Sunday, May 29, 2011

An Ideal Society, Part 2: Time

We currently do a horrible job of keeping track of time. The two things that immediately come to mind when I think about how time is kept on Earth are:

1. Our time system doesn't integrate very well with our other measuring systems; in fact, it has nothing to do with them at all, which is strange.

2. Our time system is based on a medieval peasant's work day. Also strange.

Daylight saving time may conserve sunlight, but unless you don't have electricity, I don't really see why it's necessary. Actually, it's worse than unnecessary: It breaks the system. It's one thing to arbitrarily label a moment when the sun is positioned at a specific angle in the sky as 6:00 PM EST, but it's another altogether to later claim that that same angle occurs at a moment labeled as 7:00 PM EST, or 5:00 PM EST.

Wouldn't it be easier to get up at a different time than to change time?

Think about it: A lot more people than we might realize forget to set their clocks back, and while I'm most certainly in favor of automating all such menial processes to avoid lapses in memory, this particular one really doesn't need to exist in the first place. Furthermore, no credible academic or governmental body -- not even the U.S. Department of Energy -- has found any significant reduction in energy use or costs as a result of daylight saving time, with many studies reporting as little as a 0.5-1% difference in electricity use.

Worse still is that DST doesn't apply to all time zones, and some people frequently travel from one time zone to another, causing confusion regarding DST rules, which differ from region to region. Does this make any sense? If we are going to impose a confusing, arbitrary standard with no benefit to anyone whatsoever, can we not at least universalize it?

You might think that my proposal to do things at different times of day depending on sunlight output is myopic. First of all, in our technological society, it's extremely rare that the amount of sunlight matters to anyone for getting something done -- especially a mere hour's difference. Second of all, if our society didn't so rigidly impose its schedules, we wouldn't have to worry about reminding ourselves to do things at different times of day -- were schedules ever necessary in the first place. In an ideal society, if you really had to change how early you got up in order to increase the length of the day,  because your boss wouldn't care whether you took lunch at 12:00 or 1:00, you'd eat whenever a "natural" break presented itself in the day. This would ultimately deemphasize the importance of arbitrary scheduling, which almost never accounts for scope creep, and certainly does not parallel the processes of human work and energy use.

If you need to be at work by 8:00, and the sun starts rising earlier, then change your time of arrival from 8:00 to 7:56, and keep gradually knocking it down a few minutes every few weeks until the sun starts rising later in the morning again. A guestimate really is good enough for stuff like this.

The problem of conserving sunlight isn't that we need to find a better way to transition from one time* to another; it's that we need to find a better way to transition from doing things at one time to another -- or even that we need to stop caring whether we're five minutes late for work in the first place (OR, that we shouldn't "work" in the way that we currently do!).

Time zones are also pointless. They're dictated by time of day, of course, but again, the day is an archaic unit of measurement restricted by the activity of the sun. If you want to eat dinner on one part of the Earth, perhaps you do so at 6:30 PM, but if you move, does it really matter if it's suddenly dark outside at 3:00 PM? Do you have to wait until 6:30? What's more important -- the little numbers on the clock, or what's happening in the world?

Finally getting back to point 1. above, consider that the metric system is widely used throughout most of the first world (outside of the United States) for measuring physical quanta. Why not for quanta within the fourth dimension as well? Instead of sixty seconds to a minute, there should be one thousand seconds to one kilosecond -- not because the latter are somehow the "right" units to use, but because consistency is important for avoiding slop. There would then be one thousand kiloseconds per megasecond, and so on, with the base unit (seconds) remaining the suffix to each unit in order to remind us of its fundamental nature. Not only would this ally our time system with our other measuring systems, it would also standardize the time system itself.

Why base a particular scale of measurement on how long it takes for the Earth to revolve around the sun or rotate? We no longer need to track how many days we have left until we have to start preparing for the winter. Why does where the moon exist in the sky matter to us? What is the point of the month as a unit of measurement? Instead of each unit containing 60, 24, 30, or 365 of the previous, why doesn't each simply contain 1,000 of the previous, regardless of its scale? Wouldn't that be much simpler?

If we ever wind up living somewhere else -- a prospect which I find rather unlikely, admittedly -- then we will need to acknowledge that days and years are meaningless, anyway, given the extreme variation in them from one planet to another.

* The little numbers on the clock -- not the actual time per the activity of the solar system and universe

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Statement of the day

You do not need to dislike a sensation -- or even imagine what it must feel like -- in order to understand that other beings dislike it.

More ideal society posts forthcoming, I think.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Why suffering can be evaluated empirically

I've gone over this plenty of times, so I'm sure that if you're a regular reader, you know the drill by now. However, regardless of who you are, I've come up with another way to phrase "Suffering is bad" so that it sounds more empirically testable. Here it is:

Those who suffer do not want to suffer.

