“Honesty is Hard”, indeed

Yesterday I got a pingback on the social context post from this blogpost. Didn’t think much of it, except then the same pingback showed up on Almost Diamonds, and I got curious. The first half was blandly uninteresting, but when I got to the second half, my SIWOTI Syndrome was triggered. So, here it is, taken apart Marjanović-style:

[...]I’m bothered by two (somewhat related) themes I keep seeing crop up in these discussions:

1) It’s wrong to want sex from people without being interested in getting to know them

Well, that’s off to a bad start. It’s not wrong to want sex with anyone* and I highly doubt anyone said that. What’s been under discussion is not “want” but “ask”. There’s a lot of people I want a lot of things from, but I only ask them for it if/when it’s appropriate. So this “theme” that this writer is bothered by doesn’t even exist. So here it is, with corrections:

1) It’s wrong inappropriate to want ask for sex from with people without being interested in getting to know them sufficiently well to establish whether such asking would be appreciated

Moving on.

This is generally couched in reasonable-sounding language like this from PZ Myers:

I have a simple suggestion. Think of sex as something two or more friends do; but also keep in mind that most friends don’t have sex together. When you’re at a meeting, plan to make friends promiscuously, but remember: the purpose first and foremost is friendship, not sex partners.

At first glance, this seems like a reasonable suggestion. Most people prefer to get to know people before having sex with them, and most people would rather have sex with someone they like for nonsexual reasons also. But some people just want sex, and there is nothing wrong with that. [emphasis mine]

And this is where the “honesty is hard” part starts to come in. This writer quotes PZ talking about doing sex, but then answers as if it were about wanting sex. So: is this writer too stupid to accurately read the very bit they quote, or are they being dishonest?
I should also note that this quote from PZ is about atheist conferences, the main purpose of which is indeed friendly socializing, not fucking. Hence, his advice about priorities is quite accurate, given the social context.

It’s not up to us to tell people what their goals should be in a social interaction.

This is another inaccuracy, since PZ didn’t say fuck-all about goals. The quote is about methods and general priorities for socializing at atheist conferences. If your first-priority goal is to find a zipless fuck with someone you don’t want to have to talk to, there are meet-ups for that, but atheist conferences ain’t it.

Denigrating anonymous men for wanting to “bag a young hottie” (which is Jen McCreight’s paraphrase, not an actual quote from anyone) at each speaking gig sends the sexnegative message that desiring sex with a person you find attractive (which is how I would have phrased it) is WRONG and CREEPY.

And again we’re in “honesty is hard” territory, since plucking that phrase from Jen’s post without context is pretty fucking close to quote mining**. Jen wasn’t “denigrating”. This quote is from the post in which she retells how women had started sharing stories about speakers’ behaviors towards women (themselves or others) with her. And of course, she and the women who shared these stories with her are absolutely entitled to feel uncomfortable with any of these behaviors and thus want to avoid the men thusly described. Just like dude can want/try to fuck a young woman at every speaker event, so these women can want to not be targets of these advances and stay the fuck away from dude and warn other women, in case they also don’t want to be targets. It’s not sex-negative for women to decide that they do not wish to be targets of this dude’s depersonalized*** agenda, nor is it sex negative to share that information with others. In fact, using “sex-negative” in this sense implies that women having individual boundaries and personal preferences is “sex-negative”; a rather problematic implication, to say the least.

In addition, speaking about it as something that only men do…

More BS. Jen didn’t say it was something only men do. As it happens, she was warned by other women about men. Likely there simply aren’t enough lesbian/bi/pan speakers for the entitled douchenozzles to have made an appearance, and thus women were warning other women about sexual behavior from men. Should they have made up shit about being sexually objectified by women, for the sake of equality? And if any straight female speakers were behaving inappropriately towards other male speakers, why would Jen know about this? It’s not like dudes knew about the warnings circulating amongst women, so why would these women know if similar warnings about women circulated among men?

And in any case, when the conversation expanded to sexual harassment as a whole (i.e. not just inappropriate behavior from speakers), a female entitled douchenozzle appeared rather promptly (See Elyse’s encounter with the swinger-couple. The straight, and therefore woman-including, swinger couple). Like I said, it’s bullshit to say people are claiming only men behave like this.

In addition, speaking about it as something that only men do contributes to the myth of men not being hot.

I would like everyone to read this, and think about the incredibly fucked up assumptions this one simple sentence contains. Apparently, being propositioned inappropriately is a sign that you’re hot, and not getting unwanted sexual propositions from strangers in inappropriate contexts means you’re fugly; instead of, you know, the fact that some groups of people feel, because of socialization, more entitlement to ask sex “from” people, especially if those people are members of the Sex Class. Therefore, I guess, women shouldn’t complain about inappropriate, unwanted sexual advances (they’re a compliment), and we shouldn’t ever point out that men are more likely to act on their sexual urges regardless of whether signals of interest are present and regardless of the appropriateness of such a proposition given the context (because that would imply that men are ugly, not that there’s a difference in privilege/entitlement and differences in the way men are seen (as people) and the way women are seen (as members of the Sex Class)). wow.

McCreight puts desiring sex with attractive women in the same category as talking only to a woman’s chest, nonconsensual groping, and following a woman to her hotel room.

Again, the conflation of wanting with asking. Is this writer comprehension-challenged, having a hard time being honest, or actually incapable of telling the difference between wanting something and actually acting on that want?
and anyway, if all those things are “things Jen doesn’t want to experience from other speakers”, then they are in the same very broad category. The category of “Jen does not want”, and apparently also the category of “things other women told Jen they didn’t want, but experienced from speakers anyway”. What the writer seems to be trying to imply is that Jen equated these things as equally bad, and I think that claim is a stretch.

There is nothing wrong with desiring sex for purely physical reasons.

More conflation of wanting and acting. Blah blah, moving on.

Resorting to slut shaming is not necessary to discuss harassment.

Slut is a gendered term, a slur against women and women’s sexuality. Claiming “slut-shaming” against men is like claiming racial discrimination against whites.

2) Dishonesty is expected, and even encouraged, where sexuality may be involved

This is a direct lie related to my “social context” post. I’ll explain below, when we get to the specifics.

This is related to Point 1 by virtue of the fact that if wanting sex is wrong…

Blah blah wanting acting blah blah.

