Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Superhero Identity: Case Studies in the Avengers

September 2, 2015

The fourth essay in “The Avengers and Philosophy” is “Superhero Identity: Case Studies in the Avengers” by Stephen M. Nelson, and it examines the deep question of superhero identity: what does it mean to say that a particular hero is, in fact, that hero, especially in light of other people who take up that superhero identity, and heroes to take on multiple different identities? Captain America, for example, has been the superhero identity of Steve Rogers, Bucky Barnes, and John Walker, and the Iron Man armour has been worn by at least Tony Stark and James Rhodes. On the other hand, Hank Pym has been Ant-Man, Yellow Jacket, Goliath, Giant-Man, Wasp and even was a hero for a while under his own unadorned name (at the founding of the West Coast Avengers). So, how do we determine the unique identity of a hero. Which of the Captain Americas is the real Captain America … or all they all the real Captain America? And which superhero is Hank Pym really?

Unfortunately for Nelson, comic books and comic book fans have, er, kinda already answered that question. If you look at those lovely “Marvel Universe” type books that profile all the heroes, they end to divide up their heroes into their, er, incarnations (perhaps of immortality), by describing them as, for example “Iron Man (1)” and “Iron Man (2)”. It always been clear, then, that in comics the identity of a superhero depends critically on both the superhero name and the person adopting that name. For example, Laura Kinney is going to take on the Wolverine superhero name after Secret Wars, but she is definitely not going to be the same Wolverine that they just killed off nor the same Wolverine as “Old Man Logan”. In a sense, they are all Wolverines, but they are not the same Wolverine, because the people underneath the masks are different.

Which, then, lets us get much faster to Nelson’s final point: about adopting the mantle of a superhero. Nelson points out that actually taking on the mantle of that hero — as opposed to being a different hero with the same name — has to follow some sort of process that confers legitimacy on the adoption of the mantle. So, for John Walker, it was the government doing it who, presumably, had the right to confer the mantle of the symbol they created on whomever they wanted (although some definitely might have protested that the mantle belonged to Steve Rogers, not the government). For Iron Man, it was conferred on James Rhodes by the original Iron Man himself. For Laura Kinney and Bucky Barnes, their relationship as the protege of the original hero conferred legitimacy. For Old Man Logan, he just is a version of Wolverine, like the past X-Men are, and so what we have are alternate versions of the same mantle. But the FF’s Human Torch is not the same Human Torch that fought in WWII, and so they are two completely different and unrelated heroes with the same name and similar if not identical powers. While Nelson points out that continuity of body or mind isn’t relevant here, continuity of mantle is, and the Human Torch mantle has no continuity, while in all of the other cases there is continuity there.

So, then, what makes it reasonable to claim that John Walker is Captain America and not just another hero with the same name: the continuity of the mantle that he then picks up. This is why Laura Kinney will reasonably be taking up the actual Wolverine mantle, even if (or rather, likely when the original returns) while Johnny Storm never took up the mantle of the original Human Torch.

On What Matters: Objectivism vs Subjectivism About Reasons

August 31, 2015

If we’re going to look at how Parfit may not be being fair to Subjectivism, we should take a quick look at what he means by Objectivism and Subjectivism, which he covers in Part 2. It turns out here he isn’t talking about morality directly here, but instead is talking about reasons. In particular, he is talking about practical reasons, which presumably are the reasons that can and ought to drive and justify actions and behaviour. He ends up defining Objectivist views about practical reasons as being views where the reasons are derived from the objects of the aims, which leads to a somewhat odd Objectivist view in this context. It looks like he’s taking the term “object” too literally here in calling this an objective view, since “objective” in this context usually implies neutral or third-person, not just in objects. However, as he shakes out his idea and, particularly, contrasts it with Subjectivist views, it ends up being pretty much that way: Objectivist views say that reasons are derived from the facts of the matter about things external to the agent in some way.

So, then, what is a Subjectivist view? Essentially, it is a view that argues that one’s practical reasons are derived from facts about the person themselves. More specifically, it seems that Parfit defines such views as being ones where the aims of the individual are what gives one reasons to act in those ways. In short, one’s practical reasons can only be defined in terms of the aims, goals and desires that the agent has, and cannot be derived from the nature of the aims, goals and desires themselves. As Parfit presents Subjectivist views, they hold aims and goals have no inherent value; the only value that can be given to them is given by the fact that they are the aims and goals of a specific individual, and no one, therefore, can say that they have reason to do something that they don’t, in fact, value themselves.

In short, then, Objectivist positions by Parfit will claim that there are some aims or goals that are inherently valuable or desirable and so give reasons to do them even if the person themselves doesn’t see those reasons of think that those things are valuable. Subjectivists are going to argue by Parfit that there are no such aims, and that the facts about the aims cannot determine the value of the aim independently of the individual’s assessment of those aims. In the next two parts, Parfit is going to try to show that Subjectivist views are wrong, and I think he’s going to trip over himself a bit trying to do that.

That’s all I want to say about Part 2, although Parfit does talk more about Objectivist positions there. I don’t feel that he proved that Objectivist positions are correct there, and my purpose for these posts is to pull out a couple of interesting points per part, not do a full critique. I will, however, probably have more to say about the next two parts in the next couple of posts.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

August 28, 2015

The fourth essay in “Spider-man and Philosophy” is “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” by Adam Barkman, which examines issues around the Problem of Evil and responsibility, and even how it is that God can forgive us. Without getting into much detail, it explains reasonably how God forcing people to love Him and be friends with him and never reject him is a logical contradiction for a God that wants people to be free, and also talks about how we need forgiveness and needed Jesus’s sacrifice to wipe out the injustice that we, as fallible humans, must commit (and can never atone for), goes through the various arguments to support natural evil (including the angels and demons one, which he puts far more reasonably than most atheist criticism concedes), and describes the Thomist conception of God pretty well.

But what I want to focus on is, essentially, what’s described in the title, and the idea that with great power comes great responsibility. Barkman points out that being a superhero isn’t a great and wonderful “gift”, because it comes with a great responsibility to use that power to help others. He talks about the Widow’s Mite and points out that she was expected to give less because she had less, and that the rich people were expected to give more because they could. By the same token, Peter Parker is expected and has a responsibility to help others because he has the power to do so, and that power, in and of itself, confers the responsibility to help others. Which is all pretty reasonable except …

… why, then, doesn’t it apply to an omnipotent God? God has the power to end all suffering. Since Peter Parker is expected to intervene in the free choices of the villains and stop them from hurting people, and since that supposedly follows from his just having that power, then why isn’t God expected to save people as well? If Peter Parker is expected to save children from burning buildings because he can, then why isn’t God expected to save every child from a burning building? If you start from “With great power comes great responsibility”, you can’t even argue that God needs to allow people like Peter Parker to act justly, because God could save every child that Peter Parker doesn’t … and, by having that power, is obligated to do so.

Thus, by tying responsibility to power in the way that Barkman does, he pretty much makes the argument for the Problem of Evil, no matter how hard he tries to explain it away. He can’t use the argument of it being demons doing it of their own free will, because Peter Parker is expected to stop villains and even demons from hurting others even though it interferes with their free will. And if Peter Parker — or we — are expected to help those being tormented by natural evil because we have the power to do so then God, having that much more power, ought to be expected to do that as well. There’s no way out for God if you argue that with great power comes great responsibility to use that power to prevent suffering … because God, having the greatest power, would then have the greatest responsibility.

On What Matters: Normative and Apparent Reasons

August 24, 2015

So, I’ve started reading “On What Matters” by Derek Parfit again. I originally bought it to take a university course that I unfortunately wasn’t able to take, and so I started reading it for a bit and then, as usual, got distracted. Having just finished reading my two collections of Ayn Rand essays, I’ve decided to go back to reading it, and since I always need posts for the blog, I’ve decided to do some commentary on it as I do so. As I write this post, I’ve just finished reading the fourth chapter (or “Part”, as Parfit puts it), and again think that he’s being very unfair to Subjectivism in parts 3 and 4. But before I get into that, I want to talk briefly about a couple of issues in the first two parts. This post tracks the main thrust of part 1, which is about reasons.

Parfit uses a particular analogy here that he relies on heavily in his discussions of Subjectivism, which is as follows: Imagine that you are walking in the desert, and you disturb a poisonous snake. You believe that the option that will best save your life is to run away, but in reality the option that will best save your life is to stay still, as it only strikes when it detects movement. Parfit argues that what you have the most reason to do is stay still, despite the fact that you believe that the right thing to do is to run away.

At first blush, this actually seems fairly reasonable, but it immediately runs into issues when we ask — as Parfit does — what you ought to do in such a case. Given our intuitions, we can say, and reasonably so, that you ought to stay still. After all, assuming that you want to preserve your life, that is the action that will actually achieve that, while running away will almost certainly get you killed. But how can we expect you to stay still? Given your set of beliefs and desires, and all of the information you actually have, the right action is to run away. But it happens to be wrong. What reason could you give to justify staying still? The only way you could, in fact, do the action that we say you ought to do is completely by accident; there is no reasoning that could possibly cause you to conclude that you should stay still given the beliefs and desires you actually have in this situation. So even if you ought to stay still, there is no actual way you will do that in that situation … or, at least, no way that appeals to reason.

Parfit addresses this by distinguishing between “normative” and “apparent” reasons. Normative reasons are essentially those reasons that we would have if we have all of the information, all true beliefs, and all of the appropriate desires. Essentially, it is the reasons that we would have if the situation was evaluated from a neutral — and presumably omniscient — third-person perspective. Apparent reasons are the reasons that we in a particular situation given a certain set of beliefs and desires actually have. He argues that what it is rational for us to do is governed by apparent desires, but normative desires track what we really and factually have the most reason to do.

Again, this sounds reasonable … until you realize that making this distinction essentially sunders normative reasons from our behaviour. Given this distinction, it is clear that we will only ever and can only ever act for our apparent reasons, no matter how close they actually are to our normative reasons. We can only act on the beliefs and desires that we actually have, not the ones that we would have from a third-person omniscient viewpoint. So it turns out then that by this we can never really act according to what we have the most reason to do, because that is always the normative reason and we only act on our apparent reasons. Only if our normative and apparent reasons are identical can we act based on what we have most reason to do … but given that those reasons can only be formed from a neutral, third-person, omniscient viewpoint the chances of our normative and apparent reasons being the same is miniscule, to say the least. So if we have to say that our normative reasons define what we have the most reason to do, then we never act on the basis of what we have the most reason to do. This will be problematic for Parfit later when he uses this analogy against Subjectivism.

