Archive for March, 2017

And This Is Why I Don’t Buy Science Fiction Anymore …

March 31, 2017

So, again, there’s a new controversy — which by the time you read this will probably have settled — in science fiction that is drawing commentary from both P.Z. Myers and Vox Day. Here’s my understanding of what’s going on:

John Scalzi has a new book out, called “The Collapsing Empire”. Vox Day and Scalzi have had a minor feud going on for a while, over things like site hits and the like. Some claim that Day sees this as being more of a feud/rivalry than Scalzi does, but it’s not like Scalzi ignores Day either. At any rate, at some point in time Day and his publishing company “Castalia House” decided to publish a “parody” of “The Collapsing Empire” called “The Corroding Empire” authored by “Johan Kalsi”, with a nearly identical cover. Since Scalzi’s book, obviously, wasn’t out when they started it, the parody is not a page-by-page parody of the work itself, but seems to be a parody in the sense of taking what they knew about the underlying plot and the Scalzi’s explicit attempt to make a Foundation-style story. Then, right around the release date of Scalzi’s work, Amazon pulled “The Corroding Empire”. In response, Day redid the title and the cover to be different in an attempt to get it reinstated. Much bureaucracy ensued, but eventually Amazon has reinstated the book in its original form.

But, of course, the controversy doesn’t end there. The people on Day’s side insist that this was an invalid banning of the book done by the behest of a specific SJW at Amazon. This impression is buttressed by the fact that every time a manager at Amazon reinstated it the book went off again until things finally settled down, suggesting some kind of difference in opinion, at least, between management and some employees. On the other side, the idea is that Day did this deliberately to try to generate sales for his book by having people confuse his book for Scalzi’s and buying that one instead, with the main evidence being the similarities and the fact that Day said that he wanted his book to outsell Scalzi’s, thus leading to the argument that Day had a similar Foundation-inspired book on tap and used this as a way to artificially increase its sales.

Now, I wouldn’t put it past Day to try to do that, but in this case I’m inclined to believe Day here. In the lead-up to this, much was made over how bad Scalzi’s book was from the look ahead previews and about how bad the pre-order sales were, following on from comments that Tor was going to doom themselves by giving Scalzi such a huge advance when he wasn’t that great a writer. So the story they tell of cobbling something together quickly that could give Scalzi a run for his money is one that would appeal to them. Also, I can’t imagine that even with the similarities enough people would be fooled to really raise Day’s rank and lower Scalzi’s. That being said, I would actually have understood if Amazon had merely say “Hey, these are too similar, people are getting confused, please change it”, even as I’m not convinced that as many people who say in the reviews that they were confused really were.

What’s really interesting, though, is how this impacts reviews and views of the works themselves. There are believed to be a number of false “1 star” reviews of both books, where people who have not read either book are commenting on them saying how bad they are. This, then, skews the review scores which, well, makes them useless. But even more interesting is that if you read the comments on the book from people on either side — there’s more comments from the pro-Scalzi side on this post from file770 — they come down on the side that they politically favour. Those on Scalzi’s side love his book and hate the one Day is promoting. Those on Day’s side hate Scalzi’s book and love the one Day is promoting. So, how is someone who really doesn’t give a damn about all of this political crap supposed to filter through this?

As it turns out, I’ve glanced at the previews from both sides. After reading the prologue for Scalzi’s, I was tempted to get all three preview chapters and tear them apart because, well, the prologue was just plain bad, and what I’ve read of the next chapter was not any better (it involves someone holding a conversation with someone else while having sex). For Day’s, my impression was … meh. It wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t stand out much either. So I’m not inclined to think that those on Scalzi’s side are assessing the works fairly — and I disagree over how bad the big example on file770 is. They seem to be definitely letting their political views influence their assessment of the works. But while at least for now the pro-Day side seem to be, at least, saying that about a work where it’s debatable how good or bad it is, I can’t trust them to keep doing that — especially since their reactions here and during the Hugo Awards discussions certainly don’t match mine — just because in this case — and in the case of some of the Hugo Award pieces — they happened to be right. If the purportedly “SJW” side of the debate are as bad at judging the quality of works as I have reason to think they are, pointing out that those works are bad isn’t exactly a sign of fairness or deep insight.

I’d get these two works and analyze them myself except that a) at least for now, Day’s version isn’t available in paperback and b) I’m to lazy busy to do that, and really don’t care enough about it to put that much effort and pain in again. But I really wish these political wars would get out of the way so that we can trust works and reviews again.

Ah, well. I just bought new copies of all of the X-Wing series, so at least I still have that … and they can’t take that away from me.

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Bad Defenses of Bad Atheist Arguments: “Atheists Have No Use for Faith”

March 29, 2017

So, we’re at the second last chapter in Bannister’s book, and this time the the topic is faith, and whether or not atheists need it or rely on it. The underlying argument that I think Bannister is going after here — remember, I’m not reading Bannister’s book, and so have to rely on Seidensticker’s summaries of what Bannister is saying — is the idea that the only rational beliefs — religious or no — are those that conform precisely to the evidence. And, if we accept that, then there is no room for faith.

Bannister’s example this time is this:

In today’s episode, our hero is about to enjoy a quiet lunch when he spots Fred, who looks shockingly thin. When offered some lunch, Fred not only rejects the idea but knocks our hero’s sandwich onto the ground. “Haven’t you heard of the Panini poisoner of Pimlico?” Fred asks. It turns out that Fred is terrified of eating a randomly poisoned sandwich. He refuses to put his faith in the government’s health and safety agency and won’t eat anything that’s not proven safe, though he’s starving himself by playing it safe.

Seidensticker quotes Bannister’s summary later:

“Faith is the opposite of reason!” may make a great bumper sticker or tweetable moment, but when it bangs into reality—the small matter of how each and every one of us lives, every day, in the real world—it fails spectacularly. Try if you wish to live a totally faith-free existence, but that will require doing nothing, going nowhere, and trusting no one. . . . Faith is part of the bedrock of human experience and one on which we rely in a million different ways every day.

Seidensticker summarizes Bannister’s position as demanding certainty, and from the quote that does seem like a fair criticism. If we look at the example story, it seems that the person refuses to eat because they see a possibility that the food might be poisoned and that they can’t be certain that it isn’t. Thus, Bannister seems to be arguing that unless we have certainty of something, believing it to be true requires an act of faith. This does seem to be incorrect, as it is reasonable to say that if we know — or are justified in believing that we know — that something is true, then it isn’t an act of faith to act on it, and knowledge — or at least justification — doesn’t and can’t rely on certainty. And so, it seems, if Seidensticker wanted to go after Bannister here, he’d make a move along those lines: the things that atheists rely on that are not certain are, nonetheless, things we know, and so atheists don’t rely on faith.

Of course, that’s not what Seidensticker will do, or at least not to that extent. Instead of trying to defend the atheist argument, he’ll go on the offensive, trying to argue that Bannister is equivocating — and Seidensticker implies that it’s deliberate — on the meaning of the word “faith”:

Predictably, he’s determined to obfuscate the word “faith.” In fact, it can mean two different things:

  • Faith can be belief that follows from the evidence. This belief would change if presented with compelling contrary evidence, and it is often called “trust.”
  • Or, faith can be belief not held primarily because of evidence and little shaken in the face of contrary evidence; that is, belief neither supported nor undercut by evidence. “Blind faith” is in this category, though it needn’t be as extreme as that.

Acknowledging these two categories, assigning different words to them (may I suggest “trust” and “faith”?), and exploring the different areas where humans use them isn’t where apologists want to go. In my experience, they benefit from the confusion. They want to say that faith can be misused, but we’re stuck with it, which allows them to bolster the reputation of faith while it opens the door to the supernatural.

The problem with this is that, if we reference my above summary of the atheist argument, “trust” doesn’t seem to fit it very well at all. It’s hard to imagine that someone could be claimed to really trust someone if they only trusted or believed them precisely as far as the evidence they had suggested. We do seem to argue that to really trust someone means trusting them in cases where there isn’t sufficient evidence to know that they are going to or not going to do a certain thing, and in fact even when the evidence suggests that they might violate our trust. If we only trusted someone to not violate our trust when we knew that they wouldn’t or couldn’t, it wouldn’t seem like we actually trust them. You could hardly be said to trust your spouse not to cheat on you if any time there was any indication they might or even might be in a position to do so you at least no longer trusted them not to, for example. So at a minimum, even “trust” seems to involve trusting someone beyond what the evidence strictly says, a fact that Seidensticker acknowledges by having to add on “… if presented with compelling contrary evidence (emphasis added)”.

But this gives the game away, because adding that last part on gives theists a way out, by arguing that the counter evidence offered by atheists is not compelling. A good many theists make this exact claim, and I have to admit that I’m on their side; the evidence offered by atheists is not compelling. Seidensticker’s position is further undermined by his earlier entry in this series of post where he argued against atheists having the burden of proof. If atheists really had compelling counter evidence, then there would be no argument over the burden of proof; they’d be able to meet any reasonable burden of proof and so would have their conclusions proven. So on what grounds can Seidensticker claim that the typical theist is acting on what he calls “blind faith” rather than on what he calls “trust”?

