Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Dating Advice

I was watching a stream when one of the people in chat asked the streamer what to do in a romantic situation. The asker liked a girl but had done something to put her off. I didn't see the details because I don't real chat.

The streamer started answering that the best approach was to find ways to spend more time with her. Like walking home alone the same path she does. It doesn't matter if you actually live in that direction if she doesn't know where you live, the streamer explained. If she doesn't want to walk with you that's fine because it's not illegal to walk down the street. If she started running, you can run alongside her, because it's not illegal to run.

The streamer was joking. I was glad they clarified that because there wasn't really a way to be sure.

I can't rule out the possibility that the asker wasn't asking because they had a real problem but because they thought it would be funny, so maybe everyone got what they wanted. But it wasn't the first time that I've seen people in a chat for a Twitch stream treat the streamer like a kind of father figure who can provide advice about life. It feels odd to me. I don't think I have any reason to believe someone who streams videogames is going to also do well in a Dear Prudence type role.

But whatever the reason it got me thinking about what advice I have for the young people who see me as a source of wisdom. To be clear, there are none of those, but because of that, I want to offer the following.

If you are a
boy and you like a girl
and she doesn't notice you or doesn't seem to like you or just doesn't like you the way you like her, use that as an opportunity to learn that you are capable of tolerating your emotions.

First, realize that the feelings that are tormenting you are your feelings and they aren't something she is doing to you. There is nothing she can do to help you feel your feelings. Even if it turns out she's crazy about you, you are still going to have feelings. Sure, you'll recontextualize them as wonderful instead of agonizing, but you still need to deal with them.

Second, remember that feelings tend to get more intense when you try to deny them or avoid them but get less intense when you accept them. That doesn't mean you should profess your undying love so as not to "deny" you feelings. Professing your feelings to someone else is asking that person for help in dealing with your feelings, not dealing with them yourself. I'll borrow from Jalaluddin Rumi's "The Guest House" and say that we ought to treat emotions as welcome guests in our mind and invite them in to entertain them. That's not an easy thing to do, which is precisely why it's a good idea to get some practice in with your highschool crush.

Third, I said that telling someone else about your feelings was asking for help. I didn't mean not to do it. In fact, you should ask for help, but ask an appropriate person for help. It is pretty obvious that going up to someone you are infatuated with and saying, "I don't know how to handle my powerful emotions about you, perhaps you'd help me even though you don't really know me?" is not a strategy for a successful relationship. But going to a friend and talking about the anguish you are experiencing might help. If you don't have friends who you think you could talk to, that's actually a bigger problem than the infatuation situation, and you should probably seek some emotional support in the form of counselling. If you are a teenager or in university/college you undoubtedly have free resources available to help you.

Do not grow up to be a man who thinks that every time he is tormented by a powerful feeling there must be
someone else
to blame. That's way more important than getting someone to reciprocate your infatuation.

Also, if you want to get laid, start a band.

Friday, 8 September 2017

I'm Not Really An ACLU Fan

So I read an ACLU blog post today about a case where a wedding cake designer is discriminating against gay customers.

The case is clear cut discrimination. A gay couple went into a bakery that makes custom wedding cakes, asked for a wedding cake, and were turned away because the shop did not make custom wedding cakes for gay weddings. Anyone who doesn't agree that is
discrimination
is not sufficiently engaging with reality. A state-level court agreed with this obvious conclusion, though the decision that it was illegal discrimination was a little more complicated than you would think. I'll get back to that in a moment.

The government of the United States of America has decided this is a really important case that they'd better get themselves involved in. So they've filed an
amicus brief
in favour of the cake shop owner. That's no surprise because the Department of Justice is run by a bigot. But even though it's obvious straight up bigotry, the brief does actually make a legal argument, and one that might sway a judge.

The defense of the cake shop owner is that making wedding cakes is a matter of personal expression. He would sell any baked good in his shop to a gay couple, but he won't engage in a personal creative effort to express support for a gay wedding. That is, he's saying it's his first amendment right to not express himself in a way that violated his religious beliefs.

