Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Character Blow-Up

July 11, 2018

So, recently, two Guild Wars 2 writers were fired over a blow-up on Twitter. While I first came across it in the comments section of two different sites — one each of left-wing and right-wing — I’m going to link to the Eurogamer article on it because it gives the most information and the links to the threads themselves. The topic of the Twitter thread that started this whole thing was about whether or not you can have memorable characters in an MMORPG or straight RPG, and how you need to write dialogue for characters in those genres. I’m going to talk about that, specifically, a little bit later in the post. However, my impression of what happened is that a Youtube content creator who happened to be a partner with ArenaNet — the company that makes Guild Wars 2 — to comment on how things are working replied to the Twitter thread with a comment that essentially said that it’s not about creating generic conversations, but is instead about making the conversations react to the character the player chooses. The writer — who happens to be a woman — then responded with a snarky comment about him telling her things she already knew, then created a separate thread basically suggesting that he only did that because he was a man and she was a woman despite her being experienced and an expert in the field, thus implying that it was sexism driving his response — specifically, mansplaining — and then responded to other comments on that topic with an even more snarky response that, again, seemed to be aimed precisely at taking exception because it was men who made the comments, and also that they were talking about something she already understood. Another employee defended her — mostly keying off of the argument that this was a personal account and so people shouldn’t reply to it for some reason — and then they were both fired.

So let me talk about that first. First, Denoir — the Youtuber — definitely had knowledge about the inner workings of games that the Price — the female writer — didn’t bother to check to see that he had. Second, he actually was someone that she kinda worked with, or at least someone who worked with her company, which she also didn’t bother to check on but did deny. Third, his comment was standard and the sort of comment that all sorts of people who talk about video games would make, including people like Shamus Young and even myself. Fourth, since she made it on a public forum and linked it back to a thread that was a discussion, it’s perfectly reasonable for people to respond to it. Fifth, just because she works in the industry doesn’t mean that she has that much more expertise than someone “rando”. After all, I personally have at least 20 years experience as a player of RPGs, and thus have quite a bit of knowledge and expertise on the experience of players playing the games. Thus, she can’t really ignore my experience just because she has 10 years experience as a writer, as I technically have more years of experience that is more directly related to player experience. Her appeal there would be nothing more than an invalid “Appeal to Authority” logical fallacy; even with her experience, she could be wrong, and even with my experience, I could be wrong, as well. Anyway, the summary is that someone replied to her Twitter thread disagreeing with her, she thought that it was something that was obvious, and replied angrily by, essentially, calling Denoir a mansplainer and thus at least implied that he was sexist, without being aware that he was officially associated with the company as well and without bothering to address his overall comment, on a forum where she could have expected public comment and feedback. I don’t think that Denoir was in the wrong here.

So, should she have been fired? Just for that, my comment would be “No”. If I was her boss, I would have said that if she is going to make comments like that she had better check to see how much experience the person she is replying to actually has, but that instead it would be far better for her to simply ignore any comments that she doesn’t think relevant, germane, or that she thinks she’s already covered or taken into consideration. There is really no cause for her to fire back multiple, snarky replies to a comment that, at its worst, is stating the obvious, even if it may not have been obvious that it was taken into account in her account. However, there might be other factors that are driving this that demanded the firing, but I can’t see what they are.

Okay, so let’s look at the debate itself. The originating Twitter thread is here, and Denoir’s reply is here. My summary of the debate is this: Price is saying that it is really hard to make the protagonists of MMORPGs, at least, memorable because the player is the one driving the character, and doing so more directly, and so you can’t really give them a set personality. I agree with this, as the main reason I couldn’t give a list of the top ten male characters like I did for female characters was because the male characters were the protagonists more often and so were more personalized, and thus weren’t really “characters” in that sense. She then goes on to talk about making them very generic, using Bella Swan as an example, and so making them what she calls a “blank space” so that the player can insert themselves into it. She then says that their lines have to be devoid of personality for the most part, because that would clash with the imagination of the player. Denoir’s response is that you don’t need to craft the conversations that way, but instead can make them reactive if you drop the idea that the conversations all have to lead to the same place (I presume meaning “response” in this case).

So let’s look at this in more detail. The first thing to note is that this is, well, a common question about RPGs in general, and not just MMORPGs (which Denoir points out). And it is interesting to note that, in general, this is a particular issue for Western-style RPGs, which have always been about character customization, which then leads to players being more attached to a specific character and so feeling that they should be able to act as they think that character would act. JRPGs, on the other hand, tend not to have as much character customization, and so have protagonists that have set personalities. There are some exceptions to this, though, where the protagonist doesn’t have much of a personality and the player can give some small set of responses to shape their personality. Persona 3 — and probably Persona 4 — are good examples of this, as the MCs themselves don’t seem to have a set personality and you can generally give snarky or serious responses to most situations, but in general those responses don’t have much impact on how things work out except for maybe the next response from the NPC, and so can be unsatisfying. This is one of the reasons why I prefer the female protagonist in P3P when I get the chance to play it, because she does seem to actually have a personality.

Now, of course, MMORPGs can’t really work the JRPG way, because it would be ridiculous to have an entire party of players who are all the exact same character. So everyone has to be different characters, and that leads to character customization. Given that starting point, the game is definitely going to move away from a defined character and more into a player-defined character. So, then, how is the game going to do that? Is it going to make every response simply generic in tone, or is it going to be more player-responsive?

The thing is that both Western RPGs and MMORPGs have actually gone for the “player-responsive” option. Bioware is the best example of that approach in both genres. The player gets to choose the options that their character says, and the dialogue is then shifted in tone to match what they were trying to say. The Witcher games, from what I’ve seen, do something similar, and yet actually manage to define a character despite the player having great input into what they do (and, as open-world games, are similar enough to MMORPGs so that the comparison works). And if you are going player-responsive, you don’t actually need to make the actual dialogue generic because you know what sort of personality the player is going for by what response they selected, and so can write the dialogue to reflect that. In fact, if you made it more generic it would hurt the dialogue, because it would feel like the dialogue isn’t actually taking your response into account.

Okay, but there are always going to be some cases where the player can’t choose what they say, such as with greetings and goodbyes and the like. Those have to be generic, right? Well, I’m not sure about that. If we just look at the Mass Effect games or The Old Republic, we can see that the use of a morality meter can, in fact, solve that problem, too. If the character over time is trending Dark Side or Renegade, you can make their initial lines more aggressive or gruff, while if they are going more Light Side or Paragon you can make them more kind and friendly. And you can even shift NPC reactions according to that reputation: if the character is more Dark Side or Renegade, the NPC can be more intimidated, frightened or disapproving depending on their own personal viewpoint, whereas if the character is more Light Side or Paragon you can have them do the opposite. If the character is Dark Side or Renegade, the NPCs can try to appeal to their self-interest, while if the character is Light Side or Paragon they can appeal to their desire to help others. Sure, all of this means recording more voice lines, but not overwhelmingly so, since the states are limited and some situations won’t need any different dialogue.

So it looks like a more player-responsive approach rather than a bland and generic one is doable, even for MMORPGs. Does Price realize this? Does she realize this and have a reason why it can’t be done as easily as I think it can? I have no idea, because she didn’t bother to actually respond to what Denoir said or find out what he was talking about, which is just another example of how Social Justice concerns can hurt game design and the discussion thereof.

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Carrier on Materialism About Mind …

July 6, 2018

So, Richard Carrier has decided to talk about physicalism or materialism about mind in his usual style, for good or for ill. He’s taking on Grant Bartley’s article “Why Physicalism is Wrong” while going over a few other “misconceptions” that he thinks those who question materialism hold. Now, I’m not really going to defend Bartley’s paper, because he does seem to get a few things wrong, like stating that Quantum Mechanics shows that physical things can be influenced by mind when in reality that’s one potential explanation for the experiments and not necessarily the most plausible one, and also deeming property dualism a physicalist theory despite it really fitting better into a neutral monist theory, saying that there’s only one kind of stuff that has both physical and mental properties. So it’s not a particularly good attack on physicalism and a paper that I generally would just ignore. But Carrier’s discussion of mind raises issues that I talk about a lot, so it’s worth going through his response to show just where he gets things wrong.

The first thing he does is talk about the thought experiments in general, but then says this about thought experiments:

But there’s a kink in thought experiments. Because they are conceptual in result, they must be conceptually consistent. You are failing to conduct a thought experiment correctly if you don’t do what the experiment actually tells you to do.

This sounds reasonable at first, until you realize that what he really means is that you actually run the experiment, at least in general. He says this later:

This point was illustrated by one of the most important papers yet written on the subject, “Sniffing the Camembert: On the Conceivability of Zombies” by Allin Cottrell, published in the Journal of Consciousness Studies 6.1 (1999): 4-12. He forces the reader to actually conduct the experiment.

First, again Carrier cites an article as being incredibly important to a philosophical topic despite it not being consider important to the philosophers working in the field. I have never heard of this article despite having done both Philosophy and Cognitive Science at about that time. So I find the idea that it’s so important highly implausible.

Second, it’s unclear what he means by this. These experiments are explicitly designed so that we can’t actually run them in reality — that’s why they’re “thought experiments” — so while that seems to be what he is directly hinting at that would indicate that he doesn’t understand thought experiments at all. Looking at his reference to the Chinese Room, he might just be hinting that you have to go through the actual implications of the thought experiment, but then philosophy already knew that, and it isn’t clear that what he works through there matters to the purpose of the thought experiment anyway. At any rate, both materialist and non-materialist philosophers have worked through the details of all of these, so simply admonishing them or us to do so isn’t really meaningful. Yes, we have to look at the consequences and sometimes our intuitions miss that, but in order to do that you have to understand what the thought experiment is meant to show first to see if those consequences matter.

Carrier tends to misunderstand the purpose of the thought experiments.

Let’s start with the first one, Searle’s Chinese Room.

Searle’s infamous Chinese Room is an example of a philosopher failing to conduct the actual experiment he himself described, and thereby getting a completely bogus result out of it. Pro-tip: the man in the room is only analogous to the circulatory system…and that circulatory systems aren’t conscious, is not a revelation—whereas how we must conceive of the book in the room to meet Searle’s own terms, ends up making the book conscious, proving nothing about consciousness…other than that books can be conscious! (See my discussion of Searle’s fatal mistakes here in Sense and Goodness without God, pp. 139-44.)

First, the point of Searle’s Chinese Room experiment isn’t really about consciousness or about qualia or about mind, per se. It’s essentially about understanding and meaning. The idea is if we can get real understanding if all we are doing is a simple symbolic look-up. So, if all someone was doing was taking in a card, matching the symbols with a response, and putting that back out of the room, could we really say that they understood Chinese, even if to someone outside the room they gave all the proper responses and so looked like they really understood Chinese? If we can’t say that, then understanding is not simply a matter of symbolic processing, and since that’s what at the time we thought that AI would do this would mean that AI should never have real understanding and so could never really be intelligent. And, yes, the parallels to the Turing Test were, if I recall correctly, intentional, as an attempt to show that a symbolic processing AI that passed the Turing Test still wouldn’t understand and so wouldn’t be intelligent.

Thus, all of the extra things he adds on in his chapter — learning, memory, etc — don’t really matter. If the book is doing more things, then that turn the book into something other than a symbolic processor and so doesn’t relate to the thought experiment at all. At some point when he adds enough to make it plausible that it understands we are far beyond the simple symbolic processor that Searle was talking about. And I have no idea why he thinks that making an analogy to the circulatory system is at all relevant here, since not only does no one actually make that analogy, the circulatory system is not a symbolic processor so its properties aren’t relevant here.

So, sure, if he makes the book conscious and drives the functionality of the book that way, then he’d have a book that understands. Fine. But this doesn’t do anything to address the fact that the person doing the look-up doesn’t understand Chinese. Heck, you can have the person in the room pass all the cards up to an actual Chinese speaker who writes the response and we could still say that the Chinese Room doesn’t really understand Chinese. So what Carrier should be doing here is pointing to the fact that we — and presumably a proper AI — will have some kind of proper executive that really does understand. But then we would concede that simple symbolic processing isn’t sufficient for understanding, which is conceding what the experiment was meant to show. The only thing we’d have to reject is the conclusion that we can’t make an AI that really understands, but we’d at least eliminate some of them from contention.