If we can verify this statement empirically, then that's all that we need to do; there is no more to "prove." You can't want to suffer; as soon as you come to enjoy something, it's no longer causing you to suffer.

Revisiting a great meme: "Life is a gamble"

Pleasure cannot justify suffering in any instance -- not even in instances where the pleasure experienced greatly dwarfs the negative state of desire experienced prior. Here's why:

Think of life as a six-sided die. The five greatest things about life that you can imagine occupy five of the six sides -- perhaps intense orgasms, spiritual fulfillment, growing old with a significant other, having ten trillion dollars, and access to an endless supply of great music (these definitely wouldn't be my choices; they're just examples). The sixth side is occupied by a fifteen-year battle with AIDS -- vomiting, loss of control over bowels and all.

Would you roll the die? If not, congratulations; if presented the choice to be born or to remain in your state of nonexistence, you'd choose to remain in your state of nonexistence. In other words: You wouldn't choose life.

We don't all get AIDS, you say. Well...

1. "We" don't exist as discrete selves in the first place. I remember things that happened to a ten-year-old kid, which gives me the impression that the kid was me, but he wasn't; he lacked my ideals, conceptions, desires, hormones, and even most (if not all) of my atoms. Therefore, that ten-year-old kid is no more "me" than anyone else to have ever lived -- yet all sentient organisms utilize the same chemical compounds and electrical signals in order to experience pain and pleasure, making them chemically equivalent. Clearly, then, there is no need for "me" to experience the worst parts of life: the universe experiences them, and that's bad enough.

2. It's very probable that we will all die -- most of us from cancer, possibly while in a tremendous amount of pain for a prolonged period of time.

The worst that life has to offer might not ever get inflicted upon you, but every day, we roll the die, and every day, many, many people roll the bad side. If you wouldn't want to live through it, then how can you justify its existence?

I ask again, and hope that you leave a comment with your answer: Would you roll the die?

How to make intellectual progress 101

1. Leave fear of new ideas -- the cause of most knee-jerk reactions -- out of any formulation of premises and conclusions; do not foam at the mouth.

2. Express hope that the person whose ideas you're critiquing will come around to seeing things your way.

3. Express awareness of the possibility that you are in error, and that the person whose ideas you're critiquing may be able to provide you with a learning experience.

Failing to adhere to even one of these three will eventually lead to your species fighting wars with itself.

Class dismissed.

James Randi Educational Foundation: Take 2

More convenient strawmen and haughty disdain, this time on page 2:

Posted by Sophronius:
I disagree that empathy is a bias. I have always considered empathy to be a source of information: By allowing us to sympathize with others, we gain a better understanding of them. It would be much harder to predict someone's behaviour without empathy, I think.



[em-puh-thee] Show IPA
the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself: By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a mirror of the self.

Empathy means to live vicariously through someone else, to truly feel or imagine what it must be like to be them, temporarily. If we were to attempt this for all beings to have ever felt anything, we'd fail miserably; nevertheless, the welfare of billions of beings is important -- something that we can ascertain via logic.

Empathy and sympathy completely block any attempts to fix problems, and in fact are part of "the problem," for they cause selfishness. When we identify with those like ourselves, it feels good, but it has no rational basis, and so is entirely founded on emotion.


I'm a cripple, so when someone picks on cripples, I empathize; I get upset. However, when someone picks on an obese person, perhaps I laugh, because I'm not obese myself, and, for one reason or another, lack the ability to put myself into the shoes of the obese person.

Because I'm black, I sympathize with victims of slavery. Because I'm female, I sympathize with female rape victims. Because I'm obese, I sympathize with those who attempt to spread awareness of heart disease.

We shouldn't be limited by what we've been conditioned to be capable of empathizing with. I can't cry when I hear that a bunch of people died last night in a tornado, so if I rely on empathy alone, I'll not rationally concern myself with the event, or the fact that such events happen outside of my personal life. If I feel something for someone who's experienced a tragedy, I'm going to neglect those for whom I feel nothing who've also experienced tragedies -- especially if I'm presented with a choice between these two options, and need to make a decision per the law of opportunity cost. Is this fair? Is this unbiased?

Well, he seems to make an error in the first paragraph when he claims that we consider life intrinsically valuable due to having gotten "emotionally attached" to our ego.

Strawman. I stated that we fabricate excuses for why life needs to exist in the first place -- not for why life is valuable. Furthermore, I'm in favor of the idea that SENTIENT life is valuable; plants and bacteria can be tortured for hours for all I care.

How difficult is it to understand that something can be precious, even in spite of its lack of functionality or purpose (and thus, need to be continued on the production line)? When you perform a mercy killing on your pet, does the fact that you don't believe that it should continue to exist negate the fact that you find its life valuable?

The explanation for us valuing life seems the logical result of natural selection, and as such is intrinsic to our nature. But eh, minor point.

