Archive for February, 2016

Final Thoughts on “Dallas”

February 29, 2016

So, I did manage to finish all 14 seasons of “Dallas”, and did, in fact, enjoy it for the most part. Season 14 was by far the weakest season, mostly because there weren’t any interesting foils for J.R., with all of his opponents either being pathetic, annoying, both, or not at all any kind of threat to him. A big part of this was because of how Bobby was pretty much excluded from any kind of interesting rivalry with J.R., and it seems to me that all of the best fights in that show were either when Bobby went after J.R., or when the Ewing family all rallied together against a bigger threat. In Season 14, the clashes between Bobby and J.R. weren’t clashes, but were simply the result of Bobby withdrawing after the death of his latest wife, and that left Bobby completely outside of any battles that J.R. might have had, if any of those battling J.R. were in any way credible as threats. So there wasn’t any really interesting clash.

As for J.R. himself, I’m wondering if he really counts as a villain. Sure, he was manipulative and, well, pretty much self-centered and dishonest, but for the most part, particularly towards the end, he is shown to actually care about his family and is pretty much willing to do anything for them. It’s even reasonable to conclude that most of the slimier actions that he takes in service of Ewing Oil is to build up his father’s legacy and as an attempt to prove himself to Jock, who himself was ruthless when he needed to be. As others have noted, Bobby gained Jock’s loyalty, and J.R. gained Jock’s ruthlessness. There are also plenty of moments when he really looks like he’s trying to change — particularly with Sue Ellen at times and with Cally — and it’s the distrust of other people that ends up ruining that, as they jump to the conclusion that he’s going back to his cheating and dirty ways when he actually hasn’t. The worse case is with Cally as she lies to him and tells him that she slept with someone since she was told that he had slept with someone, when he hadn’t, and it’s only after that that he sleeps with someone to get an advantage in regaining Ewing Oil. So in those cases he can be seen as a victim, both of his reputation and of others … and a prime example of why reputation is so important, as for the most part people don’t like to deal with him unless Bobby’s there to back up the veracity of his claims.

J.R. is a major antagonist in a lot of storylines, but he faces a lot of antagonists and a lot of the storylines end up with him as essentially the protagonist. Ultimately, as I’ve already said, the best storylines are the ones that involve Bobby as protagonist facing off with J.R. as antagonist, or alternatively with the Ewings united against a common threat.

Other notes:

April Stevens is my favourite female character from the entire show … or, at least, she is when they let her be a strong, independent and slightly ruthless character. The actress brings a gusto to those sorts of roles that is very fun to watch. However, they tried to present her as tough yet vulnerable, and so end up often trying to use her as a “damsel” to some other character, like Bobby or Nicholas, and either the writers or the actress simply can’t pull that off, so it falls flat. Which is unfortunate, since the end of her arc is that sort of “damsel” story for Bobby that leads to her death.

Michelle Stevens, on the other hand, is simply pathetic, which is bad since she is supposed to carry a lot of the drama in the last half of season 14. But she’s so desperate for someone to love her that her whole marriage thing with James really falls flat, and she doesn’t do any actually interesting manipulating while pretending that she has. For example, she sells her ownership of Ewing Oil with a 50-50 split to J.R. and Cliff for the price she paid for the whole thing (apiece) … a price that J.R. noted when she bought it that was much, much less than the company was worth. And she only got there in the first place through a completely random and lucky encounter with someone with the money to buy Bobby out and a desire to hurt J.R., who after doing that was willing to reward Michelle for her small attempts at facilitation. Michelle Stevens is not a character that I enjoyed watching.

Cally Harper was a character who really did pull off the “nice” angle quite well. She was manipulative at times, but constantly managed to play out the “nice girl” throughout her entire run. She was fun to watch, but her drama didn’t really work for me, and so it was a little boring. Especially since it was linked with James Beaumont who was both annoying and, for the most part, kinda stupid. As these are the three main characters driving the drama with J.R. in season 14, that left that season, as I said, a bit flat.

Cliff had flashes of actually being a decent person in the last few seasons, but they didn’t last. As the longest running antagonist to the Ewings, for the most part he ought to be remembered as a major jerk, a tiny little man too weak and too stupid to be anything but a minor annoyance. (Note: this doesn’t take the new series into account, because I haven’t seen any of it).

For the price per hour of entertainment, Dallas was certainly worth it. I may even watch it again sometime.

Thoughts on “Grail”, Book 5 of the Pendragon Cycle

February 26, 2016

“Grail” was … disappointing, after the high of “Pendragon”.

Since “Grail” describes one of the most clear and cleanest and deepest stories in Arthurian legend, I was hoping that Lawhead would continue from what he had done in “Pendragon” and create a deep story. The fact that Gwalchavad quickly grew to become my favourite of all of the narrators should have made this my favourite book but, like Pelleas, the superior narrator ended up in an inferior story.


Thoughts on Season 10 of “Dallas”

February 24, 2016

I’m still watching “Dallas”, and actually enjoying it. At the time of writing this, I’m probably half-way through Season 11, but I want to talk about what is almost certainly one of the most controversial seasons of the show: Season 10, which introduced and ran with the “Season 9 was all a dream” idea.

The issue was this: at the end of Season 8, Patrick Duffy, who plays Bobby Ewing, decided that he wanted to leave the show. They gave him a big, clear send-off, and then moved on with Season 9 without him. Then a couple of things came up that caused problems. First, Bobby was a really big part of what made the show interesting, and so there were issues with Season 9 because of that. Second, Patrick Duffy wanted to come back to the show, and given my first comment it was definitely in the best interests of the show for him to return. But they didn’t leave much room to bring him back, even for a soap opera. So they decided to make it all a dream and essentially invalidate the entire season, which not only will raise the issues for the show that I’ll talk about in a minute, but also caused havoc for their closely related spin-off “Knot’s Landing”, causing a split between them into two separate timelines.

Now, once they decided to invalidate Season 9, they still had to resolve the lingering plots and cliff-hangers from Season 8. But if they just played them out again as we’d already seen, then that would really seem like they were cheating the audience with this “dream” explanation. So they had to come up with something different, and yet something that worked as well or ideally better than the originals. This was going to be very difficult as the audience will still be able to remember the original storylines and how they were resolved, and so would be able to compare them pretty closely. It’s worse with the DVDs (where Season 9 was watched essentially last week) than it would be live when that was over a year ago, but it’s still close enough to remember.