…then people who want sex are going to be encouraged to hide that fact until the socially appropriate time.

Interesting phrasing. It implies that there is something wrong with putting a filter between your wants and your actions, by using the word “hide” (as opposed to simply not acting on something), and by connecting it to the previous claim of sex-negativity, as if the demands for filtering between wants and actions was a special case because it was sex. By that logic, it shouldn’t be considered rude to eat or talk loudly in a theater if I want to; it shouldn’t be considered inappropriate to drop my pants and piss whenever and wherever I feel the urge to; it shouldn’t be inappropriate to tell other people that I think they’re ugly, smelly, dumber than a moldy avocado, have no sense of how to dress, their voices are annoying, et cetera; lie down to nap wherever and whenever I feel like; et cetera ad nauseam. In reality of course, basic filters between wanting and acting on those wants is expected of every neurotypical person over the age of 5, and of all adult people considered fit for socialization with other adults. Sex is no exception.

People who just come out and say they want sex (even in the least coercive and lowest pressure way I can think of) are disrespectful, objectifying, and should be ashamed of themselves.

This refers to Elyse’s encounter, and is therefore a lie of omission, since the disrespectful, objectifying part was not the “just come out and say they want sex” part, but the “while I was at work, from complete strangers, in violation of the convention’s policy” part.

Asking for sex is not seeing a person “as your plaything.” It’s just asking for sex.

There’s no such thing as “just” asking for sex. Nothing is “just” anything when it comes to human communication and interaction. Most actions involving other humans have subtextual and contextual meanings beyond “just” the surface-message. And so, me asking someone to dinner is not “just” asking someone to take in nourishment in my physical vicinity, and nor is asking a convention speaker you have no acquaintance with and no reason to assume they’re into your kink to sex “just” asking to touch bodies for physical pleasure. this is once again the denial of social context that pissed me off when JT was doing it, except here it’s even worse. The last two quotes taken together read as if the writer despises the existence and insistence on acknowledgment of social contexts in general. The writer, in other words, is starting to sound like Holden Caulfield.

Objecification only happens if you see the other person’s desires as irrelevant.

not irrelevant; merely less important that your own desires. Which breaking a conference-policy and asking for sex from someone while they’re at work absolutely is.

As long as you are genuinely seeking enthusiastic consent, if you want sex, you ought to ask for it!

yeah. I should totally ask my hot, monogamously married prof to have sex with me. Because fuck social context, my ability to always act on my wants is more important than making other people deeply uncomfortable and disregarding their desire to be seen as professionals instead. *rolleyes*

Hiding your intentions is just being dishonest, not respectful.

Also, desires are not intentions. Intentions are intentions.

As one commenter on this blog put it:

I too find smart, interesting people who think about things quite sexy, yet am generally skittish of strangers. I’m also alternately oblivious to and skeeved out by the way flirting (in most mainstream venues) happens most times. Still, I’d far prefer for someone to tell me they think I have great boobs and would like to make out with me than to just hint at it, assuming they are respectful of my possible “no thank you.” I like transparent, respectful asks, and people who ask for consent frequently and sincerely.

because social interaction in general is a game of lowest-common-denominator, where if one person doesn’t mind socially inappropriate behavior, we must all abandon our own boundaries and definitions of socially inappropriate behavior.
Wait, no. In reality, to behave like a civilized social being, you should behave as is considered appropriate to the given social context, and only when you learn someone’s personal preferences do you get to move on from there. since that’s tricky for socially inept people, we made buttons. Use them, if you prefer bluntness, but don’t force bluntness on others. Your desires for bluntness do not override my desire not to have my boobs commented on constantly, when the social context is such that my boobs are not considered an appropriate subject (now, if I entered a “best boobs” competition, that would be different).

In addition to those desiring of sex being encouraged to remain silent

This is, incidentally, another dishonesty. Behaving in a socially appropriate manner given the social context, and (if your primary goal is fucking), finding social contexts in other people’s primary goal is also fucking is not silencing, it’s modulating. It’s telling you to not scream but whisper while in a movie theater.

women who are objects of such desire are also encouraged to be dishonest about their refusals.

this includes a link to my social context post. The writer here claims that my social context post is about encouraging women to be dishonest. As mentioned above, this is (self-evidently, to anyone who has actually read my post) a blatant lie.

The (true) observation that rapists ignore refusals is used to suggest that women shouldn’t be encouraged to clearly communicate their own desires.

More lying. The social context post suggested that women are being quite clear, using socially understood means of “letting someone down easy”, and that certain men simply choose to ignore them. The writer conflates “clear” with “blunt”, even though the mythcommunication link explains quite well that women’s communication is quite clear and understandable even when it’s not blunt.

The (also true) observation that women are socialized not to clearly communicate a refusal is used to suggest that we should not be encouraging women to break free of that socialization and be more honest about what they want.

This is also a lie, since I have in fact included a suggestion of how to encourage women to be willing to be more blunt.

This is confusing the “is” and the “ought.

This is just confused. The “ought” in question is to ask women to break through socialization-pressures for the benefit of men. I reject this as a valid ought because of the realities of the “is” of the consequences to women of breaking through this socialization, which are greater than the consequences of them not breaking through or (as I suggested) of them demanding that first, the dudes put some effort into changing the dynamic that reinforces the socialization.

The undeniable state of mainstream heterosexual flirting is that men are expected to be the aggressors, that clearly communicating a desire to have sex is disfavored, and that a clear refusal is often met with hostility. None of this is an argument that the status quo is the way things ought to be.

Well, good thing then that I didn’t make that argument, eh?

We should all be encouraged to be more open and honest about what we want from a social interaction, even if the we may be subject to negative social consequences.

Who’s “we”? And if the writer had paid any attention to the post they’re criticizing, I actually suggested means by which women can be encouraged to be more blunt. However, demanding of disprivileged strangers one doesn’t know that they should subject themselves to social punishment for the benefit of the privileged class is an asshole move. How about the privileged ones put pressure on each other to lessen social punishment, instead?

The exception, of course, is when physical safety is in question.

Because emotional harm is just hysterical whining, amirite? Besides, women should all want to spend their leisure time being made to feel like shit for the greater good, eh?

