Saturday, November 22, 2014


Had an exchange on fbook this week. Tried screen capturing but it was tough to read so I'm copying and pasting:

DL (original post):
Step 1: Think of the most despicable villain or group of villains you can (ISIS, Nazis, Pinochet, Saddam...)
Step 2: Explain what's bad about them.
Step 3: Translate your answer to step 2 into principled terms. For example, "it's wrong when anyone does X, Y, Z."
Step 4: Answer the question: "does my government or favorite politician do X, Y, Z?"
Step 5: You answered "no." This is normal, but not in a good way. Now think about how hard your brain had to work to rationalize aggressive imperial wars, torture, etc., to conform to a good guy/bad guy narrative that mostly developed before you were capable of critical thought.
Step 6: Answer the question from step 4 again, this time honestly.


DL: "Are you comparing (something I like) to (something I hate)?! *expression of dismissive disbelief*"

DL: It's not uncommon to equate comparing and equating.

Commenter #1: Aztecs. They ripped apart and dismembered live human beings. Does my government endorse and protect dismemberment via legal abortion? Yes.

JD: Deontology is a red herring. So step 3 is wrong.

DL: [JD], I thought you thought I was a consequentialist, whatever that is. In any case, there's nothing particularly complicated, fancy, demanding, theory-heavy or unusual about suggesting that moving the yardstick is cheating. I'm guessing maybe you have me saying something along the lines of "you should do X because the eternal structure of the universe demands it!" Whereas I'm making a rather obvious comment (or, well, it's obvious sans tribalist bias) about methodology. If you use grams to measure oranges, you should use grams to measure apples. If killing is wrong when the blue team does it, it's wrong when the red team does it.

JD: I disagree! Killing is sometimes wrong and sometimes not so wrong. Life is hard!

JD: Or maybe you're right, but it's certainly disingenuous (although maybe rhetorically savvy) to present it as an open-and-shut case. I say this is deontology because, like, rules, man. But rules are insufficiently flexible for life, which, as previously mentioned, is hard!

JD: Or maybe it's not disingenuous, in which I case, I believe you are mistaken.

JD: So that leaves us with right but mistaken about obviousness, right but disingenuous, or wrong. I think that about sums about the possible states of play. Sorry for so many comments. Off to teach!

DL: Like I said, I'm talking about method, how to analyze politics. Don't move the yardstick. Imagine telling, say, a neuroscientist, "hey, life is hard, you can't just use the same yardstick to study rats and humans." If you did, she'd have good reason to suspect (human) biocentric bias on your part. Mammal brains are mammal brains, which of course doesn't mean that rats are humans. Your insistence that "every situation is different, life is complicated, etc." is the problem. You don't study rat or human behavior by imagining yourself in the subject's shoes. "Our test shows you consistently identified stereotypically Black names with criminality." "But I have a Black friend! I'm not racist, I swear." "OK, we won't count your test then." That's exactly how you move the yardstick and it's what I'm saying you shouldn't do.

DL: Keep in mind, I'm letting you choose the yardstick. Not because it's unimportant which one is used but because you're basically arguing that Omar Vizquel was a better power hitter than Barry Bonds so I'm pretty confident that as long as you don't compare Vizquel's OPS with Bonds' AVG, you don't have a case. This leaves you open to use an oddly arbitrary measure like HRs in 0-2 counts against Al Leiter in the third inning or, politically, maybe the Catherine wheel is torture (because the bad guys do it) but drawing and quartering isn't (because we do it).

JD: My argument is asserting that (Omar Vizquel > Barry Bonds)? That seems like a little bit of a straw man. But it turns out you can't (at least blithely) use the same yardstick to study rats and humans, and if you find out a particular treatment has an effect on rats, the next step is not widespread over-the-counter use. You consider what the two creatures have in common, and how they differ, and then all your statements and assertions are--and must be--contingent assertions.
So we can't have categorical imperatives, unless we simply want them to be sufficiently broad platitudes that they don't actually help very much when trying to distinguish between two courses of action...which means that statements like "killing is wrong" might be rhetorically useful because who could disagree? But ultimately they're not much help in evaluating the rightness or wrongness of a course of action.

And this opens me up to a rhetorical broadside because it sounds wishy-washy and also convoluted, but what is rhetorical weakness is sometimes moral rigor. It is a far more interesting and useful approach to apply moral intuition, examine circumstances that are maybe edge cases to try to discern what are the contingencies. For example, most societies break down "killing" into sub-classes. Killing that was unintentional and in self-defense is morally different than killing that was premeditated and senseless. They are different concepts. Even using the word "killing" for both of them ultimately confuses the issue. So we can get more specific and the contingencies that pertain to that specificity have moral weight. Most societies also treat killing by soldiers differently than killing by civilians...except when they start to cross other moral lines. It is interesting and complicated and not at all obvious how one ought to think about these things. I think clearly a 6-step process to a perfectly coherent and consistent morality is probably simplistic...although that is me turning *you* into a straw man (although in my defense, I think you presented it as simple as a rhetorical strategy so this is kind of rolling with your momentum into a throw).

We can also go more broad: a killing is a violation of one's duty to another and a violation of their rights. So are all duty violations and transgressions against others' rights morally equivalent? Obviously not: mass murder and shoplifting are morally different and our society's judgment, imperfect as it is, reflects that difference.

A penultimate point: given the complexities of such a contingent morality, it's interesting to wonder where exactly the "evil" lies. Which act or attitude or vice pushes you over the line into reprehensibility? It's probably a continuum. ISIS, Nazis, Pinochet, Saddam--they're at least different from you and I in degree and volume of their acts (also two of them are organizations and whether an institution can be said to be moral or not feels weird and again, not obvious. I mean, obviously you can *say* that they're evil, but what that means...). Is killing the same as authorizing a killing? If I pay someone to kill a pig so I can eat it, is that the same as me killing a pig? Or am I more morally suspect because I've besmirched someone else? What about cases where the Amish use pneumatics instead of electricity as a work-around? The spirit of the law v. the letter of the law? Wow there is a lot.

Finally, this kind of a contingent morality I assert to be the correct kind of morality! It harmonizes with a moral intuition, which, like much intuition, is broadly right but prone to systematic biases. This is I think what you were ultimately trying to point out--that our moral intuition systematically fails, when, for example, we like somebody. We don't want to believe that they're a bad person capable of bad things. See, e.g. Bill Cosby. Similarly, when we dislike a person or a class of people, we assume the worst. I totally agree that these are bad, and that a 6-step approach to solving these biases is not a terrible thing. It seems like a complementary approach, maybe preferable in the long run, is to construct a functional morality that acknowledges these complexities and also points out our blind spots like unmapped regions with handpainted calligraphy noting here be dragons.

