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User:Armondikov/Now/Nov11

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Thought of the Now

...half-baked ideas from the mind of someone who is almost certainly dumber than they think they are.

Archive


29th November 2011[edit]

Uncomfortable thinking.

Here's one for the crowd interested in interpretations and hidden connotations (this is really about where twisting these things about without due care gets you).

So, recently a woman is caught on camera making abusive and racist comments, she was arrested for it - although I imagine on a "hate crime" charge rather than a public order charge, which if you've seen the video you'd probably agree with. Taking a slight leaf from something dprjones did recently removing the swearing and the fact it's barely coherent, we can distill the argument (if you can call it that) down into the following:

  • She is feircely proud of being British
  • She dislikes those of foreign descent that would break the sovereignty of Britain

Well, that's it isn't it? Watch the video and tell me that isn't it in a nutshell based on what's she's actually saying. After all, describe xenophobia or racism without mentioning those two words and you'd come up with something similar to that.

But...

Quite recently everyone was effectively forced by social pressure to wear a poppy in remembrance of soldiers and war. Now, remember what soldiers do and what war is; it's protection of the sovereign state from outsiders using violence. Wearing a poppy could, if you choose to make that inference, mean that you're very supportive of war (indeed, those wearing the white "peace" poppies are met with scorn, apparently it's offensive to soldiers). So if you wear a poppy we can distill your argument (if you want to call it that) into the following:

  • You are feircely proud of being British
  • You dislike those of foreign descent that would break the sovereignty of Britain
Come on, don't tell me you didn't see that punchline coming?

28th November 2011[edit]

Libraries

Just walked into the departmental library for the first time in ages. Every time I look at the racks of books it's amazing. This isn't some Stephen Fry style amazement at books for the sake of them being books, or the kind of amazement a literature student will have because they mistake words for real things, but something about the sheer integrated scale and what it represents. Each individual tome is bigger than a novel, even our resident readaholic AD would struggle to get through a single one. And then there are dozens of these volumes within an individual journal, all accumulated from decades of publishing. Each journal represents only a small minute fraction of the knowledge of just one fraction of scientific knowledge. There is an entire bookshelf just dedicated to the heterocyclic chemistry journal. The section dedicated to inorganic synthesis is perhaps ten times larger. We have archives of the chemical societies of half a dozen countries, each again being dozens of individual books that on their own could be effective murder weapons.

Most importantly, the content doesn't merely represent some bullshit someone's pulled out of their arse, or just made up. It's actual work. Someone has sat there (or more likely, stood), done the legwork behind the chemistry, typed it up, checked it, suggested where to go next and submitted it for review and publication. Someone else has then indexed it, put it together and published it. An unknown number of people (well, with modern indexing technology we can answer this one, but on paper it's near impossible) have then read and cited this work. And this library is just the paper copies we have left over as we move increasingly to online access. What is online is a hundred times larger at least... and that's only under the category we call "chemistry". There's physics and biology and (fleh) social sciences too. Each paper representing real work with real world implications, each being work that a human has done. There's more of it than you can comprehend.

This blows my tiny fucking mind.

27th November 2011[edit]

Happy Holidays

People are bitching and moaning about being "forced" to use terms like Happy Holidays instead of Christmas, apparently because Christmas is offensive. Now, the fact that this is bullshit is beside the point here - the "holidays" bit only applies in the US, really, and is because it encompasses Thanksgiving. If you want to conflate Thanksgiving with Christmas, people would probably think worse of you. But anyway, that's not the point.

What you call things is irrelevant. This is just another case of people mistaking the map for the territory and getting butthurt over words that are meaningless unless you give them meaning. The fact that you'd find "happy holidays" offensive and not "Christmas" says more about the person feeling the offense than the person using the term. Communication is a process at two ends, it's not always exclusively the fault of the person making the delivery.

So basically, I'm going to start using the term "happy holidays" more frequently. Not because I don't want to offend immigrants, or please the liberal PC Police, but because I do want to offend the people who think that these terms matter - their over-reactions never fail to be hilarious.

25th November 2011[edit]

P.T. Barum would be proud:

Facebook post from a friend asking about a weird dream she had. After a few posts taking the piss about it meaning penis envy and repressed sexual feeling towards her mother (oh Freud, you card!) I actually decided to look this up on the "Dream Moods" website. You can probably gather what the dream involved from the entries I looked up, I find that reading the final three as just three words conjures up the right sort of surreal image. This is what it told me.


