Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Review of “Sense & Goodness Without God”

January 29, 2016

So, I finished reading “Sense & Goodness Without God” by Richard Carrier, and it’s the worst atheist/New Atheist book I’ve ever read … and I’ve read “The Atheist’s Guide to Reality”. Carrier manages to be even more arrogant than Rosenburg, but doesn’t make up for it by having better arguments. In fact, often he doesn’t really have arguments at all, but instead has small sections where he arrogantly tells us just how right he is, while leaving a long, italicized section at the end to tell us all of the things we ought to read to know how right he is, which is often longer than what he actually says in the section. This doesn’t work for either a popular work or for a detailed philosophical work. For the former, as most people won’t, in fact, read those works either he must be appealing to authority — look at all the people who agree with me, I must be right! — or ask them to take it on faith that the arguments are really there and are really devastating if we read them ourselves. For the latter, philosophers might well be willing to or have already read the works, but then what you’re supposed to do is summarize the important points and show how they directly reinforce your point, and then simply cite the works later. Carrier doesn’t do that, and so his actual words aren’t convincing and few will be willing to dive into the massive additional reading that he recommends. It very much seems like Carrier wants us to do his work for him.

If we could consider Carrier a fair commentator on the work of others, this wouldn’t matter quite so much, but Carrier spends a lot of time refuting points that he never really summarizes, and barely quotes. Despite Carrier often railing against quote-mining, all of his attempts to address others are nothing more than his pulling in short quotes out of context and then trying to refute that as if that was entirely the point. If that was entirely the point, then Carrier’s counter-arguments might work, but we ought to be suspicious that that really is the entire point … and, again, Carrier really gives up no reason to do the extra work to think that he’s right. In general, we’d be far better served by reading someone else than by doing the massive amount of work required to get Carrier’s points.

Many of Carrier’s points proving naturalism/materialism seem to boil down to wordy claims of “If I can find a way that it could be natural, then we ought to consider it such”, which has been said better elsewhere and with more credible natural solutions. Some of his arguments are interesting, but not enough to convince me that his view is worth considering to the level that his arrogant prose suggests we should. Also, the book needs updating, because he is very much convinced of things then that he seems to be not convinced of now, such as how he relies on his love for his now ex-wife to say that he knows what love is and entails, which doesn’t seem to be how he sees it now. Sure, the personal life of the author isn’t relevant to an argument unless he uses his personal beliefs as proof of how he just knows something was true that he doesn’t think is true now. Which carries over into his view of science, as he seems to try to claim that we know that science is reliable because it gets things wrong but corrects for it, which might establish that science overall is reliable, but not in the way he wants so that we should prefer any scientific answer because, it seems, science will eventually get it right, and this might just be the right answer. Yeah, if I find a scientific answer sufficiently counter-intuitive and science cannot answer for why my intuitions are wrong, saying “Well, it might be wrong, but it’ll get it right eventually!” is not going to help.

This is book crying out for fisking, but I’m not sure I’ll ever get around to it. Suffice it to say that there are better books out there to try to argue for materialism, and that even the prose of this book is annoying and hard to get through. It’s a slog to read and you probably aren’t going to learn anything that you couldn’t find out from far more entertaining works. I cannot recommend this work to anyone, even the people it is aimed at.

More Bad Arguments in SF/F

January 18, 2016

When I commented on the current state of SF/F, I said that the discussion had spread to even people like P.Z. Myers. Well, recently, he added another post on the matter, talking specifically about John C. Wright. Most importantly for my purposes, he linked to a post by Scott Lynch essentially calling Wright a crazy pants liar, which Myers describes this way:

Now that you have a hint of the level of lunacy John C. Wright regularly dispenses, you might be in the mood to read Scott Lynch’s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Lying Crazypants Liars Who Lie”. It’s a thing of beauty.

Of course Myers considers it a thing of beauty, because it is devoid of anything that even resembles real argument. I read it out of interest, and couldn’t help responding.

One of the things that philosophy teaches you, it seems to me, is how to quickly assess arguments and come up with reasons why the argument doesn’t have to be true, or how it doesn’t really respond to the statement it is criticizing, or how it doesn’t really make its point. So armed, when you then go and look deeper, you often find that the argument is even worse than you thought it was. Lynch’s post provides an excellent example of both of those tendencies.

Let me start with Lynch’s purported goal:

I have decided to weigh in with a reminder that the narrative Wright wants to push is an absolute full-blown fabrication.

Not an exaggeration. Not something that is truth mixed with lies. An absolute full-blown fabrication. Even if we only limit that to the specific incident between Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Wright’s wife, that’s a rather strong claim to make. You’re going to need very strong arguments and evidence to pull that off. And Lynch … is not going to be able to do that.

First, Lynch tries to catch Wright out in a contradiction (As in the original post, bold is Wright, non-bold is Lynch):

I was asked beforehand more than once if I thought there would be any unpleasantness or insults from the few but vocal pests in jest I call Morlocks who have been steadily infiltrating and corrupting the science fiction community in general, and the Hugo Award process in particular, over the last twenty years. I answered in the negative. The Morlocks are a cowardly lot, and would not dare say to my face the foolish lies they say behind my back on the internet. Besides, like me, they came to have a good time and to celebrate our mutual love of science fiction, and applaud in the fashion of good sports what we each severally take to be the best the genre offers. I thought there would be no incident.

Note the striking way in which the tone of Wright’s rhetoric veers wildly from one paragraph to the next. One moment, his “Morlocks” are a dire threat from outside the field, “infiltrating” and “corrupting.” Three sentences later they share a mutual love of science fiction with Wright, and the circumstances of his disagreements with them have acquired a trivial hale-fellow-well-met sort of cast. Oh, what gentle shenanigans! This tonal shift is a constant tic of his; the opponents that are part of a “silly kerfluffle” will, just a few lines of text later, be described as willing Satanic defilers who must be fought with prayer, fire, and sword unto the ending of the world. You’d think there wouldn’t be much ideologically consistent wiggle room between these two extremes, but what the hell. Magical thinking pants always come with an elastic waistband.

The problem here is two-fold:

1) Even if this is a contradiction, it’s not an important one, and since that’s all he says about that paragraph here, one wonders why he felt the need to include it.

2) In general, it is possible that someone is indeed pushing for terrible ideas that need to be fought while genuinely thinking that they’re doing good, or acting reasonably. So this “contradiction” would be more rhetorical flourish than anything else, and good philosophers will ignore those flourishes and focus on the arguments, or point out that there are no arguments underneath the flourish. Lynch does neither.

At any rate, this is a minor point, as all the paragraph from Wright does is establish an idea that he thought that, in general, the two sides would be generally respectful to each other at the actual event. Lynch probably doesn’t want to argue that that was something he would be stupid to expect.

Why was Wright at the Hugo Awards ceremony? He secured five nominations on the final Hugo ballot for 2015, and in this respect he was the most egregious beneficiary of a premeditated and publicly coordinated slate-voting campaign run by the people fandom has come to know as the “Sad Puppies” and the associated/overlapping “Rabid Puppies.” That’s not allegation, or conjecture, or opinion. It’s what happened. This campaign wasn’t even technically against the rules, though it was fueled by a baseless sense of paranoid entitlement and was certainly shepherded by a number of vocally antagonistic jackasses.