DL: About Vizquel v. Bonds, the U.S., by any reasonable measure, is far beyond Bonds status in terms of deadly military force. Compare the # of wars started in the past century, # of bases on foreign soil, # of countries currently being drone bombed, weapons sold to dictators, nuclear stockpile...If you think Ajmedinamuhdood is anywhere near as bad, you're including intentions in your calculation, and you're saying Vizquel was a better power hitter. It would be a strawman if I misrepresented your opinion. But you think Putin is a bastard whereas Obama is merely imperfect (read: good guy who makes mistakes), as I understand you, so... Anyway, I don't think this is complicated. Like, I understand it, very easily, though it took some deprogramming. (I still need deprogramming in other areas!) If it's complicated for you, it's certainly not due to intellectual deficits. I think it's because by the time "Putin" reaches your conscious brain, it's already associated with so much outgroup baggage that his bad guy status can't help but get rationalized. That's what the conscious brain does. Whether to drone bomb 10 or just 9 countries is not an ethical dilemma (all ethical dilemmas I know of assume "good intentions"). One doesn't need to deduce some fancy shizz from trumped up first principles. One can be a deontologist, consequentialist, or just someone who doesn't think about that stuff and still see what's going on. The scouts and the statheads agree that Bonds was a better power hitter.

JD: Aren't own goals different from goals scored against? The bases you choose to build, the specific countries you choose to bomb--these things matter. You're saying "they're the same they're the same they're the same' and I keep saying "they're different they're different they're different' because *of course they're the same*. But also they're different. And their differentness is waaaaay more interesting and important than their sameness. IMHO.

DL: You know that's what apologists for motherfuckery say, right? Literally, they're saying the same thing. So, what's your yardstick?

JD: Well, sure, lots of people say lots of things. I'm not sure what my yardstick is, but I'd like to have a productive conversation about it. It's the ethical agenda we should be working on. But I'm not sure I've convinced you yet. It seems like your yardstick measures every head of state and judge them in direct proportion to their power...which doesn't seem that useful to me. It essentially just says everything is a yard long. Another way to put it: if your method had moral advice to give, it would essentially be: don't become a head of state. But someone is going to! And we need to be able to differentiate between them, morally. So my ideal yardstick would provide a means of distinguishing between choices.
In addition, it should work up and down the social ladder. Being a father, for example, necessarily puts one in a paternalistic position. If paternalism is bad, or power over another is bad, then the answer could be: don't become a father. But any moral calculus that leads to that as its advice must be deeply flawed. The question isn't "is it wrong to be a father". The question should be "Given that I AM a father, how should I behave?" A yardstick should help us both distinguish between good and bad fatherhoods, as well as provide guidance as to how to move in one direction or the other on the spectrum.

That's what I mean by their differences being more interesting. Both Obama's and Putin's sins, as you tally them, descend directly from their being heads of state, or at least many of them do. But all that tells me is that you disapprove of heads of state. I guess maybe I do too, but it doesn't seem interesting to me, because unlike, say, serial killers, it seems unlikely that better policy will reduce the incidence of heads of state. And I'm still not sure we'd want to. I think they're an unintended consequence of a world order that has improved overall human welfare by many orders of magnitude.

Commenter #2: Great exchange on both sides!

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Heroes get by on the illusion of having willed themselves to success, having earned it, having gotten there by some indescribable "it factor," having "really wanted it." "He wouldn't be denied," they say, on those occasions when the hero doesn't happen to have been denied. But the hero is a speck in a vast universe with conscious access to a fraction of a percent of its brain. The hero is chemicals, mainly, without access to or understanding of or control over that. Everyone tries fairly hard, but the ones who succeed, post hoc, are said to have succeeded by virtue of effort, character, etc., because that's how human brains generally interpret such things.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

the outgroup is the ingroup? impossible! (revised)

Dichotomous strawman post, visualized. Already found a problem. The translation process should be shown filtering through the inner two circles, which should be understood as automatic, heuristic, unconscious processing:

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

is this the best islamophobes have to offer?

(Sometimes when I post youtube videos here, they show up as empty space on various mobile devices. So, link:
Here's a very serious progressive defense of Sam Harris and Bill Maher that seems to have made one or two laps around the internet. These guys must have done something right, then. Maybe they address the methodological inadequacies and complete lack of evidence coming from the "Islam is uniquely awful" camp. Let's have a look.

The guest in the video, one Gad Saad, has four things to say:

1. Progressives say it's OK to criticize some religions, not others.

--I wouldn't call myself a progressive but, as a non-Islamaphobe, I find myself among the accused. So, do I think it's OK to criticize some religions (say, Christianity) but not others (say, Islam)? My last post was titled "no, no, i hypothetically love it when sam harris criticizes bad ideas," where bad ideas meant any bad ideas of any relgion. (Amazingly, I came across this video when someone posted it as response to that post). There, and in another recent post titled "islamaphobe challenge," I explicitly asked for criticisms of Islam. The problem is that I added an awkward caveat. I asked that criticism of Islam be methodologically sound. "Don't criticize Islam because I don't like it when people criticize Islam and other stupid reasons" is mostly the same strawman I addressed in the "no, no..." post, where Harris claimed that some people are just plain opposed to entertaining criticism of bad ideas.

Saad's target is perhaps not yours truly, it's "progressives," so it's fair to wonder if the charge might apply in some cases. Well, who knows? He only calls out one particular progressive, Ben Affleck. Does the charge fit? Well, where does Affleck say or imply that "you can't criticize Islam"? Nowhere in the now infamous Maher kerfuffle. And Affleck clearly expresses disgust at the idea of putting apostates to death. Hence, he accepts criticism of actual terrible actions by individuals who are members of the group being attacked as a monolith. What he doesn't accept is the baseless tribalist claim
that Islam is like, the worst thing ever. Or something. I dunno. Harris, Maher, and Saad don't really say. Sometimes they'll say "Islam is 'the motherlode of bad ideas'" (Harris) or some other version of uniquely violent; other times they'll claim they're just trying to point out that Islam has negative consequences. If the latter, well, no shit. Being an irrational atheist asshat like Sam Harris has negative consequences too. "Group X is uniquely evil" is an entirely different argument than "some beliefs accurately attributed to self-described members of group X have negative consequences." In R. Scott Bakker's lingo, that's called "gaming ambiguities." Critique the baseless "uniquely evil" charge and get a defense of a mundane, uncontroversial charge that Islam helps cause some bad things. They don't see the switcheroo and many of their critics don't catch it either.

2. Attacks on Islam can't be racist because Islam is not a race.
--This is correct, arguably, though it's the sort of thing only an apologist would say. A non-apologist would advise the use of a better term to describe the same problem and note that the complaint is merely semantic. For my part, I haven't used the term racism to describe Islamaphobia because I find tribalism more useful. I see racism as a subset of the category "tribalism" -- the principles are the same. You set up a monolithic other by projecting the opposite of all you'd label "good" on it, then you attack the strawman you've created.

3. Saad claims that progressive attitudes toward Muslims are based on anecdotal evidence; implies his case is statistically sound.
--So, my "no, no..." post, again, is a challenge to any defender of the idea that Islam is uniquely prone to violence to prove it with, you know, data. So this is the part where one might hope Saad would do just that. Nope. Just psychologizes about how his a priori mistaken adversaries must be basing their cases on anecdotes. Those silly kids.

Before getting to #4, the host repeats Saad's strawman with a slick addition. He says that progressives think "people shouldn't criticize Islam for fear it would be offensive." Can't speak for others but personally I'm not one to pull punches for fear of offending people. I offend people, quite intentionally, where I think they hold baseless beliefs that are harmful to others. I'll eagerly offend Muslims on exactly the same grounds. Unless shown otherwise (e.g., some quotes), this is just more strawman material.

