Why I don’t Care About Your Feelings

OK, that’s not exactly true. In the moment I may well care that you’re upset, distraught, angry or whatever else you might be feeling. However, when it comes to deciding on a course of action, then I’m afraid, your feelings count for fuck all.

Consider the above video, which is – of course – an absurd extension of the point.

The Prime Minister, here, is absolutely convinced that the cause of the mass unemployment afflicting the country is pixies. He believes the pixies to exist, he is sure they are the cause of the problem and he seeks to educate the public on the matter of the evil pixies in order to address the problem.

He feels and thinks that it is pixies, but of course, we know there’s no such thing as pixies and – as such – pixies are extremely unlikely to be responsible for mass unemployment. No amount of effort expended in the pursuit of stamping out ‘all manner of goblinry’ is likely to have any discernible effect on the unemployment figures and the whole enterprise is a massive waste of time. His feelings about the pixie threat, his personal – subjective – experience makes no difference.

Useful action, with any chance of success, has to stem from good and accurate information. It’s not always going to be as obvious (as pixies are) that an analysis of a situation is wrong, but we must always start from a basis of truth. In that situation, the only truth your feelings can illustrate is how you feel, not what’s objectively, actually true.

So when I ‘don’t care about your feelings’ it’s NOT actually that I don’t care about your feelings, it’s just that if we’re dealing with a real problem, they’re about as relevant – in the fact of facts – as pixies.

Good talk.

Aethics – Veganism

Some of my best friends are vegan or vegetarian, the reason most of them are still my friends is that they lack the same kind of evangelical zeal which, unfortunately, many of their dietary kind are prone to. I hate clashing with them, but it still inevitably happens from time to time. Those clashes are usually over interpretations of data and statistics, but sometimes that strays into areas of ‘woo’ and even science (or practical) denialism.

My hope is that by setting out by (omnivorous) position here and presenting my objections to vegan arguments and bad science I can spare myself some of these arguments in the future or at least direct them to more useful, evidence based arguments.

Aethics is what I’m tentatively calling my own attempt at an objective (or at least only human-subjective) moral philosophy. The idea being that by incorporating ideas from Epicureanism and Utilitarianism you can come to a fact-based, rational and logical moral decision on difficult problems. There’s some important key components to this though:

Facts first: Any decision must be based on facts.

Provisional: An ‘aethical’ point of view accents that any decision made through it is provisional, not absolute.

Situational: Any moral or ethical decision depends on context. What is wrong in one instance may not be wrong in another. No decision is set or settled in its entirety.

Emotions & Feelings Have Value: People’s emotional pain should be taken into account and weighed up in a decision.

Strive for Objectivity: While emotions have value and meaning they should not guide the moral decisions.

The Environment

A chief argument in favour of veganism is the environmental impact of farming. It is supposed that you can raise a great deal more in the way of crops on land that would otherwise go to sustain animals. In theory this could free up land, increase the food surplus, drive down prices etc. Animal waste (poop and methane gas) can also harm the environment and there are issues around drug resistant bacteria given the over-use of antibiotics in agriculture.

On the face of it this is all true and these are great and practical arguments for veganism. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple.

  1. Animals can be raised on land unsuitable for crops.
  2. Irresponsible farming practices (antibiotic use etc) is an argument against irresponsible farming practices, not for veganism.
  3. While slurry may be reduced, a vegetarian diet increases human flatulence and excrement, which would at least offset any gains by reducing animal husbandry in terms of both global warming and waste pressure.
  4. Plant-farming can exhaust the soil in a way animal farming cannot, requiring constant rotation and/or fertilisation of the soil. Fertilisation requires petrochemicals, industrial nitrates damage the environment nearly as much as animal slurry and – without a large source of animal fertiliser – there’s little in the way of alternatives. Using human poop would require intensive processing, due to the disease risk.
  5. More agriculture means larger, monocultivar fields, which are very vulnerable to pests and disease. This means either more GM crops (which I have no issue with) or more pest spraying, which again is more petrochemicals and industrial waste, further offsetting any supposed gains. Organic farming is only ~66% as efficient as industrial farming and other solutions such as mixed-cultivation simply don’t work on a civilisational scale and aren’t amenable to industrial harvesting and processing.

In short the much-vaunted environmental benefits attributed to forcing everyone into veganism do not consider the wider impact and the knock-on effects. While we do raise and consume too much meat and  altering that would be a good thing, eliminating meat production would not have an enormous and transformational effect on our environmental issues and could, conceivably, make aspects of them worse.


Veganism supposedly carries with it some health benefits, but virtually every study I have read on this carries with it the same mistake. Vegans and vegetarians – people who are actively interested in and engaged in their diet – are compared with ‘average Joes’ – people who don’t. For a comparison to be valid, it would have to compare people who are equally as engaged and interested in their diets, just with some being omnivores and some being vegan/vegetarian. The very few studies on this grounds tend to show the omnivorous group having slightly better overall health and – in sport comparisons – performance.

So why might that be?

Put simply, humans are omnivores. We have teeth suited to both vegetation and animal tissue, we have a mid-length intestine, we have gut flora and digestive enzymes suitable for both meat and vegetable digestion. Our bodies rely on numerous micronutrients, fats and other things found in a mixed diet to operate with maximum efficiency and health. Some fats, in particular, are very important in early life while the nervous system is being ‘built’ and a vegan diet for young children may cause lasting harm and make them more susceptible to various problems with the nervous system.

To refer back to the first paragraph here, the problem is comparing like to like. Most people come to a vegan diet later on in life, ‘slip’ more than they like to admit and so minimise the negative impacts a vegan diet may have. This isn’t, of course, to say that we shouldn’t eat less meat – we should – just that people having irresponsible diets is not a good argument for veganism, but is a good diet for a balanced, healthy, omnivorous, diverse diet.

Health benefits come from being engaged with what you eat and a diverse omnivorous diet is healthier than a vegan one.