To make it worse, in Season 10, at least early, it looks like “Dallas” discovers the most aggressive type of feminism. It starts from the mild example of Sue Ellen, as her reworked “recovering from alcoholism” plot involves her buying a company with pretty much the main purpose of getting Mandy Winger out of J.R.’s life with whatever underhanded techniques she could possibly use. In this, despite being a novice in any industry, her advisers are set-up as smarmy, condescending men that she knows far better than, as she pointedly comments on with a speech that’s as close to calling them out for “mansplaining” as you can be without actually using the word. In some sense, her using her personal experience with women and lingerie over their, well, psychological crap is a decent storyline, but the issue is that either these people were incompetent and they needed her to build the company up again — at which point she could, you know, just point that out to them by saying “It’s not like your ideas were winning you business, so maybe you don’t know as much as you think” — or else they weren’t and she should listen to them more.

But the biggest issue with this move is that it hurt the character. While I’m not insisting on “women as victims” roles — for example, Pam was never that and that was about the only redeeming quality the character had most of the time — the key to her character, up until this point, was that she was, essentially, a mostly good character getting constantly jerked around by J.R.. She had her problems and biases, too, but for the most part we sympathized with her because she really didn’t deserve how J.R. treated her … which can be compared to Katherine Wentworth, who did deserve and clearly was trying to play the manipulator role, but failed at it because, well, she wasn’t as good at it as J.R. was. But then, who was?

By making Sue Ellen a manipulator, they opened her up to retaliation from J.R., retaliation that she wasn’t going to be able to respond to. But we wouldn’t feel sorry for her, but instead ask her what she thought would happen going up against J.R. in that way. The only thing that saves her is J.R. give her grudging respect when he finds out, and the two of them rekindling their marriage realizing that they are good for each other, which carries on into Season 11 for a bit, until the rules of drama break them up again. So, they need the man to save the strong feminist character; not exactly a win for feminism, methinks.

They also seem to have derailed, at least in part, a few characters to make them more sexist. The worst is Cliff Barnes, whom I’ve constantly thought a jerk throughout the entire series (and Season 10 seems to openly concede that). But he’s always been a general, selfish jerk, in the sense that he’s completely and totally self-interested. I didn’t see anything in particular to suggest that he’s really sexist, but in Season 10 he immediately turns that way. First, when Donna takes over the movement that he started to lobby the government to raise oil prices, he tries to get his power back by immediately suggesting that Donna can’t do the job because she’s a woman, a move so out of character that I thought that he had to be trying to play to the crowd (which didn’t work). But then he also justifies ignoring Jamie’s advice on the grounds that she’s a woman and so doesn’t know anything, which comes straight out of left field. Worse, while he ignored her advice in Season 9 as well, that was clearly more of a “So, someone who worked on rigs in Alaska is going to tell me, deep in the oil business, how to deal with oil? Please.”, in the same manner as J.R. reacted to her. And in that season, when he discovered that she was right he immediately brought her on into a bigger role. Here, he just rejects her because she’s a woman and nothing gets settled. Fortunately, he reverts to just being a general jerk by the end of the season.

Ray also gets this treatment. Previously, the issues between him and Donna were clearly more about his inferiority complex and his feeling that he didn’t fit in in her world. In short, he thought that she would be happier with someone who wasn’t just a cowboy, which weighed on him no matter how much she insisted that she didn’t want more than a cowboy. In this season, in a number of cases they imply that it was more than Donna didn’t play the role of a traditional wife than that, including having someone mention to Donna that Texas men wanted their wives in the more traditional roles, with the implication that, again, that was Ray’s main issue (he himself hints at that in a conversation with her). Fortunately, again, by the end of the season and when the divorce finally happens it’s back to Ray simply not feeling like he belongs in her world, and he takes up with Jenna Wade which is a much more reasonable relationship.

The one big success in this season, in my opinion, is April Stevens. She is a very annoying character, but she’s just a lot of fun to watch. She’s incredibly smug, brassy and brazen, which is annoying because, well, she hasn’t done anything to deserve it yet, and both the characters and the audience ought to feel that way about her. But what she does there is fun to watch, and it’s always so entertaining to watch her pull out the smugness and unleash it on the others. Out of the female characters, she was probably my favourite in this season, which carries on a bit into Season 11.

Thoughts on “Cross Edge”

February 22, 2016

So, in looking for a new game to play, I found myself trying this game that I had bought, oh, quite a while ago but had, as is usual for me, never actually played. And I find myself having an … odd relationship with this game.

The game in terms of gameplay is very similar to the “Agarest War” games, except for some small changes that usually make things slightly less deep and slightly less interesting. Its big gimmick is that it combines characters from multiple franchises with two or three original characters. Out of these, though, about the only characters I recognize are from “Darkstalkers”, and since you start with Morrigan early, at least it gives me one of the characters that I used to play with … er, use … er, select on the arcade game.

(Aside: I used to play that game a lot in the arcade in my residence when I was in university. As that was a Capcom game, I quickly learned that I could manage Morrigan’s ranged attack, and that by spamming the buttons I could trigger her spikes if something jumped over it. Thus, she was a good character for me. But, of course, I wasn’t very good at the game, and so could get through about the first two or three fights before that strategy didn’t work for me anymore. At any rate, at some point someone was watching me play, and I guess realized that I wasn’t very good, and so thought he’d play against and beat me. Well, the strategy worked pretty well against him. He tried a few times, lost, and then went away.

That ranged strategy has always been a bit too strong in the Capcom games. Once I played the “Marvel Heroes” version against a co-worker, and he used Cyclops’ ability against my Wolverine, and while I still wasn’t much good at the game there was little I could do against that. Moving to Cyclops, I didn’t know how that mechanism worked, and so still lost. He then said that he was just too good at that game, but for the most part simply spamming those moves doesn’t prove that. Or else my spamming Iron Man’s “unibeam” ability in Marvel vs Capcom and almost beating the entire game represented massive skill, as opposed to massive cheese [grin].)

Okay, back to “Cross Edge”. The big issue I’m having with the game is the similarity to “Record of Agarest War”. The games are very similar, and the differences usually are not to “Cross Edge”‘s favour. The battles only contain four characters, as opposed to Agarest War’s six. You select skills by hitting the right buttons on the controller, not by selecting them. You have to select combo abilities within a set timer, as opposed to as actions in Agarest War. The skills and combinations seem to be more shallow. The dungeons are platform-style. Random encounters are random, and can’t be triggered like you do in Agarest War. You have to use a searching type system that reminds me of Mass Effect 3’s, without the “Game Over” if you linger too long (but it’s still quite boring, and might involve backtracking). It does seem to retain the grinding requirement of the Agarest War games, as I wandered into the second area and ended up in a fight that was a bit too tough for me … mostly because of the fact that the characters I had left didn’t have the range to attack and kill off the rest of the monsters, which is also annoying (in Agarest War, the battlefield is deeper and so characters can move to attack, although it takes action points. You can do that here, too, but only so far). There’s no real benefit to positioning in the battle, unlike the Agarest War games. And so on.

