Archive for the ‘Philosophy’ Category

Review of “Unapologetic”

December 2, 2016

So, I recently received and read John W. Loftus’ “Unapologetic”, which attempts to show that either Philosophy of Religion has to radically change or — and this mostly seems to be his preference — has to fade away completely. Early in the book, Loftus says that he doesn’t think that arguments are going to convince anyone anyway, and it seems that, in this book, he carries that forward by refusing to actually make arguments. The book takes a very aggressive and arrogant tone — like that of Jerry Coyne, P.Z. Myers, and Richard Carrier, all of whom he cites at various times in the work — but the risk with that sort of tone is that you had better be right. He isn’t right enough to get away with summarizing his arguments with a “Period.” or “End of Story.” as if no one could ever question him.

He also seems to fundamentally misunderstand what philosophy actually is. I don’t mean that he conflates philosophy of religion and theology — although he does, especially when he talks about himself as an expert in philosophy of religion because he’s done theology, although the two are not the same thing — but instead that he suggests approaches that are fundamentally non- and even anti-philosophical as if they are what philosophy ought to be doing. I plan on going through the chapters and picking out a few important points later, and so the details of that will come when I do that (stay tuned!).

But let me outline the two main arguments he gives for philosophy of religion being no longer relevant and not something that ought to be taught in any academic setting:

1) Philosophy of Religion focuses too much on Christianity and Western Religions, and not enough on other religions, even dead ones. It also focuses too much on the Western Analytic tradition. In short, it’s too parochial.

2) There is little reason to think that philosophy can advance or should have a discipline that starts from something that doesn’t exist. He uses the comparison of fairies and Superman here, to wonder why we study God and not, say, Superman philosophically.

Well, okay, the main thrust of his argument is that faith is terrible and shouldn’t be allowed in any academic setting which he repeats and assert over and over and over again, as just when he said it, that’s when he’d say it (how’s that again?). But I’ll deal with that one later. Let me, then, just focus on these two.

1) This is, in fact, a common criticism of philosophy in general, that Western philosophy focus too much on the analytic tradition — as opposed to the continental tradition that he references as a reason consider philosophy of religion too parochial — and too much on Western philosophy while ignoring Eastern philosophy. So, he’s criticizing Philosophy of Religion specifically for failings shared by all of philosophy. Unless he’s also anti-philosophical — and he claims not to be — this isn’t an argument against philosophy of religion.

2) I’d like to draw his attention to “Philosophy in Popular Culture”, which is indeed examining concepts like Superman to see what interesting philosophical ideas can be raised from them. I believe that it’s not even just in popular bookstores near you anymore, but that there are specialized courses in universities using it. The main reason philosophy of religion is more prominent is because it’s an issue that more people care about and religion, in all of its forms, raises far more interesting philosophical issues than, say, fairies do. And, yes, this might even apply to “dead” religions, which might at least rise to the level of Superman and, more importantly, Batman in terms of philosophical interest. So we already would do that if they were interesting. If he thinks they are, then he can feel free to argue for their inclusion. And if he thinks that philosophy of religion is not interesting, he can argue for that, too, and we might see some of that in my later assessments (stay tuned!). But just because something doesn’t exist doesn’t mean that it’s not interesting philosophically.

I find myself utterly unconvinced by “Unapologetic”, and Philosophy of Religion is something like seventh on my list of philosophical interests (after luge!). Loftus’ views of what we should do in philosophy classes seems anti-philosophical to me, and he far too often relies on repeating his conclusions — often conclusions from elsewhere — rather than arguing for any conclusion that he wants us to accept. I can’t recommend this as a book for anyone other than people who already agree with Loftus to read, which makes it a bad book in a philosophical context. But hopefully more of that will come through in the more detailed analysis.

Why No One Is On My Side ….

November 25, 2016

Side? I’m on nobody’s side … because nobody is on my side.

Reading this post by Vox Day on identity politics drives home why I used to use that phrase as my blog’s tagline, and why it fits this eccentric moderate so very, very well. The left has been driving identity politics for a long time, and Day is correct to say that they applied it for every group except whites. For the left, “minority” groups were told to embrace and take pride in their minority identity, and act accordingly, including on the basis of what was best for that group. Whites, on the other hand, were admonished to stop doing that, and in fact to feel shame for that grouping that they were born into. I also think that Day is right to suggest that in the latest U.S. election, a lot of whites did vote more on the basis of their racial identity than on ideology. Where we part ways is right about here:

The Trump administration need pay no more heed to the anti-White identity interests than the Obama administration paid to the White identity interests. In fact, it should not, because Donald Trump’s second term depends upon continuing to ride the transformation of the Republican Party into the White Party.

In terms of analyzing what needs to be done in the so-called “age of identity politics”, Day probably has it right that this is what Trump needs to do. But, in doing so, he kinda misses what at least my problem with the left actually was: the fact that they did use identity politics in the first place. The reason I often dislike and distrust them is that their arguments and values are based around identity politics — and other philosophical positions that I find dubious — and not around things that actually appeal to me. They rely on identity politics to make their point, and provide nothing else. Day’s response is to, essentially, fire back using the same tactics that they use that so annoy me, and the effect of this is to make it so that all of the discourse is and remains on those terms. But those are precisely the terms that I reject. Thus, I’m left with having to choose the “lesser” of two sides who both start from the principles that I detest, distrust, and think invalid.

