“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.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Holden Caulfield, indeed.
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.

– – – – – – – – – – – –
*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 ;-)

“let’s pretend social interactions happen without social context”

JT Eberhard decided that his contribution to the discussion about sexual harassment at atheist conferences was going to be to talk about how to make sex happen anyway, especially for socially clueless guys like himself. And the list that came out of that might even be decent advice to guys. But the post itself? And the comments?

*shudder*

For one, this is crap:

But ladies, we need your help (which is why I’m writing this post). I’m not an idiot, but I’m terrible at catching subtle hints. Seriously, I’m awful. Men like me need you to communicate with them. If we’ve crossed the line and you don’t tell us, it’s very possible that we won’t even be remotely aware that the line has been crossed at all. If you then go tell other people how terrible we are for having crossed your line, you’re creating drama instead of working toward a resolution.

You know why women give “subtle” hints? It’s because 1)they’re actually not that subtle at all, certain people just prefer not to listen when it’s about sex, and 2)rejections that are more-blunt-than-socially-accceptable are socialized out of women because they regularly and rather thoroughly get punished for employing them.*
So yeah. Women are going to be “subtle”, which really just means they’re going to behave averagely, because that’s usually enough (when it’s not about sex) and because even a bit more will usually get a woman punished.

Oh, but of course we’re not supposed to talk about this:

For the purposes of this blog post, I’m talking only about these two very fun things, flirting and physicality, that are ultimately a very small aspect of getting to know somebody. I say that because I’m trying to avoid the conversation of, “but women don’t want to feel like sex objects whose primary purpose is to be flirted with.”
[…]
Now there are guys who do view women as a means to sex and have no interest in respecting a woman’s boundaries if it means they can’t push for sex. Those guys are a liability. They don’t want help and I’m not writing this post to help them. I’m talking about the men who want to create a friendly environment for women but who also want to interact with the possibility of flirting/getting laid if things go well.

Well, sorry JT, but you can’t just exclude the context from the conversation. Because women can’t exclude that context from their life into which you’re barging when you flirt with them!
You can’t exclude the existence of the creeps, because after being creeped on by 5 guys, it simply no longer matters that you’re not a creep, you’re still Yet Another Dude Who Wants Sex. And at that point, a woman might simply no longer care why you want it or whether you’d flirt correctly and respect her boundaries; because at that point, she’s too sick of all the unwanted attention to still want any sexual attention at all.
You also can’t exclude the existence of creeps, because in order to give you an unsubtle answer, a woman will by definition have to give an unsubtle answer to every man who may or may not be flirting with her. Which not only goes against past socialization, but is also most likely going to result in her being punished for it, both by the man she was just “unnecessarily harsh” to (or maybe she interpreted the signals wrong and he wasn’t even flirting with intent; then she’ll be an altogether “presumptuous bitch” for thinking a guy would even want to fuck her. pffft.), and likely by others in the social circle as well. I mean, shit, Rebecca Watson loosened an internet-wide shitstorm for just saying “guys, don’t do that” about cold-propositioning in elevators late at night!** And you want women to go against socialization and risk social punishment every time they talk to a flirty dude, just because you’re socially awkward?

Yeeeeaaahh, no. 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.

And nevermind that this whole scenario ignores the existence of socially inept women, since it puts the burden of clear communication on them (notice how it’s the women who have to say “no” as bluntly as possible, socialization and possible punishment be damned, but the socially awkward dudes are still allowed to operate within the subtleties of basic human interaction).

And then, the fucking comments. The entire fucking comment section there needs to read “Yes Means Yes” instead of bleating shit like this:

While I have many times found myself in similar situations, I have to say this: it is absolutely vital that you find a way to communicate effectively, as there is absolutely no way that JT or anyone else can create a functioning environment that is safe for people who won’t/don’t say “no” when they mean “no.”
I totally agree that social leveraging is a dick move. That doesn’t change the fact that your refusal to say “no” makes every social situation more dangerous for everyone involved.

or complain how a “ask first, hug later” culture would somehow be a logistical nightmare.

