Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Branded by a Cause

It is my strong belief that the greatest problem human rights advocates have is in branding themselves.

You shoot yourself in the foot when you advocate a particular branch of human rights - you aren't fighting for rights, you're fighting for a specific group's rights, and that makes you a member of a special interest group.  More, you start to fight with other special interest groups, undermining each others' causes.

I don't fight for men's rights, I don't fight for white people's rights, I don't fight for the rights of the middle class.  I fight for people's rights.  And everybody thinks that's the way it should be; if I fought for men's rights, most of those who fight for women's rights would brand me a chauvinist; if I fought for white people's rights, most of those who fight for minority rights would brand me a racist; and if I fought for the rights of the middle class, I'd be accused of being bourgeoisie scum.

How do I know this?  Because I -do- fight for those causes, and I am, and the fact that I'm simultaneously arguing for other rights is frequently irrelevant.  It's anti-feminist to point out that most workplace fatalities are men, really?  I'm being racist when I mention that poor white children do not get the same level of support and funding from society as poor black children in precisely similar situations?  And I'm classist scum for believing that rich people shouldn't pay disproportionate taxes?

Am I less antifeminist because I also believe in ending female circumcision, or do I lose credibility because I'm equally opposed to male circumcision?  Am I less racist if I also believe that there's a serious problem with racism in the adoption system, as nobody wants to adopt black babies?  Or is that offset by my belief that racial quotas are fundamentally unjust?  And does my opposition to a progressive tax system get balanced by my opposition to regulations targeted at suppressing competition to established interests (all regulation is this, actually), or is that just more classism in and of itself?

Feminism as a cause -is- riddled with misandrism, precisely because it sees masculinism as a threat; it isn't, they're precisely the same cause and fundamentally support each other.  Masculinism is misogynistic for precisely the opposing reason.  Feminism complains about rape, masculinism complains about innocent men being treated as rapists; both causes have precisely the same problem, they are not in opposition.  They conflict precisely because they are branded; because feminism is about helping women, and masculinism is about helping men - take away the branding, take away the sisterhood and the brotherhood, and it becomes a lot simpler to recognize the issue.  (God, for Greek perspectives on sexuality.  Everybody was a man, everybody had a penis.  Yes, even women, their penises are just inside out.  Makes thing simpler.)

Racism is similar - the fundamental problem everybody has is that they are treated as their race, and instead of resolving this problem, they perpetuate it.  Branding yourself with your race in order to make people look past your race does not work.

Classism, again, is similar.  Take class out of the equation, treat it as a problem of -people-, rather than a problem of -poor people-, or -rich people-.

Branding breeds conflict, rather than resolving them.

Age of Browncoat Libertarianism

The zeitgeist of the modern era can be summed up in a single concept.  I will call it Browncoat Libertarianism, after the Firefly series.

Now, Browncoat Libertarianism is not -quite- mainstream libertarianism; mainstream libertarianism is liberty as a product of principles, whereas Browncoat Libertarianism is liberty as a product of the opposition to authority.  Individual Browncoats may be principled, but the movement is not.

Why on earth would I say that Browncoat Libertarianism is the zeitgeist of the modern era, and how did this come to be?

The answer to both questions is: The Internet.

Now, one thing you have to understand about my generation, we have grown up with the internet; we have grown up with this wild and boundless frontier.  We are, in a very real sense, pioneers, and there is a definitive pioneering spirit to the internet age; people have been doing things which have never been done before.

And the internet is producing Browncoats for three very important reasons.

First, principled Browncoats have begun to connect with one another, which has let us realize we're not alone - we are a very potent force to be reckoned with.

Second, the internet has produced this massive visibility into figures of authority, which has exposed corruption and malfeasance on a level never seen before - Bush was not an exceptional president, nor is Obama, it's the insight we have gained into their administrations which has made them unique, and it's not a pleasant vision.  This has pushed Browncoat Libertarianism as a serious social movement; remember, Browncoat Libertarianism is about opposing authority, and the internet has both allowed and forced us to see authority in a much clearer way - and it's impossible to defend it.  The principled Browncoats are for the most part leading this charge; they are both conservatives and liberals, the uniting force between them being a microscopic examination of the proponents of authority with nary a positive review.

And third, authority is -aware- of the level of scrutiny it is facing, and has made (and is making) very visible attempts to shut it down - giving its critics even more credibility.

In Firefly, the Browncoats lost - in the battle for the frontier of the Internet, we Browncoat Libertarians will lose if we allow authority to shut us down, to silence and moderate our voices - when sites like Wikileaks can no longer operate, can no longer disrupt.  When the signal -can- be stopped.

As long as scrutiny is held up, the illusion of authority as a competent parental figure will continue to deteriorate, and the political parties will continue their slide into fragmentation.  We will lose much of our leadership in this process, hopefully not most, as party partisans continue their slide into hypocrisy, exposed as the intellectual frauds that they are.

The Internet is another chance at renewing the principles of liberty.  In the US, we are unique in having zeitgeists which push for greater freedom, rather than less.  Let's not lose this one.

Listen to Your Gut

Intuition is a very powerful, very potent force: Utilize it.

Possibility one - I have an exceptionally good intuition.  I'm an idiot with genius-class intuition, fundamentally.  Well, not really, I'm pretty smart, but I'm nowhere NEAR as smart as whatever heuristics drive my intuition are.  (Some of my intuitions have been firmly in "There is absolutely no way I could have known that" territory.)

Or, possibility two - I'm a pretty smart guy who actually listens to what my brain and body are telling me.

I'm leaning towards #2.

"Unlock your inner power"?  No, not really.  Intuition isn't built to design spacecraft engines; the problems it's designed to handle are somewhat smaller in scope.  It also is not a key into the supernatural world, even if it does seem like it sometimes; all the information it needs is available to you.

There are two major roles for intuition in our daily lives - social intuition, and dietary intuition.  (I'm using "intuition" to refer to any form of instinctive knowledge or instinctive knowledge processing.)

