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?

IMG_1840Conclusion

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.

bsg_boxy_muffySpeculation

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.

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Rape & Fear – What is a Rational Level of Fear?

woman-walking-alone-night-426705

NB: Bitter experience suggests I can’t expect people to parse this correctly. The point is, is the level of fear proportionate to the risk? Is it a rational level of fear? What IS a rational level of fear and threat mitigation? Isn’t more harm done by the fear, than the thing itself? I welcome discussion, but not accusations. Nobody is excusing or covering for rape, or trying to say it isn’t bad.

‘Not having to be terrified when walking home at night’ often seems to come up as an example of ‘male privilege’, but is this a rational thing to fear, is the degree of fear rational?

According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales men are about 50% more likely than women to suffer any kind of assault against the person, up to and including all forms of sexual assault, yet men do not fear this to anything like the same degree that women do. Why is this? Do men underestimate risk or do women overrate risk?

We also know that 4/5 of sexual assaults against women are from people known to the victim, rather than random strangers in balaclavas, lurking in alleyways.

In England and Wales in the most recent data I could find, there were around 22,000 rapes annually. Even if we round that up to 25,000 to account for Scotland and Northern Ireland, the UK population is about 64,000,000 (50% female) making that around a 0.08% chance of being raped, annually, much less in reality since multiple instances often happen against the same person and with our 4/5 stat that a 0.016% chance of a random sexual assault in the street. This isn’t completely accurate as I haven’t accounted for the rapes and sexual assaults of men, but it shows a general level of risk and men’s statistics are hard to come by on these crimes anyway.

Yet this fear is overriding for many woman. Something that guides everything from how they dress, to the choice to carry a weapon, to not go out at all, to pay extra money for taxis and so on. The fear has a much greater negative overall impact on collective female happiness than the act of sexual assault itself. Men do not carry the same level of fear of being assaulted at all, despite – statistically – being at greater risk and being at greater risk of being injured or killed.

Are the women over-assessing their risk, or are the men under-assessing their risk? What level of risk is it rational to so utterly alter one’s behaviour for and to live in fear of?

Compare with the statistics for car accidents. Around 180,000 traffic accidents happen annually in the UK, many times the risk a woman faces of being sexually assaulted. About a 0.3% risk, annually. Yet people do not act with anything like the same level of fear every time they cross the road or get into a car.

There’s a thing colloquially called ‘The Daily Mail Effect’ which is a phenomenon where, despite crime rates having dropped consistently since the 90s, people with a certain kind of media intake believe it has gone up. There are pensioners shut up in their houses, behind locks like a fortress, because of their massive over-assessment of the level of risk and criminality around them. It severely, negatively impacts people’s lives.

I propose that the fear of rape may be a similar phenomenon, a fear that is grotesquely overrated compared to the level of risk, and one that is massively, negatively impacting on people’s lives.

It’s clear that many people are too emotionally invested in this to have a conversation about it, but to me that just makes it seem more important that this sort of thing be examined coolly, calmly and rationally, looking at the facts.

What is a rational level of fear? Rape is something that happens, but rarely. So are car accidents. So are assaults on men. Why do we fear rarer, less deadly events more than more common, deadlier events?

At what level of risk does it make sense to drastically alter your actions and life choices?

Does not this degree of fear, over such an unlikely event, qualify as a phobia?

What do you think, and what’s your reasoning?

NB: Psychology offers a few insights into why we may be so bad at relative risk assessment, at least on an instinctive level:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200712/10-ways-we-get-the-odds-wrong

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-inertia-trap/201303/why-are-people-bad-evaluating-risks

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/01/16/wrong-about-risk-blame-your-brain/

http://freakonomics.com/2011/11/23/the-truth-is-out-there%E2%80%A6isn%E2%80%99t-it-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

Phat Pipes: Critique of Cybersexism by @PennyRed

41xcA9y7fVL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_Introduction

Myself and Laurie Penny share a fairly conterminous experience of the internet, but a very different viewpoint. Here I try to address the main thrusts of the book and to give my alternative experiences.

This is For Everyone

My life with the internet starts a little earlier than Laurie Penny’s. I started up visiting BBS boards and playing Avalon over dial-up with a modem about the size of five, stacked, iPads. Via those early BBS systems it was sometimes possible to get email and to access ‘the internet’ though we never really understood what that meant until the real thing became available to everyone.

This was back when phone calls cost a lot more money, there was no broadband and using the modem would tie up the line. It was a far cry from the Neuromancer fantasies that beckoned the early pioneers (I was a NetGoth) but in the MUD virtual realities and the thrill of text-talking to strangers (this was even before mobile texting took off) there were flickerings of what was to come.

I’d used to escape into books, films and role-playing games. Those were my VR and the internet came in as an extension of that. Adopting different ‘fictionsuits’, avatars and handles came easily to us in a way that the current generation of ‘let it all hang out’ social media junkies can’t really understand. The avatar/alias culture only really still thrives amongst us oldies, roleplaying, trans and troll communities. The loss of the old guard in the Google NymWars pretty much put paid to that old culture and represents the victory of FaceBookism where your offline and online identities become the same.

Like Laurie, we swallowed the idea that the internet was a freeing medium. An opportunity to mix and meet and share information. To form communities that weren’t linked by petty geography and for a while it was glorious. You would get to know people via their mind and their writing, not the superficial realities of ‘meatspace’ and it didn’t matter. It was a consequence free, free-mingling ‘wild west’ utopia with a natural gatekeeper in the form of the technological capability needed to get online.

‘No girls on the internet’ was almost true back in the day and thus the origin of many internet proverbs, besides that one. ‘Tits or GTFO’ for example was a demand for proof. Why was this? Nerd culture – early adopters – was, and remains, stubbornly male. Tech culture even more so. Computers weren’t as ubiquitous as they are now and consoles didn’t hook up to the internet. Schools weren’t linked up either and so by a process of simple demographics access was limited to the relatively well off, technically minded and nerdy.

For many, men, women and all points in between this was rather freeing. You couldn’t genuinely know what or who anyone was and that meant people were largely treated the same, based on the ‘content of their character’ rather than the ‘configuration of their meat sack’. Not that this meant people weren’t still arseholes, but it gave cover to early adopters, especially women, that some benefited from.