The only move he can make here is to argue that all of the examples of what we’d call “trust” are cases where we are making inferences from previous evidence, and thus using induction to get knowledge. This risks turning trust into knowledge, but it isn’t even a good counter to theists, given the arguments that theists often make. Inferring a God from our observations of the world is just as much induction as what atheists would be doing, and so again he’d face the need for compelling counter evidence. The most he can do is try to argue that those who believe based only on the Bible don’t have that sort of reason … but then he’d have to get into a deep analysis of when it’s okay to believe based only on a purportedly historical document, which we’ll touch on in the last post. Suffice it to say, things aren’t as simple as Seidensticker seems to believe.

Seidensticker can also claim that theists are actually immune to counter evidence, but he’d have to establish this in principle and not just based on what evidence atheists typically try to muster against theists. For example, he can trot out the quotes that if a scientific and religious claim clashed, some theists say that they’d trust their religion over science, but this doesn’t work because a) that’s just a clash over what methods they most trust and b) most theists will actually try to reconcile the two so that they don’t have to choose between them. And, at the end of the day, Seidensticker would have to argue that theists are ignoring compelling evidence to maintain their belief, which again he has not been willing to do.

Seidensticker’s final move would be to claim that theists have far too much confidence in their belief given the evidence they have. Sure, it might be okay to believe in God based on the evidence they have, but the notion of faith is to raise their confidence in that belief to the level of knowledge, if not to the level of certainty. While atheists may still be more confident in their “trusting” beliefs than the evidence would strictly permit, they also have a lot more evidence for those beliefs. Even in cases where they might seem to be holding an irrational belief in the face of evidence, they still base it on, at least, a long-standing experience with the person and a feeling that they know them well, and in the case of science with a past history of it working out. Thus, the theistic “faith” is more problematic because that extra confidence on less evidence also makes it more resistant to change than it ought to be.

If Seidensticker had actually made that argument, he might have a point. But this is still problematic because at this point the difference is not one of kind as Seidensticker asserts, but of degree. Thus, we might very well be able to find cases where the “trust” of the atheists is just as much “faith” as that of the theists, and that possibility destroys Seidensticker’s argument. It may be the case that the theists’ faith is a problematic case of faith, a case where their faith is misplaced or misused, but that faith is still not unreasonable because it’s faith, and so Bannister’s point that atheists do rely on faith and that the fact that sometimes it’s misused or misplaced does not mean that faith is invalid holds. Thus, from there Seidensticker would have to focus on demonstrating that in that specific case faith is being misused, but not only is that not what the original atheist argument argues, but that conclusion would also go against what Seidensticker himself says in the quote above.

Bannister moves on to Christian applications of faith. He imagines falling down a cliff and reaching for a branch to save himself. “What I know [about trees] can’t save me; rather, I have to put my facts to the test and exercise my faith. Now what goes for the tree goes for everything else in life. Facts without faith are causally effete, simply trivia, mere intellectual stamp-collecting.”

Here again, the comparison fails. Botanists are in agreement on the basic facts about trees, but not even Christians agree among themselves about the basic facts about God. First let’s get a reasonably objective factual foundation for your hypothesis and then we can worry about accepting it. You haven’t gotten off the ground.

So, as far as I can see it, Bannister’s point here is that nothing that he knows about trees will let him know that grabbing that branch while he’s falling will save him. The branch might not be strong enough. He might be falling too quickly for the branch to hold. The branch might have been weakened by something. So what Bannister suggests is that we need to act on our beliefs — ie “exercise our faith” — and then see what happens. To me, this is the heart of what a reasonable “everyday reasoning” implies: form beliefs, act in the world as if they are true, and if contradictions occur adjust accordingly. And such an approach seems to be the best we can do; for everyday reasoning and thus the majority of our beliefs, we don’t have the time and resources to test them out entirely before acting on them, and acting on them is usually pretty good at weeding out the ones that are false. I don’t think this requires faith, though, because obviously we want to act on our beliefs in accordance with the confidence we have in them and the potential consequences of being wrong. If there’s an action that I’m not certain of and that the consequences of my being wrong mean my death, I think the only rational move would be to go and check first. But in Bannister’s example we don’t have the time to check and the consequences of being wrong aren’t any worse than the consequences of not trying, so we just go ahead and act. Seems reasonable and not really faith to me.

But note Seidensticker’s reply, or rather non-reply. He argues that Christians don’t agree on all of the facts about God. So? I see Bannister as advocating that each Christian act on their specific beliefs and see if it works out. Seidensticker would be insisting that Christians have to test out all of these beliefs and settle on the “right” facts before acting on it. Seidensticker also ignores Bannister’s point that none of those biological facts can justify the action here, beyond that sometimes branches are strong enough to save someone falling off a cliff. So, sure, we call agree on those facts, but those facts aren’t going to justify the action that we’d be taking there. This, then, is a complete non-sequitor, and nothing more than Seidensticker trotting out his own favourite canard out. But again it doesn’t do anything to defend the original contention, or to refute Bannister’s argument here.

Seidensticker has two sets of questions and italicized answers here, but I’m going to skip the first set and focus on the second. Here is the preamble:

Bannister proposes that we consider different factors to see if they argue for God, against God, or neither. He gets us started with a few examples.

From this, it’s clear that Bannister is going to try to argue that at least some of the examples that are purported to argue against God at least don’t do so strongly, and by implication we can argue that they won’t provide compelling evidence against the existence of God, which would then mean that we might have “trust” and not “faith”. Remember that.

Evolution. He uses the Hypothetical God Fallacy (let’s assume God first and select facts to support this conclusion) to say that this fits in the Neither bin. Who’s to say that God couldn’t use evolution? Nope: evolution doesn’t prove God, but it explains a tough puzzle, why life is the way it is. This is a vote against God.

Well, putting aside the fact that we still have puzzles … why does this still count as a vote against God, just because it solves — in Seidensticker’s mind — the “puzzle” better? Again, the counter is that God could very well choose to use evolution to achieve his goals. If this is not inconsistent with God, then evolution does not provide compelling counter evidence against the existence of God. At least, accepting that God could have done that and remained consistent with our idea of God weakens that potential counter argument, and Seidensticker never actually addresses that counter argument. This is putting aside the fact that I’ve already addressed the Hypothetical God Fallacy and found it wanting. For evolution to count as a vote against God, it has to be the case that us having evolved is some kind of contradiction — even of expectations — of our idea of God. To assess this, we have to ask the question “If God existed, what would human development look like?”. If evolution is consistent with that, then Seidensticker has no point … which is probably why he wants to avoid allowing theists to ask that question despite the atheist argument depending on doing that first.

Evil. He concedes that this may be a vote against God, though he falls back on the “How can an atheist say anything is objectively wrong?” fallacy. Atheists don’t make that claim. Atheists are waiting impatiently for evidence that objective morality exists.

Okay, first, there are some atheists who make that claim like, for example, Sam Harris, mentioned earlier in the post. Second, and more damningly, if objective morality doesn’t exist, then how do you get the “Problem of Evil” off the ground? Even the weaker versions of the Problem still rely on the purported contradiction being a good and moral God allowing so much suffering to exist in the world when God could clearly stop it. This also relies on us judging God by our moral standards and claiming that we understand morality well-enough to know that God ought to be morally obliged to do so. If morality is not objective and is instead subjective, then a) our moral standards can’t be directly applied to God and b) we have no case to make any claim about moral standards at all. The best the atheist could do, then, is say that they wouldn’t like a God whose moral position would allow that much suffering, which is hardly a contradiction or any evidence that God didn’t exist. So Seidensticker’s reply that atheists don’t believe in objective morality or that anything is objectively wrong actually makes the entire “Problem of Evil” meaningless and irrelevant. That’s hardly the way to defend it as being a “vote against God”, which from the first point we are led to believe was Seidensticker’s goal here in addressing the examples.

Reason. How can there be reason without God?? This is a vote for God. Nope. Reason is an emergent phenomenon. If you’re saying that science has unanswered questions about human consciousness works, that’s true, but Christianity doesn’t win by default. Christianity has never answered any scientific question, so there’s no reason to imagine it will this time. This topic is related to Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, to which I respond here.

I’m … not sure how this is a response here. At best, Seidensticker provides an alternative explanation that is compatible with naturalism, but simply saying “It’s emergent” is not a proof of that, and the link to the argument against Plantinga — which I’ve provided here for convenience — is simply the old argument that natural selection would weed out such beliefs. So at best Seidensticker argues this to a neutral position, which sure is not what he wants to do. And as he provides no proof or evidence for this position and seems instead to be relying on the old canard about Christianity not providing scientific answers, I suspect that he does that because he doesn’t actually have an argument for that, and likely has no idea what it would mean for a phenomenon to be emergent … or what the consequences of reason being one would be.

Next time is the final post, talking about history in general.

Team Canada Wins Women’s Worlds in Curling

March 27, 2017

So, early Sunday morning, Rachel Homan’s Team Canada beat Russia 8-3 to win the Women’s World Championships in curling.

Due to the time difference between Canada and China, I didn’t get to watch much of the tournament, and so won’t comment on it too much. But it is interesting to note that Homan’s team was the first team to go “perfect” through the event, as they didn’t lose a game the entire time. So congratulations to them for winning and for winning so handily.