Three people in my lifetime have given me "the creeps."  The strong desire not to be in the same room with them, the desire to be anywhere else.  None of them were good people, and one of them killed his daughter by intentionally getting into a car accident.  (He wanted to die too, and go to heaven with her, apparently.)

My intuition works best the less I know about somebody; the more I know, the more my brain uses that information, as opposed to whatever information my intuition runs on; and as a result I can usually tell you more about yourself five minutes after meeting you than I can after a week of knowing you.  Your mileage may vary, I'm speaking to personal experience here.  Intuitive knowledge is not as accurate, obviously, but it's information I have no obvious reason to know.  Such as whether you've had a major philosophic breakdown in your life, or if you're a guy and gay.  (Although I rarely need the latter as a matter of intuition.  Not because of a lisp, or feminine body language, or some other TV-gay sign - it's just the fact that most gay people drop hints.  Lots of them.  For one simple example, straight people don't mention San Fransisco in normal conversation.)

At any rate, if somebody gives you the creeps, pay attention.  Maybe it's nothing too terrible, but maybe it is, and being alert doesn't cost you anything.

It slices, it dices, and it will also tell you what to eat.  That's what a craving is.  Your body associates tastes with nutrients; you can make chocolate suck by spitting it out instead of swallowing it for a couple of weeks, because your body will go, "Bleh, that stuff has nothing in it."  Similarly, you can really fuck up your body's cravings by associating nutrients with tastes that don't deliver - seriously, people, don't give children candy vitamins.

When your body demands carrots, or broccoli, or spinach, or something else you don't normally put on your plate - don't look at me that way, I know you don't - feed it.  And if you have a craving that doesn't seem attached to anything - when you have to eat, right now, and nothing looks good - first try imagining lots of different foods and see if a little bell goes off for one.  If that fails, try popping a multivitamin with a banana.  (There are worse foods to associate with the vitamins, after all.)

Your gut reactions can be trained, you see; intuition is instinctive, it isn't dumb.

Intuition can only bring you so far, however; it isn't dumb, but it isn't smart, either, and is very easily fooled.  That "instinctive" thing?  Means two very important things.  First, it is designed to deal with issues your ancestors would have dealt with; it might help you solve an algebra problem, but it's just as likely to get you into trouble.  Second, because of its predictability, other people can prey on it, and use it against you.

So listen to your gut.  But be prepared to have a second opinion.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Why I Am a Climate Skeptic

As usual per the course for me, I started off on one side of the climate debate, looked at who my allies were, and promptly changed sides.

Want my reason summed up?


Here is a relatively intelligent guy, quite the rationalist, quite opposed to pseudoscience.

Who wrote this little gem:

"Notwithstanding all the unsolved problems in climate modeling and establishing past global temperatures, the fact that climate is getting warmer and carbon dioxide is increasing makes for a straightforward case of cause and effect. The burden of proof is on people who doubt the cause and effect relationship to show either that the cause-effect relation does not hold, or that some other process is responsible. Not raise questions or cast doubts - prove."

There are actually a number of other entertaining snippets - "If you woke up uncomfortably hot in the middle of the night and found someone had put an extra blanket over you, you'd logically conclude the blanket caused the warming. You wouldn't argue that your getting warm caused the blanket to appear on the bed, or that the two events were unrelated, or that there was no reason to connect the blanket and the warming." is particularly entertaining in light of the fact that carbon dioxide HAS trailed temperature repeatedly in the past; all evidence is that getting warm does, in fact, cause the blanket to appear.

Here's what's wrong with the former statement, however:

It is fundamentally, and irrevocably, anti-science. He's not saying the science is sturdy, he's not saying the evidence is good - actually, as far as carbon dioxide causing warming, the evidence is good, that's not what all the fuss is about - he's saying, and it's a line I've seen a thousand times over, <i>that it's the best theory we have.</i>

Five hundred years ago, "God" was the best theory on explaining where mankind came from. Even today, "God" is the best theory - meaning the only theory - on explaining prime cause. (Note that this presumes a prime cause, something I dispute.)

He isn't arguing from a position of evidence - he's arguing from a position of a lack thereof in other theories (which isn't even entirely true). He's not challenging people to prove him wrong; there's no evidence he would accept to prove the idea wrong. The endless revelations of unscrupulous behavior by climate scientists, the series of bugs continuing to be discovered in NASA's GISS software, the massive and massively successful project to discover siting issues with measurement stations, the complete absence of the CO2 fingerprint in the atmosphere, the fact that we're not currently melting in the temperatures forecast back in the 90's for today, a decade of more or less stable temperatures, statisticians continuing to break apart some of the key models in climate science - things aren't looking good for the science right now.

They weren't looking good for the science back in the late 90's, either; there was a certain objectivity which was clearly missing to many people then, and it's becoming apparent it never appeared.

Here's the problem, apart from the political grandstanding involved:

This shit helps causes like creationism.

When science as an institution lends its credence to a theory which falls flat on its face for dishonorable behavior, PARTICULARLY after causes like creationism were accusing the entities involved of conspiracy, it really, REALLY weakens the position of genuine science, like, to pick a cause not at all at random, evolution.

When an institution like the CRU is engaging in unscientific behavior like deleting data and refusing requests for information from skeptics for no reason beyond that they are skeptics - skeptics, people, are the fuckin' lynchpin of science, it doesn't work without people saying "Now wait a minute" - an institution which is supposed to be above such petty shit...

Well, what CAN you trust, anymore? You sure as fuck can't trust universities to keep bias out of their research. From the perspective of someone outside the domain of science, somebody who doesn't understand its mechanisms, this looks like a failure of, well, the domain of science.

Especially when science as an institution rushed to the defense of these assholes when they started claiming they were being assaulted by anti-scientific barbarians - and very, very critically, put forth the same defenses that it put forth when evolution was under attack.

This is the risk of institutionalizing science, why I have slowly begun to divorce myself from popular science; it has ceased to be the hobby of eccentrics which allowed it to function, and has become an important institution which we cannot allow to run all willy-nilly. You can't regulate science. You can't say, no, this isn't science, we haven't approved of this.