And while I could see it as just a tactical move in order to get the “right values” in place, the problem with that is that I don’t agree with either side on the “right values”. I have no problem with diversity, but think forced diversity is a very, very bad thing. In short, diversity in and of itself is not intrinsically bad and not intrinsically good. I want to judge people purely by their qualifications and content of their character, and think the idea that diverse groups (in the sense of them having diverse genders and races, etc) have differing worldviews is laughable. I also believe that there are cases when having diverse viewpoints hurts things instead of helps, as it can lead to more conflict. So, taken together, my values here put me on the wrong side of both the left and the right, and so I see attempts to use identity politics as attempts to bully and impose on people no matter who is using it. As another example, I recently pointed out in a different comment thread that I don’t see the Catholic Church as imposing their view of morality on society any more than those on the left were, because they based their arguments on a moral system that I don’t accept — natural law theory — but the left bases theirs on humanistic and utilitarian moral systems that I also don’t accept. To me, both of them are trying to impose their own view of morality on society. They just have different moral systems (and, to be honest, the Catholic one is actually better thought out).

So, I am convinced of two things. First, that eventually I will end up on the opposite side of both sides at some point. Second, that if I do they will both use the precise same bullying tactics to get me into line. Which usually only makes me dig in harder (I’m stubborn that way).

This is what is driving my thoughts on the Hugo Awards. The Puppies side is claiming that the other side is using influence and shaming to try to impose their values and ideas of what is good on science fiction. Their response: to do very similar things to get books in play that share their values. When I admonished the non-Puppy side by pointing out that to defuse the entire Puppy movement all they needed to do was play fair — and they couldn’t even do that — it was not me saying that the Puppy side was playing fair. They weren’t really playing fair. But their claim was that the other side wasn’t playing fair, and so they needed to do that to demonstrate that, and the non-Puppy side then obliged by not playing fair and then trying to change the rules instead of, well, just playing fair. Thus, I ended up convinced that both sides cared more about winning than about having a system that was fair and worked well, and worst of all that “winning” for them was about getting their own way, and that having a fair system didn’t count as “winning” for them.

That’s pretty much what “winning” means for me, though.

So, neither side is on my side, because neither really seems to want what I want. Which is fair; I want some rather odd things. But then what I really want is a system where neither side uses the bad tactics that tries to force me into picking a side instead of simply supporting the ideas that I think are right. And given that neither side seems willing to give that, I can’t be on either side.

No matter how much they try to shame me for that.

Unapologetic …

November 21, 2016

So I’ve discovered from Jerry Coyne that John Loftus has a new book out. This time, he’s trying to argue for why philosophy of religion should not be considered a legitimate branch of philosophy. From the blurb, the reasoning seems to be that it’s mostly used for apologetics, and philosophy should not be used for that. Since I commented on “The Outsider Test” (and found it lacking) I have purchased this book and will hopefully read and comment on it at some point in the near future. I also picked up “Christianity in the Light of Science”.

Given the blurb, I suspect that Loftus will make two big mistakes in his criticism:

1) He will assume that the field is defined by the issues that are currently in vogue — or, rather, what he tends to read in that field — rather than what the field is as a whole, and so will ignore all of the other things that philosophy of religion actually does that are merely apologetics.

2) In particular, he will ignore that the major atheistic arguments like The Problem of Evil, Euthyphro, and even the idea that there is a difference between faith-based and reason-based argument are actually philosophy of religion arguments, and thus part of the field that he wants to do away with because it’s not intellectually respectable.

Maybe he’ll surprise me. Somehow, I doubt it.

Democracy and “Listen” …

November 11, 2016

I’ve been reading around my usual haunts, and something just struck me. In the United States, at least, white people are in the majority. Yet the progressive and Social Justice concept of “Listen” has been, as I’ve noted before, that people and most importantly political institutions need to listen to the concerns of minorities, but doesn’t need to listen to the concerns of the majority white people. Except that democracy, first and foremost, is about listening to the concerns of the majority. Thus, the Social Justice narrative was, in fact, anti-democratic. Sure, in a democracy the minority needs to be listened to as well, but in general if people are voting we expect that the concerns of the various majority groups are the ones that the political institutions will listen to and most try to implement. And that, in fact, is the whole point of democracy.

And you can’t argue that the only reason to not listen to the majority group is that their concerns are listened to by default and define, say, culture, because the whole point of democracy is, in fact, to get the people to explicitly state and vote on the basis of their concerns, because the political institutions might not know what they actually are. There’s no point in getting people to vote and doing what the majority wants if you are confident that you already know what the majority wants. Voting itself, then, presumes that every election year you want to find out, at least, if you still know what the majority wants.

The progressive approach has been to try to convince the majority group to not care about or act on their own interests, but on the interests of others. And they seem surprised that, eventually, the majority group will indeed say that that’s not how things ought to work, and actually use their political power to reflect what they think is in their self-interest. You can call that “white supremacy”. But in reality, for the United States, it’s just democracy.

Thus, for progressives to gain ground, they need to get buy-in from the majority instead of trying to guilt-trip them into it. Alternatively, they can wait for shifting demographics and hope that those shifting demographics skew more progressive, even as the shifting demographics increase the populations of groups that aren’t necessarily progressive in terms of outlook. In an election where Trump was explicitly and directly portrayed using his own words as racist and sexist, and where a number of visible Trump supporters actually are white supremacists, Trump did better among all racial groups than the milquetoast Romney did. That’s not a good sign for that strategy.

It’s time for the self-proclaimed advocates for inclusion to include everyone. If they are unable or unwilling to do so, then these sorts of political disasters — in their minds — will continue to occur, even as their wring their hands and wonder why it all happened.

(Note: I think that the other side should include everyone, too. It’s just that they, at least right now, don’t make any pretense of trying to do that. Whichever party gets off its butt and actually starts to include everyone first is going to have massive success. Neither party currently seems willing to do that.)

The Early Returns …

November 10, 2016

So, I’ve been reading the early reactions to Trump’s win — on both sides — and I’m very reminded of this exchange from Babylon 5, which I think is shockingly apt:

Delenn: “I would suggest that there is a difference between being unreasonable and being angry. Ambassador G’Kar is angry most of the time, but even the greatest anger fades with time.”