  • Six:
Six is indicative of cooperation, balance, tranquility, perfection, warmth, union, marriage, family, and love. Your mental, emotional, and spiritual states are in harmony. It is also indicative of domestic bliss.
  • Party:
To dream that you are at a party suggests that you need to get out more and enjoy yourself. If the party is a bad one, then it indicates that you are unsure of your social skills. If you dream that you are at your own birthday party, then it represents appreciation of the life you have.
  • Cooking:
To dream that you are cooking signifies your desire to influence others in such a way so that they will like you or become dependent on you. Alternatively, it represents your nurturing side. You want to be loved. Or the dream could mean that you need to express your creativity. - To dream that you have difficulties cooking indicates that you are trying too hard.
  • Pasta
To make or eat pasta in your dream represents your need for energy. Also consider the shape of the pasta and how it relates to a waking situation. Penne signifies your narrow perspective. Spaghetti noodles symbolize an entangling situation. Elbow shaped pasta represents your need to focus on yourself more. And corkscrew pasta means that some aspect of your life is out of control.
  • Burning:
To see something burning in your dream indicates that you are experiencing some intense emotions and/or passionate sexual feelings. There is some situation or issue that you can no longer avoid and ignore. Alternatively, it may suggest that you need to take time off for yourself and relax. Perhaps you are you feeling "burned out" or "burned up".
  • Eggs:
To see or eat eggs in your dream symbolize fertility, birth and your creative potential. Something new is about to happen. - To see cracked or broken eggs in your dream represent feelings of vulnerability or a fragile state in your life. Consider the phrase, walking on eggshells. Alternatively, you may be breaking out of your shell and being comfortable with who you are.
  • Growing:
To see something growing in your dream indicates that you have reached a new level of maturity or spiritual enlightenment.
  • Explosion:
To see explosions in your dream symbolize your repressed anger. The rage that you have been holding in has come to the surface in a forceful and violent manner. Your unconscious is trying to get your attention.

So what can we conclude? You are in domestic bliss, but still need to get out just a little more. You're trying to hard to please others and need to gain some more energy in your life in order to feed your growing passionate feelings that you can't ignore any more. You feel vulnerable but are looking forward to something new, perhaps improved maturity and enlightenment. Basically this seems like your subconscious yelling at you to get on with your life and move onto the next stage, out of the chaos and into the happiness the future holds.

25th November 2011[edit]

Buy Nothing Day:

Today is International Buy Nothing Day according to the HolyDaze template. If only I was in the position to partake in that willingly. Wall.gif

But even if I did I would end up consuming less? I'd still need to eat, walk, exist. Have fuel if I drove. Even still I'm hanging around consuming electricity that's just going onto a bill. I'm using the internet which is a charge spread over the month - I don't get a day free because I choose to not to consume an horrendous amount of pornography one day a year.

I get the point about it raising awareness of how much you consume. That's fine, it really is. And I think it's a very interesting way of highlighting this. But I wish the message would come across rather than the mere absurdity of the specific thing we're supposed to do. It's like changing your Facebook profile picture to be against child abuse. Well, maybe it's not that ridiculous. Nothing is more ridiculous that protesting via Facebook profile picture.

This reminds me, Arsebook needs its own article again with a more thorough analysis of memes and trends, privacy manufactroversies and so on. Currently it's all just a hangover from the "I'm sooo too-fucking-cool for social networking" period from a few years back.

25th November 2011[edit]

Lowest Ebbs:

So I've just heard of a friend-of-a-friend who has been sectioned under the Mental Health Act. Then someone then remarked upon how they know an alarming number of people who have been. I also know a lot of people who have some serious fucking scars on their arms, have been in and out of therapies and so on and so forth. Because of this I keep wondering whether any problems I have must be that bad too. But then I started wondering why we use self harm and suicides as this great indicator of levels of stress and depression. As indications of someone's ability to cope in a non-dangerous way, yes, sure, that works. Obviously if you're hurting yourself or others then you fail at coping. But as an overall level that says Person A's problems are worse than Person B because they've cut themselves? Not so much I think. If anything I would say that can be very misleading.

The, thankfully, one and only time I tried cutting was after a big bust up with the old parents, figging ages ago and I can't remember what over. I seriously can hardly remember it. So out came my trusty army knife and... OW. That bloody hurt. So the knife went away pretty quickly after that, fuck that for a game of abuse I thought. It didn't make me feel alive, it didn't make me feel better, it didn't remind me of the pain inside or [insert shitty emo song lyric here]. There was no great escaping rush, it Just. Fucking. Hurt. It didn't even leave a scratch in the end, in fact my only permanent scars come from falling asleep against a radiator that then switched on in the middle of the night - not a pleasant experience waking up to a couple of blisters the size and shape of a yellow jelly bean stuck to my arm and actually hearing it pop... but that's hardly the nice dramatic idea of harming yourself and more for making people vomit.

So my experimentation with self harm was very much that, an experiment almost in the scientific sense. What is it like? And I very quickly concluded that I was simply a tremendous physical coward! I think that no matter how bad it gets, and I think I've had some low ebbs, I don't think I'd ever resort to it. Ever.