This can, of course, be offset with dietary supplements, but the need for such suggests either an underlying health problem or a dietary inadequacy and the increased production of dietary supplements would refer back to the environmentalism point, industrial production of such products is not so great for the environment.

Ethical Concerns

The environmental and health claims for veganism are, then, at least questionable or not as strong as they are claimed to be. What, then, of the ethical questions? What are the ethical questions? There’s really only one, that the raising of meat for consumption causes suffering to animals. This isn’t an easy question to tackle as it goes pretty deep into a whole bunch of muddy areas with no definitive answers.

Let’s qualify the statement a little.

‘Eating meat causes unnecessary suffering to animals’.

That’s a little better, since practically all ethical decisions require the weighing up of pros and cons. So the real question is whether more ‘good’ than ‘evil’ is done. The environmental question is up in the air, the health one is not. People are better off with an omnivorous diet… but how do we weight human health and need against that of animals?

There’s no absolute answer to this, but we have a natural inclination to favour our own species, our own friends and family. We are as ethically open-minded as our situation allows. If it came down to sacrificing a stranger over a friend most of us would do it, and would sacrifice a friend over family. If the bombs fell, most of us would resort to eating the family dog, however much we love it.

We do make exceptions for endangered species, but even if someone were to poach the last rhino, most people would baulk at killing them for doing so.

If this seems a little disjointed it’s because I’m trying to sketch out the boundaries of the situation.

  • Animals are not as concious or aware as humans (though this varies from creature to creature). They do not appear able to suffer in the same manner that humans do.
  • Inhuman and cruel farming practices are an argument against inhumane harming practices, not for veganism.
  • Can ‘food’, really be regarded as ‘unnecessary’?
  • How much of a health compromise to yourself or your children is acceptable to spare animals pain?

It seems to me that unnecessary cruelty (factory farming and poor slaughter practices) is an argument against itself, but not for veganism again. We should be wanting to minimise cruelty and pain but it’s perfectly reasonable for us to prioritise our own pleasure and health. Please, yes, meat is a pleasurable experience to eat for most people – another cue that our body needs and wants it.

The ethical side is clearly too broad and deep to adequately cover in a blog post as this last section is all over the place. The short version is that there are many good reasons to continue producing and eating meat, and the arguments against it are primarily against things like cruel farming practices, which can be eliminated without eliminating animal husbandry. Even the ethical argument is simply too subjective and personal to be more broadly applied.


Let’s return to the ‘aethics’ guidelines from earlier.

Facts first: Any decision must be based on facts.

Veganism is not the great saviour of the environment and not the best option for human health. Much in the way of farming practice is, however, unnecessarily cruel. Given we’re likely to farm insects soon it will be interesting to see whether current vegans are against that also (or vat-grown meat), and whether they avoid things like shellfish today, which have extremely minimal awareness or capacity for pain.

Provisional: An ‘aethical’ point of view accents that any decision made through it is provisional, not absolute.

As other options, such as the aforementioned vat-grown meat, become available the moral questions may shift. If we can have the meat without the animals, then it’s harder to justify any form of cruelty in farming whatsover (humane slaughter isn’t really cruel per se).

Situational: Any moral or ethical decision depends on context. What is wrong in one instance may not be wrong in another. No decision is set or settled in its entirety.

This whole discussion exists within the current structure where we have mixed agriculture, a lot of poor people who rely on cheap nutrition and have yet to develop, properly, alternatives such as insect farming, vat-grown meat or fully artificial substitutes from vegetable protein that both carry the same nutrition and the same experience.

Emotions & Feelings Have Value: People’s emotional pain should be taken into account and weighed up in a decision.

Pleasure also has value here, and an enjoyable diet is a boon to mental as well as physical health. People take great pleasure from their food and this must weigh into the equation just as animal suffering must.

Strive for Objectivity: While emotions have value and meaning they should not guide the moral decisions.

While not true of all, many vegans seem to have come to their position based on emotion, unable to stand the thought of eating a cute lamb or a smart pig. These are emotionally based decisions, not factually based.

Given all these factors, only the ethical argument holds any water and then only as a personal decision and an argument against poor farming practice, not for veganism in and of itself. As such I see no convincing arguments, whatsoever, against the farming and eating of meat. People’s conscience is their own look-out and there’s no real position from which to criticise anyone else, with these arenas of decision being so subjective.

As and when genuine alternatives appear the moral question will shift again, but until such material is affordable and available this is where I stand.

The Insoluble American Gun Probem

gun_control030413Another day, another massacre. As many people have noted, including the president of the United States, this has now become grim routine.

So have the arguments.

America is uniquely set up to have a particular problem with firearms. It has a mythologised cowboy culture of self-reliance and individualism – taken to a ‘toxic’ extreme. Misinterpretations of the constitution (in regard to this issue) now enshrined in law. A stubborn belief, despite the statistics, that guns help, protect people and solve problems rather than cause them (or make them worse).

The USA’s culture further worsens the problem by being so militantly against things like universal healthcare or government provision and social investment. Things that are know to be effective in reducing crime and violence and in the case of medical care, better mental healthcare provision would doubtless cut such incidents significantly.

Even these basic facts, and the fact that gun control works in every other nation, are contentious in America. There is absolutely no way that the public, or the Republican Party, nor much of the Democratic Party will ever be persuaded to pursue an effective gun control (or banning) agenda, nor any way such would succeed. Such a change would be incredibly hard to enforce in the USA anyway and would not really begin to bite for a long time – longer than an electoral cycle.

If any solution is to be found here, it’s going to need to account for the intransigence of American politics and the utter hostility towards the best known measure – gun controls and bans. It’s also going to need to work around the hostility to increased social provision and investment.

Innovative and lateral-thinking methods of addressing the problem will need to be come up with if any progress is to be made.

My idea, which I humbly submit for consideration, would be to treat guns more like cars. To combine and extend current basics and to introduce a new controls and methods of minimising harm.

