Friday, 2 December 2016

Damn It All To Hell

Canada's Minister of Democratic Institutions slammed the report from the committee on election reform saying that it doesn't give clear direction and there shouldn't be a referendum.

On the no-referendum issue I completely agree. If they do decide to have a referendum they should set the bar for it passing at a 35% yes vote, because if you don't think that sounds fair then you are against first-past-the-post.

Basically the Liberals wanted a ranked ballot of some sort because their mathematicians told them they would do better under it. Other parties want proportional representation because it seems fairer, is used all over the democratic world, and wouldn't give the Liberals a perceived advantage. Either that or they want a referendum on proportional representation because they figure there is no way it will pass and they prefer to alternate autocracies with the Liberals rather than adopt a new system.

I am making a vow here. If we have first-past-the-post again next election I will never vote for the Liberal party again. They could be running against an admitted despot whose plan is to round up people over six-foot-four and put them in concentration camps and I still will not vote for them. Every racist thing that becomes public policy in Canada under Kellie Leitch's government will be because they couldn't see past the ends of their noses. When we get an anti-Muslim snitch line I am going to write to anyone who was involved in this file who is still in parliament and remind them that they were the ones who chose this path for Canada.

We're going to end up stuck with one of the least democratic systems anyone could imagine calling a democracy because a bunch of old people don't like change. Then we are going to end up with a racist demagogue because a bunch of old people are racist as fuck.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Patch 0.1

This post starts with pretty horrifying story that describes terrifying antisemitism.

Richard Spencer, a leader of the "alt-right" movement recently gave a speech to a friendly room that has been in the news because of a few "controversial" elements to it. For example, he said, "Hail Trump!" and some people in the audience made a gesture resembling the classic Nazi salute.

As part of this speech, Spencer said "one wonders if these people are people at all? Or instead soulless golems animated by some dark power to repeat whatever talking point John Oliver stated the night before." The "these people" in question were media talking heads who don't like Donald Trump.

CNN looked at this part of the quotation: "one wonders if these people are people at all? Or instead soulless golems" and interpreted "these people" as "Jews" then had a panel where they talked about whether Jews were people. Of course everyone thought Jews were people, but the way the question was treated was scary, as if someone with a different "opinion" on the "issue" could have had a seat at the table.

BoingBoing has a post describing CNN's treatment of the issue without any direct reference to Spencer. Somehow the discussion of that post morphed into a discussion of the fact that Spencer was misquoted. The point wasn't to defend Spencer - the BoingBoing discussion threads are hardly an "alt-right" friendly place. Rather it was to talk about how misquoting someone or quoting someone out of context is wrong and we want to be better than them.

If you care to look, you aren't going to have trouble finding people who think the media is run by Jews. The "golem" is a mythical creature made of clay or mud and brought to life by a rabbi by Hebrew incantations to defend Jews. The implication of the words in the context of the "alt-right" movement is that the media have sold their souls to Jews. Since we don't usually think of humans as being in the soul-buying business, I think the "Jews aren't human" narrative speaks lout and clear from the quote.

He didn't literally say it, though, and so we have a tedious discussion about our obligation to the truth.

I wrote recently about "elites" as a class of people where social status comes from putting reason before emotion. This kind of narrow analysis if typical of the educated/expert class. You look at a big broad situation, then drill down and offer the best critique you can of whatever narrative is forming. It's a bulwark against jumping on bandwagons and making emotional decisions.

But there is no perfect system, every system has defects. Once the code is written and the system is known, the hackers can find an exploit. This quotation is an example of an exploit.

Many or most people who are Jewish is going to hear Spencer's quote and go, "Whoa, that's crazy antisemitic!" Meanwhile the educated/expert analysis is going to say, "We can't jump to that conclusion." The analysis has been pitted against the anti-antisemitism when they ought to be on the same side - we are doing this analysis, presumably, because we believe it makes the world better and not, presumably, because we want to put the breaks on condemning bigotry.

This is the same exploit that has us discussing the particulars of every instance of police violence to see if we can prove from that instance alone that wrong was done. This is the same exploit that has us discussing the particulars of every instance of sexual assault to see if there is a gap through which we could fit a doubt.

We need to patch our reasoning, and the patch looks like this:

1. Listen to the people who are affected by what was said and done. Bigotry is about the effect on the people who are oppressed, not about the intention of the people saying or doing things. If the words someone said had the effect of scaring people who are Jewish because they are Jewish, then it was antisemitic in its effect.

2. People are people, not magical logic boxes. You can't escape humanity and human motivation. I'm the biggest proponent of the idea that people are unreliable sources of information on their own emotions and beliefs, but they are still sources, and are considerably better than your wild guesses. If someone says something threatened them because of their race, gender or religion, the most likely explanation is that the thing was threatening to people of their race, gender or religion.

