Month: July 2017

Heroics, obnoxiousness, and winning allies

In today’s ‘oppression olympics’ climate, people try to demonstrate how oppressed they are, and to call out others as oppressors. Which ironically both appeals to something which appears to be a part of our human evolutionary psychology, and also repels something which appeals to be part of our evolutionary psychology.

I recently watched a video on Youtube, by Lloyd of Lindybeige, about two LARP (live action role playing) characters which he had previously portrayed, and how they taught him about life and human nature. The first was a character named Agin, who was stupid, trusting, and quick to anger. Lloyd’s intention was that Agin would be easily exploitable. However, this turned out to be not so much the case. It seemed that other characters, when they would seem Agin being in a situation where he might be exploited, tended to stand up for him, and try to prevent this exploitation.

The second character was Barkan(?). This was a guy who, like many on the left today, believed that those in power were exploitative and that anyone with any power simply uses it to exploit others. He found that this character was frequently mistreated, even when it was somewhat obvious to everyone that he was being mistreated. Indeed, after heroically sacrificing himself, this character was passed over for being resurrected (according to the rules of magic in the LARP universe which only allowed for 5 people to be resurrected in that situation), even though he had personally defeated the big monster, at the cost of his own life!

Lloyd concluded with some text, as is his wont, but in this case, I think the text was rather appropriate. It read: ‘So, if you think the worst of people, they will think the worst of you/People like to be heroes, and most will help someone in need/And there is no justice.’

Okay, disregarding the last sentence, I think the first two bear keeping in mind. Let us compare them to the situation among what we might call the regressive left or ‘social justice warrior’ movement. I will focus here upon whites vs. people of colour, and males vs. females, although similar concerns apply to any of the SJW causes.

First, the regressive left likes to think the worst of ‘white/male’ people. These people are told they are the evil oppressors, that they are racists/sexists even if they have no racial bigotry or sex-based bigotry themselves, and so on. What are the natural consequences of this?

First, these people will say the regressive left are ridiculous and horrible. Second, they are more likely to become actual racists/sexists, because if you are going to be accused of such things, you may as well actually be those things.

But what are they unlikely to do, as a result of such accusations? Care about helping fix any real problems, that is what. Because if you blame such problems on them, you are inherently going to make them less likely to want to help you, and perhaps even want to deny such problems exist.

Let us try to bring this consideration into the real world for a moment. Suppose that a white male, we will call him WM, deplores racism and sexism. It’s possible that an employer picked them because of their race or gender, but they were not involved in this decision, and if they knew what had motivated the decision, they would be appalled. But we cannot even be sure their hiring was motivated by racist or sexist concerns. They constantly fight for women and people of colour.

Then one day someone comes up to WM, and tells him (and this paraphrased from something I actually read): ‘Being an ally of people of colour and women means unlearning your sexist and racist attitudes and acknowledging your part in oppressing them, not just in opposing those systems. That means you are a racist and a sexist, whether you think you are or not.’ But before we ask how WM is likely to respond, let us consider a couple of similar situations in the past.

For an analogy: suppose that we have person X, who lives under Nazi controlled Europe, and who wants to save Jews. So X helps Jews to escape, provides them shelter at great risk to themselves, and generally tries to make sure Jews get to safety. Then along comes Jew SJW: SJW tells X ‘Well, you have benefited from gentile privilege, which makes you a racist against Jews, whether you think you are or not! You need to repent of this racism!’

What is person X going to think? It’s not their fault the Nazis are rounding up Jews. They don’t want it to happen, and they would like to stop it, and they are doing whatever they can to keep it from being carried out. Yet, suddenly, they are being lumped in with the Nazis who want to kill all the Jews, simply because the Nazis aren’t also trying to kill them! Why keep working for the people who lump them in with the Nazis, anyway? If these Jews think X is just as bad as the Nazis trying to kill them, is he going to feel very motivated to continue rescuing them? (There are, ethically, still reasons to save them, but psychologically, a big motivator is lost).