Of course, the flipside of this is that we should stop punishing women for being blunt. A woman who clearly communicates a “no” is not being harsh, she’s being honest. A woman who says she’s not interested in someone (even if s/he hasn’t made any advances) is just being communicative. Hurting someone’s feelings through deception is a dick move. Hurting someone’s feelings by telling them the truth is a brave and awesome thing to do, and we should encourage people to do it.

This is just repeating what I said as if it were some clever thought the writer themselves came up with.

However, the danger of social disapproval is not a good reason to be dishonest.

Communicating in a clear but non-blunt fashion is not dishonesty. Claiming that subtlety is the same as dishonesty on the other hand is dishonest.

If the object of your affection will see you as creepy for being clear about your sexual interest, that’s not a reason to hide your interest.

Actually, yes it is. If you can’t proposition someone in a non-creepy fashion, don’t proposition until you learn how to interact appropriately to the given context, or find social contexts in which your behavior is seen as socially appropriate. Your horniness is not a right to sleaze on other people any more than my full bladder is a right to pee on a bus.

It does not follow that dishonesty is justified. If flirting should be about creating intimacy, then it relies on both parties behaving in a trustworthy way (i.e. not lying to each other).

More equating of tact with outright lying. Our Holden Caulfield is morphing into Gregory House now.

Jadehawk disagrees:

You can’t remove the social context because the social context is what determines how women will respond. they’re not flirting with you in a social vaccum, and pretending otherwise is just fucking stupid. We have to fix the social context first (i.e. not punish women for being above-average-assertive, and instead shut down those why try to punish women for blatantly and “rudely” setting boundaries and even taking initiative themselves), before you can seriously expect women to consistently “help” socially inept guys at flirting by being blunt with them.

Not a word in that quote about how lying is good. And the stuff in the brackets is exactly the same as what the writer just proposed themselves, except without the use of the gendered expletive. Shocking. Who knew this champion of honesty would be such a blatant liar?

I agree that it’s unrealistic to expect anyone to completely go against their socialization, but that doesn’t mean that we should not ask them to do so

Will the writer explain why we should ask women to deal with social punishment to make men’s lives easier, instead of asking men to stop the punishment to make everyone’s lives easier?

Society socializes us to do many things that we reject. Dishonesty could be one of them. Jadehawk’s view is that women are just brainless products of society’s conditioning, and have no choice in how to act.

More lies. Women have a choice, and most of them, in the risk-benefit analysis of “being blunt, risk punishment, but make d00dz lives easier” vs. “behaving averagely, not getting punished, not caring whether some inept d00d won’t get laid”, most women will rationally chose the second. A rational person would then of course work to diminish the risk of punishment, not bullshit about how explaining and defending women’s right to do so is somehow calling them brainless.

I think we all have a choice, regardless of what we’re told, or how we’re taught. I don’t think “the social context is what determines how women will respond.”

Five bucks says our writer has libertarian leanings. Belief in Counter-causal free will is, of course, a given.

I think women will respond based on their own individual choices, in light of the social context.

This, as if it were somehow a contradiction to what I said. Precious.

If you intend to send the message for someone to back off, do it clearly. Don’t use subtle social cues that are open to interpretation.

And here the writer shows that they either didn’t read or didn’t understand the “mythcommunication” essay, since it makes it very clear that what women’s forms of rejections are actually clear. And than men chose to pretend that they’re open to interpretation. It also makes clear that this writer has no fucking clue how human interaction and communication work, demanding that language be stripped of half the work it does****. Whether that’s only in the case of sex, or whether the writer actually wants people to blurt out all their feelings and opinions and desires in crassly blunt language regardless of context is unclear.

If you want to get to know someone, do that. If you intend to communicate sexual interest, do it clearly. Don’t do it by pretending you want to get to know someone.

This goes back, I think, to the earlier quote by PZ. If so, it shows clearly that the writer completely misses the point of the quote, because PZ suggested that a)atheist conferences aren’t a good place if your primary goal is getting laid, and therefore b)that people should come to these with the expectations to socialize and make friends, not get laid (as I said, if you want to get laid, there are meetups for that). But beyond that, it’s posing a false dichotomy, in that, unless you’re in a darkroom (and therefore already know the intentions of the other people there explicitly), you always need to get to know a person you have the hots for at least well enough to know whether they’d be interested in your proposition (and often also to let them get to know you enough to decide whether you’re someone they want to fuck). Cold-propositioning in a not explicitly sexual context is being an entitled douchenozzle, noting more, nothing less.

And don’t pretend you’re interested in sex if you’re only interested in getting to know someone.

Nobody actually does this, but it’s a common stereotype about women that they “string guys along” or are “being a tease”. Propagating bullshit, sexist stereotypes falls under “honesty is hard”, too.

My only problem here is dishonesty about one’s intentions.

Not actually true, since it’s evident that the writer’s problem is actually impulse control and/or distaste for the social norm that requires people to have impulse control. Also, inability to not lie about other people’s writing; that also seems to be a problem.

Flirting is not easy. But if we try, we could make it a little easier.

Rejecting the notion of impulse control and the existence of appropriate and inappropriate contexts for sex and flirting won’t make any of this “easier”; it will however make for an even chillier climate for most women.

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*wanting sex from people is an… interesting phrasing, however. Sex is not something you “get”, nor do you get it “from” people, because it’s not a service or good (unless we’re talking about prostitution). sex is something you “do”, and you do it “with” people; because it’s a form of social interaction.

**also, I don’t know why this writer assumes to know that “bag a young hottie” is not a quote? Maybe the person who told Jen that particular story actually used the term. Maybe that person even quoted the dude in question. Point being, the lack of quotation marks doesn’t allow for the degree of certainty the writer espouses on this point.

***it’s absolutely inarguable that wanting to “bag a young hottie at every event” is depersonalizing, since the “young hotties” are interchangeable. This is comparable to “I want to get married” before you ever meet someone you might feel like marrying: it’s a depersonalized goal into which you then try to stuff the people you run into, as long as they fit the qualifications.

****Steven Pinker to the Rescue ;-)

What is an opinion?

sounds like a bit of mental masturbation, but I think it really is an important question, because we now have a discourse in which “everyone is entitled to their opinion” and “that’s just my opinion” being used as a shield against criticisms, and said criticisms of people’s “opinions” being variously titled anti-democratic, elitist, bigoted, et cetera. As such, if we want a functional conversation about pretty much anything, it actually matters what the word “opinion” means, and what it actually means to have the right to an opinion and all opinions being valid and equal.