  • Guns need to be licensed, controlled by age similarly to cars – which we also recognise require responsible and careful owners.
  • Gun licenses, perhaps, should only be issued to those able to pass a basic test. A written test on proper storage, conduct and safety. A practical test of safe control and target shooting.
  • Licenses should be restricted from being issued to people with certain mental or physical issues and those guilty of certain crimes  (and should be revoked if these develop).
  • Licenses are compulsory and cost money, yearly, not unlike UK Car Tax. Per weapon.
  • There should be compulsory gun insurance, similar to compulsory car insurance. Insurance for each weapon (group rates) which pays out should your gun harm or kill anyone, or be used in a crime. It doesn’t go to compensate you of course, rather it compensates the victims. You can act to minimise risks and costs, or you can pay more.

The most important and innovative part, I think, is the last. Insurance companies don’t care about anything but the bottom line. They would be motivated to do factual research so that they can do effective risk assessment and set levies appropriate to the cost. Insurance companies may even deny insurance to high risk clients, which would take a ‘ban’ out of government hands, or bankrupt organisations like the NRA which might, initially, insure the uninsurable until they run out of money.

The additional costs that would introduce into gun ownership and the additional tools it would provide for arrest and legitimate confiscation should have a good effect. Especially in poorer communities where gun violence is a larger risk. It should work to depress the number of weapons owned, while allowing those that absolutely insist on owning firearms to still have them. It would encourage safer behaviour and measures taken to minimise risk (lower power, lower capacity, properly stored and high tech safeties) which would reduce premiums.

The additional tax revenue would allow more government programs to tackle related issues – if the political will could be found – and the non-tax revenue involved would provide a boost to business.

Aethics: Sexy Robots

CHERRY 2000, Pamela Gidley, David Andrews, 1987, (c) Orion

The BBC has an article up talking about a drive by a Kathleen Richardson (a robotics ethicist – yes, such a thing exists) to pre-emptively ban sexbots. If she gets her way, Cherry 2000 will never get to exist.

On the face of it, this seems silly, as silly as banning dildos or Fleshlights (or those rather creepy Real-dolls). What is a robot sex-doll other than a complicated dildo after all?

Richardson raises several concerns:

  1. That they are unnecessary.
  2. That they are undesirable.
  3. That they will reinforce traditional stereotypes of women.
  4. That they will encourage the idea that relationships need only be physical.
  5. That this will undermine relationships between real men and real women.

89e7dcd439aec524b2e23a5dcc97afabThere’s more, but it’s based around speculation on advances in artificial intelligence and so on. Let’s stick to what’s at the edge of feasible now. Physically realistic sex bots capable of limited interaction.

We know that there are already people who have ‘relationships’ with their inanimate sex-dolls, who fall in love with crude AI girlfriends on their handheld game systems. These are crude but they are representative of what we may see in the future. So are any of these concerns valid?

Are sex-bots unnecessary?

Many things are unnecessary, but desirable, so this is not necessarily a good argument in the first place. It’s not necessary to cook food, to have access to vehicles or to have a television, but these things bring comfort to our lives. Even if we take this argument at face value though, the situation in which we find ourselves may indeed make sex-bots necessary. There is a huge, building gender disparity in China with many more men than women. A powderkeg of frustrated male sexual desire that, with no outlet, may express itself in dangerous ways. Prison rape is a hideous problem in many countries, such as the US, also. Might access to sex-bots alleviate some of this? Might it not provide an outlet for sexual tension and might it not also – possible – contribute to a reduction in rape as some contend easier access to pornography has done? In that situation, sex-bots are not only desirable, but may be considered necessary.

1-robot-paintings-by-hajime-sorayamaAre sex-bots desirable?

Clearly they are. People are already buying all sorts of elaborate sex toys and customised sex dolls. There’s obviously a market for them amongst fantasists, those with social anxiety disorders and those with proclivities outside the norm. With men increasingly opting out of the dating and marriage options it seems that men and women alike may find a use for sex-bots as a masturbatory aid and source of relief while between relationships or while focussed on their careers. Whether you approve or not, there’s clearly a market for such things.

Will Sex-Bots reinforce Stereotypes of Women?

This is a hard one. People desire what they desire and the market tends to respond to what people want. I think many people have this relationship backwards, thinking the market tells people what they want. There are trends in desires which manifest in stereotypes but no two people have exactly the same tastes. The presumption seems to be, also, that only women would want sex-bots and only women need be concerned. Surely there would also be a market amongst women for sex-bots? Hung to their specified dimensions, armed with a six pack and the perfect amount of endurance. This doesn’t seem to me to be something that is only a concern for women, yet only women seem to be overtly concerned about the ‘competition’. People want what they want, if that’s uncomfortable perhaps it needs to be faced, but I think critics underestimate the value of a real, human relationship – or the role that sex-bots might play within relationships (an artificial, risk-free threesome for example).

RommieuniformWill they encourage ideas that relationships need only be physical?

Will a sexual relationship with a sex-bot be truly satisfying? Pornography and masturbation already offer physical relief and yet people still seek relationships. Why should this be any different with sex-bots? Until such bots are as good as people, and capable of relationships, I think there will still be a desire for more. Why shouldn’t some relationships be purely physical anyway? The BDSM scene has people who meet up, as friend, for play sessions. ‘Fuckbuddies’ is a thing. Hook up culture is a thing. We already have purely, or nearly purely, physical relationships and a sex-bot isn’t going to change that one way or another. Better to have sex with a nice clean sex-bot than to risk your health on one-night stands, no?

Will they undermine relationships between real men and women?

Possibly, but these already seem to be breaking if you look at the MGTOW and ‘Grazer’ movements in Japan and further afield. Despite mockery and derision they seem to be growing and marriages are now the minority in the UK and probably elsewhere. Can you undermine something that is already failing in modern society and should we necessarily mourn it? Might not sex-bots allow couples with mismatched desires to stay together, each having a robot lover they can turn to when their fleshly lover is no longer in the mood? Is that healthier than taking a flesh-and-blood lover or not? If you can’t compete with a sex-robot, should you be a relationship anyway?


