Sunday, August 7, 2011

Erratum, or, Message to Mr. Bum

I took some ad hominem material out of a previous post (Return of the Pink Poseur). I can see the ad hominem remarks could easily be miscontstrued as sexist- rather than being dismissive of someone I don't respect (who happens to be female), it might seem as though I hate females/feminists and am being dismissive for that reason (the snark is preserved for posterity in a comment on the post).

One comment I did not retract is that of 'professional victim'. In the infamous CFI talk, Skepchick said that her 'objectification' by EG and subsequent criticism by Stef McGraw would lead rape victims to avoid conferences. I used the term 'professional victim' to describe my unease with skepchick's way of using anecdotal evidence from her own life and painting herself as a victim as material for her talks.

So anyway, clarifications aside, this is my fourth post now written about skepchick/EG. And you may be wondering, am I obsessed? I'm pretty much stalking her online, right? Is it fair to assume males are put together that way- our criticism is a means of fulfilling destructive urges, or overcompensating?

To be honest I don't feel threatened by discussion in the area of gender/ feminism- in fact I find such discussions fascinating, and I am not afraid to represent my point of view. I don't consider my gender or any privileges that a bystander could presume I had to affect the validity of my arguments.

I feel angry about this issue because the consensus of the majority in the blogosphere is wrong, in my opinion, and that's not often the case. My frustration leads to the kind of dismissals that non-accomodationists would use on a regular basis.

Finally, Barefoot Bum, if you're reading, I would like to request a favour- re-visit my last post. Not to disallow my "Stupid, it burns" award, but to let me know what it was about my parallel construction exercise that was sexist. Allow me to elaborate on it a little...

My point was that we don't conciously scan statements like the one made by skepchick in her EG blog post for sexism. We just aren't expecting it. When we flip the gender roles in the example provided, it becomes more apparent that the original statement might have been sexist, in the sense that in the masculine we would call paternalistic.

I think a sexist statement coming from a gender expert can cause cognitive dissonance, which could have caused you to prematurely (!) dismiss this argument.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Return of the Pink Poseur

Is it worth writing more about a person who seems to be a professional victim? Why not one last try.

So, full disclosure, I had not noticed this person called skepchick (Rebecca Watson) til the EG incident was brought to my attention by Hemant. I was vaguely aware she did podcasts, but I don’t listen to things that aren’t awesome and excerpted on youtube- and I believe she doesn’t have anything of this nature. I just started paying attention when the whingeing and whining began.

The statement that began our winter of discontent:
A word to the wise, guys… don’t do that. I can’t begin to express to you how uncomfortable this makes me…don’t invite me back to your hotel room, right after I just finished explaining how this creeps me out and makes me uncomfortable when men sexualize me…

Ah, yes. Now, let’s use a parallel example provided by Dale Husband, writing in support of Watson. He writes of a situation where he was objectified by a woman:
Several years ago, I was at a gas station when I was approached by a woman I soon realized was a prostitute. She asked me if I wanted to go on “dates” with her and then asked for money. After figuring out that she was propositioning me for sex, I was so repulsed that I immediately went into station and told the employees about the woman, and the promised me that they would get rid of her, even as she was proceeding to hit on other men at the station!

Let’s say that had happened to me, and I blogged about it in this way:
A word to the wise, girls… don’t do that. I can’t begin to express to you how uncomfortable this makes me…don’t invite me back to your hotel room, right after I just finished paying for my gas, when you can see my platinum card…

LOL, I’m sure you’ll agree. I would rightly be called a misogynist for talking to my general audience as if they were all prostitutes.

But why is it different for Rebecca when she talks to males as if they were date-rapists? This is misandry, and sure, it isn’t a big problem in our society- but I’m the kind of person who will get pissed off by religions, just because they happen to be wrong, and her misandrous attitude pisses me off just the same.

Not to mention that Watson basically lumps the elevator guy in with rapists, that’s pretty mean when you consider that we live in a society where men conventionally make the first move (and often badly).

I think that Watson is a misandrist, and I think she would have limited success setting up a skeptic community among gender feminists (as we’re all familiar with their love of science).

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Rape and Signal Detection

Research blogged at yesmeansyes indicates that about 6% of males are rapists (from a military sample). Most of these rapists also know their victims, and use alcohol and drinking to perform and get away with rape.

Phaedra Starling gives an example called Schroedinger’s rapist: that (all) unknown males are potential rapists. She describes that potential in terms that would remind physicists of signal detection (all emphases hers):

To begin with, you must accept that I set my own risk tolerance. When you approach me, I will begin to evaluate the possibility you will do me harm. That possibility is never 0%...

The second important point: you must be aware of what signals you are sending by your appearance and the environment. We are going to be paying close attention to your appearance and behavior and matching those signs to our idea of a threat.

I’m going to focus on these points because I think they’re the most intellectually interesting that she raises. I don’t know if she purposely cast the question in scientific terms in order to appeal to male sensibilities, but I think it works, and I would like to extend it.