Now, any writer with the self-awareness of an eggplant casserole would have known to tread lightly in fandom following this clusterfuck, which, let me repeat, was a result of vote engineering by a dedicated minority rather than of general acclaim from the field. Instead, according to Wright’s very own account, he strolled good-naturedly into the Hugo Awards in the blithe expectation that everyone else would conveniently ignore the chicanery that had brought him there.

Oh, wait, no, he does. He wants to argue that while what the “Puppies” did was well within the rules, and while they did was, they argued, only openly what was done behind closed doors, that the “fandom” would treat him badly for what he did, and so he should have expected a complete lack of respect and so should have known to “tread lightly”. This becomes even more egregious later in the post since, other than going over to talk to Hayden, Lynch gives no examples of how Wright’s wife failed to “tread lightly”, as Wright suggests that she just wanted to talk about burying the hatchet and coming to some kind of polite accommodation. What did she do that would foster a hostile response?

Also, Lynch’s argument is actually that there was no such hostile response:

This is a load of crap. Having heard Patrick’s (hereafter also referred to as “PNH”) version of these events directly, and the version reported by several others, I say without hesitation or qualification that John C. Wright is a liar.

So what was Wright “lying” about?

At the reception just before the Awards Ceremony itself, my lovely and talented wife, who writes for Tor books under her maiden name of L Jagi Lamplighter, and who had been consistently a voice of reason and moderation during the whole silly kerfluffle, approached Mr. Patrick Nielsen Hayden at the party to extent to him the olive branch of peace and reconciliation.

Before she could finish her sentence, however, Mr. Hayden erupted into a swearing and cursing, and he shouted and bellowed at the tiny and cheerful woman I married.

So, let’s pause for a moment. What part of that do you think that Lynch ought to be focusing on if he wanted to claim that Wright was a liar? That he didn’t cut off her attempt to extent the olive branch? That he didn’t swear and curse? That he was open and not at all hostile to the attempt?

Well, if you’re Lynch, you focus on arguing that, well, he didn’t really shout and bellow:

NH did not “erupt” into anything, and there was no shouting or bellowing. PNH and Lamplighter were at a reception attended by roughly ten dozen people, including a number of notable SF/F creators, editors, and fans. Isn’t it curious that none of them noticed an alleged shouting fit by one of the most instantly recognizable editors in the field? That none of them reported or commented on such an immediately newsworthy incident? That Wright himself, who was physically present at the reception, did nothing there or afterward, but was perfectly happy to take his story to the web a day later? What was that about other people not having the courage to “say to your face the foolish lies they say behind [your] back on the internet,” John?

The encounter between PNH and Lamplighter took place within arm’s reach of a small group of witnesses, including Laura Mixon, from whom I received a recollection of events before writing this. According to Mixon, she turned away from PNH and Lamplighter after Lamplighter’s initial approach, and took a seat that placed them directly behind her. The first notion Mixon had that the conversation had ended was when PNH sat down beside her a few moments later. That’s how much “shouting” and “bellowing” were involved.

Well, okay, let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that the shouting and bellowing was an exaggeration (remember, it’s not enough for Lynch to show exaggeration considering his starting point). How, according to Lynch, did the encounter go down?

As PNH told Mixon: When PNH realized who Lamplighter was, he said (closely paraphrased): “I’m a practicing Catholic, and I found your husband’s comments about me hurtful. His comments about Moshe Feder were the next thing to Blood Libel. I don’t want to talk to you, and please tell John C. Wright to shove his opinions up his ass.”
After PNH sat down, Lamplighter attempted to re-engage him in conversation twice despite his repeated declarations that he didn’t want anything to do with her. Mixon finally said, “Can’t you understand that he doesn’t want to talk to you?” and Lamplighter took the hint at last.

First, Mixon’s account doesn’t count as an independent third party account here, because she didn’t hear it and is only reporting what Hayden said he said. Second, I’m not sure if Mixon is paraphrasing here or Hayden is, but that doesn’t matter much. If we take the account as reasonably accurate though, the account pretty much confirms all of the above questions. Hayden cut her off before she could finish what she was saying, as he replied as soon as he figured out who she was. The quote, even paraphrased, is very hostile, and contains swearing … and it’s reasonable to think that that hostile a statement would contain more swearing than the paraphrase admits. So, other than the actual volume of the diatribe, it seems to have gone down precisely the way Wright describes, and I’ll be willing to forgive someone for describing this as “shouting and bellowing” when it was this hostile, as we know what can happen with memory and all that.

Given this, what important information is Wright lying about? The best Lynch has done here is show that he and/or his wife is exaggerating about how loudly Hayden was talking. That’s not full-on fabrication by any stretch of the imagination.

I’ll put aside the point over whether Hayden destroys the careers of people who don’t share his politics, as that would require more research than I care to do at the moment, other than to comment that just because he’s edited some books from some people who don’t share his politics that doesn’t mean that there aren’t political views that he will act that way towards, and a quote from someone else on what TOR does doesn’t in any way mean that Hayden doesn’t act inappropriately.

So let’s move on to the subject of TOR dominance of the Hugos:

Before I continue, I should explain to the reader that Mr. Hayden, and no one else, was the driving force behind the corruption of the Hugo Awards in these last fifteen to twenty years.

I must at this point apologize to the reader for understating my case. John C. Wright is a lying hysteric. Full stop.

So, what are Lynch’s arguments against this?

• How would this campaign of corruption be funded? Do you imagine SF/F editors as a career class are rolling in cash? If so, incidentally, how long until you start kindergarten?

Um, the claim — made in Lynch’s very post — is that the Puppies invalidly influenced the nominations and maybe even the voting on the Hugos. How much money do they have access to directly? Given no actual opposition, how much money would they need? Why does he think that money is required, anyway? The quote from Wright doesn’t in any way claim that they bought the awards, so why does he think that this is such a relevant point that he needs to bring it up first, as if it’s a strong point at all in his attempt to prove that Wright is a liar? What claim of Wright’s does this actually refute?

• How would it be coordinated? Other people would, sooner or later, need to be suborned or at least consulted. How would messages be sent? How could fifteen to twenty years of necessary notes and e-mails remain completely hidden? How is it that in all that time, not one person approached by this alleged conspiracy would have felt uncomfortable with it, refused to participate, and then made its existence public?

So, here, Lynch jumps to official and complete conspiracy theory, rather than a movement of word of mouth and recommendations and the like, and assumes that the people involved directly would think it immoral. Without Lynch pointing out Wright’s specific claim, there’s no reason to think that this is what Wright is asserting. In short, Lynch has to argue here that everyone is “on the take”, as opposed to a small number of people being selfishly motivated and using recommendations and selective attacks to mislead others into doing what they want … which is what the Puppies are accused of doing, BTW.

• How would all the non-Tor publishers and authors be induced to cooperate with Patrick’s plans?