Weight loss, again …

August 21, 2015

So, it seems that there’s a new semi-controversy out there, over research that’s partly funded by Coca-Cola that at least argues that exercise is more important than generally thought in losing weight and maintaining healthy weight. Since this might suggest that the best way to lose might for someone might not be to give up soft drinks but instead to just go for walks every day, and since Coca-Cola is certainly interested in people thinking that, this leads people to be suspicious of at least Coca-Cola’s motives. So Salon has posted an article that was originally at Scientific American with diet and behaviour expert Charlotte Markey talking about it, and at some point talking about the presentation of the group and what it is trying to do. And, after reading it … I simply had to respond. Let’s go through it, shall we?

In your fall Scientific American MIND feature you write “study after study shows that working out is not terribly effective for weight loss on its own.” Why is that?
Exercise increases appetite, and most people just make up for whatever they exercised off. There’s a lot of wonderful reasons to exercise and I always suggest it to people who are trying to lose weight—some sort of exercise regimen keeps them focused on their health and doing what is good for them, and it’s psychologically healthy. But in and of itself it won’t usually help people lose weight.

So … if people exercise, they want to eat more (likely because they are burning more calories). So if they increase their exercise and don’t watch their diet, then they at least don’t lose weight. Well, okay, fair enough. But I don’t think anyone is suggesting — and if you watch the presentation, they clearly aren’t suggesting — that someone who wants to lose weight should just exercise more. What they perhaps should be doing is exercising more instead of trying to lose weight by restricting their caloric intake. In short, if you need to burn 300 more calories a day than you consume in order to lose weight, maybe you shouldn’t look through your diet to find ways to cut those calories, but instead look for ways to exercise more to burn off those calories. The idea is to stop trying to lose weight by dieting, and instead to try to lose weight by exercising more. That no more suggests that you shouldn’t have a balanced diet with a reasonable amount of calories than Markey is suggesting that you shouldn’t exercise at all while dieting.

Two years ago there was a review study in Frontiers in Psychology that concluded dieting often actually led to weight gain. Why would that happen?
When people try to diet, they try to restrict themselves, which often leads to overeating. They cut out food groups which make those food groups more desirable to them. They think too much about short-term goals and don’t think about sustainable changes. But if you are going to lose weight, you have to change your behaviors for the rest of your life or otherwise you gain it back. That’s not a sexy message because it seems daunting.

Or, to put it another way, when people diet, they cut out things that they a) really like and b) that they really need, and so that leads them to cheat in various ways. That’s not a good way to diet. Now, that being said, if you are trying to lose weight, you need to run at a caloric deficit. Running at a caloric deficit is not sustainable. So in general what people need is a short to medium term adjustment for running a caloric deficit until they lose the weight they need to lose, followed by a long term plan to maintain it. The easiest way to do this, it seems to me, is to build a food plan that gives them all of their nutrients and all of the calories that they should need that doesn’t deprive them of the things they really love, coupled with greatly increased exercise to burn off the extra calories. That way, they can eat the foods they want to eat and can get their food choices into a routine, so that when they hit their weight all they need to do is throttle back the exercise a bit into a new routine that maintains the weight they have. The only downside to this is that they might be hungry … but any caloric deficit is going to leave you hungry.

(Note: this isn’t just armchair theorizing. Every time that I’ve lost significant weight, I’ve done it by increasing my exercise. One of my most successful times at losing weight was when on a regular basis I would go for a walk to buy a big bag of Cheetos as my reward. Lately, I’m trying to lose weight again, and managed to lose 10 – 20 pounds over the winter months just by walking a lot more, and that has stalled a bit from my a) not being able to walk as much and b) my “cheating” on the food plan with stuff I shouldn’t be eating at the same time, and mostly that was because I wanted it, not because I was hungry. So I’m definitely partial to the idea that exercise might be the better way to go).

Coke’s message is don’t worry so much about dieting but worry a bit more about exercise. Is there something to that then?
I find everything going on here very troubling. In the promotional video from Coke’s group, linked to by the NYT, exercise scientist Steve Blair says we don’t know what is causing obesity and we need more research. That message is oversimplified and terribly misleading. We actually know a great deal about what leads to obesity. It’s not a great mystery. People are eating too much and not exercising enough…that makes it inevitable that people will be obese. The group’s emphasis on physical activity is misleading based on what the data shows. There’s no data to support saying if you exercise for 30 minutes three times a week that this will take care of the problem. We have data refuting that.

Except — and you can watch the video if you don’t believe me — Blair says that we don’t know what’s causing obesity except that people are, essentially, taking in too many calories more than they burn — or, that they eat too much and don’t exercise enough. In short, he is oversimplifying and misleading by … saying exactly what she says here. He doesn’t say in the presentation that “if you exercise for 30 minutes three times a week that this will take care of the problem”. 30 minutes three times a week is, in fact, a rather low amount of exercise. It seems like a bare minimum. Even if he was pushing that sort of line, it really seems like he’d be pushing for far more exercise than that.

But he doesn’t really say that. He talks about Global Energy Balance, which is pretty much what she talks about herself: the idea that you need to balance the amount of calories you take in with what you burn. His “emphasis on physical activity” is nothing more than a suggestion that, for the most part, the “how much you burn” part has been left out of the discussions. Again, maybe it isn’t really a problem that we eat too much and the wrong things, but that instead we just don’t get enough exercise. If we exercised more, what we’re eating wouldn’t make us gain weight, because we’d burn off the extra calories . In short, that given our activity level we actually need to eat that amount of calories in order to simply maintain our weight. And even then, all he’s really saying here is that we really should think about it and do some science on it to figure this stuff out.

What does a sustainable weight loss regime look like?
It looks like making regular, sustainable dietary changes. It does not have to be a complete revamp of someone’s way of eating since that is not typically sustainable. But, in most cases, it has to involve dropping 300 or more calories per day; that can be done by dropping a couple sodas per day. People have to commit to this and prepare themselves—weight loss is a marathon and not a sprint.

Well, actually … what it means is, in fact, creating a deficit between what you take in and what you burn of 300 calories. So, she has to assume that a) you’re eating at exactly the level you need to sustain your weight and b) that you drink at least a couple sodas per day. Which, of course, didn’t work for me at any rate, as neither were true (I rarely drink soda … or anything other than water or milk). And if someone, say, really likes their 2 pm Coke, then it isn’t sustainable for them either, as they will be doing what she said was an issue in her first comment: depriving themselves.

Alternatively they could walk for pleasure for two hours per day and get burn 340 calories, without feeling like they are depriving themselves of foods they love or completely revamping their way of eating that even she says is unsustainable (I, on the other hand actually did that and it’s mostly working; it’s the exercise and avoiding treats that’s causing issues for me at the moment, not the revamp of my way of eating).

The issue with losing weight through cutting out foods is that you feel deprived. The issue with losing weight through exercising is that you might not have the time to get that exercise in. But it’s generally easier to exercise more than it is to cut out foods that you love.

Exercise is important for sustaining weight loss though, right? Can you talk a bit about what the literature says on that?
Exercise makes people feel good. Avoiding food can just make people feel deprived. Exercise also gets people distracted from wanting food or other stressors, and it alleviates stress.

But exercise also has real physical benefits.
Right. We are burning calories. It’s good for all of our systems—from our heart to our digestive system to our psychological well-being. People should exercise for their health overall but alone it’s not good for weight loss.

So, her big push for exercise continues to be “It makes you feel good”. She almost grudgingly accepts that it burns calories, and even then completely ignores that burning more calories would, in fact, create that deficit that you need for sustainable weight loss. And, as I said above, trying to create that deficit primarily through exercise means that you don’t have to futz around with what you’re eating while trying to lose weight, but can instead eat normally and in a manner that you can sustain long term while shifting your activity levels to lose weight.

Now, I’ve ignored most of the talk about Coca-Cola, mostly because it isn’t important here. But I think that her response shows the precise problem that the Global Energy Balance people are complaining about: the focus is entirely on restricting caloric intake and not on increasing the amount of calories you burn. Heck, we even call it “dieting”. We start from the assumption that we need to eat less in order to lose weight, ignoring the common sense and even scientific view that essentially it’s either. What I think makes sense is that we get our diets right, and then exercise to generate the caloric deficit we need to lose weight. Again, that lets us get into the habit of eating right and not changing that while we try to lose weight, and only shift our activity levels appropriately. We never have to feel deprived because we should have an eating plan that works to avoid that. In theory, this should work, and there’s no reason to think that any of the studies she talks about have actually studied that approach.

So, yeah, we need more data. Whether Coca-Cola funding it is a good thing or not, we need to find a way to do it. How do we do it?

Freethought, freedom and blogs

August 12, 2015

So, there are a lot of things happening at the Freethought blogs network recently. Both Ed Brayton and Ophelia Benson are leaving the network. Ophelia Benson is leaving over a scrap between the bloggers on the network, where many of them called her out for being transphobic in pretty much the same way — and sometimes actually in a nicer way — than they called out people like Tim Hunt and Richard Dawkins for being misogynist, and Benson has not liked that treatment and has explicitly said that she thought that colleagues would have her back … and they didn’t. Ed Brayton is leaving because the controversy of being one of if not the most visible person on the network is getting to be too much for him, both in terms of his health and in his activist work.

People have commented in various places about what this means for the network. P.Z. Myers has decided to try to address those comments in his own inimitable way. He starts with this:

I’ve been reading the obituaries. So many people, friends and foes alike, have expressed their confidence that Freethoughtblogs is dooooooomed, because Ed Brayton has left. It’s all going to fall apart without his iron hand ruling this motley crew! Without him, no one could possibly be interested in reading anything on this network! They only ever read the old white men here anyway, so losing one is an irreparable loss!

Let me quote Jason Thibeault, the Lousy Canuck to explain what the actual concern is:

Another is that I had a few extra days’ lead time on knowing that Ed was leaving. Traffic-wise, Ed and Ophelia both are about a third of this network. Without them, it’s now PZ and The Also-Blogs, at about a 90/10 split. We’re taking a big hit traffic-wise, which results in a big hit money-wise. That big hit money-wise means the server we’re paying for is slightly overprovisioned (which means more stable, yay!) but also means a larger slice of the ad revenue and more likely to result in shortfalls (boo). Shortfalls that will probably be paid out of PZ’s pocket. Shortfalls that probably mean if anything goes sour, we’ll have lean months, maybe even where bloggers get $0 revenue, where even now we’re lucky to get double digits.

They’ve lost a third of their network traffic. One of the things that seems to appeal to both Brayton and Benson is that with their new blogs they will make more money, as Patheos pays more than FTB did and Benson is using this to launch a Patreon drive. As Thibeault notes, the bloggers stand to lose a bit of money on this, with Myers likely being the one to absorb cost overruns like Brayton did to keep things going. FTB was, by its own admission, started to provide a bigger stage to some bloggers of the appropriate stripes and to also potentially make it so that they could earn some money to help them with their causes. If the attention they end up getting is too negative — note that Brayton commented in his post that he felt that the negative attention the network got hurt his activism because some people didn’t want to work with him for reasons varying, I presume, from “We don’t like the people you’re on the network with” to “The attention means that anything we do with you ends up with complaints from others” — then they might want to leave to avoid that, and if it doesn’t pay enough anymore they may have to pursue better paying options. So losing that much traffic with a network designed to generate more traffic for everyone isn’t a good thing at all, and could indeed run the risk of killing the network.