Londo: “My dear ambassador Delenn, I’m sure that for you this is true, but for G’Kar and his people; they will do all that they can to destroy us, until the universe itself decays and collapses. If the Narns all stood together in one place and hated, all at the same time, that hatred could fly across dozens of light-years and reduce Centauri Prime to a ball of ash. That’s how much they hate us.”

Sinclair: “You don’t have to respond in kind.”

Londo: “Of course we do. There’s a natural law. Physics tells us that for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. They hate us, we hate them, they hate us back. And so, here we are: victims of mathematics.”

Sinclair: “He never listens.”

Delenn: “He will, sooner or later.”

Sinclair: “How can you be sure?”

Delenn: “Because the alternative is too terrible to consider. Without the hope that things will get better, that our inheriters will know a world that is fuller and richer than our own, life is pointless, and evolution is vastly overrated. Good day, Commander.”

Oppressive Democracy …

November 8, 2016

So I recently read this post by Benny Vimes, that reflects an anti-democratic sentiment that I’ve been seeing more and more recently. Essentially, it’s the idea that people ought not vote for the candidate that they most want to see elected or that they think best represents them, or the policies that they most want to see implemented, and instead should vote on some semi-objective criteria to produce the “right” results. First, Vimes talks about Brexit:

When the effect of an action is increased power for a majority group and negative consequences for oppressed groups, it doesn’t matter what the purported reason for that action is. If your policy, action, or vote has racist, sexist, or ableist impacts then it doesn’t matter what your intention is – you are responsible for the oppressive impacts of that action. It doesn’t matter that pro-Brexit voters think of themselves as not being racist, they supported a racist action with racist impacts and that is what matters.

So, if people really did think that Brexit was better for Great Britain for reasons that themselves weren’t racist, they shouldn’t have actually voted for it because some of the reasons or effects might be racist? There is a point to be made here that people who vote have to own up to all of the consequences of their choices, and so all of the reasonable consequences of that vote, but a) that doesn’t include what other people do in response and b) might well include them deciding that, for them, the benefits outweigh the detriments and so, even with those negative consequences, the right decision for them is to, in fact, vote to support the policy. Remember, democracy is based on people voting for their own self-interest, and for what they would like or what they would most like to see, which means ultimately what they think most benefits them. Because otherwise there is no reason to give people a vote at all; the only thing that any person can be seen as being more qualified to assess than the policy-making experts is, in fact, their own self-interest. Sure, one can argue that instead of just acting on simply self-interest they should really advocate for the society they want to see, and racist/sexist/whateverist society is not one they should want, but all that means is that they should be Enlightened Egoists, not that they should be altruistic in their votes and put groups other than theirs and people other than themselves first. And in most Constitutional democracies, the smarter move is, in fact, to just vote how you want and let the legislative bodies and Supreme Courts decide if the policy is, ultimately, unfair to a particular “oppressed” group, and thus oppressive itself.

But a case might be made for direct action, where your vote explicitly supports a specific policy or candidate. Yes, you are responsible for the consequences of that decision. But Vimes goes on to include more cases than that:

Tomorrow the United States will finally conclude a long election process. A Donald Trump presidency has the potential to be the most actively oppressive presidency in memory. A vote for Hillary Clinton is the only action that can have the effect of avoiding that future. Any other action – voting third party, refusing to vote, or writing in a candidate – has the effect of increasing the risk of an oppressive future. While Clinton’s policy positions and record may not match yours, or my, preferences perfectly, it is the EFFECT of our votes that matter. A third party vote, for example, may have the effect of putting into power a fascist demagogue no matter what the voter’s intention may be.

So, Vimes includes deciding that you simply cannot support any candidate, as well as deciding to support the actual candidate that you would like to see as President of the United States! Democracy is all about each individual deciding what they can and can’t support, and voting accordingly. Vimes here is insisting that if a voter decides that they’d rather vote for someone else than the Democratic candidate that the problem is with them rather than with the political party that couldn’t give them a candidate that they feel that they can support! This is a recipe for political parties always denying that they need to actually represent the people, but instead merely winning through — valid or not — fear-mongering about how bad the other candidate is, which was a major factor in the Presidential campaigns this year, as both sides spent as much if not more time saying how risky and dangerous and scary and corrupt their opponents are as opposed to talking about how good they were going to be.

If you think that a third party candidate is better for the country — even if they won’t win — and if you think that you simply can’t support any of the candidates, that is not your problem, and voting according to those principles is not you doing something wrong. Voting according to those principles and assessments is the heart of what democracy is! Don’t let anyone tell you that you have to vote according to their conscience and not yours. Democracy is all about you voting on the basis of your own views, and arguments like this seek to take that away from you slowly, insidiously, until you end up voting based only on what they say you should consider, instead of based on what really matters to you.

(Note: if you are really worried that Trump will be very, very oppressive and think that voting for Clinton is the right thing to do to prevent that, and you can live with the things that she will do other than just being Trump, that’s perfectly acceptable. Just don’t let anyone tell you that you’re the one who’ll be responsible for a “Trump win” if you don’t. You won’t be. That will go to those who vote for Trump, and the Democrats for not running a viable alternative to Trump.)

Road to Tyranny …

November 7, 2016

So, tomorrow is Election Day in the United States. And anyone who lived in any nation that deals at all with the United States has heard lots and lots about this election. Yes, I caught discussions about it on Canadian news, British news, Russian news, and even Chinese news (and I only ever watch the business news on that last one, because there’s really nothing else on at 4:00 am). And one of the repeated themes from Hilary Clinton supports is that if Trump is elected there is a real risk that he will turn the United States into a dictatorship, along the lines of Hitler in Nazi Germany, riding at least semi-popular support and racial scapegoats to a complete dictatorship. And much of that came before he stated that he’d get Clinton arrested and wouldn’t say that he would accept the results of the election.