Completely disagree. The general goal of valuing things as a phenomenon sprung from natural selection seems to be to perpetuate genes at the individual level -- not to value life itself. Members of early human tribes were no different from members of chimpanzee troupes or lion packs in their valuing of those genotypes most closely resembling their own -- and, thus, the individual genes whose goals were to perpetuate themselves feverishly and for no good reason.

Very few humans value "life" as a concept nowadays, anyway; they value their own lives, their own personal satisfaction, their nations, and the lives of those closest to them. If you mean to say that humans value their own lives, well, the fact that people are addicted to their various desires does not make those desires functional, imbued with purpose, or somehow objectively worth perpetuating.

Valuing life requires intellectual effort -- at the expense of one's genetically motivated inclinations to scorn all life but that which is reminiscent of oneself. This is evident all throughout the animal kingdom; dogs do not value life, but their own self-satisfaction.

It's a bit odd that he suggests that life is the cause of everything negative in existence, or that "the world might be better off without you". Negative is a human concept and wouldn't exist without sapient creatures to experience it.

This is silly. When baby birds starve to death in the absence of super important humans capable of deeming such a thing negative, is it somehow less unpleasant for the baby birds? Negative is not only a concept, but a sensation. Does the fact that we've contrived the concept of sex change the fact that animals have sex?

It also doesn't make much sense that he distinguishes between creating a positive and ending a negative, since the net effect is the same.

There is no such thing as a positive derived out of thin air; all "positives" are contrived from states of deprivation. I distinguish between the two merely because the former isn't physically possible.

He then claims that having emotions is dangerous. He backs this up by citing things like genocide, which would not occur if humans had no emotions. Even if true, this completely ignores the fact that we consider genocide bad because of our emotions.

That's precisely the point, isn't it? If emotions can lead to nasty consequences, then adding more emotions to the pile is going to make things nastier than they already are.

What you're saying is akin to stating that cancer wouldn't be so bad if we were biologically like plants instead of animals. Isn't that an obvious inference?

We'd also have no genocide if there were no humans, but that is kind of missing the point.

And what point would that be? Can you justify genocide? Short of Jesus and heaven, you're going to have a tough time finding something to put on the other end of the scale that balances everything out. Are you sure that you're not as religious as the fish in a barrel that you like to shoot so often?

He actually does seem to argue that human existence is bad at some points... while simultaneously praising productivity as if it's our highest goal.

1. Suffering is bad.

2. Human existence leads to suffering, so there's certainly something bad about human existence. Whether human existence will ultimately lead to less suffering or a discovery of some metric of value far greater than what we're currently using is hard to say.

3. Even if, hypothetically, all of human existence were a bad idea, wouldn't it be productive to do something about that bad idea? You're framing "productivity" as some kind of linear initiative where positive quantities continuously increase, which is an extremely limited approach to productivity -- a word which always needs context in the first place.

He is right, however, that people will have children even when this is a bad idea (natural selection at work again), but that's nothing new.

Newness is a terrible thing to value by itself. The Nazis were new for a time.

Posted by I Am The Scum
You really need to stop reading this blog. It's absolutely terrible.

I think I'm going to start using this kind of rhetoric in my research papers. I wonder if my grade will go up or down if I start the first paragraph of a paper on nuclear fusion by referring to it as "really horrible and stuff." Hmmm.

In his computer example, he mentions that a computer would have an understanding of how others feel, and lack empathy. That's what empathy is.

2+2=4 does not require empathy; it requires logic. Understanding evolution does not require empathy; it requires empirical observation, from which logic is eventually derived by logic agents. Computers can understand these things.

Empathy is an emotional response to an imagined scenario; see above for its official definition. Empathy requires sentience -- a central nervous system designed for sight, touch, smell, hearing, taste, or some combination of these. A computer does not require a central nervous system in order to understand that 2+2=4, or that circles are round, or that things that don't feel good don't feel good (or that some organisms don't want certain sensations).

We should stop trying to make things better...


We should stop trying to solve problems...

Huh? Have you read any of this blog?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Morality is a subtype of logic

A thread courteously started by an anonymous reader over at the James Randi Educational Foundation:

I'm a fan of this forum, first and foremost. It's a good place for skeptics to congregate.

Secondly, I love stuff like this, and hope that more of it happens in the future.

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

Posted by Vortigern99 in the thread: 
The OP and thread question strike me as a false dilemma and a nonsense question. The two concepts, morality and logic, are not mutually exclusive so there is no compunction to choose one to "replace" the other.

You might as well ask, "Is it possible to replace a banana with a game of Monopoly?" It's nonsensical. 


1. All personal moralities should conform to scientific standards and principles, as all facets of reality stem from or are themselves empirical phenomena; nothing is exempt from this -- not even whether you should be allowed to kill people for fun!

2. "Suffering is bad," while true, isn't the whole story. Value equations are the rest of it; see here.