I have the same, or more, degree of experience of the internet as Ms Penny has, yet my conclusions – despite coming from the same root – are very different.

ngYfSh2_No Girls on the Internet

Ms Penny suggests that the idea that the internet was for everyone was somehow untrue. That it was really for boys. This statement is both true and untrue. The internet was – and is – for everyone but by the nature of its genesis and the groups that were interested in it it became a male dominated space by simple virtue of emergence. The majority of users were men and so the spaces that developed – usenet, email lists and so forth – were ‘male’ spaces.

This was not a deliberate or exclusionary measure by any means and in the early days the few women you did encounter were generally given kudos for getting online. They’d proved their worth and their chops simply by the fact that they had managed to get online and access a community. As internet access broadened this began to change, both in terms of people able to prove yourself and in the need to even do so in the first place.

Where Laurie presumes – given her background – that this is down to misogyny or hatred of women, or a desire to exclude them, I have a different hypothesis which we’ll call This is What Equality Looks Like, TWELL for sake of typing ease.

One of Germaine Greer’s best known phrases is: “Women have very little idea of how much men hate them.”

Which is catchy, but a little uncharitable, especially if you’ve ever had the misfortune to overhear women on a night out complaining about their husbands and boyfriends with equal, if not more, viciousness than men do about their wives and girlfriends.

However, I think Germaine’s commentary is germane to TWELL, with a subtle twist.

“Women have very little idea of how horrible men are to each other.”

The presence of a woman in a social context tends to lead men to be considerate, toned down and to consider her feelings and upset. Language is often softened, opinions remain unexpressed and people make more of an effort to be pleasant – until they know where the boundaries are.

Why? Well, we can argue about natural proclivites and culture, but upsetting people in person is generally frowned upon and men and women are solicitous of each other more (generally speaking) in a meatspace environment.

Online the context is different, consequence free and gender truly doesn’t matter. Men – and women – no longer moderate their behaviour in the same way that they do in person. This doesn’t seem to have been much of a shock for men (again we can have arguments about culture, upbringing and nature here) but it does seem to have been a shock for women.

Stripped of the usual societal cushioning women are often afforded, the female of the species seems to have recoiled in horror from the kind of nasty – if not always serious – behaviour that men and boys have been putting up with since the first days of kindergarten.

TWELL is not intended as a flip response, but to underline that the difference here is in reaction, not content.

I think my first social online experiences were with Usenet and email lists, but like Laurie I migrated to Livejournal and some other abortive social networks in the following years. I primarily used Livejournal for RPG material and blogging about the LARP group I was a part of. It was a vital communication tool back then for both purposes and much more connected and hooked up than having your own website was. This was also my first real introduction to ‘internet drama’ and this was a direct consequence of more ‘normal’ people using it. This was the first clue that the defences were down and the barbarians were at the gate.

It wasn’t the ‘internet people’ that were the problem. It was the normal people.

If I describe Livejournal as being the prototype for the excesses of Social Justice Tumblr, many of you reading will shudder in horror and know what I mean. Let’s just say that in former insular, echo chamber cliques it began the radicalisation of internet activism that would reach its – hopeful – peak of awfulness this year with Suey Park and #CancelColbert, with it’s spectacular, po-faced, failure to understand satire.

Here, again, is where my experience begins to diverge from that of Ms Penny. She describes an online world of routine misogyny and hatred as being exclusionary, while I – for my sins – experienced no less amount of hate, challenge, vitriol and bile, just not what one might characterise as ‘misogyny’.

I am not convinced misogyny is even the right word. Misogyny is an irrational hatred of women and disagreeing with, arguing with or trolling women doesn’t seem – to me – to fit the bill. We both seem to have been subjected to hatred, and I’ve seen much of the disgraceful and horrible abuse Ms Penny gets, but I see little difference in the scale or nastiness of that hatred between us. Just our reactions. So it goes for all these pseudo-controveries throughout the last ten years or so of the internet. What is striking to me as an internet hate veteran, every time, is the difference in reaction.

Tits_or_gtfoPictures or it Didn’t Happen

The selfie culture isn’t something I really understand and I get the sense that despite more experimentation than me in this arena, Laurie and I share a degree of incomprehension about the total lack of privacy embraced by Generation Y. I occasionally participate in things like #NoPantsFriday and have succumbed to using my actual image as an avatar but to do either, to have ‘pictures of me on the internet’ still feels rather uncomfortable and somewhat silly.

This is old fashioned of me, I know.

At the same time I don’t think anyone should be shamed by photos, or indeed old posts and blogs that people like to drag out. People mature and change, their views alter or become more nuanced, they do silly things. Whether it’s Laurie’s boobs, my cock or some lightweight covered in vomit on his eighteenth birthday with a knob drawn on his forehead we should be able to laugh it off as indiscretion, accept that everyone does it and move on.

The trouble is, we don’t live in a world that has adapted to this yet. The people in power are forty and over. The generation below that, including people like me and Laurie are still somewhat uncomfortable with letting it all hang out, even with libertine political views and even the Millenials aren’t all sold on the idea of living a scandal free public life. One need only look at the difference between Belle Knox’s resilience and Alyssa Funke’s suicide to see that even the younger adult generation is struggling to adapt to the Mutual Surveillence Society we find ourselves in.

While I’m sure there’s some truth to what Laurie says about the minority of men online who harass women doing so out of hatred, I don’t think it is as true as is stated. Time and again I see reports of harassment of women online and go looking into it only to find many more bad-taste jokes and incidences of trolling than I do genuine abuse.

A case in point being Caroline Criado-Perez whose high profile campaign to replace Darwin with Jane Austen on British bank notes gave her a position of public awareness which, inevitably, drew the trolls. She received a lot of – apparent – hatred, a lot of trolling and, also, a great deal of genuine criticism and advice. To which she reacted – universally – poorly.

It’s important here to both define what a troll is and to introduce a new concept in trolling which has only recently emerged.