And of course, the stupid-ass “why don’t women just wear buttons” idea came up. I’ve dealt with that crap before, and some of the less dense posters also pointed out that degrees of consent are every-changing, context-specific and person-specific, so such buttons are fucking worthless. But hey, here’s an idea for you lot: since desire for intimacy is shifting, but social ineptness isn’t, why don’t you guys who want to flirt and get laid but are afraid of missing signals wear a giant red button saying “socially inept; speak bluntly to me”? That way, women would know when they can safely be more assertive (or, if they don’t think they can bring up the energy to go against socialization, just void you) and also remind you that you wanted bluntness when your sexist conditioning kicks in and you (or one of your friends) feels like punishing the woman for being blunt. And at the same time they’ll know that those who aren’t getting their messages and aren’t wearing the button can be safely reported as harassers.

Everybody’s problems solved (that’s fucking sarcasm in case you didn’t notice; but don’t tempt me with more demanding posts like that, or else I’ll decide I’m serious about this buttons-for-the-clueless thing)

– – – – – –
*yeah, I am quite aware that both links talk about rape. The concepts discussed therein are still applicable to flirting and similar interactions. Rape, after all, doesn’t just happen out of the blue; it is simply the nasty pinnacle of rape culture, and rape culture reinforces itself in all these much smaller, much more innocuous-seeming interactions in which boundaries are pushed and assertive rejection punished.
**and then there was also the woman who said “no” to the obviously not-previously-discussed super-public proposal of her boyfriend, and everyone came down on her like a ton of bricks for being “cruel” for rejecting him publicly.

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.

A couple thoughts on Black Friday

1)Consumer capitalism is an addiction. Black Friday demonstrates this better than any other event, because it shows the truly unhealthy relationship American culture has with consumerism: there’s riots, there’s violence, and there’s encroachment on non-materialistic enjoyments (Black Friday now starting on Thursday evening, meaning people working at these stores don’t get to have Thanksgiving; and neither do the shoppers*), all of which is deeply systemic: if people weren’t poor, they wouldn’t obsess about these supposed bargains; if huge amounts of bought-gift-giving weren’t culturally mandatory, people wouldn’t obsess about these supposed bargains; if corporations didn’t collude to have these “one day only” or even “a few hours only” sales pretty much at the same time, there wouldn’t be such massive events with huge crowds that now have entered into cultural tradition territory; etc.
And that doesn’t even address the less-visible consequences of such rampant consumersim, esp. the environmental costs, which are likely (barring a miracle cure for carbon emissions and resource depletion) to destroy our civilization in the medium-to-long-term. So, consumerism is highly destructive behavior; but it’s a destructive behavior that, to those who participate, at the moment of participation, can often be enjoyable (or at least better than the consequences of declining participation, be they pissy, guilt-tripping family or d00dz commenting on your unfuckability); very similar to most addictive drugs.
And similar to an addictive drug as well is the massive systemic shock should we decide to quit, AKA withdrawal. The entirety of the modern global economy is based on consumerist growth capitalism; when consumer spending drops because people become thrifty, suddenly the joblessness rates go up, small business profits go down, investment goes down, and people suffer. Quitting consumerism cold-turkey would destroy our civilization in short order; a slower transition out of consumerist growth capitalism may be theoretically possible, but I don’t know what that would look like. As much as I like the concepts of Deep Ecology, it is what we could have after transition; it’s not a manual for transitioning a global economy (for that matter, the Transition movement is not a manual for transitioning a global economy out of consumerism; it’s local by design)
IOW, just now I have the distinct impression that we are addicted to a drug that will kill us if we continue using it, and kill us if we try to quit. whee.