The court that ruled on the case originally considered this argument, they didn't dismiss it out of hand. The question was whether creating the wedding cake was a sufficiently expressive thing to trigger the first amendment. They said it was not, but part their reasoning noted that the couple hadn't actually discussed details or custom messages of the cake before leaving the shop. So the cake shop owner hadn't refused to write, "I love butt sex" on a cake, he had refused to make a cake merely on the basis of the couple being gay. If he had kicked the couple out of his store for wanting him to write that on a cake,
we wouldn't be having this discussion
.

The ACLU post engages in a very silly slippery slope argument where they suggest that if this ruling was made a doctor might refused to treat people who are transgender or a restaurant might refuse to follow food safety laws citing food preparation as a kind of free artistic expression.

Neither of those make any sense at all. You don't trigger first amendment freedom of expression protections by employing technical skills like medicine. Your right to free expression has never included the right to poison other people and never will.

I think what the ACLU is doing here is encountering cognitive dissonance as they realize their position on the first amendment generally is a pro-discrimination opinion. When Charlottesville tried to deny a permit to hold a rally to neo-Nazis, the ACLU came to the defense of the Nazis and precipitated the events of August 12. Their position was that it is more important to protect free speech than to prevent Nazis from marching in our streets. They've been grappling with that position since, and they've decided they won't support violent hate groups that plan to bring weapons to rallies. So basically they will continue to stand up for first amendment right to advocate genocide, but won't do it if people are also exercising
second amendment rights
. Fundamentally, their position hasn't changed, though: crowds shouting pro-genocide slogans in the street should be protected.

If someone wrote custom poetry to be read at weddings and didn't want to write poetry about gay love, the argument the US government is making on behalf of the cake shop owner would work. In fact, based on the factors considered in the lower court, we'd never be at this stage, as the lower court would have supported this as
protected first amendment speech
.

Legally speaking, the constitution of the United States protects freedom of speech and does not protect gay people against discrimination. Well, it seems to protect them from discrimination within the legal system by guaranteeing equal protection under the law, but it doesn't protect them at a bakery. The case for the baker rests on a legal quibble about whether the first amendment applies, but if the first amendment applies, the ruling is clear. The argument that the baker is using to defend his decision not the make the cake is legally the same argument that another baker would use to refuse to make a cake with a swastika on it. The difference is that in one case a baker is refusing to acknowledge the validity of gay people's love, in the other they are refusing to acknowledge the validity of Nazi ideology.
Without noting that this is a question of rights butting against one another
, we can't tell those two things apart.

If I'm being kind, I think they ACLU, and Americans in general, have to grapple with the fact that giving one kind of human right - freedom of expression - primacy over other kinds of human rights - the right to be treated equally without regard to race, sexual orientation, etc. - means devaluing the latter right. It means being against the latter right in some cases. There are decisions to be made about how to proceed with that information.

If I am not being kind, I'd say the ACLU's readiness to engage in spurious slippery slopes from wedding cakes to doctor's visits combined with their unwillingness to engage in factually supported slippery slopes between Nazi rallies and violence means
they are an anti-semitic hate organization
.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Race to the Bottom

How do we know what a thing is worth? That's easy, the marketplace will reveal it's value by assigning a dollar cost to it.

But if a thing is worth the amount it costs then buying it isn't a good deal, it's a neutral proposition. So we'd better try to get a better price.

If we can't support our concept of value with something other than the revealed value of the market then it is a race to the bottom for everything, and the only thing we value is money itself.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Void

Trigger Warning: This post contains apparent sympathy for Donald Trump

Here's a slightly outdated article about Trump being a vessel of positive emptiness (via BoingBoing). I'm not sure if I recommend you read it. If you do you may have to overlook the rocky beginning in which it is implied that
dogs don't have emotions
.

The point of the article is that we should be beyond the point of wondering what Donald Trump believes or thinks. It doesn't matter whether he really supports Nazis, because his calculation on the matter is probably something more akin to, "People are saying I'm bad for what I did so I will tell them I was right," rather than anything that factors in real world consequences beyond his own emotions. I think that's probably right.