3. However, there is a profound difference between "Suffering is bad" and "An action which causes suffering is bad." If causing harm in a particular instance negates a greater amount of harm elsewhere, then the potential action -- that is, the action that reduces suffering while in the process causing it to some degree -- is logically "good," while the harm itself is obviously still intrinsically bad in the same sense that circles are round.

4. Whether morality is an "objective" matter is beside the point of the original posts. Regardless of the status of morality as an empirically verifiable tool, it is valid; it's just that its scope is so narrow as to miss the vast majority of that which is "bad" in the universe. Humans are the only entities that we're currently aware of that are capable of being immoral; volcanoes, earthquakes, lions, and the AIDS virus may not be immoral beings, but they cause "bad" -- as far as we can tell.

Posted by mike3 in the thread:
...they seem to be saying we should toss out "morality" ("remove it from our philosophy"), leaving, apparently, only "logic". Does the false-dilemma response apply here?

"Morality" is in quotes in my original passage because I meant the word "morality" -- not the practice of framing things in moral terms. We should ask whether it's logical to rape women for fun -- not whether it's moral. Are both questions basically the same? Yes, but the latter causes us to focus on the human element of the bad parts of the universe, which isn't nearly a fundamental enough focus. I'm merely requesting that the human species update its vocabulary and broaden the scope of its ideals.

P.S.: It's more like asking if it's possible to replace a banana with a piece of fruit.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Quick rumination on functionality

In between the ideal society posts, I might make another kind of post here or there. This one's about life's lack of functionality.

1. A knife is FOR cutting.

2. A steering wheel is FOR driving.

3. A computer is FOR information processing.

4. Life is FOR...?

...and, additionally:

5. The universe is FOR...?

An Ideal Society, Part 1: The Suburbs; Occupations

Alright, we've hit on all of the major problems of the world, as far as I can tell. Occasional posts will still appear here regarding them, but today, I start a new series: An Ideal Society. It's time to stop talking about why our current situation is bad and start talking about what a good situation -- independent of whether a preceding bad one ever existed -- would look like, hypothetically. Over the months, I've hinted at some of the ideas that I'll be posting in this series, but I think that it's about time that I lay them out more explicitly.

Let's get started with the following two premises:

1. Our entire infrastructure is out of whack.

2. This is caused by bad values.

We waste things. A lot. The environmentalist movement seems to be aware of this, but in their quest to find a bad guy to blame, they've neglected the vast majority of the waste that humans produce in this society; perhaps one of their biggest blunders has been their blatant disregard for how we manage oil. Sure, there's lots of talk -- some of it legitimate -- about alternative energy, but what never gets discussed is that we could have continued to use oil for far longer than we will if we'd only structured society itself in a more rational, efficient way.

Let's pretend that society as we know it doesn't exist. If humans were to be dropped onto the Earth today, with big brains, language, and a need to understand whether the universe has any redeeming qualities whatsoever, how would their society (or societies) be structured in the ideal scenario?

For one, there'd be no suburbs. For two, there'd be no occupations.

Something that people generally don't seem to realize about jobs is that, in addition to being nauseatingly bureaucratic in nature, they're usually designed only to help someone else do his job; furthermore, for some reason, they don't really end.

Curious, isn't it? If jobs actually accomplished something, wouldn't they end at some point? If you need to paint your house, doesn't the need terminate once the house has been painted? You don't devise new ways to paint the house just to keep your family on the payroll, do you?

You might bring up more indefinite chores, like taking out the trash. To this, I say:

1. We already have the technology available to us to automate the majority of modern jobs. The only reason for why 90% of our jobs haven't been taken over by machines is that people need to make money in order to live. If we didn't need to make money, then machines would already be doing most of our menial chores.

2. Menial chores do not require that you hop into a car and drive for two hours to an entirely different building every day at a set time which cannot be violated. This is because menial chores are not enough work to constitute a true occupation, generally; they can be done by anyone whenever they're required to be done without forcing someone in particular to be "the guy" who does them at the same time every day. In short, while the chore of taking out the trash may be indefinite, my role as the person who handles the chore needn't be.

Number 2 takes us to the first assertion above: that the suburbs are a pathetic waste of resources.

Here's how our living spaces should be structured instead:

Housing units as large as one entire neighborhood -- or at least as large as some substantial portion of one, depending on architectural technicalities -- would exist all over the Earth. These units would look something like shopping malls in their openness, though they'd probably be much more aesthetically pleasing, given that no money means no capitalistic concerns over architectural parsimony. They would also contain individual quarters. There would be no leases, no deeds, and no mortgages, just as there are no leases, deeds, or mortgages for those who routinely and lawfully enter shopping malls all over the country every day today; if you wanted to take up residence within a housing unit, you'd simply walk inside at your leisure, just as you do today in parks, malls, libraries, and other public places where accommodations like benches and water fountains already exist.