There seem, to me, to be no moral or ethical reasons to deny people the development or ownership of sex-bots. The cost seems minimal or unrelated and the benefits in terms of personal pleasure and societal safety and security seem obvious. The concern also seems very sexist, assuming that only men would want or purchase sex bots when – surely – there’s as much of a market amongst women for a ‘perfect’ lover? It seems to me that the development of such devices would be of benefit to the species as a whole, including, potentially, helping with controlled population reduction.


Let us take this concept to some uncomfortable extremes though and see how that affects how you would think about this.

A sex-bot need not look normal. We already see this is Real-Dolls with unrealistic proportions or based on fantasy characters – models have been made to resemble characters from games and comics, for example. Why stop there though?

What if a paedophile wanted a realistic sex-bot that resembled an underage child? Our instant reaction is disgust, of course, but would it not be better that they wreak their desires upon a robot than upon a real child and might not the sex-bot give them a way to expend their frustration without resorting to rape?

What if a sexual sadist or predator could have access to a sex-bot that does the things that turn them on? What if they could ‘kill’ their sex-bot every night, consequence free, and have it back the next day. Might that not prevent them from enacting those desires in real life?

What if the sex-bot wasn’t even human? What if it could be made to resemble a dog, a sheep, a tentacle monster from someone’s perverted hentai fantasies?

Should we allow such things?

If not, why not?

If so, why?

Even without AI, the advent of realistic (or realistic enough) sex-bots raises some questions on these topics and challenges our views of human sexuality. Do we interfere in this most private and intimate of areas or do we say it’s nobody’s business but theirs? Why and how do we decide?

Food for thought.

#News Internet Reporting: Tyler the Creator Barred from Oz

A couple of days ago I made this video, a sort of ‘how-to- guide to avoid a great deal of the internet reporting mistakes that most news outlets slip into. By great fortune, an event fell into our collective lap to show how media fails to report on the internet, and how these guidelines might help.

Rapper ‘Tyler the Creator‘ has – allegedly (at time of writing this was not confirmed) been denied entry into Australia to do a show, largely due to the agitation of a feminist organisation called ‘Collective Shout’ and in particular one of their members Coralie Alison.

You already know you’re in for a bumpy ride when online feminism is concerned, but when you involve the rap community, a controversial rapper, and you account for the fact that Tyler is known to many people for this tweet…


Then you know things are going to get extra interesting, wise as the tweet is.

So to recap, a rap performer has (allegedly) been denied a visa to perform in Australia, due to the intervention of a feminist group. How is this being reported?

Not very responsibly.

It’s being reported in terms of ‘misogynistic hate mobs’ attacking feminist activists, and the fact that they have successfully (it would seem) prevented an ‘undesirable person’ from entering their country to practice their free expression has been largely ignored. I mean, it’s obvious that the only reason anyone might be angry or upset is because these people are women, right? It couldn’t have anything to do with censorship, authoritarianism or lack of understanding of rap culture, could it?

Let’s apply the rules…

1. Am I being trolled?


A huge amount of the abuse etc directed at Coralie and vice versa appears to be trolls. There are egg account, low volume accounts, brand new accounts and clearly dedicated trolling accounts all involved. Much of the ‘worst’ of the abuse can be dismissed as irrelevant trolling that isn’t representative of either side.

2. Understand what a troll is

In addition to the above, many of the angry people have genuine reasons to be angry. They’re not trolling or being abusive or harassing, but expressing their outrage and anger over what has happened. They have legitimate beef, as do the anti-censorship activists and others. Disagreement, however strongly, doesn’t make one a troll, abuser or harasser.

3. Understand online movements

Reaction here is organic. Individual people and existing networks of interested parties (such as anti-censorship groups) have latched on because the controversy fits their interests. This is very different to organised harassment, it’s emergent behaviour.

4. Understand Chan/Anon culture

Tyler’s tweet on cyberbullying virtually makes him a patron saint of anon/chan culture. So if he gets in trouble it’s going to draw them. Amongst the trolls you’ll find plenty of people expressing their anger in less-than-pc terms, but this still isn’t evidence of misogyny or other nasties, their anger is legitimate, they’re just not saying it in a way the general public is used to. A tech reporter should know better. What’s happened also plays into identity politics, which is the philosophical opposite to anon/chan.

5. Be Fair

The story is being reported in a one-sided fashioned, centred around the supposed misogynistic abuse of the people responsible for the censorship and visa denial (allegedly) and downplaying the fact that a huge act of artistic censorship has taken place. The other side of the story should be more important, especially since it plays into the motivation of those who have objected and explains their anger. It also annihilates the (pre-existing) ‘harassment of women online’ narrative by making it clear that what’s being hated is not women, but a specific group of feminists and one particular woman, because of something they have done. Not what genitals they have. This is not misogyny, but giving a woman or group of women a free pass when they do something wrong (like censor an artist) ‘because vagina’, is sexism.

6. Clickbait and Gonzo

Gonzo isn’t a problem here, but clickbait is. ‘WOMAN TARGETED BY SEXISTS!’ will draw attention, play into an existing culture war and cause comment battles, all of which means clicks. It’s not, however, an accurate reporting of the story. This may be made worse by the fact female journalists are the one female group that has been shown to get a bit more abuse online than the norm – which is fairly equal.


So what would a responsible and informed report look like?

Well, to hit the main points…

A controversial rapper has (apparently) been denied a visa to enter Australia and perform, thanks to the influence of a feminism pressure group. This censorship, enacted on their behalf by the Australian government has caused a significant online backlash on social media against the office of immigration and the feminist group, particularly Coralie. I would then compare this to the deportation of Islamic extremists or the barring of entry to the UK which was enacted on pick-up artist Julien Blanc.