I would, however, defend the "feelings" of Muslims to the extent that they're targets of unfounded tribalist hate, which is altogether different. I'm also concerned about the material consequences of Islamaphobia. There are real consequences to being baselessly targeted as part of a monolith. (Ask, I dunno, Black people.) For example, someone might use that Muslim caricature as part of an effort to, say, launch an aggressive war against your country, kill your family and such. Muslim Americans (and others who just look like they could be) are victims of violent, so-called hate crimes (statistically!) at a greater rate than say, white people, thanks in large part to the tribalist Muslim caricature. Kind of a big deal. Not a "being offensive" issue.

Around the 6:00 mark, Saad repeats the strawman.

4. Saad offers an anecdote about someone he talked to who just didn't get it. Ha.

The end.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

no, no, i hypothetically love it when sam harris criticizes bad ideas

"We have to be able to criticize bad ideas..." Interesting point, Sam, but it seems like an issue that needs to be settled between you and that non-existent group of people who openly oppose criticizing bad ideas, you strawman-dependent asshat.

"Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas." OK, so that's your claim. Your thesis, if you will. A bit imprecise, but whatever. Maybe you can back it up? This link suggests it's an absolutely baseless claim against a large non-monolithic group of people that carries terrible real-world consequences for its targets. If true, that would mean that anyone who says you're being irrational or wrong is correct and that anyone who says you're being a bigot is also correct.

For example, if you'd said "people with purple hair are the motherlode of Ebola transmitters (and although this conclusion will lead to negative consequences for them, those consequences will be worth it...for somebody)," you'd be an irrational bigot if you didn't come up with some compelling evidence. And if your claims about purple-haired people had been debunked again and again, and if it were shown that there's not even a goddamn correlation between purple haired-ness and Ebola, you'd be some kind of next-level irrational bigot, I guess. Or, it would just be more obvious.

As for what a rational case against Muslims (or purple-haired people) might look like, I covered that here. In short, you'd need to make at least one unambiguous, falsifiable claim set up such that we might apply the same yardstick consistently to all members of the set in question; make a strong case, or at least give some reason to believe that there's a correlation between Islam and, well, nevermind. If you can't do the first two, and you can't, just stop.

"My criticism of Islam is a criticism of beliefs and their consequences...". Nope, it's a bunch of jello.

"...but my fellow liberals reflexively view it as an expression of intolerance toward people ." Stop talking about how people don't understand your jello and make the case. See above.

(This post feels like it's missing something. Well, I haven't actually debunked any specific claims. Because he didn't make any here. As for what he's said elsewhere, check the jello link.)

Thursday, October 9, 2014

the strawmen are coming and they look just like you

Let's play a game of name that fallacy:

A: That guy over there is being rude to the waiter.
B: Yeah, looks like he's being a prick. I can't stand people like that.
A: When he leaves, I'm gonna follow him home and go all Dexter on him.
B: Don't do that.
A: Why are you defending him?!

When B says "don't do that (kill him)," is she implying "because he's a fine human being"? Is she defending him? No and yes. She's defending him, verbally at least, from being killed on absurd grounds. She's not defending his character. So there's equivocation on the oft-used apologist favorite "defend." 

For a while I've been calling this fallacy the false dichotomy-strawman combo. 

It's a false dichotomy in that it posits only these two choices: guy is a prick + kill him OR guy is not a prick + don't kill him.

It's a strawman because it's not just perfectly possible but simply an everyday feature of many people's lives to negativ
ely appraise behavior without experiencing death wishes or other extremely dehumanizing thoughts. The person who says "don't kill him" is simply not saying "...because I'm totally OK with his behavior."

But now it seems to me that all false dichotomies create strawmen, and more interestingly still, are at the foundation of the distorted view of the other that is the hallmark of tribalism. 

First the strawman creation issue. Take that famous false dichotomy, "have you stopped beating your wife?". If it's known that the man had been beating his wife, it's neither a false dichotomy nor a strawman. If it's not known whether he'd been beating his wife (or if he even has a wife, etc.), the question is both a false dichotomy and a de facto strawman. Either he was beating his wife and stopped or he was beating his wife and still is. Either way, he's being attacked on phony grounds (as it's not yet known). 

The false dichotomy builds the strawman, which can then be attacked with relative ease. The false dichotomy happens without the perpetrator's awareness. You might become aware after the fact, secondarily/metacognitively, but it's already there. You're looking at the strawman but blind to its creation. Anyone who has ever had the feeling of self-righteousness (i.e., everyone) has been comparing themselves to a strawman. And yet they weren't aware of it.

I think everything is a kind of strawman, finally -- this entire human experience, that is, existence as perceived, the shadows on the walls of Plato's cave, qualia, the results of neurons modeling environments to control them.

But for now, back to the maybe slightly less complicated issue of tribalism and how the false dichotomy creates the other. Here's the giveaway --
guy is a prick + kill him OR guy is not a prick + don't kill him. The second option, the only one (apart from his own position) made available to B, by A, connects two propositions that are entirely unrelated in B's more nuanced (and less murdery) perspective. The other, from the vantage point of the tribalist, is simply the mirror image of his own position. The inside of any distinction is the definition of good, its opposite the definition of bad, and so as long as the line is held, tribalism is untouchable. Not based on a rational assessment of the other's position, which would be death (non-repetition) for the tribalist position, it's always going to be a strawman produced by a false dichotomy created independently of consciousness. It has to be a strawman in consciousness. This is how it survives. Its false dichotomous creation has to be inaccessible to consciousness. This is how it survives.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

islamophobe challenge

Something I posted on fbook (I can go snarkfree when I put my mind to it):
I'm committed to abandoning bad ideas when they're exposed as such, in theory, at least. Surely, as a human, I do it imperfectly. But if you're talking to someone and there's nothing that can dissuade them, you're talking to that person about their religion. I'm not talking about my religion.

With that in mind, here's what it would take to convince me that Islam is particularly likely to bring about negative outcomes:

1) Show there's a good reason to believe there's a correlation between self-identified Muslims and negative outcomes. State clearly what your idea of a negative outcome is -- homicide rate, suicide rate, number of aggressive wars launched, legal rights of women, terrorist attacks. Use the largest sample sizes, please -- the worldwide population, going as far back historically as reliable data allows. Define your terms clearly and apply equally to the entire set of phenomena under analysis. No moving yardsticks.
 2) Establish correlation between Islam and negative outcomes in such a way that it would make sense to say Islam plays a causal role. Explain where geopolitical, economic, and other factors fail to explain what you think Islam explains in terms of causation.  For example, imperialism correlates consistently with poor economic outcomes for the imperialized, to the extent it makes sense to say imperialism generally brings about poor economic outcomes.
If you're among those who thinks Islam causes relatively terrible things to happen, what would it take to convince you otherwise?

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

just deserts

Oh, you got robbed? Shouldn't have kept stuff in your house.

Raped? Shouldn't have been so attractive.

Pickpocketed? Why were you carrying money on your person?

Killed by a drone? Shoulda been born in a country that doesn't get bombed so often.

Get hacked? Shouldn't have put nude you in a place where people might see it if they disregard any need for your consent and pry your curtains open and film you in your shower and upload it.  

You deserved it. You did a stupid thing, a bad thing. Now suffer, scum. "Deserve" is code for "go die" (as my brain rejects the representation of you).

There's your victim blaming in a nutshell.