For our ideal living quarters, though, the difference would be that, instead of mere water fountains and benches, you'd have access to cushioned resting areas, computers, pleasing scenery, and food kiosks. The analog to mall security in this scenario would be a centralized computer, complete with a camera system, alarm system, and connection to the main global network, where all information regarding individuals and material resources would be tracked (everyone would be monitored by a GPS in orbit around the planet). Of course, without money, there'd be no reason to hoard items and, more importantly, no reason to steal, so while the computer's sensors might get tripped from time to time, items leaving the premises wouldn't be one of the reasons for this.

Temporary residence would be encouraged, as exploration, innovation, and creativity would be valued in the place of self-indulgence, material excess, and expectation. The people within a particular housing unit's major lounge areas would likely be entirely different from one month to the next, with those bored of the area or finished with a particular project moving on to see the rest of the world, and newcomers (or past frequenters returning for one reason or another) constantly stopping by to relax and enjoy themselves.

Entertainment would vary, and would likely depend on the technology available per the time period. Modern examples might include fully immersive video games and other kinds of audio/visual simulations, Internet access from major kiosks for learning and interacting with content, mood lighting, and replicas of outdoor locations. Social activities would also be available, such as story-telling, game-playing (including physical games, though video games are already becoming increasingly physical), teaching, humor, etc.

Walls would, in many cases, be transparent; this would discourage privacy in public (i.e. the way that we treat places of work and cars today), promote open communication among everyone (e.g. if you're gay or really into Satanic heavy metal, you'd tell the middle aged woman sitting in the lounge area and never think anything of it), and increase the vitamin D intake for the population. The exception to the transparent walls rule would be private rooms, for the sake of allotting some amount of time for both personal contemplation and sleep.

Although such private areas would be available, when it would come to sleeping, they would be built to accommodate only one person, as group formation would be discouraged. Of course, it would be acceptable for a group of, say, four people, for example, to seek out a quiet room for planning an activity or working on a project, but each room would probably have one bed in order to both discourage the development of special needs (i.e. cutting down on pointless customization of infrastructure while in the process standardizing room sizes) and promote social transparency among the populace.

Rooms would be checked out by a user who would manually change the status of a door's computer from vacant to occupied, with additional settings including a "Please don't just barge in, but I'm open to talk if you need me" setting and a "Do not disturb" setting; the latter would call a computer-authenticated lock, and would also be monitored by the central computer in case the sensor ever remained flipped for substantially longer than is required by humans for sleep -- a sign of someone hiding something, in many cases.

There would be no need to "check out" a room the way that you do at a hotel, as the computer would handle everything by automatically updating the database to reflect room status changes. Check-out times would also be nonexistent, as the number of rooms per living area would always exceed the average population traffic size; where the main computer for a given population center detected that the average number of tracked people within the defined boundaries of the center was encroaching on an arbitrary maximum, an alert would be generated for someone to initiate a new building project for a separate housing unit.

So what about going places? The above description might be fine for a place to live, but what about the exploration that would allegedly be promoted by this model? Isn't what I've just written about the same as what we have today, only larger in scope and more socially open?

Well, no, it isn't. Remember that point two was that there'd be no occupations. Let's run through an example.

I, along with five people whom I've never met before, am a de facto overseer of a research project aimed at developing a way to clone organs. For convenience purposes, our research team has unanimously consented, without intervention from a third party or "leader," to meet at a specific population center designated on our communications devices' maps by an ID number (everyone would have a handheld computer that would provide him or her with names, IDs, and contact information for everyone else).

Perhaps we've chosen the population center based on the recreational activities available there. In any case, we convene at one of its living areas with tentative dates for when we'll be finished our research; there are no deadlines. To get to the population center, we take the public transportation system -- a series of interconnected, centrally managed, and automated vehicles tracked by the GPS. Once we arrive, we live there for about three months, often checking out local places of entertainment or enjoying time at the beach, but never really needing to go anywhere substantially far away. Remember: Every time that anyone in the society needs to commute to a new place of work, he changes where he "lives" to match.

My associates and I become close friends over the three months that we work together, sending our progress to the central computer for anyone in the entire society to read and add onto at any time. Once we've determined that we've made a substantial amount of progress and have heard back from a few interested individuals who want to pick up where we left off (without needing to preserve some profit-generating model, we'd have no reason to shun those interested in temporarily taking the reins), we part ways to relax or work on another, unrelated project elsewhere on the planet -- even if the latter project has nothing to do with medical science.

Contractors, freelance artists, and Wikipedia editors already do this; with the right amount of granular control, central management, and redundancy, real work can get done much faster in this model than it can in our current society -- especially given that there are no CEOs to demand that we manufacture the right amount of basketballs by a certain date or show up at exactly 9 AM every morning to begin scanning papers that are perfectly readable in their non-digital forms. The bottom line: Most "work" today is unnecessarily pushed into arbitrary time slots with pointless deadlines, all because the impetus is personal enrichment and not the betterment of society.