3. Remember that not drawing a conclusion from a single point of data is fine, but you can't iterate that process because then it's not a single point of data anymore. If someone says, "But maybe this police shooting wasn't racist" for the twentieth time, the point becomes that it is impossible to believe that racism isn't a huge part of what is going on.

4. Double check if your worry about being wrong is racist. Do you worry more about being wrong about what a white man said than you do about being wrong about a minority group being hurt by it? That needs to be fixed.

5. Adjust your thinking about how bad it is to accuse someone of being bigoted. Saying someone's word or actions were bigoted is not as bad as actually being bigoted.

6. If you ever find yourself thinking, "Technically he didn't say that", remember, plain language is not technical, it has no one true meaning, and you are being a complete idiot.

I see a lot of well-meaning people running a lot of racist malware in their brains. It's time to fix this nonsense.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Reverse Projection

Most of what most people think about other people is projection. You get upset when a person does something, so you assume they would also get upset in your shoes, so they are quite morally culpable for doing what they are doing. You get excited when something happens, so you assume that other people get excited about the same thing.

Generally you can use this fact to find things out about people by reversing the projection. If someone constantly thinks that other people might be lying, they probably lie a lot. If someone is unusually vigilant about theft, it is more likely they are prone to theft themselves.

When I was in grade 11 I took the Fermat, a math competition by the University of Waterloo. I had gotten the highest score in my zone in on the grade 8 equivalent, placed competitively in Canada on the grade 9 one, and done quite well in grade 10 as well. Anyway, I didn't do well on the Fermat, by which I mean I only placed 4th in my school. This might not be 100% accurate, but I am pretty sure the people who came in 1st, 2nd and 3rd were the people who had come in 2nd, 3rd and 4th, in that order in grades 9 and 10. The person who came in 3rd - who was accustomed to coming in 4th by this point - came up to me to gloat about having beaten me.

All I could think when he was gloating was, "Is this how you felt I was acting the last two years? That somehow I was rubbing it in your face?" I hadn't done anything to rub it in his face, but it was obvious he was hurt by my superior placement, or he wouldn't have had any reason to try to hurt me with his. Anyway, I didn't write the Grade 12 contest and in my final year I found out that scholarships to Waterloo were heavily based on the competition, so I wrote it, staying for only 45 minutes of the 3 hours to make sure I got a good enough mark on it to get a scholarship. It turned out it was a damn good thing I did since that also let me participate in the advance math program there and I would not have enjoyed the regular math program.

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about the kinds of arguments that I see from people who have different politics than me. Often I see people adopting the same form of argument that is used by progressive thinkers but with content that doesn't make sense. This morning I thought that however little sense what they are saying makes, what they are being told makes equally little sense to them.

That might sound like I'm calling them stupid. If I can understand what is wrong with the argument they make and they can't understand what is right about mine then I guess that is evidence I am smarter. But it's dangerous to generalize from one skill to general intelligence, and somewhere between absurd and evil to generalize from intelligence to worth. The whole thing makes me think of words that end in gry. We can't just communicate badly and then be smug when we are misunderstood.

Monday, 14 November 2016

This Again?

Recent events have brought how-wrong-everything-is to the front of my mind, and I spend a lot of the day thinking about that. Being a moderately wealthy, white person I generally have the luxury to enter a variety of numbers into a red queen race with a pixelated demons.

It's been a while since I played Diablo 3. I last played season six, and only for a week, I think. I just joined season eight, so I missed seven altogether. I certainly didn't mind the break.

I was going to play a wizard, because I always play a wizard, but the free set for playing a wizard was Vyr's, which is the Archon build, and I didn't feel like doing that again, so I thought I'd check out the other classes. I wasn't very interested in the look of the witch doctor or monk set, but the barbarian set was had permanent pets, so I thought I'd give that a go.

Wizards' absurdly high damage channeled skills make leveling up easy, but I had suspected that the early end game is actually much harder on wizards than other classes. This is largely because of lousy two piece set bonuses that don't really increase the amount of damage you can do. My two piece set bonus with the barbarian was three friends who hit for 540% damage each and used various area effect ability, knock ups and stuns. I practically didn't have to attack in order to get my four piece bonus which let me keep a very powerful self-buff up all the time. The six piece bonus was only 400% extra damage, not 2000% extra damage, but I already did a fair bit of damage. Add on a weapon with a side effect of letting me cast two one minute cooldown attacks on a 10 and a 20 second cooldown, and I was racing through Torment VII rifts about 24 hours after starting a character.