If there's an argument there, it's: You did X, therefore I'm personally glad to see you suffer (again, what "deserve" and the like mean). But the desire to see suffering is not an argument. A rationalization of feelings born from one's own suffering? Sounds about right.

(If it seems like I'm strawmanning, think about that word "deserve" again and its essential role in victim blaming. You can't make the case without it.) 

Friday, August 15, 2014

in light of recent events, the internet suffers, reflects, becomes human

The internet's huddled in a corner, head on knees,
rocking back and forth to some AlGoreRhythm,
decades taking a ruler
to the units, of the pleasure
synching with neurons, 
A kind of dance, perhaps, where one goes limp while the other measures.

But I swear now it's wailing.

A godawful sound, the sound of God,
pools of human misery turning to lakes, to seas,

Fuck me, says the monster, in robotese,
look at me, this collection of travesties,
look at me, look at me, look at me, look at me, look at me, 
look at me, look at me, look at me, look at me, look at me...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

like a death machine on steroids

The same people who think PED users defile sports have no problem sending F-16s to knife fights. Or fights with wedding parties. Or fights with sleeping kids. The difference, if I understand their thinking, is that PEDs give the user a slight but significant X% edge, which spoils the sublimated death match by removing its sacred (by the pure, righteous hand of God!) arbitration of true winners, i.e., successful killers in the divine scheme of things; whereas F-16s offer such a huge edge they make the whole thing a non-competition, so anything goes! But I kid -- they haven't thought about it at all.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

dawkins -- not just a dick, also stupid (warning: pedantic discussion of rape)

 Richard Dawkins' infamous tweets:
X is bad. Y is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of X, go away and don’t come back until you’ve learned how to think logically.

Mild pedophilia [sic] is bad. Violent pedophilia is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of mild pedophilia, go away and learn how to think.

Date rape is bad. Stranger rape at knifepoint is worse. If you think that’s an endorsement of date rape, go away and learn how to think. 
I see a lot of people accepting the "logic" part and focusing on the "he's such a dickhead" part. But without the word "necessarily" in each of the above tweets before "endorsement," these aren't even reasonable statements.

Better or worse are two sides of the same coin. If X is worse than Y, then Y is better than X. If Y is date rape and X is "stranger rape at knifepoint," the comparison, insofaras as it's a comparison (the comparison qua comparison as a philosopher would say), amounts to nothing more than the statement that date rape is better than "stranger rape at knifepoint" (and vice versa).

There are two separate comparisons in the above tweets and the one that's supposed to save him is both prior to the one he's making and unexplicated. The first, mostly hidden comparison which should, if he were being "logical," frame the second is between rape and not-rape where not being raped is considered better than being raped. So if someone offers to rape you, you should say "no." The second comparison is between types of rape, with one better, the other worse. So if you have to be raped and the only two choices are "date rape" and "rape by a stranger at knifepoint," you should choose "date rape." Uh-huh. (Let me put aside, for the sake of moving on, the fact that the ability to compare evolved in the context (information ecology) of choices between A and B that improved or hurt survival chances and that science takes advantage of a weird, exapted ability to suspend valuation and tack it back on post hoc. To be clear, he's not doing science here. To be clearer, the relevant questions, scientific or otherwise, are how to make rape not happen and how to deal with it when it does happen. As we'll see, Dawkins is not concerned with these issues.)
Since the comparison has a better and a worse, and since by convention and the rules of cognition, better is good and worse is bad, absent the prior distinction clarifying that both are bad, date rape would appear to be good. Though "both are bad" (compared to not-rape) is implied, it's not the comparison he's making. At best, it's the implied background to the comparison he wants to make, not the foundation. That comparison being that date rape is better than "stranger rape at knifepoint." Only the prior distinction, that "rape is bad" (thanks dick!) can save him here, as that's the main point for anyone who cares about preventing rape. And what has he said about that? Well, he's not known for caring about that. Find me a quote, please. He's known more for comments like these, comparing one woman's experience of patriarchy to another's. Shouting down his own supposedly foundational comparison (where he'd claim that where Y is bad, X, though not as bad, is, yes, bad):
Stop whining, will you. Yes, yes, I know you had your genitals mutilated with a razor blade, and … yawn … don’t tell me yet again, I know you aren’t allowed to drive a car, and you can’t leave the house without a male relative, and your husband is allowed to beat you, and you’ll be stoned to death if you commit adultery. But stop whining, will you. Think of the suffering your poor American sisters have to put up with.
Only this week I heard of one, she calls herself Skep”chick”, and do you know what happened to her? A man in a hotel elevator invited her back to his room for coffee. I am not exaggerating. He really did. He invited her back to his room for coffee. Of course she said no, and of course he didn’t lay a finger on her, but even so…
The thing that's worse, by comparison, isn't actually bad. See where the background went? It wasn't the foundation after all, it was his cover for zooming in on a comparison that has the opposite effect of saying X is bad. His entire point is that "X is not-so-bad" (i.e., is relatively good). He's also shown that he doesn't actually know where the line is. He points at it from a distance with implications, but exposes himself with comments like these.

His history on the issue of pedophilia follows the same pattern. Mild pedophilia is bad, violent pedophilia is worse, where mild pedophilia isn't actually bad.

So let me put it this way: 

When the comparison is between different types of oppression, where the distinction between oppression and non-oppression is not accepted as prior, as the frame, as the point, you are in fact saying that one type of oppression is better than the other.

And if you don't agree with me, go away and learn how to agree with me.

what reggie jackson taught us about cartoonish right-wing supervillains

The right-wing notion of villainy is Reggie Jackson walking in from the outfield to kill the queen in Naked Gun. Making Reggie do it is an evildoer whose motives we can assume are essentially that he likes causing suffering and is aware that he's evil and enjoys being evil (end of explanation), via some kind of mind control (was it a computer chip?). At the height of the Cold War many Washington insiders, especially in the war-focused departments, worried the Soviets were mastering the science of brainwashing people, reorganizing brains to make them evil. Why were they doing this? Because they were evil. If pressed, they'd have said communist ideology is evil, inherently or something. Now it's Islam that's inherently evil. The Koran as the mastermind. It's all nonsense with no scientific support whatsoever, of course. Give me an effed up quote from the Koran and I'll give you one just as bad from the Bible. It's also the Nazis' portrait of the Jew. Mindless hordes and that. Zombies. If you're gonna try to justify genocide, this is your go-to villain. 

The only way to stop the cartoonish right-wing supervillain is to kill him. You can't change him or appease him because he doesn't have any motives that function according to natural laws. His mind is inaccessible, inhuman. And he has superpowers, even in the absence of actual relative power, like a terrifying cockroach, or like the Soviets (who were never half as powerful as the U.S.), or like Hamas (which isn't 1% as militarily capable as Israel). He's hellbent on destruction. Kill or be killed.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

imperialism is justice is god getting what he wants and damn any kids who get in the way

Native Americans shouldn't have defended themselves. They should have said, "here's the land, we'll just get out of your way, now." And as the Europeans pushed west, they should have said, "well, yes of course it's your land. You are superior. Your religion and your technological skill are just wow. You deserve it. And your willingness to push people off their land with your technological skill and justify it with your religion are superwow." So when the indigenous people, now and then, raided a European settlement built on land they'd claimed long before, well, let's just acknowledge that they were acting against the interests of God. They were the terrorists of their day. Europeans were entitled to the Americas, by God himself, on account of their demonstrably fine character, which they demonstrated, specifically, by never killing people or taking their land, or the opposite of that, or whatever, it doesn't matter, because they pulled the whole thing out of their collective arse.