Science is the act of testing shit. Full stop. That's it.

Why am I a climate skeptic? Because climate science doesn't test shit. It actively works to prevent its shit from being tested. That's all I need.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I, Post-Feminist

I describe myself as a humanist.  Eighty years ago, I might have been a feminist - but feminism as a cause is dead.

"No," protest modern feminists, "we still carry the flag."

What flag?  What is the cause of modern feminism?  Feminism collapsed in the seventies and eighties, as it turned on itself, and became an argument, fundamentally, of whether or not women should be allowed to decide for themselves what their gender meant to them; on the one side, you had a group which was called anti-pornography feminism, on the other, sex-positive feminism, but in truth what was at stake in this fight was whether feminism as a cause had any right to tell women what they should be allowed to do and to be.

Sex-positive feminism wasn't just defending sex, nor was it about pornography; it also defended the rights of women to be stay-at-home moms, to continue in traditional gender roles, to be who they chose to be.

Anti-pornography feminism was trying to redefine the concept of "feminine," and wasn't above revoking the womanhood of any woman who deviated from that definition.

Feminism isn't even a battleground anymore, it's the ashes where a battle was once fought.  The lines are still drawn, on opposing ends of the field; you see feminists declaring that Sarah Palin isn't really a woman, calling her names which feminism as a cause would once have sought to eradicate, because she isn't fitting the definition - pushing for abortions, rather than a choice in the matter of abortions.  You see feminists defending her, defending sex, happily speaking publicly about how they like to be submissive during sex.  And fundamentally this has become what feminism is about; trying to define the word "feminist."  Most people don't fit neatly on one side or the other; fundamentally, almost every feminist has some idea of what they think feminism -isn't-, and these unwitting targets are the topic of most attacks.

That's not the cause, that's the absence of one.

I am a humanist - the word has a myriad of meanings, all more or less coming down to "Relating to human interests," mostly focusing on what those interests are.  In this sense, I mean it as furthering humanity as a whole, without regard to gender - what is sometimes referred to as post-feminism.  To my mind, the post-feminist title is a (doomed) attempt to erase the (frequently misandrist) excesses of anti-pornography feminism in particular.

It can't be done.  Feminism, as a cause, is no longer regarded as a positive force, but just another special-interests group, populated primarily with extremists.

"But I'm not extremist!"  Yeah, and I'm not a blind slave to Ayn Rand's every word, but I still put up with the fact that I share the name "Objectivist" with quite a few such blithering fools.  If I want to make it clear I think for myself - I have to make it clear that I think for myself.

The thing about ideological labels, like religion, is that we take them on as a matter of choice.  I call myself an Objectivist KNOWING what other people say and do under the auspices of the title.  I am free to take on another name for myself.  So their actions reflect on me, because I have put myself in a position where they do.

I know Muslims who will say this of the extremists: "They're not Muslim, they don't follow the faith."  Sorry, but it doesn't work like that; you're free to change the name you use, you're not free to force them to change the name they use.  Yeah, kinda sucks.  Once upon a time I could have called myself a liberal, but some asshats stole the name, and now it's associated with any number of nasty things, like universal health care.

So if you want to call yourself a feminist, yes, you have to put up with the backlash of ideas you never proposed and may hate, because they borrowed some of their authority from the name you're using - and by using it, you're granting credence to those ideas.  The only way you can disassociate yourself from them is by either rebuking the ideas, or by choosing another name.

So, I follow the ideals of post-feminism.  But I am not a post-feminist.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Corporations Aren't Capitalism

An explanation to you fuckers:

Corporations.  Aren't.  Capitalism.


Yeah.  Let me put you on the spot - what's a corporation?

It's a government-issued charter granting special privileges and immunities to the collective holders of that charter.

[Edit: It's notable that The Post Office operates under a similar situation; it's also established by government charter, as is The Federal Reserve.]

That's right.  A corporation is a form of government interference in the economy.

And they only care about profits, you complain?

Well, for-profit corporations are legally obligated to do so.  (Yes, really.)

Not-for-profit corporations are not legally allowed to pay their stockholders; this means any of your own money you put into a not-for-profit company is lost to you forever.  Not a great choice for anybody wanting to make a living running a company.

Corporations were created by the government to try to stimulate the economy.  They come from exactly the same sort of meddling attitude as the Stimulus Package.  So don't blame us capitalists for your predecessor's mistakes - it's the ideology of the mixed/regulated economy which produced corporations, not laissez-faire capitalism.

Why Defend Cuba?

A question for all y'all socialists:

Why the HELL do you defend countries like Cuba and Venezuela?  Why is it so important to you that they have good medical systems (they don't), good educational systems (they don't), good economies (they don't), good justice systems (they really really don't)?

Why is so much time and energy spent by those who insist that socialism can work defending countries in which the dream of a socialist paradise was subverted by a dictatorship?  If socialism CAN work, why are its most miserable failures being presented as stunning successes?

Is Cuba what a successful worker's paradise would look like, really?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Abortion Is Not a Feminist Issue

Abortion is typically - and incorrectly - presented as an issue of women's rights.  It's not.

It's an issue of -human- rights - and not the mother's, in a typical scenario.

The question of whether or not abortion should be legal is, in fact, the question of whether or not a fetus is a human, and entitled to the legal protections of a human being.  That's it.  Not whether or not women should be forced to be incubators - we've already answered the question in court of whether or not we can be forced to act in a child's best interest against our will, as failing to protect a newborn infant from the elements is wrong.

Just one question.  "Is this fetus entitled to the legal protections of a human being?"

Does the fetus have human value?

And the answer to this question is purely philosophic.  Science has already answered the most obvious question - yes, a human fetus is human.

Does it have human value?  Is it, for legal purposes, human?

What basis do you use to decide that?

Whether or not its capable of feeling pain?  Well, that's not a fantastic definition of human, people exist who are not capable of feeling pain, and they're fully capable of objecting to a new non-human status.

Whether or not it has a fully developed brain?  What constitutes "fully developed"?

