Archive for July, 2017

Thoughts After Re-Reading “The Elenium”

July 31, 2017

So, working my way through the David Eddings series that I actually liked — I think I tried reading one of “The Dreamers” and disliked it — I’ve just finished re-reading “The Elenium”. Remember, this — possibly along with “The Tamuli” — was my favourite of the series when I first read them, and this time after reading them back-to-back I was deliberately trying to compare them. And after doing so, my conclusion is … “The Elenium” is indeed significantly better than “The Belgariad” and “The Malloreon”.

One of the reasons, I think, is because it’s three books instead of five. It’s a bit shorter — looking at the collected books themselves, I’m not sure it’s that much shorter than the Belgariad, although it is definitely shorter than the Malloreon — and being only three books means that he doesn’t need to have as many reasonable endings to build towards to end that book on a high note that can be picked up in the next one. So, overall, the story can flow more and doesn’t have as much extraneous content.

Another reason is that for the most part the main cast is small and pretty much stays together for the entire series. Yes, he uses the tired old excuses of “The Younger Gods like symmetry!” to explain it, but we don’t have as many characters moving in and out of the story as we saw in the other works. That lets us get more used to the characters and so feel more attached to them, as well as allows him to elevate them above being simple stereotypes and archetypes. Also, when the characters do move out of the story they usually aren’t doing anything that important, allowing us to remain focused on Sparhawk and the other more main characters and so develop their plots and characterization without undue interruption. This means that pretty much all of the characters are more interesting and more developed than they were in the previous series.

Additionally, they don’t have the super-powerful, god-like characters of the previous series. Sparhawk is the main character, but while skilled he isn’t really a super-powerful, chosen-by-destiny character. Yes, they hint here that he is Anakha and so is outside of destiny, but in this series that’s mostly meaningless, other than that essentially he’s destined to be the guy who wields Bhelliom and probably because of that no one can tell what he will do with it. But Bhelliom here is a tool, not a presence. Sparhawk is skilled but no more overwhelming than any other magic-using knight would. The most powerful “normal” character is Sephrenia, and while she is very knowledgeable and very skilled at magic — and, again, very long-lived — she doesn’t know a lot of things and in general needs protection from physical attacks, unlike Belgarath and Polgara. Sparhawk is the person who is doing most of the investigation, and he doesn’t have a lot of advantages to make that all that much easier. The most powerful regular character is Aphrael, but she doesn’t do that much and really tends to act a lot like a Deus ex Machina most of the time. What this does is allow us to relate more to the characters because they are far more like normal people than most of those in the previous series.

This characterization also carries over to the villains. All of them are far better characterized than the villains in any of the previous series. As I’ve commented before, in “The Belgariad” Torak is the main villain and his henchmen mostly asides, but Torak isn’t developed enough for us to feel any pity for him at all, even though at the end we’re clearly supposed to. Ghwerig is only a minor villain, and yet in one short scene Eddings does more to get us to feel pity for his loneliness than he managed for Torak. While Azash is the god stand-in for Torak, the main antagonist is Martel, and his ending where Sparhawk finally kills him but Martel comments that he dies in the company of the only two people he ever really cared about is both emotional and fitting for that character.

Also, the quest structure and the dropping of specific prophecies to follow actually allows Eddings to work in those little side events that he loves so much more naturally. He can easily divert Sparhawk to rescue a besieged patriarch because while restoring Ehlana is important to the world, it’s not seen as being the one thing that can save it, and so it is easy to convince Sparhawk that while he has strong personal reasons for putting Ehlana’s life first, sometimes the at least seemingly “greater good” is to put that aside for some time and so other things. And since for most of the first two books they have no idea what they need to do to save Ehlana, they can chase all sorts of dead ends that serve no real purpose other than to do things that Eddings wants to do. In the previous series, it seems like an irrelevant distraction. Here, it not only seems less like that, but we can definitely feel that Sparhawk feels the same way, but has very good reasons to stop and do it.

And it also gets far more into politics than the previous series do. Yes, this is one that definitely appeals more to me personally than it does to others — after all, I also really like the political scenes in the Star Wars EU — but I loved the politics around electing the head of the Church and how all of that played out, and even wish it could have been longer.

That being said, I can see how some people might prefer the previous series because this one is far less “fantastical” than they were. The main religion is pretty much some form of Christianity, with the Church politics being modeled, it seems, a lot on Catholicism. The realms are very similar to standard medieval realms that we are all familiar with. The Styrics and the prejudice against them remind me a lot of the Jews. Thus, all of this is very, very familiar, whereas the history and institutions of the previous series were quite different. This also means that the previous series had a much deeper and more interesting lore than “The Elenium” does. So I can totally understand if someone finds “The Elenium” to be a bit pedestrian when compared to the previous series.

Also, I had thought that “The Elenium” and “The Belgariad” were quite different in story structure, but on reflection they actually aren’t. The first part of both is going out and finding the super-powerful jewel that they had lost and the second part is taking that jewel and going out to destroy the menacing god who is invading to try to get it. But I still think “The Elenium” just handles that so much better overall than “The Belgariad” did, with more interesting characters and a more interesting path to doing those two things.

Next, I’m reading “The Tamuli”, which I will also compare to the other works.

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A Female Doctor Who

July 28, 2017

So, the next Doctor is going to be a woman. I’ve mused on this before:

The issues around a female Doctor are a bit more complicated. My first thought was that we had seen female Time Lords in the past, and had had no real reason to think that the Doctor’s regenerations could change gender, and so then we didn’t want to turn this into another “Dax” thing with male and female memories in the same body and all of the issues around them when we’ve gone for decades without having to worry about it. But then in some random surfing I found that it is possible that one of the Master’s incarnations was female, which means that that’s already there. I’m still not convinced it’s something worth exploring in Doctor Who, though, especially considering the shortness of those series.

Of course, the typical Social Justice people are generally thrilled with it, like Adam Lee. Of course, their arguments for it actually make me less inclined to support it because of just how bad they are and how they highlight potential complications and consequences that aren’t that great.

So, let me start with fandom in general, as any criticism of these things is always presented by them as simple misogynistic/racist ranting. Lee gives an example of one in his post:

I awoke this morning with a heavy sense of melancholic despondency, as if a dear lifelong friend had just died. Oh, wait a minute, a dear lifelong friend HAS just died. He was Doctor Who, albeit a fictional character in a sci-fi series but one who I’ve kept company with since the show began in 1963 when I was knee-high to a grasshopper. My now-adult children watched it, too, when they were younger. But the good Doctor has been slain by a small cabal of fanatical ideological fundamentalists in the name of “diversity” and “cultural relevance.”

I find that my waking melancholy is progressively giving way to vein-bulging rage, which is very childish of me and will give delight to virtue-signalling Guardian readers, whose intolerance and cruelty actually knows no bounds, despite their preposterous displays of right-on, Newspeak-approved compassion. While I’m still in the grip of that childishness, I should say that while of course I harbour no malice toward Ms Whittaker, I really do want the show to crash and burn after this preposterous casting decision…

Now, pause for second and consider this thought experiment. Imagine that the writers said that for the next series they were going to change the exterior appearance of the TARDIS to be something other than a police box. After all, people outside of Britain have never seen the things, and even in Britain they are quite rare, so new viewers are confused about just what it’s supposed to be. And it was established that the TARDIS had the ability to change its exterior to blend in, and that that circuit was broken. And even originally, it was just done to save money, but with current CGI that’s no longer necessary. So they’re just going to go ahead and fix it so that it blends in again.