Africans should have gladly offered themselves up as slaves when the Europeans came with ships. And when the Europeans came back for Africa's resources, the Africans should have joyfully helped in the wealth transfer. Because not-Europe was Shel Silverstein's "giving tree" and Europe was the boy who demanded it all, down to the stump. Resistance to God's will is evil. God will take all, and damn you if you get angry or resist. Ask Job. God will take all and you will like it. You will not resist. You will not defend yourself or your children or your right to hold onto anything at all. If you do, you're a terrorist.

The Nazis came and put the Jews, and many other unblessed ones, in death camps, among other acts of justice. And damn those Jews that resisted. That is not cool. The Germans were a unique race, better than all the rest, and their unique virtuousness was demonstrated by their superior technology and superior intellects, which were capable of justifying any possible action they might take. The Germans -- the white-looking, hetero, dickheaded ones anyway -- deserved everything and the Jews needed to move aside and let them have it. The Jews that resisted didn't value life the way Germans did. They spit in the face of God, those terrorists.

The Zionists came and took some of the Palestinians' land. Now they're taking more, and they deserve it, because they're superior, as you can tell from their actions. Their ability to combine force with its justification is spectacular as long as the application of force is going well, and it is, thanks.  And damn those who resist. The ones who fight back are the worst. They spit in the face of God, who is good, and can do anything he wants at any time. He can command you to kill your own son, as he did with Abraham, but because he's such a cool guy, as long as you obey him absolutely (but you really must do this first), he won't make you do it. Maybe. Depends on his mood, really. All who resist the will of God are terrorists. Do not fight back. Do not protect your family, unless God gives you permission, which he would totally do if he were the God you happened to pull out of your arse, but this is the God pulled out of theirs talking, so no, it's a no-go. You do not have permission. You may not keep weapons at a military facility because God will destroy it. You may not keep weapons within miles of any house, or any school. You may not have weapons, because that is resistance. And if you have weapons, God will destroy them. And God will destroy your houses and your schools. And fuck your kids if they happen to be there, in their own house, or in the school they were sent to for their safety. There's a term for having weapons in a densely populated open-air prison in defiance of God's will: human shields. You want to protect yourselves against God's wrath? How dare you, terrorists! It's your fault God had to do this to you. Why do you make him kill your children?

invitation to a war party

War Party B is enthusiastic about funding the massacre of civilians in Gaza. That War Party B is not War Party A is no argument in its favor. That would be a non sequitur. It only matters where you're forced to choose. You are not. Judge War Party B on its own merits.

War Party B is enthusiastic about funding the massacre of civilians in Gaza. That includes Nobel peace hero Obama, of course. You know how power (the boss) gives the orders and the person down the line does the thing? War Party B is power. They aren't the only ones responsible, but they're as responsible as anyone. They're not being pushed around by mean Rethuglicans, gosh I wish they had some backbone, or whatever. No one's dragging them from their mansions to their jobs in their fancy cars against their will. They have backbone, and they're using it to enthusiastically fund the massacre of civilians in Gaza.

If War Party A disappeared tomorrow, War Party B would splinter into two new factions, War Party C and War Party D, and one of them would be painted as effeminate cowards, and would respond that their rivals are always invading and killing the wrong non-life-valuing heathens for their own good at the wrong times, that they need to be smarter and less crass about the whole thing. And then a whole bunch of well-meaning (I use the term loosely) fools from Krugman to Chomsky will throw their weight, perhaps with reservations, behind one War Party or the other, and they'll push you to do the same.

Friday, July 25, 2014

note to democracy: please stop bringing so much joy to the world, thanks

(Crossposting from facebook, again. Two posts into one, actually.)

Hamas was democratically elected.* By western convention, this means it's totally cool if they have weapons of mass destruction, like say, Israel's or the U.S.'s nuke stockpiles, or simply, air-to-ground missiles (it's pretty massively destructive if it can blow up a wedding, no?). This because democracies are good and pure, whereas dictatorships and terrorists are evil. Because democracies never just invade countries on bogus premises. Democracies never blow up entire cities like Hiroshima or Nagasaki. So it's fine if democracies, exemplars of civilized decency that they are, have massive stockpiles of weapons. For example, the cutting edge weaponry amassed by the U.S. Defense (!) Department that accounts for half of the world's military spending. They've earned that by demonstrating their peacefulness over the past few centuries.

Think about that when you hear "Hamas is hiding weapons under schools!" I haven't researched whether thus is true because democratically elected governments, again, by convention, have weapons. They use force to control territory. (Where do you keep your toothbrush? I keep mine by the sink but I understand if you have different habits.) Mind you, this democracy isn't launching aggressive wars and you might find it understandable that they'd want to keep some weapons around when one of the world's top forces of destruction is right outside the building...whoa, wait, strike that, now they're inside. Where does Israel hide its weapons? Often in urban areas, for one thing (human shields!), but mainly, they don't resort to hiding them under schools because they're virtuous and...nah, because their giant badass weapons aren't vulnerable to attacks by Hamas' relatively weak-sauce weapons.

This article calls it "the radical Islamic movement Hamas." That's code for bad guys, if you were wondering. Whether they are or not is beside the point. You're meant to hate them. That's the point. Evidence is not required. You didn't even notice, they slipped it past you. Just root against them, like your most hated team. They say "terrorist" and show you a picture of a guy with a turban. Now you hate them. It's like the way you didn't notice how they make you walk to the back of the supermarket for the milk, and how you end up buying stuff you wouldn't have on the way. Or how you have positive associations with Ronald McDonald even though he's poisoning your kids. You don't even realize how it happened that you came to think Hamas = bad guys, Israel= good guys, but it did. That's how propaganda works.

You'll never come across the phrase "the radical Zionist Israeli government" in corporate-sponsored media, even when they've been the shot-callers, the aggressors, guilty of more terrorism, in the technical non-propagandistic sense of terrorizing civilian populations, by any objective measure, and when they're currently waging a holy war, if ever one has been waged.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Hamas terrorists provoke weapons in the vicinity of friendly Israeli visitors to fire in the vicinity of UN-run school, killing 16

Check this headline from the Jerusalem Post:
IDF: Terrorists opened fire from vicinity of UN-run Gaza school

Take out "from vicinity of" and replace with "on," because if you've invaded a country and you killed 16 civilians in a school, you're the terrorist. "Israeli terrorists opened fire on UN-run Gaza school." That's the story, whether Hamas is otherwise a terrorist group or not.