At the most basic level, “opinion” is an expression of personal taste. I can be of the opinion that green is the prettiest color, that Johnny Depp is sexy, that Meryl Streep is a great actress, that white chocolate is nasty, that both Ulysses and Twilight are unreadable crap, etc. and it’s very hard to argue against me having a right to such opinions. Or even that such opinions are more or less valuable and correct than others, without running into issues of classism that usually accompany the judgments of tastes as high-brow, middle-brow, and low-brow. Sure, a better understanding of Jazz and modern art and coffee brewing might make me more appreciative of these things, even leading to liking it more; but not always (I understand Jackson Pollock’s art just fine; it’s still mindnumbingly boring to look at), and nor is such a refined liking objectively more accurate or more valid. My liking of Punk is not objectively worse or less accurate than someone’s liking of Jazz, and probably the sole exception to this is when the issue is one of communicating outwards, at which point pinpointing your audience’s tastes and opinions accurately is more important than your own personal tastes, and (mis)communicating in this way might well be better or worse, more accurate or less so.

At the second level, we have normative opinions. This is where it gets a bit trickier, since there are two kinds of normative opinions, and they can bleed into each other easily. The first kind is wishful thinking, and I daresay it’s impossible to reasonably claim that one kind of wishful thinking is more accurate or valid than another. However, the second kind of normative opinions is actually normative, in the sense of desiring to make something the social norm. At this point, the opinion leaves the realm of tastes and personal preferences and begins to touch on external reality, and it’s the degree to which it does so that determines whether a judgment about it’s validity and accurateness can be made. For example, if you wished that no one ever got their heart broken, that’s sort of an interesting but inarguable personal fantasy; but if you wish to create a world in which no one ever gets their heart broken… then yes, I can accuse you of being disconnected with reality, and I have the right to criticize such an “opinion” for the ways in which it conflicts with what is actually possible, for the ways in which the methods you suggest are likely to backfire, etc. Unfortunately, people rarely distinguish between wishful thinking and desire for social change, and interpret the criticism of the latter as criticism of the former.

Beyond this level, “opinions” start becoming more and more like truth claims rather than personal preferences and tastes. And the more they do so, the more criticizable they become. But as long as people keep on referring to them as “opinions”, and thus equating them with statements of personal taste, we will continue hearing about how elitist and bigoted it is to criticize people for their opinions. It’s that conflation that memorable quotes such as “you’re entitled to your opinion, but not your won facts” and Asimov’s awesome comment against anti-intellectualism* argue against. Most obviously, scientific questions about whether evolution is happening, or whether AGW is happening, are simply not ever, by any actual definition of the word, “opinions”. The answers to questions about how the world is or how it works are factual questions with generally only one correct answer. And just because even science can only approximate that correct answer as it learns more an more about the world and eliminates the incorrect answers**, you can’t just go all uber-relativist and decide that reality is a matter of personal preference. And, to go on a little tangent here, this is true as much for questions of climate science and biology as it is for questions about faith and religion: claims about gods are truth claims as much subject to science and as much not-opinions as claims about AGW, the efficacy of vaccines, and the existence of the Yeti are.

I would like, however, to also point out that shoving “politics” into the realm of opinion is equally incorrect; and dangerous. Yes, the science gets messier the closer we get to humans; yes, the democratic ideal means that everyone has a right to have their voice heard as part of self governance, and that a person should have the right to be part of decision-making in reasonable proportion to how much such a decision will affect them. But it’s because of this, not despite this, that we really need to accept that political positions simply aren’t like arguing over the best flavor of ice-cream; and it’s because of this, not despite this, that we need to value the science that we do have, because it helps us actually make the decisions that will lead to the goals we have. In other words, to have a functioning, democratic(-ish) government, we need a culture that treats politics as a science rather than as personal preference*** or as a matter of group identity. What this would mean is that people, as they participate in self-governance, would feel entitled to and understand the value of expert opinion in very much the same way we still value the expert opinions of doctors and demand the right to be informed by them as much as possible while reserving the right to ultimately make the relevant decisions ourselves(see: informed consent).

Point being: while everyone is entitled to an opinion, and taste is a personal, relative, and subjective matter, most things people label with that word are actually truth-claims, not opinions at all. And for those things, these rules don’t apply; not all truth-claims are equally valid and true, and you’re not entitled to your own facts, even if you call them opinions.

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*“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.’”
**see also: post-positivism and falsification (as opposed to making shit up, and also as opposed to positivism and verification)
***if you have a culture that manages to treat science as a matter of personal preference, you’re fucked. Somewhat unsurprisingly, that seems to be where the slippery slope of “x is an opinion” actually, demonstrably leads. Which I suppose is another argument why one should fight back already at the level of politics being seen as a matter of opinion, because it apparently won’t stop there.

On sexism, being a sexist, and doing sexist things

First, a caveat: absolutely no one is going to use the words consistently the way I’ll be using them here; the concepts are fairly well agreed upon, but how people choose to apply our extremely fuzzy language to them varies from person to person.