Do you think that a large number of fans wouldn’t react to that in at least as strong a manner as Lee’s example?

Look, this is what we know about dedicated fandoms. First, they don’t particularly like change. Second, they certainly don’t like change for the sake of change. And thirdly, they particularly don’t like change that is aimed to appeal to an audience that isn’t them. Lee might want to consider this “entitled”, but for a dedicated audience this isn’t unreasonable. They were the ones who supported it all of those years. They are the ones that are responsible for it still existing, through their keeping it alive and in the public consciousness. Given how often these sorts of “changes” take away the things they like to add things that they don’t care for, they are right to fear those sorts of changes and are right to think that the writers shouldn’t be ignoring the existing audience to appeal to a new one, whether that is based on economic status, main stream status, or Social Justice status.

Peter Davison has rather mildly criticized the move:

But the 66-year-old told the Press Association: “If I feel any doubts, it’s the loss of a role model for boys, who I think Doctor Who is vitally important for. So I feel a bit sad about that, but I understand the argument that you need to open it up.

“As a viewer, I kind of like the idea of the Doctor as a boy but then maybe I’m an old fashioned dinosaur – who knows?”

Lee attempts to respond to that:

First: if this is really what you’re concerned about, let me assure you that boys growing up today are in no danger of being unable to find a male role model. Even if they don’t like Jodie Whittaker, the BBC isn’t throwing out old tapes anymore; they’ve got twelve male Doctors to choose from.

So, let’s consider a case where I decide to reboot the Sailor Moon anime using male characters, and when people say that doing so takes away important role models for girls I simply reply that they can still watch the original anime/cartoon and so that’s not a concern. Seriously, why in the world did he think that was even an argument? If he’d stuck with the standard line that there are already many similar role models for boys in other works — although those are getting rather thin on the ground — he’d at least have something that looked like an argument. This is just sad.

In the meantime, what’s so bad about letting the girls have a turn for once?

They did have a turn. It was called “The Sarah Jane Adventures”, was reasonably well-received, didn’t face this sort of criticism as far as I can recall, and only ended because the lead actress and namesake passed away. If they wanted to add role models for girls, all they needed to do was spin off another new show doing so. They could do, for example, “The Martha Jones Chronicles”, given her character development in Doctor Who. Or they could have spun off that lizard private detective and her lesbian lover with the Sontaran butler, which entertained me, at least, when they were on. If they had done so, then they could have maintained the role model for boys with the Doctor and added a role model for girls with the new series. If they really wanted a female Time Lord, they could have added one in Doctor Who and spun her off. But there’s always this insistence on changing existing characters for diversity or to add a role model for girls or minorities instead of adding new ones. This seems to be either a lack of creativity and imagination or else a cynical attempt to play off the existing popularity in order to support their own ideological convictions. Maybe one of them can reply here with a better explanation (although arguing about how hard it is to compete against established franchises doesn’t work here because since these are all spinoffs they would get the boost from the original franchise and, well, both The Sarah Jane Adventures and Torchwood worked out).

This also seems to miss the fact that even Doctor Who can provide those role models for girls. While Classic Who might have treated the Companions as, well, just companions the Modern Doctor Who clearly treats them as quite prominent and more as partners. The show has established how important they are to keeping The Doctor human, and a lot of the time the plots are driven not by The Doctor but instead by the Companions (“The Impossible Girl”, “The Girl Who Waited”, Rose, and so on). Why can’t Martha, Rose, Clara, and Amy be good role models for girls? Heck, Billie seems to be written precisely as one for girls and gay characters, so why don’t we have good role models for boys and girls right now? They could make a case if they were going to swap the Companion out with one who would be a good role model for boys … but they don’t seem to be doing that here. Thus, the whole model here really is taking a role model for boys away and not replacing it with anything, in a series that already had good role models for girls. That can’t be seen as anything other than a loss.

Also, it begs the question: why can’t boys look up to a woman as their role model? Davison takes for granted that this is the case, but doesn’t attempt to explain why.

Because the whole concept of the oft-cited arguments that we need to have more women as role models for girls pretty much refutes it? I don’t really see it as an issue that he accepts the argument that those who are pushing for a female Doctor are relying on in order to make his criticism. If we can expect boys to look up to women as role models, then we can expect girls to look up to men as role models, and then the whole role models argument falls apart (In little pieces on the floor, too wild to keep together, you know the rest). Since Lee references the “we need role models for girls” argument above, I’m not at all convinced that’s what he wants to do here.

There’s a profound failure of empathy here, one that’s at the root of many other problems: the idea that white men should only ever have to empathize with characters who look like them.

Which is balanced against the profound failure of empathy from Lee’s side, which both ignores that the counter-idea is that minorities can’t or shouldn’t have to empathize with white male characters — ie characters that don’t look like them — and that a lot of the reaction is due to the often explicitly cited justification for these changes that it will advance an ideology that is not theirs and that they are often neutral to as opposed to hostile to. Which ties back into the idea that if you want to make diversity or role models for girls an explicit goal creating something new or spinning off something would allow you to explore that ideological goal all you want without changing the existing thing in ways that might not work. Gee, it’s almost like empathy is a really bad method for figuring out how to deal with other people. Who knew?

Let me just quote his summary here:

There’s no way to appease people who are clinging to the past. The only way to introduce diversity to a classic series is to just get on with it, and ignore the mutters and grumbles of the troglodytes. It will soon seem like a natural, even obvious step, and the next generation of fans will wonder why anyone ever had a problem with it.

This just reflects perfectly the sanctimonious arrogance that characterizes Lee’s — and many other Social Justice advocates — arguments. He doesn’t actually have an argument here, contradicts himself and some of the key arguments used by his own side, has never established that it is good or even necessary to introduce diversity to a classic series, and yet someone this is just natural, obvious and only opposed by people “clinging to the past” and who are “troglodytes”. And remember, as proven I’m neutral on this, and his comments here are not helping his case, nor is his tone. The best way, it seems, to argue against diversity is to have Social Justice advocates argue for it, and that can’t be a good thing for their side.

The List – Year 6

July 26, 2017

So, this is the sixth year of my list of games to finish. As I type this, I haven’t run the numbers yet, but I expect to see very little progress made because my impression of this past year is that I spent more time poking around with various things and less time finishing games. However, I know that I finished at least one game, Persona 5. So let’s see what happened this year. Maybe I’ll be surprised.

So, this year, I’ve finished 23 games out of the 49 I have remaining. That’s a 47% completion rate, which is just slightly better than what it was last year. Assuming that I’ve been updating the total including drops properly — as new games need to be added to the total — I have a 35% completion rate, again just slightly better than last year. To put this in the least complicated terms possible, however, as far as I can tell I … finished two games last year, one of which was Persona 5. And the other was probably Huniepop.

With my video game time curtailed and The Old Republic tempting me again, I may not finish too many more games this year. It’s just not the priority for me that it used to be. But let’s see how things work out.