New story …

March 27, 2017

So, last year Malcolm the Cynic put out a call for stories for a King Arthur anthology called “Tales of the Once and Future King”. Since I have some interest in writing, I mused about writing something for it. However, I misread the word count, and thought that it had to be between 500 – 1000 words instead of between 500 – 10000 words, which would have left out most of my original ideas; I am, as noted, fairly verbose. But since I can’t turn my mind off, I started musing about ideas for something shorter that might fit into that word count, and came up with an idea. But I didn’t do it for the anthology, for two reasons:

1) I read after that it was aimed at the juvenile market, and while I thought the idea would work I didn’t really want to get involved with that.

2) I was insanely busy at the time and so didn’t even have the time to prepare something.

But the idea remained in my head, and now that I’m trying to make an effort to add writing back into my schedule I decided that a good way to start would be to finally write the story down. The story is in its own page here. As it turns out, WordPress says that it comes in at slightly under 500 words, but I don’t really see how adding more here would make it more interesting, so I’m leaving it at that.

Enjoy! Or not. It’s totally up to you.

Pay Gap Myths

March 24, 2017

Stephanie Zvan is talking about what she calls the “Myth of the Pay Gap Myth”. Essentially, a number of people have commented that when we actually run the numbers, we reveal that the long-standing feminist talking point of the “Pay Gap” is revealed to be a myth. The purpose of Zvan’s post is to argue that the stance that the Pay Gap is a myth is, in fact, a myth itself, and thus the Pay Gap is real.

In order to assess this, I think we need to untangle the various positions wrt the Pay Gap. The classic Pay Gap is the idea that women are paid less for doing the same work as men. Which has thus led to the common slogan of “Equal pay for equal work”. This implies — and many of the personal anecdotes have specifically claimed — that if you have a man and a woman working the same job and the same hours with the same experience, the woman will be paid dramatically less. Thus, when we get claims like “Women only make 77 cents on the dollar compared to men!” the context implies that this is true for that case; a woman can be doing exactly what a man can be doing and be paid 23 cents on the dollar less, on average, than him.

This was always a suspect notion, as many pay equity claims, in order to make their case and attempt to bridge the Pay Gap, had to do so not through anti-discrimination measures, but through reclassification of fields into “equivalent” fields, where arguably the female-dominated field was the same as the male dominated field but was paid less only because it was female-dominated. This immediately raises suspicions that if you have a man and a woman working the exact same job the Pay Gap isn’t all that significant. And the latest charges — as seen in the quotes in Zvan’s article — are attacking this notion, pointing out that when you do compare men and women working the same job, same hours and with the same experience and performance the difference shrinks to almost nothing.

Zvan concedes this part, and this to me seems sufficient to make a claim that the Pay Gap, as outlined above, is indeed a myth. What Zvan is going after is a possible implication of that, which is that therefore the main reason for the gap in salaries is due to the choices of men and women, and that therefore there is no systemic discrimination to deal with. But at least here we can conclude that any solution that is based on assuming that companies pay men and women different amounts just because they are men and women is a non-starter, because that’s not the problem. As we shall see, the big difference here is going to be over social expectations, not over explicitly sexist policies.

While Zvan lists a number of things that impede the progress of women in the workplace at the end of the post, the two big things she will focus on are the impact of a lack of flexible schedules and of rewarding working overtime on the issue. Thus, to make her case, Zvan needs to both show that women have no real choice with regards to those aspects and that those aspects aren’t legitimately better for business, which she will somewhat attempt to do, in a bit of a haphazard manner, which makes it really difficult to organize my response. I’ll start with the idea that this isn’t a choice for women, and then work into if these things are a legitimate business requirement after that. This means I’ll likely jump around a bit in her post, which hopefully won’t be too confusing.

Zvan, as it turns out, won’t really make a case that allowing flexible work schedules is a huge boon to businesses, but she will focus on demonstrating that requiring a more flexible work schedule is a need and not a choice for women:

First, even though women work fewer paid hours than men, they work the same number of hours overall. The reason women more frequently require constrained work weeks and more flexibility in their schedules is that they do the bulk of the unpaid work that makes our society run, particularly caregiving, both for children and for other adults.

Zvan uses a study of the relationships talking about parental leave — mostly after childbirth — and the differences in the pay impacts of those countries, summarizing it this way:

At first glance, European results would seem to suggest a preference for childcare over other types of work in women. These subsidies sometimes worsen wage disparity by increasing the amount of time women spend outside the labor market (pdf). In Sweden, however, some of that subsidy can only be received as paternal leave. This helps men overcome the stigma of taking time off work, childcare labor is more evenly shared, and the contribution of childcare to pay inequities is eliminated.

This seems to overstate the case a bit, as while pushing for quotas on parental leave that has to be taken by the father seems to have had an impact, it’s not equal enough or had been going on long enough to indicate that the childcare part of pay inequities has been eliminated (even in the study, there’s a lot of “may” language around there). But despite the rather underwhelming empirical evidence — again, even the study doesn’t want to say that this is really the case — the underlying argument is sound: if being on call all hours of the day and working more hours is seen as a benefit to an employer, women who face more pressure to take care of children and of the family as a whole are not going to be able to do that. Thus, they will be at least seen as less valuable to their employer and won’t get the raises assigned to those who show greater loyalty or even who can put in the hours to develop themselves or jump on big opportunities that require the extra time. And it is certainly reasonable to say that women feel far greater pressure to look after the personal family matters than men do. Some of this is due to societal pressure based on the old patriarchal expectations, and some of it is just a result of the fact that women tend to be the person in the relationship with the lower salary and so it is more reasonable for them to risk their job or salary advancement than it is for the man, which comes both from the “Pay Gap” and also from the social tendency that finds it more acceptable for a woman to marry a man who makes more than she does than the inverse.

But as we saw last week these social pressures also have an impact on men. While women will feel more pressure to pick up that unpaid labour, men will feel more pressure to maximize and maximize the worth of their paid labour. Thus, if a situation comes up where there is a choice between, say, putting one’s family responsibilities aside for something that will improve their perception — and thus future pay — at work, women will feel strong social pressure to focus on the family responsibilities and pass on the employment opportunities while men will feel strong social pressure to take up the employment opportunity at the expense of their family responsibilities. In short, we allow the excuse of “I had to work” more for men than we do for women, but it’s also seen as more acceptable if a woman says “I had to look after the children” than it is for men (although that is changing).

Thus, when it comes to choice, neither men and women really have choices here. Well, of course, in a sense they do, but they both face strong and diametrically opposed social pressures wrt them. Men, as the presumptive primary provider, will always face pressure to take a job that maximizes their earning potential, which means that they will always tend to put earning potential ahead of any other factor. Thus, as long as they are capable of doing it, men will make choices to maximize that potential no matter how many hours they have to work or how crappy the job is. Yes, there are differing levels of motivation and cost/benefit associations, but in general men are socially conditioned to lean to the side of making more money and getting a better and more stable job. Even with the feminist influence on society, the same is not true for women. The strongest feminist motivation for higher wages and higher paying jobs is essentially a “I’ll show them!” motivation, proving that she is as good or better than the men she works with. This isn’t a motivation that, I think, can motivate most people; most people just want a good life and don’t care that much about proving themselves to others except when it comes down to direct confrontation. The other motivation is for a fulfilling job, but for that the qualities of the job beyond simple pay are a more important factor. If the job is too demanding, then it isn’t fulfilling, and women have little reason to accept an unfulfilling job just because it happens to pay more.

Ironically, this distinction might mean that the insistence on the constant discussion of the points Zvan makes at the end actually makes things worse for the pay gap. Men are more likely to accept worse consequences — even to the point of having to fight discrimination — in order to get more pay, while women are less likely to do so. So men, arguably, are more willing to fight through discrimination as long as they believe that they can succeed in order to get a higher paying job than women are. So if one constantly says that there is a terrible amount of sexism and harassment in a field, this will discourage women from going into that field even if they, in actuality, could easily handle that level of sexism and harassment. They have less of an external motive for going into in anyway than men do. When it comes to racial discrimination, it seems to me that a big factor there is that many people who might face racial discrimination in certain fields think that it will be so strong that they simply won’t be able to succeed, and so they settle for the highest paying job they think they can get. But if those men thought they could achieve it, they would be willing to face more problems in order to do so.

Thus, the social pressures push men and women apart on the overall average pay scale, as men feel social pressure to maximize pay while women feel social pressure to, at least, minimize the impact their job has on their family responsibilities. Both need to be addressed, and while arguably forcing men to take parental leave can work to break that up, that can have other issues, including ones of practicality. But it is clear that if women are to be said to not really have choices in that regard, neither do men.

Okay, so finally let’s look at whether these companies are, in fact, really reasonable in asking for the main things Zvan focuses on and thus rewarding people who are willing to do it over those who aren’t, because if they are being reasonable then one of the big thrusts of her post is lost. Again, she doesn’t really argue that for flexible work schedules, but she does try to argue that overtime isn’t actually a benefit. She starts by characterizing why employers are pushing for overtime more lately:

Let’s look at the math. If you’re an employer who offers decent benefits, those benefits typically cost roughly the same as your direct payment for labor. In other words, a $20 hourly pay rate actually costs you $40 an hour. But benefit costs don’t grow much with additional time worked. Hours of time-and-a-half overtime at $30 look like a steal when you compare them to hiring another employee at $40 for each regular-time hour.