If Hayden and those he can influence have enough influence, it’d just be a matter of those influential voices recommending in a block rather than explicit direct discussion … again, like the Puppies were accused of doing, only they were pretty open about what they were doing.

• Even if Patrick were to dispense with controlling the voters and go straight to fudging the results, how would he have been able to suborn the Hugo vote-counting process that is overseen by a different group of people in a different geographic location every single year?

Where does Wright argue for direct vote fixing? Again, Lynch here invents arguments and then tries to defeat them. But this only works if he can establish a) what Wright’s argument actually is and b) that all of the other options are impossible. Since the other options are what the Puppies are accused of actually doing, that’s … not a good argument.

It’s only much later that he quotes a statement of Wright’s actual argument:

Thereafter, the Hugo voters awarded awards to the Tor authors Mr. Hayden selected based on their political correctness, and expelled those whose politics the clique found not to their taste.

So, Wright is accusing a clique of putting forward recommendations and arguing based on their politics and not the quality of their work. Larry Correia claims that this is exactly what happened to him, which is what got him to start a movement like this. How much Hayden is directly involved in that is debatable, of course … but Lynch hasn’t in any way argued otherwise.

And then … Lynch tries to disprove the idea that over the past 15 to 20 years TOR books are winning more often, by looking at the Hugo for Best Novel:

If you look at the actual evidence from the Hugo results dating back to 2000, you’ll see that Patrick’s inexorable PC blitzkrieg has been so devastatingly effective that it has delivered best novel Hugos to Tor books a whopping five times out of fifteen. If you examine Wright’s larger figure and count back twenty years, you’ll see that Patrick’s all-consuming Social Justice Shoggoth has crapped out even worse, delivering a mere six out of twenty.

So, in the time period from 1995 to 2000, TOR books won an average of one award every 5 years. From 2000 to 2015, they won an average of one every three years. Lynch tries to present it as it having to be a well-oiled machine that produces wins in this category every year, but that increase looks … suspicious, to say the least. But the time period is a bit short for conclusions, so let’s look at just this category and include nominations, which it has been shown can be easily gamed, starting from 1990 (from Wikipedia):

1990 – 2 TOR nominations, no TOR win.
1991 – No TOR nominations, no TOR win.
1992 – 1 TOR nominations, no TOR win.
1993 – 2 TOR nominations, TOR win.
1994 – 1 TOR nomination, no TOR win.
1995 – 2 TOR nominations, no TOR win.
1996 – No TOR nominations, no TOR win.
1997 – No TOR nominations, no TOR win.
1998 – 1 TOR nomination, no TOR win.
1999 – 2 TOR nominations, no TOR win.
2000 – 1 TOR nomination, TOR win.
2001 – 2 TOR nominations, no TOR win.
2002 – 1 TOR nomination, no TOR win.
2003 – 1 TOR nomination, no TOR win.
2004 – 2 TOR nominations, no TOR win.
2005 – No TOR nominations, no TOR win.
2006 – 2 TOR nominations, TOR win.
2007 – 3 TOR nominations, TOR win.
2008 – 2 TOR nominations, TOR win.
2009 – 2 TOR nominations, no TOR win.
2010 – 2 TOR nominations, no TOR win.
2011 – No TOR nominations, no TOR win.
2012 – 1 TOR nomination, TOR win.
2013 – 1 TOR nomination, TOR win.
2014 – 1 TOR nomination, no TOR win.
2015 – 3 TOR nominations, TOR win.

So, from 1990 – 1999, TOR won once, and didn’t get a single nomination in this category 3 times. From 2000 – 2009, TOR won four times, only didn’t get a single nomination once, and achieved 3 nominations once. From 2010 to 2015, TOR won three times, only didn’t get a nomination once, and again achieved 3 nominations once … 2015, the year the Puppies gamed the system. And note that their win there was not the Puppy slate choice, at least not from the Rabid Puppies, as Vox Day said that he would have had it on his slate if he’d read it before he made it, because it was deserving of the win. So this is the TOR book that wasn’t on the Puppy slate, and it won anyway.

But from the numbers, we can see a massive increase in TOR getting nominations in this category over this time period. If the 2010 – 2015 numbers hold, TOR will likely hit 5 or 6 wins, and only miss getting a single nomination at most twice. There may be reasons for this massive increase from the 1990 – 1999 time period — a loss of SF/F publishers, improved quality, changing times that TOR has grabbed onto more than their competitors — but the numbers look suspicious, to say the least. It almost starts to look like a trend … which is exactly what you’ll see with a campaign based on quiet influence rather than direct cheating. So, no, if we look at the numbers, Lynch has some ‘splaining to do, methinks.

So, in summary, this post shows no examples of out-and-out lying, and at best some examples of exaggeration, most of which are unimportant. Lynch’s own numbers are suspicious when he tries to use one category “Best Novel” against Wright, and when we look at it in detail we can certainly see that the numbers are suspicious, to say the least. So this post completely fails to make its case, and so is a complete failure when it comes to actual argumentation.

No wonder Myers likes it so much …

Complicit …

January 8, 2016

Stephanie Zvan has a word for people who are looking at the potential candidates for the Democratic Party — and the Democratic Party itself — and are thinking that they can’t bring themselves to vote for them:

You really want a name from me? Fine. Let’s go with “complicit”.

The whole structure of her post is that if people who might normally support the Democrats don’t do it regardless of how they feel about the party itself right now and about the candidates themselves, they will end up letting the Republicans win, and the Republicans are worse. And if that’s the case, then the things that the Republican candidate does will be on their heads, and that blood will be on their hands.

What I really want to know is how much blood you can take with your choice to abstain and still feel clean while you’re doing it. If I’m going to be among your sacrifices, I want to know how much I count for. How much do any of us count for?

How many coat-hanger abortions and arrests for miscarriages are you willing to condone in order to feel pure when you won’t vote because our president didn’t call people to account for torture? Where is that balance?

How many people can be sold into dangerous prisons while you feel virtuous for abstaining from the party of the mayor who brought us the cover-up of a police shooting? How many Syrian refugees can remain in danger while you righteously declare “a pox on both their houses” over decisions from two wars ago? How many people will be denied access to their hospitalized partner while you point fingers at the Democrats who participated in obstructing same-sex marriage for a time? How many people can go hungry and ill now while you beat your chest about events of the 1990s? Just how bad can income inequality get while you lovingly stroke your conscience over Wall Street?

How much blood will you allow to be spilled because voting is impure?

So the return question has to be: if they’re supposed to vote for a particular party no matter how much they despise what that party’s done because the other party is arguably worse, or even definitely much worse, where does that line get drawn? At what point does the first party become so bad that they don’t deserve votes anymore? How dirty can the hands of that party get before the argument of “They’re better than the alternative!” loses its power?