So, as I play this game, I keep thinking that Agarest War pretty much did the same thing, only better. If I had finished the Agarest War games, I suspect that this might be in Cross Edge’s favour, but since those games are on my list it just reminds me that if I wanted a game like that I could just play those and finally manage to finish them off. So it hurts my enjoyment of the game, which makes me not all that interested in playing it. Having to grind a bit and search everywhere really doesn’t help.

Which is a shame, because it’s not a bad game and the story is somewhat interesting. But if every time I play it I end up wishing that I was playing Agarest War instead, that’s not an incentive to play it.

Exclusionary Code?

February 19, 2016

So, there’s a controversy in the R coding community (which I’ve never heard of, but that doesn’t mean anything). Again, this controversy strikes such a chord that both Vox Day and P.Z. Myers have commented on it. Again, you get no points for figuring out which side each of them is on. Anyway, here are the details:

It points to a line in the R source code containing a variable called, with all seriousness…


I don’t think that this is an intentional sexual reference – far from it, I’m certain it’s just due to an absence of familiarity with one particularly crass English idiom, and I have only ever known the developer who wrote the code (whose first language is not English) to be entirely proper, entirely reasonable, and the model of what a productive Core member should be.

But it needs to go anyway: it’s exclusionary as all hell to have language like this in the core implementation and we can’t expect people to instantly understand intentions.

The reaction to this change was, well, strong, to say the least:

The second was a set of emails from Duncan Murdoch, President of the R Foundation and an R Core member, in which he dismissed my “bug report” (note the skeptical scare quotes he put on it) “about some variable name that you find offensive is clearly an example of nothing more than shit-disturbing” and stated that myself, and those who had commented in favour of changing it, were no longer welcome to participate in R’s bug-tracker.

I independently confirmed that our accounts had been banned and locked – as had the bug, and replied to Duncan explaining my thinking and motivation and asking in what capacity the ban had been made.

Eventually, at least some of the people’s accounts were unlocked, and the change went through.

Now, the main question here is this: is it really the case that the variable name was “exclusionary as hell”, or was this a case where people should have just done the equivalent of “Heh, heh, ‘iGiveHead'” and went on their merry way? Note that everyone accepts that this was not intentional, and thus that it likely follows a personal or even standard variable naming convention that happens to produce this unfortunate phrasing given English sexual slang. So we can’t call it exclusionary on the basis that it was aimed even at being unprofessional, let alone that it was aimed at excluding certain people. So we need something else to make that case. What, then, makes that case?

If you follow the comments on Myers’ post, you’ll see a lot of people trying to explain why this is exclusionary, which ends up being nothing more than a massive set of psychobabble and pseudo-philosophy that, ultimately, says nothing at all. For example:

In a male-dominated culture, particularly one with a high content of brocialists, “iGiveHead” would be read as those who give head, and those who receive, split into the standard binary, giving more value, of course, to the natural receivers (themselves), and that reads sexist to me. Perhaps I’m alone on this one.

Caine is not alone on this one … but there is no reason to think that interpreting it that way is, in fact, at all reasonable or meaningful. Again, this wasn’t intentional, so no one is trying to say that, and most people will react to this with “Heh, heh, iGiveHead” in the same way as the OotS reacts to “Great Cleavage”. So this reaction really says more about the person who is taking offense than anyone else.

The best argument boils down to “It’s not professional”. And it isn’t. But I suspect that Oliver, when he submitted the report, was careful to point out that he wasn’t claiming any sexist intent on the part of the author … but still suggested that it needed to be changed because of its exclusionary and sexist implications. I might be wrong, but given the reaction I suspect that he didn’t just say that it was inadvertently unprofessional, but that it was inadvertently offensive, which spawned the reaction that all he was doing here was causing trouble. A simple comment of “Variable name is kinda unprofessional” probably wouldn’t have garnered the reaction that it did.

Which leads me to the idea that for something that those opposed to the change think is so minor, they’re certainly angered enough by it, a common complaint in the comments in Myers’ post. They’re not upset over the debate, but instead over the fact that, essentially, this is taken as a comment on the community with implications that don’t follow from an inadvertent “iGiveHead” variable name. Somehow, someone coming across that variable should think that the community is in some way “exclusionary”, and trying to cut them out of the community, when in reality most people think that it deserves a snort and moving on. It’s particularly bad here because, again, everyone concedes that it’s not intentional and just an inadvertent result of some kind of standard naming convention … but somehow someone just coming onto the project would be reasonable to assume that that one case is an indication both of the attitudes of the community as a whole and of attitudes that don’t even necessarily follow from the variable name itself.

The recent fights between “Social Justice Warriors” and myriad others, it seems to me, fits well into this pattern. While the “Social Justice Warriors” claim that they are merely commenting on specific events and attitudes and aren’t really attacking anyone, they almost always end up at least implying something about the attitudes of the community, and this gets revealed the instant someone doesn’t agree with their suggestions. And if you attack people for attitudes that they don’t have, they tend to react … badly, to say the least. Can those who advocate for “Social Justice” achieve their ends without attacking people directly, and just pointing out how things are, at least, inappropriate for the circumstances? It seems not, and maybe that’s because, despite all their claims to care mostly about the specific harms to specific people, they really care about far more than that … and, perhaps, not about that at all unless it also fulfills their specific Social Justice agenda.

(Yeah, that last bit is a bit inflammatory. Then again, this kinda annoys me, too, as I always here the “I only said X!” when, in my experience, they never merely say X).

Thoughts on “Pendragon”, Book 4 of the Pendragon Cycle

February 17, 2016

“Pendragon” is, so far, by far my favourite book in the Cycle. Why this is, though, is actually interesting, and follows on from my discussion with Malcolm in some of the comments.

See, the most important things to me in a work are the plot and the characters. If I like the characters, I can put up with a weaker plot (a la “Read or Die”), and if the plot is good I can at least kinda put up with characters I don’t care much for, as long as it isn’t overdone. But the main reason that I didn’t like “Farscape” all that much is because I didn’t like any of the characters except for Aeryn, and the main reason that I didn’t like the revamped “Battlestar Galactica” all that much is that, again, I didn’t like most of the characters, especially the ones the shows focused on. In some sense, if there’s an anchor character or two that I like, I can put up with it, but if there isn’t I lose interest quite quickly.