But that's cutting. The next part of this thought is a bit related and a bit more disturbed. Thing is, you hear about attempted suicides. Botched hangings, slitting wrists, overdosing on pills that you can't really OD on very easily, doing something and then calling a friend to tell them. And this leads onto the scariest thoughts I've had recently - I'm not an idiot, I'll in fact blow my own trumpet this one and only time and say I'm actually quite bright (fleh). Basically, I know how the human body works. I know in a reasonable amount of detail and how it ticks. Importantly, I know in morbid detail what would stop it ticking. Efficiently. Oh yes indeed, I know this because I have to deal with avoiding harmful consequences almost every day. I have no need at all to make a hash of my wrists with a blunt spoon, or crudely strangle myself with a shoelace, or find some pills and take half a dozen at once. I have a key to a locker containing a quantity of potassium cyanide (why wait 3 weeks for a paracetamol overdose to destroy my liver?). Or I can breath in deep on a CO line (2-3 breaths, rather than 3 hours with a car and hosepipe). Or I can order some nickel complexes (most toxic compound commonly used in chemistry). Or perhaps go out tripping by asphyxiating on nitrogen (we have this in abundance especially).

And then as a strong atheist (for whatever use that term is) I don't believe in any form of afterlife. When the patterns made of firing neurons in my head cease to be, the essence of my self will be in the exact same state they were in in the 17th Century, or when the dinosaurs walked the Earth, or before the Earth was formed. That state didn't bother me then, and it wouldn't bother me in the future. I certainly agree that doing something that kills you will be the only decision you'll never live to regret. Once committed to the idea, there would be - in theory - no reason for me to pull away at the last minute. Put it this way, there'd be no "attempt" when it comes to me, it would just happen. This scares me because it makes me wonder if I would resort to this at all and I have some empathy with people around me who would be affected and, presumably, live on (I'm an atheist, not a nihilist) and I wouldn't want to harm them. But what if this empathy and selfless instinct disappears? Would I? I have no idea. All I know is that I question if anyone would stop be or be able to stop me precisely because I think I'd do it right first time, without any build up to it obvious to the outside world.

No, this ISN'T a fucking suicide note, don't be so melodramatic. I'm a tremendous physical coward, remember! And my empathy is still firmly intact, thankyouverymuch. Although if I was to die by accident sometime before I next make an edit to this I would be seriously pissed off.

23rd November 2011[edit]

Christian Union Morals:

When you sign up to a ratified Student's Union (SU) society, you effectively sign up to the SU society's constitution that governs your behaviour within the society. This include how you run elections to run the society, admit members to the society and so on. If you fail to live up to these standards your society can lose membership/ratification - thus depriving you of funding, access to rooms on campus and so on. It's an explicit social contract; join our club, here are the rules. In the case of signing up to the Christian Union (CU) it's pretty much the same, but with a different explicit contract. These groups, ran centrally by the University and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF), don't tend to be ratified SU societies (so don't get funding from the SU, for instance) because they don't like certain things in the SU constitutions. So instead of signing up to follow the SU constitution, you sign up to the CU's own special constitution - the UCCF doctrinal basis. This actually goes beyond just being a set of rules you follow to make sure you get your funding and access to rooms, it actually forms a thorough set of rules for you to live your entire life by.[1] And if you disobey it threatens you with eternal hellfire and wrath, not just a verbal ticking off from the relevant society's officer.

Now, I can forgive individual members on grounds of "didn't read the small print", and can perhaps praise them if they decide buck the authority in the same way that some Boy Scouts of America troops happily accept non-believers and homosexuals despite higher rulings that say otherwise. But this doesn't stop me taking the organisation to task for what is says and what it asks people to sign up to believe. And it certainly doesn't stop me taking the members to task when they have read the small print and still agree to it - because that's explicit admission that these words represent their beliefs.

So, from the UCCF Doctrinal Basis, specifically Part C:

The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God. It is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour.

I've highlighted the key words. I don't particularly care, for the sake of this post, about what people say about infallible only pertaining to belief, this section very clearly says behaviour - which is why I put behaviour in bold and not belief. If it merely stated "belief" I probably wouldn't have a problem, but it states behaviour and UCCF and CUs are evangelical organisations that enforce standards of behaviour on their members, and attempt to preach this to non-members. This isn't just the "Jesus loves you" bullshit, this is the "don't fuck outside of marriage because we say so" bullshit, among other things. We can conclude that if you sign up to this group and pay membership or actively support it, you are agreeing with this. You might want to buck authority, as I said before, but unless you're explicitly stating that you're bucking the authority, you're not - you're just ignoring what it says, or are ignorant of it. And I have no sympathy for people who sign things without realising what they're signing up for. But also, the words you've signed say that if you do ignore it, it's sinful and deceitful before God, and I presume even as a Christian who didn't subscribe to Biblical literalism you'd have an appreciation for the severity of that accusation. Indeed, in the more longwinded explanation of why there is a doctrinal basis[2] we find this:

Thus to sign the Doctrinal Basis but then ignore its doctrines and their entailments is simple deceit. For instance, were a speaker to condone, or indulge in, sexual activity outside of marriage, that would violate the DB’s assertion that the bible is the supreme authority in all matters of belief and behaviour, for the bible is clear on that issue.