With that out of the way, let me say right out that we’re all guilty of sexism, because sexism is a structural thing (sexism = prejudice + power), and since our whole society is still sexist, we contribute to sexism simply by being part of it. We do this primarily in two ways: for one, because the structure itself perpetuates sexism, and few people function outside that structure (meaning, we all pay the price for dry-cleaning assigned to our clothes’ gender(!); we all, to some degree, submit to social definitions of what is “feminine” and what is “masculine”; etc.); two, growing up in a sexist culture means we learn how to act, what to consider normal, how to interact with people, how to assess them, etc. in ways that are in some way or another sexist; hence the studies that show lower levels of respect for women, from both men and women. So in that sense, every person who hasn’t been raised by (egalitarian) wolves and/or is far enough on the Autism spectrum to be immune to social clues is a sexist. That’s however not how people generally use the word “sexist”. When people use that word, they generally mean someone who is prejudiced against women; I would say though that that prejudice should be called “misogyny*”. The reason for that is that, as I said, sexism is structural. If no power accompanies the prejudice, you can’t really have sexism. As such, “misandry” is a real thing, but it isn’t sexism since there’s no real power to enforce anti-men prejudice**.
Now, the problem is that most people who are aware of the effects of being stuck in a sexist culture also don’t usually refer to everyone as sexist. so we get the distinction between “being a sexist” and “doing sexist things”; which, if we for a moment ignore my last paragraph and use “sexism” in the casual sense of meaning prejudice, is also a sensible distinction: being a person who is prejudiced, and inadvertently doing something, usually out of ignorance, that originates in prejudice are two different things. The distinction also might make sense in the context of the previous paragraph in the sense of there being a difference between being sexist, being a sexist, and doing sexist things: the first is the default for people in a sexist society; the second is someone who actively promotes, approves of, and willfully engages in sexism (i.e. what people usually think of when they hear the word); the third one is simply an isolated act that is borne out of the first, but doesn’t (yet) imply that one is the second: it does imply that the behavior is correctable and that a single sexist act does not yet condemn a person to being a sexist.
Anyway, this vagueness of language and the difficulty of accurately and consistently describing the concepts is what causes at least half the drama whenever sexist or misogynist behavior*** is pointed out: people feel like they’ve just been accused of being hateful, prejudiced assholes, when all that actually happened was that they did something that our sexist culture taught them to do; something they now have been given the opportunity to un-learn, and thus divest themselves of one more piece of inadvertent misogynist acculturation. Something similar happens with accusations of being “tools of the Patriarchy”: that’s not an accusation of outright hatred of women; it’s a rather blunt way of pointing out that an action/behavior/state of affairs that one is defending is patriarchal in nature, and as such, the defense serves to bolster patriarchy. Most people who act as “tools of the Patriarchy” do it not out of malice (though those exist too, of course) but out of sheer ignorance of how the thing they’re defending fits into the systemic structure of sexism. But of course, due to the charged nature of the insult as well as due to the Dunning-Kruger effect, people so labeled aren’t going to respond smartly to it. Especially when they’re very young, because as previously mentioned, most people under 25**** are fucking idiots who know a little bit of everything, and think that means they know everything.

I have absolutely no solution to this clusterfuck; if I were emperor of the world, I’d make everyone use these words in exactly the way I used them here, plus invent a new word for inadvertently promoting sexism, but without being prejudiced. Short of that, people will continue to (choose to) misunderstand and get pissy about being called on acting sexist or defending the patriarchy (and no, not calling them out is not an option)

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*it seems people use “misogynist” as a stronger version of “sexist”: someone who’s sexist is merely prejudiced, someone who’s misogynist is someone who actually hates women. On occasion, I also see “misogynist” simply being a subset of “sexist”, in the same way that “polygyny” is a subset of “polygamy”. Personally, I think the word is really more useful as the word for the specific prejudice that fuels sexism, in the same way that homophobia is the prejudice that fuels heterosexism. In fact, I wish there were such a distinction for racism, too, but there the systematic discriminatory outcomes and the prejudice are conflated and labeled with the same word, leading to all sorts of stupid drama. Like I said, language is incredibly, inconveniently messy.

**there is such a thing as sexism against guys: it’s that “Patriarchy Hurts Men, Too” thing: prejudice about how men are supposed to be and behave, and the social power to enforce this. homophobia is a huge example of this. This, however, is sexism against men borne out of prejudice against women (misogyny), not prejudice against men (misandry)

***since I earlier mentioned that sexism is structural, sometimes our sexist acts don’t even include any subconscious prejudice, but are merely ignorance or lack of knowledge of how to get something done without perpetuating the sexism of it; the best example was an article I read recently about a women consciously resisting from complementing a little girl on her looks, and instead asking about her interests. The woman clearly isn’t prejudiced, but does occasionally catch herself promoting sexism with small things like squee-ing at a baby-girl in a cute outfit; because it’s almost automatic, and socially expected. So, one can perform a sexist action, or one can perform a misogynist action (which would be one that did include prejudice, even if maybe only subconscious and/or unexamined prejudice). I wish there were a word for perpetuating sexism without being prejudiced, to avoid confusion *sigh*

****oh, the stupid shit I’ve said and done in defense of d00dz, for the goal of being seen as one of the “cool” girls… *groan* … and worst of all, I actually thought I was right! I wish at least I could say I was being cynical and manipulative and making the patriarchy work for me, but no: I was just stupid.

And now for something completely different

Why do Americans hate cursive writing? (this is not about the reforms. typing is a more important skill than handwriting, and pretty much anything that’s quick and legible should be accepted as a valid form of handwriting. meaning, “cursive” shouldn’t be more than a single semester, to introduce the notion of connecting letters and minimizing strokes, and some practice. After that, no one should give a fuck)

Seriously, what precisely about the notion of a script designed to connect letters makes Americans be so passionately hateful about it, that they talk about fantasies of “ha, I told you so” letters to their teachers, now that there’s talk about discontinuing the teaching of cursive? And make them claim that they’ve never used it since 4th/5th grade (which is an odd claim. I checked all the notes, postcards, letters, etc. I’ve received from various Americans. None of them are in strict block letters)?

Is it that you’re taught some highly stylized, onerous version of cursive*? Is it that you learned it years after learning block letters (the constant references to 4th/5th grade intrigue me)? Is it that your teachers were all assholes? Is it that your school policies were “zero tolerance” of any individualistic deviation from the taught letters? what is it that’s so horrible about it? TELL ME! TELL ME NOW!!!!! I MUST KNOW!!!!!!!!

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*for reference, this is the cursive I had to learn. I immediately rejected the silly “z”, and later some other superfluous strokes, but overall that’s it.

medium-length thoughts about economics

1)my textbook is trying to kill me. I nearly fell of my chair when I read the following paragraph:

Our discussion of resource pricing is the cornerstone of the controversial view that fairness and economic justice are one of the outcomes of a competitive capitalist economy. Table 12.7 demonstrates, in effect, that workers receive income payments (wages) equal to the marginal contributions they make to their employers’ outputs and revenues. In other words, workers are paid according to the value of the labor services that they contribute to production

It does no such thing.

That Table 12.7 is only showing that given two resources, their price, their productivity, and the resulting profit, you can calculate the least expensive and most profitable combination of the two resources, which indeed tends to fall in the area where marginal revenue of adding a unit of a resource = marginal cost or adding a unit of a resource. Which has fuck all to do with real markets. Because in real markets, a hell of a lot of the necessary information is impossible to come by (for example, accurately calculating marginal revenue from a unit of labor is near impossible. seriously, how does one calculate the marginal revenue of CEO A over the marginal revenue of CEO B? one doesn’t, and can’t considering their pay is established a priori, before they’ve had a chance to create any marginal revenue at all); plus, they disappeared the ever-necessary ceteris paribus that accompanies such mathematical games with very limited variables. What may be true for a mathematical game with only a few variables will not be true in a real-world situation with fuckloads of variables, including human error and human biology.