As originally used on Usenet, and perhaps etymologically connected to ‘trawl’ was to make the kind of comment or post that many, many people would react to and post on. One that would provoke arguments and chaos. You could almost ‘score points’ by how many replies it got or how many extra threads it spawned. The more controversial or ridiculous the statement, the ‘better’ it usually was as a troll. Hardy perennials of the art were posting religious nonsense in an atheist forum, Satanist nonsense in a religious forum, or mentioning abortion anywhere.

To an extent much has remained the same. Trolling is still about scoring a reaction. It is now a little more nasty though. It is about upsetting people, provoking a ‘rage quit’, or creating an enormous fuss – the bigger the better. This is why the advice on trolls has always been ‘don’t feed the troll’ and why it remains the best advice. Reporting, complaining, let alone writing huge media articles on the topic is the very opposite of this advice and will only excite the troll.

In an unguarded moment I compared this to ‘grinding your rapist’ and while the analogy is crude, its force serves to convey the point. By paying attention to the troll, by getting upset, you are giving them exactly what they want. So why would anyone even dream of doing it?

In the case of Criado-Perez we need to consider a new concept. That of the synergistic or symbiotic troll. Why would someone give a troll what they want in terms of media exposure, public melt-downs and notoriety? Perhaps because doing so also gives the victim something they want. If your ideology is centred around the idea that the world is male oriented and horrible to women then playing up to trolling, taking it seriously and presenting it as a genuine problem and an example of cultural misogyny both reinforces your belief and helps contribute to a moral panic in which ‘something must be done’.

I don’t know if Criado-Perez and others are doing it deliberately, but the consequences stemming from it certainly seem to be deliberate and, strangely for feminist concerns, seem to run concurrent to conservative politics and legislation.

The vast majority of abuse online seems, to me, to be insincere trolling. Though there are exceptions using this to claim an overall culture of misogyny and woman hating – when it happens to everyone regardless of gender – seems disingenuous at best. Studies presented by Ditch the Label and Know the Net have both suggested that men receive equal abuse to that of women online, perhaps more, and that 19 year old men are the peak target of online abuse and bullying.

We need to grasp that trolling is an internet problem, not a gendered problem and that it’s a hard one to tackle while preserving a free internet.

Where myself and Laurie perhaps agree is in that the culture of shame and sin needs to change. There should be no more Alyssa Funke’s and while part of that must come in attempts to change the broader culture it is still worth reminding people to be cautious and teaching them internet survival skills and that there’s support available if they do get ‘outed’. Lest we get swept up too much in thinking this is a uniquely female problem though, we should remember that boys have been similarly shamed, particularly those of alternative sexuality and that under stress it is men who are far more likely to complete a suicide attempt. Girls are also pressuring boys for pictures, the stereotype that it is only boys or the sad reality of the unsolicited cock pic should not get in the way of us remembering that all are vulnerable.

Laurie loses me again when she gets into discussion about women being used to surveillance of their behaviour. Certainly, as man and boy I feel and felt the pressure of being watched for behaviour very keenly. Where it is more, but not exclusively, authoritarian when imposed on girls it does still exist for boys where it is more, but not exclusively, mutual.

Girls might be mean, but boys are cruel and one’s adolescence is one long attempt to fit in, to never give a hint that you’re not a regular heterosexual, rough and tumble, football loving lad. Boys also succumb to the system, constrained and held, especially in education where many end up drugged so that they’re compliant and less boisterous. There’s also huge pressure to demonstrate one’s sexuality by losing ones virginity. Something which I think we’ve all been reminded recently can cause a psychotic break and a lack of feeling of self worth.

As such it is, again, disingenuous I think, to compare our increasing surveillance society with feminist interpretations of social pressure and culture. Men have felt it in a similar but different way. Outrage at CCTV, NSA surveillance etc comes from a concern over privacy, rather than public reaction, and political ramifications. If surveillance were more of a concern for women, one wouldn’t expect to see higher approval of CCTV and other surveillence measures by women than men.

Business surveillance, presenting the right image and ‘behaving oneself’ outside of work is not a uniquely feminine issue either. This also happens with men and it’s also completely unfair. An unguarded comment over a beer down the pub would not, in the past, have been picked up and formed grounds for dismissal. The internet is both instant – like a conversation – and eternal – like a book. As a result every little indiscretion is available in eternity, even if intended to be private and so we’re forced to endure any number of pointless or insincere apologies and to see people get fired as PR stunts to appease the howling mob.

aldpost1It’s for Your Own Good

In talking about online sex I think we must return back to the beginning of Ms Penny’s book and the idea that we can be anyone or anything online. Sex drives technology and always has but this is especially true of the internet. The moment there were chatrooms and email people were trading erotic stories and engaging in cybersex. ‘Tits or GTFO’ and ‘There’s no girls on the internet’ were, in part, calls to prove one’s gender status as a prelude to cybersex. So strong is the male prohibition against homosexuality that even in an entirely fantasised encounter it is desirable that ones partner at least be of the opposite sex. Meanwhile, other people WERE playing opposite gender roles, genderbending and even pretending to be things other than human.

All sex takes place, ultimately, in the mind.

To see Laurie’s view on pornography, which I hope is still in flux, is somewhat depressing. Someone who is intimately familiar with artists, comic book creators and writers of fiction would – I would have hoped – have had a better understanding of the divide between reality and fantasy. While she, at least, is not blaming pornography for misogyny, she is blaming misogyny for pornography. It is true that a great deal of pornography is rough, violent or ‘degrading’ but given that some 40% of women admit to enjoying rape fantasies (note – fantasies, not actual rape) is it really any surprise? It’s also notable that female use of pornography is slowly approaching parity with that of men and that best-selling book 50 Shades of Grey is an enormously problematic bundle of abuse masquerading as BDSM that has set that entire community’s teeth on edge. It has sold primarily to women.

One can blame this on internalised misogyny or some such I am sure, but again this seems to be disingenuous and kink-shaming, as well as ignoring that divide between reality and fantasy. What turns one on, one might not necessarily want in real life. Increasingly, also, one must recognise that pornography is consensual and a great deal is being produced by amateurs as piracy renders conventional production non-viable.

We do have a problem when it comes to pornography and censorship. As Laurie rightly points out, concern over pornography has been co-opted by governments seeking to control the internet as a whole (mingled with ‘blasphemy’ concerns in some other countries and political concerns in others). This is where we find strange bedfellows like mainstream feminism in bed with the UK’s coalition government and in favour of criminalisation of ‘extreme’ porn and the imposition of a compulsory filter.

