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Aug. 1st, 2013

Semiformalishmaybe

Loyalty

This is meant to address three ideas:

  • Don't blame the victim
  • If you care for me, you'd support me unconditionally
  • Safe zones
And to be a topic in its own. That topic being loyalty.

For those we care for, we desire them to be happy, to succeed, to grow as people, and various other things. To that end, we offer them our support in various realms of life. This is a great thing, even if we don't care for everyone equally and don't provide the same kinds of support to everyone. However, I think unless we establish some nuances, we run the risk of getting some things very wrong. Our support for others, if excessive in degree or scope, can be detrimental to us or even to them. I have previously written about reasonable degree of care ; helping people to the extent that we injure our own interests or dignity to an excessive degree. Here, we should begin to address scope of care.

I present a divide:

  • Care-in-assistance
  • Care-in-judgement
Care-in-assistance is to put our time, resources, and emotional support towards the aid of others. Care-in-judgement is to consider, when defining or perceiving the world, someone's interests in how we do so.

I argue that care-in-judgement is almost always harmful or inappropriate, and care-in-assistance is how we generally should care for people. People require criticism and constant exposure to other perspectives to remain sane; sterile groups of people who agree on philosophy or contested events offer a certain comfort, but it is a comfort that creates inappropriate certainty in life and diminishes the ability of the person to deal with mainstream society; this is the disvirtue of surrounding oneself with yes-men. Safe zones are particularly pernicious towards this end; they offer the unhealthy comfort of closer relationships with people who act as yes-men, curbing the ability of the mainstream to moderate excessive perspectives and offer correction. They diminish the ability of people so humoured to handle disagreement, and incubate unacceptable demands of fidelity-to-their-views that they may place on society.

Beyond these ties, they diminish the person who offers care-in-judgement; the person's judgement is hijacked by their social needs. If our judgement is to mean anything, it must be independent of the people we care for, both in topic and from need for their approval. We must be able to judge our family and our closest friends the same as the people we despise through the same lens, and even handle the nuances of when victims are not wholly innocent (or to a lesser degree, not wholly helpful) or when a victim turns into an abuser. Justice is impartial; in order for our judgement to be true, we must place these realms of life outside responsiveness to social reprecussion. This is very difficult, and many people cannot manage it, but for those that cannot do it much, we must write off entirely their thoughts on matters of justice. For others who can only do it somewhat, we must at least consider their conflicts-of-interest, and criticise or doubt them as necessary to help them grow as people). We also should ignore the politics of the situation when we're asked for (or when the situation calls for) an honest judgement; even if exposure to how we see things would be very unpleasant for the hearer, we owe it to ourselves not to be dishonest with our views; we either must explicitly note that we're withholding their expression, or to tell them, rather than pretend they are what they are not.

With this, we achieve some integrity; a kind of integrity that should be a basis for a kind of self-respect (and, for those virtuous enough to admire this trait, respect of others). We must grow enough as people to offer the reciprocal though; to handle disagreements in perspective and judgements from those around us. That kind of tolerance is just as important as the expressiveness. We should finally avoid the idea of only offering the first in exchange for the second with a particular person; we should strive for both as much as possible with everyone, particularly those that lack one or both virtues.

Jul. 20th, 2013

Semiformalishmaybe

What Do We Owe Each Other?

One of the central questions in political philosophy, or perhaps one of the most intuitive initial framings, is "what do we owe each other?". I prefer to ask this question as a foundational one; one which we ask while the different ways we might structure society, property, and rights or legal norms are in place. We ask it that early because an answer to it might help us decide what specifics to offer. If we were, for example, to ask this question after a system of property or rights or similar are in place, we've already curtailed the number of answers to a question like this; we might not be able to consider oweing each other much of anything if we ask the question after having a well worked-out philosophy that excludes concerns like this. This isn't to suggest that this is the only worthwhile question, but rather that an answer to it would amount to a foundational concern that should, with other such concerns, should provide substantial structure.