2)I recently re-read some writings about the “conspicuous consumption” model of status-signaling, which was developed before mass-production really took off. Anyway, it occurred to me that due to that mass-production, almost everybody can conspicuously consume now; and plenty of people do still follow that model of behavior (pin-striped jet anyone?), but in addition to “conspicuous consumption”, “conspicuous leisure”, and “conspicuous waste”, I think now in the age of mass production and universal consumerism (and near-universal lack of leisure-time, at least in the USA), I think we can add another status-symbol: the “conspicuous willpower”.
Being fat used to be a high-status symbol, but now that even poor people can be fat, it isn’t, and instead being able to have the time, money, and willpower to stay fit and skinny is; having a car or two used to be a high-status symbol, but now that a car is a basic necessity, it’s the ability, energy, and willpower to bike and walk everywhere that signals high-status; etc. Basically, now that pretty much everyone can participate in conspicuous consumption, and now that everyone is pretty much compelled, by cultural and economic imperatives to do so, it’s the abstaining from these acts of (over-)consumption that has become a status-symbol of the (white?) upper middle class (see also: “I don’t even have a TV”). The reason I refer to these things as “conspicuous willpower” is that all those things are counter-luxuries in the traditional sense: they add effort, instead of reducing it. That, in combination with the scientific research showing that willpower is a limited resource, can make the showing off of willpower a status symbol: if your have to use up all your willpower to work two shitty-ass jobs, dealing with the constant status-threat of being at the bottom of a very unequal society, having to constantly deal with a constant barrage of low-level emergencies not solving themselves because of lack of emergency funds, etc., you likely don’t have any of that very limited resource left to NOT stop by your favorite fastfood/desert-joint, to NOT hop into your car to go to work/shopping/whatever, or to NOT indulge in any number of unhealthy or environmentally damaging but easily accessible and cheap forms of relaxation and entertainment. OTOH, when you don’t have to spend all your willpower just on surviving, you can conspicuously show off the reminder in displays of righteousness, of individualist rejection of social ills.
And this works, btw, for conservatives as much as for liberals: teen pregnancy isn’t going to solve itself by personal willpower any more than global warming will (and both groups, for different reasons, tend to whine about consumerism, conservatives calling it “godless materialism” while liberals calling it “capitalist consumerism”), but both are talked about often in that context, instead of in the context of systemic change that would, again, allow even those who don’t have spare willpower lying around to not contribute and be affected by those social ills.

3)The actual reason that prompted me to finally write on this blog again is actually the shortest: pandagon linked to this article, which is not too bad overall, but the concluding sentence is making my brain hurt. she writes “When we create a political alternative to […] capitalism, the consumer problem, if it is a problem, will take care of itself”, which earns a big “no shit, Sherlock” from me; consumerism is simply the most common form of capitalism, so of course getting rid of capitalism would get rid of its most common form. But saying we shouldn’t do anything about it is a bit like saying that “When we create a political alternative to sexism, the sexual harassment problem, if it is a problem, will take care of itself”. Of course it will, but sexism WON’T be eliminated if we don’t focus on the way it manifests and self-perpetuates: bottom-up approaches that attempt to interrupt the self-perpetuation cycle of the cultural aspects of capitalism as well as sexism are just as needed as top-down approaches meant to eliminate the root of the systemic problem.

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*if having to work on Black Friday, or participating in these “riots” is something you find you need just so you can get away from your family for a few hours, you probably shouldn’t be going home for Thanksgiving in the first place. Though I get that for many people, that’s just as culturally mandatory as having to buy people shit for Christmas; what I get less is what exactly the cultural consequences are, since shunning by a family you can’t stand to be around doesn’t seem salient. Is it the financial support some people get from family? Are there really families out there that will demand visits on holidays under threat of not allowing visits at less crowded times? I iz confoosd.