What I don't think is right is that this makes him a "blank sucking nullity" or a "human void". Ordinarily I'd be fine with a novel insult for Trump, and in this particular case I am also basically fine with it. Still, this also awkwardly strikes home for me in a way that is a little tough to explain.

I am not much like Donald Trump as far as human beings go. I certainly have some similarities but I think personality wise most people would say I'm extremely far away from him. There are, however, a lot of dimensions on which you can measure things, and two things that are very different in an ordinary sense of how those things would be compared might be very similar along an unusual axis. If we believe a certain dossier then people who are into golden showers may have something very much in common with Donald Trump despite them being generally nice people who might bristle at the comparison.

That is not what I have in common with Donald Trump.

The thing about Trump that makes him so hard to understand for most people is that he seems to exist in a different dimension of personality. Most people will lie or tell the truth, and a person might be a liar or very honest. Donald Trump says things without regard for whether they are true or not, substituting an entirely different axis of decision-making. Some people know etiquette and some people don't, some people who know etiquette for a situation obey it to be polite and other flaunt it to be rude or to show rebelliousness. Trump behaves how he is going to behave regardless of what etiquette may or may not exist.

Trump isn't a liar or a boor, he exists on an axis orthogonal to those considerations. I keep hearing political commentators try to return to what they think the point is - how will this help or hurt Trump's agenda. But Trump doesn't have a political agenda, he has something perpendicular to that.

You probably have a moderate-to-good understanding of other people. Maybe that's a very intellectual understanding or maybe it's a very emotional one. However you came about it, the reason I can say you probably have it is because you have to have it to get on in your life. If you have or have had a job, or a romantic relationship, or friends, or a twitter following, you must have at some point figured out how to relate to people in some way they understand. You figured this out because your brain is a pattern matching machine and you were perpetually exposed to hundreds of data points on how humans behave.

If a human comes along who is a real decision-making outlier - who operates on decision-making axes largely independent of those that you are used to - they are going to seem inscrutable. That's why you don't understand Trump. There are few enough people who are like that that you've never had enough data to put a model together. Analogies to five-year-old children help, but it really is more like trying to understand the mind of a cat. If you've spent years around Trump you'll get better at it, but that's by developing a Trump-specific model, not by assuming you can work him into your human model.

There's only one place I could be going with this, and many of my readers may be tempted to stop me right here and say, "Come on, you aren't that different."

I am.

In my life there are a number of people I've strongly related to. People whose thoughts and feelings look like mirror images of mine even if they aren't the same. I wrote about this years ago when I wrote about John Campbell and his Kickstarter meltdown. Somehow his huge explanation of his life and himself seemed totally relatable to me while most people found it nonsense and
hardly a reason to burn books
.

There is someone who is widely regarded as a troll on a forum that I sometimes visit who just makes sense to me. To others, they must be trying to derail the discussion because their posts are too disconnected from what everyone else is talking about. To me, it makes perfect sense, and when I respond to them I get
coherent
responses back.

And yes, seeing Donald Trump spoken of as someone who can't be comprehended made me think of myself. Sure, that's probably only because I think of myself as
essentially bad
. But I've never really had much trouble understanding what Trump was like or who he is. I'm not troubled by questions like, "Does he support nazis?" because it's just not a hard question to answer - that is, unless you are caught up on what the word "support" would mean if you "supported" something and you are trying to look for an analogue in someone who just doesn't do that.

I've always gotten conflicting results on introversion vs. extroversion scales on personality tests. In
Jungian terms
introversion vs. extroversion is about your flow of energy: extroverts get energy from being around others and need energy to spend time being alone. Introverts need to spend energy to be around others and need to be alone to recover energy.

The reason my results are conflicting is because I am an extrovert - I get energy from being around other people - but I find having energy to be an intolerable state that I can't handle, so I need to spend time by myself to allow it to dissipate and return to being sedate. Being around other people makes me manic, and mania is terrible. That's a recent realization that fits a general pattern. I'm a funhouse mirror of a normal hedonic scale. Sometimes I'm better at my job because I'm depressed. I can have a negative reaction to feeling good. Most people probably wouldn't even know what that could mean.