I think this is pretty clear, and I've emboldened the important terms again. Signing up to the CU signs you up to this word-for-fucking-word. It is crystal clear that if you don't agree to it you are No True Christian, are sinful, and are deceiving God himself. Of course, you could question "what if the CU was the only option available?" Very good, you've been paying attention to some previous posts. But there are alternatives available - there are multiple Christian groups in the University, or you could start you own, or you could just not bother and just turn up to Church and believe whatever you want. Christianity, as a religion and more specifically as a doctrinal basis, is a prescriptive belief system: you sign up to it to be told what to think. You sign, you agree to believe X, Y and Z. In this case, I'm showing that by signing up to the CU you agree that the Bible is the supreme authority on all matters of behaviour. If you don't agree, you should have no reason to sign up because alternatives are available. If you don't agree but do sign up, you have a moral duty to state explicitly what you don't agree with, why, and make it known widely and if you don't then you're acting out of ignorance.

So the question is; do I really need to exemplify a few other things that the Bible is also pretty fucking clear on?

[1] Just to be honest with quite a bias I have; a few years ago a friend of mine was the LGBT officer for the students union. He received an email from the CU's account to the effect of "we are aware of your lifestyle and are praying you don't go to hell". The coward who sent it did so from the general account and didn't sign it with their name. I emphatically do not believe people in the CU are universally all love and kisses and hugs. I'm also not saying that they're all homophobic bigots - just that the ones that aren't need to speak up more about it because they've signed up to an organisation that explicitly is. See this post from Be Thinking that tries to worm out of it.
[2] Incidentally, you can read all the Dawkins and Hitchens you like, but you will never find a better argument against religion than the UCCF's explanation of why they need a doctrinal basis.

23rd November 2011[edit]

Context in Decision Making:

This is a sort-of follow up to "Semantic Switcheroo", trying to generalise the point a little more. It's probably large enough for the essayspace now.

Choices can only be evaluated in the context that they were made. This is, of course, the sound-bite and applause-light version, so let's actually explain it. By "evaluated" I mean that the rights and wrongs (both moral and factual) of a decision as well as judgements against the decision maker can only be properly made in context. By "context" I simply mean the situation the decision was made in, represented as fully as possible. The point I want to convey is that this context aspect can be most readily generalised by asking "what alternatives options were available at the time?"

Consider asking someone to pick their favourite letter. Initially you might think about A, B, C, D... all the way to Z. But this is a limited set of choices. If it was opened up you could add Greek letters, Cyrillic letters, Chinese script (insomuch that these can be called "letters" in the same way native English speakers understand an alphabet) and so on. Immediately this should conjure up the right idea; it may well be that someone's favourite letter is actually "γ", but they're restricted to only English letters (by either implication or design) and so choose "G" instead. You could be less implicit with your restriction of choices and ask "What is your favourite vowel in the English alphabet?", and so reducing the choice very clearly to A, E, I, O and U. In principle this is asking the exact same thing with a more limited set of options, but arguably this intentional and explicit reduction in possible choices makes the question different. So the point is that if you recognise that it's a different question entirely, then you'd agree that conflating the answer to "what is your favourite vowel?" with the answer to "what is your favourite letter?" is an incorrect comparison. Like is not being compared with like.

What about a favourite colour? I pick this one because how our choices are limited are a bit "fuzzier", less easy to define, and can be affected by far more implicit effects. Given a Dulux paint chart or one of those colour-matching services at a DIY shop, you're quite free to choose almost any conceivable colour - that's what they're for. But what if you just have to describe it? Then you can say something like "red". But that opens up a semantic can of worms by being dependent on how many individual combinations of shades count as "red", making the answer fuzzy. Even working with a colour depth of a mere 8 bits per channel you have dozens and dozens of possible "red" shades. And even more importantly, you then have to consider if that fuzzy set of "red" shades matches up with the fuzzy set of "red" in someone else's head. When analysing a decision, you must analyse this context; what is the shape and extent of the "choice-space", the space containing all choices actually available at the time. You may well ask why someone would pick "red" as their favourite colour, but it's questionable how much meaning any answer to this has if you don't consider that this choice-space only consisted of the three subtractive primary colours (as used in pigments) of red, yellow and blue, or maybe that the choice-space was limited to colour monolexemic terms - indeed, upon answering the question people tend to respond with these, this is an implicit reduction in the choice-space. So we need to know what "favourite" means only in the context of the choice-space presented.