The second experiment he talks about is Mary’s Room:

Another is Mary’s Room, in which the usual mistake is to forget that if Mary has all propositional knowledge, then she already has a complete set of instructions for how to install and activate whatever neurons in her brain are required for her to experience any color she wants. The thought experiment, as usually carried out—incorrectly—confuses process with description, and cognitive with nonconitive knowledge (again see Sense and Goodness, pp. 33, 179, etc.). Not all knowledge is propositional. That does not mean non-propositional knowledge can’t be reductively physical.

Okay, the point of Mary’s Room is to show that she could have knowledge of all physical facts about the colour of an object but, having had no experience of it, would still be missing something, which is what she’d learn when she finally sees an object that has a colour. So the posit is that even with all the relevant physical facts there is something new that she would learn from actually experiencing qualia. Given that, you can’t reduce all knowledge of qualia to the physical facts, because there is something that would be left out that can’t be captured at that level. So that Mary can produce the appropriate experiences by stimulating parts of her brain — or even just by imagining it — isn’t at all relevant: she still learns something new about qualia that all of her knowledge about the physical brain couldn’t teach her. Whether that knowledge is propositional or non-propositional is irrelevant, and again if the thought experiment is correct that knowledge can’t be reduced to the physical facts, and so indeed can’t be reductively physical. Now, you can argue that the experiment can’t show that because it is so foreign to our experience — ie we normally learn those properties through experience and so can’t properly imagine how to get it any other way — that our intuitions here can’t show that there is no possible way to get it, or you can argue for something like emergence which would at least preserve that the mental things are still physical — or, at least, could be — but of course Carrier does none of these things, and thus misses the mark entirely.

This will continue with the crucial zombie experiment:

This is similar to why philosophical zombies are logically impossible. To be one, a person must be neurophysically identical to a nonzombie, yet not experience anything when thinking and perceiving (they see no “color red” and hear no voice when asked a question and so on), and yet always behave in exactly the same way. Those three conditions cannot logically cohere. Ever. For example, if you ask the zombie to describe the qualia of its experience (“Do you see the color red? What does it look like? Do you hear my voice? What does my voice sound like?”), it either has to behave differently (by reporting that it doesn’t), or it has to lie (by claiming it does, when in fact it doesn’t), which is also behaving differently, but more importantly, entails a different neurophysical activity: because the deception-centers of the brain have to be activated (and that will be observable on a brain-scan of suitable resolution); but also, their brain has to be structured to be a liar in that circumstance, which will physically differ from a person whose brain is structured to tell the truth when asked the same questions (and those structural differences will be physically observable to anyone with instruments of sufficient precision). To which one might say, “Well, maybe the zombie will lie and not know it’s lying.” Right. And how do you know that is not exactly what you are doing? If you genuinely (yet falsely) believe you are seeing the color red, how is that any different from just actually seeing the color red? In the end, there is no difference between you and your philosophical zombie counterpart […].

Okay, before I get into this, let me point out that I agree with Carrier that these sorts of zombies aren’t actually possible. The reason, however, is not one that will help Carrier. It is entirely possible that if we form the right beliefs about what colour something is or that our experience contains that colour we could act properly as if we actually had experienced that qualia, even if we haven’t. This is the main thrust of my essay on phenomenal experience and cognitive function. However, the problem is that we have to get those beliefs somewhere. Qualia, then, is an input that produces the appropriate beliefs in us. A zombie could have all the appropriate beliefs — and so wouldn’t have to lie — but where would it get them from? It would need some other kind of input to produce them, which would then, of course, produce different mental processes. So at the physical level, at least when it comes to the specific behaviour, the neurons would look the same, but the part that produces the inputs that produces the beliefs would change.

So we can see where Carrier goes wrong here. The reason that the philosophical zombie could report that it is experiencing qualia that it isn’t in fact experiencing is because it would have beliefs produced that say just that from whatever input method is doing that. But for us, the beliefs would be being produced by the qualia itself. It is not possible for us to have those beliefs produced by actual qualia and yet not have qualia, while it is possible to have those beliefs be produced by something that is not, in fact, an experience of that qualia. As I argued in the essay, imagine that you are wearing a pair of goggles that reduce all colours to black and white, but walk around a room that you have never seen before with a spectrometer. You could easily know what colour all the objects are, report that properly, and act as if you had seen the colour of those objects, but you would not have. The zombie, then, would be in the same boat, and so Carrier’s response doesn’t work.

Qualia appear to be an unavoidable and inalienable product of a certain type of information processing. You can’t make a machine that behaves consciously (and thus is capable of all the remarkable things consciousness allows an animal to do), that doesn’t qualitatively experience what it is processing.

Which is false, as my goggles example demonstrates. We can behave, for the most part, as if we’ve had an actual qualia experience when we haven’t and do all the relevant information processing based on that, so surely an AI can. And there is no reason to think that an AI that is processing a camera image is actually experiencing anything, especially since there is no reason to think that it suddenly being able to give better answers — ie do better information processing — would mean that it suddenly experiences qualia. If you can get qualia simply from having a camera hooked up to you, then shouldn’t any laptop with a camera experience qualia? If not, then how does doing more processing on that image suddenly produce that? That’s not how it works for us; we don’t have to think about our qualia at all to experience it. So processing it ourselves, consciously, and producing direct beliefs doesn’t seem to be the key to producing qualia. It is much more reasonable to say that qualia is an unavoidable product of neurons than it is to say that it is the product of information processing.

This leads on to Carrier’s big objection to the paper, and also to his biggest mistake: the idea that consciousness, including qualia, is really a process:

Here Bartley makes the common error of confusing an object with a process, form with function. It’s a category fallacy. A mind is not a brain; a mind is what a brain does. He is acting like someone who pulled open his computer and, not finding chess pieces inside it, declaring on that basis that it makes no sense to say his computer can beat him at chess. Or like someone who says that because his drive to Ohio is obviously not identical with his car, that therefore magic, and not his car, drove him to Ohio. That’s just silly.

Except, as pointed out above, this isn’t exactly clear. Unless he wants to argue that qualia is the product of the process — which he doesn’t — then it can’t be just what the brain does. Qualia and experience in general are events, not processes. They aren’t algorithms, but are, in fact, in some sense individual things. It would be like saying that his computer can beat him at chess without there being any chess programs on the computer. Once we have a chess program, then the computer is capable of beating us at chess. Once we have something capable of producing qualia, then we can have conscious experiences. So there’s some kind of “object” in the mix, or else Carrier’s claim can’t work. And if he says that that is the brain, then it again becomes unclear how an AI itself could ever do it no matter what algorithms it has installed.

“Can it mean anything meaningful to say that the contents of democracies are physical?” Yep. And yet it’s just atoms moving around. “Can it mean anything meaningful to say that the contents of conversations are physical?” Yep. And yet it’s just waves of sound or light transferring information from one computer to another. When you account for the structure of the process, yes. It’s just physics all the way down. And yet conversations and democracies exist and are fully explained.

The problem here is that, in both of those cases, looking at the physical implementation of democracies in this world doesn’t demonstrate that democracies — or, rather, democracy itself — are meaningfully physical. If Carrier’s declaration that mind is physical is to have any merit, it is going to have to be possible that mind isn’t physical. Given that, it’s going to have to be the case that there are possible worlds that are not physical. And if that’s the case, then we can ask if that non-physical world can have democracies and conversations. If it can, then democracies and conversations are not inherently physical, and clearly aren’t physics all the way down. There is something about democracy and conversation that cannot be described at the physical level, some conceptual truth about them that transcends the physical implementation of them in this world. In short, what it means for something to be a democracy is not dependent on its physical implementation, or whether it has one at all. Thus, we can know what it is for something to be a democracy without appealing to specific physical properties at all. Since it does seem like you can have a non-physical world that contains democracies, this seems to be true for democracies. Can the same thing be said of mind? It also seems like a non-physical world can have minds (although not brains). So then what it means for something to be a mind or to be conscious does not depend on physical properties or, in fact, on the existence of brains. So unless Carrier wants to insist that non-physical worlds are impossible — at which point I’ll simply point out that he has to thus consider “physical” to mean “existent” and then declare any supernatural or non-material entity “physical” by that definition unless he actually comes up with a definition of physical that justifies the distinction without assuming his conclusion — he has to accept if our minds are physical, it is only an accidental result of this specific implementation, and not a conceptual truth as he seems to be asserting.

For example, we now know we are not conscious of spans of time smaller than about a twentieth of a second. Which is why movies work: we don’t see the individual cells flicker by, one after the other, because they fly past at 24 frames per second, so we only perceive a continuous moving picture. That means if you “zoom in” to a thirtieth of a second, during that whole span of time, consciousness doesn’t exist. It only exists as an event extended over time—a time span longer than 33 milliseconds. A thing that doesn’t even exist except over a span of time? That’s a process. No process, no thought. No thought, no mind.

Okay, first, why in the world must we conclude that something that only exists except over a span of time must be process and not an object? Objects exist over spans of time. He’d have to be trying to argue that “consciousness” doesn’t exist at any point in time … but no one denies that. It’s the mind that exists, even when we’re unconscious, not consciousness itself. Second, what he’s talking about here is not “consciousness”, but is instead change detection; we don’t notice changes below that span of time. But we’re still conscious that whole time, which is in fact why that works, as our consciousness is still maintained while the changes happen too fast for it to react to them. If our consciousness was actually shut off or non-existent, we’d get “skipping”. So this example is entirely wrong.

. But long term memory can’t even be formed to be stored, without first existing in short term memory…but short term memory is a process, not a storage system. That’s why if you take enough of a drug (like alcohol) that interferes with the ability of your brain to store a memory, you can still operate in short term memory but none of it gets recorded. Short term memory (hence experience, hence qualia, hence everything Bartley is saying a mind is) is a process, something the brain is doing

How does being able to block the transfer of data from short-term to long-term memory show that short-term memory is a process? And why would short-term memory being a process mean that experience and qualia are processes, too? And what kind of processes are qualia anyway? Sure, qualia could be what the brain does, but nothing he talks about here proves that, even if we granted the rather controversial claim that short-term memory isn’t actually a storage system when it seems pretty much like it is (specifically, a limited size short-term cache).

I’ll finish with a minor point:

(2) Bartley says that because, for example, an actual ball we are tracking rolling behind something else, is different from our mental experience of the ball, that therefore experience can’t be physical. Literally, “These ideas all rely on the idea that physical things exist independent of minds. So by definition, a physical object is not only or purely what is in the contents of experience. This means, conversely, that anything that is purely in a mind, is not physical by definition!”

That’s wild nonsense. Obviously the actual ball outside our mind is a different physical thing than the ball in our mind. Just as a computer simulation of the airspace a plane is flying through is completely different from the actual airspace it’s flying through. Does that mean airplane radar readouts therefore cannot be physical systems? This is incoherent nonsense. There is no sense in which a simulation is “by definition” not a physical system. No more in human minds, than in avionic computers.

The point Bartley was trying to make there was that by definition, physical things are the things that exist outside of minds, and so anything that exists only inside of the mind can’t be physical by that definition. But qualia, by definition, only exists inside minds. Therefore, by that definition, qualia can’t be physical. Instead of … whatever it was that Carrier did, the right answer is to say that we don’t use that definition anymore, and so Bartley’s argument is specious. As it stands, Carrier’s reply is more incoherent than the argument he called “incoherent nonsense”.

To summarize, there are a number of issues with materialism about mind that they need to address, but the most famous thought experiments didn’t, in fact, stump them. Materialists can have a consistent concept for the mind really being material or physical, but they have to dodge problems like epiphenomenalism or losing qualia which is the defining trait of consciousness. Carrier does not do them any favours here, as he misses the point of the thought experiments and so gives responses that don’t address them in any way.

Carrier on Pay Equity in Men’s and Women’s Sports

June 29, 2018

So, I talked about part of Carrier’s discussion of women’s sport in a previous post. That one focused on whether men prefer to watch men’s sports and on the quality of play and competitiveness and a bit on how that might impact audience. In this post, I’m going to talk about pay differences in general and reiterate a bit about what I think the solution is.

(Note that Plum has made a couple of response videos at his channel. Since there are two 45 minute videos there and since I don’t really like to watch videos and certainly have issues responding to them as it’s hard to quote them, it is likely to take me quite a while to get back to them).