On the other hand, I want an overarching plot that carries across the work; in short, I love stories and want the work to tell one (or, as is the case with ” X-Men: The Next Dimension”, allows me to tell my own story with its mechanics, which is generally much more fun but rarely, rarely happens. “Romance of the Three Kingdoms”, as a series, probably does this the best). I’m not all that interested in a collection of vignettes about a character or set of characters without an overarching plot tying it all together into a story. The plot doesn’t have to be particularly good, but it ought to be there. One of the reasons I like Mass Effect 3 better than Mass Effect 2 in terms of the story is that, well, ME3 actually has one despite the massive flaws in it. ME2’s story, as I’ve commented before, is just there to get you to the next set of character interactions. While I understand the flaws in ME3, they didn’t bother me as much because at least there’s a plot there to experience.

“Taliesin” didn’t work that well for me because I didn’t care for Charis as a character, and the structure of the book was a set of vignettes tying into but not really, in my opinion, telling a full-fledged story. “Merlin” worked better, but the plot was still, to me, a bunch of vignettes developing the character, but having the legends to fall back on allowed me to insert them into an existing story, which worked better. “Arthur” worked even better with this, and so was definitely quite enjoyable.

But “Pendragon” has an overarching story — the Vandali invasion — and is told from the perspective of a character that I like. I especially enjoy the difference between his internal monologue and the thoughts of others and the legends about Merlin, Merlin here is no where near as sure of himself as others and the legends think. The overall story is good, and most of the events relate to it. I agree that the battles are the weakest parts of the book — the climactic swordfight between Arthur and Amilcar, especially, reads a lot like a “I want to present a draining and detailed swordfight, but don’t really know how to do that, so let me stretch it out over days and only highlight some key character interactions and the climactic scene, and for the rest … eh, they’ll be cautious with each other!” — but because I know their importance I’m willing to accept that; what happens in them is important and they are important, so I’m interested, in some sense, in their details. The link to the plot, then, allows me to overlook their deficiencies in a way that a more vignette approach didn’t.

I’m currently reading “Grail”, and then it’ll be back to the final book of “Arthur” and my final thoughts on the series as a whole.

A Not-So Shift in Priorities …

February 15, 2016

So, a little while ago I started trying to add in some things that are aimed at potentially producing a little bit of income in the far future (mostly writing) or updating my technical skills since I worked on older products for a long time (mostly programming). I didn’t manage to do any writing at all, but I did manage to do some programming, and was hoping to start more writing in the New Year.

And then I changed groups. Again.

The product I’m working on now is much more cutting edge than the one I’d been working on for the previous 18 years or so, so that makes updating my skills outside of work hours less pressing. It’s also a busier product, and so I’m expecting that to leave me much less free time than I had before. So, given that, how important is doing all of this stuff now? What should I focus on? I still want to do those things, but what are the most important things to me right now?

Well, I’ve decided to focus on … the blog. Now, before any of you get your hopes up that I might return to a daily posting schedule … well, that’s not going to happen. See, with the anticipated increase in my work work-load, I pretty much figured that I’d have the time left over — after doing my basic household chores and finding some time to play games and read books — to do one of keep updating the blog on my existing schedule or set time aside to do some writing and maybe some programming. So I’ve chosen the former.

So, if you were looking forward to “Inheritance of the Old Republic”, it’s probably not going to happen any time soon. I might try to add some simpler fanfic or Let’s Plays things as part of my blog updates, but I’m not going to promise anything.

Critique of “A Defense of Abortion”

February 12, 2016

Judith Jarvis Thomson’s “A Defense of Abortion” is seen as presenting the best possible defense of abortion, particularly with the famous “violinist” thought experiment. Recently, I read someone talking about that experiment as being the ultimate defense of abortion, so much so that if it was posted everyone just had to accept that abortion ought to be permitted and if they didn’t then they were simply anti-woman. Or, at least, that was my interpretation of that comment, which I can’t be bothered to search for right now. At any rate, that experiment, and that paper, are very highly regarded among those who support legal abortions and the right to choose.

The problem is that I’ve read the paper and read the experiment, and don’t find either all that convincing. And that comment that I mentioned gave me the big push to finally sit down, break down the paper, and show why the arguments aren’t all that strong … and to suggest that Thomson herself doesn’t really think the “violinist” experiment is as intuitively obvious as she’d like.

Let’s start at the beginning though:

We are asked to notice that the development of a human being from conception through birth into childhood is continuous; then it is said that to draw a line, to choose a point in this development and say “before this point the thing is not a person, after this point it is a person” is to make an arbitrary choice, a choice for which in the nature of things no good reason can be given. It is concluded that the fetus is. or anyway that we had better say it is, a person from the moment of conception. But this conclusion does not follow. Similar things might be said about the development of an acorn into an oak trees, and it does not follow that acorns are oak trees, or that we had better say they are.

The problem is that we do, indeed, have a sensible and natural criteria for determining the difference between an acorn and an oak tree. We do, indeed, pretty much know when it shouldn’t be called an acorn anymore and when it should be called a tree. The argument here as she presents it is that we don’t, in fact, have this sort of criteria at all. If we pick a point, it will be arbitrary, not justified at all by any natural differences. Which is, in fact, actually false, as there are a number of natural distinctions that we can make along that continuous process, and that we in fact do make. A zygote, an embryo, and a foetus are not three different names for the exact same thing, but are in fact names for three distinct developmental “milestones” along the path of that continuous process. So an argument that relies on “We can’t make any natural distinctions” is false. What the argument usually is, though, is asking which of these natural distinctions matter as to whether or not it is a person or not. So we can ask if this is an embryo or foetus in the same way we can ask if it’s an acorn or an oak tree, but the real question is “Is this a person or not a person?”.

And from there, we can get to two stronger arguments that aren’t slippery slope arguments but relate to not being able to draw that distinction. The first is that if we can’t tell exactly when the foetus should be considered a person, then since committing murder is such a terrible thing we must err on the side of caution, and ban abortion from the time we know that it is there in order to avoid committing murder. The second is that if there are no natural distinctions that relate to it being a person, then there really is no reason not to think of the foetus as a person from conception. Thus, the onus would be on the advocate for abortion to demonstrate that we have good reason to think that the foetus is not a person from conception.

The second argument is by far the weakest, as most people think that at least some of the main attributes that matter to personhood aren’t there at conception. But it still would be important for us to figure out just what those are, and the main issue here is that the instant someone suggests one it turns out to exclude people that we think deserve protection right now, making most of the arguments rather sophistic. The first argument is the more reasonable one, but admittedly most people don’t actually make it, because it’s not a particularly flashy moral argument … and, again, most people think there is such an obvious point, even if we can’t decide what that actually is.