The problem remains broad; I initially segment it into two bundles of questions:

  • What do we owe each other materially? What do we owe each other institutionally?
  • What do we owe each other in treatment? In a one-on-one fashion? In a broad social fashion?
And also another way to divide the question:
  • What do we owe each other absolutely?
  • What do we owe each other provisionally? Provisionally dependent on circumstance? Provisionally dependent on action?
From here, we might establish multiple categories, or start to move towards more specific questions and answers; in some cases and for some questions, I expect many people would say "nothing"; for others, I expect others would have substantial answers. People might layer in different levels of "owe", distinguishing different kinds of legal and social duties. Even as these matters come down to bald assertions, being willing to wade into this domain and stake claims is helpful for when activisms (or viewpoints in general) collide.

Jun. 25th, 2013

Semiformalishmaybe

Suicide as Thought-Crime

I wonder if the prohibition on suicide is about those whose action would be prohibited so much as it is about disturbing a consensus; suicide as heresy. Heresy to the idea that the strength it takes to continue with life sometimes is a well-placed strength. Heresy to the idea that life is worthwhile and should continue until a natural end; illness or infirmity. I detect undertones of this idea of heresy in every discussion I see after someone suicides; people fear that suicide will come to be accepted, perhaps they fear that they will accept it; this taboo is something present in many societies as a guard against impulsivity, a fence that nontheless blocks deliberate and careful choice as much as whim. We may never forget forever that we have the ability to do it, and that knowledge may even help those of us who have broken the taboo avoid the urge to do it at time, but the taboo and ritual condemnation of the act as weak help make it complicated enough to delay it again.

Perhaps.

May. 26th, 2013

Semiformalishmaybe

Keeping the Praxis Straight

Today was (probably) the end of my affiliation with CFI-NYC. I came to the tenative conclusion last night, but hoped to leave on a high note; today's philosophy gathering was quite a good one, and happened to touch on some of the reason I'm leaving (although I didn't mention the leavitude while there). Largely, I'm frustrated with the recent focus on intersectionality and how it's led to many events being qualified (need to be ex-Christian, or ex-Muslim, or non-straight (which I'm qualified for, but this is not a matter of personal inconvenience so much as a philosophical dislike of qualified groups), or under-30, or similar.

Broadly speaking, we talked about social justice and activism for the whole session, particularly the recent events at a CFI "Women in Secular" conference that've been controversial.

One idea visible from the conversation (but not an explicit topic): two kinds of activism

  • Type 1: Activism based on sharing of experiences of victims of injustice, those inspiring the form and shape of activism. People who are not victims who wish to take part in activism are "allies".
  • Type 2: Activism based on broad philosophical consideration of injustice, that judging what is (actionable) injustice and what is not, and that defining the form and shape of activism. People are activists for things that fit their philosophy, regardless of identities involved, and there are no "allies".
I am strongly for Type 2; Type 1 turns activism into being about individuals one knows, and invites unthinking membership in a community inspired by this idea of being a "good ally", discouraging independent thought or the importance of a convincing argument. Any movement based on Type 1 should, I think, be torn apart so its energy can be directed towards a Type 2.

Many of my other criticisms and efforts to shape activism fit into this distinction; the idea that victims have a special (or defining) role in deciding on praxis comes naturally from type 1, and is equally repugnant from a type-2 perspective.

May. 25th, 2013

Semiformalishmaybe

BSA and GSA

Recently, Boy Scouts has been in the news; they finally appeal to be removing their ban on gay youth in their organisation, although leaders still must be straight. I've been unhappy with BSA for quite some time; my experiences with the organisation were fairly mixed and I've come to dislike portions of their messages. Having 3 younger sisters and a mum who was involved in Girl Scouts, I had some experiences with them as well (some summers I went with my mum and sisters to a GSA camp). While they were occasionally a bit domestic, I think they generally have their heads on straighter than BSA, and their policies are in many aspects less objectionable.