2)And not only is the content of the textbook trying to kill me, so is their language-abuse:

It is no coincidence that the service occupations dominate the list [of 10-fastest growing US occupations for 2006-2016]. In general, the demand for service workers in the US is rapidly outpacing the demand for manufacturing, construction, and mining workers.

well, no, it’s certainly not a coincidence. That’s because you can’t have a coincidence with only one variable. You need at least two, so that they can, you know, coincide. Of course, it could be that the paragraph meant to say “it’s no coincidence that service occupations dominate the list while the demand for service workers is rapidly outpacing…”, but that would be so blatantly obvious, it would not be worth the paper it’s printed on. I’m thinking the word they were looking for here was “surprise”, as in “It’s no surprise that the service occupations dominate the list.”

3)Unrelated to my text-book, I’ve found the term for a phenomenon I’ve been observing in people who talk and write about economic issues: goal displacement.
Goal displacement is when the means to achieve a goal either become the goal, or become more important than the goal. So, when I read articles about the Chinese economy were the writer says that China needs to get its population to save much much less of its income to increase consumer-spending to improve the economy, I know that the writer is suffering from goal displacement: a healthy economy is a means by which the well-being of people is to be accomplished. to diminish the well-being of people to make an “improve” the economy is turning the means of achieving something into a goal unto itself.

“I can’t be a terrorist, I’m human!”

One of the most consistent and disturbing aspects of the right wing is their demonization and dehumanization of their “enemies”. The poor are lazy leeches or other kind of vermin that needs to be kept from breeding, undocumented workers are illegals or aliens that need to be expelled or even euthanized, gays are abominations that need to be either turned “normal” or stoned, Muslims are terrorists that need to be bombed back to the stoneage, etc. For this reason, the most effective campaigns for civil rights are the many “Coming Out” campaigns that put human faces of neighbors, friends, family, etc. onto those vilified, up till then completely abstract and humanity-free groups. After all, even the most wingnutty wingnut, if he’s not a clinical sociopath, will find it harder to excuse the murder of an actual real human being.

What gets really interesting is when it’s the wingnuts that are accused of doing something bad. When the Homeland Security report on right wing domestic terrorists came out, a lot of teabaggers started carrying “I’m a domestic terrorist” signs to their rallies and protests, in a clear mimicry of the “Coming Out” campaigns. And similarly, on pandagon today there’s two threads about the fuckedup’d-ness and rottenness of libertarianism, and some troll decided to come by and talk about his personality, physical and personality attributes of some other libertarian he met at some libertarian conference, and how much human-like fun they had together (“he likes beer”, “there was free ice-cream”), and telling everybody who was criticising him and calling him an asshole that he’d buy them a beer, because then they’d maybe realize that he’s a sociable, nice guy.

And my reaction is, every time, “uh… ok… and that refutes the accusation, how?” The assumption by these right wingers that liberals don’t consider them human is pure projection, but more than that is going on. Because they themselves are convinced that terrorists and assholes and those they believe are working for the destruction of their civilization aren’t quite human, they assume that merely proving their humanity proves that they can’t be any of those things. Which just looks hilariously stupid, from this end of the problem, because liberals are usually quite aware of the fact that “terrorist” and “human” are not mutually exclusive. Liberals are quite aware of the fact that ruthless assholes have wives and children, and that terrorists have grandmothers* and pets and dayjobs**, and that both are, at least in principle, fully capable of “enjoying the small things in life”***. So putting a giant “domestic terrorist” banner on your bakesale stand, and posing with your octogenarian grandma and the golden retriever isn’t precisely any sort of argument; neither is saying that you enjoy having beers with people one. But they seem to really think that “I can’t be a terrorist, I’m human!” is some sort of valid argument.

Which is all sorts of fascinating, amusing, and really fucking scary, considering they don’t like atheists, liberals, feminists and foreigners much…

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*most blatantly presented whenever the fact that Hamas offers to provide for surviving family members of suicide bombers makes the news.
**some of them even become dusty old college professors
***which is why the apparent insistence of the right wing do destroy, forbid or punish everything fun (sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll) is often so baffling to liberals, that they willingly swallow the often strange excuses the right wing makes for it (most notably in the abortion debates; it’s rarely ever about babies, it’s about taking the fun out of sex. But many people accept the “precious babies” narrative, because the alternative just seems fucked up)

Feminists telling women what to do, Western Edition

Over at pandagon there’s yet another conversation about women taking their husband’s name when getting married. In general, I support their effort at making it socially acceptable and common for women to keep their own names, but I think going to the point of claiming that women must keep their name is compete bullshit. The current discussion started with a post that made fun of women who claim that they made the change because they either had difficult to spell/pronounce names, or because they want to distance themselves from their own families, because 85% of women change their name, while virtually no men do (hence the “only women have hard to pronounce names and horrible families?!” joke), thus making it look like a mere excuse. The argument at one point went so far as to support the banning of name-changing upon marriage (based on a slight misrepresentation of the law in Quebec, which bans immediate name changes, but allows one to change their name if they’ve used a name different from their birth-name for 5 years or more IIRC), which in my opinion goes way too far and qualifies this as a minor version of the “let’s tell women what to wear” idiocy.

So, here’s my detailed opinion on this name-changing issue.

As a tradition, it’s completely stupid and patriarchal, and I have personally experienced that taking a husband’s name can lead to feelings of having your own identity erased. The social pressure on women to take their husband’s name can be overwhelming, as well, and for women who marry when they’ve already have a professional record established under their birth-name, the name-change can cause career problems. For that reason, I very strongly support the movement to abolish the tradition and let women keep their names easily, without pressure to do otherwise.