Like trolling, this isn’t an especially soluble problem. If we want a free internet with all the benefits it brings, we have to maintain anonymity and relatively unconstrained content.

Sex and romance and everything else can, indeed, be online. I met my wife online as have many other people I know. We know, from leaked logs intended to embarrass people that a hell of a lot of human beings are typing obscenities to each other, writing explicit love letters and masturbating wildly to each other’s pictures. Sex is ultimately in the mind and so is love. It’s possible to fall for someone a world away, whom you have never met and as borders tighten that’s going to lead to a lot more tragedy.

odd_skirt_viralA Woman’s Opinion is the Short Skirt of the Internet

Yes, Ms Penny and many other opinionated people on the internet get hate messages, such as she has related in her book and online. Yes, many of these are graphic, sexual and/or violent. You know who else gets hate, threats and horrible messages online?

Everyone.

This is something I have a great deal of experience of and while my experience, like Larie’s, is anecdotal I’ll refer you to the reference I made earlier that men suffer equal or greater abuse and cyberbullying.

Personally I have been threatened with beheading, that my wife would be raped, I have petitions organised to try and prevent me being able to work – I have been cost work. I have been called every kind of bigot under the sun without justification.

There’s some differences though. I haven’t taken it as seriously. I have not presented it as a problem for my entire gender. The people attacking me have included trolls, but also ‘true believers’ who weren’t hiding behind anonymity. People who consider themselves to be ‘social justice’ activists and aren’t at all ashamed of what they say and do. It’s also true that far less of these threats have been sexual, though many of them have been violent.

The concern with the abuse of women online and the great seriousness with which it is taken is erasing the online harassment and bullying of men. Men are also erasing it by not taking it as seriously as women do (though this may be a healthier approach, all things considered). Men are also erasing their own negative experiences by brushing them off or not talking about them, ceding the public debate to concern over the abuse of women in the public sphere, which has only allowed this toxic and incorrect concept of a misogynistic online reality to emerge when it is truly a universal problem.

Anyone expressing an opinion on anything in the online sphere can expect to get abuse for it.

Where there is a difference is in the nature of the abuse.

As a woman Laurie is more likely to get abuse of a sexual nature while I am more likely to get violent abuse or to have my sexuality questioned.

Why is this?

I humbly submit that the reason women get targeted with this kind of abuse, especially women, is because it is a fairly reliable bet that they will be upset by it or rise to it, while threats of violence or aspersions about my sex partner preference are more likely to get a rise out of me, because I’m male.

Trolls will go after whatever they think will get you going. Those who troll religious forums will ‘blaspheme’ or try to outrage their morals, trolls who troll computer forums might get into PC Vs Apple, trolls who target homosexuals will use homosexual slurs. Your status as a woman is only important in that it highlights some obvious ways to cause upset.

Trolls rarely, if ever, mean what they say.

Terminology Ms Penny uses starts to lose me at this point. Misogyny is being used in a way other than I understand the term (pathological hatred of women), ‘gender violence online’ strikes me as an oxymoron, since violence can’t be done to you online. Structural sexism is over with equality laws, leaving only individuals and their increasingly outdated views.

She characterises these things as a ‘backlash against misogyny’ yet many of the complaints seem as petty as those found on sexismbusters while others seem valid but outside the framing of a misogynistic society. This backlash via things like Everyday Sexism or – more recently – the #YesAllWomen tag do not appear as a backlash, but rather a lashing out at all men, an outpouring of misandry against crimes that are unrecognisable and for which the overwhelming majority of men are not responsible.

#YesAllWomen is differentiated from trolling by sincerity. The sheer hatred found on #YesAllWomen (and #KillAllMan) hits home precisely because it is sincere as much as it seems invalid, stemming from a victim mentality and a paranoia of men which simply does not seem justified. It seems like a whole generation of women is growing up unjustifiably terrified of, and hateful towards, all men.

I had to stop following the tag as it began to trigger my depression, but I doubt things have improved in the interim.

Penny goes on here to talk about Anita Sarkeesian, a common mistake of late which I had hoped Laurie would not fall into. Sarkeesian has been exposed as a fraud with links to shifty practices like pyramid schemes and handwriting analysis, she has failed to produce the material she said she would and seems to have essentially soaked up the money and called it a day.

Sarkeesian attacked gaming, as has so often been done, by trying to bleed fantasy and reality together. Studies in the 80s on RPG players demonstrated that gamers have no problem differentiating between the two and there’s little reason to think things are any different when it comes to computer games. Nor has Sarkeesian’s treatment been any different to any that of other shallow, narcissitic critics of gaming. Jack Thompson was widely ridiculed for his attempts to link games with violent acts and, like Sarkeesian, had games made about him where he could be mutilated and otherwise disposed of.

The difference then? Sarkeesian’s a woman who has been subjected to exactly the same treatment as a man. TWELL.

Perez is covered next, but I believe I’ve addressed that instance above, a case of symbiotic trolling.

Ms Penny rightly bemoans governmental censorship but fails to grasp the implications of private censorship and social censure. For the internet to be free we need to accept that people are going to say and do things, hold opinions, have fantasies that we personally do not like. If you cede the moral high ground and accept censorship and the erosion of anonymity you not only remove the trolls but you also remove the capacity for political dissidents to communicate safely, for protests to organise, for people in violent relationships to seek help and so it goes on.

At the time of writing more and more worrying instances of private censorship are coming to light. Blacklisting of erotica on Amazon – vital to self-published authors, Paypal and other online money transfer groups holding or confiscating money belonging to perfectly legal adult performers. Credit card processors doing the same. The internet, increasingly, is at the mercy of a very few choke points, especially if what you’re doing involves money and people are too quick to tightly define censorship as a governmental activity in order to excuse this.

The concerns of feminist groups over ‘cybersexism’ and pornography are empowering and making politically acceptable the kind of broad brush censorship that Laurie herself bemoans.