I’m not claiming that any of that is an actual risk, mostly because a) I don’t think Trump really wants that b) even if I’m wrong, there are more than enough safeguards in place in the American system to prevent it and c) it would only work if Trump had a political party that would go along with that to work with … and he doesn’t. What I do want to talk about is a key important point that those who fear tyrannies keep ignoring, which is that it’s not only the purported allies of those who take power that end up being complicit — even unintentionally — in the dictatorship taking power.

Dictators and tyrants taking power where popular support — ie elections — is a major component of the coup always has to involve a significant percentage of the populace siding with them, at least at first. Laurence Olivier — yes, that Laurence Olivier — narrated in “The World at War” that many people believed that Hitler needed the extremists to gain power, and that once he was secure he would get them under control, not realizing that Hitler was actually as if not more extreme than those they feared. But, then, if it wasn’t the extreme views that got him support, what did? Hitler played on existing animosities towards the Jews, certainly, which gave the people a scapegoat, but he couldn’t have done that if the German people hadn’t felt a need for a scapegoat. And in addition to finding them someone to blame, he also talked about lifting them from the struggle they found themselves in, giving them jobs and food, and as again noted in “The World at War” at least giving the appearance of equality, that rich and poor were encouraged to come together and eat the same meals, and work together. A lot of the Nazi success came from them at least being seen to be attempting to solve real problems … and winning successes that had real, tangible results, like retaking Alsace-Lorraine, which was more important as a symbol of Hitler standing up to the major powers and winning than it was as a territory for Germany to hold.

So, in addition to those who allied with Hitler at various times to give him power, the government in power that Hitler overcame was also complicit, for allowing those problems to exist mostly unaddressed. While it can be argued that the economy in Germany, for example, was already recovering before Hitler and Hitler merely took credit for it, Hitler clearly took advantage of issues and sentiments among the people that the current governments weren’t addressing to the satisfaction of the people. It would be reasonable to posit that one of those was the loss of face and power that came from not only Germany losing WWI, but also the terms of the treaty that some might say crippled Germany. The government was blamed for signing it — even if they had little choice — and blamed for not doing anything about it afterwards, and when Hitler claimed that he would do something about it and actually succeeded, he suddenly became the man who was listening to what the people wanted and doing something about it … unlike those he opposed.

The Democrats in the United States seem, to me, to be in this position. They crow about winning the White House twice in a row, and blame dirty tactics — like redrawing electoral districts — for their loses in Congress. Certainly, that does have an impact, but that always strikes as more grumbling that the other side cheats better than they do … especially given how they take an explicit pro-immigration stance — especially towards non-white immigrants — while crowing that the shifting demographics away from the population being mostly white means that in the future they’ll win more elections, because blacks and Hispanics, for example, vote Democrat more. And yet, for the most part they win their support not by promoting policies they support — many of these are socially conservative, for example — but instead by appealing to the fear that the Republicans will be terrible for their specific grouping. In no way do they really give them what they want. This election cycle, they had a mini-revolt with Sanders from their own liberal and progressive supporters who wanted them to act more progressive and less conservative. And in the primaries, or even after, did the Democrats change their policies to incorporate more of what Sanders was saying and thus to appeal to these voters? It doesn’t seem like it to me.

Even this campaign reveals these sorts of cracks. How much of the rhetoric from the Clinton campaign is talking about how the Democrats are going to do wonderful things? How much of the messages from Clinton supporters is about how great she is? And, to contrast, how much of it is nothing more than rhetoric about how bad Trump is and that everyone needs to come out to vote to stop Trump? The more positive messages — like “Make America Great Again” — are coming from Trump. His whole strategy is essentially that they are all corrupt and are killing the country, and he’s going to lock them up and fix everything.

So, in my admittedly shallow view, in order to prevent tyrannies you actually need to listen to the people and try to do what they want you to do … or, at least, explain to them why that’s a bad idea. Telling them that they’re bad people for what they feel are valid concerns and ignoring their actual concerns leaves discontentment, and discontentment is something that can be exploited … and if that discontentment is aimed at your party, it’s not going to be you that exploits it. If you leave yourself vulnerable to a surge of popular discontentment, don’t be surprised when someone you don’t like exploits it. Instead, listen to the people, don’t dictate to the people. Or else you risking having a real dictator in power.

Is an Evil God as Plausible as a Good God?

October 19, 2016

Jerry Coyne has made a post linking to a video by Stephen Law that argues that the standard free will defense for God allowing us to act in evil ways would also work to justify an evil God. He posits that there might be an evil God who wants us to suffer and that might be the God who created everything. He then notes that the first counter to that would be that we’d imagine that the world would contain a lot more suffering than it actually does if that way the case, at which point he uses the “free will” defense to say that just as we can posit that a good God allows us to choose evil as an unfortunate but necessary consequence of us having free will, the evil God can allow us to choose good as an unfortunate but necessary consequence of us having free will. Thus, the free will defense allows us to justify both an evil and a good God, and so cannot be used to choose between them.

The first issue here is that it ignores the idea that allowing humans to have free will is, in fact, good in and of itself. If it is better for humans to have free will than it is for us to be nothing more than the willing puppets of God with the illusion of actually making free choices, then we can easily see why a good God would allow us to have free will and even why a good God would accept us acting evil out of that free will, but it’s difficult to see why an evil God would give us that great good in the service of willing evil acts. So, if we stick strictly to good and evil here, a good God would give us free will because giving us free will is in and of itself good, but it seems inconsistent for an evil God to give us such a great good. To oppose this, you either need to show that free will is not a good, or that it facilitates in some way some great evil. Both of those would be daunting tasks, to say the least.