So let’s see how Myers tries to assuage concerns that the network might be having issues:

– Ed never actually “ran” this place — no one did, or does. This is one of those pinko commie anarchies. He managed the books, arranged for the ad services, that sort of thing, but all of the blogs here are autonomous. No boss. Get it? If you’re an authoritarian, maybe not.

– The kind of minimal, managerial oversight needed to keep the lights on has fallen into the hands of the executive committee, a small subset of the people here who handle mundane issues that affect the whole network. Just to let you know how busy the executive committee is, we initially proposed to meet once a month. I don’t think we’ve met in over a year.

It’s not about control. But if you look at what Brayton did, these are things that you do, indeed, need someone to do, and that it works a lot better if you have one person doing that than a committee. About the only thing that the committee would do as well or even better is managing the bloggers: dealing with requests to remove bloggers or add new ones. But it isn’t a better way to manage the books, or to arrange for ad services. That’s better done by one person, with perhaps some oversight. So, no, it doesn’t look like that’s an effective way to replace the things that Brayton did that still need to be done, and no one should be reassured with Myers’ vague “We’ve replaced it with a committee!” response.

– The network is not a vanity project for the white men who set it up. It’s an anti-vanity project. The whole purpose of the network was to leverage our traffic into creating a space for a diverse group of bloggers. They’re still here! Ed and I could drop dead on the spot, and it’ll still keep ticking along.

– Building a diverse network also produces a robust network. There is no single point of failure. By design and by diffusing the leadership all along, there’s no way to take it out with loss of a single blogger (we’ve lost and gained bloggers all along, you know).

Yes, but FTB was started by Myers and Brayton who were, in fact, already known and relatively popular as a way to use their traffic to draw attention to those who were good bloggers but merely need more exposure. To put it in Social Justice terms, Myers and Brayton used their privilege to provide a forum for those who were disadvantaged. With two big draws leaving the network, that doesn’t work out so well. And considering that it was in-fighting that actually caused at least one of them to leave, it’s also not a given that they’ll support each other. You may indeed see posts that either directly or indirectly encourage people to not read a particular fellow blogger. Without the big draws and without them staying mostly neutral, you don’t have enough of a guaranteed push to generate views from other people. This is not a good thing, no matter how Myers spins it.

– We do have to worry about maintaining a volume of traffic to maintain ad rates. But this is a group that does not prioritize making money off their writing (although it sure would be nice…) but on maintaining independence. I’d be writing for free — I was writing for free years ago — and what money we do make is distributed among the bloggers by traffic. There is no central authority skimming off the profits.

But the easiest way to maintain your independence is … to be independent. I, for example, am completely and totally free because my blog is on my own and not part of any network. The only standards I have to follow are the basic ones from WordPress. I owe no one anything. If people like my blog and link to it, I appreciate it but have no obligation to them. If I want to criticize Crude harshly for something he said, either here or on his blog, I can do so and even if he decides to unlink my blog all that means is that I lose some traffic, and since I’m blogging for free that’s all an “Oh, well”.

Look, there’s a reason for bloggers who want to be independent to choose to join a network where, by necessity, they give up some of that independence. The only reasons I can think of to do that — money or exposure — are hurt by two of the biggest draws leaving. What stops others from leaving and perhaps going to Patheos or independent? Considering, for example, and both Miri and Ashley Miller, for example, almost certainly make more through Patreon than the ad revenue from FTB (and it’s mostly stable), and that that comes from their own work and doesn’t depend on and isn’t shared with anyone, why wouldn’t they open up their own site, run their own ads, and make money that way? What does being in the network give them? Especially if they might run afoul of their fellow network bloggers and have being in the network work against them instead of for them.

– do have one serious worry about an ongoing failure. That’s all you people who say you only came here for the PZ and Ed show. You’re doing it wrong — I’m not going to object to you reading my stuff, but the whole point of the network is to give all those other voices a platform. You should go read them.

Maybe they have, and found them wanting. Maybe they aren’t updating enough to make that worthwhile (I can attest to how much of a difference updating can make, as my traffic, miniscule though it is, halved when I went to posting three times a week from posting every day, and I’m still on pace for my best year ever). There may well be reasons why they really don’t want to read the other bloggers, even if it’s something as simple as “They all say the same things as you do, mostly, so there’s no real reason to read them.” And if the in-fighting starts up again, there may indeed be more and more issues with this.

But Myers doesn’t get what the problem actually was here, as he says:

you may have heard, Ed Brayton is leaving FtB. His health has suffered, because he is the point man here, and one of the defining features of the current atheist movement is that it is populated with assholes who hate the idea of any kind of social justice movement, so they’ve been making life hellish for a guy who has had more than enough work trying to keep the lights on and the engines running.

And elsewhere:

This is a network that happily embraces the social justice cause. We select our bloggers from people who are clearly on that side of the cultural divide, and we’re going to kick out anyone who opposes equality for all (we’ve done it once before, and we can do it again). If you do not respect people’s choices, if you try to impose negative views on people’s identities, if you will not tolerate other people’s autonomy, if you think your arbitrary definitions of the ‘right’ sexual orientation, ‘right’ skin color, ‘right’ class, ‘right’ social behavior allow you to judge others, than nope, you really don’t belong here.

On the other hand, this is a freethought network. If you look at that set of boxes and question why society is labeling one set one way and another set a different way, that is appropriate and reasonable. Questioning assumptions and criticizing labels is a good thing; we should be wondering why anyone would even want to dictate the identities of others, and it’s worthwhile to try and puzzle out what criteria others are using to make that decision.

But this latest kerfuffle isn’t from atheists who are opposed to Social Justice. It’s been between those who support Social Justice, or at least claim to. Myers has had to shut down his social threads twice in the past little while, and both times it was because his “cliquish” commentariat were treating someone he liked the same way they treat anyone he didn’t like and who he also saw as “opposes equality for all”. It is certainly the case that those going after Benson saw her as that, and there is reason to think that some of the trans philosophies espoused do that if evaluated in the light of feminist philosophy (in short, feminist philosophy rejects defining what it means to be a woman by the traditional feminine trappings of the patriarchy, but many trans women seem to, in fact, do just that, choosing to identify as a woman because they prefer those trappings to the ones traditionally assigned to men, but if that’s enough to be called a woman then a woman who rejects those trappings but who still wants to be seen as a woman is facing a potential contradiction). The issue isn’t so much with what philosophy or worldview one is fighting for, but with how one is fighting for it. There is no reason to think that with the executive committee in place the FTB bloggers are going to stop fighting with each other, and they will fight with each other over what it really means to oppose equality. It’s harder to figure that out than Myers thinks, as this latest mess demonstrates. So if the blog is going to kick people out who oppose that and make that a stated principle — as Myers just did — then they are indeed going to get calls to kick someone out who seems to some to step over that line, and there’s really no good way to say to someone who thinks that that they’re wrong (if you accept the Social Justice line that those not of a group can’t say what ought to bother that group).

But if FTB really was a Freethought blog, then what it ought to say is that, outside of incredibly egregious and obvious cases, their bloggers can say what they want. If it’s deemed anti-feminist or anti-trans or whatever, then the other bloggers and those concerned about it can then write about that too, free of interference. That their bloggers might disagree sometimes could then be seen as a positive and not a negative, especially if they all disagreed respectfully (which would be difficult for them I admit). The only rule they should have is that you don’t get to say that no one should read a fellow blogger on the network because of that (which you wouldn’t think would be that difficult a rule) and can’t call for their removal on that basis, at least not publicly. So no comments that their view means that they shouldn’t be a part of the network because they “oppose equality”.

Do I think that FTB will die? Not really. It has some momentum and so will likely keep going for a while, up until the point, at least, that Myers leaves. But Myers is clearly clueless about the problems it faces and what is, in fact, responsible for them, and that should not fill those who want the network to succeed with confidence.

Ghostly Intentions …

August 10, 2015

So, I came across an article entitled The real reason some men still can’t handle the all-female ‘Ghostbusters’ by Anne Theriault. But here’s the actual link: http://www.dailydot.com/opinion/all-female-ghostbusters-backlash-male-tears.

This … is not promising. Ultimately, the article is about the “backlash” over the new Ghostbusters movie with the all-female Ghostbusting crew, and Theriault ultimately describes it as:

Part of the problem is, of course, straight-up misogyny (not to mention unfounded fears about Fake Geek Girls co-opting everything nerdy men love), but it’s also the fact that men are genuinely unaccustomed to seeing women in films.

The last part, presumably, is her real reason, since she focuses on some studies and an ad-hoc theory from Gina Davis to demonstrate this. But since this paragraph follows a number of tweets, presumably those tweets demonstrate the problem and provide evidence for her contentions of misogyny, fears of Fake Geek Girls, and being unaccustomed to seeing women in films. So let’s look at those tweets, shall we?

Melissa McCarthy will ruin ghostbusters, always typecast into the same bad/annoying role

Translation: I feel that Melissa McCarthy is a one-note comedienne and I don’t like that note.

@Ghostbusters not the new ghostbusters. Look like the biggest jokers going. Way to ruin a franchise

Well, this could refer to them being all-female, or it could just refer to them not looking the part like the original Ghostbusters did. Kinda like I feel thinking about Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson as “Starsky and Hutch”, or the guys who played the lead roles in “21 Jump Street”. Or the “A-Team”, for that matter.

I will not be watching the new Ghostbusters in 2016. Nothing against the all female cast but why ruin a classic. There’s no more talent

In this one he explicitly says that he has nothing against the all female cast, but that the original movie was a classic — which implies that he feels that there’s no reason to remake it — and that there just isn’t the comedic talent out there to do it properly. There’s no reason to think that he thinks that there’s male talent out there that could do the role justice either.

New Ghostbusters cast being all female is just Hollywood pandering

This is the only one that actually talks about the all female cast … and it isn’t misogyny or fear or not being used to seeing women in movies if he’s right that it’s pandering. And considering that there seems to be no reason to have an all-female Ghostbusters line-up — at least the original idea, from what I heard, would have had Venkeman running things and so it might have been reasonable that he might have skewed his selection process to young, attractive women — it seems that there’s a fairly good case to be made that this is, in fact, just pandering to liberal and Social Justice considerations.