The first thing to note about this is that it has the implication that one of the best ways to eliminate this part of the gap is to look at how much benefits cost. If we could reduce the cost of benefits — or even offer less — then this wouldn’t be seen as being cost-effective anymore, and they’d just hire more people. So perhaps the real problem is that benefits are too generous for how much they cost, encouraging employers to find ways around that, including paying overtime which starts at time and a half.

The second thing to note is that this ignores the previously stated point that workers who work more overtime and are willing to work less flexible schedules get paid more in terms of base salary than those who won’t. Her own source insists that for salaried employees this can be in the range of twice as much. At that rate, Zvan’s argument that they are trying to save money by not hiring someone seems a little shaky. And this is the key to her argument, as she concludes:

If long hours happen often enough in your business to treat working them as critical, it’s time to hire more employees.

So we need to examine if the solution to most of the overtime seems to be, in fact, simply to hire more people.

So let’s start with manufacturing jobs. Most of them are shift work — and unionized — and so both flexible schedules and overtime pay gets complicated. Since much of the work is dependent on the operations of the entire factory, it’s not possible for someone to, say, show up at 5 and leave at 2. At 5, they’d either be joining the previous shift or, if it is the downtime between shifts, standing around doing very little. This also holds if they want to work a little overtime, as coming in at 5 and then trying to work until 7 to get 4 hours overtime in a day isn’t going to be, at least in general, very cost effective for the company. So the most cost effective way for a company to use overtime to replace hiring another employee would be to have them work two shifts in a day instead of just one. But to do that, you either need to have someone who can do that constantly over the long haul or you need to try to do that for an entire shift. Neither really works. So instead, manufacturing overtime, in my experience, has been either for jobs that are mostly independent — where you have two or so people who can work on their own without relying on anyone else and both are willing to work overtime — or as temporary replacements on later shifts — when people can’t come in or someone suddenly quits — or for things that need to be done but that can’t be done while things are running, like maintenance. None of these are things that you can easily hire someone else to do, since they won’t be full-time positions or will be only limited positions … or both.

But what about service jobs, like wait staff, fast food, or department stores? Well, the good news here is that these jobs tend to have more “shifts” available, and so tend to have more flexible hours. You can’t come in to work too long before the store or restaurant opens, but the stores don’t tend to have such long shifts and so someone can work as long as the place is open. The problem for Zvan’s argument here is that that flexibility lends itself greatly to part-time work, and as far as I know both in the United States and in Canada — as well as in a number of places around the world — the benefit requirements are lower for part-time workers than they are for full-time workers. Thus — and we’ve seen this in these sorts of jobs over and over again — the most cost effective way is to replace full-time workers with part-time workers, not demand overtime. Thus, the only time a company will push for overtime in these cases is for particularly important workers or particularly important times, such as having your experienced person in the department around longer so that they can answer the questions of customers and tell each employee as they come on shift what needs to be done, or to work a few extra hours because the busy time is constantly a couple of hours what would be a reasonable leaving time. Again, neither of these cases are ones where you can simply hire someone else to step in when the other person has to leave.

Also, it is interesting to note that in my experience, at least in Canada, companies don’t seem to be doing this. Instead, they tend to be simply not having people on staff in the off-hours. As someone who tends to try to arrive for opening almost everywhere I go, I tend to see departments or cashes having no one working at them, even when it would be useful for them to have someone there in order to make sales. “Just hire someone” doesn’t seem to be workable and they, at least, don’t seem to feel that they lose enough business to bother staffing those areas, with overtime employees or not.

So, what about salaried employees? That’s the focus of Zvan’s source here, but it doesn’t seem to work either. The problem is that salaried employees tend to be judged on productivity rather than on hours worked. In general, there are a number of things that need to get done by a certain time, and they don’t really care how many hours you work as long as those things get done. In software design, this is always a number of “features” that the company has either promised to customers or that they feel they need to make sales. If you can get them done without working overtime, great, but if you need overtime to get them done and working with few enough bugs then that’s what’s “expected”. In Canada, they aren’t actually allowed to ask you to work overtime — since you don’t get paid for it — but they are allowed to note that you didn’t get your work done on your performance review. And a lot of the time this overtime is pushed either by market pressures or by things just not working out the way you’d expect. But hiring someone else isn’t always an answer. You can’t claim that adding one person to a feature will reduce the time it takes to complete it by that person’s person hours because software design doesn’t work that way. And sometimes you don’t need another full-time person, but you just need a few more hours a week to catch up on it. Hiring a full-time person for that job doesn’t work. In addition, it may be the case that there is specific knowledge required to do those things effectively, knowledge that a new person won’t have.

It seems to me that most of the salaried positions are like that, but there are exceptions. The one I constantly hear about is nursing, where hospitals and the like are understaffed. But in these cases, the issue is not that they can’t handle adding a salary and benefits, but that there is no room in the budget to add another salary, making Zvan’s argument irrelevant to them.

While there are likely some cases where businesses say that they can save the benefits by getting someone to work overtime rather than hiring someone else, I can’t see that as being the major driving factor behind the increase in overtime, and Zvan provides no evidence that this is indeed the main factor beyond a shaky argument. But even if we accept all of Zvan’s comments that it is this cost analysis that is driving this and that it is wrong because it doesn’t include the loss of productivity of workers working overtime, we can still ask if an employee who is willing to do this when necessary is more valuable than an employee who isn’t and thus should be paid accordingly? After all, even if we accept Zvan’s reasoning there will always be situations where overtime would be necessary or beneficial to the company, and so should we reward employees whose schedules are more flexible to the company’s needs and who can work more hours when required more than those who can’t? Are these employees really more valuable to the company?

Well, given that, it seems obvious that they are. Even if they aren’t regularly working more hours, and even if they regularly take advantage of flexible work schedules, an employee who can shift their schedule when required or who can work more hours when required is a more valuable employee, all other things being equal. They can fill in when someone gets sick or can’t come in. They can get more things done. They have an easier time arranging things so that they can attend important meetings or meet with important customers or fix something to get a customer up and running at a critical time. Yes, flexible working hours are a benefit for employees but a flexible employee is a benefit for customers. So while we can argue over specific uses/demands for inflexible work schedules and overtime, in general an employee willing to work inflexible work schedules and overtime when required is the more valuable employee. So companies, it seems to me, are doing right to reward those employees who are willing to and able to do that; the only debate here is over whether companies ought to be encouraging/asking for it as often as they are, which is another discussion.

So, in summary, the idea that men and women working the same job with the same experience get paid significantly differently is indeed a myth. However, there are a host of social pressures working on men and women that encourage men to put in the time and effort to maximize their pay while encouraging women to minimize the impact their jobs have on their family life. These social pressures are, indeed, probably the biggest factor driving the overall difference in take-home pay between men and women, and neither men nor women have any greater choice due to those social factors. So it is indeed far too simplistic to ascribe this gap to simple “choice”, but also too simple to ascribe it to simple “sexism”, where that only looks at the responsibilities of women. In order to solve this, we need to solve the idea that the main contribution of men to the household is their salary and that the woman’s salary is secondary to her family responsibilities. Until we do that, the choices will still be made the same way and the gap will never close.

Bad Defenses of Bad Atheist Arguments: “Atheists Don’t Need God for Meaningful Lives”

March 22, 2017

So, the next chapter in Bannister’s book that Seidensticker is going to look at revolve around meaning. Seidensticker starts with an argument that should be familiar to us:

Why is this hard? I say that my life has meaning, and that’s it. That’s not a grand platform, but it’s all I’ve got. And it’s all I need. I make no claim for absolute or objective meaning, just my own meaning. Like so many before him, Bannister seems to think that the only meaning is an objective meaning. For this, I point him to the definition of “meaning” in a dictionary.

Again, just like when he talked about morality Seidensticker doesn’t give the dictionary definition that he thinks makes his case, or demonstrates that it does make his case. And here it is even harder for him to argue that meaning can’t be absolute or objective, and so here he almost fudges on the question by implying the minimum argument he can make: meaning doesn’t have to be absolute or objective. The problem is that, at a minimum, this is what would be up for debate here. If Seidensticker means to argue that thinking that meaning is objective and absolute is wrong, he needs to provide evidence and argue for that to demonstrate that Bannister is wrong. If he merely wants to claim that it might be possible to have meaning that isn’t absolute and objective and that therefore Bannister is wrong to assume that it must be objective and absolute, then the immediate response has to be “So what?”. It in no way addresses Bannister’s contention that we can’t have meaning — or, at least, that atheists assuming we can have meaning — without God to say that maybe he’s wrong in thinking that we need an absolute and objective meaning. He might be wrong. And so might atheists. Why should anyone think that the atheist move to personal meaning works at all?

Seidensticker next tries to address this example from Bannister:

In today’s opening episode, our hero dreams that he’s wandering through a penguin colony. He muses that penguins have meaningless lives, but one penguin speaks up and says that, on the contrary, his life has plenty of meaning. He makes his own meaning. And then he gets eaten by a sea lion.

