-to-date on all of this; I read “Who Stole Feminism?” years ago when I was still fairly actively discussing this stuff, as opposed to now when I basically have limited interest (and I did like the book), and I haven’t really read all of the debates around those terms, and so am just relying on a lot of sniping I’m seeing, but I’ll try to give what I see as the best distinction between the two views as I see it, without actually referencing any specific examples of people or comments. So, consider this not-so-uneducated musing.

(Here’s the wikipedia discussion. I don’t match it, but I think I’m broadly consistent with it.)

The biggest difference in the behaviour that I see is that equity feminists focus on the laws and also in some sense on the cultural and other structures, but are unconcerned about the actual outcomes, while gender feminists tend to rely heavily on the outcomes to make their arguments. Note that this is not saying that gender feminists think that equality of opportunity must mean equality of outcome and equity feminists don’t; I think both sides at least in theory accept that. But gender feminists use inequity of outcome as evidence of inequity of opportunity, while equity feminists tend to look at the policies independently of what the outcome actually is. Thus, gender feminists will argue that if only 10% of the CEOs are women, or women only make 93 cents on the dollar compared to men, or if the speakers/membership of an organization is predominantly male, then there’s probably a sexism problem there, while equity feminists will be skeptical of that and ask what the gender feminists can actually point to that indicates sexism.

This also ties into the idea of gender feminists wanting to eliminate all gender distinctions and equity feminists not wanting to do that. Again, I don’t think either side really thinks that there are no differences between the genders, but equity feminists will tend to fire back at the gender feminist analysis of percentages with “Well, maybe there are differences between the genders that cause different desires that explain the difference in percentages” and gender feminists tend to react to that as if there aren’t any that should matter, and if there are then those differences should be eliminated, since a lot of them are merely social anyway. But equity feminists will deny that it is the responsibility of businesses or organizations to correct for the actual preferences of people, and so you can’t call an organization or business or policy sexist if it does treat people neutrally, even if that neutrality happens to have the impact of skewing the percentages.

You can see this in the Michael Shermer “It’s a Guy Thing” example (okay, so I guess I was kinda fibbing about not referring to actual people or cases [grin] But I’m still not using them as proofs of the definition, which is more what I meant). His answer would be a typical equity feminist position: what we do is put the pieces in place that are fair, evaluate fairly, maybe even make some small gestures to find more women speakers — since they might be being overlooked due to other considerations — but if we have done that and we still have a low percentage … well, then, maybe there’s just something about speaking at conferences that appeals more to men than to women, which explains the difference, but the organization isn’t sexist if it doesn’t try to fix that. (Note, BTW, that in a TVO discussion on a similar topic, the female head of an organization dedicated to improving these sorts of percentages essentially accepted that women didn’t seem as interested in those sorts of things, giving an example of herself being asked to comment on the recent change in Popes and declining, while her husband had no problem accepting despite the fact that he had less interesting things to say). The blowback on this is a typical gender feminist reply, saying that there’s something about women that means that they don’t participate fully in something that’s good is itself evidence of sexism; even if true, women shouldn’t be blamed for having these gendered traits that are likely socially imposed anyway, and so something has to be done about that.

Another clear example is the discussion Stephanie Zvan had over negotiation and its impact on pay disparities. Zvan has the typical gender feminist response: even though the system seems fair, because women aren’t as comfortable negotiating it leads to that pay disparity and so is sexist, and so must be changed. The counter is that it isn’t sexist because it does treat everyone fairly, and the company has no obligation to fix the desires of women or change a policy they need — as I argued — to bring about the equal percentage. Women should learn to negotiate, or accept lower wages.

Now, if you look at these examples, you can see the problems each position has. Gender feminism will tend to try to force companies, organizations or policies to fix or react to the underlying cultural expectations or else be called sexist, and in all of those cases they can easily ask why they should have to, especially if it costs them time and resources. And it does seem reasonable to ask why a company should be obligated to fix the problems with the culture that it exists in; surely that’s better suited to other groups, and when that happens then the fair policies ought to produce the right percentages. On the other hand, equity feminism will tend to deny the role cultural expectations plays in these things, and judge equality simply on what the policies say and not on how they interact with cultural expectations. But it is clear that you can indeed play the cultural expectations and introduce policies that are sexist while not looking it. Cultural expectations aren’t irrelevant when making policy, but policies shouldn’t have to design themselves around that to the detriment of the purpose of the policy either.

