Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Baby, It’s Cold Outside

December 14, 2018

So, there’s been a bit of a kerfuffle over the song “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”. CBC recently dropped it from and then reinstated it on their Christmas playlists due to the controversy. The arguments against the song are over how creepy and “date rapey” the song seems today, usually trying to make a link to the #MeToo movement about sexual harassment, and so linking the song to that. Defenders of the song usually appeal to it being written in a different time and not meaning the things that those opposed to it think it means.

There are probably two big arguments about it. The first is that throughout most of the song there is a conversation between a woman who wants to go home for the night and her erstwhile boyfriend who keeps trying to convince her to stay, which can seem like coercion. The second usually focuses around one line where she accepts a drink from him and then asks “Say, what’s in this drink?” which is often translated by people who have no idea what they’re talking about into some link to the Date Rape drug, despite the fact that such a thing wasn’t in common use around that time.

While others hint otherwise, I think that the most common and reasonable interpretation of the “Say, what’s in this drink?” line is that there might be a little more alcohol in it than she expected, which might be an attempt to get her to loosen up a bit. But doing that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. After all, some advice for shy people in social situations is to have a drink so that their inhibitions will be lowered. Having your inhibitions lowered isn’t a bad thing unless your inhibitions are actually telling you to not do things that you really shouldn’t do; if those inhibitions are stopping you from doing things that you should or should be able to do, then lowering them is probably a good thing, as long as the lowering itself doesn’t cause any kind of issues.

So, then, we need to look at the rest of the song to see what is happening here. Given the context of the entire song and the time it was written, I definitely think that the most reasonable interpretation is that she wants to stay but is running up against social strictures against doing so — that aren’t as strict for men — and so she’s giving the standard excuses and he’s trying to give her excuses for not following that wisdom, particularly that it would be an extreme hardship and even dangerous for her to leave due to the weather. At the end, depending on the version of the song, she seems to accept willingly and not reluctantly, which supports the idea that she wanted to stay and was talked out of her inhibitions, not talked into doing something that she didn’t want to do.

That being said, it’s not as easy to see that in the modern context. While the same sorts of social strictures can be in place, they aren’t as common anymore. Thus, a woman giving those excuses is less likely to be doing so on the basis of “What would people think?” but instead as excuses to leave so that she doesn’t have to stay. And in that context, he’s trying to coerce her into staying when she doesn’t want to. I can see how that might bother some people, and make them feel like she’s giving in rather than ultimately being convinced to do what she really wanted to do anyway, if not for those invalid social strictures.

So, turning to the radio stations: I can see that some of them might want to drop it because the song has implications today that it didn’t have then, there are plenty of older and modern Christmas songs to play, and they don’t really want to deal with that hassle. I think that that argument, if that’s what was used, would work: it implies things that don’t work as well today as they did back then, which can spoil the enjoyment of the song for some people, and there are lots of enjoyable Christmas songs to play. On top of that, if people want to listen to it, they can always get versions of it all over the place to listen to themselves in the privacy of their own home. So it would really be more of a “We don’t really want to get into this issue over implications”. Unfortunately, most of the radio stations and critics tend to outright say that it’s creepy or date rapey, which it actually isn’t, which then causes controversy and outcries.

By the same token, however, if a station wants to keep playing it on the grounds that it doesn’t mean that, that’s fine, too. Just because some people interpret a song a certain way doesn’t mean that they’re right to do so, and if they are interpreting it wrong and that causes them to take a creepy meaning from the song no one need humour their wrong interpretation. So I’m fine here with pretty much any choice CBC had made … well, except perhaps deciding to drop it and then reinstating it, which seems wishy-washy.

Now, you could ask that if it was the religious Christmas carols that were being dropped simply because they had religious connotations in a modern world that was less religious, would I feel the same way? The situations are different, though. The first big difference is that if a station wanted to ban all religious Christmas carols, they’d have to get rid of most of their playlist, including some of the most famous and most beloved Christmas carols. Dropping one semi-popular song is no where near that extreme, and so doesn’t need as much justification. Second, the argument that it has a different implication in modern society doesn’t hold. Society is less religious, certainly, but that alone doesn’t give a religious song any different or problematic implications. The most that could happen is that in a less religious society fewer people would want to listen to religious carols, but then their popularity would drop and the market would take care of it. There’s a direct argument about the specific song here, and clearly it isn’t “People aren’t listening to it anymore”. And finally, until Christmas stops being a religious holiday entirely, it’s going to be accurate to imply that Christmas has a link to religion, thus dealing with any possible implications. There is nothing in “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” to make its modern implications accurate and, in fact, nothing to actually link it to Christmas. You could replace that song entirely with “Winter Wonderland” and lose absolutely nothing.

I don’t mind the song, and listen to it not infrequently. But if it disappeared from playlists I wouldn’t miss it one bit, and I can see that it has implications today that it didn’t have back then which stations might not want to deal with. All in all, I think this really has to be up to the individual stations to decide what to do, and if they play it or not — and if people listen to it or not — it says very little about them as people. Or, rather, it says more about those people who don’t play it or refuse to listen to it than it says about people who still enjoy it given its original context, but for the former it doesn’t say enough for me to hang them from the highest bough.

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On Responsibility

November 9, 2018

Following on from my discussion of anger, in this post I’m going to talk about something that I found very appealing about Stoic Philosophy that doesn’t seem to be stressed as much in other moral systems: the idea of responsibility. The Stoics fervently believed that a person was only responsible for the actions they took, and not for the actions of others. This sort of statement in modern society is ironically usually interpreted in a manner so that the person is attempting to absolve themselves of responsibility, where they say that all they did was take a perfectly reasonable action and so it’s not their fault if it forces someone else to do something that they didn’t want to do. This is a line that is meaningless to the Stoics, because if the consequences to other people matter in the determination, it’s already baked into the determination of the virtue itself, and thus into determining which action is the moral one to take. The Stoics never need to diminish the actions taken by others in response to their action because the morality of their action has no actual link to those actions. A Stoic would never argue that if they, say, fire someone and leave them with an action and that person then goes out to steal things to provide food for themselves that they aren’t responsible for that person’s stealing based on that person being responsible for their own moral choices because for them the defense against that charge would simply be to defend the original action as being moral or immoral. Any critic who tried to engage them “You did wrong because look at what it made them do!” can be derisively dismissed as really not getting what morality is.

Which is good, because one of the key aspects of their position is that they aren’t responsible for the immoral things that others do in response to their actions. However, their focus is on attempts to force them to act immorally by direct threat as opposed to responding to the consequences of the actions others take. One of the prime examples is the question of what one should do if someone threatens to kill someone you love, or even an innocent, if you don’t do something that you consider to be immoral. Most moral systems at least squirm at that question, but not Stoicism. It has a single, blunt and bold answer: let them kill that person, then. This is based on their notion of responsibility: you’re responsible for the moral and especially immoral actions you take, and they are responsible for the moral and especially immoral actions they take. So if you refuse to act immorally and they then turn around and commit that immoral action that they threatened, that’s all on their head, not yours. So there is no way for anyone to blame you for the immoral consequences that resulted from your choice, because to the Stoics those consequences didn’t result from your choice, but from their choice.