So, let me shake out what I think this example is aiming for. The penguin can insist that he makes his own meaning, but having that sort of meaning has to, in fact, link to goals and purposes and things to achieve in accordance with that meaning. But this assumes that what one chooses for that meaning can lead to goals that are in principle achievable. It would be a very odd meaning of life that sets goals and purposes that the person cannot, in fact, achieve. But it is clear that the penguin’s meaning of life didn’t include getting eaten at that time, and getting eaten meant that any goals or purposes would now never be achieved. Thus, the penguin would not have fulfilled the meaning of his life. And this is because the universe does not care at all about those personal meanings, and so will provide no help in achieving them. Thus, at a minimum, the meaning of our lives is greatly constrained by the universe and what we can do in it. Which also means that our self-selected “meaning” may well have to change repeatedly as we discover that whatever that self-selected meaning is is just not achievable by us in this universe.

But if we have a meaning determined for us by the force that created the universe, then these problems go away. The universe will be set-up for us to achieve the purposes implied by that meaning, and all we have to do is figure out how to actually do it. And if the penguin gets eaten, then that action itself would be to further the purpose of the existence of that penguin, and so fulfills the meaning of that penguin’s life rather than frustrates it. This, then, would be very comforting, as we’d have a set meaning — in Bannister’s case, it’s “Find out the purpose God intends for us” — that would never change, and that the universe and pretty much every action we take and every thing that happens to us works to fulfill.

If Seidensticker was paying attention, he’d see the flaw in this idea of meaning: it proves too much. What reason do we have to actively pursue the purposes and goals that follow from our idea of meaning? Surely even refusing to do certain actions fits into that purpose? Yes, we have free will, but surely God won’t let us simply frustrate his overall Grand Design (which has to be the case if bad things happening to us are to have a purpose). So, then, how do we determine what negative actions are punishments aimed at guiding us back to the right path and which ones are God’s purpose working through us? So Bannister would be stuck between things being so determined by God’s Plan that we need do nothing, and us being able to frustrate God’s Plan but us not being able to understand something so complex in order to be able to figure out what to do.

And from this we can get the mirroring problems with each side. Bannister gives us a set purpose supported by the universe, at the cost of that purpose being too large for us to actually interact with. Seidensticker’s personal view of meaning is understandable, but is so personal that we might find ourselves changing it constantly. Both run into the issue that their views, to work, can’t follow from our personal worldviews: Bannister’s has to come from what God wants, and if Seidensticker’s follows from our worldview we’d be stuck if our personal circumstances and our worldview produces a meaning that cannot be achieved, as the only way to resolve the issue would be to change our worldviews. But surely our meaning of life has to be tied to our personal worldviews in some way. If it isn’t, again for Bannister we wonder how that can be my meaning, and for Seidensticker it becomes simply random selection, and so doesn’t have the importance required to satisfy a desire for a meaningful life.

Unlike morality, I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about the meaning of life. However, let me take a stab at a non-God and arguably non-objective meaning of life. I propose that the meaning of life for a human being is to live the best possible life you can, where the best possible life is determined by your worldview. This allows us to change our approaches and even let the universe cause us to fail without having to change our meaning. To return to the example, our penguin certainly didn’t expect to get eaten at that point, but they still would have achieved the meaning of their life: to life as good as life as possible. Getting eaten at that point doesn’t change that; it’s just what happened, but the assessment of whether the penguin achieved the meaning of his life is judged by what happened up to the point where it died.

Sure, there are problems with this idea, but it’s at least a credible example of a meaning that can work. Let’s look at Seidensticker’s direct response to this:

Next, he considers the fate of the penguin—eaten just as he was pontificating about the meaning he had for his life.

Yeah. Shit happens. It could’ve been our hero who got eaten instead. What’s your point?

Yeah … that’s not a reply, and there’s clearly more of a point there than Seidensticker recognizes.

And another familiar argument:

For one of his “problems,” he contrasts meaning in a book, where we can ask the author to resolve differences in interpretation, with an authorless universe where we’re on our own for finding meaning. “Claiming that we have found the meaning is utter nonsense.”

Right—that’s not my claim. But Bannister is living in a glass house. He does claim to know the meaning of life, but his source is the Bible, a book for which there is no the meaning because Christians themselves can’t interpret it unambiguously.

Just because people don’t at least currently agree on the answer doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Morever, it should be clear from the quote that Bannister’s reply to this will be “Which is why we need to ask the author … in this case, God”. Seidensticker will of course make great hay over us not really having a way to ask the author about that since the author — God — doesn’t really answer directly and stays hidden, but this attack on the Bible is completely and totally misplaced and completely misses the point.

I’ll skip the rest of Seidensticker’s ranty replies, as he continually refuses to give any notion of meaning and just rants about how Bannister is wrong. Let me address, then, the cases Bannister gives where he says that if you put your idea of meaning in God, you have a better idea of meaning. The first one:

<blockquote>Who am I? You aren’t an accident but were fashioned by God. I was fashioned by God to burn forever in hell? That’s what your book says is the fate of most of us. Jesus said, “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14). Thanks, God.

Objection! Non-responsive! This has nothing to do with meaning. If your meaning is to end up in Hell, then it is. But the quote and the implication is that we have a choice in that, and Bannister would argue that we need to live up to the purpose God has for us if we want to avoid that, which gets back to the free will issue raised above. This is taking a shot at Christianity, not at the idea that putting meaning into God doesn’t make for a more overall satisfying idea of meaning.

Do I matter? “God was willing to pay an incredible price for each one of us.” An incredible price? Nonsense. Jesus popped back into existence a day and a half after “dying.” The sacrifice narrative is incoherent and embarrassing (more here and here).

Um, willingly dying and suffering just to redeem us, I think, counts as “an incredible price”, even if he only stayed dead for a day and a half — and, if Christianity is right, any similar sacrifice we might make might mean that we don’t stay dead any longer. Again, the idea is indeed that if Christianity is right God cares about us, and so we matter. Seidensticker needs to demonstrate that he can find a meaning that everyone will accept that also means that we matter. He doesn’t even try.

Why am I here? Our purpose “is to know God and enjoy him forever.” Seriously? Yeah, that’s a purpose that will put a spring in my step. Not to help other people, not to make the world a better place, not to eliminate smallpox, but to enjoy God, who won’t get off the couch to make his mere existence obvious.

It’s a set purpose that can be true. What do you have to offer? Why should anyone accept a purpose of helping other people or making the world a better place? And under your view, how are we to come to the conclusion of what our purpose should be?

Can I make a difference? We can be part of God’s greater purpose. That atheism thing is sounding better all the time. Instead of brainlessly showing up to get an assignment from the foreman, we’re on our own. We are empowered to find our purpose rather than have it forced upon us. Yes, that can be daunting. Yes, we might get halfway through life and realize that we’d squandered much of it. But the upsides are so much greater because there’s a downside. Because we can screw up, it makes the successes that much more significant. And we have ourselves to congratulate for our success.

In order to find a purpose, there has to be one to find, which makes it objective: the idea is that there has to be at least a right answer for us. And why should we admit that we’ve squandered our life, instead of simply redefining our purpose to match what we did do, if meaning is to be left up to us? Seidensticker, as usual, contradicts himself by assuming there is a right answer and that we can’t come to any conclusion we want while insisting that meaning is left entirely up to us and isn’t objective. It is at least very difficult to find a way to make those two views consistent with each other.

Seidensticker then turns to the question of nihilism:

Of course not. Citing his oft-mentioned but ill-supported claim that the only meaning is objective meaning, he calls atheism, not cake, but “the soggy digestive biscuit of grim nihilistic despair.”

Wrong again. You can try to find someone to impose this on, but that’s not me. Ah, well—so much for the possibility of evidence

But perhaps Seidensticker only avoids that by deluding himself about what atheism implies about meaning. He certainly has given us no real reason and no real method to determine meaning for ourselves, so we have to wonder if he has really achieved meaning at all.

Again, as we saw last time, Seidensticker’s defense of the arguments is simply to say that the arguments are right and Bannister is wrong, with lots of shots at Bannister tossed in. That is not the way to defend arguments, especially if you want to insist that your ideas are true and reflect reality and are evidence-based, as Seidensticker does. So, another case where Seidensticker doesn’t even defend the arguments he is purportedly defending.

No More Wii …

March 20, 2017

So, over six years ago I bought a Wii. And recently, I took it off of my main TV and stuff it into a closet, where it likely will never be used again.

I mostly used it for Wii Fit, and that was the main reason why it stuck around so long. But the problem was that right now I was looking to get exercise other than walking due to the weather, which would have been the place where Wii Fit really shined … and it faltered because, at least for me, trying to use Wii Fit after dark never worked. If I left my lights off, then it couldn’t detect my movements, but if I turned my lights on, my shadow fell across the detectors and, again, it couldn’t detect my movements properly. So I pondered it, and thought that it might do well once we got back into spring and summer … but, then, if I was going to exercise I’d likely be able to get a walk in, which is what I preferred.

And I never really used it for anything else. I briefly played the golf game that came with it, and a game of carnival games that was kinda fun, and I picked up a couple of adventure games that I never played — including one based on an Agatha Christie novel (“And Then There Were None”) that had been read to us in class in grade school that I really enjoyed — but for the most part I never played games on it and when I was looking for games to buy for it never really found any. I have PS2, PS3, PS4 and even PS1 — played on the PS2 — games that I still want to play, but there’s just not much on the Wii that I’d really want to play, even if I wasn’t overloaded with games that I want to play at some point.