Vintage …

July 24, 2017

So, for a long time now I’ve been looking for a channel or channels where I can have the TV on for noise when I want or need noise — like when I’m reading or playing a game or writing blog posts — but where I can also look up at times and just watch for short periods of time. I had news channels for a while for that — and still have some of them — but at times they switch over to shows which aren’t as interesting. I did end up getting the Stingray channels because my 5-CD player stopped working and you just can’t get those things anymore, and that worked pretty well, but those channels don’t work well while I’m playing a game, downloading things, or waiting for someone because when I look up all I see is an album cover.

Then, at some point recently, I saw an ad for Vintage TV. This channel plays music like the Stingray channels, but instead of having a large number of channels covering a huge number of genres, they have one channel that kinda mixes genres — but mostly focuses on rock and some country — but also plays videos while playing the music. If they have access to an actual video, they use the actual video … which includes concert or TV performances. If they don’t, they have semi-related and semi-themed video to go along with it, which sometimes at least tries to fit in a narrative.

So far, I’m quite enjoying it. Not all of the music is what I personally like, but my tastes are pretty varied so most of it is at least tolerable. The videos can be interesting, and at least are something to look at when I don’t want or need to look at my own screens for a while. Thus, at this point this seems like a good channel to fill my need for a channel that can provide easily ignorable noise and images while being interesting enough when everything else I’m looking at is more ignorable.

Philipse on the Probability of Theism

July 21, 2017

So, in Chapter 11, Philipse starts talking about whether or not theism is probable, and what it might mean to determine that. However, what we see here — and have already been seeing in previous chapters — is an odd sort of issue based on the fact that Philipse himself both seems to want to go after theism in general but focus on Swinburne specifically. Thus, Philipse ends up focusing very much on Swinburne’s specific views while still talking about what theists would do or problems they would have in general. It seems that Philipse wants to focus on Swinburne at least in part because Swinburne accepts some of the issues Philipse has with theism and so at least in general more directly addresses those concerns. In fact, we see on a number of occasions Philipse using Swinburne to argue for Philipse’s main points. The problem with this approach is that Swinburne’s view isn’t that of all or potentially even most theists, and so if someone isn’t convinced by Philipse’s arguments they aren’t likely to be convinced by Swinburne’s either, and also won’t find the discussions of the specific solutions Swinburne advances and the problems Philipse has with them all that interesting. Yes, there are solutions and issues with them, but those solutions are addressing problems that many theists think are only issues if you buy somewhat dubious premises and propose a rather odd solution to those problems. This makes chapters that claim to make general points but that focus on Swinburne specifically seem somewhat irrelevant.

Here, in this chapter, I want to ignore all of the points about Ultimate Explanations and Swinburne’s specific use of that and the problems of it. I’m not convinced that even empirically any of this matters, especially considering that I rejected the need for “immunization” of theistic belief last time. I’m also not convinced that the right way to determine which is the more reasonable theory is by using probability — I’m inclined towards Quine’s “Web of Belief” model and so think general fit is better — and am certainly not convinced that Bayesian approaches are the right ones. So most of the chapter is predicated on my accepting premises that I don’t accept, and so the specific arguments aren’t that interesting. Thus, I’m going to focus somewhat briefly on two specific points. The first is a discussion over how probable a belief must be before we are justified in accepting or believing it, and the second is a discussion over the empirical background, which is about as close as Philipse gets to actually arguing for the theistic belief being improbable.

So, let’s start with the first point. Philipse talks constantly about “religious belief” in that section, and talks about “justified” in that context. When he talks about how philosophers view “justified”, and particularly when he talks about it having to be “highly probable”, he ends up shifting definitions here, talking about justified as it is used in “justified true belief” … which is to say, in terms of knowledge. But all we’re talking about here is which theory is to be preferred given the evidence we currently have. That’s probably not a knowledge claim. Sure, if we want to claim that we know God exists based on that reasoning, we’d want a very high probability, but to merely say that it is the most probable given what we know at the moment should only require it to be more probable than all of the competing theories … and Swinburne wanting it to have a higher probability than 1/2 guarantees that. So unless Philipse wants to demand that before we can reasonably think that a theory is the best candidate we have to know that it is the true one, or else wants to insist that one cannot reasonably believe that the best candidate we have is true, he’s just confused here about what belief and justification for belief has to be, conflating belief and knowledge.

Now, the next issue is when Philipse discusses the “empirical background knowledge”, which is critical for a Bayesian analysis and, it seems to me, provides the best reasons to think that Bayesian analysis is less than useful. While Philipse points out that some Bayesians think that the analysis can be subjective, in order to work as an argument against anyone else the probability of a theory given the empirical background knowledge has to be objective enough that your opponent can’t just reject your probability and blunt your argument. Thus, it can’t depend on things that you believe but that others might not. So let’s look at a couple of possible arguments that might make theism improbable based on the empirical background knowledge.

I’ll start with Philipse’s. His main argument is that God, as defined, is a personal being with consciousness, but he argues that “… all empirical investigations suggest that mental phenomena cannot exist without neural substrata.”[pg 205] In short, his big argument here is that you can’t be conscious unless you have neurons and thus are physical, and God is a non-physical spirit. Philipse has ridden this rather dubious argument for the entire book, and it’s still dubious here. First, if we are talking about an “ultimate” consciousness, then if it exists it would have to be able to compute without any limits. But any physical implementation of consciousness would have limits. Thus, an ultimate consciousness would have to be non-physical to avoid physical limits. Philipse could reply, then, that this would mean that an ultimate consciousness is impossible, but then he’d need far more evidence than “So far, all the conscious things that we’ve found are physical!” to demonstrate that. Second, AI is not going to have a neural substratum and we think that it is at least possible that we could get a conscious AI, and there is no empirical evidence that it can’t and at least some empirical evidence that it might be able to from AI implementations. So we have good reasons to find this purported piece of empirical background knowledge a bit dubious.

Richard Carrier, in a recent post addressing Swinburne and another Bayesian theist, brought in another argument:

If we count up all the things in history we at some point couldn’t explain, or thought was explained by magic or ghosts, and then securely found out what the actual cause was (so that it is now approximately a universally accepted fact of science or history), how many of those things turned out to be magic or ghosts? If the answer is zero (and it is…and anyone who denies that, is literally insane), and the number of those things is in the millions (which have reached that degree of investigation, so that it is now a known fact of the world what causes them; not just a belief or speculation), then the prior probability the next thing you ask the cause of will have been caused by magic or ghosts is logically necessarily millions to one against. And if the number of such things is in the billions, it’s billions to one against; if in the billions of trillions, then billions of trillions to one against. There is no rational escape from this consequence.

Well, there is indeed one: call it what it is, the inductive fallacy. This is essentially like saying that you’ve examined millions and millions of swans and so if someone says they’ve seen a black swan the empirical background knowledge makes that radically improbable. The problem here is not so much in saying that it is reasonable to believe that there are no black swans given what we’ve empirically examined, but is instead in choosing to use that as an argument that black swans don’t exist when someone gives you a reason to think that they might. The same thing applies here: if we think that in this specific case that a supernatural explanation makes the most sense for other reasons, saying that we’ve never had one of those doesn’t impact that assessment because it doesn’t — and can’t — address the reasons we had for preferring the supernatural explanation.