And when we consider it, this conclusion seems obvious. If we have any moral responsibility at all, ultimately any moral decision is going to be the result of our own moral processing. We aren’t going to have a simple cause and effect where the effects of one person’s moral decision go into a moral agent and the effect comes out without there being a moral choice there. If that was the case, then the effect wouldn’t be a moral decision at all, or at least not one that we can ascribe to the second person. So if there is moral content to their action, it’s going to be because there’s a moral parameter to that action, and that means that the second person’s moral capabilities will have to play a role. And since their moral capabilities are the ones that actually determine that outcome, that means that they will ultimately be responsible for that specific outcome. Thus, all the moral responsibility falls on them.

So you can never say that what someone did was immoral because their action forced someone else to make a moral choice, who then made an immoral choice. As the Stoics believe that one is never actually forced to act immorally, they always had a choice, no matter how hard that choice was. So if someone takes an action that is morally correct, that someone else reacts to that action by acting immorally does not change the fact that their action was morally right, even if the first person was pretty sure that that was how that person would react. And to return to the my discussions on anger, you also can’t use the fact that someone else acted immorally to act immorally yourself, claiming that they forced you to do so. You are never forced to act immorally, no matter what things someone else does to you or others.

So to use that argument is to deny yourself the ability to make moral decisions, because if you are capable of making moral decisions you are always capable of acting in a moral fashion. It is no surprise, then, that many accept things like anger or threats as excuses to insist that they have no real choice at all, because it absolves them of that responsibility and allows them to act in the way they would prefer to without having to accept that it makes them an immoral person to do so. But as per the Stoics, it does make them immoral. And that’s one of the things that really appeals to me about Stoic moral philosophy.

On Anger

October 19, 2018

Anger is making the rounds these days. Well, to be honest, anger has been a big part of many groups’ playbooks for quite a few years now, but lately rage and anger seems to be everywhere, and everyone seems to be using it, talking about it, justifying it, or using it to justify things. And while all my examples in this post will be from the Left, anger bridges the political spectrum. If progressives seem to be talking more about it now, that’s probably for two reasons. The first is that they are experiencing setbacks, which always generates anger. People get angry when things don’t turn out the way they hoped they would, especially when that happens because others don’t do what they expected them to do and seemed to be the obvious answer. The second is that anger has worked for progressives in the past, so their strategies tended to incorporate it directly, so they continue to use it and use it. But as we saw with the testimony from Kavanaugh, anger is used by the Right as well.

I’m Stoic-leaning, and so I believe that relying strong emotions in general is a bad idea, and think that anger is a particularly bad strong emotion. The problem with strong emotions is that they are effectively judgements about a situation and about what the right reaction to that situation that are both self-motivating and self-rationalizing. Strong emotions always contain a belief about the world — that’s what triggers the emotion — and prime you to take an action in response to that. Once that happens, strong emotions trigger the emotional motivation system that we have and so strongly motivate us to take that action, and since the judgement seems so strong we are always tempted to find reasons to accept that our strong emotions are justified, and so rationalize our reaction using reason. Anger is particularly bad for one simple reason: it’s usually wrong. While we might be justified in being angry at the situation, it is rare that anger suggests the right reaction to the situation. Even when it does, while anger itself can be sustained its rightness cannot. Ultimately, anger wants to keep feeding itself and keep its state alive, and ultimately will always end up overreaching. If you keep your anger alive and nurture it, eventually it will betray you by pushing you to do something that you shouldn’t do.

Which leads to this post by P.Z. Myers, where he talks about Donald Trump’s strategy as a “rage troll” Myers first quotesthis Slate article:

Donald Trump is an anger troll. Rage is the one thing he capably nurtures and grows. … He wants to make his followers feel threatened. To achieve this, he needs his opponents to seem irrational. So he sets about making them angry.

He insults them, railroads them, calls people protesting for justice liars and profit-seekers even as he openly enriches his friends. He gives them offensive nicknames and mocks their pain for fun, and to get them to lose control. He’s doing this in plain sight—it’s pretty obvious why people are angry—but his goal is to make their reaction look inexplicable, beyond the pale. After leading angry crowds to yell abuse at anyone he points to, he turns around and marvels at how irrational and dangerous his targets are.

As tactics go, this one is dumb and transparent, but it’s worth describing it because it works. It works a lot.

Myers then goes on to add to that description:

Yeah, that’s the man. But it’s only half the problem: the other half is an electorate that falls for it every time …

Well, no, the problem isn’t that Trump’s supporters or moderates or, well, anyone except those progressives on Myers’ side that get angry fall for it. No, the problem is that the progressives on Myers’ side keep falling for it. They know that Trump is doing things just to get them angry and to push them into acting out in ways that are irrational — or, at least, can be spun that way — and they constantly let him do that to them. You’d think that the obvious way to blunt this strategy is to stop letting Trump goad them into acting irrationally by getting them angry, and so only acting after considering the situation rationally and coming up with the perfect rational response.

Of course, that’s not what Myers suggests:

We need to own our anger, because that’s the alternative. Our rage is aimed at a deserving target, their rage seems to be self-inflicted.

So, in other words, he appeals to “right makes might”. Their rage is justified, their opponents’ rage isn’t, and so they need to “own” it by justifying it and declaring it and the actions that follow from it justified and right.

This isn’t owning your anger. Owning your anger is acknowledging that it made you angry, acknowledging that you acted out of rage, and acknowledging when the actions you took out of rage were actually irrational. Owning your anger means taking responsibility for your anger, both when it is reasonable and when it is excessive, and not justifying excesses because “They made me do it because they made you angry!”. Abusers justify their actions on the basis that what the other person did just made them so angry that they couldn’t see straight, and surely they don’t want to act like abusers, right?

(Ironically, the cartoon that Myers shows right above that in his post is about a Trump supporter trying to make someone angry and that person not actually getting angry at all. It misrepresents the situation in a way that both dishonestly makes progressives out to be far less actually mocking than they were and grossly insults anyone who prefers their steaks done that way, but most importantly it, uh, supports the idea that progressives shouldn’t be baited into getting angry, which is not the message Myers is promoting here).

But anger is self-justifying, and Trump has kept progressives in a constant state of anger. And so they keep justifying being angry and the way they act in reaction to that.

Dalrock has a post that gives two examples of this, focusing on feminism specifically. In the first, a woman goes off on a rant against her husband:

I yelled at my husband last night. Not pick-up-your-socks yell. Not how-could-you-ignore-that-red-light yell. This was real yelling. This was 30 minutes of from-the-gut yelling. Triggered by a small, thoughtless, dismissive, annoyed, patronizing comment. Really small. A micro-wave that triggered a hurricane. I blew. Hard and fast. And it terrified me. I’m still terrified by what I felt and what I said. I am almost 70 years old. I am a grandmother. Yet in that roiling moment, screaming at my husband as if he represented every clueless male on the planet (and I every angry woman of 2018), I announced that I hate all men and wish all men were dead. If one of my grandchildren yelled something that ridiculous, I’d have to stifle a laugh.