There is no hypocrisy here. Trolling and abuse can’t make you stay offline, the choice is yours. Censorship and restriction via private and governmental action, however, can. When protests alter EULAs or policies they harm everyone. When you censor a nipple, you block pictures of breast feeding.

On the internet we have an option we do not have in real life. We can erase abusers from our existence by using ‘block’ or ‘ignore’. Again, don’t feed the trolls is the best advice. The abusive messages you get? Well, TWELL.

Laurie repeats Ally Fogg’s analogy of a woman on a soap box in a public square being shouted down by 5,000 angry people yelling abuse, but this analogy doesn’t only break down under close examination, as all analogies do, but right at the start.

Online your soapbox speech cannot be interrupted or drowned out. Everyone can hear you. The abuse can be ignored. They can’t force you, shove you, drown you out, you can ignore them but they retain their right to object and their ability to do so. In real life you can end up with stifling activities to ‘no platform’ people, but on the internet – even with DDOS attacks – this never sticks for long. You can’t end a recorded talk by pulling a fire alarm or chanting, you can’t turn the water cannons on a forum, you can’t tear-gas a chatroom.

Freedom of speech absolutely does include the right to criticise, call out and oppose others. You can’t silence anyone and the abuse is ultimately petty, pointless and harmless if you block and ignore it – especially in the case of trolls. Comparing the online situation to almost any real life situation is invalid from the get go.

Anyone can speak online. EVEN straight white males, though you’d be forgiven for thinking they were the exception sometimes.

Dts_news_bill_gates_wikipediaAnd the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth

This section of the book is, perhaps, the most important and the one where some understanding from, rather than towards, the online feminist is required. Laurie believes geeks are sexy, and I agree wholeheartedly and without reservation.

The nerdy boyfriend mentioned in this section could easily be me (without the jedi robe, but with the comics and the glow in the dark dice) and while I’d put it differently ‘Some people are just butthurt that girls get to come into our special club’ is a valid and meaningful observation.

The universal, rooted, geek experience of my and Laurie’s misspent youth no longer really exists for the current generation, where everyone plays computer games, where there are cosplay shows on TV and where the ‘tribe’ is large enough to look out for itself. Geeks today genuinely do have it easy and I’m envious of them and I hope they never have to go through the same hellish childhood experiences me and Ms Penny seem to have shared.

There were no nerd girls at my rural school and the small number of geeks that there were, were universally looked down on. There were a couple of goth/metal girls with a bit of crossover with the nerd squad, but they held themselves apart, even from us. There were nerdy girls elsewhere of course, there always have been, but they’ve been fewer and further between. Nerd culture used to be utterly dominated by men – completely unintentionally – and it still is, even though there’s been a seismic shift since then.

‘Geek misogyny’ is a term I am extremely hostile to. Geek culture is extremely vulnerable to political interference precisely because it is so accepting and so willing to please and accomodate anyone who wants to join in, up to a point. The problems with female ‘intrusion’ into geek spaces is twofold.

  1. Girl-related ‘PTSD’.
  2. Geek loyalty/fandom.

The older generations of geeks suffered immensely at the hands of dominant school/college/uni cultures. Especially – being predominantly male – at the hands of women. Endless rejections, total lack of romantic success, being outcast. Rightly or wrongly they associate that pain with women as a whole and want to be sure they’re safe and aren’t going to be ridiculed and treated like shit again. Hence the hazing.

Is this OK or rational? No. It is, however, understandable and deserving of empathy.

An analogy in the feminist sphere might be the argument over whether transwomen should be allowed access to feminist spaces and what sort of gate-keeping might be required.

When it comes to geek loyalty, geeks are fiercely loyal to their passions, whatever they might be. In previous years accommodating geek girls was less of a ‘problem’ because they seemed to be into what was on offer, passionate about the same things. Now barely a day goes by without some controversy related to a nerdy TV show, game, comic or similar and people wanting to change everything.

To a nerd this can be hugely confusing. Why would you even get into a hobby if you hate everything about it and want to change it all?

There’s also the fact that nerd culture has been under constant attack by fear-mongers and moral panics since forever. From Seduction of the Innocent to Bothered About Dungeons and Dragons to the Heavy Metal trials and Jack Thompson, there’s a context to the attacks on hobbies, a history. In this narrative the attacks from the Anita Sarkeesians of this world are just the latest in a long line of hateful attacks on hobbies and to be resisted with the same scorn and strength as before.

This whole argument would be completely avoidable if those who want to see something different and changed set about doing it themselves rather than trying to force people to alter what they love. That’s where the resistance comes in.

Understanding that many of these places have been ‘male safe spaces’ is important to understanding why the intrusion is unwelcome in many quarters. Just as women need their spaces men need theirs, but men will be condemned for creating those spaces while women will be celebrated. It’s a contradiction predicated upon the idea that somehow only men can be exclusionary and only male presence can be unwelcome. This is why mens clubs are being forced to open their doors to women while women are permitted to close men out of their gyms and other places, to ‘protect’ them.

Why are there less women working in information technology despite massive efforts to get women into STEM fields? That’s a puzzler given the investment in promotion and the fact that women are, generally, doing better in education than men and have been for some time. Ms Penny seems keen to pin the blame upon sexism but some of the problems she states are economic and practical, relating to the control factors that have virtually eliminated the pay gap myth of late. The demands of the job are the demands of the job and if that is less suitable for a woman who wants a child and/or wants to be the primary caregiver to that child then this isn’t sexism so much as biology and choices. Again, the best way to prove them wrong is to do it yourself, just as it is with comics etc and women like Cindy Gallop or Nica Noelle show how that might turn into success. ‘More things!’ more than ‘Change things!’

Paradoxically, greater gender equality might well be the reason less women are going in for these fields. Norway is one of the most gender equal countries on Earth yet as its equality has increased, so ‘gendered’ work has become more gendered, not less. It seems that when ‘women’s work’ is as valued as men’s women choose those lines of work even more.

I am glad Laurie seems to accept and understand the ‘origin story’ of the pained male geek and shows some empathy, but we need more, not less, of that and to stop talking past each other. ‘Fake geek girls’ need to understand why they are placed under suspicion and geek men need to understand why that suspicion is hurtful – and they will if it’s explained sensitively and related to their own experience, rather than as a way to further judge and bully them.