But the point here is not to refute these two arguments, or even to say that it is unreasonably for them to hold them (although I think that these particular arguments are so bad that it is indeed unreasonable to hold them). What is important is that these are justifications for very important premises that will greatly impact the prior probability Philipse and Carrier assign to the theistic hypothesis … and are premises that someone might, at least, reasonably not accept. No one need accept Philipse’s idea that mental activity must have a neural substrata or Carrier’s idea that the success or failure of previous supernatural explanations are relevant to this one. And as soon as someone does that, the whole Bayesian analysis — at least, one using priors, and it seems like there is little reason to use Bayesian reasoning if you don’t include priors — goes out the window. All I have to do is say “I don’t think this piece of empirical background knowledge is true” or “I don’t think this piece of empirical background knowledge is relevant” and the whole analysis collapses. Thus, the empirical background knowledge, well, has to be knowledge for it to work here: things known to be true and known to be true by all parties. And the implications have to strongly follow. This is, in fact, a pretty difficult thing to achieve, and neither Philipse nor Carrier achieve it.

Now, the thing is that it’s reasonable — or at least, not unreasonable — for Philipse and Carrier to hold their beliefs. Philipse is a physicalist and denies the existence of immaterial things, and Carrier is a naturalist who denies the existence of the supernatural. As beliefs, they certainly have sufficient reason to believe those things. But others have sufficient reasons to believe otherwise, or at least to withhold judgement on those propositions. And as soon as they do, the priors falter and their arguments for why theism is improbable evaporate.

This result is consistent with my general view on belief, which is that we assess the “likelihood” of a proposition or theory being true based on how well it aligns with our current “Web of Belief” (which includes but is not limited to what we know). If someone is a naturalist, any supernatural explanation will seem incredibly unlikely. If someone is not, then that it is supernatural might count in its favour, or at least will be neutral. And I will argue that this is perfectly reasonable. Moreover, it’s all we can do. Any objective Bayesian reasoning will try to make the assessment give an initial assessment that is the only reasonable one to accept and then move by objective steps to new probabilities as new evidence is introduced, but to do so it can’t rely on anything that we don’t solidly know and so can’t account for differing beliefs. Either we can’t believe what we don’t know — which is wildly impractical — or it will splinter into subjective Bayesian as soon as there’s a belief that is in dispute that at least one party thinks is relevant. And subjective Bayesianism is nothing more than a mathematical complication of what we’d do naturally anyway, as the number it comes up with is meaningless without the context that spawned it.

This, then, is the issue with arguing that theism is “improbable”. You need an objective standard for that to have meaning, but that standard has to be based on subjective beliefs. In general, the insistence of probabilities strikes me as a way to claim objectivity while hiding the subjective premises that underlie the assessment … which explains why these arguments always devolve to arguing over those specific premises in the end.

Next up, cosmological arguments.

Seidensticker’s Spectrum Argument for Abortion

July 19, 2017

So, Bob Seidensticker over at Cross Examined recently revisited his “Spectrum Argument for Abortion” in response to a criticism of it brought up by a secular poster. However, I don’t actually feel that Seidensticker’s responses actually defend the argument at all. The best argument that isn’t in the original is the one about whether at least part of the argument is relevant or not:

Seidensticker’s point about how evangelicals thirty years ago supported abortion is simply irrelevant.

Not to people who bring up Christian arguments! If it doesn’t apply to a secular perspective, fair enough, but I was addressing more people than just you.

Actually, yes, it’s still irrelevant to bring that up, even to Christians. First, not all Christians are evangelicals. Second, that evangelicals supported it thirty years ago is irrelevant to arguments raised today. If you are going to use that, what you want to bring up is why they supported it then, to see if that argument still applies today. If it does, then you have an argument to use against them, and one that has and so potentially undercuts the religious basis they have for their stance. But simply pointing out an inconsistency in view only works if you insist that they cannot possibly ever have made mistakes in their interpretations and arguments and insist that they can never, ever change their minds about something. Since one of the main criticisms of religious arguments is that they can never change, that’d be a very odd — and potentially self-defeating — position for an atheist to take.

Anyway, onto the actual argument, which was originally raised, according to Seidensticker, here. The summary from the more recent post is this:

Consider the above figure of the blue-green spectrum. We can argue where blue ends and green begins, but it should be easy to agree that blue is not green. In other words, the two ends are quite different.

The same is true for a spectrum of personhood. Imagine a single fertilized egg cell at the left of the nine-month-long spectrum and a trillion-cell newborn on the right. The newborn is a person. And it’s far more than just 1,000,000,000,000 undifferentiated cells. These cells are organized and connected to make a person—it has arms and legs, eyes and ears, a brain and a nervous system, a stomach and digestive system, a heart and circulatory system, skin, liver, and so on.

The first problem here is this: this isn’t an argument. Seidensticker is arguing that we have a spectrum here and linking it by analogy to the visible spectrum — and a number of others if you look in the original post — but he hasn’t actually established that what we have is a spectrum and not just a set of differences of the same thing. There’s no such thing, for example, as a spectrum of vehicles, but a transport truck is quite different from a compact, which is quite different from a pick-up truck, and so on … and that’s if you don’t count boats and bicycles as vehicles. And if you don’t, then consider “modes of transportation”, which can range from walking to airplanes to trains without there being any kind of spectrum involved. So pointing out that the fertilized egg is quite a bit different from a baby does not establish that there’s even a spectrum here to consider.

The second issue is that all he establishes is that they are different, but not that they are different in the way we need to claim that the fertilized egg ought not be counted as a person for the purposes of the abortion debate. He deliberately doesn’t want to get into the debate over when it ought to be considered a person:

Yes, it’s important to get the OK/not-OK dividing line for abortion right, but that’s not my interest here. Legislators deal with tough moral issues all the time. Take the issue of the appropriate prison sentence for robbery. Six months? Five years? What mitigating circumstances are relevant? Does it matter if a gun was involved? What if the gun was used as a threat but it wasn’t loaded? What if some other weapon was used? What if someone was hurt?

It’s a person’s life we’re talking about, so the sentence must be decided carefully, and yet penalties for this and a myriad other specific crimes have been wrestled with and resolved in 50 states and hundreds of countries.

The same is true for the cutoff for abortion—it’s a tough decision, but it’s been made many times.

Now, just like in those other cases, we can indeed claim that they’ve gotten it wrong and work to change it. But that’s not actually important here. What’s important is determining that these differences between the two are sufficient to claim that the fertilized egg should not be considered a person for the purposes of the abortion debate. Otherwise, I can concede that the fertilized egg is radically different from a baby but insist that that’s not a difference that matters wrt the fertilized egg being treated like a person in this case. As seen when we look at one of Seidensticker’s more … whimsical examples:

I addressed this in the original argument, but let me illustrate the issue with a quick round of “One of these things is not like the others.” Our candidates today are an adult, a teenager, a newborn baby, and a single fertilized human egg cell. Okay, candidates, raise your hand if you have a brain. Now raise your hand if you have a pancreas. If you have skin. Eyes. Nose. Bones. Muscles.