To give another example, what if a white person, in 1855, were harbouring slaves and helping them on the underground railroad, and one of these escaped slaves started lecturing them on how ‘white privilege’ meant they weren’t a slave and how they ‘benefited from living in an economy that involved slavery’? Wouldn’t they say ‘No shit, but I’m fighting against slavery, so why are you mad at me for some shit that isn’t my fault and that I oppose? I don’t want to benefit from slavery; that is why I am helping you now, you insufferable nag!’

Well, person WM is likely to feel rather similarly. After all, they’re trying to end ‘white privilege’ and ‘male privilege.’ If they benefited from such things, it was not deliberately, nor do they approve of this, and thus, it is hardly morally their fault; in fact they are devoted to putting an end to such things. Yet they are being demonized as nearly equivalent to Richard Spencer (racist) or Mike Cernovich (rape apologist)!

Now, WM might respond by thinking they really are racist, and being driven into feeling guilt for things that are obviously not morally his fault. That is irrational, and few rational people will fall into this reaction (though there are people who will fall into this, whether because they are irrational, or simply need approval and so will, Stockholm-syndrome-like, look for approval from the SJWs even as they are demeaned). On the other hand, they might recognize that the accusation itself is irrational, and deny it. Of course, this will likely result in ostracizing from the regressive left. So in this case, what could happen? If WM is rational, they will see that the principle is still worth fighting for, even if they are wrongly accused, and they will keep fighting, even as the regressive left refuses to consider them an ally. However, if WM is not 100% rational, they might think ‘Hey, if I am going to be accused of racism and sexism just because I was born the way I am, why should I care about the people who are accusing me? Maybe I should just go whole hog and really be racist and sexist! Especially against these people who are accusing me, because they definitely don’t deserve me standing up for them!’

I disagree with this last reaction. It is not rational, for two reasons: first, not all people of colour/women agree with the SJWs who accuse white males of racism and sexism regardless of their personal opinions, and second, because we should stand up for what is right no matter who calls us names. However, in practice, there are big psychological discouragements involved in the way white/male ‘allies’ are currently treated by the regressive left. Is it any wonder that, in response to identity politics, over half of whites, including over half of white women, chose to go with Trump?

So, I am going to give a few suggestions, based upon Lloyd’s conclusions, for how social justice advocates can win allies:

  1. Make allies feel like heroes. There’s a stigma against this, because it feels like asking for ‘white knights.’ But you need to recognize that, e.g., white people who are advocating against racism really do not want to benefit from racism, and are actively trying to end something that benefits (or could benefit) them. This is heroic (at least in the sense that they are fighting for a cause that does not benefit themselves). Even if you don’t like calling it heroic, recognize that calling it heroic (perhaps not in those words) will psychologically reinforce their devotion to your cause – perhaps even attract more supporters (who doesn’t want to be the hero?). Of course, people of colour/women/other ‘oppressed’ groups don’t want to sound ‘weak,’ like they are looking for heroes. But appealing to allies by holding them up as heroic supporters (who are helpful, though perhaps not necessary) is a really good way to both psychologically reward your allies and also to attract new supporters.
  2. Recognize that shaming people is a bad approach. If you shame people, they are likely to avoid that shame by simply dismissing you and your argument. Now, I get it, there are some people who legitimately are so bad, they deserve to be shamed. But when someone is trying to help you, don’t shame them. If you think they are ineffective or overlooking something in their own attitudes/lives, try to help them see it without shaming them.
  3. Recognize that people who feel like no matter what they do, they will be called oppressors, are somewhat likely to actually decide to engage in more oppression, since they may as well get as many perks as possible from being oppressors, if the name is going to stick regardless.

In other words, the current SJW approach may be pretty much psychologically the opposite of effective. Demonizing everyone outside your group and demonizing those in your group of the wrong (white/male) skin colour/sex is not an effective method of keeping or attracting support, from a psychological perspective. On the other hand, trying to reward your supporters psychologically by making them feel ‘heroic’ could be a very effective way to win support.

To put it a bit more colloquially: if you treat others as obnoxious gits, don’t be surprised if they return the favour, and even end up opposing the causes you champion. On the other hand, if you make people feel like they’re being helpful, even heroic, they’re likely to want to help you. So instead of claiming that ‘being an ally means unlearning your oppressive nature,’ try asking people to ‘stand up for the little guy.’