And, most importantly, if this is the attitude, how can people go about cleaning up that party while its opponents are still so much worse than they are to those people who want to support that party?

brucegee1962 commented this:

This is a little speech I give to my students:
“Politicians usually like their jobs, and they really really like getting elected. So if you honestly believe that none of them have any principles, and the only thing they want is to get elected, then act that way!
When you vote, you aren’t just voting for a candidate. You’re also voting for your demographic. Pollsters are going to notice not only who you vote for, but who you are.
If you were a politician whose only concern was getting reelected, and you had to cut a few million from the budget, and you knew that only 30% of 18-14 year olds vote, whereas 70% of 60 pluses vote — would you want to cut student aid, or prescription medicine benefits? Wonder why the aged get coddled? It’s because politicians don’t dare cross them, if they want to keep their jobs! If your demographic voted the same way theirs does, do you think the states would only be paying the pitiful part of your tuition that they do now?
The budget is a big pie that gets cut up every year. If you don’t vote, you’re saying ‘Hey politicians, I don’t want my piece! Give it to someone else!’

So, let’s presume that the party is ignoring the concerns of your demographic. Is voting for that candidate anyway going to make them any more likely to try to appease your demographic? Of course not; it just means that they’ll know that they can count on your demographic voting for them, and so don’t even have to try to woo you away. Sure, they care about your voting numbers if you indicate that you’re a significant percentage of their support, but they only try to appease your demographic if they fear that if they don’t, you won’t vote for them or support them. If it’s known that your demographic might either not vote for your party or, even worse, might vote for another party if you don’t get what you want, then the party has to care about ensuring that your needs are at least addressed, and might even have to keep their promises if you’re known to have long enough memories.

So, at a minimum, not voting for the party if they refuse to address your concerns actually has more weight than voting for that party regardless. Why is it that this can be ignored? Because depending on the demographic — young people get this the worst — it’s too easy to do what Zvan does and see not voting as apathy

You’re choosing to see us all ruled by “Eh, whoever the rest of you feel like because voting makes me feel dirty.”

Which means that while they ought to be able to see that there are a lot of registered voters in that demographic, they have no reason to think that pandering to your interests will get them any votes. So, arguably, the best way to influence this sort of change is to vote against the party that you like better. If you can’t vote for a party that does represent the interests if your demographic — no matter how little chance it has of winning, vote for the party en masse that no one thinks your demographic ought to vote for, and then make it abundantly clear why: that you’d like to vote for the first party, but they are taking you for granted, and you’re trying to wake them up.

That being said, this shouldn’t be necessary in today’s world, and with the demographics that we’d be talking about. With the advances in social media, people who are refusing to vote out of protest can make that clear, and can make it clear that they are politically active and so would vote if only the party that should command their loyalty would only smarten up, and most of them are doing just that. If political parties are ignoring that, it isn’t because it won’t work, but because the parties are behind the times … and, eventually, at least one of them will wake up and smell the available votes.

But I want to return to the name of “complicit”, because if the candidate and party put forward has done things and is promising things that a voter finds unacceptable, and they vote for them anyway, then it is they that are truly complicit in ensuring that those things come to pass. Saying “Well, the other candidate would do worse things” is small comfort to being directly and deliberately complicit into legitimizing those actions by voting for them knowing that that was the case, knowing that they broke serious promises, knowing that they showed a complete and even dishonest disregard for issues that you consider critically important. If you vote for them regardless, you vote explicitly to continue that pattern, and that blood is directly on your hands.

So, the question to Zvan is: how much blood of others are you willing to have on your hands in order to benefit yourself? The others are saying that no candidate is acceptable and they can’t bring themselves to legitimize either. You are willing to legitimize the one group because you think that the other is worse for you. While a choice not to choose is still a choice, it’s not morally equivalent to choose to refuse to participate in what you see as a fatally flawed system as it is to choose to support what someone considers an immoral political candidate. We should all, above all, refuse to support that which we see as immoral. The people their “high horses”, it seems to me, are saying just that, and while I may or may not agree with them, considering that this is voting I have to respect their opinion on the matter. Why won’t you? How much of their moral fiber are you willing to demand they sacrifice … and how much are you willing to sacrifice to help them?

The Contradiction of Feminism

December 28, 2015

Over at Feminist Frequency, Jonathan McIntosh has put up a video listing 5 ways men can help end sexism. What’s most interesting about the video is its discussion of the relationship between feminism and men in general … a relationship that pretty much just reminds me of why I ended up being assigned the “anti-feminist who doesn’t seem to hate women” label, a label that I still relate with to this very day.

And, especially, this one, reading the transcript of that video.

McIntosh starts by trying to clarify what feminism is:

Feminism is a sociopolitical movement with the central goal of ending sexism and dismantling gender-based oppression. … It’s important to note that the feminist endeavor, as it has been defined by women like bell hooks, does not simply seek equal access for women within current systems of power, instead it seeks to transform these systems of power and the values associated with them.

So, by this definition, the main goal of feminism is transformative, aiming to change the patriarchal society to, presumably, one based on equal treatment no matter what your sex or gender. It’s, therefore, going to build a new, and presumably equal, world order when it comes to gender.

Fine. Where do men come into the picture? Given that this is supposed to be transforming society, and that men are part of society, it would seem only logical that they’d have an equal say in how this is going to turn out. Even if we conclude that women are oppressed and exploited by the system and men aren’t, we have to conclude that the society that we build has to consider men and women equally; no one gender ought to have a greater say in what that equal society should be, right?

Well, no, as he says later when talking about how men need to educate themselves and not rely on women to do it:

It’s important for us, as men, to acknowledge that when we talk about feminism, we follow the lead of women. … we should acknowledge that our ideas in this arena originate with women …

Wait … why should men simply follow the lead of women here? Sure, you can make an argument that if they have the most serious threats to their well-being, we definitely need to listen to them, but why should they take the lead here? If the goal of feminism is to produce a new understanding, then that understanding has to be based on both sides have an equal seat at the table. This is especially true if men have been given the gold mine while women have been given the shaft (they split it all down the middle, and then they gave men the better half). If this is the case, then men are going to have to give up some advantages and privileges that they have, but feminism, given that, is more than that: it’s about defining what it means to be a man or a woman in this new order. Women cannot determine what it means to be a man for men. That’s the main problem women faced under patriarchy, if their theory is correct. So the feminist movement must be one that doesn’t privilege the perspective of any gender, and so men should not be following the lead of women any more than women should be following the lead of men in this.

This highlights the main contradiction in the feminist movement, the one that in fact makes me an anti-feminist. By the simple definition of feminist, I ought to be considered one: I think that men and women are and ought to be treated equally. But the feminist movement wants to have its cake and eat it, too. On the one hand, it wants us to consider feminism to be nothing more than this sort of equality movement, one that is trying to produce equality between men and women. And yet, it still wants to focus on the perspective of women, and put women first, and put women in charge, using all sorts of theoretical and philosophical arguments to try and justify that. But how can you build a new, equal idea of gender roles when the perspective of women is given priority? They can argue that we already have the male perspective in patriarchal society, but even if that was true if their goal is to build a new understanding the process of building that understanding has to explicitly include it. What is important to men as men has to be considered, and the solution has to consider that just as much as it does for women.