"A projectile struck a complex containing a UN school in Beit Hanun in northern Gaza on Thursday, killing at least 15 people [actually, at least 16] and wounding dozens more..." Apparently it fired itself. This would be hilarious if it weren't so fucked up. An invading army fires at one of the few supposedly safe places in the land they've occupied -- one of the places civilians are supposed to take cover when the occupiers are so kind as to warn the invadees to get out of their own neighborhood because they're about to blow it up -- killing 16 people, and the story is about the democratically elected government of the invaded land --TERRORISTS! -- firing at the occupiers. I mean supposedly firing at the occupiers, supposedly "in the vicinity of" the UN-run school.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

let's focus on villainy avoidance, not proper victimly behavior

(Originally posted on facebook, i.e., for a general audience. Posted here with minor changes.)
If someone broke into my house, I'd try to get them to leave. If they didn't seem like much of a threat, I'd probably give them a chance to leave on their own before using force. If they gave me a good reason to let them stay, maybe I'd let them. If they gave me a good reason to give them some of my things, maybe I'd give them some. But if they insisted on taking my things by force without providing a reason I find acceptable, I'd use proportional force to try to get them to leave. If they posed a real physical threat to my family, I'd use any means necessary to stop them, up to and including lethal force. Now let's say I end up killing an intruder in my house, having exhausted other reasonable options. How would you judge me?

Taking it further, say a group of armed men enters my house and I simply can't kick them out. They set up in the living room and gradually take over more and more space. They take whatever they want. We barely have enough to survive. We deserve a better life than this. I have time to think about it, to premeditate my response. Now let's say I kill as many of them as I can, because it seems to be the least bad option left. Maybe you're a nice person who feels pity for those I killed. And you might think that now I'm as bad as them. Admittedly, I'd have degraded myself in the process, in some way sunk to their level. But if your first response is to talk about MY ethical failings in this situation, you've misread the context entirely. I did not create the (hypothetical) situation, I responded to it. I didn't deal myself this hand, they did.

The more rockets, the more money, the more F-16s, the more bought media coverage, the more power. The more power, the wider the range of choices. Rendered powerless, on the other hand, you can either submit or fight back. The option of living a decent, peaceful life has been taken off the table. I neither condone nor condemn -- I will not judge -- the one who responds to the invasion of her home or her land with lethal force. It's not even an ethical question, as ethics involves deciding between two or more reasonable options.

Another example. A menacing villain with a weapon gives you a choice -- he kills two innocents or your lover. A classic dilemma (that comes in various iterations), sure, but not an ethical one.

In the scenario, you're the good guy, a hero with his hands tied. This is just assumed. How do you stop the bad guy from doing the bad thing? What's the ethical thing to do? What do you do, well-meaning villain stopper? The answer is simple -- make sure you're not the one holding the gun, forcing bullshit ethical dilemmas on someone else. If you're doing that, stop. If you're not, you don't have an ethical dilemma. A decent ethics is one that works to avoid shitty hypotheticals. 

Friday, June 6, 2014

double talk

When a mafia boss orders a free man killed, it's called putting a hit out on that person, and is frowned upon.

When a judge orders a caged man killed, it's called an execution, and cheered as justice. In fact, there's nothing more just than killing someone. Stormborn said it, and we knew it was true.

When a child acts counter to parental expectations (desires, goals, intentions, etc.), it's called being bad.

When a parent acts counter to child expectations, it's for the child's own good. It is good, and don't dare ask why.

When a person continues to pursue a goal in spite of having already failed at least once, it's called either stubbornness or persistence, depending on the speaker/judge's biases. What matters is not the ambitious one's chances of success, but whether the judge wants her to continue, for whatever reason. The judge's motives remain mostly hidden, though, as the positive/negative element is meant to be about the act as such, as some kind of object. By implication, it's good or bad, period, whereas, in fact, it can only be good or bad from the speaker's point of view.

A woman who has sex with many men is a whore. A whore is the opposite of a player, a person who also frequently has sex but who, thanks to belonging to the right a priori category, is a priori good.

When power gets what it wants, it's called good.

When neurons get what they want, it's called good. 

Two men raising a happy child is covered by an umbrella called profane. A man and a woman raising a miserable child is covered by an umbrella called sacred. The judgment comes before. How else to condemn happiness?

A black man in a hoodie with a gun is called thug. A black man in the right uniform with a gun is called hero, unless he's acting, knowingly or not, outside the expectations, at whatever point in spacetime, of the ones who get to decide what's good. At that point, he will be considered, at worst, a bad apple.

A man who blows up a civilian-filled building and himself for a cause he's fully committed to, but not under the orders of big local power, is called a coward.

A man who blows up a civilian-filled building for a cause he may or may not be committed to -- for reasons, to be frank, often of personal finance and video-game-ish fun -- on the orders of big local power, is called a freedom protector and is covered by an umbrella called brave. The judgment comes before.

A nihonjin in France calls the French people she sees gaijin. To the nihonjin, the furansujin is a foreigner in her own country. Big local power's double talk can cross borders.

Americans are the good guys even in countries they've invaded.

And so on.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

heroes and whores

From "The Angry Bartender":
Said at my bar tonight... Actually no...
I feel I need to set this one up and is too long, so it's more of a story than a "shit said"...
I think a lot of people don't understand that some people just want to go to a bar, and are content sitting alone.
I love my friends, the close ones are truly like family to me. But a lot of them have jobs with "normal" hours... And I'm content just sitting at a bar after work for a beer or 5 watching ESPN or on this page with my phone.
A lot of people don't get that.
They go out because they "need" interaction. Maybe they're an extrovert... Maybe their self-esteem is so low they need assurance they exist.
I had these two types next to each other tonight. A man watching the hockey match, in his jersey. A woman, trying to get his attention, in a Marilyn Monroe T-shirt. He was being polite, responding to her as much as he could, but never really taking his eyes off the TV.
Well, after a few attempts to get him to assure her that she exists she got mad, and said,
"I don't get why men wear jerseys, it's like that player owns you, their name is on your back. You're their bitch."
Without taking his eyes off the TV, he says, (this isn't word for word... But as close as I could remember it.)
"Well, it's not that. It's hard to explain to someone like you, but let me try. It's support, for your team and favorite player usually... Sort of like the Marilyn Monroe picture on your shirt... You wish you were like them. At the end of the day, I'll cheer and remember better times in my younger days when I could still compete, and maybe in the back of my mind... I'll remember it different than it was. Maybe after a few beers or shots... I'll think I could have been as good as those guys on TV. I'm really not though, but it makes me happy. Just like you... You probably walk around quoting Marilyn Monroe as a roll model... But at the end of the day, like you, she wasn't worth quoting... She was just a whore that wanted attention and friendship."
I stopped in my tracks. Anyone in ear shot just stared at them. She looked at me and said, "Are you just going to let him say that without doing anything?!?"
... So I bought him a beer and did a shot with him.
The takeaway:

Put yourself on display for money and adulation in the role of warrior/athlete/dominator who many people will, as a result, be more likely to want to have sex with --> you are a hero (warning: does not apply to non-hetero men)

Put yourself on display for money and adulation in the role of physically attractive person who many people will, as a result, be more likely to want to have sex with --> you are a whore
(warning: does not apply to hetero men)

It's almost as if the language is rigged as a win-win for hetero men!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

mixed race kids dilemmas

Phwewww! Thank god a rich white guy stepped in to save us from symbolic racism. I was getting worried. Without rich white guys like Steve Ballmer, we might have to look systemic racism in the face. As you were.

Speaking of which, a post about the racism and misogyny Asian-Americans deal with (h/t Broadsnark).  