At any rate, this is mostly an aside to Thomson’s argument, because she wants to start from the premise that the foetus is a person and then ask if that fact, in and of itself, means that abortion isn’t morally permissible. Her attempts to oppose that argument start with the famous “Violinist Experiment”:

But now let me ask you to imagine this. You wake up in the morning and find yourself back to back in bed with an unconscious violinist. A famous unconscious violinist. He has been found to have a fatal kidney ailment, and the Society of Music Lovers has canvassed all the available medical records and found that you alone have the right blood type to help. They have therefore kidnapped you, and last night the violinist’s circulatory system was plugged into yours, so that your kidneys can be used to extract poisons from his blood as well as your own. The director of the hospital now tells you, “Look, we’re sorry the Society of Music Lovers did this to you–we would never have permitted it if we had known. But still, they did it, and the violinist is now plugged into you. To unplug you would be to kill him. But never mind, it’s only for nine months. By then he will have recovered from his ailment, and can safely be unplugged from you.” Is it morally incumbent on you to accede to this situation? No doubt it would be very nice of you if you did, a great kindness. But do you have to accede to it? What if it were not nine months, but nine years? Or longer still? What if the director of the hospital says. “Tough luck. I agree. but now you’ve got to stay in bed, with the violinist plugged into you, for the rest of your life. Because remember this. All persons have a right to life, and violinists are persons. Granted you have a right to decide what happens in and to your body, but a person’s right to life outweighs your right to decide what happens in and to your body. So you cannot ever be unplugged from him.” I imagine you would regard this as outrageous, which suggests that something really is wrong with that plausible-sounding argument I mentioned a moment ago.

I’m not sure that her conclusion about it being outrageous is as intuitive as she thinks it is … and I think she gives the game away when she talks about how long the violinist has to be attached to you. Note that she starts from the most directly relevant case: you are going to have to be hooked up to the violinist for nine months, precisely the same length of time as a pregnancy. If most people would indeed find that to be utterly outrageous, then she could easily have stopped there, and made her case. But then she adds in it being for nine years, or even for the rest of your life. But other than being a parent to the child, how does that compare to the cases relevant to abortion? Thus, it seems to me that she recognizes that many people will think “Well, if the violinist wasn’t involved in the kidnapping, staying attached to them for nine months to save their life isn’t unreasonable, even though it would be unfortunate”. And if that’s the case, then her thought experiment doesn’t work to demonstrate any problem with the “right to life trumps bodily integrity” argument that she outlined before this.

It gets worse if we try to analyze it philosophically. Starting from my Stoic ethics, I apply two main moral principles here that are not actually uncommon: 1) I am responsible for my own actions, not those of others and 2) I should put being morally right above my own personal desires. So, if we analyze this case, the violinist is hooked up to me through no fault of his own, but through the actions of others. He, then, is innocent of this, and would have done nothing to deserve death over. That the members of the society acted unjustly doesn’t in any way impact my actions; I cannot justify my acting immorally on the basis that they did it first. And at stake is merely the use of my kidneys for nine months;even if there are some health risks, I’m not going to die or at least am not likely to die from it (the “what if it would cause you to die” arguments come up later in the paper), while the violinist will absolutely die if I am unhooked. Therefore, I would indeed be directly killing them if I unhook them, and from the Stoic viewpoint that would be immoral. Yes, the circumstances suck, but as a Stoic I’d have to suck it up and take it in order to act virtuously.

Now, we don’t have to take the Stoic line here. But we have to accept that any moral view that says that it is morally permissible to unhook yourself from the violinist here has to effectively argue that it is okay to end the life of someone who is innocent just because it inconveniences you, even if the inconvenience is a great inconvenience, which may include health risks to you. At a minimum, this isn’t as intuitive, and so will depend greatly on what those inconveniences will be. But even then, it seems reasonable to me for people to take the line that for anything short of your own death it isn’t morally permissible … which is, of course, not the conclusion Thomson wants us to draw.

The next real substance in the article relates to what Thomson calls “the extreme view”, the idea that abortion is not permissible even when the mother’s life is in danger. She outlines four “hidden” premises used to justify that:

The most familiar argument here is the following. We are told that performing the abortion would he directly killings the child, whereas doing nothing would not be killing the mother, but only letting her die. Moreover, in killing the child, one would be killing an innocent person, for the child has committed no crime, and is not aiming at his mother’s death. And then there are a variety of ways in which this might be continued. (1) But as directly killing an innocent person is always and absolutely impermissible, an abortion may not be performed. Or, (2) as directly killing an innocent person is murder, and murder is always and absolutely impermissible, an abortion may not be performed. Or, (3) as one’s duty to refrain from directly killing an innocent person is more stringent than one’s duty to keep a person from dying, an abortion may not be performed. Or, (4) if one’s only options are directly killing an innocent person or letting a person die, one must prefer letting the person die, and thus an abortion may not be performed.

Thomson tries to argue that not only are these hidden premises that need to be considered, but that they are all false:

Some people seem to have thought that these are not further premises which must be added if the conclusion is to be reached, but that they follow from the very fact that an innocent person has a right to life. But this seems to me to be a mistake, and perhaps the simplest way to show this is to bring out that while we must certainly grant that innocent persons have a right to life, the theses in (1) through (4) are all false. Take (2), for example. If directly killing an innocent person is murder, and thus is impermissible, then the mother’s directly killing the innocent person inside her is murder, and thus is impermissible. But it cannot seriously be thought to be murder if the mother performs an abortion on herself to save her life. It cannot seriously be said that she must refrain, that she must sit passively by and wait for her death. Let us look again at the case of you and the violinist There you are, in bed with the violinist, and the director of the hospital says to you, “It’s all most distressing, and I deeply sympathize, but you see this is putting an additional strain on your kidneys, and you’ll be dead within the month. But you have to stay where you are all the same. because unplugging you would be directly killing an innocent violinist, and that’s murder, and that’s impermissible.” If anything in the world is true, it is that you do not commit murder, you do not do what is impermissible, if you reach around to your back and unplug yourself from that violinist to save your life.

The problem here is that she only tries to show that one of them is false — the second one — and, in fact, tries to prove that premise false by simply assuming that it is false, as opposed to demonstrating that it is false. Essentially, she says that it can’t be considered murder if you unhook yourself from the violinist, and so it isn’t the case that it is always murder to directly kill an innocent person. But that’s what she’s supposed to demonstrate, and I can muster all of my Stoic morality and argue that, no, it really is the case that if you directly kill an innocent person then it’s murder. If she wanted to argue that we can reasonably question the truth of the premises, her argument would still be circular but we could apply the intuitions from the thought experiment itself to suggest that, hey, maybe they aren’t true, and then note that the people who rely on them need to demonstrate them true before we need accept their conclusion that abortion is impermissible even when the mother’s life is at risk. As it stands, though, she doesn’t even do that.