Now, Theriault’s — and Davis’ — theory is that the reaction is at least in part due to the fact that we don’t see a lot of women on-screen, and so our idea of how many women is a majority, say, is skewed. We see 17% women and think that equality, when it isn’t, and 33% women is seen as dominating. And she’d almost have a point right up until she tries to link that theory — which, again, is ad hoc and under-evidenced — back to the Ghostbusters movie:

Going back to that 33 percent figure that Davis cited, it’s interesting to note that it can be applied directly to the Ghostbusters franchise. Including the film that’s still in production, only a third of the representation in the films has been female: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson each acted in two entries in the series (that’s eight male entries), while Kate McKinnon, Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, and Kristen Wiig fill out the new cast (four for women).

However, that ratio still feels like over-representation to some men—because in a way it is, based on their ingrained notions of how and how often a woman should be represented.

Um … does anyone think that we should be counting the total representation across all of the movies, and not the representation in this one? Tell ya what. I’ll redo “Sailor Moon”, and I’ll make it an all male cast. And when feminists complain that I’ve taken a cartoon that represented women and girls and turned it into one that represents men and boys instead, I’ll reply that if you take the two series the representation is precisely 50-50, so it’s perfectly fair. Do you really think that reasoning would work? So why does anyone think it would work or have meaning here?

If we just consider this as a question of equal representation, the new Ghostbusters movie fails miserably, as there is no reason to have an all anything cast. If we look at the history of the franchise, there is even less reason to have an all male or all female cast. Starting from the original, we could easily see Egon deciding that active Ghostbusting was getting in the way of his research, and Winston deciding that he wanted more steady work. Then we could take the thread from “The Real Ghostbusters” and add Janine as a Ghostbuster, and then fill the other slot with another woman, and likely one that’s very attractive but is actually the brains of the group (Why very attractive? So that Peter would hire her, and so that she has a subplot of people not taking her seriously because of her looks that she has to overcome by the end). This gives us an even split, but is an organic even split, and is one that maintains the original franchise while simply adding to it. There is no reason to have an all female cast, particularly if you’re going to argue for that on the basis of equal representation. Given all of this, the charge of “pandering” seems quite legitimate; it sounds like they want female Ghostbusters just to have female Ghostbusters, not because they’re going to do anything with them beyond being able to tout their wonderous equal representation.

We need media that, thus, features a diverse cast of women—because the only way to correct our perceptions about gender parity is to make sure we’re exposed to films, books, and TV shows that represent the people we often pretend don’t exist.

Actually, the way to correct our perceptions about gender parity is to have media that has gender parity. I don’t know about you, but to me an all female cast does not show gender parity any more than an all male cast would. No, it’s about women becoming the dominant representation, in an attempt to make up for the sexism of the past. There may be cases where that’s needed, but not in representation where your stated goal is to show gender parity.

The new Ghostbusters movie won’t ruin anyone’s fond memories of adolescence—in fact, they might make a lot of peoples’ childhoods a little better. For the young women who might not be used to seeing themselves on screen—or to being told that their stories matter—Wiig, McCarthy, and company aren’t just battling the supernatural. They’re fighting to give us a new generation of heroes.

Because, obviously, having a gender parity Ghostbusters wouldn’t give women female heroes. They can’t be female heroes if they work alongside men as equals right? That’s clearly not what we want, right? Right?

Geekdom and men

August 7, 2015

So, Tauriq Moosa has made another post. In this one, he takes on an anonymous comment and proceeds to at least attempt to tear it apart. Unfortunately, most of the post is pretty much a rant, as evidenced by this exchange:

Where can they flee? They’re backed into a corner. Attacking invading women is not harrassment – it is defense.

**** you.

Look, I’d have more sympathy for the idea that you only want discussion if, well, you wouldn’t reply to comments like this of at most mild rhetoric with an utterly dismissive statement. Either his point works that he needs to attack — and note that what “attack” means is not specified, so it could mean anything from disagreeing, to replies of the form that Moosa makes right here, to egregious harassment — in order to defend his own space, or it doesn’t. And at this point in the post, Moosa has either demonstrated that his point doesn’t work, or he hasn’t. This response here is nothing more than a strong statement of how angry and upset and offended Moosa is, which is irrelevant for the purposes of the discussion. The anonymous commenter’s statement here deserves that sort of response about as much as “Gamers are dead” does. I doubt, however, that Moosa would see those responding that way to “Gamers are dead” as being a righteously angry as he almost certainly sees himself here.

He then immediately falls into the trap of trying to defend women entering into the geek sphere by arguing that they have always been there:

First, it’s blatant nonsense that women – or rather not cis dudes – were never part of “geekdom”, it’s bullshit to say women “invade” geek spaces. The first games I bought were by Roberta Williams and Jane Jensen; I was reading Ursula le Guin before I knew I was apparently supposed to hate all girls (i.e. teens); and the most popular character among me and my friends for Halloween was Frankenstein’s monster, created by – *gasp* – a woman.

But, I don’t need to list women who revolutionised the various mediums they were part of or elaborate on the quality and beauty they brought to their various genres. The works speak for themselves.

But if women have revolutionized the geek mediums, then they are, in fact, responsible for a lot of what it is … and, therefore, a lot of what is criticized by the Social Justice advocates. They can’t take responsibility for what is considered good but dodge responsibility for anything that’s purportedly bad about geek culture. If women have been in and strongly influential in geek culture as Moosa asserts, then they have to accept responsibility for the shape of geek culture, and for many of the elements of it that are criticized they have either fostered it or at least learned to live with it and ignore it in order to participate in the culture. And if women have been in the culture from the beginning, then how can the critics of geek culture argue that it is the way it is to appeal to men and that it reflects male power fantasies, and that that is what needs to change in order to appeal to women? If women already find it appealing, then why does it have to change?

The fact is that both the critics and defenders of geek culture consider it to be a male domain that women are trying or hoping to get into. In order for this fight to get off the ground and for the criticisms to be based on sexism or misogyny or patriarchy, you have to assume that women are not already there and not already participating. Sure, even with that there may still be issues — as there are in anything — but you would not be able to claim that geek culture is a male culture that needs to change to include women; some women are already there and (reasonably) happy with it, and so maybe, just maybe, the reason that some women don’t feel “included” in geek culture is because, wait for it, they’re not geeks. Maybe it isn’t that women aren’t geeks, but that those women aren’t geeks, and yet are still coming and and demanding that the culture change to suit them.

And let’s return to how “geek culture” got that whole “male realm” label slapped on it in the first place. While there may indeed have been a number of women in it, geek culture was seen as a male thing because it was the case that pretty much only men would admit to it. And that number of those men were socially inept and awkward, and that admitting their geek tendencies didn’t make things any better. While the commenter talks a lot about being rejected, the key is that being seen as a geek didn’t help one’s social standing. In general, women tried to avoid being labelled a geek, because to be labelled a geek was ever worse for women than for men. But while they would be forced to hide those tendencies, that also meant that they didn’t get picked on for them either. In short, many women who might have liked to be geeks chose not to be, while many men did accept it and suffered the slings and arrows of that choice from almost everyone except their own group.

Before about, oh, 2012 (as Moosa comments), being a geek was not something that people respected or thought good. Adults who enjoyed many of the key elements of geek culture — comics, video games, cartoons, etc — were seen as immature and socially inept just for enjoying those things. It’s only since then that geek culture has been seen in the mainstream as having the depth and strength that it has always had, and this is creating new audiences. And with new audiences comes new demands.

So, again, the big thrust of the criticisms is that geek culture isn’t welcoming enough to women, and must change to be more welcoming to them. This is indeed, as the commenter says, them wanting the culture to conform “to their wants and rules”. And it is reasonable to ask why in the world it should do that. Why should it do that especially for the women who have never been part of the culture but now want to jump on its bandwagon? And it’s not simply “anti-sexism” in the sense of ditching harassment; they want to change major aspects of presentation and what is produced to suit their desires. Why are their desires more important than those who created and maintained the culture just because they can appeal to some kind of minority status and wrap their claims in the wrapper of “sexism”?

Look, these are indeed issues that we can indeed have some serious discussions about. This post is not an example of how to discuss this, and isn’t a discussion at all. And I imagine that a lot of “geeks” are tired of “discussions” that are essentially people ranting while expecting any dissenters to simply nod meekly or else be ranted at much more. As Commander Sinclair said, if you want to talk to me, talk to me. There is not much “talking to” going on here except in the “I gave him a talking to” sense … and that’s not a discussion, that’s a lecture. And this is not the time for lectures.

The Wrath of Nietzsche

August 5, 2015

The next essay in “Star Trek and Philosophy” is “The Wrath of Nietzsche” by Shai Biderman and William J. Devlin. This essay is a little meandering, stopping at notions of revenge and at Nietzsche and the Overman to finally, essentially, seemingly conclude that Khan from “The Wrath of Khan” was destroyed by his desire for revenge. But what’s interesting in this essay is the seeming sympathy for Khan that you find in it:

Since we may sympathize with Khan’s anger and with his desire to destroy the arrogant and self-centered Kirk, it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see Khan as the protagonist of the work …

But in order to see Khan as the protagonist of the work, we’d have to see it as a tragedy, as a work where the protagonist was foiled in his projects either by his own failings or by the whims of fate. Given that Khan was destroyed by seeking vengeance far after it became productive to do so, the former might be reasonable … but, then, the only reason that this would be a tragedy is that, at the end, Kirk survives, although wounded and diminished by the loss of Spock. Khan sacrificing himself to destroy Kirk would be heroic; his sacrificing himself and failing would be tragic.

They comment that in order for the sympathetic Khan to work “… we have to be convinced that his feelings of vengeance are not only genuine, but also productive“. I disagree. I think that in order for Khan to be sympathetic, we have to feel that his pursuit of vengeance is either just — at which point he’s the protagonist in a tragedy — or that he has been just pushed too far by circumstances and is acting in a manner that is unjust and irrational, but one that we could see ourselves doing in their place. In short, there but for the grace of God go we. If we see it as the former, then he’s the protagonist — if one who might be too obsessed with vengeance, or who is straddling and even wandering over the line between justice and vengeance. If we see it as the latter, he’s a sympathetic antagonist; he’s wrong, but we can understand why he’s wrong.

Despite what the essay hints, there’s no reason to see Khan’s vengeance as justice. The claims that Kirk should have checked up on someone who tried to kill him and take over his ship and who seemed excited over the prospect of surviving or not based on his own abilities, when it wasn’t even Kirk’s job are completely unjustified. Khan can find no one to blame but the whims of fate, and being unsatisfied with that answer, and being unable to even blame himself, blames Kirk. So Khan cannot be the protagonist seeking a just revenge and ending with a tragic outcome, having sacrificed everything for a justice that, in the end, he was denied. However, given what he went through, and the loss of his wife, we can see this not as someone grasping towards a rational but ultimately wrong conclusion, or someone simply blinded by hate for Kirk, but instead as someone driven mad by the combination of helplessness, disaster, and his own hubris and belief of himself as the superior and even destined man. Destiny favours the bold, and Khan was the boldest of all, and yet destiny crushed him and his dreams, leaving only vengeance to drive him forward. Given this, we can sympathize with Khan because we can’t be sure that in the same circumstances we wouldn’t do the exact same thing, and let our anger and thirst for vengeance become our only motivation so that when alternatives present themselves we cannot see them through the forest of our anger and thirst for vengeance. It is reasonable for Khan to be devastated by what happened, and from there his actions are not reasonable, but are understandable. So we can, indeed, wish better for Khan than what he got, while understanding that, in the end, it could end no other way.