Let's avoid the heartbeat, please, it's retarded.

Whatever measurement you decide to use, it's arbitrary.  More, I suspect said measurement is going to be a rationalization for the conclusion you already decided you want to come to.  More, someone else can pick an entirely different, and equally valid, measurement - after all, the argument is fundamentally philosophic.

This problem is fundamentally irresolvable in non-Objectivist philosophic framework.

An Objectivist philosophic framework DOES have a solution, albeit an ugly one: Because within the Objectivist philosophic framework you cannot have moral obligations generated by other moral entities, even if a fetus qualifies as a moral entity (that is, is human), you are not obligated to sustain it.  Therefore you are well within your rights to remove it from your body.  (But not necessarily to kill it.  Allowing it to die?  That is fine.  Killing it?  Back in ambiguous territory.)

One of many reasons I'm an Objectivist.  Non-arbitrary and non-contradictory moral values.

(On an amused note, any in this class of solutions - that is, removing moral obligation - when consistently applied also removes any obligation on the part of the mother to the sanction of the father.  It also removes the obligation on the father to both the child and the mother.  All relationships are necessarily purely voluntary.)

Edit: Note my fundamental disagreement with Ayn Rand on this - in large part because she ignored the substantive problem of abortion, the definition of human life.  While she claimed her yardstick was objective - rationality - her solution was to call a baby human at birth, which, while a convenient arbitrary point, is still quite arbitrary, and birth has no relation to rationality.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fixing Education

Here's another one of those wild ideas for fixing the public education system:

Let's phase it out over the next thirty years, replaced with educational income contracts.  These entitle whatever educational institutions you went to a percentage of your income - let's say 1% for every four years, although this value should be flexible.  So after sixteen years of education - a Bachelor's degree - you're giving away 4% of your income.

Or you could take eight years of basic education and a four year apprenticeship, and you'd be down 3%.

Wait.  Apprenticeship?

Hell fucking yes, apprenticeship.  And people will be lining up for the job of taking on students; shit, that's a functional retirement system, right there.  And it compounds; when they take on their own apprentices, that contributes to their income, which remember, you're getting a part of.  It's a pyramid scheme that leaves everybody smarter.

Schools would reform - not only do they want to attract the best students, they want students getting out to make as much money as possible, which means training them in in-demand professions.

I... cannot actually think of a problem the system would need to address.  Degrees and master's marks could be turned down by a student who doesn't think their college or master has done an adequate job, after all.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Crime and Victims

"Murder was in fact a fairly uncommon event in Ankh-Morpork, but there were a lot of suicides. Walking in the night-time alleyways of The Shades was suicide. Asking for a short in a dwarf bar was suicide. Saying “Got rocks in your head?” to a troll was suicide. You could commit suicide very easily, if you weren’t careful." - Men at Arms, Terry Pratchett.

Of course this would approximately sum up my opinion on victims.  For those who make them victims, that is, the criminals - well, it's still murder.  But it's also suicide.  Complicated?  Not really.

There are genuinely innocent victims, to be certain.  Equally certain is that many victims have a hand in their own undoing - that, though victims, they were not innocent of the circumstances which led to their downfall, though in all cases they are innocent of the fall itself.  You didn't murder yourself, after all; you merely committed suicide.

This is a point, one of a few, on which I (believe I) have some divergence with Ayn Rand - she holds that human nature is not a force of nature to be taken for granted, which I grant, but I make the important distinction that not everybody with a human face has a human nature.  There are genuinely fucked up people out there who have not a trace of humanity left to them, whatever the reason, and feeble protests that it should not be so will not keep you either safe or alive.

Nobody debates the concept of responsibility when somebody mouths off to a three hundred pound guy and gets his nose broken - you were courting danger, and you found it.  In an ideal society, should you have the freedom to mouth off?  Certainly.  Does this individual have any right to hit you for your opinion?  Not at all.  Are you an innocent victim who has no responsibility for what happened?  Not a chance.

When we say The World Should Be - that's it.  We're wishing.  A hundred and thirty pound clean-shaven well-dressed man wants to be able to safely walk down the worst parts of town at night?  Well, yes, he should be able to.  But if he does, he's asking for trouble, and he's going to find it.  Wishing won't make it otherwise.

I hold this opinion on muggings, I hold this opinion on murder, and I also hold this opinion on rape.  We do not live in an ideal society.  Whine all you want that a woman should be able to walk safely down the bad part of town drunk - yeah, should be able to, but you're courting trouble if you actually do it, and trouble has a tendency to proposition both quickly and firmly.

Life's unfair.  Kind of sucks.  But hey, I rolled fortunate.  I'm a mean two hundred pounds, know how to throw a solid punch (and even more solid kicks), and know how to swagger like a man with murder on the mind.  I have an extremely high tolerance to pain, and go into a berserker rage when I get angry.  I am practically invincible - young, strong, male!  I can go wherever I want... right?

No.  I'm not invincible.  I can break bones with my bare hands, but my skull is no thicker for it, and a single swing of a solid object from somebody half my weight can still very easily kill me - shit, I have a cracked bone in my arm right now because I clumsily blocked a falling door I was installing with it, and a pulled muscle in my back from catching several dozen pounds of falling toilet (was installing a new one).  I'm big, tougher than normal (neither injury has stopped me from working on the house), and quite capable of being a real bastard in a corner, but that just gives me better odds, because I'm still human - and I don't want to gamble my life against a junky with a baseball bat who decides he wants my shoes.

I, a revolver-toting Texan capable of taking and dishing damage, will not walk an unsafe street.  Why?  Because that's just not smart.  And no amount of "I should be able to" is going to give me back my life if I commit suicide by proxy.  No amount of toughness or swagger can defy the laws of physics, and a skull just isn't that strong.

I hold this opinion on murder.  And I hold it on rape.  Yes.  The victim can be responsible - not for the crime committed against them, but for the circumstances which allowed the crime to happen.  This is not the kind of responsibility which absolves the perpetrator, this is the kind of responsibility for your personal self which determines what "opportunities" other people get with you.  Because you know what?  Some rape victims are responsible - responsible for putting themselves in a dangerous situation, NOT for being raped.