Anyway, the big problem Carrier has with Plum’s original video is actually a minor point in it: that women’s groups are asking for the exact same pay as men in sports:

Apart from village idiots, amateur activists and internet fools—and not, for example in this case, the actual athletes in question or a professional journalist or analyst—no one has ever said all women in sports should always get paid the same as men regardless of associated revenue. In some cases revenue isn’t even relevant (e.g. national Olympics teams do not exist to earn revenue). But when it is—free market commercial sports—disparities aren’t all explained by revenue. The gender pay gap in sports has actually narrowed a lot in the last ten years (most reports show it went from achieving effective equity in about 20% of all sports to now over 80% of them), but in many cases it remains in defiance of any proportion to revenue. If one team brings in the same revenue as another, those teams should be paid the same. But sometimes that isn’t happening. And that’s what angers people. People who know what they’re talking about.

Now, this is a strong, strong statement, and so you’d think that Carrier, thus, would provide strong evidence that this is actually the argument. But he provides no evidence that this is what people are asking for. Sure, Plum should have provided evidence that this was the at least typical demand, but Carrier should have provided evidence that it isn’t. I can concede that people who actually know the sports aren’t in general demanding that women’s athletes get paid the same as men in leagues and the like where that would be significantly more than the revenue the sport takes in, but I’m not willing to concede that they only want the same percentage of revenue in all or most cases, or that beyond that rather obvious point they take revenue into account at all.

The problem is that Carrier links to a place that talks about pay inequity specifically and yet only quotes this from them:

  • Attend women’s sporting events
  • Support companies that advocate for women’s athletics
  • Encourage television stations and newspapers to cover women’s sports
  • Sign up to coach a girls’ sports team, whether at the recreational or high school level
  • Encourage young women to participate in sports
  • Become an advocate: if you are or know a female athlete that is being discriminated against—advocate for her rights.

He then says this about them:

Notice what’s not on the list: asking for equal pay regardless of revenue draw. They well know the gap is more a product of women being ignored, than of their being paid inequitably (even though there is evidence many still are, hence the points above; although note: progress on that score has also been moving fast).

But note what’s also not on the list: asking for equal pay based on revenue. In fact, there is nothing in that about pay inequity at all, despite that being the title of the article. And this only gets worse if you look at the article and realize that they talk about pay inequities and that that discussion actually supports Plum’s point better than Carrier’s:

Gender Equity in Professional Sports

  • At the end of each World Major Marathon (MMM) series the leading man and woman each win $500,000, making a total prize of one million U.S. dollars. The WMM includes the New York Marathon, the Boston Marathon, the London Marathon, the Tokyo Marathon, the Berlin Marathon, and the Chicago Marathon.
  • In 2007 Wimbledon announced for the first time, it will provide equal prize purses to male and female athletes. All four Grand Slam events now offer equal prize money to the champions.
  • When the Association of Surfing Professionals was acquired in 2012, now known as the World Surf League, the new ownership made it a policy that the men’s and women’s Championship Tour events have equal prize money.

Gender Inequity in Professional Sports

  • Total prize money for the 2014 PGA tour, over $340 million, is more than five times that of the new-high for the 2015 LPGA tour, $61.6 million. Similar discrepancies exist throughout professional sports.
  • For a WNBA player in the 2015 season, the minimum salary was $38,913, the maximum salary was $109,500, and the team salary cap in 2012 was $878,000. For NBA players in the 2015-2016 season, the minimum salary is $525,093, the maximum salary is $16.407 million, and the team salary cap is an all-time high of $70 million.
  • For winning the 2015 Women’s World Cup, the U.S. Women’s National Team won $2 million. Germany’s men’s team took home $35 million for winning the 2014 World Cup. The U.S. men’s team finished in 11th place and collected $9 million, and each men’s team that was eliminated in the first round of the 2014 World Cup got $8 million each, which is four times as much as the 2015 women’s championship team.

Note that none of the examples in professional sports ever reference percentage of revenue at all. While they talk about ratios, there is no evidence that they are in any way referencing the difference in revenues, despite it clearly being the case that in many or most cases there will be significant differences in the revenue that they take in. All of their examples of equities are cases where the men and women are paid exactly the same. So it seems reasonable to conclude that they are more interested in the pay being the same as opposed to it being the same percentage of revenue.

The only case that even indirectly talks about percentage of revenue is the reference to the salary cap in basketball, since salary cap is either directly determined by — as it is in hockey — or determines indirectly the percentage of revenue that player salaries make up. Carrier himself references the salary cap in the NBA and WNBA (though indirectly):

Even the WNBA, which obviously earns vastly less than the NBA (so we certainly shouldn’t expect equal pay by gender there, any more than we’d expect bottom ranking men’s teams to earn as much as top), is still not at parity in pay even in proportion to revenue: NBA payroll is 50% of its revenue; WNBA payroll is 33%. That raises some eyebrows.

Except that as far as I know there is no such thing as a salary cap that isn’t negotiated with the respective players’ association, because it greatly impacts player salaries. The reason the cap in the NHL is set at 50% of revenue is because that’s what the NHLPA agreed to with the last NHL lockout. And it’s interesting to note that it wasn’t the players who wanted the salary cap, but the owners, to avoid rich teams outspending smaller market clubs and driving player salaries up beyond what the league could support. I’m pretty sure that the NBA being at 50% was the same sort of thing, given that Gary Bettman came from basketball originally, and so am also pretty sure that the 33% was negotiated by the union as well. Given that, there’s a reason why the salary cap in the WNBA results in a lower percentage of payroll vs revenue than it does in the NBA. It could be that the players just have less leverage in the WNBA, and so a work stoppage doesn’t have the same impact as it does in other sports. It could be that there are other factors that mean that owners need more of the revenue. For whatever reason, if you want to complain about women in the WNBA getting paid unequally when compared to the NBA the first thing you need to do is ask the WNBAPA why the salary cap is the way it is.

Because even if Carrier was right that percentage of revenue is the main goal here — and he has provided no evidence of that, remember — it isn’t clear that that is a reasonable thing to insist upon. Should players in the CFL get paid the same percentage of revenue as players in the NFL get? Should players in the AHL get paid the same percentage of revenue as players in the NHL get? Should players in AAA baseball get paid the same percentage of revenue as players in MLB get? These are not trick questions where I spring numbers on you showing what they actually get, because I, myself, don’t know that. The point of asking these questions is that, as it stands, I can’t tell you if that’s fair or not. For the development leagues — AAA and AHL — on the one hand you can argue that the players there developing, and so expect to be paid less overall while they try to get to the pro leagues. They also don’t have the leverage that the professional players have, being easier to replace and with less revenue and profit being lost if they walk out. On the other hand, a lot of their contracts are set by the parent teams without taking into account the revenue that the development team actually takes in. Given that, their percentage might actually be higher because they have to absorb contracts that they wouldn’t have negotiated if they were doing it themselves. Then again, there might be fixed costs for things like equipment and travel that while they might be able to economize on them a bit end up being a more significant percentage of revenue than it is for the parent teams, demanding a higher percentage of revenue go to the teams instead of the players.

The CFL is probably more directly comparable, because like the WNBA — and any professional women’s league — it is, essentially, a separate league. The contracts are not negotiated by parent teams, and the game itself is different. While the CFL does sometimes have NFL players who can’t make a team there come to the CFL and while some outstanding CFL players have made it to the NFL, the teams draw from substantially different player bases. They have different appeals and different ways to generate revenue. The CFL draws, of course, a lot less revenue than the NFL does. And given all that I’ve said above, I’d have to conclude that I can’t tell you at first blush if the CFL’s percentage of payroll vs salaries should be the same as the NBA’s, less, or more. You just can’t get to that without diving into the details of the league, its expenses, how it gets revenue, demands of the players, and so on.

The same thing, then, has to be applied to women’s sports. The league is not the same. Just having significantly less revenue causes issues that might dictate a difference in that percentage. Having smaller payrolls also causes issues as it may be harder to attract people into the sport at all — and thus to the league — if they can’t earn enough to live on. A number of CFL players have taken winter jobs to help fund them playing all summer, and curling in general has had issues with its players — male and female — having to balance curling and attending bonspiels with the jobs they need to support themselves and their families. Carrier’s claim here seems to be that for women’s sport you can just compare it to the highest men’s sport, look at the percentage of revenue that the payroll makes up, and determine if that is fair or not, but since the leagues aren’t comparable that doesn’t work. The most he could get here is that if you look at that percentage and it isn’t the same that’s a spur to look closer to see if it is unfair, but that doesn’t justify the strong position he takes and the strong words he uses to talk about it.

Carrier also makes a strong statement that the only time that the pay should be definitively equal is for national teams:

3. Except in revenueless sports: e.g. The Olympics, where as a matter of national pride we should fund both equally;

Except that this also isn’t necessarily reasonable. For national pride, what you want to do is fund the various sports to the level required for them to maximize their success. That doesn’t mean that you should pay the players the same or the same bonuses if you don’t need to in order to recruit and motivate players so that you maximize your chances of that team winning. So, is it the case that you need to pay the men more than women to do that? One commenter tried to give a reason why that might be:

As for mens soccer team vs womens soccer team. The men get paid higher at their pro teams than women so it makes sense for the usa team to pay the men a salary that is competitive with their pro team salary.

women soccer players make less at their pro teams so their salary doesn’t have to be as high as mens team.

Carrier replied with his customary tact and consideration:

And there is no logic in saying women are paid less in soccer because women are paid less in soccer. Payroll should be the same percentage of revenue. There is the same competition for positions, proportional to the revenue base. It’s illogical to say that because male teams bring in less money–e.g. last year they made no profit and lost a million dollars, while women’s soccer turned a five million profit–therefore teams should pay more for male players. That’s ass backwards. Clearly they are paying too much for the men, because quality is declining. So should pay.

So, from Carrier’s own sources, the women’s soccer team made five million dollars and the men’s team lost a million dollars one year, whereas commonly the men’s team earned more revenue and more profit than the women’s team. Carrier is going to use that one-time event — that was surely impacted on both sides by the women’s team winning the Women’s World Cup — to determine that the men’s team should have their payroll cut because of that? Because quality is clearly declining, he says, and so there is no reason at all to think that, perhaps, the reason is that the compensation isn’t sufficient and that they aren’t getting the players they need? Or that they were simply a victim of the relatively small market for soccer in the U.S. and the women’s team’s smashing success drew dollars away from them that they will recover the next year? Remind me never to let Carrier run any company I’m ever involved in, since his immediate reaction to even a temporary downturn will be to slash salaries and thus cause more people to just leave and make things worse, given this.

Of course, Carrier doesn’t even get the point, although the commenter doesn’t say it that well. The issue is that given their pro leagues, the players that the national team is trying to recruit get paid a lot more money per game than the women do. If money per game is going to seen as any kind of incentive for them to come and play, that’s going to be a consideration. At a minimum, offering them an amount of money that is significantly less than what they get per game from their club team is going to seem less like an incentive and more like an insult. And since many if not most of the best ones are going to be playing in Europe, so they’ll need to at least be compensated enough to travel to where the tournament is being played and to make that travel worthwhile, while most of the women’s team will simply travel with the team to the respective tournaments. In fact, from Carrier’s own sources one of the differences is that the women want a steady income, and to be on the team and get paid throughout the year, while the men only get paid when they play games and like it that way, for the most part. The women certainly would like to commit and have the national team commit to them for the entire year and to get an income from that, while the men don’t want anything like that since their main income comes from their club teams. Thus the men want to play for their club teams and only do anything for the national team when required, while the women certainly wouldn’t mind the national team being the only team they played for if it paid enough. So that, then, seems to suggest different approaches, which then aren’t directly comparable.

The question to ask, though, is if the monetary rewards actually provide any incentive at all. It’s certainly not the case that the Canadian men’s hockey team, when it was recruiting NHL players for the Olympics, had any issue recruiting players. They pretty much all jumped at the chance. However, we can see that for things like the World Hockey Championships or for the national basketball teams a number of high profile players turned down invitations. The reasons varied, but for the most part it was over clashes between their pro leagues and the demands of the national team. The next season was an important one — either due to the contract they could earn if they played will during it or because the team had a real chance at a championship — and so they wanted to keep their focus on preparing for that season. They were tired and a bit injured after a long season. They didn’t want to risk injury. For all of these reasons and more they were hesitant to play for the national team. A larger monetary incentive might encourage them to take the risk (although, again, it’s hard to imagine that the national team can offer enough to make it a real incentive for most of them).