Is white the new black?

The race question is in many senses the big elephant in the room. An issue so utterly diluted in recent decades thanks to lazy, unfounded slurs dished out by the regressive left to anyone with (heaven forbid) concerns over immigration, foreign aid, or the ‘migrant crisis’.

Racism, in the true sense of the word, is despicable whichever direction it is aimed in. The fact that the colour of someone’s skin should dictate how other people are treated is a stain on the human race yet it is an uncomfortable reality even today.

We’ve come a long way since Britain’s post-war era where signs reading ‘No Irish, no blacks, no dogs’ adorned B&B windows and public houses. In many ways times have changed as evidenced by Barack Obama becoming the first black president to reach the White House or the KKK and National Front falling into relative obscurity.

Yet in the…

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The semantics of gender

Inspired by a recent video from Laci Green, discussing how many genders there are, as well as by a post from Sarah Reynolds, I want to discuss the issue of gender, pronouns, and the function of language, whether gender is a spectrum, and why it is important.

When discussing language, there are really three levels that must be considered. The first is the ‘stuff in the world.’ Philosophers call these things ‘particulars.’ Examples of particulars are ‘that specific chair,’ ‘that specific person,’ and so on. Next, there are the concepts which describe those specific things. Finally, there are the words with which we label those concepts.

Semantics deals with the question of which words label which concepts. In theory, any symbol can be used to represent any concept. However, in order for us to be able to communicate, we need to have a consensus on which symbols (words) to use for which concepts. As a side-note, the other aspect of language is syntax, which deals with the form of language itself.

Now, I maintain that when it comes to gender and pronouns, there are, roughly speaking, four ways in which these terms have been used, or in which is has been proposed they be used:

  1. Gender referring to biological sex. This is not a spectrum, of course, because biological sex is binary (with rare intersex exceptions). It cannot be changed via surgery or chemicals.
  2. Gender referring to the public presentation of male or female sex characteristics. Again, this is binary. It can, however, sometimes be distinct from biological sex. It can also be changed via surgery and chemicals.
  3. Gender referring to masculinity and femininity. This is sort of a spectrum, although I would suggest that a person can have highly masculine and feminine traits, so it is better to see it as a two-dimensional grid.
  4. Gender referring to how you feel about yourself.

As Green pointed out in her video, then, part of the problem of trying to answer the question ‘is gender on a spectrum’ is that different people are probably using the same word to refer to different things. Some of those things are spectrums and some are not. So which usage does language historically display?

Now, it seems that historically, genders and pronouns have been used in the first and second senses. As an example of the second sense, consider Blaire White, a popular transwoman Youtuber, who pointed out that people naturally refer to her as ‘she,’ even though she never asked anyone to do so, because that is how language works. In other instances, people use the terms in the first sense.

However, language has never really used genders and pronouns in the third and fourth senses, historically. We have words for describing people who have a lot of traits associated with the opposite sex (‘effeminate,’ ‘tomboy,’ etc.), but in each case, the gender and pronoun would be assigned in the first or second sense, with an additional term used to describe those other characteristics.

This means that the SJW movement to use genders and pronouns in the third or fourth senses are wrong when they say ‘gender is on a spectrum,’ if they are trying to be descriptive of language. But they are not trying to be descriptive. They are trying to be prescriptive. In other words, they are trying to change the concept which the word ‘gender’ labels. This is a vastly different matter. So let us note a few points:

First, gender dysphoria is a real psychological problem, which can sometimes be resolved through transitional surgery and chemical treatment. However, it remains a disorder. We should not change language to accommodate a psychological disorder.

Second, in the first, second, and third potential meanings for ‘gender,’ gender describes something about how the person fits into the world. You cannot ‘gender yourself,’ in this sense. In the first sense, you are your biological sex, which you cannot change. In the second sense, and even in the third, you can change how you present yourself to the world, but the world still decides whether you are ‘he’ or ‘she.’