One obstacle I recall being a problem as a wizard in making my way through the season's journey was mastering a class dungeon. When I was in the mid 50's greater rift tiers, I was still struggling to complete a class dungeon because the challenges involved weren't easily out-geared. Having to slow time on 30 enemies at once is trouble when you don't meet groups of 30 enemies. You can kite a group to another group, but because of the timer you have to move quickly, and if one gives up chase then you aren't going to kill all the enemies fast enough. You also have to stand around not killing enemies for a while in order to meet the reflect missiles requirement. My experience in other dungeons was similar.

I had a sneaking suspicion this was going to be fantastically easier as a barbarian. I can't put my finger on it, I just felt that wizards were getting a hard go of things where bad enemy placement could cost you your run. I was literally 2 seconds away from mastering the Immortal King's set dungeon on my first try in gear that was suitable for Torment VII. The goals were basically, "Kill enemies as efficiently as possible." When I came back the next day, having done a tier 50 rift, I missed a couple of enemies and had to scour the entire dungeon a second time for them and still completed it with 30 seconds to spare.

I'm facing a situation where the "hardest" part of the current tier of season's journey I am on is going to end up being leveling 3 gems to 35 just because I will have easily accomplished all the other things before running 35 greater rifts.

And I don't exactly care about any of this. I'm having fun with Mrs. Finn and I've long ago decided that balance in games like this doesn't make the game more fun. I care a little bit about set dungeons being so anxiety inducing for wizards since I found those dungeons was genuinely annoying.

What I really care about is that Blizzard has announced a new class, looks like they won't be releasing that class until late next year, and has new changes on the PTR that amount to next to nothing. I feel like they need to either abandon the game for dead and make a new one or release something exciting within a few months. If they continue at the rate of adding a class every two years, how long can that go on? Then again, maybe that's pretty dumb advice coming from someone who is, apparently, still playing.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

What Can I Do?

Donald Trump's win has been upsetting to a lot of Canadians as well as Americans. It's okay to feel bad, I always try to tell my four-year-old, and if you just need some time to feel bad, that's okay too.

It isn't like I can do anything anyway. I worry for the future of the United States and I worry for how that will affect Canada and the rest of the world, but I don't have a say in how they run things there.

I do have a tiny fractional say in how we run things here, though. If the idea of someone winning an election based on racist rhetoric doesn't appeal to you, and if you are Canadian, there is definitely something to do.

I'm going to be sending the following to Justin Trudeau, my prime minister:

To the Right Honourable Justin Trudeau

I imagine you felt a range of difficult emotions as a result of Donald Trump's win, and I imagine you don't want the same thing to happen in Canada. I wonder if you think that it could happen here, or worry that it will happen here. I wonder if you are going to do anything about it.

In 2000 Canadians derided the United States for electing a somewhat clownish neo-conservative president. But before he was even out of office we followed suit and elected our own somewhat more respectable neo-conservative to slash and burn our democracy.

About the same amount of time after Donald Trump's election you'll be coming near the to the end of your second term as prime minister, and who will your opponent be? The leadership candidate for the Conservative party I see the most press coverage of is Canada's somewhat more respectable Donald Trump.

During the last election the Liberal party, the NDP and the Green Party all promised election reform and between the three took over 60% of the vote. In May of this year a poll showed 56% of Canadians favour election reform.

I don't want my daughters to spend their teenage years and young adulthood under the reign of racist demogaguery because 35% or 36% of Canadians vote for it.

Will you carry out your promise to Canadians and make sure that if a racist candidate wants 4 years of autocratic rule, they need to at least get half the country on board first?

I look forward to your reply,

But, you know, I'll probably sign it with my human-being name.

I'm also going to write to Maryam Monsef, the Minister of Democratic Institutions who is responsible for elections Canada and would likely be the one to introduce such legislation. I'm also going to write to my own Member of Parliament pushing them to press for this, then I will visit the office of my Member of Parliament in person and see if I can meet them in person to express my concerns.

That's what I'm doing for now.

Do the same, tell everyone you know how important this is. There is only one way to be sure we don't elect Donald Trump North here, and it's by allowing the 60% Canadians who don't want that to override the 40% who do.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Taking Responsibility

This morning my daughter told me she had a dream. In her dream she was with other children who had to sing a song for Santa. If they didn't sing well enough Santa was going to make them live in a box and they would never be able to come out. It turned out it was the big bad wolf dressed as Santa. He was wearing a badge that said that if you touched it you would turn into a bag. She can't read so she touched it and she turned into a bag. But she didn't really turn into a bag, she turned into a tiny person who was trapped inside a bag forever.

The symbolism of this is screaming so loudly it is almost hard to take.