My husband of 50 years did not have to stifle a laugh. He took it dead seriously. He did not defend his remark, he did not defend men. He sat, hunched and hurt, and he listened. For a moment, it occurred to me to be grateful that I’m married to a man who will listen to a woman. The winds calmed ever so slightly in that moment. And then the storm surge welled up in me as I realized the pathetic impotence of nice men’s plan to rebuild the wreckage by listening to women. As my rage rushed through the streets of my mind, toppling every memory of every good thing my husband has ever done (and there are scores of memories), I said the meanest thing I’ve ever said to him: Don’t you dare sit there and sympathetically promise to change. Don’t say you will stop yourself before you blurt out some impatient, annoyed, controlling remark. No, I said, you can’t change. You are unable to change. You don’t have the skills and you won’t do it. You, I said, are one of the good men. You respect women, you believe in women, you like women, you don’t hit women or rape women or in any way abuse women. You have applauded and funded feminism for a half-century. You are one of the good men. And you cannot change. You can listen all you want, but that will not create one iota of change.

In the centuries of feminist movements that have washed up and away, good men have not once organized their own mass movement to change themselves and their sons or to attack the mean-spirited, teasing, punching thing that passes for male culture. Not once. Bastards. Don’t listen to me. Listen to each other. Talk to each other. Earn your power for once.

So, something that even she admits was minor prompted her into a roaring rage that scared even her. In the middle of it, even she had to pause to wonder if he really deserved what she was saying to him. And then the rage overwhelmed her and justified her anger despite the fact that he was doing the thing that feminists insisted men do to women: listen. But that wasn’t good enough for her rage, and so she goes on to blame him specifically, a man in his 70s, for not forming or being part of some kind of men’s movement that could fix all these problems and so her rage at him specifically was justified because he was a man and men hadn’t done enough to fix the problems. The rage justified itself so that she could feel good about her rant and that, ultimately, she did the right thing because he deserved it.

And the irrationality of her “reasoning” is clear. Men originally would indeed get together as men and only men to try to solve the problems of women. When they did so, feminists complained that you can’t solve women’s problems without having them represented. So they did. But then feminists complained that male voices still dominated the discussion, and so started demanding equal representation, or even dominance in numbers. Men, they argued, shouldn’t be the ones driving discussion about women’s issues. This led to the actual advice that men listen to women, usually expressed as “Shut up and listen!”.

So he did. And she justified her anger by insisting that he stop doing what women were telling him he needed to do, and instead go off with men and figure out how to solve the problem without making women do it for them, which is precisely what women and feminists told him he couldn’t do because it was unacceptably sexist. Thus, she creates a circle of unacceptability where nothing he does could ever possibly be right and she can always be angry at him for not doing what he’s supposed to do, despite there being nothing that he could do that would be acceptable.

Plus, her question here is basically him why he didn’t come up with a solution for her problems, to which I can only reply as Raiden did in the first Mortal Kombat movie: Why didn’t you? When she had a man who as she admits would listen to her, why didn’t she come up with a solution and tell him to get together with men — and maybe even women — and go implement it? If she thinks the solution is so easy or obvious that a man can easily figure out what it is despite not having the problem himself, surely she should have been able to come up with it and communicate it to men who, by her own admission, were listening to her, right?

But she didn’t. Because her anger and rage isn’t about solving the problem. Her anger and rage doesn’t care about solving the problem. It only wants to keep being angry. And she is accepting its recommendations blindly and wondering why nothing gets better, which only stokes her rage. If she calmed down and thought about things, presumably she’d see that she was being unfair to her husband and irrational in her conclusions. But anger wants to keep being angry, and it keeps telling her that she’s justified in being angry and that everything she did was right. If she let it stop, then she might have to accept that what she did was unfair and irrational. And few people ever want to accept that.

The second link I’m going to talk about is from earlier in the year, and features a woman talking about liberal men being fed up with liberal women and their anger:

To a certain extent, we expected it from the men who wear lobster-printed pants, the men from Connecticut, the Young Republicans of America with their gelled and parted hair, their summers in Nantucket, their LL Bean slippers worn on the porches of fraternities, 2pm on a Monday. But when my friend pulls me aside in a hotel bar and tells me it’s happening to her husband—a man who donates annually to NPR and voted twice for Barack Obama, who has a degree in Art History and works for a non-profit—neither one of us knows what to say.

Everywhere across America, liberal unions once so strong in love—relationships founded on mutual respect and trust and commitment and loyalty—have found themselves upended, or at the very least foundationally rocked, by the political escalation as it relates, perhaps most specifically, to womanhood and gender. Twenties or thirties or forties, children or no children, married or engaged or committed via long-term relationships: I have met more women than I can count in these past three weeks alone who have confided, in low voices—or once shouting, disbelieving, desperate, we have three children, one woman cried to me—of the disruption in their own home.

Of men—previously, pleasantly, progressive—rising up with unprecedented hostility, anger, abandon, and resentment.

Hours later, another wrote to tell me of a save-the-date no longer in need of saving.

My fiancé called off the engagement, she wrote. He loves me—he’s sure, and I believe him—but he’s “overwhelmed” with everything and “doesn’t know how to comfort me” and “doesn’t love who I’ve become.”

Who I’ve become: a phrase I’ve heard most frequently by women who have found themselves rightly riled, women who have perhaps never before—until recently—cited themselves as feminists report the fury, the frustration, the foundational shift as it’s occurring in the men they love so fiercely and the relationships that hold them as a consequence to the male gaze gazing now at their woman, riled.

But I knew these men—I loved one myself—and they are far from misogynistic monsters. They are far from Trump supporters. These men, on the contrary, comprise a particular slice of American males: they are men who did not vote for nor support Donald Trump, but are reticent to admit his behavior, rhetoric, and policies are as outrageous and offensive—downright threatening, maddening—as their female partners perceive them to be. These are, make no mistake, men who wholly sought us for our strength, our independence and education. The jobs we held or coveted. The degrees degreed in our name. Our passions and pursuits and our can-do, want-it-all attitudes. They work as medical researchers or in the arts, in teaching or social work. They queue up the Saturday Night Live skits that humiliate Trump, to consume with our coffee on Sunday mornings, but find it unpalatable and unpleasant that our resentment and our fears linger long into the workweek.

Perhaps it was sexy, initially: how they saw in us an equal. But how quickly we lose our status when we as women are angry or upset, frustrated beyond belief, when we add our voice to the chorus of #metoos or feel daily symptoms borne of helplessness. When the solution to our problems is not a man or a new necklace, but a sense of elongated empathy emanating from the person we’ve chosen as our partner.

A psychology colleague suggests the mental butler—a well-known psychological phenomenon that argues our subconscious is so acutely aware of our tendencies, predispositions, and preferences that it influences behavior. He explains the idea via racially motivated shootings, arguing that while a white cop may not be overtly racist, his mental butler—who, over time, has come to associate African American men with athleticism, aggression, and larger stature—may cause him to act more quickly, confidently, and aggressively when encountering a black man as opposed to a white man.

If a man has somehow wrongly internalized that to be a feminist is to be hateful towards an entire group of people, angry for the sake of anger, condescending, inefficient, than perhaps no woman he has chosen or been tasked to love can shake him of his mental butler. Perhaps no man is capable of understanding, truly, what is always on the line when you are a woman, and how Trump and his toxic rhetoric threatens so very much of it. Perhaps no man can recognize the sinister in Trump’s threats because he has not endured them—in some form or another—for the whole of his life.

My boyfriend? He once built me benches color-matched to our dog’s collar, knowing the matte of that mint green brings me more joy than anything. He lined the benches by the garden. The garden we’d built together. We did that work in unison: he backed up the pickup while I shoveled soil into the beds. The peppers are finally ripe enough to pick, but he’s no longer around to eat them.