Now we can think of real-world situations where this can be applied. Voting booths being the most abused application; what if someone's favourite candidate didn't get through the primaries? Or what if their favoured candidate didn't represent the favoured Party. Tactical voting would add an even more complex layer to the process. Each of these situations fundamentally alter the set of options available to someone, changing the meaning of "favourite", as used by the voter themselves, entirely. Our problem with elections is then that the sense that "favourite" is used by the voter is not the same as the sense used by the system itself. The system uses the Absolute definition, the voter uses the Relative (see the Semantic Switcheroo below) and these two definitions require two different extents of choice-spaces to work. So the question is different: the System is asking "who do you want to run the country?", the Voter is answering "which one of these bozos you've presented to me is least likely to fuck up?". While this is a lawful example, we can expand it to law-breaking examples. It's often said, by politicians and real people alike, that the choice to commit a crime is entirely the choice of the offender. Nothing wrong with this, but what sense are they using "choice" here? It's clear they're implying that all else being even, the choice is a free one. But if someone is genuinely starving, motivated by drug use, coaxed by peer pressure, or generally failed by the rest of society, it's clear that all else certainly isn't equal. More sinisterly, it's questionable how free a choice is given the coaxing by an authority figure, as observed in Milgram's obedience experiments. In the case of obedience, your choice is limited; to obey or not obey, that is the question. You are weighing up consequences of this decision, not something else like "kill or not kill" in complete isolation, away from other effects. And this may not require a literal gun to someone's head, it can be far more subtle (compare and contrast with a magician making a card force). Again, this context needs to be evaluated and included properly before judgement can be passed on what the right decision to make is; presuming free will when free will wasn't necessarily in effect is plain and simply wrong. Perhaps the insistence on making this error stems from the fact that if you accept a criminal (or someone making a decision you don't agree with) is faced only with a more limited choice-space there is a connotation that, in the same situation, you'd do the same. This destroys any sense of moral superiority you might feel, and isn't too comfortable.

Remember that old game of "Fuck, Marry, Kill" (others may know a bowdlerised version) where often someone always ends up saying you have to choose because they've given you a weird set of choices. For the sake of illustration, imagine the choice-space here resulted in something like you wanting to fuck Margaret Thatcher, or kill Barack Obama, or marry Cyndi Lauper. Given the nature of the game, and being very explicitly aware of the limits of the choice-space, people would rightly interpret this as you being restricted by the available options. No one would ever suggest that given a free and open choice you would actually do this (fuck Thatcher, kill Obama, marry Lauper) or go out of your way to do it once the game was finished as this was established as what you "wanted to" do. Yet, this is precisely what people are saying whenever they use hindsight bias, the narrative fallacy, or make snap judgements of other peoples decisions in the comfort of their own judgemental armchairs. For the love of Goat, please fucking stop it.

21st November 2011[edit]

ADK

My username is "Armondikov". You can tell this because that's what the title of this page is in the user space. It's also what I log in with.

For the vast majority of my time on RW, I have signed with "Armondikov".

Elsewhere on the internet I go by "Armondikov". Mostly, at least.

My email is "armondikov@...".

Yet for a relatively brief time I switched by signature to ADK. Why? I don't know. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

I've since changed by signature to the red A for atheism. Why? Still don't know. It's been like this for a while now.

People still refer to me as ADK. Even off site, in emails, on Skype, on RWW.

Why has the three letters stuck? Why haven't people reduced it to A, based on the new signature, or reverted back to Armondikov? Is there something about three letters we have on RW? MDB, ADK, RNS, CUR...?

This isn't a complaint, or whine. I don't really care what I'm referred to as so long as it's ambiguity free. It's not even a question, really. It's just an odd observation.

21st November 2011[edit]

Sexism today:

In response to a friend's facebook status stating the following (it got a bit long so I decided to bung it here instead):

...doesn't usually call herself a feminist, but whenever a middle class white man says "sexism doesn't exist any more because if it did I would have seen it", I get the strange urge to claw his eyes out and deny they exist too.

This all stems from how you define sexism; or more precisely, what behaviour you recognise as sexism. Today, we live in a great and progressive society (well, perhaps not for much longer, but let's stay upbeat) and you'd be a fool/idiot/ignorant to suggest that the levels of sexism and chauvinism are anywhere near the same as they used to be 50 years ago or more. For the most part women aren't seen as things to be owned, and aren't expected, by default, to take on certain roles and not others. Women have equal voting rights, equal property rights, and so on and laws that are discriminatory are the exception. More importantly, the change in attitude is that we're able to point to this behaviour as being wrong, unacceptable and not to be tolerated. This is simply how the moral zeigeist has changed.

But that's not to say "sexism doesn't exist any more". To say this would be a different matter entirely. In actual fact, it's just that the nature of the beast has just changed somewhat - what we recognise as sexism has altered and expanded. Alteration and expansion of beliefs and ideology like this is never uniform, and so will obviously differ between people. Sexist attitudes are no longer worn on peoples' sleeves and you have to scratch at the surface somewhat to spot them, and even then your personal moral spirit needs to want to recognise them as such. Women aren't property and have rights, but we're still experiencing the dying echoes of these ideas flowing through society and they manifest in far more subtle ways. For instance, it's been discussed elsewhere on RW that women, in the west today, are perhaps on the receiving end of more sexism from other women than from brutal and chauvinistic men. In another vein, there are arguments that male gender identity is more in flux (or in crisis if you're being dramatic) because of progression in sexual equality in the last few decades. You would find it very difficult to recognise these examples as sexism if your idea of it was rooted only in the explicit sexism of yore.