Richard Carrier and Logic (And Polyamory)

July 29, 2015

So, Richard Carrier has made a long post defending his polyamory against the attacks of Christians. At one point, he says this about the Christians opposing him:

… which just demonstrates Christians don’t do logic well. (That’s why they’re Christians.)

And:

Note to Christians: Learn how logic works. Please. By all you think is holy. Because this **** is just embarrassing you.

Now, I don’t really care about polyamory, although I think there is a good debate to be had there. Carrier’s post, however, is not a good debate on the issue, or even a start to one. Carrier commits massive failures in logic and reasoning and argumentation in his post, and yet has the gall to argue that about the Christians. Which, to be honest, might be true of at least some of his Christian opponents, but what we have here is an example of what happens when you fail to remember this key phrase:

With great snark comes great responsibility.

And by that, I don’t mean that if you have great snark you must go out and ensure that you use that snark to better mankind. I mean that the more snarky and insulting you are in your posts or arguments, the more burden you have to ensure that the same snark and insults can’t be used against you. In short, if you are going to rely heavily on snark and aggressive argumentation — like saying that your opponents don’t know logic — you had better be right. Because if you’re wrong, calling them out in any way for bad arguments will only make it worse when your opponents point out how bad your arguments are. Which is one reason why I try to be as charitable as I can when posting, because that way when I’m wrong — not if, when — then at least I don’t look like someone who was dishonest or hypocritical about it, blasting others for their sins while ignoring the worse sins _I_ committed.

So, let me go through Carrier’s post and point out all of the problems with it, which also requires me to say some things about polyamory. I will stress from the beginning that I don’t have any set opinion on the matter, but will note some issues that I can see with it, and will oppose Carrier’s idea that polyamory should be the default state of relationships. How much will simply be pointing out Carrier’s foibles and how much will be serious discussion remains to be seen; there’s a lot of both here.

To start, let me start with a preamble on what I think is Carrier’s specific case, because that must be understood or else many parts of the post and the criticisms can’t be understood. So, essentially, it seems to be this: Richard Carrier was married for a long time — approximately 20 years — to his wife. At some point in this, it came out that he had had at least one if not more affairs. At this point, it seems, Carrier came to believe that he was not cut out for monogamous marriage, and instead wanted to enter in a polygamous relationship. I believe — but am not certain — that they tried this for some time, but that essentially it wasn’t working, and so eventually they divorced after 20 years of marriage. As far as I can tell, she didn’t simply divorce him for the cheating; they tried an alternative first.

(Carrier’s description of the events is here).

So, keeping that in mind, let’s move on to the first criticism that Carrier addresses:

Commonly, of course, there were calls to pray for my ex-wife. Because she must be so downtrodden. Divorce between equals that is to the best of both is not conceivable to conservo Christians. They cannot imagine a strong financially independent woman who gets to do her own thing when she wants.

Except … look, she obviously wanted to stay married to him. If she didn’t want to be married to him, she would have divorced him when she caught him cheating. But instead she was willing to try the open marriage thing to see if she could indeed give him what he said he needed, and what he now says is just part of who he really is (I expect this will come up more later, but let’s put that aside for now). And, presumably, it didn’t work for her. Given that Carrier wasn’t willing to budge on his wanting some kind of open marriage and return to the traditional marriage model that presumably she was comfortable with, there really wasn’t any other option for her. So this isn’t a case of a strong, financially independent woman getting what she really wanted, because from this what she clearly wanted was what she had originally. Or, at least, if the main issue was the polyamory that’s how it works. So while Carrier seems to be quite happy with the arrangement — although even in his post he says that “Breakups are always hard”, she probably wouldn’t be that happy with it. Is she better off divorced from him than married to him, given the situation? Probably. But that doesn’t mean that this shouldn’t be considered a tragedy, and certainly more so from her side than from his, given where it started. She was obviously very willing to compromise to keep the relationship going, and possibly even over things that were really important to her. He was definitely unwilling to compromise on at least the one big thing that was important to him, which is the very thing that Christians say is what you need to compromise on to make a marriage work.

So, yeah, it’s perfectly understandable and reasonable to feel sorry for her in this situation, as she was kinda pushed into a situation by what Carrier felt he needed. It’s also reasonable to feel sorry for her and not for Carrier because, at the end of the day, Carrier got the sorts of relationships he wanted and she didn’t get the one she wanted: the one with him. Yes, he lost her (presumably) but he wanted more anyway; there is no evidence that she really, really wanted anything more than him.

So, given the situation, Carrier’s description here is massively misleading, and ends up being used as a cheap, almost ad hominem shot at his opponents: they can’t conceive of an independent woman being happy without her man. Except that if she thought that she’d be happier without him, she wouldn’t have tried the compromise in the first place. This is definitely a small consolation prize for her at best, and it is reasonable for people to express that.

And then:

They also think prayer can make someone they never have any contact with feel better about personally sad changes in their life. Because they believe in sorcery. And third-party mind control. These are, after all, superstitious magical thinkers who believe superbeings in outer space not only listen to them, but also cast mind-altering emotion spells on random people they don’t know.

Carrier talks about ad hominem/poisoning the well fallacies later, but how is this not that in a post where he talks about bad logic, and even directly links religious ideas to an inability to do logic? Will their prayers help her? Maybe not. The theory, of course, behind doing and saying this is two-fold:

1) That it’s a way to express that you are concerned for them.

2) That they ask God to give her the support she needs, who surely — if He exists — would be able to provide that support.

Now, Carrier doesn’t think God exists, and so doesn’t think that 2) will happen. That’s fine, but since they do there’s no failure of logic or reason on their part there. And 1) occurs regardless of whether it’s expressed through prayer or “You’re in my thoughts” (which is actually more a kind of magical thinking than religion is, if one takes it literally). All in all, all Carrier does here is essentially rant about how stupid he thinks religion is by interpreting it in such a strong way that it doesn’t resemble what the people actually think … and is irrelevant anyway, because the point he’d want to make is that both are content with the situation because they were or at least have become incompatible, so going off on prayer is, well, not relevant to that. Unless he thinks that them praying for her will suddenly make her unhappy, which can’t be the case.

So, angry, snarky, irrelevant and uncharitable rant. Good start.

There have also been a slurry of ad hominem / well-poisoning fallacies, of the general form “Carrier is polyamorous, therefore his arguments about history and theology are all bollocks,” which just demonstrates Christians don’t do logic well. (That’s why they’re Christians.)

The claims don’t actually seem to be that, though (as you can see in the defense of him by Matt Dillahunty) but rather that Carrier is motivated by this to reject Christianity, because if he decided to live by the Christian lifestyle he couldn’t do this anymore (in much the way as if he stayed married to his wife he wouldn’t be able to have this). The only time these arguments are worthwhile is when they are used to point out that the person cannot be considered to be a neutral party here, so in terms of his examination of the existence of Jesus we have to note that he isn’t unbiased and so his work should not just be taken as such a work, and so should be scrutinized to ensure that his bias didn’t creep into it. Dillahunty makes the one good point — after the accusation of “well-poisoning’, which I think generally false — that Carrier outlines his work, arguments and methodology, and so people should indeed just be scrutinizing that. Carrier … does not say that. He simply calls it “well-poisoning” and leaves it at that. And then he says:

Likewise the “this proves you are only atheists because y’all just wanna sin” argument, which is funny, because Christians frequently use that argument in defense of evil (e.g. attacking homosexuality or women’s autonomy or even the freedom of speech and conscience).

Um, and claiming that they do it “in defense of evil” isn’t well-poisoning? Look, either the argument works or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t work, point it out. Otherwise, why do you snark me (them)?

To call polyamory, which is about honesty and love and the assurance of consent, “sin” is just to expose how immoral Christianity has become as an ideology. What Christians call “sin” is all too often “being a decent, well adjusted human being minimizing harm in the world.”

Um, isn’t this what you’re supposed to demonstrate? This is way before he gets into the purportedly reasonable response, and so before he actually addresses any reasonable concerns about it. Heck, it’s before he even addresses reasonable concerns about it directly. And yet he thinks that he can claim that, hey, this thing is just really good and really great and really moral and all of these wonderful things and the people who try to use it as a “smear” against his other work — which is the most charitable interpretation of what Carrier feels the objections here are doing — is just a sign that they are really immoral, not him. Bluntly, it’s not relevant. I know that you think that Christians are terribly immoral people, Dr. Carrier, but you calling them that for the positions you don’t like isn’t any stronger an argument than when they do it to you. Simple logic, no?

I’m not going to talk about the purported bigotry Carrier goes after in point 3, because I can’t easily get access to read what the original was and, well, that there might be some bigotry is not surprising to me (although generalizing that to all Christians is a problem). But I do want to highlight this problematic passage:

Ammi also repeatedly and confusedly thinks polyamory means having “temporary sexual parterns de jour” (never mind the redundancy; he’s fond of the phrase). He didn’t get that from anything I wrote. In fact, one of the things I am enjoying now is the opposite of that: building multiple lasting relationships with my loves. And that is in fact a major credo of polyamory: having many non-temporary sexual partners. So, bigotwhocantgooglesayswhat?

Except that what traditional monogamous relationships insist on is a dedicated, lifetime commitment to your partner, not one that lasts as long as it benefits you. Carrier says later:

Similarly, because Peters is a superstitious magical thinker, he thinks contracts should be eternal—to hell with happiness (almost literally). Secular folk know better. Any contract can be dissolved. It’s not a promise “forever.” It’s a conditional arrangement: if x, then y. Which means when no longer x, no longer y.

That’s a temporary arrangement by definition. The idea seems to be that you enter into it out of convenience — ie that it works for you — and you end it when it stops being that. Marriage is not supposed to be that sort of contract. It’s supposed to be one that you don’t drop when it becomes inconvenient. For example, if Carrier, say, entered into a relationship that was primarily sexual in nature, and the person had an accident that left them scarred in a way that Carrier found unattractive, what would happen to that relationship? Under traditional monogamy, you stay married to them, because a) it’s not supposed to be primarily about sex and b) you committed to them through thick and thin. Would Carrier then abandon that person? I hope not, and I hope that he would still support that person through this troubling time … but could it still be a polyamorous relationship? Or would that person be just a friend?