When working in signal detection, we aim to detect signals and ignore noise by setting a threshold for what will be considered as a signal.

The two errors that can occur are false negatives (signal is under threshold, not detected) and false positives (noise is over threshold, false ‘signal’ detected).

In any but the most clear-cut situations, noise is going to be a problem and these errors are going to occur. What is interesting, though, is that the person interpreting the signal can decide whether they’d rather receive false positives or false negatives by changing the signal threshold.

You have to choose your poison: In the case of medical tests, we move the threshold down, as false negatives are what we want to avoid (tests can be repeated in the event of a false positive); in case of a trial by jury, we set the threshold for evidence fairly high, following the legal maxim that it is better to let 10 guilty walk than imprison a single innocent.

Phaedra Starling’s signal detection problem, Schroedinger’s rapist, is likely to have a low threshold. In order to keep the danger of rape (a false negative) as low as possible, males who does not communicate well must be turned away (the false positive- a normal person mistaken for a rapist). This is the only way in which this signal detection can work- a low threshold is essential to its function.

I think that it is perfectly reasonable to be uncomfortable and suspicious of a person that propositions you late in the evening in an enclosed space. Skepchick was right in taking all precautions to avoid a potential sexual assault.

When he was turned away and nothing happened, though, we should be intellectually honest enough to admit that it this was a false positive.

Unwanted attention is unpleasant, and we have all had it, whether male or female, and have been in situations where we have been scared of the person. When nothing goes wrong, there are two possibilities- you were lucky, or perhaps the person was not as bad as you thought they were.

Watson’s comment on the issue was arrogant in not acknowledging this possibility. I would not expect this attitude from a reason-based individual. We’re supposed to be able to revise our views based upon evidence. If we were free to speculate without resort to reason, one might come up with the following counter-narrative:

In the youtube clip, she talks, as if to him, but in a generalized manner. She is talking down to him, as she knows that she occupies a position of higher status. What is profoundly bizarre, though, is that she seeks to prolong their relationship at all by communicating with him. This ultimately undermines her claim that he was scary in the first place. Also, she hates sexualisation of women but sells calendars of sexy skepchicks on her website.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Emotional Slapstick

So Skepchick was stalked by a Forever Alone (n. “a social misfit”). She- two-tone pink and orange hair, a radical’s mix of social and antisocial. Him- unknown name or hair-color, unknown raping ability.

She shamed him on video later, not for social deficiencies but an insufficient regard for her personal security.

Stef McGraw suggested a nicer spin, where the forever alone guy was a sweet fellow with a crush (and it could have been wonderful). Let's explore this fantasia...

I don’t think sex would have been on the cards: in my screenplay, they’re both very nervous about such things. Indeed they do have coffee: there is a strange intimacy as can only be rigged between two travellers sharing ideas. They decide to go for a walk: barefoot they clamber on the rocks of the seaside, breathing the cool emptiness of the city, the cold grey light of the morning upon the water.

Indeed, it was not like this, for he is just a fan: he does not yet realize that her blog has not held him with electronic arms. Defeated, he stumbles to his room, his rejection heavy about him as a sin, soon to be multiplied tenfold.

The times she’d been propositioned, like anyone, were few: this was a significant event- it had to be made sensible, or it would remain disturbing. After a little thought, the right thing to do became clear. She would be cool about it, not mention it ‘til halfway through the video, then just make note of the infractions made, and let everyone know that it’s not cool. Oh! She’d even been talking about sexualization of women earlier that evening! Boom! How perfect is that?

There, the world was righted again. What had threatened to become personal had been turned neatly political.

The definite misogynist, putative rapist will see it all unfold: his world crumbling down as blog after blog declares an opinion, all too few sympathetic, and Dickie Dawkins' surreal ravings far too unhip to be useful.

In the ashes he will find his lesson: to build his cachet, to be blasé around women, to only invest when sure of a return. It’s not romantic, but c’est la vie.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Player Movement (A basketball-management love poem)

Let me forget your upside
and allow your contract to
expire. Free agents all.
We'll draft for a
more finished export,
having found that
unearned court time
merely sets up a player to fail.

I must stop developing you,
I cannot coach my love.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Inherit the Wind

From David Baddiel & Arvind Ethan David's contribution to The Atheist's Guide to Christmas, entitled 'An Atheist at the Movies':

About the only mainstream film that we could think of with an integral atheist hero and message at its core is the dramatisation of the Scopes Monkey Trial, Inherit the Wind. Brilliant though this film is, and explicitly atheistic through the poin of view of its hero, it is more akin to a documentary - being a fairly careful recreation of the events of that landmark trial - than a true fictitious piece of cinematic myth.

Also, it's like fifty years old and no one alive has heard of, still less seen it.

Well, we should correct that right away. This is a brilliant film, great fun for any rationalist or retro movie fan. Also should be noted, Donna Anderson is a stone fox.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

New Atheism and Accomodationism in conversation, Pt 4

My friend's response:

Re: techno-triumphalism, I am definitely not a Luddite, there is no need to be black and white about these issues. I have the leisure and the insanely amazing technology at my finger tips that allow me to converse with you... it would be silly not be grateful for our situation.