Ms Penny quotes David Wong on Crackd talking about how so much of what men do is for the sake of women, or impressing women. In particular:

“You’re all we think about and that gives you power over us. And we resent you for it.”

He’s speaking generally, on a societal level and he’s not wrong. At all. This breaks down at the individual level but female hypergamy is a great deal of what drives status and power seeking in men. It’s the biology stupid.

Criticising the tolerance that geek circles have for people of many different stripes has long struck me as… silly. Geek circles were places that were open to anyone regardless of race, gender, politics, creed etc and tolerated and accepted people with behavioural and socialisation issues. In gaming circles I’ve seen tabletop RPGs help people on the autism spectrum come out of their shell and that acceptance and patience was a definite virtue there.

Accepting people with opposing or ‘nasty’ views also serves a valuable purpose, it exposes them (and you) to alternative points of view and in a world plagued by polemical ‘news’ and the fracturing of people into insular echo-chamber social groups that normalise extreme points of view, this mixing is even more important.

A call to ‘clean house’ is potentially very dangerous in that it will both further isolate people with dangerous points of view and remove their exposure to contrary arguments.

The shaming going on at conventions via ‘free bars of soap’, the infamous Magic Tournament buttcrack shots and more recently Posthuman Studios banning ‘MRAs’ from being fans of their games is not a good development.

Dismissing neuroscience, genetic, behavioural and psychological differences between the sexes (as overall demographics) out of hand seems, to me, to be on dangerous ground. The politicisation of the field means we may be unable to find out the true scale of gender differences until some point in the far future but that doesn’t mean that they do not exist. Indeed humans would be virtually unique if our sexes were truly that identical. That’s not to say that one gender is superior to the other, but rather that our behavioural cues and adaptations might well be as variant as our upper body strength or body fat distribution.

Science should never be discarded on political grounds. It’s as unsafe as climate change denial or creationism. If evolutionary psychology and sexual dimorphism is to be debunked, let it be with good science, not with bad ideology.

Watch_Dogs_box_artThe New Cyborgs

Ms Penny sketches out a conversation she had with some Pirate Party members in Iceland about feminism and gender politics. It sounds like a good discussion, though with a slightly ‘matronising’ aspect (What they ‘think’ patriarchy means etc) but the meat of it comes when one of the men there questions the validity of claimed experience of gendered violence.

The discussion – as described – has many of the same pitfalls and problems that I’ve had in trying to get to grips with the feminist paradigmal lens. While I accept that I don’t necessarily have all the information and am constantly seeking that information (geek impulse to ‘fix things’) it seems virtually impossible and there’s almost no reciprocal effort from the other ‘side’. The parochial and insular language used by feminism doesn’t help things, nor does the presumption of ignorance that one is constantly labelled with. It seems inconceivable to many that one might examine the information and come to a different conclusion.

Many of the concepts and ideas in feminism – and more broadly in social justice – have the air of dogma. Patriarchy seems patently absurd to claim in the west in anything approaching its broadly understood definitions. ‘Misogyny’ seems to have a very different meaning in feminist circles. ‘Privilege’ is no use whatsoever in the discussion of anything and another abuse of terminology and so it goes on through ‘rape culture’ and all the rest.

The existence of cybervigilantism that Ms Penny underlines here, the likes of Anonymous etc, sharply underlines the points that I have made earlier about the insincerity of trolls. You can bet that those who hunt down animal abusers, child pornographers or those that have bullied the likes of Amanda Todd into suicide also contain amongst their number trolls and the kinds of people that spam Goatse into people’s Twitter timelines. Is that a contradiction? No. They know that one is sincere and the other not and they’re outraged by genuine arseholes, just as they always have been.

Conclusion

While a good summary of ‘where we are now’ the work betrays Ms Penny’s presuppositions about society and the world, or rather feminism’s presuppositions. The interpretation is, therefore, slanted and really only half the story. Well, perhaps 65% of the story as there’s some empathy and understanding here and there of the male experience of cyberspace.

So what’s the answer to the genuine and universal problems underlying all this? I’m not sure, but I have a few ideas.

  • Feminism needs to butt out: Trolling is not a gendered issue, abuse is not a gendered issue, it is just that the male suffering is comparitively invisible. Coming into spaces and trying to destroy or overturn them will only be read as abuse and authoritarianism itself and resisted. The unique history of the internet and the nerdosphere needs to be understood – along with TWELL.
  • Equitable Whining: Either women need to ‘man up’ or men need to ‘girl down’. Taking the problems less seriously seems to be a viable coping/survivial strategy but, as things stand, men’s issues are not known or understood and when they are raised are treated like a laughing stock.
  • Empathy: As a result of the above strands, both ‘sides’ need to make an effort to listen to each other. EG: When women engage in #YesAllWoman they need to listen as to why men reject and object and understand it, not just reject it, especially not as ‘not all men’.
  • Internet Skills: We need to teach people to cope with the internet, from selfies to permanence of commentary to identifying and ignoring trolls and abuse.
  • Cultural Change: Some of us are living in the 21st century and some in the 19th. Shaming culture and holding people accountable for flip comments needs to end. Society needs to be more forgiving and to come to understand the dangers of mutual surveillance.

 

Why are Millennials More Racist?

Much has been made of this report into the attitudes of millenials on a wide variety of social issues, and it seems to have been coming up again lately. In particular one singular aspect of the survey has been picked up and that is related to race relations. Perhaps this has come from Obama’s Brother’s Keeper initiative or in reaction to the recent Stand Your Ground issues and their relation to race. Whatever the reason, this 2012 survey and report is being much quoted again.

Overall, 46 percent of Millennials agree that the government pays too much attention to the problems of minorities, with 49 percent who disagree. 48 percent also agree that discrimination against whites is a genuine problem. When you disaggregate by race and count only white Millennials, the picture is much worse.

A solid majority of white Millennials, 56 percent, say that government has paid too much attention to the problems of blacks and other minorities. An even larger majority, 58 percent, say that “discrimination against whites has become as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities.”