Also, this causes issues overall for Carrier, because to make this argument he has to accept implicitly that temporary sexual partners is inferior, and maybe even immoral. But what reason does he have for making that divide, so that he can say that polyamory is about the somehow superior non-temporary ones as a “major credo? Who is he to say what polyamory is? Who is he to define what relationships count and what don’t? How is he not being just as closed-minded and bigoted by his own standards here?

Later, it turns out that he’ll end up denying that temporary relationships are bad. Kinda. But we’ll get into that later.

I’ll skip 4 and 5 because they are utterly irrelevant to the main issue of polyamory and criticisms of it. Whether that’s the fault of his critics, of Carrier, or of both is something I’ll let you decide.

The sixth point is where he finally gets into the criticism that he considers the most thoughtful, this one by Nick Peters. So let’s see how Carrier responds to a thoughtful response. It doesn’t start well:

Nick Peters, son-in-law of renowned Christian apologist Mike Licona, blogs at Deeper Waters. He reacted. Not surprisingly, as Licona and I have debated twice, hung out a few times, and communicate occasionally. Maybe that Kevin Bacon number was too small not to try and intervene before the floods of relationship chaos spread too far to crush Christian control.

Peters also fell for the lies and bubble of ******** promulgated by the Slymepit trolls Yeti and Shermertron. But I already covered that. Note this means Christians don’t know who the fringe atheist wingnuts are. But we can just laugh at that. And return to his more serious article…

Amusingly, Peters begins the substantive part of Along Came Poly with, “prominent internet blogger Richard Carrier, who seems to be the answer to all conservative NT scholarship in the eyes of internet atheists everywhere, wrote a post about” coming out poly. So, a well published Ph.D. in ancient history from Columbia University with numerous peer reviewed books and articles in major journals and presses is just an internet blogger. Whom Christians are evidently annoyed everyone keeps citing and quoting at them online. Okay.

So, informative point about the relationship between Peters and Carrier, with a potshot about “crush Christian control” (ie poisoning the well). Then a shot about Peters’ view about a completely unrelated topic (and remember, Carrier already thinks that his post is “thoughtful” on polyamory, so there’s no need for him to point out other points he’s made that Carrier will not reply to here) and that then goes on to generalize about Christians in a way that is clearly meant to imply that they are not able to properly read and discern arguments. Finally, a gripe about being described as a prominent internet blogger instead of being given his purportedly full props … in a post that doesn’t talk about history at all. As Carrier said, okay.

Let’s get into something that’s actually substantial. Please?

He then quotes a good definition of polyamory from a legit organization, and responds immediately with, “Now if you want to say as I seem to take it that this entails a desire to have sex with many people other than one’s own spouse, then I will tell you that there are many many people who I think are really polyamorous. Namely, every male on the planet, including myself.”

He missed the egalitarian part (um, your wife or girlfriend also gets to do this…and nearly as many women as men want to, BTW; and many men actually aren’t interested, either—and not just asexuals, who are in fact a thing; plus, not all of us poly folk are married, but conservo Christians balk at sex without marriage anyway, so maybe unmarried free lovers aren’t readily conceivable to them). He also missed the loving or caring about your partners part (sex isn’t just ****ing; compassionate persons regard their sexual partners as friends…and as people…and have room to be in love with more than one of them). And the honesty and negotiating what you want part (this is with the consent and approval of all involved, not on the sly or against their wishes).

First, he starts from the fact that Peters describes it from the male perspective as evidence that he doesn’t get that it’s egalitarian, when all that is is evidence that, well, he talked about it from the male perspective. It’s certainly not a criticism of his point that women get to do it, too, since that isn’t Peters’ claim (ie he’s not calling it “sexist” because it gives freedom to men that it denies to women). So that’s another pot-shot at the purported sexism of Christianity … a point that he will rely on again and again in his post, and one that’s completely irrelevant. He also tries to work around a claim that it’s just about sex … by arguing that sex is really all about love and more than just sex, but if that’s the definition he’s using then Peters’ claim there is right, but Carrier would be arguing that Peters shouldn’t think it bad then … but Peters is defending traditional monogamy and so is definitely going to think that being in love with multiple people and having sex with all of them is a bad thing, too, and for the same reason: that it’s you refusing to commit wholely to one of them. So that doesn’t work as a defense against Peters. And, again, there’s nothing in what Peters says there to indicate that he thinks that polyamory involves not being open about it; Peters likely thinks that being open about it is better than not being open about it — ie cheating — but that doesn’t mean that it’s moral or right.

So, the first salvo … misses.

So, does that describe “every male on the planet”? Nope. If only it did. The world would be a far better place. But if you obsess over just the sex part and miss all the rest, you won’t even be able to start getting why the world would be better if all of it were poly. By which I mean, all accepting poly as the baseline, and monogamy or celibacy as the rare personal choices that just suit certain people and not most of people.

This, then, is a very strong case to make. Carrier sets himself up here to defend a stronger claim than “Polyamory works for some people and so they should be allowed to do it without shame!”, but instead that we should start from polyamory, as that will somehow make the world a better place. Except that he cites the three major ethical considerations that polyamory entails, and then argues that most men don’t think that way. Are they suddenly going to start when we push monogamy out of its current position as the default? Carrier cannot assume that monogamy itself doesn’t allow for equality, caring about sexual partners, and honesty, and so monogamy can have all of those as well. Starting from the polyamorous default won’t make people any better, and so all you’ll end up with are the same morons with a different way of being a moron.

And it’s still not an objection to Peters because Peters does not oppose polyamory on those grounds. He opposes them on the grounds, essentially, that you can’t have your cake and eat it, too, and that’s what polyamory wants. Carrier does disagree with that, but hasn’t even started to address it.

People should get to negotiate the relationships they want. Period. Autonomy demands no less. There is no basis, rational or scientific, for forcing on anyone a given model of monogamy. And certainly none for stigmatizing, slut shaming, belittling, or treating with bias and bigotry anyone who chooses not to use that outdated and limiting model of relationshipping. Trying to culturally manipulate people into following and norming that model is just one more way Christianity ****s up people’s lives.

But as with taking away abortion rights, women’s rights, gay rights, free speech rights, denigrating or punishing alternative sexuality, warmongering, pushing for theocracy and forcing religion on people, feigning or even denigrating actual concern for the welfare of the poor rather than preferencing the rich, bigotry against immigrants and anyone who looks even remotely maybe Muslim, and dozens of other ways Christians in actual practice fuck up the world in the name of Christ, it’s vitally necessary to defend the obsolete and damaging institution of socially compelled monogamy. So Peters has to. He has no choice.

Most of this is a rant at Christianity with no bearing on the topic. The only part that isn’t is the point at the top about people getting to negotiate the relationships they want. Fair enough, I suppose. But if you didn’t want to have a monogamous relationship, you can already do that: just don’t get married. And it isn’t clear that those sorts of relationships aren’t inferior to monogamous ones for most people. That’s what he’s supposed to be trying to establish, remember?

As one Christian apologetics clearinghouse says (see CARM on Polyamory), poly is just “another form of wife-swapping” (except that it often doesn’t involve married people, often not even at all, and not all marriages include wives, but whatever). “So,” they ask, “how is this ‘ethical nonmonogamy’?” After all, “adding the word ‘ethical’ to something doesn’t make it so.” Although adding honest and consensual and respectful does. And guess what? That’s the ethical part. So when CARM asks “Why not have such things as ethical adultery, ethical bank robbing, or ethical embezzling?” they obviously don’t know what polyamory is. Or why it is called ethical non-monogamy.

Except, as pointed out above, to be honest and consensual and respectful is not something limited to polyamory. So here all he’s doing is essentially pulling a “No True Scotsman” argument; any polyamory that is “bad” is not really polyamory, but abusive monogamous relationships are, of course, still monogamous relationships (and evidence that monogamy is bad; we’ll see that in his discussions on divorce). If you do polyamory unethically, then it isn’t polyamory. You’re doing something else. What, we don’t know, but it isn’t polyamory.

Or we could take the reasonable tack here and say that whether or not polyamory is ethical depends on how ethical the people practicing it are. Of course, that’s not a defense against those who say that polyamory itself is unethical … which is what he’s supposed to be demonstrating here. Oops.

So, “the necessary consequence is the attack and breakdown of the family” (read: it will end women’s subordination to men) and “an increase of immorality in subsequent areas” (the reader has to fill in the blanks here, because they can’t come up with anything), “and ultimately the demise of society itself.” Somehow. How? I don’t know. Neither do they. It just must, I guess. They are right that “moral integrity is the glue that holds society together” and that “without it, we can have no society.” They just don’t seem to have any clue what morality is. Honesty, compassion, respect, and reasonableness don’t seem to be moral virtues in their scheme of things. Just what objects you ****.

Leaving aside comparisons to other sexual practices, here Carrier is, well, still not responding to the point. You don’t have to be polyamorous to be honest, have compassion, respect, and reasonable, and there’s no evidence that it even helps. One can find those things morally virtuous and still say that polyamory isn’t. This is absolutely non-responsive, especially since it isn’t at all clear that Peters is even making these points (Peters talks about it damaging marriages, but uses Carrier’s as an example of that, which is a fair point). Carrier here is certainly not addressing Peters, and it’s even unclear that he’s addressing any Christian position on this … and for a post that in the title claims that’s what he’s doing, that’s pretty bad.

Thus, sexual desire has to be bad. It therefore, as Peters says, requires “self-control” to deny yourself what is obviously a natural and normal inborn desire. Because, for some unintelligible reason, “sex is meant to be between two people who make a covenant together,” even though, if that were the case, we would have been designed to only sexually desire our covenented partner. That we were built to desire many partners, as even he admits, seems to falsify his entire thesis.

Peters doesn’t say anything about sexual desire being bad. And his point about “design” can be refuted with the sweet tooth, which proves that something that works “in the wild” is not necessarily good in this society (which, bluntly, is his entire point about how monogamy is outdated). To be sexually attracted to a wide range of people is a good thing when you need to pair up to reproduce. It’s a detriment when you’re in a relationship that is committed and monogamous. But we can indeed resist our temptation to have sex with everyone we’re attracted to, just like we can resist eating sugar constantly. Peters says that, essentially, it’s natural to have those desires but that you shouldn’t move from having them to insisting that you should give into them. Carrier disagrees. Presumably at some point he’ll actually try to argue for why he disagrees.

Let me skip the digression on Biblical Studies, because it’s not relevant and is mostly just an attempt to show that the Bible supports polyamory with copious “You’re superstitious!” points tossed in, and move on.

Next Peters then lays out a standard sexist case for monogamy: polyamory is “going to a woman and saying ‘You’re not enough for me. I need more than you’,” and “That hits at the core of a woman’s identity very often.” Except when it doesn’t. Because just as often it’s the other way around: a woman going to a man and saying the same thing. Does that “hit to the core of a man’s identity?” Not evidently according to Peters, since he thinks all men want many partners. Yet these same men have to want to be the only one a woman desires? Nick Peters, meet sexism. Also, meet pseudoscience. Our identity should not be based on totally possessing another human being.