Thus, feminism ought to be something like “gender egalitarianism” instead of feminism. But there is strong resistance to doing that, and it seems to me that the resistance among feminists to that idea is precisely that it takes the focus away from women, as seen in this comic that I’ve talked about before. This leaves us with two options:

1) Feminism is supposed to be a movement about the impact of patriarchy on women, and focused on women’s issues. Which is fine, but then we need a men’s movement — meninism? — to represent the perspective of men, work on the impact of patriarchy on men, and focused on men’s issues. If men have any specifically male issues and are harmed by patriarchy in any way just as men — and McIntosh’s article is pretty much about how men do — then they can’t rely on having those being addressed by feminism whenever women get around to considering it important, or more likely they can’t rely on it being addressed by feminism only when the problem also impacts women, and can’t rely on the solution that’s formed in the context of the perspective of even women primarily. They need a movement that considers things from their perspective first and can work to ensure that the perspective of men is given appropriate representation as we work to build a new, gender-equal society. While I won’t hold up the MRA as that kind of movement, feminists seem resistant to any kind of men’s rights movement.

2) Alternatively, feminism should be, essentially, gender egalitarianism. But then it’s difficult to justify the focus on women and, more importantly, the name feminism. The only real fear is that in a generic gender egalitarianism women would be ignored, and they still have the most serious issues to address … but if women couldn’t get their objectively more serious issues addressed in a movement designed to address the most objectively serious issues, they have much more serious problems to deal with than, it seems, even the serious problems they need to address. They could argue that they can keep the name to represent the history of the struggle … but this would contradict the feminist principle that words matter, and that a word that implies a focus on women will, in fact, encourage the perception that the movement really is all about women. So feminists can’t use that argument and remain consistent.

Thus, my issue with feminism: it needs to decide what it is. If it’s an equality movement, then it has to lose the presumptive focus on women. If it’s a women’s movement, then it has to stop portraying itself as the gender equality movement. And I’ve seen vanishingly few feminists who have, in fact, actually acknowledged this and made their explicit choice. Until the movement itself makes that choice, I cannot support the feminist movement, despite supporting equality between men and women.

Patriarchy and Entitlement …

December 18, 2015

So, when I talked about Sarkeesian’s last, explicit, non-DLC video, I talked a bit about male and female entitlement. In pondering it a bit, I think that when we understand patriarchy properly, we start to see how the whole idea of male entitlement — and, by extension, female entitlement — has the whole thing backwards.

Let’s start by reminding ourselves of what “male entitlement” actually is. It’s surprisingly hard to find an actual definition of male entitlement on-line — both Yahoo and Google searches don’t actually have a post that actually defines it in the first 10 entries — so I’m going to use Sarkeesian’s, which I think is basically correct:

…“male entitlement” is the conviction that men are owed something by virtue of their gender.

Thus, female entitlement would be the conviction that women are owed something by virtue of their gender. I’ve already pointed out that the “damsel in distress” line that Sarkeesian pushes is, in fact, more an example of female entitlement than male entitlement, as the men are in fact being asked to demonstrate their ability and value before being accepted by the damsel, while the damsel’s main qualities are that she’s female and attractive. But if we take on from this, we can see that the expectation under patriarchy is this: what men feel that they are owed because of their gender is not the thing itself, but a chance to compete for that thing. Under patriarchy, men get the chance to prove themselves in an occupation or in a business or to fair maiden (who, as Uhura once pointed out, might be neither of those). The big problem with patriarchy for women is that they are pushed into passive roles, and so are not allowed to compete for those things; they get to select from what is presented to them, but don’t generally get to compete for those things, at least not openly.

What this leads to is a culture when men are encouraged to actively pursue what they want, while women are encouraged to passively wait for someone else to give it to them. The reason for that latter, of course, is that society is structured so that women trying to achieve those things on their own is so strongly discouraged that it is almost impossible for them to actually achieve them. So if a woman wants power or wealth or anything else, she needs to get a man to do it for her, under patriarchy.

But what this also ultimately leads to is a culture where men are expected to earn what they get, while women are expected to get that given to them. Again, this is only because the culture doesn’t let then earn what they want to get, which is not a good thing. However, the latter attitude is certainly more “entitled” than the former. Given this, patriarchy actually seems to encourage female entitlement more than male entitlement; women thus have more need to watch for their entitled attitudes than men do.

But isn’t patriarchy just as system where men oppress women? Given that starting point, then you can’t have anything like female entitlement: a slave can never be entitled no matter how well-treated they are. However, that doesn’t seem to me to be the correct understanding of patriarchy. Patriarchy, it seems to me, is best seen as a system that enforced a strong division of roles based on gender. The system worked fine if you were a person who liked and could thrive in that system, and was an oppressive system if you couldn’t. For women, the enforced passivity was a worse issue than it typically was for men, because if the men they were attached to either couldn’t or wouldn’t give them what they wanted, there was no way for them to achieve it. On the other side, men who couldn’t achieve what they wanted usually could eke out some kind of living, and might merely be alone given that they couldn’t fulfill their end of the bargain that would be required to get any kind of relationship … and feel like a complete loser because of that, of course.

This system, then, worked relatively well for those who could live in it, and badly for those who didn’t. It is also interesting to note that the culture also did, in fact, advocate against men taking from women by force, and thus using violence to enforce male domination (which it didn’t discourage among men). Using force on a woman was considered less than manly, at least in part because it was too easy. Real men didn’t need to hit women, and so real men didn’t hit women. Even most feminist theory admits that the violence was not overt and explicit, but was implied, particularly in terms of rape. Even there, “stranger” rape was always considered worse than “date” rape, likely because the date rape was seen as a woman withholding what the man had earned, while the stranger rape was the man taking something he had not yet earned — and likely couldn’t earn. In fact, the approval of marital rape can follow from this as well: having proven his worth, for her to withhold what he had earned is unjust, and so moves to take it are simply seen as righting injustices.

Again, this is not a good attitude. But it is not an entitled attitude, in the sense that it is entitlement based on gender. Again, it is an attitude of having earned what you want using the agreed upon mechanisms, and even seems to link back to my comments on Nice Guys(tm); men are told by society that if they do certain things, they’ll get what they want. If they do those things, and the person reneges on the deal, that’s them breaking the deal, not them being entitled to something they haven’t earned. On the other hand, women must get things that they haven’t earned only on the basis of their gender, because they can’t achieve them any other way. That’s what patriarchy forces on them.

Given this, it’s clear that patriarchy fosters more an attitude of female entitlement than male entitlement, and it is high time that we recognized that, especially if we want to use entitlement as a way of describing the situation and, most importantly, in changing our society away from the restrictive patriarchal one.

Thinking about the Theory of Codes of Conduct …

December 11, 2015

So, Stephanie Zvan is commenting on someone who describes themselves as a thinker thinking about Codes of Conduct:

Oh, good lord, we’ve got a “thinker” on our hands. Seriously, that’s how he describes himself in the bio for his self-published book about psychopaths (based on his personal experiences rather than psychological research, natch). Only now he’s thinking about codes of conduct.

She pretty much describes being a “thinker” as being itself problematic in some way, with pretty much a “Lord, save us from the thinkers!” type of attitude. So what’s wrong with thinkers? It’s not that it’s that they think, as Zvan herself comments, so what’s the issue?