Alternatively, perhaps most or all of the research that I just outlined is done remotely, meaning that my imaginary team and I merely communicate via email and video chat, and are free to move around the world as we please. Maintenance and technical jobs might require physical meetings and close proximity to something in case it breaks, but again, as soon as someone else came in to take my place, I'd simply leave to do something else at another location on the planet.

So, there you have it. No ridiculous commutes, no traffic jams, no preposterous amounts of gas wasted every day. If you want to commute to a place and do work there, you go once, live down the street, and leave when your project has been completed. Even if the project takes years to complete -- an unlikely scenario in a sane, granular society with a socialistic bent -- there would never be a physical place of work without some living space within proximity, available to anyone free of charge. Really, if we can do it for libraries, we can do it for our homes.

Want to save gas? Don't do less; change the locations of your activities.

Recent comments

There's now a recent comments section to the right. This will be very useful for anyone who comments here, especially myself. My comments are currently filling it up because I had to paste a few that were marked as spam, but hopefully, it'll show more from other people soon.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Reply to comment

This is a reply to a comment that can be found here. My response is too long to fit into one comment, and this method seems to be more efficient, anyway (see my reasoning here). Perhaps it will bring the conversation to people who've missed the original post's comments up until now -- which is especially good if you consider that this is sort of a different topic from the one in the original post.

Before I begin with the comment, though, let me take a moment to make a definite statement:

Promiscuity and cultural investment in sex as a thing of supreme value are two different things.

On with the reply:

"If you meant to talk about people who use symbols in the place of empirical observation where it benefits them socially, why not, you know, say 'people who use symbols in the place of empirical observation where it benefits them socially'?"

Because that's not as likely to leave an impression, I suppose. It's the same as if I were to say that I dislike it when people believe in things solely because the things make them happy, and then proceed to poke fun at people who specifically think that fiery demons like to snack on the souls of homosexuals.

I'm sure that you also laugh at the latter mentality, yes? Is it okay for us to laugh at the absurdity of demons devouring gay people? If it is, then why isn't it okay for us to laugh at the absurdity of women obsessing over something as meaningless as a non-essential biological function? Note that, as I previously clarified, I was not targeting feminists as a whole -- just anyone, feminist and faux-feminist alike, who makes it her goal to promote hedonism as a means to achieving some kind of state of enlightenment. The Buddhists are wrong about meditation in this exact same way, and reality sucks. That's how I see it, at least.

"Moreover, being able to express oneself sexually with the freedom accorded to men and not face social ostracism or blame in case you get raped seems like a rather tangible, and not merely symbolic, benefit."

Great, but there's a big difference between having casual sex with people on one hand and promoting a retarded culture of porn, over-the-top music videos, and other kinds of carefree escapism as some kind of progressive initiative on the other. If you don't think that at least some of the "Look at me, because my appearance is important to my self-esteem, as should be the case for everyone, since shapes and colors of people matter" types are all about "girl power" and being "independent," think again. Say that they're not "legitimate" feminists if you want, but I'm not really interested in who's part of which groups -- just who's probably right about our situation on Earth and who isn't.

The point was simply that most people on this planet have terrible values. I can and have used plenty of other examples in the past, from Christian fundamentalists to CEOs who think that their yachts will save them from their fates; this particular example was not originally thought of as being somehow different from the others when it was selected.

"I haven’t actually seen any feminists advocate that we should have a custom and expectation of female promiscuity; maybe you have."

I haven't. What I have born witness to, though, is one unusually opulent generation raising another under the premise that not only is "being yourself" somehow meaningful, it's something that should allow you to get whatever your greedy, privileged self desires. Examples include women using sexual power to afford themselves self-esteem and emotional comfort, young men expecting places of employment to just accept them (and getting indigant when this doesn't happen), and the majority of the population never witnessing a live death of another person unless inside a hospital. These are all very bad things if we want to make people responsible and appropriately empathetic; all three prevent us from caring about anything other than our own over-blown neuroses while lost in a sea of materialism, solipsism, and attention-seeking.

"What I have seen feminists advocate is that women who wish to be promiscuous be allowed to do so without it being assumed that it’s okay to rape them, or that they are morally deficient somehow (whereas men are judged by much more lenient standards)."

1. Rape is fairly common, but nowhere near as common as car accidents, cancer, and a plethora of other horrors. It's a big deal, sure, but having more sex or dressing a different way is not going to make things better; in fact, it's going to make things worse. Education is the answer, here -- like with just about every other bad meme currently nestled inside of someone's brain; only after the populace is properly educated should we start dressing differently (and even then, we shouldn't pretend that doing so makes us interesting or that life is all happy times now).