So, with Wii Fit not working for me and there being no games I really want to play, it was time to pack it in. The best things I can say for it is that it had Wii Fit Plus on it and it was cheap, so it was ultimately worth the money despite how little I actually used it.

Female Privilege …

March 17, 2017

So, let me shift for a bit to discussions of feminism, specifically by looking at this post from Everyday Feminism about female privilege by Nikita Redkar. As you might have guessed, the author is going to try to argue against the idea of female privilege by listing 7 examples of what are claimed to be examples of female privilege and showing that they aren’t really. But let’s start with what she thinks is the key thing to consider when determining if something counts as privilege:

Yet unlike male privilege, “female privilege” corners women into benefiting from a much smaller, domestic sphere, rather than the system at large.

When people refer to “female privilege,” they’re likely referring to the positive counterpart of a male non-privilege. It’s definitely true that men experience social injustices – nobody’s lives are perfect. But a lot of these non-privileges – such as expecting men to stifle emotions or providing for families – aren’t indicative of female privilege because women are not inherently benefiting from what men are disadvantaged by.

The problem is that when you try to apply that definition to examples of “male privilege”, it doesn’t seem to hold water either … or, at least it will only work in a way that applies to her examples of female privilege, too. From my understanding, for something to be socially privilege, it has to be systemic, certainly. But being “systemic” doesn’t mean that the benefit applies in all parts of the system, but merely that it is created and enforced by the system itself. After all, benefits for things like presumption of being career-minded or focused on the provider actually do disadvantage men in the domestic sphere — as that is what the arguments for “female privilege” explicitly assert — which is surely part of a patriarchal system. Additionally, the presumption that a man is going to be the breadwinner which would give them advantages in getting a job doesn’t necessarily hurt women as a group; in fact, if that man is married then it will certainly benefit that woman if she would rather stay at home with the children and not be the breadwinner. Moreover, a privilege can easily be seen as something that men or women get because they are men or women that is not available to the other gender, simply based on gender, which then would remove the requirement that the privilege must disadvantage men specifically at all. A privilege can be a benefit that one gender gets that the other doesn’t or a disadvantage that one gender has to face that the other doesn’t. The symmetry proposed here doesn’t seem valid.

And the main issue is that I think that “privilege” causes issues and doesn’t make sense in a social context, because those who talk about privilege in reference to patriarchy are incorrect about what patriarchy actually is. Patriarchy was not a system where men subjugated women, but instead a system where men and women were pushed into strictly defined roles based on their gender. If your natural personality and talents lended themselves to being good at and happy in that role, then things were great. If they weren’t, then things were terrible. Most of the privileges — both “male” and “female” — tend to work out precisely that way: if that’s what you want, it’s great, but if it isn’t, then it is very hard to do anything else.

So let’s see how this plays out in the seven examples:

1. Women Receive Chivalry – And Therefore, Free Dinners, Open Doors, and More

The author concedes that these things are benefits, but doesn’t agree that this means that this is female privilege.

But are free drinks and open doors benefitting women in society, as real privileges? They’re not hurting, but they’re not helping either.

The pampering part of chivalry can verge on being unsolicited, which actually means the social constructs women supposedly enjoy are really just positive encouragement for men.

It views women as unequal – either as weaker or placed too high on a pedestal – and men who treat them as such might be expecting to be rewarded for their gentleman-like manners.

I’m not sure how a societal expectation that men are expected to provide these benefits unsolicited can mean that it’s not privilege. Presumably if a benefit is conferred upon you unasked as if it was simply your due right is more a privilege than one that you have to ask for. The best Redkar can do here is argue that if women don’t have to ask for it, then they may not want it, and so it wouldn’t be a benefit to that woman. But if a man has no interest in being ambitious but is offered a position in some school club on the basis that they presume that they’d use it to pad their resume, that would also not be a benefit to that man and yet would still be considered an example of male privilege.

As for the reward, this ties into the overall idea of dating as a whole. Men are expected to prove their worth to women with things like dinners, arranging an interesting date, and so on and so forth. Based on this, the woman selects the man who can provide her with the material goods she wants and also can give her an interesting life. This is crucial in patriarchy because women cannot get those things for themselves. So this sort of structure is required to allow men and women to fulfill their specific roles: men are encouraged to provide for themselves, but are then required to provide for women, while women are constrained from providing for themselves but then if a man wants to fulfill his requirement he has to demonstrate to a woman that he can, indeed, provide what she wants or needs. Sure, in practice things didn’t work out this smoothly, but it didn’t work out smoothly on both sides of the ledger, with women having little choice in provider and some men having little choice but to take positions that didn’t make them happy or get them what they wanted. But again this is a reflection of men and women being boxed into constraining gender roles.

Also, it is interesting that Redkar leaves out one of the more prevalent examples of chivalry: the idea that men should risk their lives to protect the lives of women. The earliest chivalric romances have men taking on evil knights that have killed or maimed many other men in order to free a woman from captivity and thus win her hand. Even today, if a man and a woman are walking and are attacked, the man is expected to at least stay and fight them off long enough for her to get away and — hopefully — get help. Being able to expect the members of the other gender to risk their lives for yours seems like a pretty strong benefit to me, and is clearly enforced through the underlying social mechanisms of patriarchy. They are, therefore, just as systemic as the expectation that women don’t care as much or need jobs as much as men do.

2. Women Are Under No Pressure to Provide for the Family – Unlike Men

So are women who aren’t under pressure to provide benefiting at the expense of men? Nope, still no dice.

It turns out the very “privilege” of being apathetic about a career is what hurts career-driven women. The patriarchal expectation of men providing for the family is reciprocated by women caring for the children and household.

I don’t see how her comment means that this doesn’t count as “privilege”. As pointed out above, this is just the dual nature of the patriarchal gender roles. Men are presumed to be the provider, and so are expected to provide, and because they are expected to do that they are given preference in the areas they need to fulfill that role. On the flip side, women are presumed to be caring for the children and the household, and so get preference in those areas. Redkar’s sixth point is about women getting preference in getting custody of their children in the case of a divorce, a preference that follows precisely from women being seen as caring for the children. If a man would rather raise the children than provide, he faces social pressure, and if a woman wants to be the provider rather than raise the children, she faces social pressure. So they definitely seem pretty complementary to me, so much so that I can’t see how to argue that this is not female privilege while maintaining the equivalent male privilege.

The influence of feminism, however, adds another wrinkle to this, in that a woman can choose to focus on her career without also taking on the expectation of being the main provider. Feminism has long advocated for women to care more about their careers because it is better for the women if they do — it will leave them better off financially in the case of a divorce and can provide fulfillment — but hasn’t advocated for women to take on or even share the burden of being the provider. Thus, if a woman’s career stagnates, or she decides she hates it and wants to take on something else, she doesn’t face any stigma of risking her family for those choices like a man would. If both are working and both lose their jobs, that will be seen as a failure for him and not for her. While it may be a struggle, women at least have the benefit of being able to aim for what they want to do without facing social stigma over it, while men are constantly challenged to take the jobs that best provide for their family, even if they don’t want those jobs.

3. On That Note, If Women Don’t Feel Like Working, They Can Just Marry Rich

Assuming a woman can throw in the towel at a moment’s notice and marry a rich partner is an incredibly sexist assumption.

Not only does it endorse an odd reality in which rich men are available in endless quantities and for marriage on-demand, but it also caters to politics of desire, something not all women can benefit from.

So no, the answer to workplace discrimination or unequal pay isn’t to marry a richer spouse.

But that’s not what the privilege is claimed to be. It is essentially the same as the one above: a woman who wants to aspire to being the wife of someone who can provide for them without providing any direct income to the relationship does not face as much social disapproval as a man in the same situation. That doesn’t require them to find a very rich man, but only someone who makes enough to support the family without her having to work. Since the expectation under patriarchy is that men will strive to be able to do that, there are far more choices out there than Redkar accepts.

Redkar’s response here strikes me as unresponsive. It’s too shallow to work as an argument that women don’t actually have that benefit, but doesn’t address the underlying argument for this being a benefit women get due to their gender.

4. Women Are Accepted as Emotional Beings

This instance is yet another example of how the patriarchy chastises men for showing signs of weakness – or, in other words, acting like a woman.

The very phrases of “man up” and “take it like a man” may as well just say, “Don’t be like a woman!”

Men are taught from an early age that women are weaker and emotional, and that so much as a teardrop will chip away at masculinity. It’s an unfair burden for men to cage emotions, but it’s also done at the expense of women.

By viewing an open acceptance of women’s emotions as a “privilege,” it only reinforces women as being a lesser gender and placing an inhuman hardship on a very fragile male ego.

This point would work if it wasn’t the case that women are also chastised for being too much like men under patriarchy. While comments like “the weaker sex” permeated patriarchy, underneath it all men were not supposed to act like women and women were not supposed to act like men. Sticking things like ambition into the male side restricts women who are ambitious, but sticking emotion into the female side restricts men who need to show emotion. And arguably the latter is worse because psychologically men are forced to address emotional issues in very unhealthy ways. That women are indeed allowed and even encouraged to show emotion benefits them in the situations where that is a good thing just as men being allowed and encouraged to be ambitious benefits them in those circumstances. Again, it is hard to see how to deny emotion as a female privilege without also denying ambition as a male privilege.