In my backyard, in my America, I think of the mental butler. I try to imagine a mindset so wholly shaped by gendered bias that—despite any sense of love or tenderness, respect or commitment to partnership—a man, even a progressive one, automatically and subconsciously conflates feminists or a rise in feminist outrage to a threat to the collective male contingency/population. I think of the way a spider moves—fast and without reproach. First the problem is on the porch. Then it is climbing up your bedpost. Look as it spins a web around your morning and then your month and then your marriage. Look—and please keep looking—as it grips and continues gripping everything you once held dear inside his web.

What I wish these men could know—far beyond our disappointment in the president, or in their leaving—was how it felt, for so many of us, to wake on buses or trains or planes on our way home from the Women’s March. I woke that night to a thousand taillights—many cars but far more buses, thousands of stories packed onto wheels—as we traced the edges of America, making our way home, creeping, fading slowly into the places where we might not so easily belong. But as we climbed the smudged dusk of West Virginia—the heart of America, indeed, the heart of Trump Country—it seemed, if only for that evening, as if the porch lights had been left on for us, for this and this night only, and how amazing it was, truly, to watch our steady stream of red lights blink and brake as we led one another home.

So, these were liberal men. These are men who supported their goals and ambitions, oppose the same things they do, share the same political beliefs, seemed to be in love with them, and all sorts of other good things. And when these men tell them that they’ve changed, that they aren’t the people that they fell in love with anymore, that they’ve become obsessed, that they seem to always be angry, that they seem to be advocating irrational and harmful ideals, she and her friends don’t stop to ask “Maybe we are“. Or, at least, they don’t do so for long. Instead, they rely on a rather ridiculous idea of “the mental butler”, or that they’ve been convinced by others that feminism is about hating men as opposed to even thinking if maybe, just maybe, they were convinced of that by the rage-filled rants of the feminists in their lives that quite likely ranting about how terrible men are without bothering to exclude those wonderful men that they supposedly were in love with, like the first post I linked here. But their anger is justified, right? Trump just is that anti-woman, right? Maybe. But if he is and if it is right for women to be angry at him not everything you do while angry is justified as a response to the situation. If these women — as I suspect they did — were constantly angry and constantly going on about that situation, their men would likely get tired of it after a while. To use an analogy, imagine someone who thinks that their co-workers are stupid and lazy, and constantly tells you about how they think that. You’d probably get sick of that after a while and wish they’d talk about something else. Now imagine that you are one of their co-workers, and they not only don’t exclude you from that assessment, they explicitly include you in their rage. Just imagine how quickly you’ll get tired of that.

But anger — and strong emotion — justifies itself, and justifies its actions. The author here combines justified anger with a justified feeling of solidarity or belonging to insist that the men are just unreasonable and/or unconsciously sexist and/or just don’t understand. They’re right, and their feelings are right and so their actions have to be right, right?

But they aren’t right. And as long as they are under the influence of anger and other strong emotions, they’ll never see that. And they won’t be free of that influence until they stop, sit down, evaluate things rationally, and see what actions are justified and which aren’t.

But strong emotions like anger make that difficult if not impossible. And that’s why we shouldn’t trust them. And that’s why it’s so scary that so many people not only do trust them, but revel in trusting them … which is precisely what we should never do.

Heaven and Hell …

September 21, 2018

So, over at Cross Examined, Bob Seidensticker is talking about a specific thought experiment and one Christian’s answer to it that purportedly links to ideas of God’s marvelous plan. Let me quote the thought experiment first:

If you [a Christian] found yourself on Judgement Day standing next to an unbeliever you cared for and liked and Jesus offered to either annihilate you both or send you to heaven and your friend to hell for eternity, which would you choose and why?

Greg Koukl, the person the thought experiment was originally addressed to, took the second option, based on that being what God does and assuming that God’s judgement in the matter as right. Seidensticker, unsurprisingly, strongly disagrees that that’s the right answer to the question:

So we’re supposed to accept an insane interpretation of justice—infinite punishment in hell for finite crimes here on earth—and just assume that God must have good reasons? This does nothing to justify the Christian position and would be satisfying only to Christians (and maybe only some of those).

This question is like God’s demand that Abraham sacrifice Isaac—it looked like an obedience test, but it was actually a morality test. The correct response for Abraham was: “No, of course I won’t sacrifice Isaac.” And this wasn’t presumptuous of Abraham.

So the underlying presumption here is that this isn’t — or couldn’t — really a test of obedience, but is instead to be thought of as a test of the person’s morality, which means that the Koukl and anyone else taking it would have to give what Seidensticker thinks is the right answer to the question, and choose annihilation for both of them in the original example and refuse to sacrifice Isaac in the second one or else they fail it. This despite the fact that the right answer to the second one was not what Seidensticker says it is, and so what he’d be doing there is taking it out of the realm of Chrisitanity and into the realm of philosophy, which is where I like to play. So let’s do that, then.

What you have to realize about both of these thought experiments is that in order for them to work in any way we have to presume that the people making the decision know that God exists, know that God is asking them to do that, and know that God knows what is or isn’t moral infallibly. Whether God knows this because what is or isn’t moral is something that is knowable and God knows everything — which is my interpretation — or because what is or isn’t moral is determined by the rules of morality that God attached to the universe in the same way that He attached the rules of physics to this universe, God out of anyone knows what is or isn’t moral. And so we can see that, in these cases, God, the person who knows what is or isn’t moral, is telling us to take an action that clashes with our moral intuitions. But if we believe that God knows that is or isn’t moral and believe that God’s system or judgements are moral, then what we end up with is a situation where our judgement of what is moral clashes with that of God’s, where we know that God is at least capable of judging morality infallibly but where we know that we, on the other hand, can get moral judgements wrong. Thus, for us we’re actually in the situation of having objective proof that an action is morally right, but having our internal moral judgements and intuitions clash with it. By any reasonable epistemology, we are in a situation where we know what is moral based on objective evidence and argumentation but recoil from it on the basis of an emotion or intuitive assessment of what “seems right” to us.

To me, no one can be considered a moral person if they refuse to accept the action that they know is moral because it clashes with their emotional assessments of what they feel or want to feel is moral. This test, then, tests for the ability to sacrifice your own personal preferences to objective morality, and so in both cases you should go with what God — who is, you must remember, the only entity in the picture who infallibly knows what is or isn’t moral — says you should do, or with what God judges is right or wrong. Thus, accepting God’s judgement on whether Isaac needs to be sacrificed or whether your friend should go to Hell is the only rational choice you can make if you are actually concerned about being a moral person. The only way the atheist can dodge this outcome is to deny that objective morality exists … but then they can’t make a claim that the decision that someone makes on that decision is immoral, which destroys Seidensticker’s entire argument here.

Since Man was supposedly created in God’s image (or the gods’ image), Man’s understanding of morality should be in sync with God’s, and the natural instinct of revulsion against killing one’s own son should be reliable.