However, as I’ve already discussed, talking about “good” and “evil” is almost always too vague. We need to work out what we mean by “good” and “evil” to really work this out. Even Law assumes that his evil God really wants to increase our suffering. So let’s compare, then, a moral God who wants us to act morally to a sadistic God who wants us to suffer. Since being moral requires us to have free will and the free will to choose to act morally — an argument that Coyne, at least, can’t oppose since he thinks that if we don’t have free will then the concept of morality is meaningless — we have a good reason for a moral God to want to give us free will. This doesn’t seem to work for the sadistic God. After all, if the sadistic God really wanted us to suffer, he could just turn us into self-aware puppets with a strong innate moral fiber, with the ability to understand that what we are doing is wrong, but being unable to stop ourselves from doing it. This world is not like that. Additionally, if we are given the free will to stop hurting each other, then we might, in fact, all just go ahead and do that, leaving a world with a lot less suffering. This doesn’t in any way promote the sadistic God’s plans. One might argue that allowing us to act immorally might mean that all of us might choose to always act immorally and so contradict the moral God’s plans just as much, but it is clear that the moral God needs to risk that in order for us to act morally at all. The sadistic God does not need to give us free will in order to make us suffer.

But wait, I can hear some of you cry! Aren’t you pulling a bait and switch here? Why are you comparing a moral God to a sadistic God? Why aren’t you comparing a moral God to an immoral God, a God who wants us all to act immorally all the time? After all, the immoral God requires us to have free will just as much as the moral God does. So, let’s take a look at that case.

In order to assess this, we first need to decide what it means to act morally. Let’s first consider the case where what it means to act morally is to act according to what God says is moral. In this case, then, moral God wants us to act according to the moral rules that he has defined, while immoral God wants us to violate those rules, well, pretty much all of the time. At this point, immoral God seems to be drifting towards “insane God”, setting up rules that he deliberately doesn’t want us to follow. The best we could say about this is that it might be a God that is encouraging us to think for ourselves … but since that might mean that we act according to the rules or not according to the rules as we see fit we no longer have an “immoral” God, but instead a God that allows us to make our own choices, and thus a “free will” God. But a free will God has little reason to make moral rules in the first place. Thus, an immoral God under this model seems rather implausible, as either it has to be advocating against follow its own rules, or ends up as a God that doesn’t really want us to act immorally at all.

Next, let’s look at moral relativism. Here, the moral God would want us to act according to and consistently with our own ideas of morality, while the immoral God would want us to, in fact, act against those assessments. But giving us the ability to assess the situation morally flies in the face of that. Why care about morality at all if we aren’t supposed to follow it? It’s difficult to imagine a reason why an immoral God would, again, want us to have any moral capabilities at all in that case. So we’d have to retreat to God wants us to suffer or God wants us to make choices. Either way, the immoral God seems out of the picture.

Finally, let’s look at there being an objective morality that is independent of what God thinks is moral (ie it’s not just defined by what God says is moral). A moral God would want us to follow it, while an immoral God would want us to violate it. But we have to ask why, in fact, each of them would want us to do that. A moral God can appeal to either the idea that as moral agents — created as such by God — it is our natural duty to try to act morally, or the idea that it is better for us to act morally. The immoral God can’t appeal to the idea that it is our duty to act immorally if we are created as moral agents, and if we are not created as moral agents we are amoral, not immoral. Again, in that case it would be better if they hadn’t created us as moral agents at all, and if immoral God doesn’t create us as moral agents, then it doesn’t need to care about morality — or free will — at all. However, immoral God can appeal to the idea that it is better for us to reject that objective morality and so that’s why we should act immorally, as well as why we should have an idea of what is moral, so that we know what to avoid. But then we can sub back into the original question and note that that’s not an evil God anymore. On that argument, both moral and immoral God are advocating that we do what it is in our own best interest, which is, therefore, a good God. Their disagreement would be over whether being moral is good or whether being moral is bad for us. And most of us, by default, are going to side with being moral being good.

Thus, Law’s argument doesn’t work. Evil or immoral Gods tend to either not care about being moral or end up being good Gods of some sort anyway, and always end up being less plausible than good Gods. This does not mean that we have good Gods and don’t have evil Gods, it just means that this little quirk on the Problem of Evil doesn’t work to establish the point Law is trying to make here.

P.Z. Myers: Still Not Reading …

October 7, 2016

Okay, this is definitely more “schadenfreude” than an actual serious post, but I’ve talked before about how P.Z. Myers — and others — don’t read posts and articles before mocking and being outraged by then. Well, late yesterday, Myers made a post about the upcoming FIDE Women’s World Championships, which will be held in Iran, which has a law that says that women must wear a hijab. His post asks “what about the men?”:

Hey, I say, what about the men? Shouldn’t the male grandmasters also be announcing their solidarity with their colleagues?
Perhaps male chess players tend to be insensitive sexists who don’t care what happens to the women players. Or perhaps they are cowards who are relieved that the theocratic rule is going to eliminate much of their competition. Or perhaps journalists assume that only women can get outraged at discrimination against women.

And in a later comment, he adds:

That it’s the Women’s World Championship only makes it more of an outrage that FIDE decided it was fine to hold it in Iran.

But as was pointed out in the comments:

It’s the Women’s World Championships, so men can’t attend and so can’t boycott (that’s what the later comment was acknowledging.

Some male Grandmasters are protesting it. The discussion of Nigel Short was in the first link Myers gave.

Not reading his own links seems to be the key here, because the CNN link explains why Iran was chosen:

Iran was the only country which made a proposal to host the event, a World Chess Federation (FIDE) spokeswoman told CNN in a statement.

So, the choice was to either have it in Iran … or not have it at all. So it, in fact, wasn’t actually the choice of the organization anyway, and certainly not the choice of the men so that they wouldn’t have to face competition from women.

In fact, the CNN article implies that tournaments have been held in Iran before with the same rules:

“Iran has hosted chess tournaments before and women were always forced to wear a hijab,” Paikidze-Barnes told CNN. “We don’t see this event being any different, forced hijab is the country’s law.”
This, she said, is “religious and sexist discrimination.”