The most important aspect here is the censorship and the angry reaction to it. It’s irresponsible to claim this is misogyny (hatred of women for being women) when there is a very clear and obvious cause and effect, and it’s irresponsible to lump those with legitimate anger and outrage in with obvious trolls or a fringe minority of genuine abusers.

What do you think?

Who Adores the Whores?

thumbI do.

Much like strippers and adult entertainment workers, off the clock these kinds of people are some of the most real, honest and good people it has ever been my good fortune to meet. As a libertine, egalitarian and humanist I see no problem with what any of these people do for money and in many cases admire them for it.

I listen to them when they talk to me, many of them I would count as friends, accomplices and co-workers. Some are no longer sex workers, some are, some through circumstance, some through explicit choice that this is what they love to do.

Am I to disbelieve the former stripper who laments the loss of the money and the camaraderie with the other girls, now raising her three kids on a shoestring? No. I wish she felt she could go back to it and I wish her community didn’t hate her for what she did years ago.

Am I to look down on or regard as disempowered the ladies who make their money from webcam shows and photosets because of mental or physical illness that limits their options? They’re amongst the bravest, toughest, proudest people I know. They could subsist on benefits and charity – barely – or they could take care of themselves doing something like this, that they often enjoy.

Am I to believe the prostitutes, dominatrices, escorts and others are all coerced or forced? Even when there’s no pimps? Even when there’s other things they could do, being brilliant, intelligent and tough women?’

Am I to believe the former male escort who confided in me that the women who wanted sex – and there were many – were not the kind you might expect but rather the wealthy women who had sacrificed family, relationships, marriages for career?

No, obviously not. This is anecdotal of course, my experience, their experience, but there’s statistics to support them, and principles to hold to.

There are many jobs that many of us would consider shitty, awful jobs. Cleaning toilets or road-sweeping at 3am being a couple of examples. Yet there’s people who swallow their pride and do them for the money they need to live, or the money to make life worth living and we do not look down on them. Many of them end up taking pride in what they do as well, refusing to be looked down on.

There are many jobs that people are trafficked into doing. Winkle picking, agricultural labour, meat packing, casual labour, garden work, scrap collecting for a pittance. We do not shame them, nor do we regard those who do the work properly’ as being worthy only of our contempt or pity.

There are many jobs that people are forced into doing. What else is workfare or prison slavery but free or nearly free labour mandated by the state? A modern plantation culture for the poor and the disenfranchised, the defenceless? Where are the police, smashing down the doors to ASDA or WalMart to arrest the customers and carry off the employees to ‘safe’ accommodation?

Why do we treat sex work, pornography, stripping any differently to the way we do any other job? Is there any rational reason why we should do so?

No, there is not, save the special status and fear of sex that much of society seems to have. Seven veils of moral panic, thinly disguising the prurient interest of the enviously disgusted, terrified of their own sexuality.

Much of this seems to come from modern feminism, the judgemental eyes of women who want choice, but only the choices they approve of. There’s a continuum of this feminist-led or abetted neo-puritanism running through, seemingly everything. From Mary Honeyball’s dishonest and destructive advocacy of the Norwegian Model for sex work, to Gail Dines ludicrous and misguided attacks on pornography. From the ‘extreme porn’ laws to the opt-out internet filter. From spurious prosecutions of internet trolls to rowdy and sometimes violent protests of men’s issues talks. From ‘trigger warnings’ in academia to the undermining of presumed innocence in cases of alleged sex crime. From ‘No More Page Three’ to ‘Lose the Lads Mags’.

There seems to be an attempt to police sexuality, male sexuality, commercial sexuality, in all its forms from games (Sarkeesian) to SF&F (SFWA) to convention and conference policies overreaching their bounds (Ada Initiative, Geekfeminism), to conflating sex work with trafficking  and a new slave trade. There’s obstacles to payments, to crowdfunding, to sales, not – seemingly – on any matter of actual need or principle but rather because it’s a vulnerable community to gouge for extra cash and to confiscate funds from. Nor does it even have to be directly related to anything ‘blue’, simply having worked as a sex worker or being one raising funds for something else can be enough to see their money disappear, perhaps never to be recovered.

There’s some peculiar, unholy alliance between the traditional forces of political and social conservatism and the most active, media-present forms of modern feminism. It’s an alliance that seems to make no sense but while the reasons are different the goals are the same. This is the feminism of Tumblr, of Criado-Perez of Watson, the kind that can legitimately be called ‘shrill’ and emotional. Short on facts, long on lies, propaganda and emotional manipulation. Most distressingly, it is a form of feminist that cannot tolerate dissent, even from other women, discounting their lived experiences  which are otherwise considered so important.

The price for the women to speak up is to risk being identified, outed and shamed. It is to invite huge amounts of invective, not of the pointless, trolling kind but from journalists, politicians and the general public frothing as they digest the latest lies.

For men, and which I can speak more directly about, it’s assumptions of misogyny, of desperation, of being a pimp or John rather than simply someone taking a side an an argument. If any of that sticks, somehow your opinion is not valid. It’s not as though sex workers are offering discounts for men who speak up on their behalf. It’s just the right thing to do, the best thing for all concerned.

Prohibition simply makes things worse.


Aethics: On Sex Work

eadycruikshanketchingbmSex work is always controversial, largely because anything to do with sex is always controversial. Within this term I am including pornographic actors, professional doms and submissives for hire, strippers, prostitutes, rent-boys, escorts and other related professions under the whole common cause of being shamed and blamed for various of society’s ills.

Currently the big conflict is the confusion between people’s concept that prostitution is synonymous with sex trafficking, and the impression of voluntary sex workers that they’re acting of their own accord. It is fair to say that there is a problem with sex trafficking issues, but it is unfair to think that everyone who sells sexual services is forced, coerced or otherwise wrangled into doing it. There are many women, and men, who are quite vocal on the topic and assert that they enjoy their work and have chosen to participate in it – for any number of reasons. There’s no good reason not to take them at their word.