Further to that, Seidensticker here is clearly assuming that all of our natural instincts are moral ones in the sense that they even aim at moral ends or decisions, and in the sense that even the ones that do are always correct in their moral assessments. This is obviously false on all counts. First, we have all sorts of natural instincts that are at best amoral, like that for food or water. We can definitely acquire food in instinctive ways that nevertheless we’d at least consider not fully moral. Second, we know that even those natural instincts that seem to be related to moral decisions quite often get them wrong, like when we fall into in-group and out-group thinking. And even if we can consider that the instinct to not kill one’s child is in itself generally reliably moral, anyone with any moral system more complicated than “Just go with your feelings” can easily find cases where the revulsion against killing one’s child ends up not being the ideal moral choice. Imagine a scenario — slightly modified from a “love test” in Space 1999 — where you have 10 people in one airlock and your child in another, with air slowly leaking from both of them, but where the air pressure in one airlock keeps the other one from opening and letting out those who are inside, but where you have access to a button that can vacate all of the air in one airlock, killing the person inside that airlock but allowing everyone else to go free. Taking the most popular professed morality of atheists — Utilitarianism — killing your child to save the others is the unequivocally moral decision despite that natural instinct to not kill them, and most other moral systems will at least say that it isn’t the fact that it’s your child that makes the action morally wrong. So appealing to that natural instinct as some kind of proof of the immorality of the action itself doesn’t work — since it can be wrong — and certainly doesn’t work when the other option is being advocated by the only being in existence that will never be wrong in its moral assessment.

Now apply that attitude to this question of annihilation vs. heaven for you and hell for your friend. Any mentally healthy person would be horrified at the idea of anyone, let alone a friend, being tormented forever and would immediately choose the alternative. Besides, this hypothetical assumes that “God’s system” has suddenly become flexible, so that your choosing is allowed, and your God-given sense of morality would be an appropriate response.

This, however, relies on that assumption that whether they go to Hell or not is indeed entirely your choice, which means that God has not yet judged them, or at least wouldn’t judge them as worthy of Hell if you didn’t make that choice for them. That, I think, is the driving force behind the horror, which is the idea that your choice and your choice to go to Heaven is made on the back of them being damned to Hell. But that’s not how the Christian is going to look at it here. The Christian is going to look at it as it being the case that God judged them worthy of going to Hell, but is giving you the option to spare them that at the cost of your own reward. Except that in that case what the Christian will believe is that they, in fact, deserve to go to Hell, since God has perfect knowledge and perfect morality and so would always give out perfect justice. This is in fact Koukl’s reply when asked if he’d be able to be happy knowing that his friend was in Hell:

Yeah, that’d be a shame if someone else’s anguish rained on his enjoyment of heaven. He explained that when we get heavenly enlightenment, we will understand that “God’s judgments are just.”

First, this response from Seidensticker reveals that he’s not really all that comfortable dealing with the philosophical implications of these experiments, because the issue here is not over whether Koukl might feel bad, but about whether the concept of Heaven of Hell produces a contradiction: Heaven is supposed to be us having perfect joy, but how can we have perfect joy knowing that people we love are in Hell? And Koukl’s answer here is that once we enter Heaven, we’ll come to understand why that action was deserved and so was just, and so won’t feel bad about it anymore. We may still regret that they are in Hell, but we will know that they deserved it, and so there won’t be any contradiction here.

Now, of course, the typical atheist response is that there is nothing that can deserve an eternal torment in the flames of Hell, which of course immediately runs up against the “God is perfectly moral and perfectly knowledgeable and so perfectly just” reply. But, on top of that, I think that questions like that reveal that perhaps we shouldn’t be taking the “Hell is eternal flame and brimstone” idea literally, but rather as an analogy. Hell is likely far more complicated than that (presuming it exists) and so is instead of being an obvious torment a more subtle one. If it isn’t easy to see at first blush what would be so bad about Hell, it would be perfectly reasonable for Jesus to use an analogy of extreme torment to get across how bad it ends up so that we aren’t misled by thoughts that it doesn’t sound that bad. For me, I’m rather partial to the concept in the fictional series “Heroes in Hell”, where those who were ambitious in life are all sent to live out their lives, but they still desire power and to be ambitious but the extreme competition for power and the rules of Hell itself mean that they can never really achieve their ambitions. Even Satan can’t do that, because while he rules in Hell it’s a rule that he constantly has to defend from those as ambitious as he is who, ultimately, all want his power. This is a Hell that, at first blush, doesn’t sound that bad until you realize just how terrible an eternity of that would be. It even gives a place for non-believers — it’s not that bad for them, but can never be Heaven — and can provide an epiphany for people to ultimately redeem themselves. Sure, it’s a conceptualization that isn’t explicitly stated anywhere, but a system like that makes sense and is one where we can see why Jesus might have simply said “It’s a lake of fire” instead of trying to explain why such a Hell would actually be terrible enough that people should avoid it.

But the point here is that if God is indeed perfectly moral and just — as He must be for this thought experiment to work — then we would come to understand in Heaven that God’s judgement was indeed perfectly just, and so will come to understand that they deserve it … even if we don’t do so now.

Yet again, I’m not sure how humans can be so radically out of sync with God’s “morality” when we were supposedly created in his image. You’re an enlightened being in heaven (presumably greatly elevated from your flawed, limited human shell on earth) and you know about the billions in torment and you’ll be okay with it??

But our understanding of morality is flawed. Inside Christianity, we are all sinners. That we can’t conceive right now how that makes sense is not in any way an argument when we’re going up against an actual judgement from an actual God who is perfectly moral and just. Given the scenarios, there is no rational way to deny that God’s judgement would be right without denying that God — or, at least, the God we’re talking about — doesn’t exist in that scenario which invalidates the scenario. Seidensticker is allowing his emotions to do the work here instead of the facts and arguments integral to and that are the consequences of the scenario that he is inviting us to consider.

“We [in heaven] will rejoice in the good,” Koukl tells us, but what kind of Bizarro World are we talking about, when Christian belief obliges them to label as “good” a punishment system that makes the 11 million deaths in the Holocaust look like a church picnic? It’s pretty much the most inhumane situation conceivable, and it’s held up as a divine good.

The issue is that those 11 million deaths in the Holocaust were clearly unjust and undeserved. But by definition being sent to Hell is deserved if a God as He is believed to be actually exists. So they aren’t comparable.

And Christians wonder why atheists are occasionally peeved at Christian dogma.

Wait … there are times when atheist aren’t peeved at Christian dogma [grin]?

Let’s reconsider this claim that forgiveness is available, because it’s not available to me. Who can believe the unbelievable? I need evidence, and Christianity has pretty much none. The Christian can demonstrate to us how this is supposed to work by believing in leprechauns. When they show me that believing in the unbelievable is possible, then we can move on to the question of whether it’s a smart thing to do.

Um, in what sense does he mean that the belief in God or in leprechauns are “unbelievable”? Because while I don’t happen to believe in them at the moment, I don’t see any particular reason why leprechauns couldn’t exist. Other than opening up epistemological questions about whether we can really choose to believe one thing or another, the issue here is that Seidensticker is saying that in his epistemology if he doesn’t have evidence for something then he chooses not to accept or believe it. But if the belief in leprechauns was important to me and was widespread, I, at least, would be perfectly willing to grant it simple belief status if there was no real reason to think that they absolutely couldn’t exist, even if there wasn’t “evidence”, whatever that means to Seidensticker. Since Seidensticker cannot demonstrate that God cannot exist — and most atheists refuse to try to do so — or that it contradicts my belief system itself he has no real epistemic grounds for saying that it is “unbelievable”, especially since even for him it’s his epistemic system — that presumably he can change — that makes it so for him, and not necessarily so for others.