Now raise your hand if you have hands.

The difference between newborns, teens, and adults is negligible compared to the single cell at the other end of the spectrum, which has nothing that we commonly think of as a trait of personhood. The commonality across the spectrum is that they all have eukaryotic cells with Homo sapiens DNA. That’s it. That’s not something that many of us get misty-eyed about. Very little sentimental poetry is written about the kind of DNA in the cells of one’s beloved.

So, having hands is a prerequisite for personhood? Who knew? And whether or not we get “misty-eyed” over the DNA is irrelevant. I can concede that the fertilized egg doesn’t have hands and concede that the only commonality is what Seidensticker says and still insist that that’s enough to confer personhood status on it, and Seidensticker would have, at least, no immediate reply. Especially given what he says about the naming (from the original post):

This game where pro-lifers deny names to the spectrum quickly gets tiring. I really don’t care what the spectrum is called—humanity, personhood, human development, like-me-ness, whatever—call it what you want as long as the naming acknowledges the stark difference between the newborn (with arms and legs and a circulatory system and a nervous system and eyes and ears and so on) and the single fertilized human egg cell.

But the thing is that the name of the spectrum is the important thing here, which is why pro-lifers are so careful not to concede too much wrt that name. Because the name isn’t just a name, but points to a concept. If we are forced to concede that Seidensticker’s spectrum is a spectrum of personhood or humanity, then it would be much harder to argue that personhood rights should be conferred upon the fertilized egg. If, however, Seidensticker’s spectrum is not only not personhood, but also doesn’t have any direct relation to what makes something a person, then it is irrelevant and meaningless wrt the abortion debate. Take this example of naming. I accept Seidensticker’s spectrum, and name it the Grogiland Spectrum. At the one end — where the baby is — I call it a Flugelwant, and at the other end I call it a Steinertran. I then insist, however, that both Flugelwants and Steinertrans still count as persons. I expect that Seidensticker would call this yet another pro-life game, but I would reply that Seidensticker only says that because his spectrum is always presumed to be personhood, or at least directly relevant to it. Thus, it’s only if he can establish that, at least, his spectrum tracks personhood can his argument get off the ground … which is precisely the thing that he refuses to demonstrate and argue for.

His argument also has an interesting consequence. By his argument, we have a baby — including newborns — at one end of the spectrum, and fertilized eggs at the other end. Because this is a spectrum, this means that if we presume that babies are persons and fertilized eggs are not the line between the two — and thus, the line where the entity becomes a person — is somewhere between those two endpoints. Which means that it must be at some point before birth. Many religious pro-lifers and pretty much all secular pro-lifers will gladly trade considering a fertilized egg not being a person for an acceptance that the entity becomes a person at some point before birth, and thus that at some point abortion is immoral. And Seidensticker can’t even retreat to a “bodily autonomy” argument to save those cases because if that argument works when the entity is definitely a person it works when it clearly isn’t, and so Seidensticker’s “primary focus” actually is utterly superfluous to the debate. I’m thinking that most pro-choice advocates aren’t going to be that receptive to an argument that has as a consequence that at least some abortions are immoral.

So this argument fails in a number of ways. First, it isn’t actually an argument as presented by Seidensticker: he asserts but does not demonstrate that there is even a spectrum here to be concerned with. Second, he never establishes that this is a personhood spectrum or indeed a spectrum that is at all relevant to the abortion debate, simply assuming it … and, in fact, refuses to even engage in that discussion. And, finally, his argument has a consequence that many pro-choice advocates would reject. As a “primary focus”, it seems to be superseded by far more interesting pro-choice arguments, including ones that directly try to determine what makes something a person, which Seidensticker again refuses to do. As such, it seems to add little to the abortion debate.

Thoughts on Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2

July 17, 2017

So, Despicable Me 3 has come out, and they were selling Despicable Me and Despicable Me 2 in a Blu-Ray combo back for a decent price, so I bought and watched them. Now, I had watched and enjoyed the original when I had shomi (and I still haven’t replaced shomi) but this time when I watched both of them I noticed something, likely because it was even more pronounced in the second movie than in the first one:

The movies are overstuffed with shallow story and plotlines, so much so that the only way to really get the plotlines is because they are so tropey that we immediately recognize the scenes and what they indicate even if things aren’t set up properly in advance.

Margo (who might be my favourite character) gets hit the hardest by this. In the first movie, she gets mostly a perfunctory plot around not trusting that she’d really get a parent, ending with an emotional final “I love you Dad!” to Gru. But that wasn’t really touched on in at all in the movie, and her character — essentially being the mother figure for the girls — wasn’t going to admit that publicly anyway … or, at least, not where the others could hear it. So that final scene becomes “Oh, yeah, I see that she might have had that sort of feeling from some minor thing that she did earlier”, which loses the emotion of the scene. Sure, you can argue that the scene where she has to trust Gru to catch her counts, but again that wasn’t really set up that well and is one of the minor events that might indicate it but doesn’t strongly telegraph it. In the second movie, she has the whole sub-plot with the son of the villain, who ends up dumping her … but we get a short scene with her with the sombrero of depression or whatever that was and that’s about it, other than it getting them into the villain’s mansion and giving Gru a chance to act protective for about five minutes. That’s not enough to deal with the first crush and the depression of her heart being broken. Again, we recognize the events because we know that this is what happens, but they aren’t developed enough in movie for us to really get the emotional connection to work.

This is also seen with the scene where the agent is pondering leaving Gru in the airplane, and decides to go back to him. While, yes, we were aware that they were heading towards a relationship, this scene just jumps into the middle of the action with little set-up, runs through quickly, and ends with a flourish that isn’t justified by what they’ve done up to that point (they kinda had one date). Again, we recognize the trope, so we understand what’s happening, but we don’t get the emotional oomph from it.

And we see this with the head of the division, who is the interfering boss just because that’s what he is, and with the youngest girl’s mother speech, and in a number of other cases. We have common tropes tossed out there so that we recognize them, but each aren’t developed enough to generate the strong emotions of those tropes on their own.

Now, you can argue that these movies are aimed at kids, and kids don’t need and aren’t going to appreciate taking the time it would take to set these things up. The first response is that given that children are not going to be as steeped in tropes as adults relying on trope recognition to carry the plot is a risky move. The second response is that they could fix most of this by reducing the number of subplots which would give them the time to do them properly, and they can be done in a humourous way, since other works have done that time and time and time again.

That being said, the movies are paced well and entertaining, but the scenes where they rely on my recognizing the trope to really appreciate an emotional sequence kinda bug me … especially since there’s no reason why they have to do that.