I am just pointing out that our society is facing some complex problems, and we need our best minds to be thinking about them: for example, if the world economy crashes due to peaking oil supplies (which seems possible) there is likely to be a nasty sequence of events... from what I understand we are not coming up with technological solutions for peak oil and natural gas. To point this out is not to say "science is bad", but that there are bigger things going on than acid attacks in Afghanistan (although such things are clearly horrific and deeply depressing).

Re: rationality being a good basis for decision making – I don’t want to get into a language debate but I view rationality as a tool (e.g. you set your goals and then use rational means to achieve them – if you want to climb Everest it is rational to take a Sherpa and oxygen, if you want to keep having all your toes it is probably not rational to climb Everest.... there are lots of goals we have that are not rational (and many rational seeming sub-goals are only rational in context of the larger goal which is irrational).

Is it rational to eat, to try to achieve social dominance, to want to keep living, to be a Communist or a Neo-Liberal? Just saying that human motivation is complex and we should be careful with language.

That is a side point though, re: your main point, I can’t disagree that public decisions, laws etc. should be informed by science and expert opinion.... but let’s not pretend that religion is the only source of “irrationality” or that science/ philosophy can easily resolve moral/ethical quandaries by simply adding more facts.... which is a shame....

Generally I am interested in the reasoning behind the "New Atheist" movement - why does the issue seem so pressing, is it the best use of the time and intellectual energy of the individuals involved?

I have a lot of respect for scientists and work with many highly trained people, MDs etc, but I can't help feeling that the passion that "New Atheists" have for their topic of interest could be better directed by living by what they have decided are the best objective moral values.

By helping poorer societies become more orderly, equitable, and less encumbered by complex issues (many of which we have had a least a small hand in creating) they might actually improve the living conditions of the people who live in these countries.

The point I was making about the details is that it may be a mistake to blame specific passages of religious texts for the bad behaviour of religious people, given that the bad behaviour in question seems to be almost universal. I think that greed and short sightedness may be a better explanation for many issues we face.

From my perspective, it is a fairly short distance between our viewpoints and I want to again remind you that I am a long time Dawkins fan who just thinks his most recent moves have been questionable....

And so I continued:

I don't necessarily agree that science can be characterised as monolithic enough to say that it has its priorities wrong. Green chemistry for instance is a developing field where environmental concerns are weighed equally with traditional chemical concerns of yield and purity.
If we were to discuss this criticism, however, it should be with a view of the economic environment in which science occurs. Science is very slow and expensive, due to the nature of experimental technique and the inevitable difficulties encountered with novel techniques. Greater funding must be acquired if these areas are to be explored: greater funding for non-commercial projects involves political will. Political will for environmental projects will only be enabled by education and the situation getting bad enough to affect people's day-to-day lives.

New atheism is a popular movement. Bertrand Russell was expressing these same views throughout his life as captured on film in 1959 - the American founding fathers were deistic secularists, etc. It is a political position, recognising religious organisations as political entities and balancing their influence. To ask a person like this to justify their involvement would be akin to asking why a Green politician does what they do when they could potentially save more lives making a vaccine- people have rights to their own perspective. Surely a scientific approach to assessing humanitarian costs and benefits would go some way towards resolving these issues if people really needed guidance, but I don't believe that they really do.

I'm not sure what you mean by the statement that bad behaviour seems to be universal. Harris' point about there being different levels of harm from different religions seems to refute it (eg islam vs quakers, baptists vs C of E). If the suggestion is that bad behaviour is evenly spread among all demographics, it would be trivial to refute (ie incidence of murder convictions among Nobel prize winners).

Greed and short-sightedness indeed ARE good explanations for human behaviour. However, religion is anti-psychological. Mental illnesses are not recognised as real by a majority of religions, and recommended treatments for these conditions by churches is usually faith-based rather than medical.

Many Christian faiths have a folk understanding of psychology based upon Paul's doctrine of original sin. The unfortunate corollary is that all good behaviour is then divinely inspired- the idea of 'common grace' supplied by the holy spirit- which I believe disempowers followers to construct their own individual morality.
The ubiquitous morality of the church is then determined in a somewhat autocratic fashion by church leaders, and this subjects the masses to a moral framework which serves primarily the interests of the Church. This is where the greed and short-sightedness can frequently appear, but church leaders are unique among the citizens of the world in their ability to avoid moral scrutiny. Atheism supports the potential establishment of a world in which all individuals can be held accountable in equal measure- where there is potential for the establishment of the rule of law.

In comparison with you, I am a new-school Dawkins fan. Although as a scientist I respect his pop-scientific writing, and the gene's-eye view of evolution was really novel, I don't enjoy these books as much as the God Delusion.
As a polemicist he is astounding, a true Germaine Greer, and just as capable of transforming popular culture. Destroying timid, bullied society's sacred cows is each one's work, but needn't be feared, because these conflicts are long-overdue, and give rise to a more interesting and equitable future.