When I used to raid, it was pretty easy to spot the people who had a lot of potential to get better. They were the ones who, when faced with an unpalatable outcome to a boss, spoke up about their responsibility for it, if any, and wondered what they were going to do better next time.

Well, there is no next time in life. But next time, I'm not going to teach my daughter to idolize a monster who divides people into groups and picks which is worthy and which is unworthy.

How's that for loudly screaming symbolism.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Culture that Isn't Adequate in Respecting the Importance of Sexual Consent

I recently had the treat of listening to a CBC story and panel discussion on the recent scandalous University of Ottawa pub crawl. For those who aren't up on Canadian news, there was a recent pub crawl at the University of Ottawa that was "exposed" by student reporters. Students are in teams, and there is a list of dares to earn points.

These "dares" included things like having anal sex with one of the judges of the event. The University has promised to put a stop to the annual event, and some of the participants have come out to say that everything was consensual and that other people need to stay out of their business.

The crack team of cultural commentators that CBC put together tried to figure out if this was "Rape Culture". What followed was a couple of minutes of semantic nonsense before they gave up on that term and went on to very poorly understand consent and why it is important. One panelist - trying to be helpful, I guess? - said that anyone who wasn't comfortable with what was going on could have just left. Then they tried to get into a question of whether women were fragile and needed to be protected.

To understand this, the first thing you need to do is look past your arrogant, idiotic view of yourself as a self-turning wheel. Have you ever made a decision you regretted, not because you didn't have the information you needed to make the right choice, but because you were tired or angry or hungry? If you can honestly say no to that then you have a remarkable lack of self awareness.

Obviously a conservative news panelist would immediately interject here, "So if you have sex with someone who is hungry it's rape?" The reason they will interject this is because they aren't interested in discussing consent or trying to shift our common understanding of what is okay and what is not okay, but rather they are motivated by fear of being accused of doing something themselves. If a man reads my modest proposal to presume the guilt of those accused of sexual assault and viscerally reacts to the proposed injustice, they are reacting to how afraid they would personally feel. If you want to think objectively about whether or not it is a good idea for society, you'd be just as concerned about the present conditions for women as you were about hypothetical conditions for men.

So let's talk about how people actually make decisions. We still make decisions when we are tried, sad, angry, intoxicated, grieving, pumped up, ecstatic, and under any other thought-influencing condition. We can't separate our emotions from our thinking. Doing something because you are enraged is still doing it. Doing something because your favourite sports team just won is still doing it. Doing something because everyone around you is doing it and you don't want to bring them down is still doing it.

Still, we all have some sense that some of our decisions were out of character because of an extreme circumstance. Or that they were essentially in character but in a part of our character we would have known better than to express were it not for some circumstance. We somehow divide factors that feel integrated into ourselves from factors that don't feel integrated into ourselves. If you've never felt you had to do something you were deeply opposed to in order to save your life, and if you've never had an alien beam thoughts into your head, then you might not realize what it's like to act on, or to choose not to act on, compelling forces that don't seem like yourself.

If we take the decision whether or not to have anal sex with a particular person, we can imagine all kinds of factors that could go into that decision, from a wholehearted desire to have anal sex with that person to a threat of violence if you don't. Sexual attraction is probably deeply integrated into sense of self, so much so that other than "a wholehearted desire to have anal sex with that person" I was at a loss for words about how to describe actually wanting to do something. It's some combination of sexual attraction, interest in the particular sexual act, feeling safe, feeling you are in an appropriate environment, and many other things, but most of us know what "would like to have sex now" feels like, and a lot of that feeling is too subconscious to really try to disassemble.

The question is why the people who organized this event want other people to have their decision-making needles moved. Acting in a way that you think maximizes the chance that someone will decide they want to have sex with you could be seen as reasonable, but thinking of only yourself and not the consequences for the other person is exactly the kind of thing we need to stop doing. The people who set this event up made it in such a way that it is very likely to cause people to do things that they will later question or regret, or even to do things that they aren't comfortable with at the time. It's exclusive so balking at it means being cast out of a social group. There is a sense of letting your team down if you don't go along with it. Everyone is drinking. It's late at night. They are applying every pressure they can without criminal coercion.

I can just imagine the CBC panelists saying that's ridiculous. As if someone would have anal sex they didn't want to have just because they didn't want their team to lose an event with nothing but bragging rights on the line. Again, we're poisoned by the myth of individualism, as if everyone just makes the ideal decision for themselves at all times. Teamwork is a very, very powerful motivator. People are motivated to all kinds of ridiculous and inappropriate behaviour by a sense of team and it takes almost nothing to create it. Put half the people in a room in blue shirts and half in green and you'll immediately see half of them form a strong in-group, out-group division.