Screenshot from 2014-03-01 14:09:45

Given that millenials are notably more progressive on pretty much any issue you care to name, this appears to stand out as an anomaly. Why should millennials attitudes on race be regressive compared to everything else? The survey doesn’t try to figure out why and no commentator that I’ve read as of yet really tries to ask why this should be either. Minority commentators look at it with a sense of disbelief and point to various issues that stand in opposition to the – apparent – millennial view but little or no attempt has been made to understand it, just to express outrage.

I have a few ideas on why this might be and I don’t think it is a blip, I think it is a continuation of the progressive theme. Here’s why:

  1. Millennials have, apparently, been brought up to see people as people and not to discriminate on these kinds of bases. Positive discrimination or what appears to be unfair division of funds and assistance offends this sensibility and appears racist. Indeed it may well be.
  2. The economic situation during the Great Depression has lessened or wiped out a lot of the financial/living standards divide between blacks and whites which has previously much more strongly correlated to race for various reasons rooted in history and right wing ‘neo-liberal’ economic policy. The playing field has been greatly levelled and now that more people are at the bottom of the pyramid they’re fighting for scraps and see less reason to target that by race. There’s some legitimacy to this point of view and it is one played up to by the right wing internationally, dividing ‘skivers and strivers’ in the UK, for example, or demonising immigrants.
  3. The public conversations around political and economic issues have become tiresomely radicalised with the tea party on one hand and the counter-culture response to that on the other ‘a pox on both your houses’ seems like a reasonable response and one that may hold out some hope for a more reasonable future.

I just don’t think this is – or will turn out to be – a regressive step.

Antisocial Injustice

Two Sneetches-Taunt -Trans

But the straight, white, middle-class, cisgender sneetch had no stars at all.

Prompted by the unjustified hate and nastiness of the trans community towards @giagia

Write what you know they say.

Here’s what I know.

‘Despite’ being a white, straight and male and growing up in rural England I have man aged to achieve adulthood without any of the egregious prejudices that I’m supposed to have.

I didn’t encounter anyone of any other race who wasn’t on the television until, I think, a Sikh door-to-door salesman when I was maybe eight or nine years old. He was alright, but otherwise my formative encounters with practically any minority you care to mention – sexuality, disability, unconventional gender identity – have been negative. Still, I didn’t come out the other end of that with any real prejudices.

Sure, I’ve made mistakes now and then. Some genuine, some what people happen to consider mistakes, upon which I disagree.

I was raised ‘right’. I was raised to be as polite as possible, to treat people fairly and equally and to give them a fair crack of the whip whatever my first impression. To ‘judge people by the content of their character’, if you will.

If my friends exhibit racism, sexism or other prejudices, they get my disapproval and often a stern word. Yet, I find myself unaccountably tolerating the exact same prejudices in people who are of a minority or subjectively oppressed group.

Why?

I learned my lessons well. That treating anyone differently on the basis of race, gender etc was wrong. Surely these people – activists even – who have been on the receiving end of prejudice themselves should know this better than anyone, shouldn’t they?

If someone wants their feelings and problems taken seriously then they should extend the same to others, you would think. Yet that doesn’t seem to be the case.

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do.”

Instead I find that people who claim to be activists, who claim to be fighting for equality and fairness are amongst the worst bigots I have ever encountered and the most dismissive of anyone else’s point of view.

If I am against racism, and I am, how am I supposed to react to someone who broad-brushes all white people or dismisses anything I might say simply for my relative lack of melanin?

If I am against sexism, and I am, how am I supposed to react to someone who regularly insults men as a gender, laughs off misandry as not existing and undermines genuine men’s issues?

If I am against the persecution of LGBT people, and I am, how am I supposed to react to someone who derisively refers to heterosexuals as ‘breeders’ or ‘cis’ in a sneering tone?

If I don’t think people should be judged for being poor, and I am, how am I suppose to react to someone who dismisses me (wrongly) for being affluent middle class?

Yet I find myself, more often than not, letting these things pass. Not because I don’t find them as objectionable as I do in other contexts, but because of the hypocrisy, the vitriol, the denial, the insults, the swarming pack tactics, the lies and misrepresentations are incredibly stressful and hurtful and aggravating.

And disappointing.

Here are the people who should be on the same page as me, succumbing to and excusing their own bigotry. Redefining *ism from prejudice to prejudice plus power to try and tell you people literally can’t be racist against whites, men, or heterosexuals. Something that is patently untrue.

Here are the people who want you to take their feelings and concerns seriously, no matter what any facts might be, but who will write off anything you say as ‘white tears’, ‘manfeels’ or some similarly dismissive variation thereof.

A person’s colour, gender, sexuality, gender identity etc has absolutely no bearing on the value of their ideas. Nor does being offended by something. I am offended by ‘cis’, ‘privilege’ and many other items of social justice terminology and ideology. Should you stop using them simply because I’m offended?

No.

You should stop using them because they’re useless bullshit that add nothing to discussions and instead anger, alienate and are used as ad hominems and to poison the well before a discussion even gets off the ground.

So what to do?

Being even handed, applying the same call-out culture rules will get one rapidly labelled a bigot, even if you oppose genuine bigots just as vociferously. A blog like this will doubtless attract some sarcasm and the very behaviour I’m talking about. Do I value friends and acquaintances over and above their attitudes? Then why not for the more typical bigoted views, rather than the less typical bigoted views of the activists? Why should activist bigots get a free pass from me that they don’t even give each other? (See the trans/TERF war).

It feels like an insoluble problem.

Here I am, white, straight guy, brought up to treat people equally finding the largest groups I know that don’t do this are the people supposedly campaigning for it. Further, before they know anything about me, they’re already ignoring and prejudging me on the basis of my sex, race, assumed social status and sexuality. I refuse to be held accountable for the actions of my ancestors or for people who aren’t me. I refuse to be tagged with some bizarre new version of ‘original sin’. I want to hold people to the same standards, after all…

If it’s wrong, it’s wrong.

Right?

Transapologies

rainbowA couple of years ago now (2011) I had a particularly nasty run in with a quite horrible person named Kynn Bartlett that would kind of set the stage for my various clashes with the ‘Social Justice Crowd’ for some time to come. In the course of that argument I allowed their obnoxiousness to bait and goad me and made the mistake of referring to them as ‘it’ (though in my defense, in trying to track down who exactly they were there were a ton of conflicting names, genders and other bits of conflicting data scattered around the net).