Despite it not being clear that the larger monetary incentives matter all that much to recruitment, if we for a second imagine that it does then the insistence that the women and men be paid the same for their participation hurts the national teams. Again, they want to pay enough to have a team that can win. If they really do need to increase the monetary compensation for the men to do that but wouldn’t need to do so for the women, then any increase in funding to the men’s team will cost them twice as much as it should. For smaller countries that still want to promote equality — like, say, Canada — that might make the cost of doing so too much for them to swallow, and so end up with them having a less competitive men’s team than they could have as a result of striving for false equality. So, as we saw above, the same answer comes up here: you have to look at the details of the sport to determine if the men and women are being paid fairly, and Carrier, at least, doesn’t do that.

Now, although I’m sure that if Carrier is reading and responding to this post that he’s already gone off on how all of the above entirely misses the point of the quotes above, let me point out here that his point with that quote from the group talking about pay inequity is to show that they aren’t simply demanding to be paid the same, but recognize that the problem is that women’s sports don’t get the attention and so don’t get the audience that men’s sports do, and so in order to fix the issue they have to increase the profile of women’s sports. I’d suggest that they recognize that only because the low-hanging fruit of direct charges and comparisons have already been done — see their list of equities, for example — but at this point that seems reasonable. The problem is that because sport — both playing and watching — has been seen as the domain for men for so long women’s sports are now trying to enter into a marketplace that has a men’s sport at pretty much any niche that they might want to enter. The pro sports dominate the top echelons, the premier or elite leagues where people who want to see the highest possible quality of the sport congregate. Junior, development, college, and high school teams dominate the niches for people who want to see the future, or want to pay less to watch it, or have no other choice. When it comes to quality of play, women’s teams often aren’t as good as any of these alternatives, and they can’t really be that much cheaper or provide any better competitive spirit or really provide anything that these already established alternatives can and are providing. So, then, if they want men — or sports viewers in general — to watch the women’s sports or to even give them a try, they need to be able to tell them why they should take money that they’ve been happily spending on what they currently like and spend it instead on the women’s sport. What is in it for the men to make that switch?

They can argue, as Carrier does, that it’s important for the equality of women for this to happen. Unfortunately, this leaves it vulnerable to how Plum’s argument is generally used, and to thus argue that if you are going to argue that men should support women’s sports just because it is good for women for them to be supported that it would seem that women should do that first. Women can’t even use the “We don’t really like sports” argument against that because they are, essentially, asking men to watch something that, given quality of play issues, they like at least slightly less than what they are watching now in order to support women, so surely women can get into women’s sports enough to do the same. So unless they can give a reason for men to switch from their at least currently preferred teams the argument from women’s equality strikes more at women than at men; women should be willing to put their money where their mouth is and at least give the women’s sport a try before demanding that men do so.

So we’re still left with a need for a reason for men to give the women’s sport a try and experience that wonderful “aesthetic” that Carrier talks about. And one reason would simply be sex appeal. You can argue that men should watch women’s sports because they’ll get to see attractive women in attractive uniforms playing the sport. This would probably work — beach volleyball is probably an example of that — but it’s obviously not an option that feminists will want to take, because to do so would require them playing up the sex appeal in advertisements and perhaps even tailoring the wardrobe and uniforms to maximize sex appeal. And on top of that it can only add appeal to men who could at least tolerate the game anyway; if they don’t like the quality of play given how easily accessible various types of porn is they aren’t going to pass up play or sports they like better just to see that. I’ll admit that the attractive women of beach volleyball gave me reason to choose to watch those games during the last Summer Olympics, but I wouldn’t watch that instead of a sport that I actually liked. So it’s not the message they’d want to send and isn’t going to be the draw they need anyway.

To me, the reason that they need to give is the one implied by Carrier’s “wine” analogy but that his “You won’t notice the difference” argument belies: give the women’s sport a try because it’s significantly different than the equivalent men’s sport. Women’s gymnastics is, again, the example of this. If I wanted to get someone to try women’s gymnastics who was a fan of men’s gymnastics — I’m, uh, sure there’s someone like that out there somewhere [grin] — I’d point out that the men’s sport is all about strength and power, while the women’s sport is more about flexibility and balance, which makes them different sports but in a good way. Women’s gymnastics, I’d argue, is not an inferior men’s gymnastics but is instead its own sport with its own style. Given that, it’s possible that someone might appreciate the different aesthetic as much or more than they appreciate the aesthetic in the men’s sport. This is, of course, entirely the reason I prefer women’s curling to men’s curling. So my advice to women’s sports is: be different than then men’s sports, even if you have to change the rules to do it. That’s the only way that the encouragement to give women’s sports a chance is ever going to work out for you, beyond national and local teams that are doing far better competitively — meaning, winning championships — than their equivalent men’s teams.

I responded to this post both because this is a topic that I’ve talked about before and because it really demonstrates how Carrier lives in a glass house wrt his main point about charity when it comes to interpreting arguments. His replies here are very harsh, often ignore what the other person actually said, rarely ask for clarification and often lack evidence. Yet all of these things are what he calls out both sides in the Atheism Plus debate over. It seems that he should take the log out of his own eye before he seeks to remove the splinter from the eye of others.

And it would help if he was, you know, actually right, too [grin].

Carrier Discusses Women’s Sports and Ends Up in a Glass House

June 22, 2018

So, Richard Carrier decided to talk about how the Right and the Left have killed Atheism Plus by making a link between Noel Plum’s youtube videos — or, at least, some of them — and, overall, a way of arguing that is invalid and incorrect. He puts the problem thusly:

Plenty of folk who voice bizarre or implausible or outdated beliefs, when they do “cite” evidence in support of their arguments, it’s typically cherry picked, or made-up, or massaged, or there is some fallacious disconnect between what they claim as evidence and the conclusion they want to reach. These are fraudulent reasoners. And fraudulent reasoners are immune to evidence. I believe each side of any political or values debate in atheism—both conservative and liberal—mistakenly assumes everyone on the other side is a fraudulent reasoner. Because they encounter so many who are, and too often when they encounter those who aren’t, those who aren’t still fail to correctly attend to evidence, the one thing that would correct them if they were a good reasoner, because everyone is fallible, and unconsciously subject to prejudice and bias…while fraudulent reasoners will never be corrected in this, because they have no intention of actually formulating sound arguments; they will simply invent endless excuses to ignore the evidence. Which looks very similar. So uncharitably, everyone assumes they are the same. This makes it difficult for either side to listen to and learn from the other. And that creates tribalism and division.

He then moves on to point out a specific video of Plum’s on Women in Sport and criticize it:

A good example in Plum’s case is his video Want Sports Gender Equality? Stop Whining and Do Something. Eyerollingly ridiculous, and in result, inadvertently sexist. Notably, he never cites any examples of anyone ever saying the thing he is criticizing. So what happens? Immediately he goes off the rails of reality. He instead attacks some sort of fictional feminist he invented in his head. Had he actually done research on this, and committed to the first rule of good reasoning—never criticize fictional people; always give a real example of the real person whose arguments or claims you are challenging—he would have produced a much more useful and correct piece of criticism.

But even that would only be half good. It would have been really good, if he committed to the second rule of good reasoning—don’t just pick the idiot in the room; make sure you steel man the opposition, by finding its best representative, not its worst. It can be fun, and useful, to pick on the idiot. Quality entertainment. And educational. But if you don’t mention the better opposition (at least to acknowledge it, if you aren’t going to voice any criticism of it), you will come across as someone who thinks the idiot is the best opponent you could have taken on. Which doesn’t make you look great. People will read your having done that as disingenuous. They will categorize you as a fraudulent reasoner. When really, you just screwed up. You let your biases run that episode. Rather than applying your own avowed principles to every show you do.

So we can presume that Carrier will be very careful to cite examples, steel man the opposition, and attend to and present all the appropriate evidence, right?

Now, this specific issue is one that I pay more attention to because I’ve already gone into it in detail, so I’m going to be sensitive to errors or misrepresentations that Carrier makes here. Also, since it’s about the only thing that I care about in the post I’m going to ignore the rest of it. That being said, Carrier receives and replies to some comments later that I’m going to refer to at the time to show both that he isn’t entirely consistent and to highlight that his purported good standards of argumentation fly out the window in the comments much of the time. As usual, Carrier says a lot and it can be hard to organize a reply so as not to be confusing, since a lot of the time his arguments contradict each other and leave me with too many wrong things to address in an organized manner.

With that, let me start by summarizing Plum’s video. I originally didn’t want to watch it because I thought it was a long video from Carrier’s presentation, but it turns out that it’s incredibly short. Essentially the argument he makes is that the main reason that women athletes don’t make as much as men’s athlete’s is that men would rather watch men’s sports and women would rather watch women’s sports, and so if women want female athletes to make more money they need to spend as much money on women’s sports as men spend on men’s sports. He actually gives absolutely no evidence that this is actually the case, and he cuts himself off from making the argument that men prefer the higher standard of play in men’s leagues, so all he has is this assertion that men for some reason just want to watch men’s sports more than women’s sports, and not for reasons of quality or expectations about how the game would be played. Men just want to watch men play sports more than they want to watch women play sports. As someone who, in fact, would rather watch women curl than men and, in general, would rather watch women do, well, almost anything than watch men do the same things, I really, really think he needs to provide evidence of that assertion [grin].

Now, Plum and Carrier had a Twitter conversation later to hash some things out, but I don’t like following Twitter conversations and, really, Carrier has to get this stuff right the first time to be consistent with his own demands earlier in the post, so you’d expect that Carrier’s main point would be about men not really preferring to watch women’s sports or that being for a specific reason. Except, it actually isn’t. Instead, he challenges Plum’s notion that the debate is about actual pay rather than a percentage of revenue — which I’ll get into a little later — and then says this:

Plum’s argument is thus just as illogical. Women are accomplishing quite a lot. They are exceptional athletes, putting on amazing performances, and filling seats. So they aren’t filling fewer seats because they suck. They are filling fewer seats, because we suck. We aren’t paying them the kudos and fandom they are due. We should get over our biases, and realize it’s as much fun watching women play, as men. So then women can finally have as many opportunities to excel at sport as men do. But you can’t legislate that. It’s just a matter of asking people to think about it; until enough generations absorb the message.

Except Plum explicitly stated that it wasn’t because of the difference in quality of play that women got paid less, and from that we have to draw the conclusion that the lack of viewership isn’t because of quality of play. So, no, he never asserted that it was because women suck. And, in fact, pretty much everyone who uses the quality of play argument isn’t using it to claim that women just suck (yes, there are some that do, but seeking out the worst examples to refute is, again, what Carrier explicitly says one ought not do above). They tend to use in the way I used it in my post:

Which is reasonable right up until the point you recall that the level of competition is, at best, the same between men’s and women’s sports. It’s not the case that the level of competition, or stories or how hard the players are playing is greater in women’s sports than in men’s sports. But the quality of play is greater in men’s sports than in women’s sports. And all things being equal, if I can get the same level of competition but if one of two options has a higher quality of play, then I’m going to choose the one with the higher quality of play. This applies to junior leagues, academic leagues … and women’s leagues.

I’ll come back to that, but let me first point out that Carrier finally tries to address the main point of Plum’s video in a comment summarizing their Twitter exchange:

4. Gender-limited enthusiasm (men only watching men; women only watching women) has no plausible biological or evolutionary explanation, as evidenced by the rapid change in it over the last century (decade by decade, more men watching women play; more women playing), and by sports where gender-limited enthusiasm now doesn’t even exist or is shrinking (it’s also rendered implausible by sports enthusiasm not having existed when we evolved);

Which is a rather complicated way to say “Where’s your evidence for that assertion?” … which is what he should have done in the first post. Plum should not have had to remind him of his main point.

He adds in another comment reply to someone else:

On just that one issue—the gendering of aesthetics in our social programming, limiting people’s opportunities (both players and enjoyers)—it works like this:

We’ve all been damaged by sexist social programming. Some of us can escape that (owing to sneak circuits left in); many of us can’t (owing to the programming being too wired in to change; and one can’t be morally judged for not doing the impossible).

The only way to get to those of us out who can escape, is to trigger the escape cascade by injecting the meme into them. We have to put the meme in everyone (thus, communicate the idea as widely as possible), because we can’t know in advance who it will help and who it won’t.