Philipse on the Immunization of Theism

July 14, 2017

In Chapter 10, Philipse examines the need — at least according to him — for theologians to “immunize” their theology from science, by which he means that they have to make it so that their theories cannot be disconfirmed by future scientific discoveries. The main issue that undercuts pretty much all of this chapter is, again, that natural theologians and any theologians who are attempt to approach their theology empirically and scientifically ought to be as worried about future scientific examinations disproving them as, well, scientists are … which is to say, not one bit. Philipse seems to want to put theology in general into a bind. He wants to argue that theology can’t be respectable unless it accepts the standards and methods of science, but then should theology actually attempt to do so insists that it can’t be taken seriously in science unless it meets higher standards than general scientific theories have to. In short, if theologians promote more conceptual theories, he’ll dismiss them as not being scientific, but if they promote empirical or scientific theories, if Philipse can come up with any explanation that isn’t supernatural he will claim that those are to be preferred to even the empirical and naturalistic theological theories. At which point, if theism accepts the moves, there is no way for theism to win even if it’s true. But there’s no reason for a naturalistic theologian to accept that there is a problem if it is possible for future scientific discoveries to impact their theory, nor is there any reason for a conceptual theologian to accept that their proofs need to be empirical or scientific in order to be respectable.

Here, Philipse is trying to use the argument of “God of the Gaps” to argue that natural theologians need to immunize their theories against potential future scientific refutation of their explanations. The problem is that the “God of the Gaps”, when it’s used as an argument at all, doesn’t work that way. The basic “God of the Gaps” is simply noticing that theistic explanations were used in a lot of places, and then science came along and replaced them with actually better explanations. If this is used as an argument, it’s an inductive one that says that since scientific explanations have replaced theistic explanations so often in the past, we should presume that for any phenomena where we want to use a theistic explanation we should probably just wait for a scientific one instead of doing that. This is, of course, an invalid argument that at best only means that if you want to promote a theistic explanation for a certain phenomena you need to provide a reason other than “Science can’t explain it” … which we probably should be doing anyway. And if a natural theologian has an explanation for a phenomena that requires there be a God and has reasons for thinking that God is the best or a good explanation of that phenomena, they should not be at all concerned about the possibility that science might come up with a better theory at a later date. Yes, it might … and it might not. We can only assess what is the best explanation looking at what we know now, not by what might happen later. So the need for immunizing theism from future scientific discovery seems to not be a need after all.

However, Swinburne tries to do so, arguing that there are some phenomena that are too weird or too big to be handled by science. I’m not going to talk about the “too big” argument, because that’s essentially cosmological arguments and, well, it’s better to handle that by looking at those arguments specifically and seeing if they work than by worrying over whether science could ever find an explanation for those phenomena. I will talk a bit about the “too weird”, which is basically miracles, and Philipse focuses on the Resurrection as a specific example to look at to purportedly prove his case.

Philipse’s argument is essentially this: if we accept Swinburne’s idea that miracles are too weird to fall under science, then we have to accept that they are, well, improbable given what we know about the world. That’s rather the point of a miracle. But if they really are that “weird” and improbable, then if we are told about one or see something that might suggest that it actually happened, what we probably should do is doubt that the event happened rather than proclaiming it a miracle. Thus, the very characteristics that would cause us to classify it a miracle should also cause us to be skeptical that it actually happened.

This might sound good at first, but when we put it into the context of Hume’s argument which inspires it, we can see the problems with it. Recall that Hume’s argument was, essentially, that miracles are so improbable that no matter how trustworthy we think a witness is it is always more probable that they were lying or mistaken than that the miracle actually happened. Philipse is more generous, conceding that we might be able to have a witness or set of evidence reliable enough to establish a miracle, but that that standard has to be enormously high given that we are talking about a miracle. But the problem is that these arguments smack of denying that an event occurred only or at least primarily because they don’t like the implications of that event actually happened. Sure, they talk about probabilities so as to make it sound more reasonable, but remember that for Hume he would have argued that for someone that you think is completely reliable, has no reason to lie, and who was definitely in a position to affirm that the event happened, it would still be more probable to deny that the event occurred than to accept that a miracle actually happened. Ultimately, then, the argument seems to translate to “If this event occurred, it would be a miracle, and therefore I will deny that the event occurred”. But you can’t deny that an event happened just because you don’t like the implications if it did. You can’t argue that the reliability of someone’s testimony is determined by whether or not you want to believe that the event they’ve testified to actually happened, or that someone’s senses must have been deceived just because of what they saw. Ultimately, that really seems like an argument that you will deny all possible evidence because you don’t like the conclusion that evidence leads you to.

We can see this more fully when we look at Philipse’s analysis of the Resurrection. Philipse wants to jump through all sorts of hoops to deny that the event occurred, but all he ends up doing is showing us what we ought to already know: we don’t have enough direct evidence to accept that the Resurrection actually happened. We, at least in modern times, don’t have anything like direct testimony from a reliable witness or set of witnesses that were in an appropriate position to witness the event. Instead, we have second-hand testimony passed down primarily by word of mouth until it was written down, which allows for corruption and the introduction of false and misleading testimony and evidence into the record. So we have reasons to doubt that the event happened independently of what actually happened … or, at least, to say that the evidence we have for it isn’t sufficient to establish that the event actually happened.

Now, if Philipse could argue that it is the “oddness” of the event that drives our skepticism, then he’d have a point … but that’s not what drives our skepticism. Yes, we tend to demand stronger evidence for stranger beliefs, but as it turns out a “miracle” being ascribed to a purportedly supernatural being is less improbable than if it is being ascribed to a natural being. For example, in a series like the Elenium or the Amber series we’re not going to blink an eye if someone casts a magical spell, but we’d be dragged completely out of immersion if, say, Jack Ryan did that. Since Jesus is purportedly a supernatural being, His being involved in a miracle is consistent with what we’d expect from such a being. No, what makes us skeptical about the Resurrection is less its oddness and more its importance: it is absolutely critical to Christianity that it happened, and so those skeptical of Christianity are going to peruse it in detail before accepting it. In general, it is always at least a combination of oddness and importance that drives how easily we will accept certain claims. If someone said that Jesus ate fish on a particular day, we wouldn’t subject that to any scrutiny. But if someone argued that a certain important event depended on Jesus eating fish on a particular day, we in general would want to make sure that we had really good evidence that that did, indeed, happen on that day.

And as we saw above, “oddness” isn’t really “improbable”, but is instead more “inconsistent”. If, say, someone said that I ate fish on a particular day, that would strike at the “oddness” criteria, even though people eat fish every day. The reason is that _I_ don’t like fish, and so I don’t eat it very often. So someone being told that about me would find it puzzling and would want more evidence before accepting it. And if my eating fish that day mattered for some reason, then that inconsistency might even drive them to strongly doubt that as confirming evidence. This is why Jesus performing or being part of a miracle is less odd than, say, my doing it would be; it is consistent with our expectations for a supernatural being like Jesus and inconsistent with our expectations for a natural being like myself.

So this defense of “oddness” doesn’t work. Ascribing supernatural actions to a supernatural agent won’t trigger than criteria in our skepticism. The Resurrection triggers skepticism because it is a important event that we have little solid evidence for, not because someone being raised from the dead is just that odd. And even if it was, demanding exceedingly high standards of evidence can only be seen as an attempt to set the bar so high that the atheist need never accept that a miracle or the Resurrection ever occurred, which is not a reasonable position to take, and is a position that no theist need accept. Ultimately, the best way for a theist to approach the arguments in this chapter is to simply refuse to accept the presumptions that underlie them, and thus to deny that there is any problem at all, requiring Philipse to put forward far better arguments for them than he has.