As an extreme (and, potentially, ultimate) example of how education should work when it comes to sex, in one of my ideal future societies that I've envisioned, men and women would have sex with one another via simulated avatars customized according to each person's preferences. A man could become a woman and vice versa virtually if he or she wanted, and all humans on the planet would be raised by credentialied caretakers in a controlled "lab" environment to not only think but fully understand why preferring the attention of one person over another simply because he or she has different body parts is superficial. Males would have sex with their best male friends within such simulations -- even though they'd be entirely straight -- to strengthen bonds. Finally, there would be no or very few fetishes, as most fetishes result from the bizarre meme that sex is bad (or, more specifically, that where there's nudity, there's sex, and both are bad).

2. For the most part, a male's desire to rape a female is different from the current cultural tendency toward using sex for profit (prostitutes, pornstars, record label owners), ego gratification, or just to distract from how bad life is. The former is something that I do view as a legitimate concern, whereas the latter -- that is, the concern that being sexual needs to be incorporated into one's identity, etc. -- is really silly. I'm fully aware that many feminists are against these things; on the other hand, it does seem to be the case that our society accepts things like makeup as more legitimate as advertising methods than index cards with lists of ideals taped to foreheads. In other words, much of what makes obsession with sex superficial has been accepted for over a hundred years, now (remember the roaring 20s?).

Yes, this all applies to males as well, but outside of the gay community, there isn't much in the way of intensive male body decoration. If you want to out male attention-seeking and signs of being out of touch with reality, you'll have to go with rock stars, Facebook status updates, and emasculated whining about the government.

"If you think such advocates are necessarily motivated by selfish considerations, you are wrong. If you think this issue is trifling, you must not have researched it much or given it much thought. Not having to worry about such things is part of the privilege this culture accords you as a man."

I wouldn't know; I don't have sex.

I'm sure that I could if I really wanted to, but the amount of energy involved does not reflect the reward, especially given current relationship stability statistics (but certainly not because of such statistics). Anyway, I'm sure that there are plenty of outlying males who are -- mostly due to terrible values and false hope -- dying to have sex or be in a relationship, but also unable to due to arbitrary personality aberrations or lack of physical mass.

Everyone on this planet is impacted by this fundamental problem, regardless of the form that it takes. It's called prejudice.

"That’s why it’s crucial to not underestimate your connection with Western culture: you may be a culture drone in ways you don‘t even realize. You seem to think the slut stigma is a non-issue compared to people’s wasting time and resources on expendable entertainment, but at least people want to do that (and those who are currently starving would do the same, if they could)."

The slut stigma is a huge issue, but it isn't so big that it needs to drown out the issue of cancer or the more general issues of presumption and social exclusion. If you're in favor of ending the slut stigma, great; so am I. If you're in favor of ending the slut stigma and then using that scary "we" pronoun to declare a false victory -- especially if by "ending" you mean "replacing with more selfishness and pleasant fantasy" -- then I'm afraid that you've missed what it is that living things are doing here on Earth.

"If women's sexual freedom somehow became the new status quo, that would be a good thing"

Again, sexual freedom and slutification -- the original term that I used -- are two different things. I'm in favor of people being able to have sex with whomever they choose (although it still concerns me that this necessarily leads to a massive portion of people -- particularly the obese, socially inept, and elderly -- getting ignored by the rest of us in the exact same way that monogamy does). I'm not in favor of sex being glorified as some symbol of one's identity or "inner self," or some other nonsense. I was poking fun of that mentality, as it's all over our culture to the point where every time you turn around, someone is talking about how having sex makes his or her life meaningful. If you think that women having lots of sex is still as big of a taboo as it used to be -- or that what's been happening to what we value in our fellow human beings is good -- then you're not living in the same society as me.

"Re: it was a joke. It wasn’t funny."

You're still being a bit uptight here, I think. Maybe I just have a dark sense of humor.

"Why not make a joke about how separate drinking fountains for black people were merely a symbolic standard, and getting rid of them was a waste of time?"

Because being allowed to drink clean water is a billion times more important than being allowed to get really drunk and then seek undeserved attention from anyone within proximity. Again, the target was people who advocate slutification -- not people who advocate promiscuity. It was just my way of making fun of modern society.

I should also probably note here that I think polygamy makes way, way more sense than monogamy.

"And, of course, you still haven’t shown how advocating slutification makes one unable to also advocate other things, even if one does it for selfish reasons."

I don't recall making this claim. If I remember correctly, I asked you whether this is true of you, since it is a common occurrence for people to defend only those things which apply to them personally.

"Do you write this blog from your own computer? Why not sell it and donate the proceeds to Oxfam or some such organization? It would probably make more of an impact than writing a blog, realistically"

Don't know what Oxfam is. I'll do some research, and if it's something other than a generic charity, then maybe I'll take you up on this offer. If it is just a generic charity, then I'd prefer to write a blog. Either way, this blog doesn't get many views, and I don't pretend to be making a difference; it's just that if I do or don't write it, I'll probably not make a difference either way, so why not?