It is a minority to whom it can apply - most rape victims aren't the victims of some dark stranger in an alley, but somebody they know and trust and who is human enough to fucking know better - and a minority of them who made genuinely dumb decisions. (Even in the tiny minority of cases in which it might apply, is it helpful to tell a rape victim that she's responsible for making some bad decisions?  Fuck no.  It's hurtful, one of the worst things you can tell somebody.)

Except, very possibly, for maybe THAT.  There is absolutely no excuse for telling young women you're supposedly teaching rape avoidance classes to that they should be able to walk a dark alley at night half-naked and drunk.  You don't want to blame the victim?  People who don't think their personal decisions enter into whether or not they're being raped don't enroll in a class which teaches them to make better personal decisions, in order to avoid rape.  These students didn't come here to be told they're not responsible for a rape which might occur, they came here to try to prevent it from occurring.

You tell a young woman that, and she takes you seriously, and something bad happens - and you ARE responsible for a rape, and not just in the "I could have made better choices sense," because you fucking knew better.

And for the notion that we should hope there's a bystander standing around to save us?  Fantastic.  I'll readily volunteer.  If I, or some other noble wannabe Batman, happens to be wandering down the bad part of town at the same time, I'll shoot the bastard.  Problem solved, IF I happen to be around, which let's face it, I'm not going to be, because unlike the poor girl wandering drunk and naked after someone crippled her survival instincts by telling her she isn't responsible for using fucking common sense, I don't put myself needlessly at risk.  I value my skull.  It holds my hat up.

Buy a goddamn gun, if you're going to take stupid risks, and be responsible for your own goddamn safety.  I have neither the time nor the energy nor the stupidity to play guardian angel for poor schmucks betrayed by the very individual who was supposed to teach them how to be safe.  Bystander, indeed.  Fuck you, lady.  Next you're going to be telling the bystanders they should jump up and down and yell instead of doing something while the victim just lays there and takes it so the police have a clear idea of who the victim is so they can arrest the right person when (if) they show up.

Not only does she value some idealistic reality more than the safety of her students, she seems criminally misinformed on another important factor - rape by strangers is unusual.  Most rape is committed by those you know.  And bystander interference just doesn't enter into situations of trust.  Her rape avoidance class, if this post is an indication, not only puts its students at risk for the type of rape she's teaching them to "avoid," but ignores the type of rape they are actually somewhat likely to encounter.

Yeah.  I'm rather pissed.  Time to go read something nice and relaxing and calm down a bit.

Entropic Decay

The law of entropy is, in truth, nothing but statistics - in any given quantum-level system event, the law of entropy can be broken, it's just -very- slightly less likely than the alternative of being conformed to.

Now the fascinating thing is how this interacts with the two principles entropy can be conceptually derived from.

Functionally, the entropy of a system is a measurement of the energy which cannot be used.

Conceptually, there may be more meaning.

The first is the simpler of the explanations, and says, basically, that energy has levels (potential work), and that energy is constantly decreasing on this scale - effectively, that the amount of work that can be extracted from energy is finite.  (Intriguingly, there's both a minimum and a maximum rate at which this can occur.)  This explanation is more or less hand-waving the issue of entropy away by describing it.

The second, more interesting, explanation, relates to informational theory.  Without getting too deeply into the details, informational theory - as relates to physics - holds that information cannot be destroyed; information being a description of the states of matter that led to the current situation.  (That is, the end state of matter must describe every state of matter leading to it, systematically.)  This means the number of potential states is in constant decrease as time goes on - and energy is constantly being bound up in a descriptive process.

Modern physics is very firm about the conservation of information; the only theoretical exception existed, according to Stephen Hawking, around singularities, and he has withdrawn this exception.

Just one problem.  Informational Theory as it pertains to physics is an absurdly good example of a patently unscientific theory.  It is literally impossible to test; how do you demonstrate that the history of an object was not accurately recorded within the universe?  You have to accurately record it in order to do so, and, well, you're doing so from this universe.  The only interesting description of entropy depends upon a "theory" which cannot be tested.

Inconvenient, to say the least.

More inconvenient that quantum theory suggests the law of entropy -can- be broken on minute scales, because this would break information theory, if it held true.  Indeed, quantum theory and information theory clash very fundamentally in one very fundamental way: Information theory holds that the amount of information is constantly increasing, meaning physical constraints on the universe are constantly increasing.  At some point, the amount of information is going to violate the uncertainty principle; that is, there is a point at which no more information can be constructed without "using up" uncertainty.

It is, of course, very messy.  Personally, I suspect the law of entropy is more of a suggestion.

Misandry, Misogyny, Misanthropy, and Me

People defend primarily their own genders.

And I kind of understand this.  Growing up, I felt that my gender was under assault - as indeed, really, it was.  Guys were persecuted in culture in the 90's - I had no historical perspective, I was just a kid living in a society where, whenever a man and a woman got in an argument on television, the woman was always right.  If somebody was racist, it was a man.  If somebody was obnoxious, it was a man.  Men were always fat ignorant slobs, women were beautiful intelligent goddesses who for some reason put up with these primitive men, patiently explaining to their idiot husbands why he should use this laundry detergent in a tone of voice normally reserved for particularly slow children.  The few exceptions didn't invert this, they merely ignored it - women were frequently better than men, men were at best equal to women.  This all made me feel like my gender -needed- to be defended - and at that age, I didn't have the tools to do it.

Things have balanced out since then somewhat.  Commercials and sitcoms no longer seem to have it in for men.  (The genders are more balanced in their portrayal as human beings - they're still ridiculously stereotyped.)  When I did argue, most males I asked about it knew what I was talking about; females frequently did not, or outright denied it, or attempted to justify it.