I recently read this editorial by Erika Christakis: 「BSA has a lot to learn from GSA」 and I find myself entirely in agreement with it (which is fairly rare for me; I normally try to find at least a few things to criticise about any other position/article I cite, but I couldn't here). Kudos to her.

She links to an article by GSA titled 「What We Stand For」, and it's a good document too; the only thing I dislike in it is the emphasis on pushing patriotism; otherwise, it would make me comfortable sending a child of mine, were I ever to have one, to GS, in marked contrast to BS (where I have pledged not to do so unless BSA changes a lot).

May. 12th, 2013

Semiformalishmaybe

CMU, the First Amendment, and Indecent Exposure

Earlier on my G+ stream, I commented on the matter of a CMU student who protested the Catholic church's coverup of sexual abuse by dressing as the pope, partly naked. I was disappointed that President Cohon had apologised on behalf of CMU to the local Catholic Bishop and the Catholic League. Now the matter has been resolved; she was charged with indecent exposure and not charged further.

It's irritating that Bishop Zubik and Bill Donohue (the latter name you may be familiar with if you track conservative political correctness pushers) had the chutzpah to spew this garbage:

  • Zubik: "Once again, and as I have said over these last few weeks, this is an opportunity for all of us to be reminded that freedom of speech and freedom of expression do not constitute a freedom to dismiss or disrespect the beauty of anyone's race, the sacredness of anyone's religious belief or the uniqueness of anyone's nationality"
  • Donohue: (the University's action) "balances the need for freedom of expression with a commitment to fighting intolerance"
Rubbish. If you believe all races are beautiful, that religiousness is sacred, or ... people's nationalities are unique (whatever the fuck that means), that's your business. Don't gag others. And making fun of Catholics (or anything else) is not intolerant.

On this, I'm happy that the ACLU is pushing a decent standard; a healthy society is not always polite, and it doesn't fetishise respect.

This is not meant as a commentary on indecency laws, where I've never had much of a position, but if we are to accept such laws, it's purely an administrative matter to enforce them and doing so should not be seen or spoken of as pretending that Catholic (or any other) perspectives should not be mocked. Donohue's still even protesting the artwork "Piss Christ".

There are parts of the left and the right that still would either legally or socially try to stomp out things that offend them. Rape jokes. Black humour. Jabs at their preferred religious ideas. People not using their preferred worlds-of-terms for sex/gender/etc. It's disappointing and dangerous.

Tags:

May. 10th, 2013

Semiformalishmaybe

Diversity in Tech

In the technical meetups I've been part of in NYC, I've been noticing a demographics shift from them being practically all-male (e.g. 1-2 women in a group of 120) to them starting to have a little bit of gender-diversity (10-15 women in a similar size group). This is a good thing, and I've seen it across several groups. I don't think the content of the groups themselves has changed much to allow this; the groups are racially diverse and have been for a long time (plenty of Indians and Orientals and a fair number of Blacks), but race and gender don't come up as topics either in official content or informal side-channels (and not that I mind most forms of erasure even as I notice it, but that doesn't seem to happen for any category I'm aware of).

I wonder then why we're seeing this demographics shift, and if we can expect it to shift further. I've heard that Etsy has made particular efforts to bring gender-diversity to its workplace, and while I don't approve of everything it's done (they have a highly obnoxious policy of "you must apologise if someone says they're offended by anything you do", apparently), there's much to be liked in other of their methods and certainly in the result. Maybe other companies are doing the same, perhaps the college-gender-gap's echoes (reportedly women are going into college at higher rates than men and achieving more, nowadays) are making their way into workplaces, perhaps the healthy (and unhealthy) ideas from the various flavours of feminism are having an effect, and perhaps the generational gaps are just smoothly dumping people with past inculturations out of the relevant workplaces and eventually into the grave.

One of the things I like, having briefly chatted with some of the leadership of these groups, is that it's happening without any Tim-Wise-style bullshit. People are just showing up (and hopefully staying) without the need for people to babble about power and privilege. On the rare occasion that people have literally objected to women being in the communities, they've been yelled at, but otherwise it's been a nice, smooth, quiet transition without obnoxious third-wave theory. I'm hoping we keep it that way. This is the kind of feminism that IMO should've won.