Progress generation over generation requires continuing to do this, generation after generation.

Which actually then suggests that he thinks Plum’s point is actually right, despite his actually providing no evidence for it. In his summary of the Twitter debate, he goes on from there to suggest that since it can’t be biological it must be cultural … but he still has provided no evidence that it actually happens. And I find that highly implausible, given that every two years we see women’s sports performed on the largest stage with few men saying that they refuse to watch the women’s sporting events because they only want to watch men’s sports. In fact, the popularity of women’s soccer in Canada vis a vis men’s soccer in Canada comes from the fact that the women go to the Olympics and win medals and generally do well, and the men’s team, well, doesn’t. The men haven’t been in the Olympics since 1984 in Los Angeles and the only other time they played was 1976 when Canada hosted the Summer Olympics. To put it in perspective, the women have won medals as often as the men have participated. And while Olympic hockey with NHL players was more anticipated than the women, since in general in women’s hockey at the Olympics either Canada or the U.S. win gold they did get a lot of attention, and I don’t know of anyone who said that they weren’t going to watch it just because it was women playing. Sure, there are probably some people who did, but most people who tune out for women’s sports do it because they don’t care for the quality of play. So, Carrier himself needs to provide evidence for this phenomena that men prefer to watch men’s sports just because men are playing the sport and won’t watch women playing sports because women aren’t men.

(I’m not even going to get into the fact that just because we didn’t have a specific condition when we evolved it doesn’t mean that something couldn’t be biological or evolved, since it could be a side effect of an evolved tendency that is trigger in a condition that it wasn’t designed to trigger in).

So, on that, Carrier actually talks about women’s hockey, and women’s sport in general:

It makes no logical sense, for example, to say women aren’t as strong as men, ergo they should be paid less, because that actually isn’t how sports enthusiasm is measured. When women are competing with women, the only game on is strength-equal. And trust me, women’s hockey is just as exciting as men’s. You wouldn’t even notice a difference, if no one told you which you were watching.

Except that for hockey, and for sports in general, that’s actually completely false. Anyone who follows hockey beyond a simply shallow “turn it on and watch for a bit” will be able to tell the difference because the men’s and women’s games have different rules. Specifically, there’s no body checking in women’s hockey, at any level (it was tried at one tournament in 1990 and hasn’t been back). Since body checking is prevalent in the men’s game, if you know anything about the men’s game and watch a women’s game you are going to notice the difference. You’ll notice that the women don’t go for a body check in places where they should and get penalized for things that wouldn’t be a penalty in the men’s game. In fact, when I first watched women’s hockey at the Nagano Olympics, I was impressed by it, because the inability to bump players off the puck allowed for and forced more skilled play, along with the fact that the main power play strategy — get it back to the point and unleash a heavy slapshot — didn’t work in the women’s game because the women didn’t have very effective slapshots. In Salt Lake, when I watched it again, I was disappointed by it because while body checking was still illegal the rules about incidental contact seemed to be loosened up and so players were getting bumped off the puck most of the time, and the women developed better slapshots and so devolved to the normal, rather boring strategy of getting it back to the point and unleashing one. It was this disappointment that pretty much killed any interest I had in women’s hockey.

And so the point about it being “strength-equal” is also false. As another example, the whole reason I watch women’s curling and not men’s curling is because they aren’t “strength-equal”. Women aren’t as strong as men, and so don’t have the weight — insert your own joke here — of the men, and so can’t “blast” like men can, where they unlock and remove a number of stones just by throwing really hard at them. In fact, that was exactly the point when I lost interest in the men’s game: I saw too much blasting and started to find the game boring. Now, full disclosure, the men’s game seems to be blasting less than it used to, moving to the skins/mixed doubles model of loading up the rings with stones and hoping to get a good shot to score a bundle at the end of it, but since this is very risky and often ends up resulting in giving up a lot of points it’ll be interesting to see how long that lasts.

But this is going to be true of any sport where the women’s game is the same as the men’s game: while some things will be relative to the opposing players, there will be some absolutes, and so some things the women can’t do as well as or at all that the men can do. Carrier seems to acknowledge this in a reply to JohnReese’s comment outlining the differences in tennis, but Carrier’s reply is a terse:

That’s all true but not relevant to anything I actually said.

Which leaves JohnReese to have to figure it out for himself, which he tries to do:

Indeed, having read again, I clearly realize your point was that one couldn’t tell the difference between a men’s game and a women’s game in hockey, and you didn’t generalize this to other sports.

I acknowledge my mistake and apologize.

Except that Carrier’s point doesn’t make any sense if it doesn’t apply to men’s and women’s sports in general. Even if it was true that you couldn’t tell the difference in hockey, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t true in most sports and so doesn’t explain the discrepancy in pay. And Carrier, in an earlier comment does extend it:

That’s not true though.

Like I said, if I didn’t tell you and could prevent any indications tipping you off, you would never notice the difference between a men’s game and a woman’s.

Which is why indeed so many people watch high school and college basketball! And minor league sports. And so on.

You can try to weasel out of it by saying that Carrier didn’t make the direct comparison in basketball, but that would be ignoring the implication here and the fact that the original statement started from the general — “strength-equal” — and moved to a specific example, and that Carrier later commented that it isn’t about quality of play and that the sports were equally exciting. So, yeah, Carrier at least by implication generalized it and sticks to that in other comments, so JohnReese has nothing to apologize for and Carrier’s reply is vague and overly hostile, which goes against the whole point of the post.

Look, the point that Carrier is grasping for here is the same argument that I addressed in my take on the issue: we watch sports for other reasons than strict quality of play, and there’s no reason to think that the sport is less competitive in the sense that the athletes aren’t all putting in their maximum effort to try to win the game, series or tournament. It’s true that that is indeed one of the main things that draws people to competitive sport. There are other reasons as well, like loyalty to your city if they might win a championship or patriotism at the Olympics. But as I pointed out, barring a specific reason to watch the women’s game and all things being equal, the men’s game is always going to be at least as competitive as the women’s game and will always have the higher quality of play. It is not likely, then, that if I just want to watch hockey and have to choose between the NHL and the CWHL that the women’s game will be as “good”. The quality of play difference will be dramatic.

Carrier will, of course, reiterate that high school and college sports get great attendance even though the quality of play is lower, even dramatically so. Sure, but they’ve never tried to get people into the seats advertising the same quality of play or experience. They’ve always appealed to things like being able to see the future stars before they became stars, or lower prices, or even that they are the only game in town (a number of high schools can recruit on the fact that there are no professional sports to watch in that town). I don’t know of any case where you have high school, college or junior leagues that get the same attendance as a professional league in their city for the same price, where both teams are equally competitive in their respective leagues, at least not on a regular basis. Even college basketball, as far as I can tell, gets less play and less TV revenue than the NBA except during March Madness, which is a special event with a special format that allows them to draw in viewers. Unless there is something to differentiate these sports from the professional versions, they don’t draw as much as the professional versions.

Yes, the competition does exist and can be entertaining and, if you are shallowly paying attention, can be the same or similar to the men’s game in women’s sports. But the women’s sports that do the best, it seems to me, are those that are different enough from the men’s sports to draw on their own merits and quality of play without having to rely on “competition”. Women’s gymnastics is the ur-example of this. Men’s and women’s gymnastics are completely different. Suggesting that a woman could participate in men’s gymnastics or a man could dominate women’s gymnastics is an utterly ludicrous suggestion, despite the fact that it makes sense for almost any other sport you can name. And yet it is the women’s gymnasts that are the cultural icons, not the men. It gets more attention than men’s gymnastics. All because it is its own sport that can garner its own quality of play without having to compete with the men.

So, to me, having them be the same and relying on competitiveness to get people to watch women’s sports is the wrong approach. Carrier seems to contradict himself on that note in a comment:

An analogy is drinking wine or scotch: plenty of people think those things are gross; until they work to develop an appreciation for them, then they love them. Not everyone though. Just a lot of folks; far more than would be the case, if no one experimented with or bothered to cultivate the appreciation. (If, for example, people put up moral or superstitious barriers and rejected any such efforts in themselves; then no one, or hardly any one, would appreciate a fine scotch, and the industry would probably evaporate.)

But if they are the same and just as exciting as each other, what kind of appreciation needs to be developed? It’s only if they bring different things to the table that you need to develop an appreciation for their unique strengths. But that’s what Carrier spent most of his posts and comments trying to deny.

The only thing I can come up with here is that he’s referring to the cultural conditioning to not watch women’s sports, that we have to overcome by, presumably, watching them. But as noted above, this seems false, as women’s sports are shown at the highest level every two years and people seem to have few issues watching them. So this doesn’t seem accurate.

Given that, will his approach even work? He gives no example of any sort of conversion that occurred because of this, even his own. Meanwhile, I can not only provide examples of how my approach — have women’s sports be different from men’s sports and highlight that — has worked for me wrt curling, hockey (before it changed) and tennis (where watching men try to ace each other out of the game actually got me to say that I’d watch women’s tennis if nothing else was one but wouldn’t touch men’s tennis), but I can also point to the fact that the more different the men’s and women’s games seem to be the more popular the women’s sport is relative to the men’s sport, with gymnastics being the ur-example of that. So, when it comes to actual evidence — one of Carrier’s main points in his post — it seems like I have the clear advantage. So Carrier — and possibly Plum — have to provide evidence that there is any kind of strong preference — cultural or otherwise — for men to watch men’s sports and not watch women’s sports, and that simple “appreciation” will change anything.

This post is getting a bit long, and so far we’ve seen that Carrier attacks Plum for something he explicitly said wasn’t the issue and barely touched the main point of Plum’s post … and was wrong about both of those anyway. Did he at least manage to get his point about salaries and revenue right? Well, no, and I’ll show why next time.

Objectivism Alternatives…

June 15, 2018

So, Adam Lee is continuing to talk about Objectivism by looking at “The Fountainhead”, but as the series goes along there is more and more indication that he doesn’t really understand Objectivism at all, and often has no interest in doing so. In one post, he admits that he hasn’t been focusing on the interpersonal dramas and instead has been focusing on the architecture despite the fact that Rand clearly would want us to focus on the latter. I suppose he could be being sarcastic there, but since he hasn’t talked much about the relationships and has indeed talked a lot about the world of architecture, the evidence says that if he’s being sarcastic it’s because he isn’t aware of what he’s actually doing there. This is especially egregious in that post since, as someone else has pointed out, not understanding or looking at the interpersonal issues means that he doesn’t understand something that is at least easier to understand if someone actually paid attention to that.

So, I’ve pointed out in a number of comments there the errors Lee is making, which has led the usual morons to insist that somehow I’m really an Objectivist … despite my clearly being Stoic-leaning and those people knowing that I defended Kant far more strongly than I’ve ever defended Rand. There’s another regular commenter who is an ex-Objectivist who nevertheless defends Rand far more than I do. One of the almost reasonable points that was made is that the other person also criticizes Rand a lot more than I do. Since I’ve talked a bit about Objectivism here, maybe that applies here as well. So I want to reiterate here something that I have said repeatedly about Objectivism in those comment threads that, of course, the usual morons keep forgetting/ignoring: Anything that someone might find appealing about Objectivism has been done better by some other philosophical school.

Do you find Rand’s Enlightened Egoism appealing? You might want to instead look into Hobbes’ Social Contract Theory. Not only does he make a better case for Enlightened Egoism, he also isn’t bound by the strict Libertarian ideas that Rand pushes for. On the contrary, he actually advocates for strong government regulation of behaviour to ensure that it is, in fact, always in someone’s interest to keep the Social Contract, which is an issue for Rand (and, as I’ve said before, a lot of her opponents like Lee who often justify following the rules on the basis of self-interest). His view is also Psychological Egoism instead of Ethical Egoism, which thus allows for the view that we need social and legal restrictions because ultimately we don’t want to have our actions be totally driven by narrow self-interest, and that acting morally is not, in fact, about acting on our own self-interest. Thus, Hobbes does not need selfish behaviour to be seen as good and proper or even overall desirable, which Rand (and, again, some of her opponents) end up claiming, making it a view that better fits our intuitions of morality and that also can’t be used by people to justify acting selfishly and feeling themselves good for doing so.