Paikidze-Barnes is the most prominent person objecting to the event being held there. And her demand is this:

She added: “If the venue of the championship is not changed, I will not be participating … “

So, they can’t even be in Iran, it seems, even if a compromise is made on what the women can wear while playing.

Let’s answer Myers’ stated and unstated questions, shall we?

Why was it in Iran? No one else wanted it, and while some country now might stand up, it’s probably still not the case that any other country wants it.

Why aren’t the male chess players protesting? They are.

Why is the media focusing on women and not mentioning the men? They are, but since this is the Women’s tournament and so only women can threaten to withdraw, they’re focusing on women and their reactions, both positive and negative (Susan Polgar, for example, has no problem with the restrictions). If they didn’t, Myers et al would almost certainly claim that the articles were ignoring the viewpoints of women to focus on those of men.

Thus, if Myers had actually read what he linked to, he’d have had the answers to his questions, and so could have moved on to more interesting ones, like:

Why was Iran the only country interested in hosting this? For example, why not Canada or some European nation where this isn’t a problem and where there is some interest in chess (more in Europe than in Canada, but there is still some)?

If Iran was indeed the better or only choice, to what degree can FIDE ask that they allow exceptions to their laws? Given the current situation, FIDE needed Iran more than Iran needed FIDE on this. Would it be better to have no tournament than host it in Iran?

Is this more about the women chess players being forced to conform to Muslim modesty standards, or the fact that they have those standards enshrined in law at all? There was a comment that tried to address that last one, but the response was irrelevant at best, with the serious replies ignoring that women going topless in public is still illegal in most of the Western world.

Is it right for Paikidze-Barnes to demand a venue change to a currently non-existent option, or would a compromise work?

How should we deal with major cultural differences, even ones that guide laws?

Does it matter that this is religiously motivated? Should FIDE care about whether the motivation is secular or religious?

If the problem is more that the country itself has laws that some of its members find problematic due to their values, and if that is seen as an issue for FIDE, how do we decide which values require FIDE to take action and which don’t? The argument here is that it violates FIDE’s non-discrimination policy, but wouldn’t that only apply to the members, and not to those in the country?

Look at all the interesting questions we get if Myers would just read the posts he links to!

A Parable on Privilege … and Perspective

September 16, 2016

So, I was reading some comments on Pharyngula, and this old “Privilege 101” post was referenced. It’s titled “Of Dogs and Lizards: A Parable of Privilege” and is essentially a thought experiment aimed at showing how the concept of “privilege” works and, presumably, why it’s a useful concept to bring to these discussions. But in reading it, it became clear that the parable worked better to demonstrate my idea of “perspective” than it did to demonstrate the idea of “privilege” … and, in fact, proved just how vacuous and harmful the idea of “privilege” really is in those sorts of circumstances.

Let’s start not with the meaty thought experiment, but instead the simple example that follows from the definition of “privilege” as per Google:

This is the basic heart of the idea. Privilege is an edge… a set of opportunities, benefits and advantages that some people get and others don’t. For example, if it’s raining in the morning, and you get up, get dressed, climb into the nice warm car in your garage, drive to the closed parking lot at work, and walk into the adjacent building, you don’t get wet. If you go outside and wait at the bus stop, then walk between busses for your transfer, then walk from the bus stop to work, you do get wet. Not getting wet, then, is a privilege afforded you by car and garage ownership. So far, so straightforward, right?

Well … no. Because we don’t particularly see that as any kind of edge, or anything at all to talk about. We might say that someone who had that sort of situation was “lucky”, but we wouldn’t look down on someone who didn’t have that — we’d just note that they happened to get wet, and maybe should think about, say, getting an umbrella — nor would we see that as any kind of big advantage that the “privileged” person was getting. And, more relevantly to this discussion, the “privileged” person would certainly see and understand the situation of the “less privileged” person. This is because the common case is the one where you don’t get that, and so we all clearly understand the differences here, which puts that case definitely in the realm of “perspective”, where the person who doesn’t have to get wet has a different perspective — read: different considerations — than the person who does, but everyone understands the perspective of the other (for the most part; there are issues with never actually going outside and those closed parking lots and garages that aren’t being considered here) and no one claims that the supposed benefits or advantages are unearned. In general, the concept of “privilege” is never used for cases like that.

Next, we get a real world similar example:

Some examples of social privilege work exactly the same way, and they’re the easy ones to understand. For instance, a young black male driver is much, much more likely to get pulled over by the cops in America than an old white woman. Getting pulled over less, then – being given the benefit of the doubt by an authority figure – is in this case, a privilege of being white. (I’m not getting into the gender factor here, intersectionality is a whole different post.)

It’s a very good thing that the author didn’t get into the gender issue, because it would have revealed how this specific example, in fact, totally demolishes the idea of “privilege” as it is commonly used, and even as it is used here: to talk about the privilege of being white. Because that old white woman is also going to get pulled over less often by the cops in America than a young white male driver, and in fact than an old white male driver will. A young white female driver will get pulled over less often than a young white male driver. And, in fact, it might be the case that a young black female driver will get pulled over less often than a young white male driver. Sure, a young white male driver is less likely to be pulled over than a young black male driver, but at this point talking about that as “white privilege” is rather odd given the starting point. A more reasonable example would be to point out that across the board, whites get pulled over less often than blacks, as long as all other factors are held to be identical. That might be true, but is rather hard to demonstrate. And most will accept that if that happens, it’s actually unfair, and it’s not the case that whites are privileged but instead is the case that blacks are treated incredibly unfairly.

So casting this example as an example of privilege doesn’t help. At best, it hides injustice under a banner of “they get things I don’t”, and at worst it devolves into a convoluted mess where each group has some sort of privilege over the other in the exact same example, rendering the assessment meaningless.