Realize that the only evidence of sexism here is that Peters talks from the male perspective and not the female or a neutral one. That’s it. And Carrier’s comment that just as often it’s the woman doing that in no way defends him from the point that it is devastating, at least to someone who is in a monogamous relationship, like Carrier was with his wife. Which, uh, happens to be the point Peters was making, and the example he was referencing. Oops. I mean, how does Carrier think his wife felt when he said that his cheating wasn’t just a failure of character on his part, but was an expression of who he really was and that it indicated that he needed something that he simply couldn’t get from her? That she turned cartwheels? Remember, they entered into a relationship where they promised that they would be dedicated to each other and would only need each other. That’s what a monogamous relationship is. How could she not take that as a sign that there was something wrong with her? Anyone, man or woman, would feel that way. So the sexism point fails.

What we’re going to need to see is what Carrier or people in polyamorous relationships are actually missing. Carrier needs it to be more than simply sex, but something more fundamental, something emotional. But if he does manage to establish that, then your one true partner not being able to satisfy that has to be problematic. Ultimately, Carrier is going to have to reject that line. Can he? We’ll find out.

Quite a lot of women want multiple partners. Quite a lot of men do. So why can’t they get together and negotiate what works for them? Indeed, shouldn’t those very people do exactly that, and not remain attached unfairly to monogamous partners? Ineed, if monogamy is the woman’s thing, and not her man’s thing, or vice versa, doesn’t that entail they shouldn’t be married? Relationships must be based on mutual consent and compatibility, not sex slavery. Right?

Peters’ point, essentially, is that most people would, ideally, want to be able to have their cake and eat it too, to have the sort of commitment that you get in monogamy while being able to have sex or relationships with other people. The question is if you can actually have that, and have that ethically. The question is if most people need that. The question is if polyamory is an unsatisfying compromise for most people instead of being able to have your cake and eat it, too. None of which Carrier has addressed.

Probably because he thinks it more important to make sterling points like this one:

Of course in all this I’m only speaking within the context of heterosexuality. Because I know Peters would not recognize the existence of loving sexual relationships between women and women, or men and men, polyamorous or monogamous. And bisexuality? That would probably blow a spring out of his head.

Which is, of course, utterly irrelevant to the debate, but is a nice ad hominem here.

Peters then goes on about monogamy being hard. Note: if you think “relationships are hard,” you are doing them wrong.

Parenting is hard. Coping with debt is hard. Being stuck in a job you hate is hard. Relationships should actually in fact be the one thing that isn’t hard. Does anyone say “gosh, friendship is hard”? No. Ask yourself why. Because if you are a mature person, adding sex to a friendship shouldn’t suddenly add a ton of hardship. It shouldn’t add even an ounce. So why do people like Peters think “marriage is hard”? What on earth are they doing wrong?

Well, you could start to look for an answer by looking at how Peters said monogamy is hard:

This is monogamous marriage? Is it hard work. You absolutely bet it is. It’s one of the greatest lessons in self-sacrifice you learn. It is indeed about dying to yourself and learning to live a life where you actually have to realize what it’s like to not only put one person’s good above your own, but you have to learn what it is to do so with one who is so radically different from you, and even if you marry someone very similar to you, their being of the opposite sex makes them really much more different than you realize.

Yes. It is hard work, but it is also worth it.

Essentially, it’s the idea that you have to put your wants aside in order to give them what they need. In fact, the idea of love is that you are willing to sacrifice your needs to give them their needs. And they are willing to do the same for you. If these relationships are ever easy, it’s because the two people are so focused on helping each other that both always get what they need. That’s not how Carrier is describing it. That also doesn’t seem to be how Carrier handled his own marriage, where she was willing to compromise to give him what he said he needed and there is no evidence that Carrier compromised in any way. She was fully within her rights to divorce him after she caught him cheating on her, and his response was to accept that but to point out that essentially that sort of relationship didn’t work for him. Her response to that was to try an open marriage as a compromise position to see if that worked. I don’t know what the ultimate reason for the break-up was, but given what Carrier talks about it’s hard to see how an open marriage didn’t give him everything he needed, or what kind of “compromise” he had to make in that arrangement. So, ultimately, she was willing to sacrifice and compromise for his happiness, and in general he was insisting — and still insists — that the relationships have to be organized to maximize his happiness.

Now, I’m just a poor bachelor (nearing the point of being a confirmed bachelor) who in some sense wants to know what love is (but I don’t want Carrier to show me), but Carrier’s view ain’t love to me. If you really love someone, you shouldn’t be looking at the relationship to see if it maximizes your own happiness, and entering into other arrangements to meet other purportedly unfulfilled needs (especially the “needs” that you knew you’d have to give up when you entered the relationship). Love is supposed to be selfless, not selfish, where once you fall in love with someone a major if not the major component of your happiness is supposed to be their happiness. This means that you have to give up things that you like in order to make them happier. And they do the same for you. “The Gift of the Magi” poignantly illustrates this attitude:

Mr. James Dillingham (“Young Jim”) and his wife, Della, are a couple living in a modest apartment. They have only two possessions between them in which they take pride: Della’s beautiful long, flowing hair, almost to her knees, and Jim’s shiny gold watch, which had belonged to his father and grandfather.

Della then admits to Jim that she sold her hair to buy him his present. Jim gives Della her present – an assortment of expensive hair accessories (referred to as “The Combs”), useless now that her hair is short. Della then shows Jim the chain she bought for him, to which Jim says he sold his watch to get the money to buy her combs. Although Jim and Della are now left with gifts that neither one can use, they realize how far they are willing to go to show their love for each other, and how priceless their love really is.

Each of them were willing to give up that which was most precious to them for the happiness of their partner, and while ironically in doing so ended up not actually achieving that with their gifts, in the end that’s exactly what they did, by demonstrating precisely how much they loved the other and proving that their love was worth more than those possessions. Carrier’s view of polyamory seems to flout that, as it seems to be about ensuring that all of your needs are met. Yes, the other person is looking out for that as well, but that hardly seems to be the sort of attitude that leads to the kind of true, selfless love that monogamy advocates and strives for … and leads to issues with negotiation.

Carrier is big on saying that everyone should be able to negotiate what relationships they have, in the name of “freedom”. But what he misses is that the sort of negotiation he wants is vulnerable to differences in bargaining position and power. For example, most of the major criticisms of Carrier are because it started from him actually cheating on his wife, but as a man it is generally assumed that being able to have sex with a lot of different women is inherently desirable for him; wanting that is generally seen as being immature for men. But for women, it’s different. For women, being married is important socially. So there are social factors that make this something that it is easier for men to pursue than for women to pursue. This is not to say that women don’t want to do it, just that it’s harder for them. Thus it’s easier for him to hold out to get that sort of open or polyamorous relationship than it is for a woman; she has to face social criticism to a level that he doesn’t, and so can be talked into dropping the requirement in the face of that.

Which also leads to the issue that given the sorts of negotiations that Carrier favours, the person with the stronger bargaining position is the person who loves the other person less, because they’re more willing to walk away from the relationship if the other person doesn’t agree to the requirements. This risks exploitative relationships where one person doesn’t really care about the other, but the other is madly in love with them, and so the first person gets everything they want and the other person allows it because they love them so much that they are willing to give up everything just to make them happy. Yes, this happens in monogamous relationships as well, but at least in those cases we’d see the first person as being selfish and exploitative. Since Carrier’s view about polyamory is about satisfying your own needs, it’s too easy under that model to argue that the first person gets what they want and the second person is getting what they want, so there’s nothing wrong with it. But consciously or no, it is exploitative in this case. In a monogamous relationship, we’d at least be able to say that the first person isn’t living up to the assumed agreement, that they ought to love, honour and cherish their partner as much as their partner loves, honours and cherishes them. In polyamory, all you have to manage expectations is the negotiation.

Additionally, you have a stronger bargaining position of you can position your “demands” as needs or as part of your identity, or at the very least if they are seen or are more important to you than their demands are to them. Take Carrier’s own comments that he “needed” to be able to have sex with multiple partners and that polyamory was who he really was. In that context, if his wife was just uncomfortable with the idea of an open marriage, then surely it would be seen as selfish for her to deny him that, and as Carrier goes on and on about in his post it might even have been bigoted of her to try to do so, as she would be attacking his identity. Given that, she’s in the tough situation of having to oppose his needs with her wants.

So any unequal position is problematic for polyamory, especially given that emotions are involved. The person who makes out the best in polyamory is the person who doesn’t really have any strong emotional attachment to the issue, and can let pragmatics decide what relationships to pursue and what terms they accept. Anyone else risks accepting an unequal arrangement and ending up at least not ideally situated, if not downright miserable. And given Carrier’s stated attitude, being shamed for being miserable as if they were just “doing polyamory wrong” as opposed to really being in a bad position.

Now, Carrier can reply that these sorts of things don’t happen in polyamory. However, it seems that that was exactly what happened between him and his ex-wife: she loved him more than he loved her because she was willing to give up more than he was, and he was able to frame his conditions as needs and as part of his identity while she likely wasn’t. Carrier can protest that I’m ignoring the “honest” part of the definition of polyamory, but I reply that the parties can be arguing in good faith and not consciously trying to exploit their relative power and this can still happen. The issue is not really with one person being honest or not, but is about the idea that the primary focus your side in these negotiations is your own ideal happiness, without overly much concern for the happiness of the other person. You should look after your own happiness, they should look after theirs, and all should work out, right? Well, wrong.

This leads to Carrier’s comments on friendship not being hard. Friendship can be hard, for the same reasons. The closer the friendship is, the more things you have to do that you don’t really want to do because your friend needs you to. The old joke of “Friends help you move; real friends help you move bodies” demonstrates this pretty well, even if it’d have to be a really close friend for you to help them hide the evidence of a crime. The closer you are to someone, the more things you ought to be willing to do that you don’t want to do to help them out. Romantic love is supposed to be the pinnacle of “closeness”, meaning that there should be a lot of things that you are willing to do that you’d rather not to preserve the relationship. Carrier, by his own admission, wasn’t willing to give up having sex with multiple partners for his relationship. It’s hard not to see that as self-centered and selfish, if not a sign that he, at least, didn’t really feel that sort of love for his wife. I would not want to be in any kind of a relationship with someone practicing Carrier’s idea of polyamory because I wouldn’t feel able to rely on that person when the chips were down and I needed them to do something for me that they didn’t want to do, as I couldn’t know at what point they’d just jettison the relationship as not making them happy anymore.

The sad irony is that Peters tries to use “people … did monogamy for centuries and found … it seems to work pretty well” as an argument in favor of it, knowing full well that that is false: cheating has been universal and rampant throughout all those centuries. As has marital misery, so common in fact it became a universal trope. Evidently, people can’t do monogamy.