"You seem to have some kind of idiosyncratic virtue ethics about eschewing happiness and pleasure"

That's called asceticism -- something that I'm very against. What makes you think that I'm in favor of this?

"You have not provided convincing evidence that the rest of us should adopt your virtue ethics or, more importantly, that it is even possible for everyone to do so."

Spreading memes that influence others is a tricky business; you have to know what you're doing before promoting the memes in question. If, for example, I declare that self-expression through music is the gateway to harmony for all life on Earth, I'm going to be promoting a really skewed perspective of the world on par with the most out-of-touch of religions. On the other hand, if I love music that personally moves me and merely state as much, then I'm doing no harm.

1. Do things that you enjoy, so long as they do not tip the pleasure to suffering ratio for sentient life in suffering's favor.

2. Don't teach people that enjoying the things in question is valuable, or some end goal for humanity. Just enjoy them.

Crap, terrible, bad, very bad spam filter alert

Google is the worst entity to have ever been constructed by humans -- or is at least right up there with the Third Reich and the Catholic Church.

Apparently, there is a spam filter on Blogger which you cannot turn off (if I'm wrong, leave a comment). And apparently, it likes to mark things as spam for absolutely no reason. This hardly surprises me; this is the same company who came up with the retarded flagging system that YouTube uses.

Anyway, on this entry of mine, I've restored two comments that were, for some unknown reason, marked as spam. If you are either of the two individuals who left the comments, or if you think that reading their comments might be to your benefit, they are now available.

I am in the process of reading and responding to them at the moment, but I figured that I'd make this post first in order to give everyone a heads up that this problem could continue into the future.

Edit: Looks like the comments finally restored by themselves. I'll leave the originals up, but I manually copied them as well, since it's probably easier to read them sequentially than by digging through the older comments for them. Oh, and apparently, spam filters don't believe in paragraphs.

A true story

I work for a systems integration firm which specializes in providing solutions for the communications and security industries; specifically, I am "the IT guy" for our internal operations, though I work alongside several contractors who also maintain our network.

Sounds important, right? I'm not so sure that it is.

Two days ago, one of the contractors with whom I work needed to drive out to a nearby tunnel system with an engineer in order to swap out a server mounted on a rack full of modulator-things (I'm not an engineer, so I don't need to know exactly what the engineers do, apparently. As long as I do my part and make my money, right?). The goal was to change out the server, update the database, and test the modulator-things by way of a radio in order to ensure that the signals that the modulator-things were modulating were strong enough. Still sounds somewhat important so far.

But I wasn't there to do any of that. I was supposed to be back at the office re-imaging a hard drive and recovering its lost data from a backup system provided by a fairly unreliable (but cheap!) third party. Why did I have to drop everything that I was in the middle of and go, then? Because the contractor's back was hurt, and he wanted me to carry his suitcase for him.

That was it. I was there to carry a fairly light suitcase into a building, into an elevator, and then into a server room; the rest of my time was to be spent sitting in a chair and waiting for the other two guys to finish. Honestly, the contractor didn't seem all that hurt, but even if he was, the engineer who was also tagging along could have easily grabbed the contractor's stuff on a second trip from the car to the building. Basically, this was an inefficient use of man hours on the part of the contractor.

I normally wouldn't complain about such a thing, no matter how obviously poor the decision was -- especially on this blog -- but there's more to this story. In addition to my role in this operation being needlessly redundant, it turned out that neither of the two guys working on this system really knew what he was doing, and both had been rushed by their managers to get the job done that evening at all costs. Oh, and on top of that, the system turned out to be full of errors.

This combination of unfortunate elements -- all generated by a society obsessed with self-perpetuation and gratification, no matter the cost -- caused us to stay at this place until almost 9 at night, when the goal was to be done by 5 or earlier (we got there at 2:30). In other words, from approximately 2:30 until 8:45 or so, I was sitting in a chair. I could have been eating dinner, but because I was "needed" for carrying a relatively light load to a place where a project "needed" to get done that day, I just sat there for the entire day, doing literally nothing.

Even if I really was needed for carrying the suitcase -- which I am somewhat open to being a real possibility -- the system's lack of criticality indicates to me that there was no need whatsoever for us to stay any later than 5; the push to stay as long as it took makes no sense to me in this case, as we weren't exactly performing heart surgery.

All that aside, I still wouldn't have posted this entry if it weren't for this: The goal of the system that they were working on is to allow you to hear your radio when you're driving through the tunnel. I spent over six hours (three of which were outside of my normal hours of work) doing nothing -- not helping anyone back at the office, not eating or drinking, not enjoying a recreational activity at home -- just so that the people who drive through that tunnel can hear an extra thirty seconds of their favorite Lady Gaga song. With all of the things that need to get done on this planet to make the burden of life more bearable, apparently, what we did that day was more important.

Do you still think our society is sane?