Let’s skip past the example of street harassment — I’ll come back to it later — and jump straight to the meaty thought experiment, which I’ll quote mostly in full:

Imagine, if you will, a small house, built someplace cool-ish but not cold, perhaps somewhere in Ohio, and inhabited by a dog and a lizard. The dog is a big dog, something shaggy and nordic, like a Husky or Lapphund – a sled dog, built for the snow. The lizard is small, a little gecko best adapted to living in a muggy rainforest somewhere. Neither have ever lived anywhere else, nor met any other creature; for the purposes of this exercise, this small house is the entirety of their universe.

The dog, much as you might expect, turns on the air conditioning. Really cranks it up, all the time – this dog was bred for hunting moose on the tundra, even the winter here in Ohio is a little warm for his taste. If he can get the house to fifty (that’s ten C, for all you weirdo metric users out there), he’s almost happy.

The gecko can’t do much to control the temperature – she’s got tiny little fingers, she can’t really work the thermostat or turn the dials on the A/C. Sometimes, when there’s an incandescent light nearby, she can curl up near it and pick up some heat that way, but for the most part, most of the time, she just has to live with what the dog chooses. This is, of course, much too cold for her – she’s a gecko. Not only does she have no fur, she’s cold-blooded! The temperature makes her sluggish and sick, and it permeates her entire universe. Maybe here and there she can find small spaces of warmth, but if she ever wants to actually do anything, to eat or watch TV or talk to the dog, she has to move through the cold house.

Now, remember, she’s never known anything else. This is just how the world is – cold and painful and unhealthy for her, even dangerous, and she copes as she knows how. But maybe some small part of her thinks, “hey, it shouldn’t be like this,” some tiny growing seed of rebellion that says who she is right next to a lamp is who she should be all the time. And she and the dog are partners, in a sense, right? They live in this house together, they affect each other, all they’ve got is each other. So one day, she sees the dog messing with the A/C again, and she says, “hey. Dog. Listen, it makes me really cold when you do that.”

The dog kind of looks at her, and shrugs, and keeps turning the dial.

This is not because the dog is a jerk.

This is because the dog has no fucking clue what the lizard even just said.

Consider: he’s a nordic dog in a temperate climate. The word “cold” is completely meaningless to him. He’s never been cold in his entire life. He lives in an environment that is perfectly suited to him, completely aligned with his comfort level, a world he grew up with the tools to survive and control, built right in to the way he was born.

So the lizard tries to explain it to him. She says, “well, hey, how would you like it if I turned the temperature down on you?”

The dog goes, “uh… sounds good to me.”

What she really means, of course, is “how would you like it if I made you cold.” But she can’t make him cold. She doesn’t have the tools, or the power, their shared world is not built in a way that allows it – she simply is not physically capable of doing the same harm to him that he’s doing to her. She could make him feel pain, probably, I’m sure she could stab him with a toothpick or put something nasty in his food or something, but this specific form of pain, he will never, ever understand – it’s not something that can be inflicted on him, given the nature of the world they live in and the way it’s slanted in his favor in this instance. So he doesn’t get what she’s saying to him, and keeps hurting her.

Most privilege is like this.

So, let’s look at this example, and see how the two of them should approach this situation to make it work out for each of them in the best possible way. Now, let’s presume that the dog really doesn’t know what the term “cold” means, so saying “I get cold when the temperature is that low” isn’t going to mean anything to the dog. What should the gecko do? Well, the gecko ought not use the line — from the street harassment example — of how the dog would feel if the gecko did that to him, nor should the gecko be looking for ways to make the dog feel her discomfort. What the gecko should simply do is, in fact, say that the temperature being that low makes them sick … with a description of the symptoms, if necessary. If the gecko did this, then they ought to very quickly be able to get to the root of the problem, as the dog would simply reply that if the temperature is set up any higher then the dog will feel sick. And they’d then realize that the issue is not with what they are doing but is instead with the fact that they have incompatible environmental needs, as the dog wants the temperature lower and the gecko wants it higher. And thus, since neither of them are jerks, they have to find a compromise solution, which could be them leaving the temperature at a compromise level where both are uncomfortable, segmenting themselves off with relatively equal amenities in their own rooms, and only having to enter the other areas when they wanted to interact, or even to them realizing that they can’t actually live in the same house with each other.

But this mindset does not, in fact, in any way claim that one of them is “privileged”. It just presumes that they have differing perspectives, and note that it is equally important that the gecko understand the dog’s perspective here, or else the gecko will end up making the dog uncomfortable with her solution … and perhaps end up making the dog as uncomfortable as the dog made the gecko if the gecko simply takes her perspective and ideal solution as the actual answer.

To get this closer to the typical idea of “privilege”, let’s assume that the dog has moved in and the house is set exactly at the dog’s comfort level, and then the gecko moves in. Again, the dog knows how to change the temperature, but sees no need to. What should the gecko do? Again, the gecko should merely point out how the temperature affects her. She might get an initial response of “It’s always been this way and has worked”, but once the gecko manages to get across how things look from her perspective the dog — if it is not a jerk — ought to be able to realize the problem … which then puts us back in the original problem: if the dog raises the temperature to the level the gecko wants, then the dog will be uncomfortable, and if it stays where it is, the gecko will be uncomfortable. Thus, we need a compromise.

Again, claiming that the dog is “privileged” does nothing here. The gecko still needs to understand the dog’s perspective, even if it is the “privileged” one, in order to come up with a workable compromise. The only work that “privilege” can do here is to guilt the dog into accepting an inferior compromise where the dog ends up being less comfortable than the gecko to make up for that “privilege”. However, it invites arguments over “privilege” and if the dog really has it, and if the gecko needs to compromise to satisfy the “privileged”. Meanwhile, “perspective” quickly gets to the heart of the matter: things look very different from the dog’s and gecko’s views, both have valid perspectives, and both perspectives need to be given equal consideration to come up with a reasonable solution.

So now let’s look at street harassment:

A man has the privilege of walking past a group of strange women without worrying about being catcalled, or leered at, or having sexual suggestions tossed at him.