In short, no one needs to insist that they can’t believe something without “evidence”. Seidensticker chooses to do so, but that’s still a choice. It may not be the wrong choice, but whether it’s right or wrong it’s still a choice, and so forgiveness is available to him, whether he accepts it or not.

Coyne Can’t Help Himself …

August 31, 2018

he just keeps commenting on free will, insisting that his hard determinism stance is correct and that all other views, no matter how informed, are just plain misguided. So, an awful lot like his views on religion, to tell you the truth.

This time, he’s taking on a 2 minute spiel by Sean Carroll, a compatiblist about free will who was talked to a hard determinist, John Hamill. Hamill says that Carroll schooled him about free will, but since Coyne doesn’t like Carroll’s compatiblism — even as he likes much of the other things he said — Coyne felt the need to show that he really wasn’t. And one of the first things he takes exception to is this:

First of all, the difference between compatibilism (free will is compatible with determinism) and incompatibilism (free will is NOT compatible with determinism) really is semantic, despite what Sean says. When he says “nobody is offering new definitions,” he’s wrong. There are many new conceptions of free will being offered, all to support compatibilism (Dan Dennett has offered a couple, for example). But the different definitions are incompatible with each other! (Some say it’s “lack of coercion,” some say it’s “the complicated input into our brains”, and the list goes on.) Which concept of free will is “right”?

First, showing that there are differing conceptions of free will in no way demonstrates that the difference between compatiblism and incompatiblism is merely semantic. This can be far more easily seen if one recalls that libertarianism is an incompatiblist postion. It agrees with the hard determinist that you can’t have both free will and determinism — ie that “free will is NOT compatible with determinism”, as Coyne says — but thus concludes that that has to mean that determinism is false. That, of course, is not a merely semantic distinction. Now Coyne can reply that that might be the case, but that that doesn’t mean that there is anything other than a semantic difference between compatiblism and his hard determinism. But then the question can be raised over why compatiblism so bothers Coyne. If they are merely saying the same thing in different ways, then why should Coyne worry about it so much? I suppose he could argue that the implications of the words they do either give incorrect perceptions of the world — for example, by encouraging people to maintain dualistic notions instead of the deterministic ones Coyne favours — or else block off certain solutions that he favours, but it still seems odd to focus so much attention on it if it really is a mere semantic distinction as Coyne asserts.

Additionally, it doesn’t seem that the positions really are merely semantic, at least not in how Coyne generally goes about it. In general, compatiblist positions assert that conscious deliberation matters in determining the outcome of a choice, while hard determinists deny that. Coyne himself uses the results of experiments designed to show that conscious deliberation does not determine the outcome of a choice — like the Libet experiments — to argue just that. That’s not a mere semantic distinction. Compatiblists argue that the conscious choice-making process is just as determined as everything else is, not that it’s irrelevant, as Coyne tends to argue.

So either the positions have all the same implications and thus the difference really is merely semantic, or else there is a significant difference in the positions and so Coyne should be addressing that and stop treating it like a mere semantic difference.

But on top of that, offering new conceptions of free will does not mean that they are, in fact, offering new definitions. In general, we all pretty much know what sorts of phenomena we want to explain using free will, or at least that free will was an explanation for. That’s the definition of “free will”. But there are multiple ways to explain those phenomena, and so different people have different hypotheses about how that all works out. Taking the two examples Coyne explicitly gives, the idea that it means “lack of coercion” is not necessarily incompatible with “the complicated input into our brains”. At first glance, the latter looks like an idea about implementation while the former looks like a base requirement for a choice to be free without going into the full details of choosing. But even if they were, these are differing hypotheses aimed at explaining the same phenomena, each of which can be right or wrong (for example, I think that a “coerced” choice is a free choice, and that people who use that definition are conflating the legal notion of responsibility with the philosophical one). Essentially, Coyne’s argument here is like someone denying that there is any phenomena as Dark Matter because there are a number of competing and incompatible hypotheses trying to explain what it is. While ignoring, of course, that his is just one of them.

This also has an impact when dealing with the “folk” definition of free will:

The fact is that, in surveys, most people conceive of free will as dualistic (libertarian) free will: you really could have done otherwise at a given moment. That notion is of course incompatible with the laws of physics. Despite the ruminations of philosophers, that’s what the definition of free will IS to most people. And those people don’t think their choices are governed by the laws of physics. Shouldn’t we be telling them this? If you say “no”, I think you’re misguided.

This is really comparable to the evolutionary standard line of “Humans evolved from apes”, which is also a huge part of the folk definition of evolution. It also lends itself to the rather erroneous claim that “If humans evolved from apes, how come there are still apes?”. This is a bad argument because the folk definition is a useful analogy or simplified statement to get the point across, but those who study evolution in detail know how that gets fleshed out so that when we examine it in detail we know that there’s more to it than that simple principle.

The same thing applies to free will. Coyne loves to harp on the idea that free will really means the dualistic “Could have done otherwise”, but that’s a very simplified notion of what free will really means. What we mean by a free choice — meaning a choice chosen of one’s own free will — is that the choice is a product of our conscious decision-making processes, including but not limited to conscious deliberation. What’s important is that when someone sits down to make the hard decision about which university to attend, or which job to take, or whether to propose to their partner, those ruminations and debates that they have with themselves are, in fact, what determines their choice, and until that process was completed the outcome could have been any of the ones they were considering. This is true even if, at the end of the day, when we look at their beliefs, desires and values, there really was only one rational choice, and so that if we make them equally rational and consider all of the same points, they’d still make the same choice if we “re-ran” the choice later. The idea is indeed that the choice could have gone either way and so that if you replayed the choice the other one might have been chosen, but that’s not critical to the definition of free will nor what people feel they’ll lose if they accept determinism. What people are worried about losing is in fact that their conscious deliberations were impotent; either they are irrelevant as Coyne tends to suggest or else even the deliberations were already determined and so really seem like going through the motions.

And thus if determinism implies that the choice process is impotent and/or epiphenomenal — the conscious things you considered could be completely disconnected from the causal factors that ultimately determined your choice — then that would take away what everyone wants free will for. Merely “could have done otherwise” is a simplified way to expressing that, but in itself doesn’t encapsulate the issue.

Coyne, of course, wants to eliminate compatiblism because, to him, it stops us from really understanding how we need to structure society and so blocks reforms he wants to see:

Regardless, the important issue to me is not what you call free will, but whether you could have done otherwise at any given moment. And here everyone, including Sean, is a determinist. That view alone has enormous implications for social policy, especially in the judicial system. Why, I keep asking myself, does everyone ignore determinism—which nearly all philosophers and scientists agree on—and quibble about semantics? Compatibilism sweeps away a whole host of social issues that need to be addressed—sweeps them under the rug in favor of making people feel as if they have free will, or of formalizing misguided language that everyone uses.