What can a strictly rational approach tell us about sex work, its societal effects and what might be the best approach to it?

What are the Facts?

  • Statistics in this area are notoriously unreliable and incomplete and many of the studies undertaken are intended to be biased to confirm one point of view or another. As a grey/black trade getting hard data is going to be notoriously difficult. We must, then, proceed without the benefit of reliable statistics.
  • One study believes that there are, or were, some 80,000 street prostitutes, that is, those not working in a brothel or out of a flat/house. Whatever the number, these are the most vulnerable and exposed.
  • Prostitutes, especially street prostitutes, are vulnerable to rape and abuse from clients especially given how hard it can be to go to the police for help.
  • Sex trafficking does exist and is an horrific abuse of men, women and children.
  • Other forms of trafficking also exist and possibly/probably on a much larger scale than sex trafficking. Illegal workers are an issue in many countries, often little more than slave labour and controlled in a similar way to those who are trafficked for other reasons. Many of these workers end up hurt or even killed.
  • Voluntary prostitutes and other sex workers should be taken at their word when they say they are not coerced and/or that they enjoy their work.
  • A driving factor for many lower-end prostitutes is economic. You could frame this in the form of economic coercion, or you could see this as a way to make ends meet when no other is available. Sex industry work is also common amongst people in higher education, helping to pay fees while they work through college. Such economic factors also drive people to take less than ‘ideal’ jobs of all kinds just to make ends meet.
  • STDs are of concern and the clandestine and ephemeral nature of commercial sex contact provides a possibility for STDs to spread unknown.
  • The potential damage to existing relationships when someone pays for sex is a concern, albeit a moralistic one. Affairs are essentially the same thing, and may be more damaging being more emotional. On the other hand, access to commercial sex may enable relationships to continue despite sexual or physical problems in one partner, allow partners to explore their sexuality in different ways or to provide an outlet that prevents someone straying in a more significant manner.
  • Sex, physical relief, is a basic human need. Sexual contact promotes physical and mental health. Relationships are not viable for everyone and many people spend a lot of time outside relationships. There are people with various physical and mental issues that mean they cannot access the ‘singles scene’ and these people too have a need for physical intimacy. People who care for severely disabled partners also have needs and these can be served physically at a distance from intimacy.
  • Legality is variable and ill defined, depending on national and local laws. This makes for a confusing mish-mash that serves no-one and is often contradictory or inconsistent. For example, it being illegal to purchase (or ‘dispense’) sex for its own sake, but it being legal to do it in the production of pornography.

What can I conclude?
The truth is that we have long known what the best approach to the ‘problem’ of sex work is. The problem is not that we have no idea what to do about this, but that it is politically unpopular. This is the same issue facing drug legislation and even much broader problems such as crime. As such the issue is one of educating the general public and reaching a critical mass of voters, rather than simply knowing what to do.

The current harmful sides of prostitution – the presumed risk of STDs, the hotly contested degree of trafficking, money going to criminal organisations etc – are minimised or eliminated by bringing sex work (of all kinds) out of shadiness and darkness and into some sort of legal and regulatory basis. Trafficking would be undermined, licensed premises and sex workers could have to fulfil certain criteria for licensing, medical aid and free contraception could be targeted and provided where most required.

The only real reason, that stands to scrutiny, that anyone might be against full legalisation and legitimisation is ‘moral’, which is a rather slippery and subjective way to go about making any sort of policy. With it fully legalised people would be free to partake and participate, or not, as they wished.

Ultimately it does no real harm that people do not bring upon themselves. It provides many goods. Could contribute tax revenue, aid social mobility and despite all that what people do with their own bodies should be up to them (provided that it causes no real harm). People sell their bodies and talents in innumerable other ways without the same judgement or comment (manual labour) and there seems to be no reason that stands to critical examination to disallow people from buying or selling sex.

With pornography, including ‘extreme’ pornography, so long as everyone involved is consenting I see no reason to censor it or make it illegal. With strip clubs, lapdancing and so forth it seems peculiar to me to fixate upon the paid-for nakedness when alcohol is on sale. Clearly we’re willing to accept the unquestionable societal ills of booze in exchange for the comfort and business it brings with responsible use.

Full legalisation and responsible regulation of any and all of these professions will remove the involvement of the criminal element and create a safer environment for both customers and sex workers. It’s a complete no-brainer.

Subjective Morality

What are morals? Are they relative values? Are they subjective or are they objective? Where do we get them from?

Morals are (sometimes) codified criteria by which we decide what is good and bad, right and wrong.

Morals are relative because they vary from culture to culture, time period to time period and are also situational. An Aztec would have considered it a good thing to be sacrificed and to have their heart cut out. Slavery was considered morally acceptable up until mid-way through the 19th century, and isn’t today. We would be more lenient with someone with someone who stole a loaf of bread to feed their starving family over someone who stole diamonds purely for personal gain.

Even these are relative, there are bound to be people who disagree with me even on these.

Are they subjective or objective? Given that they’re relative as we’ve already established and given that people’s opinions and reactions differ it is obvious that they are subjective. Even if we reduce it down to the level of ‘what’s good for humans?’ in the way Sam Harris has tried to, or in the way utilitarian or epicurean systems have tried to, that’s still only applicable to humans (or given the evidence from other primates, some of them too). If a snake, a lion or any other creature with a different evolutionary history was intelligent enough to codify a moral system then we would expect their conception of right and wrong to be very different indeed.

Where do we get them from? The evidence would suggest evolutionary psychology being where. Instincts and behaviours can be passed on biologically as well as socially. We see that in the behaviours of all manner of creatures, many of which are quite complex and cannot reasonably be considered to have been passed on culturally. We also see natural variation on morality within humans, though we only recognise its negative extremes (sociopathy/psychopathy). Genetics are a reasonable predictor of where someone will fall in allegiance to political parties. Most of human contention in politics and in personal relationships seems to be about this tension between selfishness and altruism, though even selfishness is excused as an appeal to naturalism (Randian Objectivism, trickle-down economics, the invisible hand of the market).