It'll be interesting to see if the trend continues, and how.

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May. 7th, 2013

Semiformalishmaybe

AlJ should be more careful

I'm a bit disappointed in this AlJ story summary; it's dipping into uninformed sensationalism, in that it aims for a kneejerk reaction to a story that's not borne by the facts.

The title of the article is: "ex-girlfriend target bleeds when shot", showing a picture of a bleeding doll.

Obviously, were this an accurate summary, we'd be right to be very unhappy about this; it'd amount to promotion of domestic abuse. Kinda. Anyhow....

That's not actually what's going on. I followed a link to @zombieind (Twitter) to figure out what kind of press they were getting for this (shown at an NRA show, generally not a good sign for decency of a company), and from there I visited their website and found the actual product and a wide variety of other targets.

They're zombies and vicious animals. Their whole schtick is to imagine a world where many people have been zombified and you need to shoot them, and need to fend off wild animals too. We're not talking domestic abuse here. We're hooking into a genre where people frequently have to deal with turned loved-ones (and not-so-loved-ones) who have become dangerous. Which brings me to the conclusion that while the company is pretty weird and maybe a bit creepy, they're generally ok. And that Al Jazeera screwed up.

Apr. 28th, 2013

Semiformalishmaybe

Not Going for the Face

One of the most important things I believe one should do in arguments is to allow for the possibility of your winning the argument without costing the other person too much face. Most people care a lot about face, even though they probably shouldn't; unless your debate is on behalf of a third party, or primarily for onlookers, if you want to actually convince/influence someone, even partially, you should keep it friendly, show you're willing to give when warranted, and if/when you make headway, be as charitable as humanly possible to their person (even if not necessarily their argument).

I'm always trying to figure out ways to do this better.

It's sadly often impossible to have a charitable conversation with people in activist communities because most of them are rotten enough that if you disagree with them, they'll have a variety of ways to argue that they shouldn't even be listening to you, have a bunch of names to call you, etc. If you find such things interesting, you can watch these antibodies when you see bad discourse standards move from one person to another (this whole "argument from positional privilege" thing in third-wave feminism is a great example). Fortunately, there are good ways to unplug those arguments too, but unfortunately they tend to be very jarring for the person who only knows how to argue with them.

Semiformalishmaybe

Dilution

I've been thinking about an issue that's been raised in the secular community; I'm not sure it's a good issue, nor a bad one. Let me lead up to it by briefly reiterating a position I do hold that supports my ambivilance on this one:

I've come to support the idea of religious chaplains in the US Military. This is because while generally people's faith is a private matter and doesn't need/shouldn't get government support, when people are effectively wards of the state, controlled in almost every matter by the circumstances of their job, the public/private divide effectively disappears (what is truly private in the daily lives of our armed forces?), and we lose the ability to honestly say "on your own time". Without that divide, the state provides a number of things (entertainment too) that they otherwise would not to meet the needs/desires/happiness of their troops. So long as participation in religious content is optional in the fullest possible sense of the term, I'm ok with military chaplains; having them there, giving them a salary, etc.

Now, the issue at hand where I'm still thinking about things is related to this petition to include seculars in interfaith services. I'll take the "no" stance to illustrate its reasonability (and understand that I'm being a bit of a devil's advocate here and I'm actually ambivalent and still working this over); exclusion of seculars from such events acts as a burden on the content of the event because in making the content suitable for seculars, it dilutes or removes the meaning of such services, because the religious framing is how people live their lives and failing to hook into that (difficult to do without angering/excluding seculars) makes for a very dilute event.

Note that this is a privately-run event, but one with public participation by some high-profile political figures, so there are no legal issues involved; the question is just one of "should" and public pressure. For those of you who don't believe in shoulds outside of "separation of church and state" issues, I don't expect you to feel very interested in this issue. For me, the public/private divide is significant but not deciding; there are plenty of private "should"s in my book.

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