She then moves on to distinguishing between what a third person can do and what the actual person can do, adding in another thought experiment:

Suppose you filed yourself trapped in a tiny house with a growing child. I mean a very tiny house, and a rapidly growing child–you are already up against the wall of the house and in a few minutes you’ll be crushed to death. The child on the other hand won’t be crushed to death; if nothing is done to stop him from growing he’ll be hurt, but in the end he’ll simply burst open the house and walk out a free man. Now I could well understand it if a bystander were to say. “There’s nothing we can do for you. We cannot choose between your life and his, we cannot be the ones to decide who is to live, we cannot intervene.” But it cannot be concluded that you too can do nothing, that you cannot attack it to save your life. However innocent the child may be, you do not have to wait passively while it crushes you to death

Why not? Again, Thomson assumes her conclusion here, or assumes that the intuitions are clearer than they are. The question that arises here is this: if someone, unintentionally and simply due to circumstances, is in a situation where you will die unless you kill them, is it morally permissible for you to kill them? From the Stoic view, the answer is clear: you are not allowed to kill an innocent person, as your life is an indifferent and taking the life of an innocent is always immoral. But even putting aside that view, it really isn’t clear that you are allowed to kill an innocent person just because the circumstances say that it is your life or theirs. The self-defense exception only applies to people who are taking direct actions to take your life, not someone who is only circumstantially taking an action to take your life, so it doesn’t apply here. This is what Thomson misses as she attaches this to the right of self-defense: that only applies when the person is actively seeking your life. When they aren’t, it’s a completely different and much more controversial matter.

In sum, a woman surely can defend her life against the threat to it posed by the unborn child, even if doing so involves its death. And this shows not merely that the theses in (1) through (4) are false; it shows also that the extreme view of abortion is false, and so we need not canvass any other possible ways of arriving at it from the argument I mentioned at the outset.

She started from the premise that a woman can defend her life against the threat to it posed by the unborn child, examined arguments against that — the four premises — and then uses her original contention to show that those arguments are false without actually refuting the arguments in any way. So she shows nothing of the sort.

She then moves on to talk about ownership:

The extreme view could of course be weakened to say that while abortion is permissible to save the mother’s life, it may not be performed by a third party, but only by the mother herself. But this cannot be right either. For what we have to keep in mind is that the mother and the unborn child are not like two tenants in a small house which has, by an unfortunate mistake, been rented to both: the mother owns the house. The fact that she does adds to the offensiveness of deducing that the mother can do nothing from the supposition that third parties can do nothing. But it does more than this: it casts a bright light on the supposition that third parties can do nothing. Certainly it lets us see that a third party who says “I cannot choose between you” is fooling himself if he thinks this is impartiality. If Jones has found and fastened on a certain coat, which he needs to keep him from freezing, but which Smith also needs to keep him from freezing, then it is not impartiality that says “I cannot choose between you” when Smith owns the coat. Women have said again and again “This body is my body!” and they have reason to feel angry, reason to feel that it has been like shouting into the wind. Smith, after all, is hardly likely to bless us if we say to him, “Of course it’s your coat, anybody would grant that it is. But no one may choose between you and Jones who is to have it.”

So let’s examine the thought experiment in detail. Jones has found a coat somewhere. Presumably, he has good reason to think that it has been abandoned; there cannot be any thought that he has actually stolen the coat. Smith, later, comes upon him and says that this is his coat, and he needs that to keep from freezing, and that because it is his coat he ought to have right to it. What would Jones respond? Jones would likely respond that the coat was abandoned when Jones came across it, and so the coat is actually his now!. At which point, the whole thought experiment breaks down, because in the abortion case we can see who owns the “body”, and so this debate won’t have any merit. So, actually, this thought experiment won’t settle anything because our intuitions about it will either be driven by assuming that Jones really “stole” it and so has no reason to think that he owns it, or instead that he actually has reason to claim that he owns it, meaning that the third party really isn’t going to have a good way to choose which of them is the real owner.

And it’s all pointless anyway, because the driving force here is the idea of directly killing someone, and in this case if it was the actions of the one person that puts the other person in that dependent situation. So, to alter the thought experiment, let’s imagine that Smith loans Jones that coat, knowing that he has another, newer one to keep him from freezing. And then Smith loses that coat or has that coat stolen or destroyed. Can Smith go back to Jones and demand that he give him back his coat, and thus freeze to death himself? On the one hand, if we assume that Smith was being generous when he loans Jones that coat, then it would seem that Jones really ought to give it back to him and not let that generosity cost Smith his life. I think the Stoic view would lean this way. But, on the other hand, it isn’t Jones’ fault that Smith lost his own coat, and so he might be justified in insisting on maintaining the original agreement. If that’s the case, is Smith justified in simply taking the coat back by force if he can? If he is, could Jones also be justified in taking it from Smith in the first place, if right to life means that you can directly cause someone to die? These are not simple questions. I lean towards the idea that in all of these cases the moral thing to do is not to take direct action to take an innocent life, but I admit that that isn’t always emotionally satisfying and that it is also controversial. So, no, it isn’t as clear as Thomson suggests, especially given her muddled thought experiment. Those who say that it is reasonable to make it morally impermissible to ever take an innocent life are definitely still in the game here, no matter how much Thomson asserts that they aren’t.

She then moves to the less extreme cases, where the mother’s life is not in danger:

For we should now, at long last, ask what it comes to, to have a right to life. In some views having a right to life includes having a right to be given at least the bare minimum one needs for continued life. But suppose that what in fact IS the bare minimum a man needs for continued life is something he has no right at all to be given? If I am sick unto death, and the only thing that will save my life is the touch of Henry Fonda’s cool hand on my fevered brow. then all the same, I have no right to be given the touch of Henry Fonda’s cool hand on my fevered brow. It would be frightfully nice of him to fly in from the West Coast to provide it. It would be less nice, though no doubt well meant, if my friends flew out to the West coast and brought Henry Fonda back with them. But I have no right at all against anybody that he should do this for me.

Why not?