5. Women Have a Higher Chance of Getting Accepted into College

But are women getting accepted into colleges at the expense of men? Not necessarily.

In the past fifty years, women have begun to take over jobs traditionally held by men: doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other specialized career paths that require the successful attainment of a college degree.

At the same time, women are also dominating the fields of jobs traditionally considered “female”: teachers, nurses, administrative assistants, and so on.

Elisa Olivieri, PhD, concluded this notion of why women outnumber men in colleges: Jobs seen as “manly” – namely, manual labor jobs – don’t require college degrees. “Feminine” jobs like nursing and teaching, on the other hand, do.

Olivieri calculated that the biggest obstacle keeping men out of college may just be society’s stigma against gendered jobs.

This is actually a privilege added directly by feminism. Feminism has pushed for and made it more acceptable for women to entire traditionally male fields. However, they have done little to make it acceptable for men to enter traditionally female fields, and has possibly even indirectly increased the stigma towards them by pushing women to enter the male jobs that were considered “superior”, maintaining the “superior/inferior” divide between male and female jobs. As such, women are free to select from all of the college offerings without excessive stigma, while men are not. As our economy shifts towards skilled and educated labour as opposed to manual labour, this hurts the economic ability of men … while they are still expected to be the main provider for a family. The ability to enter any career that strikes your fancy no matter whether it is seen as traditional or not is clearly a benefit, and follows from the old patriarchal divisions that feminism removed for women — or, at least, works hard to remove for women — but didn’t remove from men.

6. Women Are More Likely to Win Child Custody Battles

One of the biggest myths against marriage equality is the same underlying notion behind the myth of women being more likely to win child custody battles: that mothers are absolutely necessary in a child’s development.

Statistics show that women are far more likely to win custody of children in a divorce, yes. But they are also far more likely to ask for it.

One of the main reasons for this is that men don’t ask for it unless they have really strong reasons for it because they are told that they will not win. To use that in any way as an example of why this isn’t female privilege is like pointing out that fewer women apply for science programs in universities. No one would buy it in that case, and we shouldn’t buy it here either, because the underlying issue is the social pressure that says that they aren’t good at it, can’t do it, and shouldn’t do it.

7. Men Are More Likely to Die of Suicide

Although it’s still unclear as to why men use more deadlier methods to end their lives, it is drastically different to the traditional approaches of women who are suicidal. The culture of toxic masculinity and expectations to preserve characteristics of socially prescribed manliness could be partly to blame.

Asserting that this statistic is evidence of female privilege is false. Because women are not gaining advantage from the higher suicide rates of men – no one is.

When I’ve seen this used, it’s less an example of direct privilege, but instead as an argument based around a couple of points:

1) Women die less often because they use it as a cry for help, and in our society women who cry for help get it. Men die more often because they don’t try to use it as a cry for help, feeling, at least, that they wouldn’t get it.

2) More men die from suicide, but we aren’t doing more to relieve depression and suicidal in them and are instead focusing on women, when less women die from that.

If there’s a privilege here, it’s one of the oft-cited ones: society considers women’s lives more valuable than men. That’s why that higher death rate doesn’t trigger the expected response; we care less when men die than when women do. On its own, this isn’t a particularly good example of female privilege, as you need to unpack a lot to make this fit into the context. Redkar, of course, addresses this literally and does none of that, even though if she had she could have raised actual questions about even the points I raised above.

At any rate, overall I don’t see how Redkar’s arguments work to refute the idea of female privilege without also weakening the idea of male privilege. It seems that she starts with the presumption that the system oppresses women at the expense of men, and then if she can find any way to claim that this still is part of that oppressive system then it can’t be an example of female privilege, but this again is all about taking the two sides of patriarchy, defining one as superior to the other, and then using that to argue that that side is therefore superior. Which is exactly what even Redkar has to admit is what patriarchy does wrong.

So, sure, we can nitpick over what really counts as “privilege”, but that ends up as being nothing more than, well, nitpicking. Women get benefits simply for being women, and those benefits and detriments are the complete inverse of the benefits and detriments men get. That’s what patriarchy is. The sooner we realize this and stop trying to declare one side better than the other the sooner we can eliminate those incorrect presumptions that drove the system in the first place.

Bad Defenses of Bad Atheist Arguments: “Morality Doesn’t Come From God”

March 15, 2017

So, the next chapter in Bannister’s book that Seidensticker examines focuses on the question of morality. Now, we’ve we’ve already discussed Seidensticker’s view of morality, which is that morality is not objective. As we’ve also seen, I disagree and think that morality is objective, but as someone more philosophically minded I don’t think that it needs to be grounded in God, and that one of the many objective moralities that do not directly invoke or need to be directly grounded in religion would work fine. I really wish that more atheists would take that approach instead of, like Seidensticker, rushing to ground morality in subjective preference, since that always leads them to rather odd arguments. And this post is no exception.

So let’s start. Bannister’s first argument is essentially that atheists can’t just go ahead and re-define morality to be whatever they want it to be in order to allow room for morality to not require God. Seidensticker replies in a way that has been common for him:

I agree that changing definitions to suit your whim is a bad idea, but Bannister might want to get his own house in order first. “Faith” is an important concept that has two incompatible definitions, and many Christians switch between them as convenient to make their argument (more here). Another slippery area for many Christians is morality. They imagine that any moral statement must be a claim to objective morality, even though that’s not how morality is defined (more here).

By, of course, not defending the atheist use or redefinition, but by instead conceding that it is — or, rather, there, would be a bad argument — but trying to argue that Christians have similar problems with another concept, which here is “Faith”. That’s not a defense of the atheist use of morality. And when Seidensticker turns to morality, he still doesn’t defend the atheist tactic that Bannister is talking about, but instead argues that Christians are invalidly defining moral statements as objective, despite that not being how morality is defined. So, not only does he not defend the atheist argument, he actually makes a very controversial statement. How in the world does he justify claiming that morality is not objective? Certainly moral philosophy — the field that is best suited for settling such questions — sees morality being objective as a very live option. Also, most people do think that morality is at least in some sense objective, or at least act like it. You might think that the “here” would indicate a post or link that would prove it … but you can go and read that link yourself. It doesn’t. It’s just more of Seidensticker’s assertions that it is and he even tells the person he’s replying to — Frank Turek, there — to look morality up in the dictionary and doesn’t provide a link to the dictionary definition that he’s using to come to his conclusion. And since this chapter is about debating over what morality means or requires, using that as an example of Christian confusion is him putting the cart well before the horse here. Suffice it to say, we need to settle if morality can be objective and if the atheist move to define — or re-define — morality to not be objective and/or not require a God can work before he tries to use it to excuse atheist slipperiness on the basis of Christian slipperiness … and if he could do that, then he wouldn’t need to defend potential atheist slipperiness because they wouldn’t be doing anything slippery at all. So this response is utterly irrelevant to the discussion at hand.

Bannister demands, “Who gets to define what the words ‘good’ and ‘evil’ mean?”

Uh . . . humans? The definitions are in the dictionary. But if he’s asking how we put moral actions into the Good bin or the Evil bin, we do it with the imperfect sense of right and wrong that we got from evolution and society (more here and here).

And whom is to say that the dictionary definitions are correct? How do we know what morality really is? And how do we know that our imperfect sense of right and wrong works, especially if we disagree? If Seidensticker has a dictionary definition of morality that he likes, then he can link to the dictionary and show that his evolutionary/societal theory fits and is the only theory that does fit that definition, and also rules out morality being objective. The reason he never does this, I suspect, is because he knows that the dictionary definition, in fact, does no such thing.

He notes that as long as two people with very different views on things “can agree not to try to suggest that the other one is wrong, everybody can get along famously.”

But of course, we often correct each other’s morality. We talk it over. We debate. We argue. Can he have never seen how humans try to resolve disagreements? It’s not always pretty, and minds often don’t change. But no supernatural is required to explain morality, as he wants to imagine.

But here’s the problem: if someone suggests that my view of morality is wrong, then they need to demonstrate it. But to demonstrate it, they need to assume that there is a right answer, and that my view is not tracking it properly. Then we can walk through the steps and the arguments and both come to the conclusion, hopefully, of what the right answer is. If Seidensticker wants to deny that there just is a right answer, then when we disagree I don’t even need to engage him, any more than I need to engage him if he claims the obviously ridiculous claim that the Persona series is not the best video game series ever or that kale actually tastes good. So the dilemma is this: if you make morality subjective, then moral disagreement is pointless, and if you want meaningful moral disagreement, you need to make morality objective.

Bannister makes clear our error:

Quite frankly, my first reaction, when I meet anybody who tells me that they sincerely believe that we decide what is ‘good’ and ‘evil’ based on our preferences or our feelings is to lean over and steal something from them. When they protest (“Give me back my seal-skin gloves!”), I simply say, innocently and sweetly: ‘But I thought you said “good” and “evil” were just questions of personal preference. Well, my preference is that I’m smitten with your mittens.’ That usually changes the conversation quite rapidly.