It’s the same problem that continually happens with people who define themselves as smart or as good thinkers: They forget about GIGO. They come to think of themselves as experts without having done any of the work.

This guy, in true “thinker” fashion, has decided he knows how people who work on codes of conduct theorize and conceptualize them without apparently ever having talked to any of us.

Okay, that might be fair enough, but it might not be. So let’s look at what he said (she quotes it herself, and I’m going to reproduce what he said here):

And indeed, I think the mainstream Code of Conduct model is based on false assumptions. The mainstream theory of harassment (let’s call it “Model A”) has these assumptions:

  1. Anyone can be the harasser.
  2. Harassment is a motiveless act.
  3. Outlawing harassment will stop it

So, what is Zvan’s issue here?

Those are indeed false assumptions. They are also not even close to the premises I’m working from when I talk about codes of conduct.

Note the issue here? He’s talking about the mainstream, standard view here. Zvan, in arguing against that, says that it’s not what she thinks about. But just because it’s not Zvan’s view doesn’t mean that it isn’t the mainstream view, unless Zvan wants to claim that her view just is the mainstream view, I guess because she does so much work on them. But she’d definitely need to demonstrate that. Even more interestingly, Zvan shifts from his view here — which is about harassment — to talking about Codes of Conduct in general. So what she thinks about when talking about Codes of Conduct is irrelevant when we’re talking about people think about when we talk about harassment. Just from this — although, in the interests of full disclosure, I have read all of the original post — it seems that Hintjens — whom she, oddly enough, never refers to by name in the entire post — is saying that we have Codes of Conduct to stop harassment, and that the Codes of Conduct we develop don’t work because they have a false idea of what harassment is.

This is actually really important to note, because when Zvan lists her list of 30 premises, it turns out that her main goal when thinking about Codes of Conduct is not to do that. She mentions harassment exactly once … and only as a special case of “violating boundaries”. Indeed, all of her premises talk about violating boundaries. From this, it seems quite reasonable to conclude that she thinks that Codes of Conduct exist to stop violations of personal boundaries, whether those violations rise to the level of harassment or not.

The problem with this is that when people insist that we need Codes of Conduct, they don’t usually justify it by appealing to violations of personal boundaries. The examples are always of very egregious violations that rise to the level of harassment. So either the mainstream view of Codes of Conduct is that they’re there to stop harassment — and thus, Zvan’s view isn’t the mainstream — or else the people who are pushing for Codes of Conduct really are interested in ensuring that personal boundaries aren’t violated, but are using the specific instances of harassment to justify a broader category than that. And a big part of the issue here is that while you can’t justify not stopping harassment with “People need to handle that themselves with the normal social mechanisms”, it’s perfectly reasonable to say that we don’t need a Code of Conduct to specify what things violate one’s personal boundaries … and, indeed, as those are personal a Code of Conduct can’t specify them anyway. What a Code of Conduct should do, then, is say that if someone violates your personal boundaries and it bothers you, you need to make it clear that it does, and that once you do so if they continue to take that action, then that’s likely harassment and can be reported as such.

As we go through the list, though, it’s clear that Zvan doesn’t want that either:

2. Societally, we consider the boundaries set by certain groups of people as inherently less valid, meaning those people encounter more boundary-violating behavior.

8. Societally, we make certain groups of people work harder to have their boundaries recognized and respected.
9. Societally, we punish the setting of certain boundaries.
10. When we gather together for the purposes of work, requiring people to continually set and enforce their boundaries cuts into our collective productivity.
11.When we gather together for the purposes of fun, requiring people to continually set and enforce their boundaries cuts into their fun by making them work.
12. A code of conduct that sets out certain boundaries up front reduces the amount of individual work participants need to take on.
13. A code of conduct that explicitly recognizes boundaries of certain groups reduces the amount of extra work those groups have to do.

At this point, we’re not really talking about personal boundaries anymore, because you can’t do this for personal boundaries. What we’re talking about are group boundaries, meaning boundaries that it is presumed that everyone has or at least ought to have. And in relation to Codes of Conduct, there are some issues here:

1) We actually already have that, in terms of societal norms, which define what behaviours are acceptable and what behaviours aren’t, and under what circumstances. Given that, we could simply do what some critics do and say that the sort of boundary violations that she’d be worried about here need to be settled with the existing social mechanisms, and once those mechanisms break down you’re definitely getting into harassment territory … or, at least, getting into a dispute situation that it would be obvious that the organizers need to resolve.

2) The existing social mechanisms don’t just specify what things not to do, but what things you can do. If the Code of Conduct doesn’t specify what things are allowed, it will be assumed that anything not mentioned is okay, unless it puts in some kind of vague statement that things not covered might still be a problem … at which point, people need some way to determine what is and isn’t allowed, because the Code of Conduct — which, by Zvan’s own statements, is supposed to save us effort by spelling this out — either will drop us back into the same situation or, even worse, will force people to go through the formal process to find out if it’s a problem or not.

3) Zvan is trying to divide it up by subgroups, and is giving particular priority to “certain groups” whose boundaries she feels get respected less. But if you aren’t going to rely on the societal boundaries, then you have to define this for all groups. She can argue that we need Codes of Conduct to replace the societal boundaries because they tend to exclude these groups and privilege other groups, but she’d still need to include the other groups specifically as well. In short, she’d need to include the boundaries that apply to the so-called privileged groups as well as the boundaries that apply to those certain groups that she’s really concerned about.

4) Even if she can manage this, there may be issues when she has to include every group that has been marginalized by society. For example, one of the clashes has been with people who are in technology fields or who are gamers, but gamers themselves are a marginalized group. Certain behaviours that Zvan likely thinks acceptable might indeed potentially violate their boundaries, like some sorts of flirting or even dress. This isn’t that big an issue for Zvan — as if she was being consistent she’d just include them — until …

5) When you try to set boundaries for the group, you run into the issue that boundaries are, in fact, personal, and so you can never actually define boundaries for the group that cover everyone. This means that the best you can do is cover what the majority think, or rather that you should cover what a reasonable member of that group sets as personal boundaries. But, of course, Zvan disagrees with using the “reasonable person” standard. Okay, so then how does she determine what is and isn’t acceptable or reasonable? If whatever a person thinks is a violation of their personal boundaries counts, then we’re back to the original implementation, except that if she is going to actually use the Code to enforce the “If they think their boundaries are being violated, they are” idea, then people will end up violating the Code for actions that they couldn’t possibly have known would violate someone’s personal boundaries — as it’s unique to them — and if you don’t enforce it then all you really have is a “If someone violates your boundaries, tell them, and if they persist, that’s harassment” Code of Conduct, which is not what she wants.

But, of course, if you actually try to outline specific behaviours so that people know what to avoid, then you’re going to get disagreements over what things ought to actually count as violations. For example, in the earlier discussions I’ve noted that they’ve tried to introduce the idea that you ought not touch someone else without getting permission first, because some people find being touched uncomfortable. I find this idea utterly infantilizing and patronizing as someone who is not exactly comfortable with being touched. You’ll also see the arguments over things like, say, cat-calling, where some women have pointed out that they happen to like being cat-called (I don’t understand it myself, but who am I to argue?). And if you argue that people ought to find out if the person likes those behaviours before doing them, either you effectively ban the behaviours, or else you end up adding lots and lots more work .. which Zvan explicitly wants to avoid. And if the behaviours are commonplace, then you end up fielding a lot more complaints because of some minority of people who might find it uncomfortable but who, for some reason, can’t just make that clear.