The problem is that most compatiblists — Coel, who used to comment here a bit, is one of the more common ones on Coyne’s site — repeatedly point out that at least hard determinism doesn’t in fact seem to have any such benefits. Coel in that very post comments that you can have reformed justice systems without being a hard determinist because many nations — he uses Norway as an explicit example — have reformed their justice systems without it. So it’s actually quite difficult to find any real examples where Coyne’s view necessarily produces different outcomes from that of libertarians, let alone compatiblists. About the only consistent argument he gives is about retribution, which it can be claimed follows from the idea that someone made the choice to do it and therefore they deserve to be punished for it, whereas if they didn’t make that choice they wouldn’t deserve punishment or retribution. Of course, we can easily sidestep that by pointing out that, as Grammy Flash says “the problem with ‘an eye for an eye’ is that everyone ends up blind.” If you take retribution for any injury done to you, then they will take retribution for that injury you caused them, and so on and so forth, and so it never ends. But we can take an idea of restorative justice, where the punishments are meant to restore what the person took from the other or at least make up for it, and we can take the idea of protecting society from those who abuse it, and we pretty much end up where Coyne does when it comes to the justice system … while still maintaining the idea of choice and free will.

Now, Coyne would still have a point if there were no consequences to his position, but his position sweeps more problems under the rug than compatiblism does, so many that it is in fact utterly untenable in any strong form that denies compatiblisms main philosophical thrust. Coyne asks this:

Even incompatibilists like myself realize that punishment is needed to deterrence, for rehabilitation, and for keeping society safe. It adds nothing to say that the criminal could have “chosen” not to commit a crime; in fact, that corrupts our judgment. Does it improve our justice system if we say, falsely, that someone who pulled the trigger could have chosen not to do so at that moment?

Well, yes it does … or, rather, it improves our justice system to distinguish the real cases where they could not have chosen to do otherwise from those cases where they could have. Now, here what I mean by “could not have chosen to do otherwise” is in line with how I talked about it above: the determination of their choice-making processes was not what determined what action they take. In such cases, deterrence is not an option, because that requires engaging the choice-making processes and the choice-making processes aren’t actually doing the work here. Rehabilitation means removing the thing that overrides the choice-making processes, whereas for anyone else we’d need to correct the choice their choice-making processes make. And you could lock them up for the protection of society if there is no way to correct them, but in general we would consider such a person insane rather than criminal. So these people have to be treated quite differently from people who are indeed acting on what their choice-making mechanisms choose.

We can see this with the example of stealing. A kleptomaniac, by definition, only steals because they have an overwhelming compulsion to steal, and to do so even if they really don’t want to steal. They, literally, cannot choose otherwise, because every mechanism for choice is short-circuited by that compulsion. What we should do for them is remove that compulsion. This is different from someone who steals because they are too poor to afford to live otherwise. What we should do there is relieve their poverty, as they wouldn’t steal otherwise. This is different from someone who steals because they are making a bad choice, thinking that stealing is the best way to achieve their desires. For them, we should fix their erroneous and flawed choice-making processes. This is different from someone who steals because it’s the easiest way to get what they want and they don’t value the things that stealing takes from them. We need to fix their values. All of these distinctions require different mechanisms, and all of these distinctions follow naturally from the choice model that libertarians and compatiblists have adopted.

Coyne can argue that his view can take these into account as well, but it’s hard to see how that can be done without simply building in the idea of choice under another name. About the only way to do so is to classify things by stimulus — including internal stimuli — instead of appealing to “reasons”. But since all the individual stimuli will have commonalities that we will want to lump together for efficiency, we’ll end up rebuilding the exact same categories, and so again he’ll just be replicating reasons while obstinately refusing to call them that. Hardly a distinction that supports his position.

At the end of the day, choices are so fundamental to our experience and actions in the world that they are impossible to eliminate. So, compatiblists refuse to eliminate them, and to maintain that structure while denying that this entails dualism. Coyne doesn’t like it because he feels it preserves too much of the dualistic system, not realizing that any system is going to need those concepts. It is his inability to realize that that causes his enmity for compatiblism and also his inability to actually take their view on fairly, let alone refute it.

My Lists Are Long …

August 3, 2018

So, I’ve talked about the lists I’ve updated and created to try and get things done. The three lists that are on the blog are, well, all rather long, and also aren’t entirely complete. For example, I only have three hourly shows listed on my list of shows to watch on DVD despite the fact that I do indeed have a rather large library of DVDs to watch, that contain both shows that I’ve never watched and shows that I have watched but really want to watch again. In fact, I’m not sure that I’ll return to Knight Rider after finishing Dynasty, and so it might not even be accurate (the half-hour list is pretty much right). And when it comes to my reading list, I have a large number of philosophical works listed and, on top of that, have a number of works that count as “literature” that I want to slide in there at some point. Oh, and I’ve already mentioned the six+ boxes of fiction that I want to read. Essentially, I’m setting up lists that, if I try to complete everything on them, will likely take me years to complete.

I might be overthinking this a little …

That being said, I am making progress. I’ve made good progress on the history books that I wanted to complete, and so can expect to finish the list in a couple of months or so. He-Man has stalled a little since I started slipping Dynasty in as well, but that’s only because I’ve taken time away from it to watch Dynasty, which means that I’m about half-way through it. All I really need to do is live up to my bargain and actually watch the half-hour show in the evenings, after watching one or more episodes of the hourly show and hitting a convenient time point. And I’ve still made some progress on He-Man anyway, especially in the last few days. Finishing Persona was a coup, and I’ve started Persona 2 and am making progress with it … although it turns out that games are working out the worst, because every time I play Persona 2 it reminds me of how much better Persona 3 and Persona 4 are, and a number of things keep reminding me of other games that I’d like to play. Thus, I feel the most dissatisfied with the games I’m playing, and there actually isn’t an alternative like I had with “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, which was to read it for an hour or so and then read Deadpool graphic novels in my general reading time. I don’t have free general game playing time nor do I have a lot of games that I could play in general spare time to at least let me play a game that I want to play or enjoy. The counter to that is that for video games there are far fewer games that would make me feel that way; Persona 2 is just a special case, and only because I like the modern Persona games that much more than them that it drags down my enjoyment of those games.

However, an issue with this is that I have little programming projects in the queue as well, but the pressure to finish these things tends to distract me from doing them. It’s not so much that I consider those things more important than the programming projects, but that I consider them at about the same level, and due to time constraints it doesn’t really work to do them in the early weekend afternoons like I had planned. What I’m finding is that my morning stuff plus cooking lunch plus cleaning up takes me just past the starting point for those projects, but then that wouldn’t leave me a lot of time before I’m supposed to play games (and I only have a few days to do that as well). I don’t want to delay playing games because a) I need the hours to get through them in any reasonable amount of time and b) I don’t want to play them too late because then I might not fall asleep that well. Plus, playing them too late would also cut into the time I can explicitly watch those DVDs. So it’s just easier for me to start playing earlier and then finish earlier, and I still get my watching and reading done as well. It just ends up cutting off all of those little projects, which then makes me feel bad that I’m doing nothing on them.

I think a reshuffling of my schedule is in the offing …

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see how I progress with this and how satisfied I’ll be with the whole thing as time goes by. So far it hasn’t been terrible and it has been nice to finish some things that I’ve always wanted to finish, but there have been moments when the things that are supposed to be mostly fun haven’t actually been fun. We’ll have to see if they’re fun enough for me to still have some fun with things while still feeling that I’m progressing.

Minimum and Living Wage and Economy

July 27, 2018

So, I’ve been reading things about the economy and the minimum wage and living wage and all of those standard and common arguments, and I came to this conclusion:

Conservatives — especially those who align with Trump and MAGA — are closer to being right about these things than liberals/progressives are.