I think of morality as existing in three layers (foundation at the bottom):

Individual: Our own moral decisions from experiences, thought etc. A personal code of ethics.
Nurture: The moral codes and behaviours instilled in us by our culture, parents and education.
Nature: Our inherited, evolutionary moral sense.

The higher ones on the chart can override those lower on the chart.

For example, our instinct might be to provide care for someone in need. Our received notions of morality might override this by telling us that someone got themselves into trouble or somehow deserves what is happening to them. Our individual, personal sense of ethics might override this by leading us to make exceptions for friends or people we think are ‘the deserving poor’.

What hope, then, of finding any kind of universal morality?

Well, none.

There is hope of finding a human moral system, or multiple human moral systems that work though. There will be some things that are natural and universal to humans but there may be multiple ways of getting to them. The idea of ‘least harm’ and ‘most gain’ is a good guide, as is accurate information upon which to make decisions. Any moral system must have room to flex, to deal with situations, exceptions to bend and change with new information.

Utilitarianism and epicureanism are an obvious place to start as they measure relatively objective factors. We can test things and judge their results. Thereby finding our way to things that work, much in the same way we might seek to find a new design of wing. Of course, we cannot turn this into dogma, we would need to constantly reassess, explore and test as we would in any other field.

There’s hope, but the old way of thinking needs to be torn down first. Intellect needs to overcome ideology, faith and black and white thinking.

Aethics: Male Reproductive Rights

soaps-eastenders-4700-5Women’s reproductive rights are, quite rightly, a major issue. Autonomy over one’s own body, sexuality and reproduction is incredibly important and attempts to restrict or ban abortion are an infringement on human rights. Those who are against abortion typically cite irrational reasons – religion – for opposing it while rationalists, almost always, support a woman’s right to choose.

But what about a man’s reproductive rights?

Specifically, I’m talking about parental rights and responsibilities.

If a woman gets pregnant she has several choices.

  1. Abortion.
  2. Giving the child up for adoption.
  3. Parenthood.

The man has absolutely no say whatsoever in the matter and whatever decision the woman makes he is saddled with.

Obviously there are biological concerns here. Only women can carry children – at the moment. There is no way to safely transfer a pregnancy to a surrogate and even then similar issues can come to apply. Any attempt at applying fairness and gender equality must here, as anywhere else, bow to the demands of nature.

Ethically we cannot demand a woman carry to term a child that she does not want.
Ethically we cannot force a woman to have an abortion she does not want.

The man involved cannot, therefore, be afforded the privilege of dictating what a woman does with her own body and the potential human being inside her. We can only, then, extend a man’s reproductive rights outside of the sphere of directly affecting a woman’s body. As such a man can only be afforded reproductive freedom in one way.

A legalistic abortion.

In the event of an unwanted pregnancy the man would have the option to give up all rights and responsibilities to the child. He would have no visitation rights, no involvement and no financial burden. This is not a new idea, dating back to 1998, and it is one that has been picked up on by Father’s and Men’s Human rights groups. It’s even been – tentatively – tested in court (Dubay Vs Wells). It didn’t go to the Supreme Court and the excuse for not upholding it was concern for the child, the same language used to defend constrictions on abortion.

As things stand this is the only way to even slightly redress the balance when it comes to reproductive autonomy between the genders. Yes, the withdrawal of support will increase pressure on the woman and may influence her eventual choice but there remains a choice, whereas the man has no choice whatsoever at present. If the child is born, against his wishes, he’s on the hook for 18+ years supporting a child that he never wanted to and in all likelihood a woman he didn’t intend to support. The negative impact on him is considerable and has even driven men to suicide.

It is not a perfect solution, but then nor is the current situation. There are issues and problems, but then there always are. These would need to be discussed (Who will pay to look after the child? When is the cut-off date? What if the pregnancy is kept secret or isn’t realised? What if the man changes his mind or the child wants to know who they are?) The starting point, however, and one that is necessary is that rights between men and women should be as equal as possible and this is the only way to pursue that just end.

What has been disturbing, when discussing this idea, is the arguments coming from women – and men – who are very pro women’s rights and abortion in this context, but are steadfastly against extending even an abridged version of those rights to men. Women, even progressive, feminist women, seem shocked and appalled by the idea that a man should not be forced to look after an unwanted child. Many of the arguments given against the idea echo the kind of shaming tactics used by the religious right against abortion. Arguments that one should simply abstain from sex if you don’t want a child and so forth.

This is a shame and a stark example of where feminism diverges from egalitarianism, prioritising women’s rights over those of their male counterparts. It’s also an example of where we are forced to admit the biological differences between the genders and how they might have bearing on ethics, law and equality.

Turn the Page

Another year. So what lies ahead for atheism and skepticism?

2013 wasn’t so bad, all things considered. Religious strangleholds on the legal and political system stripped back a bit more in the West, as evidenced by increasing instances of same sex marriage in the US and UK, landmark cases against religious discrimination and yet another increase in the percentage of non-believers around the world. We have a relatively (emphasis on relatively) liberal Pope and prominent communicators for science and reason continue to annihilate the unreasonable in debates and to bring attention to the issues.

This isn’t to say there haven’t also been problems. The erosion of gay rights in places like Uganda are something that needs to be faced, as has been the creeping spread of blasphemy laws and issues with gay rights and religious criticism in Russia. While Atheismplus and Freethoughtblogs have continued their slide into obscurity we’ve seen their tactics grow more vicious, shifting into the realm of actionable accusations against relatively high profile figures in the community. This may be the death blow to their relevance in the wider skeptic community but we shouldn’t underestimate the damage it can do or the delight our ‘enemies’ take in it. We need a way to tackle the kind of emotive, short-circuit ‘arguments’ that social justice warriors use (and not just in the atheist community). ‘Islamophobe’ is damaging, however nonsensical, as are many of the other accusations and pejoratives thrown around. The danger is, though, that we get so calloused and bored of these accusations that we miss a genuine problem – something we need to watch for.