Does he really want to steal my stuff? If that doesn’t fit with my plans, then I have society and the law to back me up. Theft where I come from is illegal. But if he’s just making a point, what’s the point? That people can steal things? Yes, they can—is that a revelation? We live in an imperfect society with many moral disagreements. If harm is involved, that’s usually central to society’s resolution of the problem.

Maybe he’s saying that his stealing something will snap me out of my simplistic reverie and return me to the real world. But what insights does he imagine he’s given me—that people don’t like being stolen from? That we share morals? We already know that. None of this argues for objective morality.

Here’s what I’m sure Bannister is getting at: if I steal something from that person, they are likely to protest on the basis that what I’m doing is not just illegal, but is in fact immoral. In short, they want to argue that stealing that is morally wrong. But Bannister’s reply is that while that person might indeed feel that that is morally wrong, if morality is just a matter of personal preference or feeling that if by their own personal preferences stealing that thing from them is not immoral — because, in this case, their personal morality is based solely upon their own wants — then it isn’t in fact immoral to the person who has just stolen their mittens. At that point, the original person can no longer argue on the basis of morality, but has to argue on the basis of other things, like the law. Which, you’ll note is precisely what Seidensticker does here: he drops any argument about morality, and instead retreats to the law to try to convince Bannister not to steal the mittens. At which point, it seems that morality isn’t going to play a large role in stopping someone from, say, stealing from you or, in fact, doing anything that you don’t want them to do because you think it is immoral. Which, again, seems to make morality and moral judgements rather meaningless.

Next, Bannister moves on to fret if might makes right.

Yeah—sometimes it does. The Allies defeated Germany, so guess whose laws were used during the Nuremburg Trials. A German concentration camp commandant might have honestly thought that he was carrying out a noble mission, that he was right. However, the Allies disagreed, and since they won the war, they decide the standard of “right” used in the court.

Here’s the obvious and immediate counter to this argument: if the Germans had won WWII, they would have tried the Allies as war criminals, and since they had the might then they would have set the standards of right. So, then, not handing over Jews to be sent to the concentration camps would have been immoral. And, in fact, it was right for that concentration camp commandant to kill all of those people because at the time the Germans in fact had the might to do so. Thus, any action taken by the group that has the power is automatically right — or, as Seidensticker says later, as close to right as we can get — because it is backed by might. Seidensticker commits the common fallacy of taking the morality that we have now, using that as the basis for his argument, and ignoring that his argument makes the things that he considers utterly immoral equally justified. He can argue that he agrees with that assessment, but it really kills his example here when we can point out that it equally justifies the Holocaust as it does punishing those who participated in the Holocaust.

Seidensticker eventually tries to deal with some challenges Bannister raises towards, presumably, the end of the chapter:

Challenge 1: If we go back to the 1950s and tell people that in 2017 we’re largely pleased that same-sex marriage is finally legal, most people would be horrified. Now imagine that the tables are turned so that we are the horrified, regressive people compared to people in society fifty or a hundred years in our future. What society declares as “good” changes with time.

Response: Obviously. Morality changes, and each society thinks that it has things largely figured out, though there are moral dissidents in each society, some longing for the morality of the Good Old Days and some pushing new attitudes that will gradually become accepted.

This causes no problem for my position, but I’m not the one who needs to justify the Bronze Age morality in the Old Testament.

So, let’s examine Seidensticker’s position here. What is Seidensticker going to argue here? That we would be right to be horrified at the perceived “immorality” of that future society? Then those in the 1950s are equally right to be horrified at our immorality for accepting same-sex marriage. Or is he — as his response actually implies — going to claim that their morality is right and that we were wrong, but misled? Then he seems to be arguing that there is some kind of criteria for determining what is moral beyond just what the person thinks is moral. And what if the future society is one that finds same-sex marriage or abortion immoral? Is Seidensticker going to insist that they’re wrong? Then again he’d be pushing for some kind of objective morality, some set of really right and wrong answers. Or is he going to call it immoral, but only on the basis of his own personal subjective assessment? Then the person from the 1950s can do the same thing.

So Seidensticker misses the point of the example, as it seems that with the challenge Seidensticker is forced to either accept that the person in the 1950s did not hold an actual immoral view or insist that there is a right answer and one or both sides of the example are wrong about what is really moral, making morality objective.

Challenge 2: Without God, you can (1) let everyone decide good and evil for themselves. Or (2) the state decides, but then might makes right. With (1) morality is impossible, and with (2) morality is meaningless. In both cases, you have no absolute authority with which to overrule another person or state. But there is a solution: “If goodness were something bigger than us, something outside us. Only then could ethics, morality, and law actually work.”

Response: You know what it’s like to tell a joke and have it fall flat? That’s like Bannister’s Hail Mary suggestion that ethics, morality, and law might actually work if God were behind it. He supports this claim with nothing. He imagines that God is the authority that will resolve moral dilemmas, but how is that possible when you can find Christians today on every side of every moral issue?

Seidensticker here makes the common atheist mistake of claiming that just because there is disagreement over the right answer that there therefore must not be a right answer. Bannister’s argument here is that with God there is a right answer to all moral dilemma, given by a being with the proper authority to set that right answer, God. Given that, to figure out what the right answer is we just need to figure out what God really wants (which may not be simple). However, Seidensticker’s reply in no way addresses that. He dismisses Bannister’s solution, but never addresses Bannister’s actual challenge, which is how you can’t use either of those two options to make a morality that works. So, Seidensticker, despite defending both propositions, doesn’t reference how Bannister is wrong about his actual challenge in responding here, but instead focuses on saying that he doesn’t think that Bannister’s answer works and doesn’t even actually make a valid argument against it. Huh.

Challenge 3: Sam Harris wants to use science to find morality. “I do give Harris credit for at least realizing something that many other atheist writers have failed to grasp—that atheism has a major problem when it comes to the question of goodness.”

Response: Atheism says nothing about goodness. That’s not a problem, just like it’s not a problem in chemistry or geology. It’s not supposed to—atheism is simply a lack of belief in god(s).

But atheism — as many atheists continually argue — has a moral consequence: much of the morality our society has accepted has been at least grounded in religious mores, and the religious mores of the society. So, if you give up religion, you give up that basis as well. Many atheists argue that most moral decisions are actually not religious anyway as, at best, religion is used as a post-hoc justification of our own moral intuitions. Fine, but then atheists still need to find a justification to replace what religion was doing, or else admit that their moral principles are not justified. Also, since Seidensticker earlier chided Bannister for having to justify Bronze Age morality, presumably if we abandon the religious basis then much of those moral principles ought to fade away as well, which requires an argument. So either there are moral consequences to becoming an atheist or else all of those atheists just miraculously had the right morality despite one of the main things that taught them what is or isn’t moral being a Bronze Age morality and presumably wrong about a number of things. Either way, Seidensticker’s answer simply dodges the question of what the impact of atheism on ideas of goodness is.

Thoughts on X-23 (2010)

March 13, 2017

So, after deciding to focus more on buying and reading Trade Paperbacks, I’ve decided to comment on some of the ones I’ve read that I feel are worth commenting on. The first one of these is the TPB covering most of the X-23 comic books series from 2010. I admit that I was looking forward to reading this when I found it, because I’ve always, at least, found the idea of the character interesting, as well as what little of her history I gleaned from the other books. So I was very interested in seeing how she worked in what was, essentially, her own solo mag.

Unfortunately, I was disappointed.

The problem is that X-23, at least there, was a character that had no personality … or, at least, didn’t have a personality that she revealed. And there’s nothing really wrong with that, as that sort of personality was reasonable given her history and provided for an interesting contrast with Wolverine, who with a similar history had a very strong personality. However, that would make watching her go through issue after issue as the star of the comic fairly boring, so the writers decided to team her up with someone who had personality. Having that be Wolverine would risk making the book be all about Wolverine, so they gave her … Gambit. But Gambit is also established and also has a very flamboyant personality, so the risk was still there. To me, it seems that their attempt to deal this was to tone Gambit down so that he didn’t overwhelm X-23 and overshadow her in her own book. However, this left Gambit less interesting, and so they weren’t really able to leverage his personality to make up for X-23’s lack of personality. Thus, at the end of the day, adding Gambit ends up not solving the problem they wanted to solve while still at times having Gambit’s history overshadow X-23’s story.

The best parts of the TPB are when X-23 and a vampirized Jubliee are paired together, because this dynamic actually works. The two of them have similar issues and a similar link to Wolverine, which gives them a lot in common. But Jubilee has maintained — and possibly even enhanced — her personality, which provides an interesting counter to X-23’s stoicism. However, they are roughly of an age and, more important, are roughly of the same prominence (both of which are odd considering how much longer Jubliee has been around). Thus, they seem to be two contemporaries and even friends hanging out or working together, while with Gambit it seemed like X-23 was hanging out with her favourite uncle, which is a completely different dynamic. I think that it would have worked so much better if it had been X-23 and Jubilee for the entire run.

I’m not going to go into details on or talk about the story, as I found it passable but not particularly interesting in any way, good or bad. But the character dynamic between X-23 and Gambit and X-23’s lack of personality did, indeed interest me. I don’t regret buying it, will likely read it again, but don’t consider it particularly interesting.