Since then I’ve been on a bit of a journey with regards to the trans community. Even prior to Kynn/Caoimhe (or whatever else they go by now) my brushes with the community hadn’t left a good impression. Though they weren’t as awful as Kynn would turn out to be. Still, perhaps that coloured my perception a bit in a way I hadn’t allowed it to with other marginalised groups and it shouldn’t have.

I still find a great deal of Social Justice activism pointless, stupid and self defeating (even if I agree with the goals) but in this instance I acknowledge that I ‘done wrong’.

Even someone accused of the things Kynn has been accused of is owed an apology, however late, for insults offered that go beyond the pale- even in the heat of the moment. So I offer it.

Sorry.

That said, my intellectual position on the topic hasn’t changed much. I consider gender in biological, chromosomal terms and gender identity to be separate to that. Others divide this as sex and gender but my preference is for a biological, scientific model and as such see the terms as interchangeable (gender identity just sounds better than sex identity to me and may cause confusion with sexuality). So, from my perspective, you are born male or female (with some rare intersex conditions also possible) but you can choose to present with a male/female/other identity. That doesn’t change what you are and so long as you’re respected as a human being and your choice is respected – so far as is possible given biology – I don’t see that as a problem. Ideology must always conform to reality. I do think there are limits on exactly how far you can expect people to be willing to bend though.

  •  I think prospective partners should know that you began life different to how you are now. Honesty in all things.
  • I do think trans women should be excluded from women’s sporting events. A lifetime of androgens and muscle development creates an unfair advantage and was the reason sports segregation occurred in the first place (biological basis).
  • I do think trans people should be allowed to use the toilet etc facilities of their expressed gender, rather than their biological gender. At the same time, I understand how this might upset people.
  • I don’t think trans people should be offered up as freak-fodder for television and newspapers. At the same time I understand why people are fascinated with people who are different and why they might be curious and/or shocked. Though, frankly, anything anyone does will shock or offend somebody.
  • I don’t think gender identity is (entirely) a social construct, rather that this is an overlay over our innate, biological gender.

What I’ve found especially interesting on this journey is the interaction between the trans community and ‘TERFS’ (Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminists). Each group – radical feminism and transexual – seems to innately upset and grind on the nerves of the other.

The trans community simultaneously provides empirical evidence that different hormone mixes can change behaviour, physiology and emotions. They change their bodies to conform to a female ‘norm’ and – by and large – present ‘feminine’ behaviours, clothing, adornment and traits that others would reject as impositions of patriarchy or meaningless social constructs. At the same time the TERF types are trying to argue for some ineffable ‘femaleness’ (which has some basis in biology and in lived experience growing up as a girl) and excluding people who might otherwise be allies and friends on that basis.

It’s interesting to me because this clash exists at the fundamental fracture point of all gender theory and everything that stems from it. Nature versus nurture, biological versus memetic, mind versus body. Not that it stops TERFs being huge arseholes.

Anyway, there you go, like everything else my opinions are always in flux and subject to new evidence. I was just reminded today that I should (and prefer to) admit when I’m wrong and I’ve been keying up to do this for a while.

Sorry again Kynn. You’re a horrible arsehole, but you’re also a lady.

More Ham: Observational and Historical Science

hamThis division is pure, grade ‘A’, nonsensical horseshit. There is no such division in science between observational and historical, there’s just science. ‘History’, a humanities subject, is sometimes called ‘Historical Science’ but in your actual ray-packs and jet-guns science, such a distinction does not exist.

Essentially, what Ken Ham is suggesting by making this division is that ‘If you didn’t see it, it didn’t happen’. Nye dealt with this quite adroitly with comparisons to procedural crime dramas like CSI and so on. Hopefully a point aimed at a level that could get through to the creationist audience. After all, everyone can appreciate the need for a justice system and one that – hopefully – catches the right guy and can prove it in court. There are many imperfect parallels between criminal investigation and science and that makes it a great way to reach people and help them understand. (Presumption of innocence = Burden of Proof, Judge & Jury = Peer Review, Evidence = Observations & Experiments).

Can we use observations in the present to determine what happened in the past?

Let us suppose that I have a piece of ham. Not Ham, just ham. Now we all know that ham is a pork product, made from pigs. Do we though? How do we know? Were we there when the ham was made? No, we weren’t. How might we use observations in the present, to determine that this ham was a pig in the past?

Well, ham is still pig flesh. We could take a biopsy from my sandwich and send it away for testing. It could then be cross-checked against the pig genome and if the genetic blueprints match any reasonable person might agree that yes, this ham used to be a pig.

We could also trace the ham back to its source. Tracking where food comes from is hugely important for hygiene and other reasons. It allowed all those ‘horsey’ lasagne ready meals to be tracked back to their source and allowed prosecutions and fines to be levelled. Incidentally it was genetic testing (see above) that demonstrated the presence of pony flesh in the first place. We can go back to the supermarket, from there to the supplier, the factory, the farm and to the herd of pigs. Depending on the country and level of food paranoia we might even be able to trace it all the way back to an individually recorded pig.

Does this not seem a reasonable way to pursue information about the past?

Ham relies on ‘testimony’, witness statements. Of course, the Bible isn’t reliable witness statements and doesn’t come from the time of the alleged events so it fails even by his own standard, but that’s another argument. Never mind that witness statements are the most unreliable 42_43e9fe72926526557c320ce95a8819feform of evidence we have, they’re great at convincing juries and in a similar way ‘testimonials’ are great for convincing people to sign up to the faith and drink the Flavor-Aid. This is where science has a bit of a PR problem. Scientists rightly couch everything they say in cautious terms, but that reads as weakness or uncertainty to that kind of crowd. ‘We think’ and ‘The evidence suggests’ and ‘It’s probable that’ sounds unimpressive next to ‘I know’ or ‘God told me’, whatever the truth of the matter might be.

If we went by Ham’s way of thinking criminals would walk free most of the time and we would cut ourselves off from some of the only meaningful ways we truly have to look into the past. It is telling when someone is so utterly desperate to maintain their outmoded belief system that they’re willing to throw any and all reason under the bus.