I'm not infantalizing women. I'm "infantilizing" all people, insofar as we feel it is infantilizing to face ourselves for what we really are. There is nothing wrong with acknowledging you don't make your best decisions when you are tired or that you'd do things you wouldn't normally do to avoid being excluded from a social group. Knowing that about yourself and about people in general increases your empathy.

People constructed an event to try to pressure other people into sexual activity they weren't comfortable with. I don't know if there was any sexual assault at the event, but even if there wasn't, how can we not say this is part of a culture that is committed to making self-serving guesses about the sexual consent of others.

To me, though, the ultimate thing that ought to be putting us all off about this event is that participants earned points by having sex with the judges. You don't have sex with your students, you don't have sex with your employees, you don't ask your barista out, you don't ask for sex from a position where it can be taken as an implied threat - whether you mean it as a threat or not. Again, judge at an essentially meaningless competition might not sound like a position of power, but more than half the people who find this ridiculous would be just as susceptible to that influence. Most people's heuristics tell you deference to the judge is important, even if, taking a step back, you would not value their opinion very much at all.

In an ideal world perhaps we'd all have very enlightened attitudes towards sex and having sexual competitions would be fine, or saying to your friend, "I could really use an orifice to put my penis into, mind helping me out?" would be okay. We don't live in that world, and we don't get there by pretending we already do any more than we can end systematic racial or gender discrimination by pretending it isn't there.

There is some doubt about the intent of the event, but we know that 5-10% of men commit multiple sexual assaults because of their disdain for women. Now take a man who lives his life in whatever way you live your life to end up the judge of a contest where he can award points based on the willingness of women to allow him to put his penis in their anus. Would you tend to think that makes him more or less likely to be in that 5-10%? If anyone wants to bet me $20 a judge that they have never committed sexual assault I'll be happy to take your $40 or $80.

I could have gotten this all wrong. Maybe the entire event started with the organizers saying, "Listen up everybody, we're all here to have a fun night, and part of making sure everyone enjoys themselves is being conscious about respecting one another. Obviously the dares on this list are encouraging people to push their personal boundaries, but I don't want anyone to do anything they are uncomfortable with, or to try to pressure others into doing something they are uncomfortable with. If you start thinking you need to do something you don't want to do to make your team win, just remember that there is actually nothing on the line here - if you aren't enjoying yourself nobody is winning. And not to be a downer, but I'm serious about that no pressure thing, if I hear anyone pushing someone to do something they don't want to do I'm going to kick them out. So let's all enjoy ourselves the way we want to enjoy ourselves and respect everyone else doing the same."

I don't get that idea, though, since you'd think defenders of the crawl would have made a big deal of it.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Asking Trump Supporters What They Think

When discussing elites I said I considered the connection between racism and thinking with your gut to be accidental. I hardly even mentioned racism in my last post about an unjust society leading to a certain kind of person being ready to accept anything that is presented as a solution.

But obviously racism is a huge part of what is going on with Trumpism and with Kellie Leitch in Canada, as well as with far right governments all over Europe. Dylan Matthews at Vox has a piece about how if we are going to take Trump's followers seriously, we need to take their word for it that they are racist. Most media narratives are about economic problems, but extensive interviews with Trump supporters don't seem to bear narratives those out.

Matthews has the following to say about projecting economic motives onto Trump supporters:
Insisting, as many journalists have, that his supporters aren’t voting for the white nationalist candidate because they agree with him on race seems like a way to be charitable to those voters. But the idea that voters are motivated by economic struggles and so are voting for a candidate who would make their economic situation far worse is much more insulting than accepting they are uncomfortable with racial equality.
This has an air of truthiness to it. We should respect other people enough to listen to them when they tell us something really odious about themselves. But I'd like to stop and consider the following: How much do you trust yourself to know why you are doing what you are doing?

Strangely, many people will say they trust themselves a lot to know why they are doing what they are doing. I say, "strangely," because I would think we'd all have the opportunity to know better. I don't trust myself to understand my own motivations very well. And when you talk to people who aren't you you get to add in a hundred other factors that might confuse the idea they are expressing. Basically, taking other people's word for what they think and feel isn't respectful, it is dumb. Taking their word as a data point that can be used to make a best guess about what they think and feel is respectful.

And when it comes to Trump supporters the idea of listening to their words to find out what they think is transparently senseless. These are people who say that Trump is definitely going to win and that Clinton is definitely going to steal the election by cheating. If you think you simultaneously think that: 1) they are inconsistent and illogical; and 2) that you can put together a consistent view of their thoughts by taking their word for it; then you might be just as good at compartmentalizing as they are.