Friendzoning Myths …

July 12, 2017

So, over at Everyday Feminism, there’s a post about 5 myths about Friendzones, or 5 reasons why we need to ditch the concept entirely, depending on what parts you believe. The problem is that it fundamentally misunderstands both the original concept and how it is used in its more recent and more combative form, and so all of the myths and recommendations are, well, at best wrong and at worst damaging.

Before getting into the purported myths/reasons, let me first talk a little bit about the friendzone concept itself. Originally, this concept was nothing more than describing someone — usually a man, since they have to in general do the approaching to start a relationship — who had wanted to be in a relationship with someone that they knew well and when they finally made that clear received the “Let’s just be friends” line. Thus, while it was always seen as a negative and as a rejection — which it was, at least for a romantic relationship — it wasn’t seen as something bad that women did to men. However, with the rise of MRA attitudes, the usage changed to focus on cases where a woman knew or ought to have known that a man was interested in her and yet “strung him along”, using that attraction to get him to treat her better than he would someone that he was just friends with and had no romantic interest in, while knowing that she was never going to actually date him. This often would have to rely on her just being flirty enough to make him think that he had a chance while never following through on any of it.

Now, the new connotation describes the vast minority of friendzone cases, and that this has become a prominent view of friendzoning reflects, I think, two things. The first is an overgeneralization of those cases; they exist, certainly, but most women aren’t really doing anything like that. The second is a bitter and angry reaction to what is perceived, in general, as women using sexual attraction to get things that they don’t really deserve, often by — it is claimed — misrepresenting themselves and the situations. This also applies to “Fake Geek Girls” — women who are not really interested in geeks or geek hobbies but who can get a lot of attention being an even moderately attractive woman in those areas — and “White Knights”. Now, in all of these cases there are indeed examples where that happens, but it’s nowhere near as prevalent as the new concepts make it appear.

Thus, friendzoning as a concept ought to be considered in its original form: someone who wants a relationship with someone beyond friendship who is told that friendship is as far as the relationship will go.

I want to start with her fourth point here, to highlight why the concept is still valid and something that we need to address with more than platitudes:

When say people are ‘friendzoned’ it communicates the idea that they can’t escape being seen in a certain light. In other words, it implies that relationships don’t change – that once you are viewed as a platonic friend, you can’t be viewed as a potential partner.

But friendship doesn’t inherently prevent different relationships from developing further along the line. In fact, I’d argue that friendship is the best basis for romantic and sexual relationships.

This advice is precisely the reason why the friendzone exists and can be so devastating for both sides. The common relationship advice — generally from women — is that if you want to get into a relationship in general and into a relationship with someone in particular, the best way is to become “Friends first”, and then transition that into a romantic relationship. This is precisely the sort of behaviour that many women then call out as indicating that the man wasn’t actually interested in friendship, but was only interested in having sex with them, and so that makes him bad, somehow. Somehow, doing the commonly given advice for getting into a relationship makes them a bad person if it doesn’t succeed.

And the fact is that unless the person you have become friends with was either attracted to you originally and so was playing the “Friends to relationship” game, too, converting a friendship to a romantic relationship isn’t actually all that easy to do. Yes, it happens. Yes, sometimes people will be friends with someone and suddenly realize that they find them attractive or that they would make a good relationship partner. But in general if you start a friendship with someone that you aren’t interested in a relationship with you are far more likely to simply settle into that sort of relationship, and so if they ever make it clear that they are interested in you for more than that your initial reaction is going to be that, well, you aren’t interested in them that way. Because you, in fact, actually aren’t.

And here is where the PUA mindset actually works better. What they insist on is that you don’t do the “Friends first” approach, but that if you want a sexual relationship you start from the idea that that’s what you want. And this works out so much better because from the start he’s making his desires clear — so there’s no feeling that he was hiding that under just wanting to be friends — and she can make it clear from the start whether or not she thinks it possible. Now, since people are people nothing is set in stone and things can change — either way — but starting from what is desired makes everything a lot better. In fact, I propose that what we should be starting from is essentially “I find you attractive enough to actually date, so let’s start with casual dating to see if that still holds and if the personalities match”. And if that’s the attitude we have, then if it doesn’t work out the implication between two nice and reasonable people is “It didn’t work out because our personalities don’t align enough for a relationship”. And then that can move to friendship if that works out.

But pushing the “The best way to get a relationship is to start as friends!” line only fosters all of the things that made people bitter and angry over the friendzone in the first place. And this leads me to the second point I want to address, which is her fifth one:

Myth #5: If You’re In Love with Someone Who Doesn’t Return Your Affections, You Will Be Unhappy

Which also dovetails with her third point:

The idea of the friendzone implies that being friends with someone is inferior to dating or sleeping with someone. It implies that friendship is punishment, or at least, that it’s not as desirable as a romantic and/or sexual relationship.

The thing is, if you want to be in a romantic relationship with someone and they only want to be friends, that’s hard. First, it is a rejection. Second, one of the examples that is constantly given of how this is hard is the woman who complains that she can’t find any decent men to date … to the guy she friendzoned in order to date all of those men who are not “decent”. How should that guy feel there? While this also applies to women, too, at least in general she could console herself with the societal impression that most men are shallow and that it’s just that she isn’t attractive enough — which is cold comfort, I know, but at least she can blame him for that — while for a man in this situation since women traditionally aren’t supposed to be that shallow it has to be a judgement of him as a person. And we see this with the comments that someone who actually tries the “Friends first” approach isn’t really a “Nice Guy”, and so her dating jerks is really her dating the better people … which then would lead to the question of why she ever wanted to be friends with him in the first place.

The fact is that if you want a romantic relationship with someone, being friends with them is, in fact, an inferior relationship. The inverse is also true, but we don’t talk about that because, outside of arranged marriages and the like it never happens. Thus, a someone relegated to the friendzone might, for various reasons, find the friendship too difficult for them and decide to bow out of the friendship. And that’s perfectly acceptable. And if they do stay, we have to recognize that keeping the friendship up is hard for them, in a way that it isn’t hard for the friendzoner, unless that person keeps thinking of them as someone who is primarily interested in them for a relationship and so isn’t really a friend. Keeping the friendzone concept in its original form allows us to recognize this without insisting that the friendzonee just isn’t, in fact, a true friend merely because they are interested in more.

Which then leads to comments on what nice people should have:

Myth #1: Nice Men Deserve to Be with The Women They Desire

To return to the first point, if a man is nice and is following the accepted social rules, then he should have a better than average chance of getting the relationships he desires, just as a woman who does the same ought to. But the accepted social rule of “Friends first” actually gives him less of a chance at succeeding. Thus, those men who are less “nice” have more success, not because they are better or more deserving, but instead because they start from the context of a relationship and if that isn’t forthcoming move on to the next candidate. On the other hand, the “Nice Guys” who are trying to not come across as being primarily interested in sex and are trying to follow the social rules so that they make her more comfortable and don’t risk offending her spend a lot of time chasing people who aren’t and would never be interested in that sort of relationship with them.

So I want to keep the original friendzone concept to say “If you follow the ‘Friends first’ approach, you are likely to end up in the ‘friendzone’, where they see you only as a friend while you are interested in something more. If you are, in fact, interested in something more it is far better to just approach with that in mind.”