This isn't about defending (or even the opposite) the view that "sexism doesn't exist". It's merely pointing out that you have to settle on what behaviour you agree upon counts as sexism before this becomes meaningful. This is what the "not as bad as..." argument is fallacious. You're not comparing like with like properly!

(Yes there is a problem with feminism, well, at least as a term. It's the fact that the word gets used frequently as an emotional hook but no one ever gives their definition of it, i.e., what they actually believe, which is far more important than the word they use to describe it. Do you mean simple gender equality? Do you mean promotion of women-specific issues? Do you mean all-sex-is-rape insanity? Do you mean sex-positivity? Do you mean prescriptive believes that say you can't wear a skirt? It's turned into nothing more than emotional blackmail to get people to agree with you without specifying what it is they're supposed to be agreeing to. If it was up to me, I'd apply the Rationalist Taboo to it in all circumstances just to save the arse-ache.)

21st November 2011[edit]

Fuck success: What the X Factor can tell you about bullshit in business.

Anyone, anywhere, who has ever been a success has been there for one reason only: luck.

Talent has little to nothing to do with it at all. All those business people on the likes of Dragon's Den sitting there with their wads of cash and smug faces are just lucky. That's all. They can cry out about hard work, knowledge, intelligence, and how they didn't get any "real" qualifications but what does this actually prove? Nothing. We don't want to know the percentage of successful businessmen who didn't get a college degree, we want to know the percentage of all people without a college degree who became successful businessmen - and more importantly, left this very Earth as successful businessmen. You'll find that these are slightly more depressing numbers.

Then let's look at The X Factor. The winner must have talent, right? Well, think about it. It's a fucking knock-out competition. Someone is going to win. Once they've found the final whatever number, a winner is guaranteed. The absolute level of talent within that group (compared to those who didn't make it that far) is irrelevant. No one gets to Christmas and hears Simon Cowell saying "Actually, you know what? You're all shit, get out of my face." Prior to this stage it's effectively dice rolling. The audition panel, the one you see on TV, is something like the second or third panel that people will face. Prior to this contestants are screened out. But wait, the TV panel still has a massive portion of howling lunatics and nutters (hell, the fucking live shows still have their unfair share). So what is with that? The researchers are there to screen contestants for good stories, good television. For every one of the nutters brought forward to be booed off stage, someone with actual talent has been rejected. What would be the difference in skill and talent between those rejects and the finalists? Nothing.

Yet people still insist on building up narrative fallacies in an ass-backward manner to explain their success. In business, these people are skilled, with good intuition - until the day they fail, and then they suddenly just aren't counted any more. Ironically because these failures are excluded from what we get to see, they reinforce the fallacy! In The X Factor you might hear a judge (towards the end of the run) say something like "we always knew they'd get far". Really? If you knew that why hold the fucking thing in the first place? If you "always knew" then just give them the record contract and release the single!

So, like failed X Factor rejects who still had the "X Factor" but not the luck, failed financiers and business types are ignored, and no one asks why they fucked up. This is because anyone looking at it with a critical mind would instantly recognise how inherently random it is. Skill has nothing to do with it and the narrative fallacy is the most damaging thing we've so far invented. The faster we recognise this, the faster we'll stop having constant economic turmoil punctuated by booms, crashes, redundancies and the ching-ching of bonuses for people who did nothing more than roll a dice and get lucky.

20th November 2011[edit]

Prescriptive beliefs.

A pet hate of mine are prescriptive beliefs. That is, any collective group that actively tells it's members what to think. I know what you're thinking: "RELIGION!!!!!!". But alas, that's only one thing that's guilty of it. The systems I think are guilty of this range from the forms of feminism that tell women that they aren't allowed to do things like wear skirts and high heels (or, shock-fucking-horror, take on any form of submissive sexual role) right up to the skepticism and rationalism "movements" that try to claim ownership of these terms, "correct and true" thinking, and pull the No True Scotsman fallacy just as much as any non-skeptical or non-rational group would. It applies also to these alternative music societies and websites that insist one what is "good" music or not - see the discussion pages on Wikipedia about genres to see how seriously people take this shit, even though it's fundamentally meaningless. It's also a problem I have with religions, but really only my second biggest.

People join these sort of groups to be told what to think, and existing members are happy to force those thoughts onto others and new recruits. In these belief systems you must think exactly like us - otherwise you are irrational/brainwashed/conformist. In the worst case scenario these groups will actually try to tell you that there's something wrong with you because you think differently (in this religion is probably the largest offender, but very closely followed by the alternative music scene).