Do you find her rational Virtue Theory appealing? Then the Stoics might be what you’re looking for, as they also define what is right by appealing to rationality, and are also Virtue Theorists. The big advantage they have — at least when you get into the Roman Stoics like Seneca — is their view of the indifferents: things that aren’t in and of themselves virtuous or vicious. Rand has issues inside all of her works with personal preferences and allowing people to do things just because they want to and happen to like it, which has pushed her into a position of insisting, at times, of insisting that even personal preferences have to have an objectively correct determination, which then leaves her struggling to justify the differences in preferences from her protagonists. This is because she doesn’t really have a notion of anything that isn’t, in and of itself, a moral position. But the Stoic indifferent angle is essentially, if understood properly, that as long as what you’re doing isn’t vicious and isn’t causing you to fail to achieve virtue, you should do whatever it is you most want. It’s okay to have lots of money as long as you aren’t getting it viciously and aren’t spending effort on getting rich that you should spend on becoming virtuous. And Stoicism also includes the idea that you should put being virtuous over anything else — including your life — without having to justify sacrificing your own self-interest by appealing to a deeper self-interest, and so more easily justifies refusing to work, say, for an immoral boss even if that might mean that you starve, which Rand has to introduce a — not unreasonable, but a bit unworkable — line that essentially has to boil down to that it isn’t in your self-interest to violate your “deeper nature”, either because living that way is the only proper rational approach or because once you let it be known that you will sacrifice that you will be taken advantage of even unto death and have no way out of that. The Stoics simply place virtue ahead of direct self-interest inherently, and so don’t have to rationalize self-interest in that way, and yet still retain the indifferents to allow you to pursue your own personal self-interest, defined by what you like, when virtue and vice aren’t direct concerns.

Do you find the “I won’t live for others or ask others to live for me” line? Then you might like Kant, although Kant is far more different from Rand than the others are. Kant’s basic morality is that you can’t never treat any moral agent, even yourself, as merely a means to an end, but always also as an end in themselves. This, then, stops you from merely using people to get what you want, and as this is the basic principle it doesn’t need to be justified in terms of your own self-interest, which Rand has to do since her basic principle is self-interest. Kant’s view is also strongly objective and also relies on reason to make most of its claims.

So I don’t defend Objectivism because I think it a good philosophy. I think that pretty much everything that might be appealing about it is done better by another philosophy (and if there are other ideas of what makes it appealing to some I’d like to hear about them so I can see if there are other philosophies that are better at that). But there are, indeed, things about it that are at least philosophically viable, and Lee and the other opponents there often attack those things in their attempts to undermine it, and don’t actually understand what those things mean. Obviously, I’m going to encourage people who like Objectivism to take up the Stoics instead, or Kant, or even Hobbes. That doesn’t mean that some of their criticisms aren’t philosophically invalid, philosophically dangerous, ignorant, or just plain wrong.

The Involuntarily Celibate …

May 18, 2018

So, after Alek Minassian engaged in a mass killing, seemingly targeting women after making a post talking about Incels, the whole idea of men, in particular, who can’t get sex has come to the fore, just as it did when Elliot Rodger went on his shooting spree. I made a post talking about how things weren’t that simple sometime around then — I was late as usual — and I guess I should talk about things like that now. And, again, as usual, the main ideas are that these men were misogynistic from the start and that was why they couldn’t get sex, and that women can’t get sex, too, and don’t go off on these sorts of things. Adam Lee made two posts on this, and in a comment, a reply to someone talking about a woman who keeps meeting jerks, really reveals the issue with his “misognyist first” attitude:

Secondly, I think if everyone your friend dates has the same problem, it’s time to start wondering why she’s attracted to that type of person.

Here’s an alternative hypothesis: Most men are sexist and entitled, so a random sampling would be expected to contain a high proportion of them.

If you look back through the comment thread, the original comment talked about men being such jerks that she couldn’t even get past one or maybe two dates with them. Somehow, Lee is taking the purported background sexism and elevating it to that level. And it just feeds into the issue, where somehow this woman can pick up on their complete sexism and entitlement and that’s why those men can’t get dates or sex … except that a) there are a number of men who are far more sexist than the baseline that Lee would insist most men are at who still get plenty of sex and b) those jerks are still getting dates with a woman that the original commenter said was an actual model, and so are doing far better than most of the men who would fall into the Incel Movement. So, no, that’s not exactly credible.

Also note that in the second post, he deliberately takes on a comment that he then proceeds to completely mock, and which essentially talked about legalizing prostitution to give leverage to men against women, which he seems to have misinterpreted besides (it seems more likely that the original poster advocated for that as a response to a spouse or partner withholding sex, as opposed to using denying her sex as a way to manipulate her. At best, he’d likely use it as a way to say that if she didn’t do what he wants he will leave because sex is the most important thing to him and if he can get it elsewhere he doesn’t need her. Which is still bad, but not really what Lee was calling him out on). Lee doesn’t take on anything like a reasonable position, and this is consistent among the comments. I don’t know if the normal boards for the Incel Movement have reasonable views, but as presented it seems like the only thing to talk about here are the very extreme views, again presented as being their starting point, with the lack of sex being the result of those views, and not the cause of them.

In my experience, that’s not always true, and it might even not be generally true. Most of the worst misogynists in the movement might well have started out as generally good people who found that the lack of sex and the reactions of society to their lack of sex angered them, and made it easy to fall into blaming women because they had no way out and were tired of blaming themselves and having people blame them for things that didn’t seem to be under their own control.

And this post is a prime example of those sorts of reaction. She’s enraged by those with these attitudes and who might or do kill people because of them, but her comments simply perpetrate the same myths and misunderstandings that enrage these men in the first place.

She starts with this:

So why do these men feel that they deserve sex? (I know, I know. It’s the Patriarchy.) But seriously, why do they not understand that no one has a right to sex with another person? That sex is not a commodity and that no one has a right to another person’s body. From men banging on about being friend zoned despite their best efforts to others making highly inappropriate sexual approaches on dating apps because they don’t see that they need to do more than just demand, there is a whole swath of men who seem to think that Life owes them Sex.

And they can believe this aggressively. Look at the prevalence of rape culture. Look at #MeToo. Look at this incessant rise of ‘incel’ or ‘involuntary celibacy’ and its association with acts of mass violence. And, to a calmer but no less significant extent, look at the more generalised and widespread sense of entitlement among so many men, as GOTN so eloquently wrote earlier this week.

But … how does she know that, in general, they do feel that way? I used to hang around on a lot of shyness newsgroups, and we had at least one if not more really misogynistic men there, but in general it doesn’t seem like they started — and often even finished — at the point of thinking that they were entitled to sex. For the most part, it seemed to me that their biggest sticking points were that if they complained about not having sex, or about women’s selection processes, they were called losers and told to suck it up, while women were generally given more sympathy. It’s easier for women to blame their problems on men — men are shallow and obsessed with looks, for example — and get a sympathetic response than it is for men to do the same thing, as seen with Lee’s response above to the suggestion that a woman who keeps getting dates with jerks might want to adjust her selection criteria. And it’s also a rather bad move to compare “incels” with #MeToo because in the latter case those men who felt entitled to it had reason to feel that way: because whether the women found their power appealing or whether they could abuse that power to get women to have sex with them — and I’m sure that both happened, often in the same person — they were, in fact, getting sex from pretty much any woman they wanted to have sex with. And since any woman rejecting them was a threat to their power, they would feel they had to respond to demonstrate that they still had that power.

The “incels” don’t have any such power. If they did, then they wouldn’t be “incels”. For the most part, the complaints were always about not even getting a shot, and about getting called a loser if they didn’t want to keep trying the same old advice that didn’t work for them, not about how they were “owed” sex. The closest they tended to get to that was “I act the way people say you should act, I try to respect women, I try to not make it all about sex, and yet I don’t even get dates while the jerk who only wants sex with them gets sex on the first date, or even without one. Shouldn’t I get something for trying to be a good guy?”. This is the heart of Nice Guy(tm) complaints, and it always ignores that they are, indeed trying to be Nice Guys while the “better alternatives” aren’t even trying, and yet are seen as better just because they succeed.

She goes on in a Twitter rant to say more cluelessly bad comments:

Every time I read about violent, self righteous incels I get furious, because *plenty of women spend their lives feeling un****able*, but instead of being taught that the world owes them sex they’re taught to think they’re just worthless people.

I know what it’s like to feel like everyone else is off in the world doing normal sex things while you’re forever alone. But women who feel that way rarely seem to see those feelings as justifications to take our anger out on strangers and the world at large.

It’s not that it’s “easier” for women to get laid (as incel men all seem to think). The difference is that men are taught that the world owes them sex and love, and women are taught that sex and love are a reward you get for shaping yourself into someone worthy of love.

Yes, that has to be it. That’s clearly why a man who is a virgin is a loser that many women will or will at least feel that they should avoid simply because he is a virgin while a virgin woman is generally considered very desirable. That’s why men are generally expected to make the first move and do all of the wining and dining and, in general, have to make sure that they “show her a good time”. All she has to do is show up and look pretty while he has to do all the organizing and all the paying, but clearly he thinks he’s owed sex and love while she’s had to shape herself into someone worthy of love. Riiiiiiight.

Look, she’s right that women have it harder than men think. One big issue, for example, is that looks are indeed a primary factor in how men generally select women to date — my theory is that if you don’t really know anything about someone and have multiple options and limited approaches, you are more likely to go for the one who is the “best” by the criteria you can evaluate before an approach, which is looks — women have to spend a lot of time trying to maximize their looks … but can’t look like they’re doing that. Not enough effort? They’re derided for not looking good, and lose out to their competition. Seem to spend too much effort? They’re vain and, recently, seen as dishonest … at least by the men that she is talking about here. So they can’t win on that score. On the flip side, though, in general they can at least blame their looks for their lack of success without getting the standard “Lots of women without looks get dates!” line tossed at them.

I’m even going to accept that her case is a case where she was lonely and had self-confidence issues, and that that was something that she has now happily moved on from. Her case is just a bad example here, and so an example of how clueless the responses can be:

So here it is. Before my husband, no one had ever wanted to have sex with me a fourth time. A boyfriend and a casual fling made it to three, there were two sets of two-night stands, but all my other previous sexual experiences were one night stands. And there weren’t that many of them either. In the 15 years that I have been having partnered sex, I have had 9 partners but when 5 of those were just one sexual encounter, it doesn’t add up to much and, with hindsight but not much surprise, the sex before my husband was also almost universally mediocre. How could it be otherwise? We didn’t know each other well and we certainly didn’t know each other’s bodies well. And that was everything I knew. Nothing kinky, nothing exploratory, nothing lasting. Just nothing expect unrequited love, heartbreak and rejection.

Now I know that 9 sexual partners is above average, and having sex 15 times in the 10 years before meeting my husband isn’t really nothing, but it was little enough that it bothered me. Why didn’t anyone want to spend more than one or two nights with me? Was it worse that so few people wanted to fuck me or that those who did didn’t want to **** me again? It bothered me that I seemed only worthy of casual sex when I wanted more. I wanted to believe that I was worth more, but I couldn’t. I started to dwell on all the reasons that I wasn’t wanted, all the reasons why I wasn’t enough.

So, she’d had more sexual partners than average, and had had sex more than once a year … and thinks that can compare to men who have never had sex? Or who might have had one or two partners? Really?!? Yeah, this could cause issues for her and her self-esteem. She had to wonder why no one wanted to be in a relationship with her (although her focus on not wanting to have sex with her more than four times seems to really miss the point). And she had to feel, rightly or wrongly, that she was having far less sex than almost everyone else was having. And that hurts. So I sympathize. But at least she could point to men who found her attractive enough for casual sex, considering that, again, she had more partners than the average. The men she’s talking about here didn’t even have that, and so most of them would love to have the success she’s had. Yes, women get lonely, too, and have issues, but that doesn’t make all of those issues interchangeable. It’s kinda like the women who came into shyness newsgroups complaining that they can’t talk to their husband’s boss when there were guys who couldn’t get any kind of a date. Yes, it was a problem for them and yes, they deserved help, and yes a lot of those guys were guys that the forum had given up on, but it should be easy to see why those guys didn’t think her problems were as bad as theirs, and got upset that they perceived that they were treated that way.