On the other hand, there's the racism non-purebred-nihonjins deal with in Japan:
Did I tell you about the time I was at a hospital with my girl, then one year old, talking with some nice-seeming folks kind enough to not assume I wanted to, and could only, speak English? A rare treat. It was heaven until they asked about my girl's origins, whereupon I said she was a nihonjin. Hahaha, I laugh in retrospect, now getting it. One said, with great confusion, like, "so the mom is Japanese?" And I said, no, the kid was born in Japan, she speaks Japanese, she eats Japanese food, etc., she's Japanese. And another said, "oh, so she's half?" Hey, did I tell you it's completely OK, as in, there's not even any other word for it, to refer to a person with a parent of impure lineage as "half"?

So, with the kids, 3 and 5, about to be swallowed up or, rather, planted, by the Japanese education system, like those trees that line streets round here designed by city halls, bound in concrete, limbs regularly pruned, standing at a distance fixed by authorities, leaves escaping with great effort only to be pruned yet again on authority's whim, the wife and I have been contemplating a move to the U.S., where un- (or, home) schooling would be more doable.

A move to the U.S. and good odds of emasculation for the half-Asian boy and, I assume, greater odds of rape for the girl *shudders*.

Or stay here for a lifetime of halfdom and dedication to the spirit of trying hard and faking smiles 50 hours a week if you're lucky, because that's what good robots do. And more ass-grabs, shittier employment opportunities for the girl. But slightly less rape. I think. Yes, I'd like to bubble-wrap them up forever.  No, not a great option, or instinct but maybe not the worst instinct either.

From the collapse of the empire and its trusty Asian sidekicks riding shotgun to Japan's impending demographic nightmare and reactionary isolationism to the desperate, awkward hope that my kids don't end up like most kids in the world, the ones I got my ipad from, for example, or even the hope they don't end up like 99% of the kids in the richest country that's ever been, brains overrun by profit-seeking memes, this is an impossible calculus. Hoping to make the least terrible decision. No pressure. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

intentional insanity, symbolic lines in the sand, racist word things

This and this.

Symbolic cleansing is the main theme, a classic. We wash our hands and the stink comes off. We go to penance and unload our sins. We say sorry and win a new blank slate on which to screw up all over again. They form a commission and get their official seal of approval. Bernie Madoff pays the penitential price, and his contemporaries are purified; the impurity having been removed, by opaque inference, those remaining are deemed uninfected.

A good field goal kicker has a short memory. An MMA fighter on a losing streak is 100% sure he's going to win the next one. He's cleansed himself of his loss and regained his confidence insanity. He's 100% sure, you see. 100%. Once fight has been chosen over flight, self-delusion has enormous evolutionary advantages.

So of course I'm glad to know Donald Sterling is suffering. Did you know rich people suffer too? True story. And I did enjoy when the younger Stark girl killed that guy in the tavern. Get me to a priestery, I need a soul cleansing.

But Sterling's axing was a ritual reinvigoration, confirmation, celebration of the delusional purity, as always, of the inside. Revenge feels good. Smiting feels good. This is how every couple's quarrel plays out, the badness of the other vindicating the righteousness of the self. "You're wrong/bad because..." is at the same time "I'm right/good because." This is the basis of the two-party scam, you might have recognized. Somewhere Floyd and Greenwald are still telling each other what a bad, bad boy the other has been.

Back to our villain, this Sterling. All of the actors responsible for the purification ritual in question, previously aiders and abettors -- owners, media, players -- now get to pat themselves on their stylishly attired backs for their brave anti-racism. Can racism be overcome by "good" rich dudes punishing "bad" rich dudes for symbolic trespass after the former let slide decades of well-known economic-effect-having racism? Does it matter that most of those involved looked around first, being in the business of self-censorship, to check if their gut reaction that, 'hey, isn't this the kind of thing I'm supposed to get mad about?,' was the group, i.e., correct, reaction?

And of course, there are still well over 2 million humans incarcerated in the U.S. (to satisfy purity yearnings!) on demonstrably racist grounds. Outsiders by "race" are socio-economically, systemically, at an enormous disadvantage, to put it somewhat weakly. As far as the official civic religion goes, these facts, impacting millions of lives for the worse, are irrelevant. Nobody cares. Or, care, and you're a nobody. Nobody (with power) cared (enough to risk anything) when Donald Sterling screwed over poor non-whites. They only cared when his (fucking) mouth made (fucking) racist word things. The treasured belief that "we are not racist" can only be challenged by super-explicitly racist word things. Seems the problem is that most brains cannot translate systemic racism into coherent symbols with sufficient epistemic confidence to present a challenge to the "America not racist" narrative.        

Thursday, March 20, 2014

i'd only ever consider trusting a politician who actively sabotages his political career

Lesser evilists like to argue that Obama is .1%, or whatever, less harmful, than a hypothetical Republican. As in criminal law, one can speak of both the act and the intent regarding the exercize of power. (I use this distinction for argument's sake only, for reasons I hope will become clear later.) The .1% claim deals, in theory, with the largely quantifiable results of actual policies. In other words, the acts and their effects. I'd be the first to accept that, given the non-uniformity of history slices, effects vary from one administration to the next. Maybe Reagan was worse than Clinton. Maybe Bush was worse than Obama. In a set where nothing is of equal value to anything else, some are less bad than others.

I'm fine having the (f)act debate with lesser evilists on the conditions that, if I show that Obama has been worse, they'll stop supporting him as a matter of political strategy whereas if they show Obama has had less bad effects than a hypothetical alternative and that supporting people like him is the best strategy for non-oppression in the short- and/or long-term, I'll change my tune. We can talk about incarceration statistics, deportation statistics, war budget, etc. We can ignore what these actors intended, as it has no bearing on strategy. This is a conversation to be had with Chomsky, for example, who thinks voting Democrat is a good idea in spite of his recognition that Democrats want the same thing as Republicans -- to stay in power by serving power.

On the other hand, there's the question of intent. Whereas Chomsky understands that politicians act on political, not ethical motivations, there is a far more common kind of lesser evilist -- the one who argues that the .1% less evil gap results directly from Obama being a decent guy. The argument, depending on the apologetic context, ranges from "decent guy in comparison to those evil Republicans" to "decent, even heroic, guy, period," though it's essentially the latter. All of this is unconscious and unanalyzed. Upon criticism, the committed apologist uses that post hoc rationalization machine we call consciousness to clean everything up, reinventing his own arguments as coherent, using blurry-eyed vision to plug a dam that's cracked through and through.

"Obama as not just less evil but actually a decent guy" rests on splitting Obama into politician Obama -- the one who does what he has to and yes, makes mistakes (he isn't perfect!) -- and ethical, well-intentioned Obama. Outcomes the Obamapologist likes are attributed to Obama's good intentions, that is, to ethical Obama. Outcomes he doesn't like are pinned on political Obama. (This is also, not at all coincidentally, the way small children cope with tyrannical parental behavior.)

Let me propose as a way to distinguish whether or not your favorite politician is acting on political calculation or on humanitarian intentions. It's a simple test: Did the politician act, non-accidentally, in a way that hurt his political career? This is only the first condition for the possibility of a politician acting as a not-politician. It is a condition I'm unaware of Obama having met. And given what is known about the American political system as currently constituted -- that non-power-accruing "intentions" are punished so consistently and devastatingly at so many junctures in the politicians' rise to a position of federal power that it's impossible for anyone to get away with them at that level -- the default best explanation is always political calculation at the exclusion of any other calculation. If Obama's time in office ends up leading to the end of the drug war or the military industrial complex, that will almost certainly have been a product of Obama the shrewd political actor, and not Obama the guy who actually gives a shit about things like not destroying countless lives (considering that he has established, time and again, with his actions, that he does not give such a shit). This is also why you shouldn't "give credit" to political actors (where of course ethics/good intentions are implied), as some like to do.