Given this, it’s no wonder her attitude towards zero tolerance policies:

23. We have good information from a variety of sources telling us that “zero tolerance” solutions don’t solve these problems.

Yes, zero tolerance solutions don’t work when you’re trying to enforce personal boundaries, because given the variety of people from a variety of cultural backgrounds if you try to enforce zero tolerance solutions you end up either banning most interactions or else being so vague that you’re constantly having to address issues, but don’t really have recourse to say that it isn’t really a violation. But if the Code of Conduct was trying to stop harassment, then you definitely could have a zero tolerance solution, because once it was identified as harassment — essentially meaning that the person either knew or ought to have known that the behaviour was unwelcome — then action needs to be taken. It’s only this vague “personal but group boundaries” solution where you have to make sure that you don’t kick people out for legitimate misunderstandings that, nevertheless, violated the Code of Conduct.

Of course, there are a couple of other problems with not having a zero tolerance policy:

1) The complaint that was raised was that even places that had Codes of Conduct — like TAM — could ignore instances of harassment if the organizers didn’t see it as such. Zero tolerance forces organizers to take the complaints seriously, even if they don’t agree with them. Backing away from that simply reintroduces the problems that specific Codes of Conduct were invented to solve.

2) Less popular and less socially adept people — on either side of the policy — will be disadvantaged by this as they will be less likely to get the benefit of the doubt than people who are more popular and, particularly, are more popular with the organizers than they are. Thus, it is likely that they will be censured for less serious offenses than the people who are more popular. A set Code of Conduct avoids this, but as Zvan notes it doesn’t work for what she wants it to do.

The really interesting thing to note here is the actual lack of thinking in the actual post. I’m not saying that she hasn’t thought about any of this, but all she’s doing in the post is listing a bunch of principles, some of which are poorly thought out. She doesn’t talk about anything else in his post — including his own solution (which seems to be somewhat in line with what she wants). She doesn’t engage his actual solutions or thoughts on the issue, then, and merely dumps this as an excuse to avoid thinking so that she can then say this:

That is what you get if you actually talk to someone who works on these things instead of just thinking up what we must think. And this is why you need real information instead of just being a “thinker” if you want to present yourself as any kind of expert and not be laughed out of the room.

But she never gives any reason to think that he should be laughed out of the room, and never even demonstrates that he’s wrong about the mainstream view. She doesn’t demonstrate that he’s presenting himself as any kind of expert. Her entire post, which starts from denigrating “thinkers”, shows a complete lack of thinking.

Perhaps Hintjens is not the one we should be laughing out of the room.

Political Correctness and Respect

November 23, 2015

So, in the Atlantic there’s an article defending political correctness by Sally Kohn. She defines political correctness this way:

Political correctness is a good thing—the idea that we should treat our fellow human beings with equal respect, despite their race or gender or sexual orientation, and the idea that we might all learn and get better at doing so because of feedback and changing norms.

If what is commonly called “political correctness” was in fact simply doing that, then it likely wouldn’t have the negative connotations that it currently does … and, in fact, would never have been called “political correctness” at all. But what was called political correctness was never just about that, as Kohn herself goes on to admit:

And now communities of color want to end that injustice and ask white people to finally show some simple respect.

So it was never just about treating people with respect, in the sense that you try to avoid doing or saying things to offend them. It always had another connotation, a connotation of righting an injustice. And what injustice was that?

If black people offended white people—however or whatever such “offense” was determined to be—black people paid dearly. In fact, they still do.

So, from the start, the “political correctness” movment, by Kohn’s own argument, had two main goals: one reduce the idea of offense so that white people wouldn’t be offended — and punish black people and other minorities — for actions that ought not be considered offensive, and ensure that when black people and other minorities were legitimately offended that those who offended them did receive appropriate punishment.

If this had been taken as a general statement, where we worked to ensure that legitimate offense-taking was discouraged and illegitimate offense-taking was criticized, this wouldn’t have been that bad. Of course, it also wouldn’t have acquired a name like “political correctness”, and instead would have been known as “common courtesy”. But it wasn’t that general, and instead was about reducing the offense-taking of white people and increasing the punishments when minorities were offended by what, generally, white people said. This … was not a good start. And it only got worse once they decided to make this institutionalized and official, with both institutional and official — as far as they can be official — social consequences for violating “political correctness”.

Long ago, the sort of treatment of minorities was both officially institutionalized and socially acceptable. It was how society was run. Over time, both the institutional and social treatment changed, or started to change. The laws could no longer directly discriminate, and being racist, for example, wasn’t seen as being just the way things were or even reasonable, but was instead seen as a bad thing. This is why being called a racist is considered such an insult to white people, because it’s seen as them doing something very, very bad. So the laws and societies shifted away, to some extent, from the situation she describes.

The problem is that the “political correctness” movement kinda ignored all of that, and built its premises on the basis that this unequal treatment of offense was still the norm. Therefore, they didn’t need to protect white people from things that would legitimately offend them because, hey, society already did that for them; all they needed to do was extend the same protections to minorities. And they didn’t need to ensure that illegitimate offense-taking at white people was protected because, again, society already did that; all they needed to do was extend that to minorities. What this meant was that as those formal and official and sanctioned protections were being removed for white people, they were being added for minorities, which led to the impression — not always accurate — that if you were a minority you were protected by “political correctness”, but if were a member of the perceived “majority”, you weren’t. Which, honestly, the whole notion of “white tears” or “male tears” justifies, as when white people express that they are offended the reaction is not to take that seriously, but is instead to dismiss it as them not really having anything to be offended or upset about.

Kohn herself seems to buy into this:

Consider, for instance, those in the chattering class who have readily bought into the idea that police feel under attack (as the result of the Black Lives Movement) and at the same time express deep skepticism—if not outright mockery—of people of color who feel under attack by police and by society. This divergent tendency isn’t about evidentiary standards. It’s about race—and the inclination to believe in the righteousness and inherent goodness of white people while perpetually doubting and demeaning people of color.

Well, from what I’ve read, some of the rhetoric around the “Black Lives Movement” has implied both that people should shoot police officers as retaliation, and that all of the police are racist. I think that the police feeling under attack is actually fairly reasonable. However, that they may feel legitimately under attack doesn’t mean that black people aren’t also legitimately feeling under attack. It’s not a dichotomy here, where if there is a dispute between two groups one of them has to be wrong and one of them has to be right and it can’t be the case that both are attacking the other. Things can — and almost always are — more complicated than that.