She finishes this way:

Men; you need to put aside your entitlement and realise that nobody owes you anything. You’re not single because you’re short, it’s because you’re an arsehole. Nice guys don’t finish last, you’re just not as nice as you think you are. Paying for dinner does not guarantee sex, buying gifts does not guarantee sex, treating someone with respect does not guarantee sex because honestly you should just be doing that anyway! You have to accept rejection gracefully, you have to accept boundaries and limits. And you have to understand and accept that you can do everything ‘right’ and still not get laid, and that does not give you any right to be angry or demanding or ****ing rapey.

Which is so incredibly clueless that it makes me laugh. Arseholes get sex, so that they’re an arsehole probably isn’t the only or maybe even the main issue here. Nice guys may not finish last, but there’s no evidence that they finish first either. And treating people with respect should make you more successful at getting sex than people who aren’t, and there’s no evidence that men who don’t treat women with respect are less successful than those who do. And speaking from personal experience, I have accepted rejection gracefully, accepting boundaries and limits except in some cases where I screwed up, accepting that I can do things right and not get anywhere, and never got angry or demanding or rapey, and yet her terrible success rating is still miles ahead of mine. I gave up, and worked on other things, like she did. I didn’t get any kind of relationship, though, and she did. Maybe, just maybe, she should consider that she doesn’t really know what it’s like for men in general and in particular for men in these situations.

Because giving this sort of advice is only going to have one outcome: men are going to ignore it and ignore you, even when you say things that are right. And that leaves them open to people who are not as nice as you and who are more misogynistic and bitter. You probably don’t want more men ending up there.

Games Examining Issues

May 11, 2018

So, the last video from Extra Creditz that I’m going to look at in this two week span is this one about the need for “B” games to discuss issues, using Wolfenstein: The New Colossus as an example of that. Their main comparison is that the AAA game “Call of Duty” has finally in its latest incarnation actually shown a concentration camp, and has never really explored Nazism, fascism, or any issue like that despite spending a number of incarnations in WWII, while the “B” game “The New Colossus” explores this in a completely in-your-face manner, and that’s not only what games need to do, but what we as people need right now.

The problem is that it’s unclear whether “The New Colossus” ever explores the topics at all. I haven’t played the game, but I have read Shamus Young’s series on it, and he fills in some of the details around those explorations. For example:

After the Siege, BJ and Grace have a conversation that makes no sense. BJ talks about how they want to liberate America. Grace argues that white America is a lost cause because they’ve already settled into Nazi rule. Then BJ says some platitudes about freedom and suddenly Grace starts agreeing with him.

This is wrong twice. One, what was she fighting for if she already thought this was a lost cause? I thought we were teaming up with her because mumble mumble something about revolution. But now she’s not even aligned with our cause? What was her plan then?

Secondly, BJ never says anything to convince her. She spells out reasons why the citizens of the US are a lost cause, and BJ doesn’t say anything to counter this. But she changes her mind anyway because there’s a musical swell while he makes his dumb arguments and that makes this feel inspirational.

And:

We learn that the Nazis are letting the KKK run the south, and during our walk downtown we see KKK guys casually chatting with Nazi stormtroopers.

This is interesting because the war ended 14 years ago. At this point in history, we would have the first generation of adults who had little or no meaningful memories of the old USA. The men signing up for military duty now were raised in Nazi America. They’ve spent their entire lives attending Nazi public schools, watching Nazi television, and reading Nazi books. They would all speak German as a second language, and for people working with the Nazis on a daily basis it might gradually become their primary language.

Certainly there would be a few holdouts, keeping the old ideals alive and hiding the occasional book from the censors, but for the coming generation this will be the only world they’ve ever known.

And if you think about it, this would suggest that most of the faceless troopers you’ve been blowing away were probably more likely to be from Houston than Hamburg. The Nazis won the war, but unless they invented a cloning machine then they wouldn’t have the numbers to occupy the entire planet like this. Certainly some of their forces would need to be locally sourced. Perhaps they would have German officers in charge of native conscripts, with all of the really good hardware (the mech suits, the power armor, and the zap guns) reserved for guys from the Fatherland.

I have to wonder: What is the KKK at this point? The Nazis have put them “in charge”, but what does that mean? Are they a political party? A government agency? Are mayors, sheriffs, and city councils elected by the people, or are they appointed by the Nazi leadership? Because directly vetting and assigning a mayor for every pissant little city in the US would require an enormous bureaucracy.

To be absolutely clear: I’m not suggesting that Wolfenstein II would be a better game if the writer explained all of this. I wouldn’t want a scene where BJ has to go through a bunch of anguish because he realizes he’s been gunning down conscripted Tennessee farm boys. Like Star Wars, a big appeal of this series – indeed, maybe the entire point – is to have an unambiguously evil force to oppose so that we can do our first-person manshoots without worrying that our main character has gone too far.

It’s hard to claim that you are actually exploring an issue when all you’re doing is taking an enemy that everyone thinks is bad and presenting them as such so that people won’t feel guilty about shooting them. This is pretty much the same sort of move that games that feature Middle Eastern terrorists make, or that games released during the Cold War made when they made the Soviets the bad guys. Philosophically, making this sort of move only confirms in people opinions they already have, and doesn’t encourage them to explore their own ideas, no matter where they fall on the topic.

Especially if the representatives of the enemy are strawmen:

From here he gets a motorcycle and rides to his home in Texas.

He’s here to pick up a ring his mother gave him as a child, which was shown in a flashback during the overlong introduction to the game. While you’re here, you can watch a few more childhood flashbacks, or you can move on to the house to get the ring. Inside, he’s confronted by his father.

The flashbacks make it clear that BJ’s father Rip Blazkowicz was a cruel, hateful, violent, narrow-minded man. He beat his wife. He beat his son. He killed his son’s dog as a punishment for BJ playing with a black girl. When the two meet again here in 1961, we learn that Rip gave up his Jewish wife to the Nazis. And now he’s planning to execute his son. Also: BJ doesn’t notice until the end of the scene, but Rip called the Nazis to the house, so if he doesn’t finish his son then they will.

I think that’s about as evil as you can possibly make this guy. He’s a complete cartoon. Even when faced with a legendary and world-famous Nazi killer who’s wearing a suit of armor and is bristling with guns, Rip is such a thick-headed moron that he thinks he can continue to bully his son.

I get it. He’s a strawman. He’s an exaggerated vessel of the worst aspects of human beings. He’s here so we can kill this embodiment of evil without guilt. My problem is that this story already has lots of characters that serve this exact purpose. We have the Nazi footsoldiers in general, and Frau Engel specifically. We get to do a lot of cathartic Nazi killing in this game. That’s arguably the reason the game exists. So why are we spending this entire character to simply repeat that same theme? Is this really the most interesting thing the writer could think to do with BJ’s father?

In a game about igniting an American revolution, this is the only American civilian we talk to. For story purposes, he should probably be representative of what has happened to this country. Maybe he started off as basically a sane man with some mild racist tendencies, but once the Nazis took over the fear and desperation overcame him. So then he gave up his wife, informed on his neighbors, disavowed his son, and accepted the rewards for doing so. Each time he thought this would be the last time. And now, he confesses, he’s given you up as well. Then the player can decide to kill him or walk away. (With him dying in the subsequent attack anyway.)

That would give us a new perspective, and would re-focus our anger on the Nazis for the soul-devouring police state they created. This would be a contrast to the Nazis.

As written, this scene feels pointless and self-indulgent. When presented with the opportunity to show what kind of man raised BJ, the writer built up this twisted strawman and let the player kill him with an axe. We get to kill a lot of dudes with axes in this game. BJ’s father should be something more than a lame mook.

BJ’s father is simply a racist. He’s always been a racist. Not only has he always been a racist, he’s always been a terrible, abusive person. All this does is characterize racists as being simply terrible people, and as Shamus points out there are no other white civilians shown to cast any doubt on Grace’s assessment that white America is too far gone to save. Extra Creditz makes a rather blatant implication that we need explorations like this in this current political climate, even saying that the game strongly indicts us for “trading democracy for race-hate”. But the game doesn’t do that. The game doesn’t show that the people actually did that, that they decided that the racism outweighed their democracy in a similar way to what is purportedly happening now. And, of course, to say it like that strikes many people as being a strawman of the existing situation anyway. If you try to beat people over the head with a strawman, people will get annoyed by that, even if they don’t align with the philosophy you are strawmanning. Shamus is neither a racist nor a fascist nor even really a conservative, but he gets annoyed by the strawman because he knows people who hold the views that are being strawmanned and knows they don’t really think that way. The only people who won’t notice the strawman are the people who think that the strawman is actually accurate. To explore an issue as at least Extra Creditz seem to think the current situation is, you’d need to show how mostly “normal” people can be fooled into accepting racist arguments and fascism as the solution to those non-existent racial issues. As it is, all the game does is create evocative scenes that are only evocative to people who agree with the ham-fisted political philosophy espoused by the game.

Like the scene mentioned in the video about encountering Hitler:

Wolfenstein II is a pretty silly game, but it’s not quite cartoonish enough to pull off Mecha-Hitler without dissolving into comedy. So instead of making him a physical threat, the writer makes him an object of audience ridicule. We see Hitler as an old man[2]. He’s a disgusting senile beast who shuffles around in his bathrobe and pukes and pisses all over the room. He spits when he talks, his mood oscillates all over the place, and he casually executes people for trivial slights, real or imagined. Normally I dislike taking historical figures and turning them into grotesque caricatures for ridicule, but I figure once you’ve perpetrated a Holocaust you’re fair game.

People like to pretend Hitler was some sort of mutant instead of just a regular human being with very bad ideas because it helps us feel better about ourselves, and maybe this sort of mockery isn’t always the most nuanced or mature way to engage with this topic. But screw it. If there’s anywhere it’s appropriate to trade in slanderously exaggerated depictions of Hitler, it’s in a Wolfenstein game. This might not be the best place to learn about the complexities of historical figures or the fragility of human nature, but that’s not why we’re here.

Having said that, I really do have a problem with this scene.

While I agree that this is a great idea for a scene in a Wolfenstein game, you still need to integrate the scene with the rest of the story. We introduce five new characters in this scene: The casting director, three other actors, and Hitler himself. These characters exist only in this scene. Nothing that happens here has any bearing on the rest of the game. BJ doesn’t attain his goal or even move any closer to it. This isn’t a lead-up to a confrontation with Hitler, who we never see again. This scene is thirteen and a half minutes long, and you could excise the entire thing from the game and the player wouldn’t even know there was anything missing. You could cut from the moment BJ gets off the ship to the moment he unpacks his bags in his room and it would feel completely seamless.

There’s no real gameplay, so this doesn’t work as part of a videogame. And the plot doesn’t move forward so it doesn’t work as part of a movie. Again, this is just self-indulgent on the part of the writer.

The scene is not there to explore Nazism, fascism or racism. It’s simply there to let the writers mock Hitler and for the player to be able to vicariously mock Hitler right along with them. Now, it’s pretty safe to mock Hitler as, well, almost everyone isn’t going to like the guy. As Shamus points out, once you’ve perpetrated a Holocaust that’s probably the least you can expect. But as he also said, that’s the only purpose the scene serves. If we take Extra Creditz’s take on what games should be doing, we could expect them to want to do that sort of thing for all sorts of other political issues that they happen to think correct, but that other people think at least questionable. If a game mocks Trump in the same sort of way, it will annoy and offend some people. And not only the people who are Trump supporters, but also people who don’t support Trump but who think that he isn’t that bad. The only people who will accept and like the presentation are those who actually believe it to be the case, which means that no one else will be encouraged to reconsider their position or change their minds. It’s hard to say that you can have anything that even looks like a real exploration of a topic when there’s almost no chance anyone will even have their minds opened even the slightest by that exploration.

And that might be the actual reason that “Call of Duty” shies away from doing this. It might not be the case that they are merely timid, but rather that these details are too tangential to the game that they really want to make to put the time and effort into doing it right, and doing it wrong will just detract from the game that they really want to make. “The New Colossus”, on the other hand, is utterly unconcerned about doing it right, but instead in doing it in a way that’s over-the-top and lets them pontificate on their own positions without having to insert any kind of nuance or shades of gray into the mix. I’m not saying that’s something that games ought not do. If a game wants to do that, more power to them. I am saying that that is in no way an exploration of any kind of philosophical question that has any complexity to it whatsover, and Extra Creditz are wrong to portray it as such.