Now here's the thing: From my perspective today, I don't think I would defend my gender, in the same sense, because it's not my gender under assault.  It's not women's gender under assault, either; the implications inherent in that approach were mutually destructive.  It wasn't misandry, nor were its unrealistic portrayals of women misogyny - it was misanthropy; men are fat ignorant slobs, and you, young lady, are a disgrace for not being thin, beautiful, and capable of doing multivariate calculus better than all the guys out there.  No, that's not even it - men aren't merely fat ignorant slobs, that's what men are SUPPOSED to be; women are inexplicable, they love this in men, so if you want to be loved, that's what you have to be.  And vice versa.

Similarly, "The Patriarchy" is badly named, as is the feminist movement; "The Patriarchy" is nothing but rigidly defined gender rules.  Men are in charge?  No, not really.  Being in charge would suggest you could actually make decisions; "The Patriarchy" already made those decisions for you, and divergence was acceptable in neither gender.

What is the difference between a patriarchy and what we mistakenly call a patriarchy.  We need to look to ancient Greece.  Greece was, in a very real sense, a patriarchy - it was a society ruled by men, regardless of anatomy, with respect to the choices made by those within the system - men could choose to be women, transexuality was accepted, as was (to a lesser extent) choosing a more feminine role.  Men were, in a very real sense, in control of society.  Modern "patriarchy" is no such thing - if I can't choose to stay home with my kids and make my wife go off to work instead, I'm not in charge; I have no actual authority over my family unit, that authority is held by culture as an institution.  I'm in a "socially superior" position?  By whose standards?  Who decided we lived in a patriarchy?  Those who live in it and accept its standards?

What makes this powerless "head of the household" position, which has historically required backbreaking labour, socially superior to the equally powerless position of the wife, who is given the opportunity to spend her days with her loved ones instead of in a coal mine?  Well, apparently, when the woman and man are together, the man is in charge.  But for the common population, the man spent more of his time being not-in-charge than did the woman, taking orders at work; in the absolute worst case, in which love didn't enter into it at all, both spent half their waking hours in charge, and half their working hours being bossed around.  And neither had any choice in the matter at all.  Some patriarchy.

We don't live in a patriarchy, we haven't since the fifteen century, when gender roles began to change, and sex, sexuality, and gender began to unite firmly and irrevocably into a single thing, when choice was pulled out of the equation.  We live in a misanthropic society.

And I am misanthropic - but only within the context of that society.  And fortunately society is getting better.  Mostly.

But who is getting freedom?  Women are now (mostly) free, socially, to pick whatever gender role they choose - men, less so.  There is societal acceptance for a woman who chooses to support her household; there is little for men who choose to stay at home with their children.

In a society in which freedom is the primary value, how can a society in which men have less freedom to choose who they want to be, be described as a patriarchy?

We don't live in a matriarchy, either, contrary to the claims of some particularly shrill men; women, while they have more freedom to choose their role in society, certainly aren't in charge.  They're just less not-in-charge than men.

Lies, Damned Lies, and Rape Statistics

A thought on college surveys producing rape statistics -

I've encountered studies which suggest something like 80% of sexually active college age guys have been raped by girlfriends.

This might be underestimating the number.  It all depends on what questions you ask.

Wait, you say, GUYS?  Don't I mean women?  Well, no.

Every guy who has ever been woken up by a morning BJ has been raped.  (Equally, every girl who has ever been woken up with cunnilingus has been.)

Switching subjects to "normal" rape statistics, it's notable that a frequent comment made in rape studies is that men are frequently unaware that they are rapists.  I'd warrant most women who have woken their boyfriend in such a pleasant fashion aren't aware of their guilt, either.

Now, rape is a really gorram bad thing to do to somebody, almost as bad as stabbing them.  (It's only our fucked up sex culture which makes a rape seem worse than a stabbing.  Seriously, it's a hell of a lot more invasive to put something in somebody's kidney against their will.)  And waking somebody up with oral sex is NOT rape (except in the eyes of the law - please note that I am not a lawyer and my annoyed rant does not qualify as legal advice).  It CAN be, same as putting your penis in somebody's vagina can be rape, but it's dependent upon the context, and yes, implied consent can be a part of a healthy relationship.  [Edit:  Explicitly implied consent, by which I mean, agreeing that certain behaviors are acceptable.  Talk to your goddamn partner, people.]

I've seen the "X males have met the legal definition of rape" thing so many times in rape statistics it has ceased to have entertainment value for me; it's deliberately misleading.  I'm not a rape victim; I don't merely not define myself as a rape victim, I'm not a party to any act which I would define as rape.  But I meet the legal definition of a rape victim.

What does including me in rape statistics do except reduce the validity of rape statistics in discussing the social issues of rape?

What purpose does it serve to mention that some people - who nobody in the right mind would call a rapist - have met the legal definition of rape?  There are four reasonable possibilities to my mind: One, you have absolutely no idea what you're talking about/what the statistics actually mean.  This constitutes the majority of people citing rape statistics.  Two, you're deliberately trying to make an already bad problem seem worse than it already is; you're an ignorant idiot who runs the risk of being called on it and making yourself seem like the third possibility, a misandrist whose purpose is to attack men, rather than to meaningfully advance any sort of discussion.  Or, four, you're a troll deliberately using bad statistics in front of people like me who will call you on them to make anybody trying to have a meaningful discussion about rape look like the third sort.

Or, to put it another way - there is absolutely no intellectually honest reason to include this data in a meaningful discussion of rape as rape.  It's a very valid thing to bring up, discussing the legal ramifications of rape and its prosecution - but most people inclined to be having that discussion will regard statistics of secondary importance, seeing the law itself as being slightly more relevant.

[Edit] For #3 - I guess that would be misogynists, for the studies I mentioned in the opening of this post.  Actually, in both cases, I regard it as misanthropy, but that's another post.