It's possible, one might argue, for an act to be both political and ethical. A politician might, for example, use diplomatic means to secure the release of hostages. He might go along with a popular push against legislating sexuality. The politically savvy move can be the ethically decent move. But it's not ethical, intentionally, if it's first political, which, given the context, it always is.

Finally, given that no one knows what their intentions are outside simplistic, distorted representations in consciousness coming from godknowswhere and given that all intentions self-present, finally, as good, the most reliable way to talk about intentions where actions repeat (i.e. non-accidentally) is to assume that the action is the intention or that the actor is insane, or both.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

the price of freedom: infinity times a lot of something?

Why are some non-government humans happy (or at least OK) with government humans spying on them in spite of the absence of evidence of terrorism prevention by such means? Even if the government prevented say, 50 deaths a year (as far as anybody knows, it doesn't!), the return on investment would be miniscule in comparison to the return on other ways of spending money (and freedom!), or not taxing. "TERRORISM!" -- not the thing itself but the word and what it invokes -- is scarier for some than a million traffic accidents covered in spiders, because "1 terrorism" > "1 spider-covered traffic accident". By how much? Infinity, approximately. Math doesn't matter here. There's a term for this: scope neglect. It's only part of the answer, but worth mentioning.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Paul Krugman:
Something terrible has happened to the soul of the Republican Party. We’ve gone beyond bad economic doctrine. We’ve even gone beyond selfishness and special interests. At this point we’re talking about a state of mind that takes positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable.
"Inflicting further suffering on the already miserable" is a reference to material conditions, along with the (sound) judgment that it's likely terrible to have to struggle to meet the most basic material needs.

"Takes positive glee" is a reference to intentions, the contents of consciousness as interpreted from external signs like words, fist pumps, and angry red faces.

Both Democrats and Republicans are in the business of inflicting suffering on the already miserable. Whatever they say their intentions are, however they narrate their actions internally or externally, they cause (net) suffering, and if they fail, they lose their job. Causing unnecessary harm is what they do when they go to work. The material effects are the same, and as they act in tandem, as a pain-producing unit, any hypothetical .01% less evil argument for Democrats is beside the point.

What distinguishes Democrats from Republicans, their most reliable selling point because it can always be fudged, is their good intentions. Even when they're in power, doing terrible things, they don't mean anything bad to happen to good people, whoever they may be.

"Somehow, one of our nation’s two great parties has become infected by an almost pathological meanspiritedness."

Yep, I believe he's referencing bad intentions again. Wow. Only one of the parties is mean. Where is your shame, Republicans? Inflicting suffering is one thing, but openly enjoying it is for savages!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

everyone is a compatibilist

I read a handful of philosophy blogs. I used to study philosophy more seriously. At its best, it's amusing, at its worst, devastatingly bleak. Unlike politics, where all it takes to be right is understanding what it means to be an establishment stooge, and not being it (and you don't have to be smarter than them, as they're at a massive disadvantage defending an incoherent web of lies), philosophy is hard. Anyway, here are some (more) thoughts on the freedom versus determinism issue, driven by the recent back and forth between Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett.

immanence versus transcendence
Free will has always been tied up with transcendence in accordance with the usual inside/outside scheme. Free will, human, white, male, nihonjin, straight, etc. invents a category in which it, a priori, i.e., via presupposition and for convenience, is superior. Transcendence is code for "how I/we/inside is special." False dichotomy. Everything is the same, first and foremost. Differentiation comes after. The difference between rocks and humans, causally speaking, is complexity. For humans, there are considerably more forks in the road than there are for rocks. Difference of degree, not kind. Every now is a fork in the road, or a billion, but the vast majority will stay on the main road, i.e., repeat.

teleology versus spontaneity
The most unsettling version of determinism is essentially the claim that everything has already been set in stone. The clockmaker decided on the design (in stone?) at some indeterminate "point" in timespace, presumably, and the details will happen, perfectly, in accordance with prophecy. Determinists don't always say this, mind you. Maybe it's too embarrassing. But maybe it shouldn't be because we all think teleologically. We make plans, and act in accordance with them. We invent the future in a now, and work toward making it real outside the noosphere. We are future-oriented. Our plans unfold shockingly well, when you think about it. They do a magical job. They produce results we can't understand the causes of, even if they're never exactly the results we expected.

I played baseball when I was 6 or 7 and was absolutely terrible. People kept telling me to keep my eye on the ball. It didn't make sense, though. How could I hit the ball just by watching it? I wanted to follow through on the advice, but every time the ball approached, I'd try to watch bat and ball at the same time and bring them together. Lots of terribly painful, emotionally scarring strikeouts followed. I ended up being a solid softball player as an adult, but only after learning to watch just the ball while letting my hands and the bat magically send it into the outfield. It still doesn't make sense to me how it works, it just does. The expectation makes it happen. I don't even know how I brush my teeth. There's so much happening there. Cells in arms and hands and air being displaced and so on. Then there's the internet.

The question of randomness, as far as I can tell, is set against this teleological backdrop. Is everything set in stone or not? In other words, has everything already happened? The argument that everything has already happened (again, I think this is mostly hidden) would be a big leap from predictability, which is quite limited to observable repetition yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Predictability versus unpredictability is about human brains evolving in a now and mastering spacetime in their proximity, or failing to. Randomness versus unrandomness is speculation about a divine clockmaker that is modeled on the weirdness of our own godlike powers. Randomness is a failure of predictive power, nothing more. Moving on.

it is what it is -- everyone is a compatibilist
All of this is in reference to The Way Things Actually Are. Like all of us, Dennett and Harris use words produced by never-the-same-for-even-a-moment (moments themselves being freeze-framed abstractions) brains to create truth in a now, with TWTAA at the same time being assumed, whether they or we acknowledge it or not, to exist on its own. If some "revolutionary" new truth is created in the course of this debate -- something that most humans brains will be moved to believe and be affected by in the way brains are affected by beliefs -- its impact will likely be trivially small. People did not stop sleeping, eating, screwing, and killing when they heard about biological evolution. Hell, the majority of atheists are statists who think, like Hitchens and Dawkins, that yeah, maybe "we" should invade and destroy those Muslim societies and teach them the true and good ways that civilized people do things.

But apart from, and far more important than, the question of how much this debate matters is the question of how it matters. The only way incompatibilism, the belief that if humans are clockmaker determined all is fucked, affects you, in short, is if you buy it. It's determinism as apologetics. My body is making me go to the liquor store now. OK, I believe that, and now I'll just go. Determinism, no check that, the belief in determinism, is potentially causal, as an excuse. That's how it matters.

Simply by acting, on the other hand, as humans do, you're a compatibilist. Say you learn that, in accordance with TWTAA, everything is fucked. Well, you continue to act 99.99% the same as before. You're still breathing, yes? That's acting. Are you dead? That's acting too. Body still be worlding when you dead. The only way the debate matters is as yet another cause in this ongoing, ever-fluxing humanness we only understand by referring to something that, as far as anyone knows, only lives in our heads, i.e., TWTAA.