When my four-year-old has a meltdown near bedtime, it is usually about being tired or hungry rather than what she says it is about. I don't say this to infantilize Trump supporters, but rather to infantilize all humans including myself. We are not so much smarter or more in tune with ourselves than we were when we were four.

Some of the factors used to discredit the economic argument are very poorly thought out. Trump supporters are wealthier, less likely to be unemployed than the average of the people who live around them. They themselves are doing okay. But the places where they are living are not doing all that okay.

Back in March, during the primaries, The Washington Post printed a piece on the relationship between white death rates and support for Trump. It also cited a few other things that were correlated with Trump support in a county: fewer people working, fewer bachelor's degrees, and a decline in manufacturing jobs. I did the numbers myself to check is state support for Trump is correlated to suicide rate, the correlation was only about 0.25 so I'm not going to make a big deal of it, but the graph has this distinct upward-slope look to it, with Vermont's unusually high suicide rate sticking out in the lower right:

The two data sets - one showing that Trump supporters are largely doing fine and one showing that Trump supporters live in areas that are not doing fine - are only at odds because we have a strong cultural bias to think about everything in terms of what is in it for the individual. But we know that Trump supporters lean heavily authoritarian, and looking for selfish decision making in authoritarian followers makes little to no sense. Lack of work leads to support for Trump even though Trump supporters are more likely to have work in the same way that white death rates lead to Trump support even though Trump supporters are highly likely to be alive.

In order to support Trump you have to be basically okay with his racism or compartmentalize that from your other positions. The fact that we know people are great at the latter makes it strange to conclude the former.

The problem with authoritarian followers isn't that they are bad on the inside, it is that they will do bad things at the drop of the right person's hat. It isn't that the majority of people who support Trump want to live in a world where white people are given advantages over black people or Americans given advantages over Mexicans. Many actively deplore the idea that they would get ahead in a way that is fundamentally unfair. But in the name of a leader who says Mexicans are the problem, they will be violent towards Mexicans. In the name of a leader who says we need more police killing instead of less, they will cheer on police murder. If a leader came along who said we needed to round up all the authoritarians, they would join the posse to round themselves up.

To be clear, I am not saying that Trump supporters are not racist or that they are not more racist than those who don't support Trump. They are probably a lot more prone than average to in-group, out-group distinctions and to looking after people who are "like them" while leaving others to look after themselves. But if their communities seem healthy, that in-group, out-group distinction takes on a much more live-and-let-live character. Dissipating this isn't about getting jobs for Trump supporters, it is about caring for the people who live in their neighborhoods, or the next neighborhoods over. If characterizing a group as both altruistic and racist sounds contradictory, then you need to go meet more people.

So I think the idea that somehow we have to "honestly acknowledge" that the concerns of Trump's supporters are heavily about race as a starting place for a discussion is silly. Trying to address the raced based rationalizations for anxiety will have predictable and depressing effects, much like acquiescing to that tired four-year-old. Give Trump supporters everything they are asking for and they will end up confused and upset, asking for something else entirely and angrier than ever.

When it come to Trump and racism, what we do need to acknowledge is that the effect of Trump's campaign will be more hateful words, more open discrimination in workplaces and housing options, and racist violence. It's those effects we have to worry about.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Sympathy for Barometers

In my last post I built on Neil MacDonald's observation that political "elitism" isn't about education or wealth, and suggesting that "elitism" about a culture where an important sign of status is making rational decisions without letting emotion get in the way. That doesn't mean that people with power really do this - the people who are best at this usually won't advance to very powerful positions - but it means that people with power make a show of doing this, and that making fun of people for not doing this is publicly acceptable.

I've also recently talked about how rationality is mostly just a fraud and a cover for emotional and egotistical decision making, and that you aren't really being rational unless you are ready to be wrong, maybe even disinterested in whether you are right.

I've even said that logic is basically a failed model for discussing reality.

So now let's talk about how rational, unemotional decision making is so much better than going with your gut.

It's a ton better. Almost all cognition is subconscious. When you go with your gut you get whatever power your brain was ready to invest in that decision brought to bear on the subject. You get some tangle of neurons that may or may not be well suited to the task brought to bear. The reason rationality is better is because it is a language that allows decision making processes to communicate with one another. But using rational decision making we get to bring together various resources in our brains, use parts of our brains that might not be natively inclined to weigh in on the decision. Then what's even better if we get to communicate with other brains.

If we had many worlds to work with and we could agree on an objective, we could ask various people to determine public policy with their gut instinct and then figure out who was the best at it. Someone out there is going to have instincts about how to set, say, criminal laws, that are simply amazing at creating desired policy results. But you take the person who is simply the best at it and compare them to 100 people who are able to effectively pool their thinking and it will look a lot like taking the strongest person in the world and comparing what they can lift to 100 people who are able to effectively pool their strength.