There are a number of other ways one can meet the legal definition of rape without, well, actually raping somebody; a wide range of kinky activities (generally referred to as BDSM, although it's rather a misnomer, suggesting the activities are similar) frequently push legal boundaries where they don't outright break them (safewords as opposed to the use of the word "no" in particular; no means no in some municipalities, even when it is agreed to use another word instead), and they can also run into the opposite problem; activities which the BDSM community would define as rape which are fuzzy in the eyes of the law.  (Safewords in particular are, again, a legal problem; courts may only recognize the word "no," and saying the safeword may not qualify continuing actions as legal rape.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Scandinavian Economy

I argue economics frequently, and there are two mistakes frequently made by the opposition: First, assuming that the US is a good representative of capitalism.  And second, assuming that Scandinavian countries are good representatives of socialism.

Neither holds true.

Conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation produces a very informative Index of Economic Freedoms, updated, I believe, annually; essentially they rank every country in the world on many factors which correlate pretty well with capitalism, although not perfectly - it better ranks one's freedom in operating a business in those countries than it ranks one's freedom to make one's own purchasing decisions, but again, it does correlate pretty well with capitalism generally.  I could write a post describing the flaws - the fact that Singapore's government runs the mandatory retirement scheme which owns the vast majority of the country's capital is pretty significant, but I can respect that it would be complex to model in a one-dimensional analysis of freedom.  (I don't even know how to classify Singapore - is it fascist, communist, socialist, capitalist?  In one sense the government can be said to own the means of production - in another, it has considerable economic freedom)

Getting back on topic - the so-called Scandinavian Economy is considered to be proof of the validity of socialism.  Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Switzerland, Finland - economies which have done quite well for themselves.  Do they prove that socialism works?

Well, it's not quite that simple.  First, we have to throw Norway out.  Its wealth is completely and totally dependent upon its oil reserves; valid comparisons either fail to be illustrative (What does a comparison of Norway and Russia, or Norway and Iran, tell us about capitalism versus socialism?) or doesn't say much conclusive about anything.  (A fantastic per-capita GDP by exchange rate vanishes once you figure in cost of living.)

It is notable that we threw Norway out - it ranks lowest on the economic freedom index, and would have been the best representative of socialism.  Which brings us to our other nations.

Switzerland has run a close game with the US for many years.  It's now slightly more free, as it was a decade ago.  Kind of useless for evaluating the merits of socialism versus capitalism; they're about equivalent.  Same with Iceland - it's been consistently slightly less than the US, but not by a wide margin.  Again, rather useless.

Finland, Sweden, and Denmark, however, share a slightly different history - they both started out quite low on the freedom index, and have climbed steadily over the last decade; they've all gained about a point a year for the last ten years.  Denmark now runs neck-and-neck with the US; Sweden and Finland are both quite a few points lower.

Sweden, over the past ten years*, has gone from ~400 billion real GDP to ~470 billion real GDP; approximately a 21% increase.  8.86 to 9.2 million people; approximately a 4% population increase over the same period, meaning about a 17% increase in per-capita GDP.

Denmark has grown less than 40 billion over that same time period, from a little over 300, to around 340; 5.34 million people have turned to around 546; total per-capita growth, 8%.

Finland, because I'm getting lazy, has grown by a remarkable 20% over the same timeframe.

The US has grown by about 10%.  So all three of these countries have done better than the US in terms of growth, but only Finland markedly so.

Well, that seems to pretty well suggest socialism wins.  Well, no.  We have a decent sample set for socialism - let's feed in some figures for capitalism by running the figures for countries more capitalist than the US as of the most recent Index:

Hong Kong scores 36%.  Singapore scores 27%.  Australia scores 16%.  (Yes.  Australia ranks more capitalist than the US.)  Ireland scores 23% (So does Ireland).  New Zealand 16%.  Canada - yes, Canada now ranks higher, although this is a relatively recent development - comes in close to the US at 11%.

Switzerland, if you are interested, managed 10%, and Iceland manages 21%.  Norway, which for the previously discussed reasons we dismissed, manages 20%.

Well, what does all this tell us?

Unfortunately, not a whole lot of anything; the US was outperformed over the last decade by most of the Scandinavian economies, but the Scandinavian economies were outperformed by the most laissez-faire economies.  The fact that economic freedoms change so much throughout these periods of time doesn't help, either.

My tip?  Don't get too involved in this argument.  Take the moral high ground, lay down a few facts, and demonstrate that things simply aren't so neat as presented.  The US is not the bastion of capitalism it is so frequently pushed as, and its performance no longer reflects on the performance of capitalism.

As an alternative option, if you feel the need to win an argument which is ultimately rather silly, you can just whip out Hong Kong and Singapore, which have grown so much now that the counterargument that their small economies make small growths in absolute terms deceptively term in relative terms - well, it is no longer valid, so if somebody whips it out, smear their faces in some data (namely, that Finland's per-capita GDP is similar to that of Hong Kong and Singapore's).  There's also Ireland, which us free-marketeers have a love affair with, on account of being such a wonderful test case of capitalism.  But if you drag Ireland into it, Australia and New Zealand have to come too, which makes the whole argument an inconclusive mess again, and Singapore is really itself quite messy.  Again, just don't get involved.

* My figures for the past decade actually end in 2008, as that is the last year Wolfram Alpha seems to have data for.  Yeah, I'm lazy.  Get over it.

Richard Dawkins is a Prat

Speaking to fellow atheists here:

How could we possibly have allowed this deranged man to come to represent us?

Yes.  He's a brilliant author.  He brought evolution to the hearts and minds of the people in a way which has not been done since Darwin himself.  He converted Douglas Adams to atheism by showing him the possibilities inherent in evolutionary thought.  He invented the word "meme."  He has been a constant advocate for evolutionary theory in the face of creationists.

He's also a goddamn embarrassment.

He describes religion qua religion as child abuse, and advocates government interference in religious freedom.  He has described religion as the central force of conflict in society.  He has described God as a scientific hypothesis, open to testing - giving creationists precisely the kind of nonsense they couldn't have hoped for otherwise.  He defended his perspectives by pointing to extremists on the other side - as if their precise behavior wasn't the very reason he opposes religion to begin with.

He began a movement to try to get atheists "out."  Here's the thing, Mr. Dawkin, speaking as a bisexual atheist - I don't need to come out as an atheist.  Really, seriously, truly - people just don't care.  Atheism and the gay rights movement don't even relate in first world nations.