Our zeitgeist tells us that people act out of self-interest, and that's embedded deeper in our thought processes than we are aware. While Trump is the ultimate example of someone who acts only in terms of immediate self-interest, I am probably as close to a counterexample of that as you will find. My actions are usually governed by the interests of others that I substitute for my own because I don't know what my interests are or by the desire to just stop, regardless of the cost.

The best strategy for most people to deal with Donald Trump is to stop trying to understand his internal workings and instead just look and how he works on a cause-and-effect level. I am the same and opposite to that - the best strategy for most people to deal with me is to assume my internal workings are the way they assume everyone's are because I will do the work to limit the possibility of challenging that assumption.

I was once told that fundamentally there are two kinds of mentally ill people - those that take it out on others and those that take it out on themselves. I think it's possible that Trump and I - aside from that one very important dimension - are much more alike than we appear.

Monday, 28 August 2017

Look, I'm Seriously Just Trying to Help

Another CBC article, another complaint from me. This time it's "The left is alienating its allies by shutting down free speech."

The arguments in favour of free speech are actually very few. That's not because it's a bad idea to think carefully about laws restricting what people can and cannot say, it's because free speech as an ideal has basically been accepted as right for generations and there's little reason for people on the victorious side of history to be particularly thoughtful in the defense of their position.

If you support
free speech
, here are the arguments you will use, and why they are, as arguments, utter failures:

If we give the current government the power to outlaw speech, the next government, with whom you disagree, will have that power too.

OR

If we make saying a thing you disagree with illegal, maybe next we will make saying a thing you agree with illegal.

1. There are already many things you could say that are illegal (threats, harassment, copyright violation, sexual solicitation, etc.). These have
not lead to such a slippery slope
.

2. In any nation with constitutionally codified right to expression, it is the role of the judiciary to balance the rights of the individual against laws that are there to protect society. You will find that sometimes the judiciary goes one way and sometimes it goes the other way. You'll also find that they carefully spell out multi-part tests to ensure that their rulings aren't used out of context for precedent. This argument, therefore, is that the judiciary is broadly failing to apply the law and that
you know better
.

3. This isn't even a principled argument about law, it's a personal appeal. All I have to say to shut it down completely is the following: "If I express myself in ways that are similarly harmful to society, then I agree that society should step in and stop me." The argument essentially assumes that anyone who disagrees with the strong free speech position being taken thinks they ought to be above laws that they propose.

4. This is a "
we can't tell the difference
" position that says we ought to be able to cut other people because otherwise we might lose our right to cut meat. Freedom to use knives.

By protecting the rights of a well known and privileged person we protect the rights of everyone.

I addressed this argument in this post.

1. You have no evidence to defend your claim.

2. This is trickle down human rights. People's rights are being violated all the time, and they don't all have a national spotlight or enough money to fight for their own rights. We can't protect the rights of a poor trans black woman who has been illegally fired by lending our voices in defense of a rich white cis man who is saying that trans people deserve the death threats they get. If you want to protect free speech, use your political influence to ensure better legal representation for the poor.

We've seen from [specific instance of someone getting in trouble because of what they said that we've already swung too far in favour of censorship.

This one comes down to the details of the case, but if you are going to bring this kind of things up, at least be knowledgeable enough about the case to:

1a. Explain why the ruling in the case didn't adhere to the principles in the law as they exist. That is, make sure you can out-argue the judge. Remember that judges are applying the constitutional rights you are arguing in favour of as they really exist in our society now.

OR, if you think that the current law results in unfair consequences:

1b. Explain why the consequences were dire or at least significantly disproportionate to the action. Do this using the actual consequences to the actual person you are talking about, not imagined catastrophic consequences. If a speaker has a gig cancelled because they said something terrible, if a person loses their job, or if a group of people are made to experience the pain they caused to others by saying something awful, what happened to them after that? Are they living on the street with post traumatic stress disorder from the incident or are they worth millions and still appearing in major motion pictures? An unjust thing is still unjust if it is minor, but if we are devoting our lives to arguing about famous minor injustices when the world is full of severe injustices, it really ought to make us question that values that led us to that point.