So, if we want “political correctness” to have the meaning that Kohn says it has, what we have to understand is that respect is always a two-way street. This means that if we want to ensure that invalid offense-taking and giving legitimate offense is discouraged, it has to apply to everyone. So if someone is taking offense at something and people feel that they shouldn’t take offense there, we can’t reply with any notion that we have to accept that their defense is legitimate or should be taken more seriously on the basis of their race, gender or position in society. We have to be able to argue that they are wrong to be offended regardless, as long as we have an argument for that. And if someone ought to be offended cannot depend on their race, gender or position in society, but on whether the statement was, in fact, legitimately offensive to them. In the old days, minorities were expected to respect the “majorities”, but the “majorities” were not expected to respect the minorities. “Political correctness” pushed for the “majorities” to respect the minorities, but assumed that the same forces that pushed for the minorities to respect the “majorities” were still in place. They weren’t, for the most part. To fix political correctness, we have to make it so that we actually have to respect all people regardless of their race, gender or position in society. No group can get any privileged position in this whatsoever and for whatever reason. Only then will “political correctness” become what it really ought to be: common courtesy.

Philosophy of the Trinity …

November 18, 2015

So, Jerry Coyne is mocking a philosophy conference on the Trinity. He says this:

Given that philosophers are about as atheistic as academics get, it’s even more bizarre that they’re discussing the philosophical implications of a fatuous, made-up theological construct, and that someone is paying for it.

Now, Coyne is not a philosopher. In fact, his knowledge of philosophy is amateur at best. So, you’d think that he’d let philosophers decide what is and isn’t useful philosophy, or makes for a useful philosophical conference. Or, at least, that instead of himself mocking it and saying that it’s useless, he’d at least ask philosophers why they think it’s a useful exercise, and what they think they can get out of it. Surely if, say, a philosopher asked why scientists were studying fruit flies, he’d roll his eyes and expect them to ask scientists why it’s meaningful, and be annoyed if they simply declared that it was pointless based on their own expert knowledge.

That being said, the last time Coyne talked about this he dismissed the comments of two trained philosophers to insist that they were simply trying to protect their turf. So it seems that there is no field that Coyne cannot be a master of with only brief exposure, so much so that he is immune to the comments from people better trained than him on that. This is consistent with how he approaches theology, free will, philosophy of religion, morality and a host of other subjects.

I don’t know what precisely the organizers and participants expect to get out of this examination, but I know enough about philosophy to know that they expect something. And given what Coyne said above, it’s not likely to be a proof of the existence of God. But I guess Coyne’s armchair ruminations trump my over a decade of philosophical study.

V For Villain

November 2, 2015

The next essay in “Supervillains and Philosophy” is “V for Villain” by Robert Arp. Framing this all around “V for Vendetta”, Arp examines the issue of using people, as the villains and even the hero in the work constantly do. This will, of course, immediately run up against Kant’s maxim of treating people not merely as means, but always also as ends in themselves. By that standard, even the hero V is acting immorally, and we’d be acting immoral if we did so even if using those people resulted in better actions, which would be one of the main clashes between Utilitarianism and Kantianism, and also one of the main criticisms of Utilitarianism (that it would allow you to use someone merely to provide the most utility).

But this always raises the question of what happens if the person chooses to be used? What if they are perfectly willing to be used and are fully aware of what is going on, and thus choose it themselves? As Arp points out, to use them violates at least a strict reading of Kant’s principle, but to deny them the ability to choose to be used seems to violate it as well, as you end up using them as a means to fulfilling your own morality. How can we resolve this?

I think most of the controversy over this ignores the part where Kant says that the imperative applies to yourself as well. You are not allowed to use yourself merely as a means, but must also always treat yourself as an end in itself as well. This is what’s behind his rather infamous proscription against masturbation, as you use yourself merely as a means to your own sexual gratification. While that’s debatable, it’s clear that the choice to be used can only be a valid moral choice for Kant if the person isn’t even treating themself as a means to some other end, but also as an end in themselves. There’s a lot more to work out here wrt what counts as a valid end, but this ought to eliminate a lot of the cases where we immediately think that someone is consciously choosing to be used; they are, but they are still treating themselves as a means, and so even though you would be acting properly moral to accept their choice, they are acting immorally in making the choice.

Ultimately, we need to treat others as independent moral agents, but we also have to think of ourselves that way as well. While most of the focus of morality is in not using others, we do have to remember that we ought not use ourselves either.

Governing Gotham

October 28, 2015

The next essay in “Batman and Philosophy” is “Governing Gotham” by Tony Spanakos. This essay examines the relationship between Batman and the law, as (mostly) exemplified through the relationship between Batman and Jim Gordon. Spanakos references Hobbes and Max Weber on the side of “The state must have a monopoly on the use of violence” and Nietzsche on the side that the state is not necessarily a force for good on the other. Spanakos also compares Batman to figures like “The Reaper” and Anarky to establish Batman as a figure poised between a couple of extremes, which provides insight into why Batman cannot kill.

The overall idea is this: the role of the state is to provide basic protections for its citizens. Gotham, however, in all its forms is a city that cannot provide that most basic of protections, the protection of their physical well-being. Batman is born from a Gotham that allows Thomas and Martha Wayne to be killed by some punk with a gun. This forces Bruce Wayne to acknowledge that the state can no longer protect its citizens in that very basic sense, and so he becomes Batman in order to do so. In short, society is broken, and no one can rely on the law and the state to provide its most basic guarantee, as Gordon also must acknowledge when he joins the force.

The Reaper and Anarky, however, also see that Gotham is broken and that someone other than the state has to provide what it can and will not. But there is a contrast between them and Batman. Batman does not set himself up to supplant the state and the state’s role, but instead simply to supplement it; Batman works to restore the state to a condition where it can function properly. Batman does not set himself up as judge, jury and executioner, and in fact refuses to do anything to give that impression. The others take the role of protector completely onto themselves, deciding who the villains are and how they are to be punished. They take on the role of determining how society ought to be and what it ought to become, and literally become judge, jury and executioner. They supplant the law, while Batman merely works outside of the law … or, rather, outside of its mechanisms.

This is why Batman has to, at the end of the day, turn all of those villains he stops over to the authorities if he can do so. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t be working in any way with the existing authorities, but instead would be a law unto himself. While he breaks the laws that he needs to in order to provide that basic guarantee of safety, all of this is seen as upholding the basic social contract that the state provides to its citizens. You can argue that in cases like the Joker where the state isn’t even capable of judging or holding them Batman can argue that he’s just continuing on in the role of doing for the state what the state cannot do for itself (but has promised to do), but this would be a little specious and, more importantly, would be cutting the state out of the business entirely, risking Batman becoming the state himself. After all, what laws will people follow: the laws on the books, or the ones that are actually enforced?

This is why Gordon can work with Batman: Batman is not outside the law, but is rather an adjunct to it. Like other heroic vigilantes — the A-Team might be the best example — he is there for people to turn to when, for some reason, the state cannot help you … but they aren’t there to do what the state can do, and should only get involved, again, when no one else can help. The Reaper and Anarky both went out and stopped whatever offended them; Batman stops only what needs to be stopped, and only to the extent of stopping them and apprehending them. What happens after is not Batman’s responsibility … and is not something that Batman can enforce without risking becoming “Emperor Batman”.


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