A pretty common male response to this point is “that’s a privilege? I would love if a group of women did that to me.”

And that response, right there, is a perfect shining example of male privilege.

Let’s apply “perspective” to that example. And the first thing to consider is why men would say that. And the reason is that men don’t get such obvious indications that women are, in fact, sexually interested in them. They instead can only find out if they are attractive by, well, getting sex with women. So having feedback both on their general attractiveness and on that specific women find them attractive seems like it would be a pretty good deal, and the argument here is that women ought to like that, too … and might miss it when it’s gone. So that’s roughly the male perspective.

But, of course, we’re not done. We need to consider this from the perspective of the women who are bothered by it, and find out why it does. And I can think of three possible reasons. The first is that they feel threatened by this: they worry that it will turn into something other than simply leering and catcalling, but will instead lead to groping and even to sexual assault. The second is that they feel “objectified”, treated and turned into nothing more than objects for sex rather than as real human beings. The third is that they find it intrusive: while being flirted with can be a thrill for them, they’d rather that happen in more appropriate circumstances and not when they are just trying to get to work or to the store.

And now … we still aren’t done. Because just because each side has a perspective doesn’t mean those perspectives are right, especially when it comes to the solution they propose. So we need to evaluate the perspectives to see if the claims and complaints and solutions are credible. I’m going to start with the female perspective here, for reasons that will become obvious later but relate to the name of the blog [grin]. So, with the first one, the link between catcalling and actual groping and sexual assault isn’t that clear. It seems likely that men who would grope or sexually assault will likely also be willing to catcall, but it isn’t clear that catcalling in and of itself leads to that. So the link between that and the actual threat of those things is not necessarily clear (anyone who has the evidence and disagrees, feel free to correct me. But it will’na matter in the end). So the first isn’t any kind of trumping argument. The second argument, however, is actually just a really bad one, because it seems clear that it isn’t just making sexual references that would be a problem here. After all, do you think those women would feel better about it if the men saw them reading a physics text and yelled “Hey, babe, work that relativity?”. I don’t find that likely, but if you think they would and have an argument for that, again, feel free. And from that, it does seem like the last argument is the better one: being thought of as sexually appealing isn’t bad, but catcalling is just too intrusive and is done in inappropriate contexts, which makes it, in general, really, really annoying.

Now, let’s turn to the male perspective. And … there isn’t really one here. There’s no real reason I can think of for men to want to catcall or be bothered if they can’t do it. “Leering” is a little more problematic — because looking at an attractive women walking by ought not really be a problem — but for the most part the more rude and egregious forms of street harassment are things that men ought to have no real problem stopping. The argument I presented above is one based on arguing for what women ought to want, but such arguments tend to fall by the wayside when those in that perspective say they don’t want that, unless you have a really strong objective argument for why they ought to. We don’t have that here. So there’s no real argument from the male perspective for keeping street harassment and an actual not unreasonable argument for stopping it. So, from the “perspective” approach, street harassment should be stopped.

Now, does anyone really think that the “privilege” argument, even as outlined in the post, gets to that point anywhere near as well? All of my points are even thing that can be challenged if someone has better arguments. Either the “privilege” argument will do the same thing as “perspective” and merely take the long way around, or it won’t be considering all the relevant viewpoints and so will be vacuous, and be more likely to lead to a long drawn out fight than any kind of reasonable discussion.

We can also see this when we consider the last set of examples:

So, quite simply: don’t be that dog. If you’re straight and a queer person says “do not title your book ‘Beautiful Cocksucker,’ that’s stupid and offensive,” listen and believe him. If you’re white and a black person says “really, now, we’re all getting a little tired of that What These People Need Is A Honky trope, please write a better movie,” listen and believe her. If you’re male and a woman says “this maquette is a perfect example of why women don’t read comics,” listen and believe her. Maybe you don’t see anything wrong with it, maybe you think it’s oh-so-perfect to your artistic vision, maybe it seems like an oversensitive big deal over nothing to you. WELL OF COURSE IT DOES, YOU HAVE FUR. Nevertheless, just because you personally can’t feel that hurt, doesn’t mean it’s not real. All it means is you have privilege.

These examples are set as being absolute stipulations, where the right thing to do for the “privileged” is to accept not only the perspective of the “unprivileged”, but also the proposed solutions without the “unprivileged” having to care, at all, about the perspective of the “privileged”. But why can’t we ask the queer person what the problem they have with my naming the book that, if it really does work for my artistic vision better? Why can’t we ask what’s wrong with it if we don’t see what’s wrong with it? Maybe the “unprivileged” person is just plain wrong: they are misinterpreting how things are being used in those cases, they’re missing the point, they’ve read in an intent that isn’t there, the context of the work makes it clear, or maybe they are just being oversensitive. Or maybe they aren’t. But the only way to settle that is for both sides to give their perspectives and their facts and then we see who is right. Maybe they both are. Maybe they’re both wrong. But until we sit down and hash it out, we can’t know that. To return to the thought experiment, the dog believing the gecko does not and cannot mean that the dog is therefore forced to agree to turn the temperature up to the gecko’s preferred temperature, because that would really hurt the dog. By the same token, believing that someone feels a certain way does not in any way force me to think that they’re right nor that their preferred solution is the right one. Two well-meaning people of differing perspectives ought to be able to share those perspectives and come to a reasonable compromise, or be able to convince the other that their view is right. That the “perspective” model forces this is one of its greatest strengths. Plus, it has the benefit that no one will be fighting to avoid the “privileged” label, and so we won’t get into contortions like we saw in the “pulled over by the cops” example.

There is nothing that the “privilege” concept does better than the “perspective” concept, and it does a lot of things worse, as the thought experiment clearly demonstrates. In creating that thought experiment, the author has instead provided the best possible example of how the “privilege” concept fails.