Our beliefs should be influenced by what we think, not by what others tell us we "should" think. You "should" dress like this, you "should" act this way, you "should" believe X, Y and Z with absolutely no room for just X and Y, or Y and Z, or having some issues with Y so believing a slightly different version of it, and certainly no room A, B, C, D... and so on. This is wrong on many levels, and I think realising this is the first step to truly thinking for yourself, rather than just parroting "atheism equals thinking for yourself" or something equally ridiculous.

This is why I don't consider what someone believes to be particularly important. What really matters is why they believe it.

20th November 2011[edit]

...

My mind is actually blank for the first time in a while. Hip-hip-fucking-huzzar.

18th November 2011[edit]

Commence pie throwing.

You know, it must be really awkward and scary when it just happens that, on a dark night, a man ends up walking home and is constantly tailing a woman who is on her own too, just because they happen to be going in the same direction. Imagine, he must constantly be thinking "Shit, what if I rape her?"

16th November 2011[edit]

Hmmm...

I recently realised that this mini-blog of crap has been far too high brow. Well, attempting to be high brow at least. So I believe some balance is in order. Therefore, let it be known that I would totally wreck this chick. Really, I would absolutely ruin her for white guys. Tally ho, my fine saucy young trollop! Trip along here with all your cash and some naughty night attire, and you'll be staring at my bedroom ceiling from now until Christmas, you lucky tart! Yours, with the deepest respect etc. Signed, Me. P.S. Woof, woof!

This is post-modern misogyny, steeped in irony. So don't you worry your pretty little head about it.

14th November 2011[edit]

The Semantic Switcheroo

I was recently presented with an argument about bullying that went as thus (although paraphrased and reduced for brevity): You cannot hold bullies responsible for self harm or suicide that their victims do as the victims must "want to" perform these actions. No amount of force, torture or NLP can truly force someone to do something they don't "want to". Therefore bullies cannot be held responsible for something that their victims "want to" do.

It sounds reasonable. At first sight it does. Fallacy somewhere I fancy - and you can probably tell from the quote marks above which term I think is most important for this. At first, I struggled to find a decent refutation until I realised it required two completely different definitions of the words "want to" to actually work out. Consider the two definitions below.

  1. Want to (absolutism): I "want to" perform action A if I prefer it over all other options, given a free and open choice of all options.
  2. Want to (relativism): I "want to" perform action A if I prefer it a limited (for whatever reason) set of alternative options.

The difference between these two should be obvious, but can be illustrated by example. If I was faced with a terminal illness and on my way to Dignitas, I would "want to" (by definition 1, absolutism) not to be in that situation at all, and be miraculously cured of that illness - I quite like life, actually, and would "want to" (by definition 1, absolutism) stay alive and happy. However, given this hypothetical situation I would actually "want to" (by definition 2, relativism) die with dignity and with as little pain as possible, so off to the suicide clinic I go (although it's beside the point, I don't know what I would do in that situation, I really don't. I would "want to" never face it, but I'll cross that bridge if I come to it.). Hopefully this illustrates the difference nicely. Now, you could say that definition 1 is wishful thinking (idealistic, impossible and unobtainable), and definition 2 is practical thinking (realistic, possible), and therefore this is a useless distinction and definition 1 doesn't actually exist in practice. This might be true, but is actually irrelevant here.

Given these two definitions of the phrase "want to" it should be clear that the bullying argument, as presented above, actually requires slyly swapping between the two definitions when convenient. In order for the argument to have any relevance or salience it needs to use definition 1, the absolute definition. This would mean that the victim's decision to kill themselves was completely independent of any bullying or harassment, and so rightly no one would, technically, be to blame. However, what is implied by the part that says no amount of torture can make someone "want to" do something is that they do want to do it, but only by the second, relative, definition of "want to" - i.e., the victim wants to harm themselves because that's the preferable path they see is open to them. Following a nice finger breaking by Jack Bauer, the terrorist "wants to" give the location of the bomb. And so on. So, what the argument actually proposes is that suitable coercion can't make someone "want to" by definition 1, but it can make someone "want to" by definition 2 - which is true, but negates the entire conclusion! It's clear from all available evidence that wanting to commit suicide according the absolute definition is somewhat rare, if not unheard of.

Indeed, restricting someone's options from definition 1 (absolutism) to definition 2 (relativism) is the very meaning of coercion. Sometimes life coerces us, sometimes others coerce us. It's just a case of restricting options down until the preferable action from definition 1 is no longer available, then we switch to "wanting" something else. Sometimes it's for good reasons, because what we want to do isn't always what's best for us, but often enough it's for bad reasons. Somehow, I don't think this argument will wash with someone who seemingly thinks it's okay for people to harass LGBT students to the point of self-harm and suicide and to do so without repercussions for their actions.