So … is Carrier suggesting here that most parties in monogamous relationships cheat most of the time, and that most of them are completely and totally miserable in a monogamous marriage? Cheating happens, sure, but it’s not “rampant”, or at least not in a sense that would prove that it didn’t work. And the universal trope of marital misery is about the loss of freedom in marriage, which can be tough, but most people seem to think that overall that’s worth it. Most people who are married do not seem to live in abject misery. They seem to love their partners and are happy to be with them. Sure, some of them may stray on occasion but that’s rightly seen as a flaw and a weakness in them that they need to overcome, not as evidence that that whole marriage thing is just crap, in the same way that if people lose their temper with their kids on occasion it’s not seen as proof that this whole parenting thing is just crap.

Peters does make a strange foray into why you should put up with the things you don’t like about a spouse, although that can’t have anything to do with the case he is talking about. We didn’t divorce because my wife was too keen on collecting cats and I kept stealing the covers. We divorced each other because, given the reality (and not the lie) of who we are, we couldn’t be as happy together as apart. This wasn’t about minor annoyances of living together. This was about the fundamentals of our happiness.

Let us recall what was fundamental to Richard Carrier’s happiness and to him as a person: the ability to have sex with multiple partners. This seems to be a pretty shallow thing to base one’s happiness on, as most people don’t have that as being that fundamental to their happiness. To put it another way, it can be seem as being fundamental to my happiness to be able to play RPGs on a semi-regular basis. But if I was married and found that because she didn’t like video games or needed my help with things I wasn’t able to do that, to declare that as “fundamental to my happiness” and then divorce her because of that would seem shallow. I’d be told to “work it out”, and if we couldn’t it would seem like I considered video games more important then her.

Thus, Richard Carrier here is explicitly saying that he considered sex with multiple partners more important than his relationship with his wife. It’s really hard to see how he could be said to love her if that was true.

Peters doesn’t get that, because he thinks divorce should only be allowed in cases of adultery or abuse. Everyone else should just put up with being miserable and “make it work,” when in fact they both could be not miserable with someone else. So Peters’ recommendation is fundamentally irrational. And fundamentally destructive of human happiness on a wide social scale.

But … if you really do actually love someone, wouldn’t you be miserable without them? I have a hard time seeing any notion of love where you could say that you’d be miserable with them and happy without them. The typical romantic notion of choosing to live without the one you love is if you think that they would be happier with someone else, even though you will be miserable without them. Carrier here implies that he was miserable with her and happy without and with someone — or rather, somemultiples — else. At which point, I’d have to ask on what grounds he thinks that he actually loved her when they split.

Similarly, because Peters is a superstitious magical thinker, he thinks contracts should be eternal—to hell with happiness (almost literally). Secular folk know better. Any contract can be dissolved. It’s not a promise “forever.” It’s a conditional arrangement: if x, then y. Which means when no longer x, no longer y. Divorce is fundamentally built into the state contract for marriage. When you vow to marry someone, and sign on the dotted line, you are vowing also to allow them to divorce you whenever they want. That’s the law. The law Christians fought so damned hard in defense of just to prevent gay people from joining in. If Christians don’t like that unilateral divorce is also being promised to in secular marriage contracts, they shouldn’t be getting state marriage licenses.

Well, except that isn’t the condition of marriage, the x, nothing more than “I truly and deeply love you”? If you love them, what reason can you have for getting a divorce? The arguments for abuse and adultery are, in fact, arguments that show that they don’t really love you anymore, if they ever did. So in that case, you violate the contract. In what case can the two people really, truly love each other but still think a divorce is the best option? Only those little things that Peters says we need to work through. Are there cases where people are indeed so incompatible that they are better off separate than together even though they deeply love each other? Perhaps … but that reason isn’t usually “I want to have sex with people who are not you”.

But this indicates the flaw in the deeply contractual view of polyamory that Carrier has. Sure, we enter into business arrangements because they benefit us in some way, but even then we aren’t allowed to just drop the contract because it stops benefiting us as much. There are two main reasons for this. First, the ability to break a promise or drop a contract when it stops benefiting us would invalidate the notion of contracts and promises in the first place. We’re willing to put in effort that doesn’t benefit us up front only because we can see that over the long term because of the contract or promise we’ll get a return on that investment. If people can break contracts and promises as soon as it stops benefiting them, we can’t rely on that and so there’s no reason to ever enter into those. If someone can get a divorce for whatever reason they want at any time, what reason do I have for ever getting married, especially if a divorce would cost me? The other reason is more about respect for others, where if you break a contract that they were relying on unilaterally then you leave them in the lurch, unprepared and potentially in a very bad position. This also applies to marriage. So, no, you shouldn’t be able to get a divorce for whatever reason you want whenever you want, even if that’s what the law says. You should indeed try to work it out first, and perhaps even not get a divorce if it’s something trivial and shallow.

As for his shot at Christians, note that most of them see marriage as more than simply a legal contract. The state marriage is simply the recognition of their status, but they seem themselves as married in the eyes of God more than that. That the state, then, allows unilateral, no-fault divorce doesn’t impact their actual marriages at all. And also note that just because the law allows you to do something doesn’t mean that it’s right to do that, which is the argument that Carrier is making here.

In light of this complete disregard for human happiness, typical of Christianity, it’s particularly interesting that Peters says “Divorce … becomes a way of saying ‘I can’t love you the way you are’,” confusing not having your needs met with “not loving someone.” This may be key to a really harmful notion of love infecting Christianity.

As already pointed out, the point of getting married is to say that you love them so much that you want to live with them forever. When you get a divorce, then, it has to be saying that you don’t love them that way anymore. If the reason is that they can’t “provide for your needs”, then yeah, that sounds a lot like “I can’t love you for who you are, because who you are can’t provide for my needs”. If they could change to provide your needs, then they ought to do so and then the relationship can continue. It’s only if doing is fundamentally not them — or would make them fundamentally unhappy — that divorce is the only option.

When that “need” is “I want to have sex with different people and you don’t like that”, it’s even worse. It’s putting simple hedonic pleasure over love.

Imagine Peters saying the same of a mere friend who insisted he have no other friends but only them: that you had better do what they say, and abandon all your other friends, because otherwise you don’t love them. Or imagine a brother who insisted Peters love none other of his siblings, and not even his parents, but only him. Either scenario explodes the whole idea of love he is trying to sell.

Except that this is a bad comparison. The only thing that the traditional notion of monogamy requires is that a) the marriage be the highest level of intimacy and closeness you have and b) that you don’t have sex with another partner. It’s perfectly reasonable for a friend to demand the comparative level of commitment, so that, say, you don’t blow off their birthday party to go to a hockey game even though you hate their parties and like hockey, or else claim that you aren’t really their friend. You’d better have a pretty good reason to not act like a friend should to them, and the same thing applies to a spouse. “I’d rather do X” is not a good reason, and Carrier very much bases his polyamory on “I want X”, translating it to “need” and then pushing it on others. I don’t think I’d want to be his friend with that attitude …

See, one of the big problems here is the pursuit of what I’ll call “hedonic happiness”, the idea that we should pursue happiness by appealing to simple wants and desires, generally for pleasures and pleasurable experiences. There’s nothing wrong with going for those things, but the problem is that these things are made the highest goal. If you aren’t feeling maximally happy and pleasure-filled, then you aren’t really happy, and need to fix that. On that score, I strive for contentment, not happiness, because to me true happiness is more than simply that sort of pleasure, but is about living a good life and being a good person, striving for Stoic eudaimonia. This does involve sacrificing things, but nothing that I can’t live without, and nothing that is worth pursuing in and of itself.

Richard Carrier considers having sex with multiple partners to be such a need that he can’t be happy without it. I think that he places far too much emphasis on sex, and in doing so ignores what true happiness is. Given his attitude, I have no doubt that his ex-wife is better off without him.

Just as people differ in their hobby and other interests, so people differ in their libidos and sexual interests. With every other domain, good spouses allow their partners to explore such things with others. If they aren’t into sports but you are, they let you enjoy sports with friends who share your enthusiasm. If they are into gardening and you aren’t, you let them enjoy gardening with friends who share their enthusiasm. And even when you share interests, you are still allowed to also share them with others. So why suddenly does this generosity end when it’s sex? There isn’t any valid reason.

If you treat sex as simply another kind of activity like any other, then this argument holds. But Carrier explicitly earlier didn’t. He chided Peters for thinking of sex as just sex, and not with thinking of their partner as a person. Except … that’s what this is here, and in his discussions of swinging and other things he treats sex as casual. So does he consider sex to be something like playing sports or playing board games? Do we have to think of the others as people in the same way? Then his objection to Peters about him thinking of sex too shallowly fails, as his view is at least as shallow if not more so. But the issue with sex is that it is often seen as more than that shallow sort of thing, but as an expression of intimacy. And it’s reasonable to think that the more serious a relationship is, the more “special” the intimacy is in that relationship. If Carrier was just pursuing sex without special intimacy, then it is not unreasonable to argue that it should be treated like other activities … but then Carrier can be seen as selfish and shallow for giving up love because he couldn’t get it. But if he was pursuing intimacy, then his spouse could be reasonably upset at losing the intimacy.

Which leads to another issue with polyamory: the idea that you are splitting up your resources among multiple seemingly semi-equal relationships. In a monogamous relationship, you provide the things that you can provide to your partner, and you’re there for them when they need it. And they can rely on that. Just as my friend can rely on me to not skip their birthday party to go to a hockey game, my spouse can rely on me to not skip our anniversary dinner to go to my friend’s birthday party. There’s a hierarchy here of where my time and effort goes. Even with a so-called “primary”, is that always the case? If one person really wants sex on one day and another needs emotional support, who wins? With monogamous relationships, that choice doesn’t happen, as you’re only trying to provide for the needs — at that level of the relationship — to one person, and their needs tend to take precedence over those of friends. If these are actual relationships, which get priority? How do you choose between the needs of these people? And since these relationships are built on satisfying needs, at what point does that choice mean that you aren’t actually satisfying them as you essentially agreed to do in the negotiation?

You can, of course, reintroduce hierarchies of priorities. But at this point we start to wonder what sorts of actual “relationships” Carrier actually has here. In what way, in Carrier’s mind, is a primary-secondary relationship different than having an open marriage and a friend with benefits? Even in triads, unless they are all mutually supporting what happens when the needs clash? With one person, it’s relatively easy, but with more you will get more conflicts of needs. Carrier will argue that when this happens either one of them has to give in or they can end the relationship, but this treats these relationships as things that don’t really matter. Either their needs aren’t that important so that they can at least postpone them or else the relationship isn’t that important so they can just walk away. That’s not what Carrier wants to imply, however.


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