But I also support the movement to make it easier for men to be able to adopt their wife’s name, and generally make name-changing easier for everyone, at any point. Why? Because I don’t really feel like one’s birth-name is one’s own name: the last name is usually the father’s name and the tradition of taking it is just as patriarchal as taking the husband’s name. And the first name is whatever one’s parents liked, and can feel entirely wrong for oneself. And then there’s the fact that indeed some people have names that are a pain in the ass to them, some people have horrible families that they want to dissociate themselves from, and some people are just weird and OCD and want to be able to have a name that, for them, is aesthetically pleasing and fitting. And all of those are perfectly good reasons to change one’s name, but it can be a massive pain in the ass to do so (or even impossible, if the bureaucracy decides your reason just isn’t good enough) in all but that one instance.

And so, women who for some reason or another aren’t that thrilled with their name, use that one instance when it’s easy to make a change, because all people are, at heart, lazy :-p . And they get lambasted for it because men don’t do it just as often. This ignores that men who might not like their name for the same reasons have a completely different social conditioning (being told they should be proud of their name, that they’re responsible for continuing the family, etc blah blah) that for one may result in a name-change not even occurring to them as an option, and two making it more difficult for them to go through with it: getting married doesn’t make name-changing easier for a man the way it does for a woman, so there isn’t really this opportunity to get it done easily.

So anyway, in Jadehawkworld, everybody would get a naming ceremony at some point of their choosing in their 20′s to chose “their” name themselves, and for married couples I’d adopt a version of the Peruvian (and Spanish?) naming tradition, in which a married woman would add a usage-optional “de [husbandslastname]” to her own; except I’d have husbands do the same, and adopt a “de [wifeslastname]“; children would get a hyphenated name until their naming ceremony.

In which I engage in some observational tone trolling

Alternative title: “the devil is in the details”. :-p

Anyhow, recently I’ve watched from the sidelines (and eventually got involved in, because I’m not immune to SIWOTI Syndrome) a number of discussions which can pretty neatly be summed up as people talking past each other, and projecting the “correct” answers to their arguments onto their opponents’ comments. This happens usually with either extremely emotionally involved topics (or when at some point one side uses an emotionally powerful symbol in an argument), or on topics that tend to run along the same lines whenever they happen (at which point deviations from the usual “script” are often not noticed).
What seems to happen is that people don’t read the specific words and arguments that are actually written down, but rather notice the keywords and key-phrases, and from that construct a statement that fits within the narrative of what they themselves are arguing, and what therefore the opposition should be arguing in response. Sometimes this is caused by sloppy or vague use of language that allows for such projection, but sometimes it happens even when the language is quite precise; and that itself seems to present very interesting problems.

For example, SC is extremely precise/nitpicky/literal/specific in her use of language, both in the way she expresses her own arguments, and in the way she reads other people’s arguments. On the other hand, most of the people she argues with use language much more loosely, sloppily and generically, again both in the way they themselves express their arguments, and in how they read her arguments.

This leads to a handful of scenarios based on this mismatch:

Person A expresses a belief that specific situation X always applies
SC presents Person A with loads of exceptions to specific situation X, and says that believing that it always applies is wrong.
Person A gets insulted by a perceived implication that they’re a bad guy, without addressing the exceptions to X
SC is confused as to why Person A thinks she’s accusing them of being a bad guy, and repeats exceptions to X
Person A reacts by responding that exceptions to X aren’t relevant to what they said, and that SC is stereotyping them as a bad guy.
After several more rounds of this, it turns out that Person A actually meant to express a far more general and basic sentiment Y, of which specific situation X was a specific case, and they assumed that SC was arguing against Y, not against X

Person A makes statement X
Later on in the discussion, Person B uses the fact that Person A made statement X in their argument, but paraphrases statement X roughly, thus inadvertently changing several details (let’s call this statement X’).
SC points out that Person A did not as a matter of fact make statement X’
Person B accuses SC of lying/ignoring facts, because Person A did quite evidently make statement X

SC asks a very specific question X
Person A gives a generic answer to a generic question Y, which applies to situation in question X in principle
Person B gives a specific answer to a specific question X’, which is similar to, but not identical with question X
SC repeats question X
Persons A and B get upset for SC not “liking” their answers to her question and therefore “ignoring” them and being “dishonest”.

the reason I find this fascinating is because it shows how communication often functions at a meta-level beyond the direct and immediate meaning of words themselves. Statements almost always seem to have assumed meanings and literal meanings, and the assumed meanings are often at a meta-level where people who take things more literally (either because they’re just that sort of nitpicky, or because they’re not native speakers and therefore not sufficiently familiar with meta-meanings) don’t pick up on them and therefore will begin an argument about something below the level at which the speaker had meant the argument to be. Conversely, a statement by a literalist read by a generalist would be read much more sloppily, often assuming a more generic, wider meaning than is actually being presented.

The same dynamic seems to appear even between people who use language similarly, when the subject of the conversation is sufficiently emotionally charged. It’s not so much about “taking it personally”, but about having reactions to certain key-words, ignoring the specific and perhaps unusual way in which they are expressed.
A personal example of this would be an argument I had a few years back with an older feminist about abortion. I basically agreed with her on everything, except that my particular position in the argument was focused on making the need for abortion as rare as possible (basically, the”legal, safe, rare” argument, vs. the older “anytime, anywhere, no questions asked” argument). I used lung cancer as a comparison of a situation where we absolutely do give full medical care to people who have contracted the problem, but at the same are having a lot of health-campaigns to reduce smoking, so the problem doesn’t come up in the first place.
She responded that this was a horrible argument, and that I was basically suggesting that we should let cancer patients die on the streets. I imagine that this is because she had interpreted my argument as an anti-abortion argument, and thus the comparison I drew looked differently to her than what I had actually tried to express.

I find this dynamic of conversation very fascinating. I wonder if there’s a way to stop and diffuse these miscommunications as soon as they occur, so as to avoid arguing past each other? I sometimes try to dissect the misunderstanding to show where the misunderstanding is occurring, but half the time it seems people just get insulted by such a dissection (even when I’m not stuffing it full of insults :-p )and accuse me of “telling them what they think”.

What’s in a name?