Effectively is an important word. People can't effectively pool their strength to lift a tennis-ball sized object. People aren't effectively pooling their thoughts when they know are more interesting in keeping their social status or in pleasing the highest paid person in the room than they are in being right. People can't effectively pool their thinking through a representative democracy if votes are mostly cast along tribal lines.

So the point of talking about "elites" and the negative culture of "elitism" that has gotten so many people angry enough to vote Sexual Predator for president isn't to say those people are right. It is to say that we can use their anger as a barometer for the health of society.

The old slogan, "No justice, no peace," is sometimes taken as a kind of threat, but it's more of a statement of causation. Peace is a consequence of justice. There is very little justice in America today.

Once upon a time we had the divine right of kings and the law of nature to justify inequality, but we've had a long time to absorb the fact that property is a set of human laws about who gets to own what. Inequality is a democratic decision, but the kind of inequality we keep in America is harmful to the majority for the benefit of the extreme minority.

Police officers are above the law and able to kill young black men with impunity. They are able to set up databases to track the movement of large amounts of cash so they can steal it to buy themselves toys for their offices. They operate much in the way organized criminals would - keeping things from devolving into unproductive chaos, but only for their own interests.

Sexual assault victims are left on their own to prove their own cases against their attackers; from courts that shift the burden of proof from the prosecutor to the victim, to places that actually expect victims to pay for the police investigation into the crime in the form of charges for rape kits. Even when someone is convicted, white skin and a good background mean they aren't taken seriously as offenders.

The federal government has an official murder-by-executive-whim program.

Most of this is true to a lesser extent in Canada as well. There is a lot less justice here than there ought to be in a society that has so much.

Of course Trump supporters would scoff at most of my examples of injustice. In fact, they'd have their own counters. In their minds they live in a world where black people and women who report sexual assaults are a protected class of people who can ruin someone's lives with a word. They cheer on police killings of black men. They support measures to bring in even greater inequality even though they will be on the losing end of it.

Trump's movement doesn't have the answers, it embodies the problem. People who make decisions with their guts are antennas that reflect the values of society. That a few people ought to rule the masses because the masses are stupid is a value of our society. In keeping with that, protecting police - representatives of those rulers - who murder is a value of our society. The the important people are white men - and therefore that those who are not white and those who are not men do not deserve consideration - is a value of our society.

But people making decisions with their guts are also our bulwark against being fooled by a corrupt elite who don't provide justice. We think of Trump supporters as being very easily taken in, but they are actually just taken in by a different kind of thing than the "elite" are. After all, the alt-right movement is an "elite" movement in the sense I'm using the term here. You can use rational arguments to justify anything, and you can get lots of people to believe you. The point of rational arguments is supposed to be that they can be fact checked and reviewed, but the quality of that review is dependent on the reviewers. While the angry Trump supporters may be easy to fool into accepting a non-solution that will actually harm them from a charismatic leader, they are much harder than the "elite" to fool about whether or not there is a problem that needs a solution in the first place.

Using actual objective decision making and setting aside emotional encroachment onto that is the best way to come up with solutions to these problems. But if the "elites" who ostensibly do that aren't creating justice, then they aren't the ones who are ultimately going to decide what the solutions are, instead it will be Donald Trump. This is a situation where if rational people want something done right, they are going to have to do it themselves. But, as I said, the people making the actual decisions aren't people who value rationality, they are people who value the appearance of rationality to maintain social status.

Friday, 7 October 2016


Neil MacDonald has an article about Canadian Conservative leadership hopeful Kellie Leitch and her tactic of complaining about the "elites." He gets it mostly right - this is an import of a Republican strategy demonizes education and expertise to the detriment of everyone.

I think that maybe we are missing the point when we are befuddled by people seem to be elite but talk bad about elites. New York Billionaires from wealthy beginnings and university-professor-au-surgeons could be argued to be objectively elite, so it seems rich for them to bash their opponents as elitists. But as MacDonald rightly says, "elitism" is more about some ineffable notion of having lost touch with everyday people.

Just because a notion is ineffable doesn't mean it isn't a thing. Objectively measurable things like heat and gravity were once ineffable, but they are very real. It seems that plenty of people manage to eff elitism just fine.

I recall once reading a recipe for a revolution. It had two steps: first give a underclass basic education so that they are literate; second give a handful of members of that class a top notch education. The rest pretty much sorts itself out.

If that's people who are oppressed based on their race this makes sense because we know those highly educated members of a racial minority will never really be accepted in the society they were allowed to participate in. Martin Luther King Jr. was a minister with a bachelor's degree in sociology, but he was still black.