2. Explain why this case is a useful example and not an aberration. A case will really stand out as an injustice if is stands alone in a sea of cases that were ruled on quite well. People are wrongfully convicted of murder and child abuse, we can't expect any law to have no wrongful convictions. When we look at how sexual assault is prosecuted, or how crimes committed by police are prosecuted, we can see systemic problems that run like a thread through multiple unjust outcomes. Having one or two go-to anecdotes rather than an analysis of a systemic problem actually gives other people reason to believe you are wrong.

And now, the argument from the article that set me off today.

You are going to alienate your allies by going against free speech.

OR

These are the wrong tactics.

1. This argument assumes that the majority, or at least a large portion, of people already agree that free speech is very, very important on principle. Most of the time, if someone finds a speaker odious and that speaker is told to get out of the public square, that someone is going to just be glad they shut up, not sympathetic to the speaker`.

2. The idea that you know what the right tactics are to get your point across seems to be disproven by the fact that I am not even remotely convinced by your argument. You don't know how to convince me of anything,
so I have no reason to think that you know how to convince anyone of anything
.

3. My issue right now is that we have a really big white supremacist problem. If you are saying that by taking aggressive tactics against that problem you may be alienated, or you may stop being an ally, you are saying that you may be convinced not to battle white supremacists by me being an asshole. But I think you should be ready to fight against white supremacy - in the way you think is best - regardless of whether you think other people are doing it wrong. I don't care if you like me, I care about results. If you are going to give up doing what you think is right because someone else is doing it wrong, then you don't really think that's the right thing to do in the first place. In other words, when you make this argument, it kind of
makes you sound like you are indifferent to white supremacy
.

4. This argument is entirely reversible. You risk alienating
your allies
by talking about free speech when there are white supremacists to fight. That doesn't concern you. Either you are not an ally or you don't think this argument really matters. Essentially the argument can be restated as, "It is very important that I am on your side because I am very important, so you'd better appease me."

Now that you know why your arguments are stupid, let me explain to you how to argue in favour of free speech in a coherent way.

1. Acknowledge that there are many existing restrictions to speech and provide a reason why you think these existing restrictions are defensible. Alternatively, argue that no existing restrictions are defensible. Then we can argue about whether those are the right principles on which to restrict what people can say, perhaps using individual cases as sort of test cases to see if our principles achieve the right results.

2. Back stop your reasoning about the value of free speech in itself by asking yourself what underlying value you are trying to protect. Are you trying to protect people's lives, people's dignity, people's range of choices? What is it that you think is important that supports the idea that free speech is important? That way, we can avoid advocating pyrrhic strategies to support free speech.

Without doing both of these, you are going to end up making an ill-informed nonsense argument in favour of free speech. Free speech to advocate genocide can only be argued for if it can be meaningfully differentiated from free speech to make death threats. Free speech to share nuclear bomb designs can only be argued for by someone who thinks that eliminating government controls on speech is so important that it's better if we're all dead so there's no government to institute such controls.

Of course by suggesting these things, I'm basically telling you that in order to be sensible you have to basically agree with me - that free speech shouldn't be considered holy and should instead be reasonably balanced against other rights and objectives.

The reason I'm saying that is because it is objectively true. If you want to burn 10% of your income in sacrifice to the free speech altar in your basement I have
no objection to that
. But blind appeal to a heartfelt principle isn't part of any reasonable argument in favour of anything.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Equivocation between Legal Free Speech and colloquial Free Speech

All my ranting about free speech is unhinged and disconnected from reality, but probably not as unhinged and disconnected from reality as the defense of free speech that is invoked when we talk about nazis. People have to realize that their common language argument about whether to censor nazis doesn't look much like the legal reality that would implement that argument.

Free speech advocates say there is a slippery slope between saying "nazis aren't entitled to free speech" and saying "Trump voters aren't entitled to free speech." This would be a great argument against someone proposing to create a constitutional amendment to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms or the Bill of Rights to clarify that free speech rights are not given to nazis. But no one would ever draft or pass such an amendment.