First, let’s define the problem: there are too many people trying to live and raise a family on minimum wage salaries, and the minimum wage is too low to allow that. Thus, we have too many people working the best jobs that they can reasonably get and yet are still struggling desperately to make ends meet, with no real hope that this will ever change. I think we can all agree that this is heart of the issue, right?

Now, the typical way that the market is at least supposed to deal with this is that if we presume that those workers really, really want to get a job that pays more, then in general if any such job opens up they will immediately try to get it. If this happens to enough people, then the employers paying minimum wage won’t have enough people to staff their businesses, and so will have to raise wages to attract employees. If they don’t do this willingly, then this means that they have enough people willing to work for them so that if people leave for better jobs those positions will not go unfilled. Thus, the businesses that pay minimum wage can get enough employees and so have no need to raise wages.

Of course, we have to ask why that is. When the economy is good, what generally happens is that the people who are looking for “living wages” can find jobs that pay that without having to worry about minimum wage jobs. This reserves minimum wage jobs for people who don’t need a living wage, but who also might enjoy some of the fringe benefits of minimum wage jobs (generally flexible work hours). So you get more part-time workers working there, as well as students — both high school and college/university — and families using it as a second income. Thus, no one demands that the minimum wage be a “living” wage because few are actually trying to use that job to support a family, and those who are definitely plan on that being a short-term condition.

The problem here, though, is that due to the economy people who would really like to be paid more than minimum wage are forced to take minimum wage jobs because they can’t get anything better. And to them it doesn’t look like there are any better jobs on the horizon. And the reason for this is that we have lost a lot of the unskilled labour jobs — like manufacturing — that nevertheless paid enough for a family to live on. Many of them have gone overseas, where labour is, in fact, even cheaper, and so companies can make more money while paying their employees less without the fear that those employees will bail for better jobs, or at least jobs that are less strenuous. They can pay their employees the equivalent salaries that always had them attract the best unskilled labour and still pay less wages than they did in the more developed countries.

From this, those businesses providing mainly minimum wage jobs now have an absolute glut of potential employees, and most of them are far more desperate than they used to be. This gives the businesses pretty much all the power, and so they have no need to raise wages or, in fact, provide any real services to their employees. Add in that for most McJobs it is relatively easy to train new employees, and they really don’t have to care if their employees get unhappy and quit. But it is important to note that they also don’t really have any desire to have people supporting their families on their jobs; they were doing just fine when very few tried to do that. It’s just that now they have more power than ever … and are now facing public and political assault because too many of their employees can’t live on the salary they provide, even though they never promised anyone that they could.

So, what should the fix be? Since the underlying issue is that too many people are forced to take those minimum wage jobs because they have no other means to provide for their families, one solution is to increase or rely on social support programs to fill the gap. If these people are better off not working for minimum wage and instead by going on social assistance, then that will reduce the glut, and so reduce the power of the businesses. The problem with this solution is two-fold. First, the businesses were going along quite well with people who didn’t care if the minimum wage was a living wage, so it’s not going to encourage them to raise wages. Second, people on social assistance aren’t generally productive and get enough to live on — so not enough for luxuries — and so having more people on social assistance will do little to improve your economy, and thus do little to provide living wage jobs for those people. Without fixing the economy, those people might have to be on social assistance for a long time.

The conservative fix, embodied in MAGA, is to bring these jobs back. And if they can do so, then they would be, indeed, attacking the underlying problem by trying to fix the economy, and provide jobs that require unskilled labour but pay more than minimum wage. Thus, they’re aiming at the right problem. The issue with their solutions is indeed if they will work. The theory behind the tariffs is that the labour costs are lower overseas, and so if there are no tariffs multinational companies and manufacturing companies can relocate their manufacturing there and ship the products into the countries and still maintain their cost and therefore their profit advantages. Adding tariffs either forces those companies to increase their prices — and thus risk losing sales — or else reducing their profits, perhaps to a level where they don’t really gain by moving out of the country. Traditionally, this approach worked relatively well.

I don’t think, though, that it will work anymore. There are two reasons for this. First, a lot of the unskilled labour is getting replaced by automation anyway, and so even bringing the companies back won’t bring back as many jobs as it did in the past. Second, in the past the U.S. and other Western nations were big markets, and so even if the other countries slapped on retaliatory tariffs for the most part the companies were still most interested in selling to those countries. But China and India are now seen as the markets with the most potential for growth. In the past, if you tried to force companies to either sell to the U.S. or Europe (or even Canada) or alternatively sell to China and India, the choice was obvious: pick the Western nations. But now as China and India are emerging markets with massive populations, companies are wondering which side they’d make more money focusing on … and are increasing coming to the conclusion that China and India are the bigger markets with more potential. This is a factor that didn’t exist before, and so makes the tariffs strategy much more risky.

Another way to fix the economy is to get in on the ground floor of new technologies, something that Western nations were pretty good at in the past. The problem with this is that new technology generally requires skilled labour, not unskilled labour. This would leave a lot of unskilled labour that you need to do something with, and retraining takes time.

Okay, but I’m sure defenders of raising the minimum wage have been champing at the bit to proclaim that raising the minimum wage will fix the economy, as it provides more money for the working class — presuming, of course, that all wages rise along with it — and thus provide a boost the spending and the economy. First, the evidence that it does that isn’t at all clear. At best I’ve seen a number of cases where it is claimed that it doesn’t cost jobs, but those studies have major confounds. If the economy is bad, then it is likely that most companies are running at rock bottom employment levels as it is; they aren’t likely to lay more people off than they already have, although some might go under. When the economy is good, we don’t normally care that much about the minimum wage and so don’t raise it — because most people who need living wage jobs have them — and it’s hard to measure how much that raise might slow the growth of some companies. In general, the cost of labour is always going to be taken into consideration when hiring people and determining how many people you need, and so it will be a factor. And what we do see is that if the minimum wage — and wages in general — increase, so does the price of products. After a recent minimum wage hike here in Ontario, there was an almost immediate hike in prices at restaurants and grocery stores, two areas where a minimum wage increase will hit the hardest (I don’t know how it hit stores like Walmart because I don’t shop there enough to do price matching). In general, any cost increase that can be passed onto the customers will be passed on to the customers, and that will then increase the cost of living which will then eat into that salary increase. All in all, the main issue here is that it won’t provide steady, stable jobs that provide a living wage, because minimum wage jobs are not that kind of job, never have been that kind of job, and never will be that kind of job. Thus, it’s a lot like social assistance, except that the costs are borne directly by the businesses instead of by the government itself. But it will still provide no hope for something other than that minimum wage job, and will only encourage businesses to seek out alternatives if they can get it. Going overseas is not an option for direct service jobs — you can’t provide a Big Mac to someone in Canada from China — but it will encourage automation and online ordering, which will then cost jobs.

So the conservative strategy is closest to being right, because it is directly trying to fix the economy. The problem is that those fixes likely won’t work anymore. But it’s hard to see what can fix it without converting the workforce to a more skilled workforce, which is easier said than done.

Character Blow-Up

July 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carrier on Materialism About Mind …

July 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carrier tends to misunderstand the purpose of the thought experiments.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This will continue with the crucial zombie experiment:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ll finish with a minor point:

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

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

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

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

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

June 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He then says this about them:

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

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

Gender Equity in Professional Sports

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

Gender Inequity in Professional Sports

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carrier replied with his customary tact and consideration:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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