This is, I would contend, a good thing, because it makes language more descriptive. If we move into the fourth sense, where we allow people to gender themselves, then ‘he’ and ‘she’ no longer have any useful descriptive function, since all they tell us is what a person thinks of themselves. This is as meaningful as if I told someone to call me a blond, because I feel blond (in fact, I have brown hair with red highlights). It becomes worse when people insist upon using gender neutral pronouns like ‘xe’ or ‘they’ (which is even more confusing since it mixes singular and plural). These convey no information, except that the person insisting on these pronouns is probably definitely an insufferable douchebag. Though perhaps this is more important to know than knowing anything about their gender…

Furthermore, the notion that gender can be ‘fluid’ is not a relevant point. Maybe there are some people who sometimes present male sex characteristics and sometimes present female sex characteristics; those are the only ones who could really claim to be ‘gender fluid.’ But they would be changing genders in the second sense, and doing so by presenting to the world in a different manner. ‘I feel a little girly today’ does not mean that your gender has somehow switched. Nor is gender something that you can really choose. As Reynolds points out, these notions actually minimize the real problem of gender dysphoria, which is not a choice but an affliction. And you cannot self-identify as gender dysphoric any more than you can self-identify as depressed or schizophrenic.

The fourth sense also has an inherent problem in that different people will still disagree as to whether gender is a spectrum, since some people may feel they are part of a two gender system, and some might feel that they are part of a ‘gender is a spectrum’ system.

Finally, does it really matter? After all, language is arbitrary. Well, it does matter, for two reasons. The first we have already covered: trying to move language to use gender and pronouns in the third or especially the fourth senses would decrease the descriptive power of language. Second, it poses problems when dealing with issues of sexual segregation. Although this could be dealt with in other manners, say, by specifying that the segregation is sexual, and not gender-based, it makes such discussions much harder. Two areas where this is especially relevant:

  1. Bathrooms and locker rooms. While bathrooms are less of an issue, since women’s restrooms tend have enclosed stalls, should women really be subjected to watching males getting changed in locker rooms? This is probably something that should be left up to females to decide.
  2. Much more important is the issue of sports segregation. Consider that the Williams sisters, who are probably the best female tennis players of all time, were trounced (6-0 and 6-1) in the same day by a male tennis player who was not even in the top 200 of male competitors. Or consider the high school track runner who currently ‘identifies as a woman’ and thus is being allowed to compete in the girls’ runs rather than the boys – as a result of which, he is winning instead of being middle of the pack. Numerous studies have confirmed that there is extensive sexual dimorphism between males and females in humans. Regardless of how gender and pronouns are used, it is crucial that sports, at least, be segregated by sex. But the current discussion of gender has pushed things to a point where trans people, even if they have not started transitioning, can join the opposite sex’s league, and use their advantages to crush the competition.

Something from nothing?

The notion ‘something cannot come from nothing’ is a common one in science and philosophy. Some believers use it to object to atheists, arguing that the universe must have had a creator. So let us answer this on three levels: first, the religious, then the philosophical, then the scientific.

The religious:

Let us suppose that nothing really can come from nothing. If nothing can come from nothing, then where did god come from? If he ‘always was,’ then the universe could have ‘always been.’ Now, the universe ‘originated’ in the big bang in the form we know it today, but who is to say what came before? We don’t know what there was before, but that doesn’t mean it came from nothing. It just means we don’t know from what it came. We cannot say ‘therefore it was the personal god described by the torah/bible/quran.’ Nor can we say ‘it was the gods described by the hindus!’ Nor can we say ‘it was Ymir like the Norse said!’ No, we can’t say.

And, if god can be a ‘First Cause,’ then why can’t the Big Bang be a first cause? Maybe the Big Bang is the first cause, but this first cause is not a personal god/Abrahamic god, etc.

The philosophical:

In philosophy, this notion is often called the principle of sufficient reason. Schopenhauer won a prize for writing an essay on this topic. But is it really philosophical? No. There is nothing contradictory about the notion of something coming from nothing, or of something being a ‘first cause,’ with nothing to precede it causally (remember, chronological ordering may not even apply outside our physical universe, but causal ordering does). And as Hume pointed out, the only things which are truly impossible, are those which are contradictory.