I’m currently reading a book which deals a lot with how words shape actions. It’s a bit like Orwell’s description of how the way words work in newspeak makes it impossible to even form seditious thoughts based on the language (since such thoughts are usually verbal rather than visual or mathematical or whatever). The first part of the book dealt with the way translation can change the meanings, and therefore the discussion, understanding, and application of concepts. Basically, all instances of “human rights” ended up being translated as “freedoms of individuals”, which isn’t anywhere near the same*. This narrowing of the meaning of human rights then affects what sort of things are considered within the purview of “fighting for human rights”, and it entirely excludes any claims to positive rights, as well as collective rights/freedoms.
Similar problems with the meaning of words are everywhere. The fight over the word “believe” should be pretty well known to everybody even remotely involved in the evo-creo wars, so is the meaning of the word “evolution”**; the “it’s colder here, therefore there is no Global Warming” nonsense; the hideous anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia, anti-disconnect-the-permanently-vegetative-and-the-braindead-from-life-support arguments hiding behind a ridiculously broad and factually meaningless meaning of the term “sanctity of human life”; etc.

Right now, I’m particularly interested in the way the words “politics” and “democracy” are thought of and used, and how they’ve become narrowed and hollowed out in very interesting but damaging ways.

Politics are defined by wikipedia broadly as “a process by which groups of people make collective decisions”, and in this broad definition they’re used to describe all sorts of interactions with others, about all sorts of issues, by all sorts of means, at all sorts of levels within a hierarchy/organization (see: “office politics”); but when it comes to the area from which the term originally came, i.e. issues of state and government, suddenly “politics” ends up being far narrower in meaning, and becomes almost inextricably linked to professional politicians and partisanship, thus creating the absurd notion of “apolitical” social engagement. This is the arena in which NGO’s, charities, community organizations, churches, scientific organizations, etc., as well as members of all of those are supposed to operate. On first glance, this seems like a good thing***, but in reality creating this fictional divide between “political” and “apolitical” social engagement results in a host of problems.
In the book I’m reading, for example, a charity that conducts “civil education” is described as absolutely obsessed with remaining “apolitical” even though they deal with issues of political engagement and decision-making. Because of this, their education attempts become worthless and meaningless, because they cannot address the issues that people actually want to know more about and learn to act about. They end up serving cookie-cutter speeches on highly abstract topics (like the Greek roots of democracy) which have no connection to the real lives and issues of the people who are receiving this education, because those issues are “political” and therefore cannot be addressed. A similar thing happens in American politics. Any entanglement with “politics” is seen as inherently negative (and as breaking the rules of society, by entering the arena of politics when it’s supposed to stay “apolitical”), and entanglement can simply mean having a point of view that closer resembles the stance of one political party on any given issue. And when “reality has a liberal bias”, reality itself becomes either vilified and discarded****, or it gets “balanced out” by a counter-factual view, just to avoid the appearance of taking sides and becoming “political”. Something similar happened with the stupid ACORN drama: simply because “voter registration drives” are something the Democrats support more than the Republicans, and because the people that were being registered were part of the demographic more likely to vote for Democrats, ACORN is being marginalized, vilified and attacked for having crossed the imaginary line between “apolitical” and “political”. And in an extra special case of vileness, the same people who jump on others for being “political” will engage in very similar things, but as long as they can hide them under the umbrella of something (in American society) undeniably “apolitical” and untouchable like religious freedom, they are considered safely “apolitical”. Something similar is happening with the Teabaggers who are claiming the umbrella of libertarian anti-politicism (ha!) to protect themselves from the “taint” they themselves see in those who engage in issues they oppose. It’s hypocritical, and extremely detrimental to real, honest political and social engagement.

Something very similar is happening to “democracy”. It’s supposed to be a political (as per original definition of political) system in which citizens govern their society themselves. One tool of democracy is a republican government, but it is not the only available tool, nor is a republican government the only kind of government a democratic society can have. Recently though, I have begun to notice that “democracy” is now being used almost exclusively to mean “a government you can vote for”. Voting in elections seems to have become the sole meaning of “democracy”. The crassest example of this I remember were the events in Honduras. There’s been an illegal coup followed by martial law and deconstruction of constitutional rights of the people. But the international community seemed not to care about that, and was fully pacified when the illegitimate government staged elections, and claimed that as a “return to democracy”. How absurd! There’s nothing democratic about the situation, but the symbols of democracy have now become its entirety: as long as people get to cast a vote, it counts as democracy. I noticed a similar effect in the USA when in a conversation about state-run healthcare it came up that the Californian government instituted something-or-other (I have only vague recollections of that conversation, sorry), which politicians then fucked up and stripped bare and it didn’t work, and that’s why government healthcare would be a bad idea. Someone from Europe then immediately answered with surprise why there were no protests, no boycotts, no calls for resignation, no outraged citizenry demanding that the situation be rectified. And indeed, why weren’t there? These are essential for a society to continue functioning democratically. But when democracy just means voting, then these other actions don’t occur to people, and in some cases are even seen as undemocratic (calls for resigning are seen like that, but since Americans also often confuse capitalism and democracy, actually democratic actions against businesses can also be seen as undemocratic and unAmerican).

Basically, when you reduce “democracy” to “politics”, you end up taking away a lot of tools for people to actively and meaningfully participate in their own societies, and create false, “balanced” realities that hinder people’s ability to know what to act on.

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*for example, the difference between “the freedom to receive legal counsel” and “the right to receive legal counsel”: the former only deals with the negatives, i.e. that you mustn’t be prevented from acquiring legal counsel; the latter goes further and deals also with the positives, i.e. not just not being hindered from acquiring counsel, but also being provided counsel when you cannot acquire it by your own means

**you know… differences between evolution and The Theory of Evolution, the misapplication of the word to describe the development of stars, the even worse misapplication of the word by creationists to describe All Science That Disagrees With My Faith and their consequent unwillingness to accept the very narrow and unspectacular meaning of the term (i.e. descent with modification), etc.

***an effect of the “ghettoization” of politics as the sole purview of professional politicians and political parties and their often nasty public battles; because of this, politics are seen as something dirty, corrupt, non-grassroots and entirely undesirable, from which it’s good to dissociate oneself

****best example is AGW: it’s science, so it’s supposed to be “apolitical”. But in reality there isn’t such a thing as apolitical, especially since this particular scientific is caused by human actions, and will need more human actions to be rectified. But this fake separation of issues into political and apolitical has resulted in a lose-lose situation in which the science can remain “pure” and “untainted” by politics by not drawing the necessary conclusions and thus failing to solve the problem; or it can commit the sin of becoming “political” by suggesting necessary actions, at which point it becomes tainted, motivated by political agendas, and just another political stance to be accepted or rejected at will.