13th November 2011[edit]

Language sucks

There was a recent wheel war on the atheism page to the effect that atheism should be "defined" as the active belief that there are no gods. Okay, whatever you say, but this TOTN isn't about the specifics of that, but the more general rules we can learn from fighting over definitions.

We could alter the meaning of the word "atheist" in every instance in every dictionary and encyclopedia ever made to something suitably ridiculous like "wild animal that rolls around in mud and squarks while playing chess". But this would emphatically not turn me in to a wild animal that rolls around in mud and squarks while playing chess (tequila might, changing some words in a dictionary certainly won't). This is, of course, intentionally stupid and obvious. But apart from the deliberate ridiculousness of the example, what is the difference between this and a more subtle change? Nothing, precisely.

Words certainly don't control what people think and believe, and I think that if people realised this we'd solve pretty much 90% of all arguments and debates overnight. Think, can you duck out of an argument by simply saying "it's okay, have that word, I'll get my own arbitrary combination of vowels and consonants to represent this"? If yes, then what you're discussing is probably futile and best avoided.

See also


11th November 2011[edit]

Poppies and related things

I'm not wearing a poppy today. I didn't last year, nor the year before come to think of it. The last time I wore one is actually quite fuzzy. I imagine this trend shall continue. But it's only this time around I think I've figured out why. I'll lay these out in bullet points to avoid having to make too much wordy prose.

  • Respect, sympathy, empathy, remembrance and understanding are thoughts and emotions that are completely invisible, made not out of real things but the emergent patterns held within our mind.
  • Symbols are real, and may represent what is invisible. But the symbol does not control what is invisible, prove that it exists or causes it to come into existence. Without meaning behind it, the symbol is meaningless.
  • Therefore wearing a poppy, saying a prayer or having a minute's silence no more proves that I have respect, sympathy, empathy, remembrance and understanding of war and lives lost than wearing a football shirt proves I can play the game well and take penalty kicks with precision.
  • Dedicating a single day to a cause implies that it is not worth our consideration at other times. If you have actual respect, sympathy, empathy, remembrance and understanding these will be with you at all time. Bringing them out for one day only is to treat it like a novelty toy.
  • A choice enforced by social norms and pressure is no free choice at all. This actually precludes true respect, sympathy, empathy, remembrance and understanding from ever being part of yourself.
So, that's my reasoning. I actually hold similar ideas about pretty much everything else, hence why the above is generalised. It's why grief tourism sickens me and I doubt the sincerity of people who write Facebook updates commenting on tragedies they're not involved in. Our ability to emphasise without first-hand experience is extremely limited. It is not a bad thing to admit your limitations and stay within them. I think it's a far more noble thing to admit (when true) that you don't know how someone else feels as to do otherwise would be a lie - and therefore an even greater disrespect.

10th November 2011[edit]

Moral Absolutism

What religious apologists can get away with and what they claim to get away with are two different things. It is one thing to say that the lack of a God character (an external arbitrator saying what is what in the universe) leads to there being no objective and absolute morality. This is a legitimate conclusion. It is something different entirely to say that this is a Bad Thing. It is a different thing entirely again to say that my One True God and my One True God alone holds the key to this absolute morality. Assume they are correct, however, and then ask where does this morality get revealed to us and how can we be sure we understand the message?

Assuming it is revealed by prayer alone is a non-starter. If this was true then different sects of religion would agree on courses of action and indeed everyone would have identical truth revealed to them through prayer - otherwise there is no meaningful difference between "God told me" and "the voices in my head told me" or even "I just think this and that's that". Obviously things have changed through time too, Christians during the Crusades were happy to go invading foreign lands, (at least some) Christians during the world wars of the 20th Century were happy to conscientiously object to fighting. The disparity here precludes revealed absolute morality - even if we assume God is working in mysterious ways and it's not just people talking to themselves, morality is certainly not absolute in the sense we need to be if God reveals it differently to different people.

Or alternatively this moral code is revealed through the Bible or other Holy Text - not to intentionally over-privilege this one book, but the usual western bias to discussing Christianity applies. In this case we can see the evidence presented and examine it, something we're not entirely at liberty to do with prayer. Look at what the Bible does discuss; not working on a Sabbath day, not wearing cloth of mixed fabric and not eating shellfish. Look at what the Bible doesn't discuss; child molestation, rape, or justifications for war (it took until centuries later for people to attempt to create a Just War theory based on Christian morals). The code revealed through this is disjointed and idiosyncratic at best, and at worst counter-productive and at odds with what we would consider "moral" under our present Zeitgeist. Indeed, it's a complete and utter absurdity to think that a single book could contain an absolute morality. Life is greater and more diverse than a single book, or even a collection of books. You could spend the entire word count of the Bible outlining when it is and when it isn't morally justifiable to steal. You could spend 10 times the volume discussing when it is and when it isn't morally justifiable to kill. Even then, you couldn't cover every conceivable situation and lay down an absolute declaration.