The scientific:

In fact, the notion ghat nothing can come from nothing is a bit wrong. We can create matter out of light, for example. But in each case, we are changing one form of energy into another. So, scientifically, nothing comes from nothing, and energy is conserved, right?

Well, let’s back up a moment. Yes, those are the laws of science which we observe. However, these are a consequence of the symmetry we observe. Let us look at what this symmetry entails. There are actually many forms of scientific symmetry, and each has its own consequences. This is because of Nother’s theorem, which states that every symmetry in physics gives rise to a conserved quantity. Now, one thing in physics is that it does not change over time. And this gives rise to the conserved quantity we call energy. But that might not apply before the big bang! (The fact that physics looks the same in one place as another gives rise to the conserved quantity of momentum; other symmetries give rise to other conserved quantities).

To put it another way, we cannot know what laws hold outside our universe. Maybe in some meta-ultra-verse, there are other universes with other physical laws, and maybe in the meta-ultra-verse, new universes can start (this seems like the most reasonable assumption to me for unrelated reasons). Or maybe, our universe started along with a paired universe whose energy is negative, so that there is a total of zero energy. Who knows? In fact, in general relativity, the entire notion of energy is very hard to pin down for technical reasons; conservation of energy may need to be replaced by a more precise concept.

A final note on the religious point:

And of course, according to religion, god created the universe from nothing. so apparently, this god could defy conservation of energy (unless he created it from himself, in which case, what made him, and why would this argument not justify the universe being made of something else that was pre-existent?)! Which means that one way or the other, both the religious and the atheists say: ‘Something came about, possibly from something prior to it, and possibly created out of nothing. Maybe it was created, from something already extant or out of nothing, by a god about whom we claim to know something, or maybe it came about due to some mechanism we claim to know nothing about.’ Now, the latter seems much less of an assumption than the former, does it not? In other words, the burden of proof is on the theist here, to prove that their god is the origin/creator of the universe.

In other words: okay, something ‘gave rise’ to the universe – prove it was your god!

In summary:

Either there was a first cause or not. If there was, there’s nothing about this fact to tell us anything more about the first cause. If not, there’s still nothing to tell us what happened causally prior to the start of our universe. In either case, ‘we don’t know without more evidence’ is surely the more intellectually honest option than assuming it must have been the god of some specific religion, or asserting that it must have had additional properties.

My take:

I would suggest that the spontaneous creation of universes is possible in some metaverse, each universe having potentially different laws of physics – and that life can only really exist in an orderly universe which would have many conservation laws, for example, the conservation of energy that we observe. But this is just my take on it. Regardless of the truth, I would need more evidence to conclude that there is a personal creator of the universe!

Study finds women have an easier time making the short list

A study done by Harvard researcher Hiscox has looked at how likely a job application is to make the ‘short list’ of applicants. What they found may be quite surprising to those who have bought into the feminist narrative of a world stacked against women: in fact, applications with women’s names were more likely to make the short list!

They tested what would happen if all references to gender and ethnicity were removed from job applications. From the article:

“We anticipated this would have a positive impact on diversity — making it more likely that female candidates and those from ethnic minorities are selected for the shortlist,” he said.

“We found the opposite, that de-identifying candidates reduced the likelihood of women being selected for the shortlist.”

The trial found assigning a male name to a candidate made them 3.2 per cent less likely to get a job interview.

Adding a woman’s name to a CV made the candidate 2.9 per cent more likely to get a foot in the door.

“We should hit pause and be very cautious about introducing this as a way of improving diversity, as it can have the opposite effect,” Professor Hiscox said.

Now, this suggests that 1. Women actually have an advantage in making the short list (although not necessarily getting jobs), and 2. for Hiscox, diversity is actually about making more women be hired, not about fair hiring processes. After all, if the hiring process were fair, we would only be concerned about the merits of the application, so whether this improved the chances of hiring women or not would be irrelevant. But Hiscox has declared that gender-blind applications go against diversity. It is clear, then, that for Hiscox and those who think like him, diversity really just means fewer men.