Let me wrap up with how the misunderstanding of the friendzone impacts her most Social Justice point, the second one which is the idea that is is heterosexist. She describes a friendship she has with a male friend of hers:

I have a really close male friend who I love and appreciate dearly. A few years ago, a couple of our friends teased us, saying that we were a textbook example of the ‘friendzone’ in action.

In reality, neither of us wanted a committed romantic relationship with one another. But because of the common idea of the friendzone, people simply assumed that my male friend wanted a sexual and romantic relationship with me.

Something our friends didn’t know at the time was that he’s asexual – he experiences very little, if any, sexual attraction to people. He did not have the capacity to be sexually attracted to me, even though our friends assumed he did.

The thing is … that’s not a case of the friendzone. Not because he’s asexual, but because neither of them are interested in a relationship with the other person. Yes, it’s a problem to simply assume it because one person is a woman and another is a man, but it might not have been an assumption and might have been based on how they acted towards each other. So example, did she act flirty towards him while making it relatively clear that they were just friends? That starts to fall into the deliberate friendzoning thing that I mentioned above which is what she claimed her friends teased her about. Maybe it’s not a heterosexist assumption, but instead an assumption based on how they interact.

Look, we do need to understand that people who might be of the appropriate genders or whatever for a relationship might not want one with each other. I myself have had cases where I got along well with someone, found her attractive, and yet figured that our personalities didn’t work for a relationship. Understanding that this happens is important, but the original concept of friendzone allows for that, as it only applies in the case where one person wants a relationship and the other person doesn’t. Thus if we follow that we can easily deal with these situations by pointing out that neither is interested in anything more, for whatever reason that actually is. Then, any “teasing” is either teasing in recognition that it doesn’t actually apply, or teasing on the basis that one of the parties might not be being honest about that. Which cycles back to “if you’re interested, be direct about that”.

Ultimately, the friendzone concept has to exist because it’s a thing that happens. Even the really negative and exploitative example happens in the real world. We need to avoid overgeneralizing the cases and need to stop assuming that any friendship between people who might be interested in each other is one of these, but it happens and we need to address it, and address the way the social rules actually create these situations. Because no matter what people assert, being in the friendzone is not fun. People might be able to take it, but it’s not going to be what they really want, and it works out badly for friendzoner and friendzonee, and so we need to find ways to minimize the instances and minimize the pain this causes. Abandoning the concept is not going to help with that one bit.

Thoughts After Re-Reading “Polgara the Sorceress”

July 10, 2017

“Polgara the Sorceress” isn’t as good a book as “Belgarath the Sorcerer” was. And I think there are a number of reasons for why this is:

1) Most of the really big events were covered in at least historical detail in Belgarath the Sorcerer. Thus, all there really is for Polgara the Sorceress to do is fill in Polgara’s personal impressions and situation. But this means that we’re going over events that we’ve already gone over in detail again — and again, in some detail — just to add Polgara’s personal impressions to them. But unless you’re a huge Polgara fan, it doesn’t add that much to them. Things get a lot better when they start filling in the details of the things Polgara did while Belgarath wasn’t around — like what happened in Vo Wacune and Arendia — but those segments are too short and too few and far between to save the book. And this is a worse flaw because the two books aren’t really standalone. The framing of Polgara the Sorceress is that Polgara is filling in the details that Belgarath the Sorcerer left out — and often Polgara pokes at Belgarath for simply leaving details out. But despite having read the two books pretty much one right after the other I didn’t really notice any glaring omissions except for the things that Belgarath himself didn’t know. Thus, the framing is both underused and guarantees that everyone will remember the other book first and pretty much note that they should read it first before reading this one. I’m not certain, but I think that there will be places where a reader is confused or feels that something has been left out if they read Polgara the Sorceress before Belgarath the Sorcerer. Thus, you can’t just read Polgara the Sorceress, but reading Belgarath the Sorcerer first will make Polgara the Sorceress seem ponderous and repetitive.

2) The book actually damages Polgara’s character as described in Belgarath the Sorcerer, particularly with how it uses Poledra. In Belgarath the Sorcerer, Polgara was gifted and had a mind that worked in a certain way that allowed her to do certain great feats. In Polgara the Sorceress, much of the time that great skill came from Poledra tutoring her on it secretly. Thus, she didn’t pick it up quickly, but instead had already learned it by the time it came for her to be taught it. At the Battle of Vo Mimbre, the long-standing idea that Polgara had managed to resist Torak’s will which impacted him greatly had nothing to do with her, but was instead only Poledra. If it had been the case that Polgara herself screamed in defiance but that she needed the intimate connection with Poledra to buttress her will and allow her to not have to face Torak “alone”, that would be one thing, but instead Poledra shuffles Polgara out of the way and takes over herself. This makes Polgara a spectator in her most famous event and removes the strongest display of her character in the entire series. After the fall of Vo Wacune, Belgarath the Sorcerer implies that Polgara fell into a great and angry despondency, similar to that of Belgarath when Poledra “died”, which provided an interesting parallel and gave them something in common, a common experience that they could at least arguably build on. Instead, she was pretending to be that way while secretly planning her revenge an organizing the war back in Sendaria/Erat. This a major plot hole because if Belgarath and the others because she acts as if she had to hide that from them, but if they really cared they’d have almost certainly been able to detect her scheming or at least would have paid attention to what was happening back in Arendia and noted her influence. So either they didn’t really care — at which point she didn’t have to hide it — or they did care but then didn’t bother to keep track of her well-enough to catch her influence (and Belgarath the Sorcerer implies that their greatest concern was that she didn’t try to will herself out of existence). But on top of that, Polgara had lost a city that was very important to her and, as she thought at the time, the love of her life … and she’s able to plan an elaborate deception of her father and uncles while coordinating a brilliant battle plan to get revenge? Doesn’t seem like she cared all that much about them, did she? Over and over, events make Polgara less skilled, less complex and less interesting a character.

3) All that there really is to the book is Polgara’s personal impressions, but Polgara isn’t all that interesting a character. Most often, she’s an opinionated bully. Sure, Belgarath is a bully, too, but for him most of the time he bullies people to get the job done so that, mostly, he can get back to doing the things that he really, really wants to do. He admits that he’s lazy and unscrupulous and has numerous flaws, and in general is a more interesting and humourous character to follow. Polgara is often dreadfully serious and seems to have no actual serious flaws, and never really seemed to grasp the import of the Events except perhaps when she was raising the heirs … which is given fairly short shrift in the book. Polgara and Ce’Nedra are both always described as characters that the others make a strong effort to avoid offending, but lots of people are willing to offend Belgarath all the time. Thus, she comes across as a full-on bully: do what I want or else. That’s not an interesting character to follow, and especially when we already know most of the historical details and so there’s little new there to discover. ‘Grat is not nice, but he cops to it. Polgara doesn’t.

At the end of the day, the book wasn’t a waste to read, but reading it right after Belgarath the Sorcerer really, really hurts it, as it has nothing to offer but Polgara, who is not that interesting a character to start with and is undermined by the work itself. For the most part, you could stop after Belgarath the Sorcerer and not really miss much.

Next up: The Elenium and The Tamuli.