Remember, a human life is at stake here. Henry Fonda is in the unique position of being the only person who can save it. The cost to him is at most a plane ticket and some of his time. Why on Earth can’t we say that he is morally responsible for doing so, and so if once he is made aware of the issue he must do it or else he’s acting immorally? It’d be different if what could cure her was either the cool touch of Henry Fonda or intense and unpleasant chemotherapy; then, we might be more willing to say that it would be nice of him to relive her suffering but not morally demanded (I think the Stoics would be more on the side of “He still has to go”). But if he really is the only option, and it won’t cost his own life or anything more than a plane ticket and some time, we’d consider him to be an exceptionally cold, callous, and yes, even immoral person if he refused.

This leads into a critical distinction here, which leads into the common modern thought experiment of “Ought we force people to donate organs or blood when it will save the life of others?”. Generally, we don’t force that, and don’t consider it morally obligatory, but in most of those cases the person isn’t the only person who can save that person’s life. If someone was the only person who could donate that organ or that blood, or even the only person who could do that before the other person died, I think it entirely reasonable to say that they’d be morally obliged to do so. We excuse the other cases because of the argument, I think, that others can do it just as well as them, and so they incur no special moral obligation. Thus, it would be nice if we did, but not required as others can and will do it as well. This, in fact, is controversial — as it runs into issues if no one chooses to do it, for starters — and this gets even more controversial if you are the only person who can provide that support. In the abortion case, the mother really is the only one who can give that support if the fetus cannot survive outside of the womb.

Some people are rather stricter about the right to life. In their view, it does not include the right to be given anything, but amounts to, and only to, the right not to be killed by anybody. But here a related difficulty arises. If everybody is to refrain from killing that violinist, then everybody must refrain from doing a great many different sorts of things. Everybody must refrain from slitting his throat, everybody must refrain from shooting him–and everybody must refrain from unplugging you from him. But does he have a right against everybody that they shall refrain from unplugging you frolic him? To refrain from doing this is to allow him to continue to use your kidneys. It could be argued that he has a right against us that we should allow him to continue to use your kidneys. That is, while he had no right against us that we should give him the use of your kidneys, it might be argued that he anyway has a right against us that we shall not now intervene and deprive him Of the use of your kidneys. I shall come back to third-party interventions later. But certainly the violinist has no right against you that you shall allow him to continue to use your kidneys. As I said, if you do allow him to use them, it is a kindness on your part, and not something you owe him.

Again, why not? That you deliberately deprive someone of the means of life knowing that they have no way to sustain themselves otherwise definitely seems to be a case of you killing them, which she never actually refutes. If Jones grabs Smith’s coat from him and leaves him to freeze to death, he definitely killed him and it seems definitely committed murder, so the general principle that deliberately depriving someone of the means to life violates their right to life. In the abortion case, we’d have to argue that the fetus doesn’t have the right to demand the use of her body to sustain it … but this is what Thomson is supposed to prove, not merely assert. Again, taking the parallel to the violinist, the violinist hasn’t in any way created the situation; that was done by others. Thus, it is not acting unjustly here, and so it is not clear that it does not have the moral right to maintain its existence given the situation that it was forced into. To go back to the coat example, if someone stole Smith’s coat and gave it to Jones without letting them know that it was stolen, is Smith justified in using force to take it from Jones and thus leaving Jones to freeze to death? At a minimum, the answer is not a clear “Yes”, which is what Thomson needs it to be to justify her argument here.

There is another way to bring out the difficulty. In the most ordinary sort of case, to deprive someone of what he has a right to is to treat him unjustly. Suppose a boy and his small brother are jointly given a box of chocolates for Christmas. If the older boy takes the box and refuses to give his brother any of the chocolates, he is unjust to him, for the brother has been given a right to half of them. But suppose that, having learned that otherwise it means nine years in bed with that violinist, you unplug yourself from him. You surely are not being unjust to him, for you gave him no right to use your kidneys, and no one else can have given him any such right. But we have to notice that in unplugging yourself, you are killing him; and violinists, like everybody else, have a right to life, and thus in the view we were considering just now, the right not to be killed. So here you do what he supposedly has a right you shall not do, but you do not act unjustly to him in doing it.

The emendation which may be made at this point is this: the right to life consists not in the right not to be killed, but rather in the right not to be killed unjustly. This runs a risk of circularity, but never mind: it would enable us to square the fact that the violinist has a right to life with the fact that you do not act unjustly toward him in unplugging yourself, thereby killing him. For if you do not kill him unjustly, you do not violate his right to life, and so it is no wonder you do him no injustice.

Again, why not? Again, Thomson starts from that which she was supposed to prove — and is still supposed to be proving — to insist that unhooking yourself from the violinist isn’t an unjust act because they don’t have any right to the use of your kidneys in that situation. But why not? Again, they aren’t there out of their own actions, and so are not acting unjustly towards you, and you are uniquely positioned to maintain their life. It is in no way obvious that deciding to kill them when your own life is not at stake isn’t killing them unjustly. Again, Thomson merely assumes her conclusion here.

Thomson then addresses the idea of a woman who engages in consensual sexual intercourse knowing that it might lead to a pregnancy, and so has accepted some responsibility for that action. Since she concludes that in some cases it might and some cases it might not and then abandons it, we don’t really need to address that in this post.

There is room for yet another argument here, however. We surely must all grant that there may be cases in which it would be morally indecent to detach a person from your body at the cost of his life. Suppose you learn that what the violinist needs is not nine years of your life, but only one hour: all you need do to save his life is to spend one hour in that bed with him. Suppose also that letting him use your kidneys for that one hour would not affect your health in the slightest. Admittedly you were kidnapped. Admittedly you did not give anyone permission to plug him into you. Nevertheless it seems to me plain you ought to allow him to use your kidneys for that hour–it would be indecent to refuse.

Again, suppose pregnancy lasted only an hour, and constituted no threat to life or health. And suppose that a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape. Admittedly she did not voluntarily do anything to bring about the existence of a child. Admittedly she did nothing at all which would give the unborn person a right to the use of her body. All the same it might well be said, as in the newly amended violinist story, that she ought to allow it to remain for that hour–that it would be indecent of her to refuse.