Warning: coldhearted cynicism ahead

I’ve been trying to read as much as I can find about the riots in Britain over the last few hours. And you know what? All I feel while reading it is cold anger and cynicism. “I told you so” never felt that shitty: I’ve been saying for years that there’s few things more dangerous to the stability of a society than bored, prospect-less youth. And lo and behold, they went and proved me right, in a rather impressively nasty way. Chances anyone is going to learn the right lesson from this clusterfuck, and try to undo the alienation, desperation, and futurelessness of British youth? Not fucking likely. What’s more likely to happen is even more criminalization of youth, criminalization of poverty, more power in the hands of police (the riots started during a march for the victim of a police-shooting, btw), longer and harsher sentencing, and certainly no end to austerity measures, now that the riots really did cause a real blow to the economy, with all the looting, property damage, and closed businesses.
Already you have politicians stating that the riots are “just” criminality “pure and simple”(because that totally makes sense, right? A bunch of people randomly decided to become criminals this weekend. There couldn’t possibly be a cause, right?), and you have people spout stupid shit like “You have a generation of kids now that don’t respect their parents or the police”, as if a lack of authoritarianism were the fucking problem (granted, plenty of people are capable of seeing what’s really going on (including a number from that article). But if those will be the people who’ll be listened to in the end, I’ll eat a broom).
And when you look at Britain and then look at the US, you gotta admire the ability of the US elite to keep the poor and disenfranchised in check. The US is so much worse than anything experienced in Britain; compare the complete non-event that was the shooting of John T Williams with this shooting. Compare the poverty in American cities; and yet, it’s been forever since anyone rioted, or even protested much. If “austerity” measures that only target the poor are turning industrialized democracies into Banana Republics, then it’s pretty clear that the US are turning themselves into one much more skillfully than Britain is, having pretty much distracted and pacified its populace despite egregious abuses.

And since I’m in a shitty, morbid mood anyway, here’s a soundtrack for this shit: The Clash — Guns of Brixton

Link dump

there’s a few issues on my mind that don’t need a lot to have said about them (or, you know, render one completely speechless), so I’ll just collect them all here:

1)douchebag: now an insult also applicable to racists: Hey Did You Know Your Vagina’s Personality Is Based On Your Race?

2)something that’s quite old by now, but that I haven’t gotten around to respond: Walton linked to an article about a boy in London fighting the ban on cornrows in his school. The ban was being defended because it bans things associated with gang-culture. Someone else commented that it was “unprofessional”. That reminded me of how political black people’s hair is: how much racism there is in associating traditionally black hairstyles with criminality, and how much shaming there is (usually of women) for their natural hair, to the point where many of them end up damaging it to make it look like white people’s hair. Anyway, here’s a good article from the guardian about it: Cornrows? Non-traditional? What rubbish

3)News Corp trying to shut up critics, in a way that vaguely reminds me of something a certain someone recently did… News Corp’s Times Of London Cartoon Shows Starving Children Bemoaning Phone-Hacking Scandal Coverage

4)Limbaugh claims that current heatwave is a Liberal Conspiracy: Limbaugh: The Killer 116° Heat Index Is ‘Manufactured By The Government’

5)Sustainable development that’s actually sustainable: Permaculture in Cambodia (30 min documentary)

EDIT: one more, for good measure: Fox News: Are There Really Poor Americans?, from The Young Turks

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.

assorted short thoughts

1)this being the last few weeks of school, I’m swamped with work and taking a blogging-break until mid-May

2)I was linked by a real-life journalist! yay! plus, the blogpost she wrote was very interesting, so go read

3)visual WTF of the day

4)verbal WTF of the day:

If the demand for land were only D4, land rent would be zero. Land would be a free good — a good for which demand is so weak relative to supply that an excess supply of it occurs even if the market price is zero. […] This essentially was the situation in the free-land era of U.S. History

Visual Propaganda

we interrupt the regular programming for some Glenn Beck style “look, communist nazis!” comparisons (stolen entirely from here)

Exhibit A: the cover of the brandspankin’ new Teabagger Party Review
Tea Party Review

Exhibits B and C: the Communists and Nazis did it, too!
Communist Nazi

too bad no one is paying me millions of dollars to do this shit. It’s easy. Especially with a demographic that’s so devoid of self-reflection, they actually do use this sort of old-school emotionally emotive imagery. On purpose.