Good Player vs Good Character …

May 9, 2018

So, the next video I’m going to look at from Extra Creditz is this one about Nier: Automata and how it promotes kindness through sacrifice. My title, though, is aimed at the fact that Extra Creditz doesn’t seem to separate the character and actions taken by the character from the player and actions taken by the player. They chide most games for, they say, making the player feel like they are good people through things like goodness meters and quests to help people, but since this doesn’t require sacrifice from the player it’s hollow. It’s easy to be good, they argue, if it doesn’t cost you anything and might get you XP, money, extra quests or extra enjoyable encounters if you do it. They then say that NieR Automata pulls off what they call a good way to do that. I’m going to talk about the spoilers they gave in that game — I haven’t played it — and so I’ll put the rest below the fold:

(more…)

Unpleasant Design …

May 4, 2018

So, the first video that I’m going to look at from Extra Credits in my attempt to do more direct philosophical analysis is this one on Unpleasant Design, which is in fact pretty much just a video about philosophy and not about gaming. I’m going to touch on how this sort of design might impact games at the end, but the thrust of the video is all about real-world cases and applications. In general, it’s about attempts to design things like buildings, benches and all sorts of things in a way that they say “excludes a group of people” but really, in general, is to prevent certain things from happening by making it impossible or unpleasant for people to do those things but without explicitly banning or enforcing a ban on those activities. Their first example is about placing a number of bike racks under a bridge to prevent homeless people from sleeping there, but they also talk about designing park benches so that it’s uncomfortable for people to sleep there or even stay to long, or designing or painting the walls of buildings to discourage people from publicly urinating on them. Their main thrust is that these things are done to hide problems and so the money and effort should be spent on solving the problems and not on these sorts of unpleasant designs.

There’s a philosophical presumption that they don’t really acknowledge built into that, though: that because this targets a group — specifically homeless people — that this design approach itself is a problem rather than the intent. The issue is that even if we accept all of their presumptions about the intent of these things, the design approach itself is actually an ingenious way to achieve a common and natural design goal. No matter what, there are going to be things that a city or an area don’t want people to do in a certain area. They can invoke and enforce bans, but this is generally expensive and intrusive, and can often be confrontational, especially if it’s enforced by law. So, instead, what can be done is design the facilities so that people don’t want to use them for invalid purposes, while still allowing people to use them for valid ones. In the bike rack case, while that was almost certainly primarily useful for not having homeless people sleep there, people surely were indeed able to use them as well. If that was an area where bike racks were needed, it would produce the oft-desired “Kill two birds with one stone” solution, as people would be discouraged from sleeping somewhere they shouldn’t be sleeping, and bicyclists would get access to some much needed bike racks. So, in general, this sort of approach is the preferred way to deal with restricting actions that you don’t want to happen, as it discourages people from doing it without having to utilize massive enforcement resources to do so.

Now, of course it’s the case that at least sometimes the intent of the unpleasant design will be something that is invalid or immoral, but the video doesn’t really ever try to engage with that. There a number of valid reasons why the unpleasant design might be chosen over fixing the underlying problem. Taking the public restroom example, there is an issue that it isn’t as easy as they suggest to simply add more public restrooms. There is a cost involved, they can’t just be placed anywhere, and there’s also an additional maintenance cost to them as they have to be cleaned and potentially restocked on a regular basis (which is generally more than once a day). Simply adding more restrooms might not actually be feasible. Additionally, it’s possible that “having enough public restrooms” would mean having one every ten feet, because the reason that people were not using them wasn’t because they had no option, but because public urination was still more convenient. They might well have been able to walk to the nearest one and wait the length of time they would have to wait, but didn’t want to be bothered when using the side of a building was more convenient. Thus, by making using the side of a building less convenient they tipped the convenience scales towards using the facilities provided. Of course, it might still have been the case that there just weren’t enough public restrooms, but even in that case discouraging public urination was good design, not bad design.

The same thing can apply to the example of stores playing “uncool” music or using a simulated mosquito to discourage young people from using the store or its environs as a hang-out. If young people are not, in general, patrons of your store and just go there to hang out, that’s a problem for your store. It can block aisles and entrances so that your actual customers can’t or can’t be bothered to actually shop there, and can potentially be intimidating (especially since young people hanging out aren’t necessarily polite and respectful either). So if their doing so is likely to cost you business, then you’ll have to do something. You can come out and confront them to shoo them away on a frequent basis, or you can make it less cool for them to hang out there and so encourage them to move to a more appropriate location to hang out. The latter definitely seems to be the better option here, unless they want to claim that those young people should be able to hang out there even if they have no interest in buying anything and even if they are discouraging people who do from shopping there, which would certainly require justification.

Even the airport example could be more complicated than it seems at first glance. Certainly, less seating outside of shops and restaurants will encourage people to sit in the shops and restaurants which means that they’ll do better financially, but again adding more seating isn’t necessarily trivial. If you are in a place with a lot of foot traffic, adding more seating will create potential bottlenecks and force people to weave in and out of the seating to get to where they are going. If they’re in a hurry, then this will create frustration or even accidents, and a host of headaches for the managers. Thus, this “unpleasant design” seems again like a win-win: the shops and restaurants get more business, and it avoids cluttering up the main floor with seating and, in fact, even with people sitting down (because sitting on the floor in uncomfortable). While of course it’s not unreasonable to be cynical and suspect that the financial motive is the bigger driving force here, the counter that they could easily provide enough seating doesn’t really work either. And if they have to restrict seating, then their approach is a valid way to discourage people from doing that without having to directly enforce it.

And even if we accept their notion that the driving force behind the unpleasant design aimed at homeless people is to get them out of sight so that people aren’t bothered, unpleasant design is still a factor because even if you’re concerned about homeless people there are still going to be places where you don’t want them sleeping. If a homeless person decided to camp out at the front of my driveway so that I couldn’t drive out while they’re there, no matter how sympathetic I am to the homeless I’m going to make it clear that sleeping there isn’t an option. In the case of the bridge, since it was slated for demolition it might not have been safe for people to spend large amounts of time underneath it. If homeless people habitually sleep on bus stop or park benches will those be available for people who are waiting for a bus or resting in the park? Heck, even just sitting on those benches for too long is a problem, because if someone camps out there for, say, an entire day that means that no one else can use it that day. And since these things aren’t intended to be places for homeless people to live they couldn’t be used for their intended purpose. Unpleasant design aimed at making sure that they can be used for their intended purpose doesn’t seem quite so sinister when viewed in that light.

And even the cases where public outcry undoes the unpleasant design don’t seem like unvarnished goods. For the most part, all they do is restore one specific workaround for the homeless, but don’t really do anything to address the underlying issues. Yes, those homeless people can stay out of the rain under that bridge … or, at least, they can until it gets demolished. And even then they’re still sleeping under a bridge. And they can sleep on park benches and at bus stops again! I’m sure that that completely and totally thrills them; their life is now complete. The argument they make is that the thrust of these things is to hide the homeless so that those who are not can ignore them, but it seems to me that the campaigns they cite are just as bad, if not worse, as they allow people to feel like they’ve actually done something when, in reality, they haven’t done anything to address the underlying problem. Yes, homeless people have places to sleep again! Too bad that those places aren’t places they would sleep if they had a choice. The ideal approach would be to accept that they don’t want people sleeping there for some reason, but then insist that these people need some place to sleep and demand that something be done about that. As it is, these approaches let people feel like they’ve “helped” when they really haven’t.

So unpleasant design works well when you need to discourage people from doing things but don’t want to outright ban it in a harsh or artificial way. This brings me back to games, because this seems to be something that is great for video games. Video games will always have things that they don’t want their players to do, for various reasons. Instead of adding chest-high walls or invisible barriers, games will profit a lot from simply making it undesirable to take those actions in the first place. To take the bike rack example, if for some reason a game didn’t want players to rest under a bridge in-game, they could add obstructions that have some kind of use but make it impossible to lie down, so that the players can’t rest there no matter how much they might try (as the game keeps saying that you can’t lie down there). Sure, there’s a risk of games doing things simply to exclude a specific group, but if, say, they want to do a game focused on a male audience adding scantily clad female characters might immediately signal that this is such a male-focused game without having to actually say it on the box, like the store example above. And it’s an open question whether a game deciding to exclude a specific identifiable group is in and of itself bad.

Ultimately, the failing here is not separating the design itself from its intent, and so not properly analyzing the actions in light of what was intended. Unpleasant design is generally the right approach if you need to discourage something but don’t want to outright ban it and enforce that ban. For the most part, all of their examples assume that the intent is invalid and proceed to criticize the design on that basis alone, but they end up criticizing the approach because of the cases where the intent of it is at least reasonably invalid. Because of this, they don’t see why even in their examples things are more complicated than they appear, and why there may not be simple better solutions for the problem that they are trying to address. This, then, ends up being a prime example of the problems with shallow philosophy.

Extra Credits Advocates for Philosophy of Gaming …

May 2, 2018

… they just don’t realize that’s what they’re looking for.

Recently, Extra Credits did a video advocating engaging academia in “Impractical Research”, meaning that instead of appealing to mathematics or psychology to try to get specific answers to specific and detailed questions in game design there should be more of a focus on questions that are less directly relevant to a game or games in general but instead address broad issues with games in general. These ranged from the sort of analysis that is done for literature and film to underlying ethical questions about game mechanisms and, presumably, about ethical presentations in games themselves. They also advocated for academia to engage with games with far more academic fields than is done currently.

It sounds to me like what they really want is to get philosophy engaged with games in a formal and perhaps deep way. For the ethical questions, it’s obvious that the go-to academic field for that is indeed philosophy. You aren’t going to find too many better fields if you want ethical questions examined, as even psychology doesn’t really have the focus on determining what it would even mean for something to be ethical or not (and so relies on preconceptions). But the biggest boon to building and promoting a formal and developed Philosophy of Gaming field is that philosophy is a field that is itself inherently academically diverse and interdisciplinary. Philosophy will use any field and talk about any issue in any field that it sees interesting or relevant to something it wants to talk about. For example, while philosophy is not necessarily the go-to field for critical analysis of games, it is a field that might take up the question of how analyzing a game or interactive medium is or has to be different from analyzing a static one. To do so, it’s going to look at all the relevant fields and take comments from them as examples on how to do analysis of a work, and decide what does and doesn’t work. I myself have already, in analyzing Anita Sarkeesian’s work, talked on a number of occasions about how a game being interactive doesn’t have the same sort of impact on a person that it does in a movie, because in an interactive medium the player has to specifically accept the conclusion, while in a static medium they can get sucked into thinking that the world itself just really is that way. This, of course, is a philosophical position, but at least parts of it can be tested with psychology, and philosophy has always been willing to ask the psychologists about things that are relevant to the philosophy, as has been done with ethics and Philosophy of Mind specifically. When I was taking philosophy courses, I learned about results in linguistics, psychology and even neuroscience while discussing mind. Philosophy of Gaming would certainly do the same.

And a number of issues I have with Extra Credits ends up being philosophical ones, or rather cases where they come to invalid philosophical conclusions or, at least, do shallow philosophy about deeper questions. As an example, in this specific video they make reference to their long series on the ethics of loot boxes, which I talked about, or at least I talked about one video, but where my overall impression of the series was that they didn’t ever get around to talking about how to make ethical loot boxes. They gave their view of what good loot boxes do — which I disagreed with — and talked about the legal issues — which I didn’t find all that interesting or relevant to the ethics of loot boxes, beyond setting out the lines they couldn’t cross — but didn’t really find any kind of summary or comment on what an ethical or unethical loot box would be. Thus, it seemed to me that in discussing the ethics of loot boxes they ended up leaving out … a discussion of the actual ethics of loot boxes. This is definitely something that a Philosophy of Gaming could help with.

So, at the end of the day, it seems that what they really should want to do is try to get philosophy engaged with video games and video game design. Given the current climate and how recently — relatively speaking — videos games have evolved into an art form, there’s a lot to talk about philosophically wrt video games, and lots of room for a Philosophy of Gaming to work out what things certain fields should study and what things shouldn’t be, opening up the room for other fields to productively engage with video games as well. I plan, over the next couple of weeks, to look at a number of the Extra Credits videos, looking at them more like a philosophical examination and less just as my own commentary on video games in general. This is convenient because recently they’ve done some fairly straight philosophical work and talked about specific philosophical issues — mostly ethics — with videos that I’ve wanted to comment on anyway, so maybe this is an opportunity for me to show what sorts of things a Philosophy of Gaming can do for video games.