At this point, Thomson seems to be backed into a “We’re only negotiating price” argument; if it would be “indecent” to not allow them to use it for an hour, then we’re just looking for the point where it stops being indecent and starts being decent again. Thomson does, in fact, see this corner coming and tries to evade it:

So my own view is that even though you ought to let the violinist use your kidneys for the one hour he needs, we should not conclude that he has a right to do so–we should say that if you refuse, you are, like the boy who owns all the chocolates and will give none away, self-centered and callous, indecent in fact, but not unjust. And similarly, that even supposing a case in which a woman pregnant due to rape ought to allow the unborn person to use her body for the hour he needs, we should not conclude that he has a right to do so; we should say that she is self-centered, callous, indecent, but not unjust, if she refuses. The complaints are no less grave; they are just different. However, there is no need to insist on this point. If anyone does wish to deduce “he has a right” from “you ought,” then all the same he must surely grant that there are cases in which it is not morally required of you that you allow that violinist to use your kidneys, and in which he does not have a right to use them, and in which you do not do him an injustice if you refuse. And so also for mother and unborn child. Except in such cases as the unborn person has a right to demand it–and we were leaving open the possibility that there may be such cases–nobody is morally required to make large sacrifices, of health, of all other interests and concerns, of all other duties and commitments, for nine years, or even for nine months, in order to keep another person alive.

Which ends up being weaseling to the point where she both assumes that she made her case and that she hasn’t; someone is free to elevate her specific oughts to rights, but is supposed to then concede that some of those rights aren’t really rights, supposedly based on her argument … and then, at the end, she says that, again, abortion ought to be morally permissible only in those cases where it’s morally permissible. Huh.

Anyway, the last real part of interest is where she distinguishes the Very Good Samaritans from Minimally Decent Samaritans. The issue, though, is that she ends up distinguishing the two based on the arguments from the previous parts of the paper that are not actually established, so the interesting idea ends up being her, again, merely assuming her conclusion.

Ultimately, it seems to me that the main take-away from the paper should be that as a philosophical paper, it relies very heavily on assuming its conclusion … and that the premises Thomson starts from are no where near as uncontroversial as she thinks they are. As a Stoic, I reject her conclusion to the violinist thought experiment outright, and note that it isn’t even uncontroversial when it comes to intuitions. With her most famous thought experiment discredited, the rest of her arguments lack support, and so can’t do their jobs in making her case. At the end of the day, it’s clear that her arguments aren’t properly supported, and so fail to establish her conclusion. As a paper and set of arguments justifying abortion, I’ve definitely seen better.

Thoughts on “Arthur”, Book 3 of the Pendragon Cycle

February 10, 2016

I’m reading “Arthur” in a bit of an eccentric way, for a couple of reasons. First, I’m taking Malcolm the Cynic’s advice, and only reading the first two sections — “Pelleas” and “Bedwyr” — before turning to the fourth book, “Pendragon”. Second, right after reading “Pelleas” I picked up the latest “Order of the Stick” book, and so decided to read all of them through, starting from the beginning, before reading “Bedwyr”, which not only means that my reading of the book was spread out over a longer period of time, but also means that “Pelleas” is significantly less fresh in my mind when compared to “Bedwyr”.

That being said, I think that “Arthur” is indeed the best of the books so far. As we’re now well into the well-traveled terrain of the traditional Arthurian legends, we can build character and events by comparing them to the legends and noting where Lawhead differs from them, as we saw at the end of “Merlin”. Both “Pelleas” and “Bedwyr” are interesting narrators, so we don’t have the issue where, at least to my mind, I didn’t care about Charis’ perspective enough to make her parts interesting, like we had in “Taliesin”. The down-to-Earth and semi-realistic approach to the work reminds me of what was done in the movie “King Arthur”, which I admit, perhaps shamefully, that I actually enjoyed. But Lawhead manages to keep the general magic and major themes of the legends, while it can be reasonably argued that “King Arthur” is a story with some sort of Arthurian wrappings that doesn’t capture the legends at all.

Lawhead still struggles with presenting important events that don’t have a lot of content to them. Early in “Pelleas”, there was a key battle where they were fighting with, I think, one of the rebellious kings, and the battle itself was little more than a cleverly employed ambush. The way the scene was structured, it was made out to be the preamble to great battle … but it was over in a few short pages. It didn’t last long enough to justify the build-up. Now, those sorts of things can work, as long as everyone admits and lampshades that, you know, this was a bit anti-climactic, which I don’t recall Lawhead doing there. That being said, things work out much better in “Bedwyr”, as the battles are generally longer and much harder for Arthur to handle, and so we don’t have this problem; all of the climactic events, in general, have enough content to be worth the build-up. This is why I also like “Bedwyr” better than “Pelleas”.

Next, it’s on to “Pendragon”.

Ally vs Member

February 8, 2016

So, in trying to unpack why the latest Dawkins twitter comment was so terrible, Adam Lee said this:

The sexism comes in when a man presumes to instruct women what they should care about as feminists. That’s not my job, yours, or Richard Dawkins’. If we want to identify as feminist allies, it’s not up to us
to tell them where to spend their time or energy.

I never noticed it before, but this allowed me to finally put the pieces together on an issue with feminism, and most of the liberal and progressive movements built around a minority grouping. If any man can call himself a feminist, it’s Adam Lee, methinks. I don’t think he’d disagree with me on that. But if he’s a feminist, then shouldn’t he get a say, and an equal say, in what feminists should care about? Isn’t that, for example, what democracy is about? And even worse, if feminism is nothing more than the radical idea that women should be considered equal to men, then I’m a feminist, too. Which means I should get a say as well. So, then, why is he asking us to identify as feminist allies, and not as feminists. The only reason he’d have to be an ally and not a feminist himself is because he’s a man, and surely men can be feminists, right?

But it gets worse. If feminism is an equality movement, then men have to have an equal say in what it cares about and what solutions it promotes. While women might have special concerns that need addressing that men don’t typically see, any solutions have to take the interests of men into account just as much as the interests of women. We want a society that is equal for all, which means that we don’t want to leave men in a disadvantaged state wrt women when we fix the disadvantages of women. So men have to have a say there, too.

This, then, I think, is the insidious nature of the “ally” line when combined with the appeal to “it’s just about fairness and justice” type of mentality. My main beef with feminism is that it needs to decide what it is, whether a women’s advocacy movement or an equality movement. But it benefits from being both, by being able to try to guilt men into supporting it with “It’s all about equality!” but, at the end of the day, pushing those men into supporting roles because feminism, you know, is all about women and the concerns of women. If men can only be allies to feminism, then men need a movement where they look after their own concerns and where women are allies to them … a movement that feminists insist we don’t need, right up until men ask women in feminism to deal with their inequalities (where typically, you see women telling men to go fix their own problems themselves). Because of this, that movement is not the Men’s Rights Movement, as that is dominated by men who are more angry at feminism than really interested in fixing things for men (hence the insistence on returning to “traditional” maleness that works for those who it works for, but is terrible for everyone else).

Thus, feminism wants men to think that feminism is the movement for equality for all, while sidelining them as “allies” so that women can focus on their own issues. It’s a great scam if you can pull it off.