It can make one despondent, day in, day out, having to address the same problems but I think this still serves a good purpose for the sake of the peanut gallery. I also think it’s working. The coming generations are far less religious and far more secular than the older ones. We are making a difference, especially to the young, just by speaking out and just by failing to show silly ideas the respect they demand. This is going to be more and more true of African Christians and Islamic believers who seem to be encountered more and more online but haven’t encountered the same ridicule or arguments that western apologists have. Arguably its even more important in these instances to be uncompromising in criticism, simply because they don’t encounter it much.

It can seem vicious and nasty to other, more moderate people or those who still ‘believe in belief’, but then they’re rarely on the same sort of receiving end that we are. There also seems to be a weird expectation that atheism should offer some alternative to the structures and beliefs that religion does. A doctor who cures you of a disease is not expected to replace your runny nose and diarrhoea with replacement symptoms so I’m not quite sure why it’s expected of atheism. Still, so long as we can maintain atheism as its own thing (simply not believing in god) it may be useful to start examining how reason can be applied to social issues, laws, politics and the structures we need for a working civilisation.

Starting as I mean to go on then, here’s a response to an apologist’s ‘refuting atheism‘ blog, which fails to do anything of the sort.

Refuting Atheism

1. The writer argues that negatives can be proven and that, somehow, this means that the fallacy of shifting the burden of proof, when pushed to atheists, is somehow valid. They simply don’t understand the burden of proof and insist that it is something it is not. The burden of proof always rests on the positive claim, never the negative. You have to prove that something is, not why it is not. This is the way science works, this is the way our justice system works – with good reason. Repeating a fallacious argument doesn’t overcome the fallacy.

2. The writer dismisses the ‘rock so heavy he cannot lift it’ refutation of god (at least an omnipotent god). They also confuse the matter with the theory of evolution. The ‘rock so heavy’ argument works because it exposes the impossibility of omnipotence. A non-omnipotent god still remains. Of course omnipotence is absurd – just like a round square – and that’s the point that they seemingly miss. Atheism is not defined by an assertion and contains no such similar self-contradiction. The theory of evolution deals only with diversification and development of species. It is not contingent on abiogenesis and without abiogenesis it still eliminates creation accounts because the species are not spontaneously created whole – as in scripture – but develop from precursor organisms. Abiogenesis need not be referenced, even though it’s well evidenced.

3. The writer tries to turn atheism into a positive claim that ‘god does not exist’. Again, all their insistence won’t change the definition and the most encompassing definition is that of being absent belief in god. Believing god does not exist is a subset, ‘strong’, ‘positive’ or ‘gnostic’ atheism. True, many of us who are agnostic atheists will sometimes say ‘god does not exist’ but mostly for the sake of shorthand and expressing our certainty that this is true. Agnosticism and atheism are not incompatible by any means. Indeed, any honest agnostic is also an atheist and vice versa. Then again, it depends on the god being asserted. An omnipotent god cannot exist, see earlier.

4. The writer claims that theism is different to unicorns, fairies or Santa and they are right, to a degree. Unicorn believers are not widespread and do not have any significant effect on public life while theists do. The point though, the one apparently missed, is that all these beliefs equally lack evidence and are equally ridiculous. The difference is only in numbers. Invoking a mystical ‘first cause’ (with no evidence) makes no odds to this.

5. The writer seeks to excuse the lack of evidence for anything supernatural by… well, it’s not entirely clear. If the supernatural existed and had meaningful effect on our reality (a detectable effect) then it should be able to be evidenced. It is not. Should any evidence show up, it will be assessed and examined. Absence of evidence is, indeed,not evidence of absence but it’s absolutely not evidence of presence. ‘That which is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence’.

6. The writer tries to claim that if religion is dangerous, so is science. They attempt to do with with an argumentum ad Hitlerum, the tired old idea that Hitler was an atheist and that his racial ideas were based on evolution. Science refutes Hitler’s claims about race, he was a Christian, and the hatred of Jews come through Christianity and especially Lutheranism (in Germany). Science makes no claim to anything but to uncovering what is true and what the effects of things are. Religion is dangerous not only because it opposes science and holds it back but because it makes baseless pronouncements that can cost lives – just look at race and sexuality for the evidence of that. If you claim your morality is from the Bible you should be out stoning adulterers to death. If you claim otherwise you’re selectively applying modern, secular morality to the ‘morals’ of your holy book and then rationalising why you don’t follow your own rules. Sam Harris has begun some work on secular morality but there are already many bases for morality without religion – empathy, group selection, golden rule, enlightened self interest, utilitarianism and epicureanism to name but a few. Animals show moral and ethical traits without religion too, and we can find an evolutionary basis for many ‘moral’ behaviours. Morality isn’t objective and absolute, but we can use reason to determine the best courses of action for the greatest number.

Rhetorical Questions, Rhetorical Answers

Why are you so obsessed with something you don’t believe?

Are oncologists obsessed with cancer? Does it mean they think it’s a good thing? God may not exist but believers do, the religion does and these cause a great deal of harm. Asking this question is very strange. It’s like asking someone why they spend so much time arguing against racism if they don’t believe other races to be inferior.

Why do you care what people believe?

Because it has effects on the world beyond the person, on us, and on the helpless.

Since atheists commit their share of crimes, then what good is atheism doing for society, and why does it matter since they say we are merely glorified pond scum?

Even if atheism were terrible, caused massive amounts of crime and huge rates of suicide this would be completely irrelevant to the question of whether god is real or not. As it turns out, atheists are less criminal than believers and being evolved, the product of countless generations of survival is no bad thing.