When the public debates something, the public debates it in terms close to their hearts. So a person saying they don't think nazi websites should be hosted by DNS services is taking a feeling they have and communicating to us they best idea of what they would like done to address that feeling. That doesn't necessarily mean they want that thing done, they want to feel the wrong they sense has been righted.

In Canada all rights are explicitly balanced against the public interest. The government can invoke section one of the charter and pass a law that violates the rights granted in the charter is they argue it is necessary for them to do so. Thus, in Canada when someone threatens violence against another person, they can't claim that they were exercising free speech because the right to free speech is outweighed by society's interest in having people not threaten one another.

In the US, as I understand it, there is no such balance to be made. The free speech right can't be violated. That leads to a kind of legal pretending in the US, where they say that some things you can say simply aren't "speech" in the sense that is meant in the constitution. So you still can't make a freedom of speech claim if you threaten someone, because a threat is not protected speech.

So if someone wanted to make marching with nazi flags illegal in the US, they would argue that promoting genocide ought not be considering protected speech for the same reason that incitement to commit a crime is not considered protected speech. They would then argue that waving a nazi flag is promoting genocide. There wouldn't be a novel legal argument or a whole new structure for making exemptions to the first amendment, there would just be a fairly common sense idea that the nazi flag stands for "we ought to be killing Jews" and that doesn't deserve more legal protection than "we ought to be killing people in terrorist attacks," which is already not protected.

So while I advocate extreme and crazy points of view on this blog, a person calling for a ban on people marching around with Nazi flags is not really calling for anything extreme at all. I think you could argue that such a ban would actually be more consistent with existing exceptions to protected speech than the current lack of ban is.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Warning: This post is adversarial and angry. On re-reading, I realize it is going to feel like I'm accusing you of something personally.

I've made a few posts saying free speech is not as great as we think it is and it doesn't accomplish what we think it does. I don't know if I've mentioned my alternative. Here it is: "We shouldn't make bad laws."

That sounds awfully childish and ridiculous. Today I was discussing the issue with someone who pulled out "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"

First, I'd like to say that if you feel you can use a latin phrase to argue for your position with the expectation that the other person will know what the latin phrase means, that means that the other person is already aware of that argument. I get it, most people haven't necessarily thought through an argument just because they are aware of it. I have.

People want to say, "If the government can regulate speech, who gets to say what speech they regulate?" I've got an answer for this: "Someone - more likely a group of someones - gets to say, and they might be morally wrong when they do so."

If that answer seems unacceptable, I'd like to ask for an alternative. Either you are taking the position that somehow "free speech" can give a free pass to moral outcomes or you are accepting that we might be making a mistake. I mean, you are being confronted with someone right this very moment who thinks that holding up free speech as a special right - beyond the general right to do whatever you feel like doing - is a bad idea at this point in history. If you are a free speech advocate then one of us is right and one of us is wrong. You think you can tell the difference. You don't, however, think someone else would be able to tell the difference between harmful speech and non-harmful speech.

If you are tempted to answer, "Yes, but I support your right to argue against free speech" that isn't an answer to the problem I'm posing at all. It's once against assuming the conclusion that free speech is always going to make things okay. All that would be saying is that you don't think the government should make it illegal for me to speak against free speech. I honestly don't care if you think the government should make it illegal for me to speak against free speech or not.
They aren't going to
.

Here are two separate public policy ideas:

We should always protect free speech.
We should make denying the holocaust illegal as they have in some
countries
.

You are telling me you know which one of those is right. I am telling you I am pretty sure you are wrong about which one of those is right. History - assuming history has any future - is going to judge one of us wrong. There was never any possibility of taking a position that couldn't end up being just as wrong as whatever
terrible historical event you think free speech will keep us from repeating
.

"Who watches the watchers?" My answer is "We all have to whether we like it or not." The free speech answer is, "We've set up a system where there are no watchers, trust us!" Maybe my answer isn't so childish compared to the alternative.