Anyway, that debate isn’t really here nor there at this point. At this point, I’d simply like to say that these definitions, to me, seem reasonable based on what both sides tend to argue and seem to fairly represent both sides, as it gives them both relevant arguments and relevant flaws. Also note that gender feminism will appear to people who like numbers as evidence, as appealing to the percentages gives a clear number that you can work with to determine if something is sexist or not. Equity feminism, on the other had, bases sexism on an analysis of the policies and the intentions, and so it isn’t as clear-cut, but doesn’t stray as close to the “equality of opportunity = equality of outcome” line. Thus, you would probably expect to see scientific and mathematical types siding with gender feminism, with philosophical and, say, interpretive types siding with equity feminism. In short, people who want numbers and quantitative analysis for everything will tend to be gender feminists, while people who don’t trust numbers and want qualitative analysis will prefer equity feminism. If you look at the people on either side of recent debates in atheism over this, I think my analysis isn’t too far off.

Reading In …

February 3, 2013

One of the issues people have had with feminism — and still do have — is that it has a tendency to read in sexist intentions and interpretations even when there really isn’t any evidence of that. Ophelia Benson has a post up at Butterflies and Wheels that is a prime example of this. She’s talking about what Michael Kelly said about Senator Ivana Bacik, where he called her shrill, and Benson says:

Michael Nugent points out a classic example of the special rules by which what would be an utterly normal tone of voice and wording and manner in a man get called “shrill” when it’s a woman speaking. The woman is Senator Ivana Bacik, asking questions at the parliamentary hearings on abortion law. She speaks firmly, and with an edge, but not the least bit “shrilly.” But hey, she’s a woman, and she’s talking firmly and with an edge to men. Must be shrill. Stands to reason.

First, I decided to look up the definition of the word “shrill” to see what could be meant here. I, and at least some commenters, thought it meant this:

1. sharp and high-pitched in quality

Which you could make a case for that being something that you might use against a woman in a sexist manner, since their voices are generally higher-pitched and the higher-pitched a voice is the more hysterical it seems in popular culture, but then I came across this definition in the thesaurus:

2. shrill – being sharply insistent on being heard; “strident demands”; “shrill criticism”

Now, it’s clear that she didn’t fit into the first definition, but it’s at least debatable whether she fits into the second. Which, then, did he mean? The title is “We can’t be cowed by shrill voices” which makes a bit of a link to the voice, but in the actual article he says:

Shrill caricatures have no place in mature debates.

And that’s clearly referring to something like shrill criticism, which is definition 2, and so it is reasonable, then, to conclude that he was using that definition in the title as well. Now, if a man had said something like she said, do you really think that he wouldn’t have called that shrill caricature as well? Benson has absolutely no evidence that he wouldn’t, because it isn’t in what he said — or at least quoted — at all. She’s reading it in to what he’s saying, and thus declaring that his use of the word or his discussion is sexist based on nothing more than what she brings to the work, not on what he himself actually brought to it. This is not good when you are criticizing him and people like him for something that you have no evidence they are actually doing, consciously or no.

And then she moves on to that “mature” part:

He makes her a child, too, and one who has no place in parliamentary hearings (despite the fact that she’s a Senator).

Well maybe Michael Kelly divides humanity into two types: potential priests, and shrill babies.

Okay, now, remember how in that whole Michael Shermer thing there was a whole distinction between saying that someone has done something sexist and calling them a sexist? This has been a major thrust of Atheism+ arguments. So how, then, does Benson feel justified in saying that he makes her a child as opposed to the far more likely he thought her questions were immature? Add in the vague comment about dividing humanity into potential priests and shrill babies and it looks like she’s saying that he divides the world into men and women, where men are to be taken seriously and women are to be dismissed. But nothing in what she quoted in any way even remotely suggests that. Now, I’m not going to say that he doesn’t do that, because I don’t know enough to say for sure. But I don’t need to. All I need to do is point out that she’s making claims about him and the debate that she doesn’t have the evidence for, and they only seem reasonable to her because she’s reading quite a lot into the statements … things that, of course, may not actually be there.

In “The Empire Strikes Back”, when Luke asks what is inside the cave Yoda answers “Only what you take with you”. Is it possible that a lot of the sexism that people see in the world is not in the world, but is in what they impose on the world? I have always believed that if you go looking for sexism or racism or any other similar sort of ism, you’ll find it … even if it really isn’t there. This isn’t to say that they don’t exist and aren’t real problems; they do and they are. But my challenge is to the presumption that you can easily see it, and that our perceptions of it are always accurate. Just as some people’s perspectives mean that they don’t see it when it is really happening, it is also quite possible that some people’s perspectives mean that they see it when it really isn’t happening. We are all, at the end of the day, in some ways slaves to our own perspectives, and one should always try to step outside of that to some kind of objective ground when evaluating these things to avoid making the mistake of reading something into a situation that comes from us and not from the situation itself.