YOU, on the other hand, are the reason Christians are surprised by my manners when I -do- choose to relate my religious beliefs - or lack thereof, as the case may be.  YOU are the reason the religious movement believes it needs to defend itself - because it does, because assholes like you are trying to take atheists on an offensive we have no business being on.  You're the inspiration for the asshole on the streetcorner distributing atheist literature - yes, it's being done.  You're the driving force behind billboards, bumper stickers, and a myriad assortment of atheistic drive-by literature which is just as ridiculous and pathetic when we engage in it as when the Christians do.

And you know, there's a difference.

Who are we targeting?

The Christians are targeting fellow Christians - their annoying behavior is intended to remind fellow Christians of their moral duties.  "What Would Jesus Do?" isn't aimed at atheists, it's aimed at Christians - it's a message tailored to them, intended to convey a very specific idea - that Christians are supposed to aspire to be as Jesus.  It's a message intended to create a more moral Christian culture, regardless of how annoying it is.

Who is an "Evolve" fish aimed at?

Who are those billboards aimed at?

What is the primary purpose of the Flying Spaghetti Monster?  It isn't promoting atheism.  None of this promotes atheism.  It mocks religion.

You want to be an atheist?  Be an atheist.  But don't proselytize.  Atheism doesn't need prophets, and we sure as hell don't need a crusade.

Or, in short: Fuck you, Mr. Dawkins.  You and your fan club are bringing the worst aspects of religion into atheism, and you make me ashamed to use the word.

Also: Atheists?  We, as a group, need to stop worshiping science, or rather specific scientific endeavors.  Science doesn't work when it is worshiped.  Use it.  Follow it.  And remain ever-critical of what those who claim to represent it have to say.

The Orphan Wilde

I figure I should start this off with a question:

Who am I?

I am not you.

I am a selfish bastard whose perspective on the world is defined solely by the world as I see it.

This doesn't make me different from you.  The difference is that I am willing to admit it.

My opponents might describe me as a greedy misanthropist capitalist bastard who doesn't care about all the people in the world who desperately need help.  This... approximates the truth.

I don't care about them.  I want to create a world which would help them, but I don't care.  But they would be better off under me than under those currently running things.  Not because I care, but because I don't - because my reasoning is rational, rather than emotional.

So who am I, the Orphan Wilde?  I am an atheistic capitalist.  I would describe myself as an Objectivist, and frequently do, but despise many of those who share the name, much as I despise many who would call themselves atheists - I find that Ayn Rand has unintentionally created a cult following, a group of people who blindly follow every rule in her philosophy except the only rule she ever actually laid out - to think for yourself.  I am an admirer of Ayn Rand, and I have yet to find something she has written I strongly disagree with - but I'm not so fond of her fan club.

I don't fit into any club, really.

I am an ex-socialist liberal turned capitalist, having outgrown universal love in the Bush era, when I saw how stupid the people I supposedly agreed with actually were, and so confronted my own philosophical basis - I hate Bush, but I hate the people who hate Bush even more.  I am a genius.  I am an atheist.  I am a bisexual male.  I was born in Texas and own a revolver.  I am a capitalist.  I believe in equal rights, but have developed contempt for the modern feminist movement.  I believe in the death penalty.  I opposed the War in Iraq, but once began, I opposed withdrawing.  I will shoot you dead if I think you are a threat to my friends and family, my life, or my property.  I prefer to carry handcuffs with my gun so that in a more ambiguous situation I have an alternative to killing you.  I keep my money in a bank account, and do not like carrying cash.  I wouldn't be surprised if some poor fool in the government was assigned to read my rambling blog - and I wouldn't be surprised if they've forgotten about the existence of that fourteen year old kid who they sent brochures for West Point to.  (Apparently they can process ASVAB scores, but equally apparent their databases aren't the best in the world.)

I date online exclusively, valuing the efficiency of excluding hippies and liberals and fundamentalists out of hand, not that it is relevant right now.

I think Richard Dawkins is a bit of a prat.

I have a love-hate relationship with the Mormon church.  On the one hand, they're religious and oppose gay marriage (that's the hate side of the relationship).  On the other, they believe -fervently- in free will, both religious and political - their version of Satan is a caricature of the modern liberal (and was designed before the modern liberal came into being) and they (variably - there's difference of interpretation) believe God was once human, and that humans can become gods, who go on to rule their own universes or something.  And He has a wife!  Who was deliberately kept out of scripture by God because otherwise he'd have to kick the asses of everybody for blaspheming his love, as would undoubtedly happen.  (Actually, not only does He have a wife, having a wife/husband is actually a necessary element of becoming a god for men and women, respectively.)  But then there's the whole magic hat thing, which is either ridiculous or insanely awesome, I can't decide.

I am skeptical of climatology.  I believe the historical records suggest carbon dioxide is a capable feedback effect, able to produce warmer temperatures, but -not- a climate driver - that is, not potent enough to produce the kind of runaway warming predicted by some of today's climatologists.  I am worried that the state of climatology is sliding in a very bad way, and that it is going to (or already has begun to) smear real science with its scientific mismanagement - helped along by the state of affairs which caused a lot of scientists to defend it against the perceived enemies of science when they shouldn't have, a defense which is today being messily retracted.

I guess it follows that I am pro-science, without being pro-scientist; indeed, I have contempt for anybody who would refer to him or herself as a scientist.

I believe in drug legalization but not regulation.  I believe in the abolishment of the income tax, and the abolishment of 70% of the Federal Government.  I oppose all foreign wars except ones we are already involved in - as I believe we have a moral responsibility to mitigate the damage we have caused derived from the fact that we have caused said damage.  I do not believe in foreign aid.

I do not believe in positive rights - the only valid rights are those which do not contradict others.

I am a philosophical orphan - my beliefs are my own, and I arrived at them on my own, without guidance from philosophers.  (Hence my name here.)  Ayn Rand did not teach me my philosophy - what she taught me was that I was not alone in it.