It gets hard to pull the same trick if education and career are the dividing lines themselves. Leitch wasn't exactly born poor, and Trump certainly wasn't, but even if they were, at some point we say that a person's success or wealth has transformed them into one of the "elite." Obviously the wealth and education, however, doesn't take a person out of the underclass that a person like Trump represents.

So I think maybe the word "elite" is getting in the way of understanding the concept that is being reached for. The "elite" that the Tea Party complains about isn't a level of education or an income, it is a culture. What if what defines that culture is the degradation of emotions?

Many of us collectively watch in horror as Newt Gengrich explicitly makes the case that peoples feelings are just as good as facts - that even if Trump is wrong that rate of violent crime is going up, the fact that people feel it is makes him right when he says it. And yes, that's a horrifying notion - feelings can't be substituted for facts. But the idea that people's feelings are just as important as facts isn't a horrifying notion, and in politics is arguably a fact itself.

Our decision-making class has been saying, "We know what's right, regardless of how you feel" for decades and I think people are right to think, especially in the United States, that they have done a pretty lousy job of actually being right.

America basically stopped becoming a better place to live for the majority of citizens around the turn of the millennium, maybe a little before. The economic indicators being used to demonstrate success stopped being correlated with the welfare of the average person, let alone the poorest people. Unemployment stays low but too many people are working not enough hours to get by because companies don't want to shoulder the added costs of "full time" employees. Average income is up but only because it is up enough among the richest that is overshadows the dip for the median. Inflation adjusted median income has finally returned to pre-2008 levels, but the thing no one seems to talk about is that it hasn't yet returned to 2000 levels. That boom before the 2008 bust? It wasn't a boom, it was a bust for the majority. And while the Trump supporters are racist against Syrians who want to come to America, many of them appear to be less racist against Syrians who want to stay alive in Syria. When Trump says the United States has got to stop getting into stupid foreign wars he's right.

People who have said, "We know what's right, regardless of how you feel" have been dead wrong. Rather than engineering a successful society they have been self-serving, engineering social dominance for their own class. They protect that with a veneer of reason, but that's all it is. "Reason" is mostly a code word for rationalizing.

So maybe Trump actually is one of the "little people" despite his wealthy upbringing and sheltered adulthood. People know that reason cannot dissuade him from following his gut and doing "what is right." It is his lack of impulse control and wild emotional swings that make him non-elite, and Clinton's mastery of her emotions that make her the epitome of elite.

When you choose a leader based on their tendency to follow their emotions, you end up getting whatever their emotions give you. That sounds very unstable and unsafe to us elites. But when you choose a leader based on their ability to rise through the ranks of a system designed to choose leaders you don't get some kind of Darwinian-determined best choice, you get a person devoted to keeping power where it is since the current placement of power rewards them.

I'm not defending Trump. He's a disgusting racist, sexist asshole. I'm not defending Leitch - who wants to check immigrants for "Canadian Values" before letting them enter the country - because she looks a little bit like racism lite. Still, I'd like to say that from an objective stance, I can't see any reason to think the emotion-racism connection and the "reasonable"-non-racism connection are anything more than accidental. Compassion is an emotion, and corporatism and the social dominance of money are racism-agnostic. But whether accidental or not, we live in the world we live in, and if you support a racist candidate you can't just wash the racism off in the bath.

I'm also not ruling out the possibility of faking it. Trump may qualify as not elite because of his complete lack of impulse control but so far Leitch is a tougher sell who could easily be playing a cynical game.

It's no wonder that progressives have been moving towards a synthesis of objectivity and emotions - that is the recognition that a person's experiences and emotions are part of objective reality that should be taken into account. That's still a leading edge thing, though, and people who have been told their feelings don't matter for decades aren't going to suddenly start trusting a system where "experts" are put into one group - as if you should do the same thing with the expert opinion of a physicist, a sociologist, and an economist.

But the progressives who are moving this way have very little power anyway. Like I've said before, if you are trying to figure out what is right - and you are open to the possibility that what you want most is wrong - then reasoning is the way to go, but anyone using reason to try to prove that they are right is making a power play that has nothing to do with objectivity. The elite are not about objectivity, we are about putting down others for their human traits in order to justify consolidating power.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Maybe Actually Going to do Something

My idle browser game is coming along. I've just redone the tech tree to look like this:

I know the resolution is too low to read, that's because, you know, no spoilers, but you can see the scope of it at the moment. I know that Civ V is a soon-to-be out-of-date reference point, but I've got a spreadsheet tracking my techs and I'm up to 38 vs. its 81. What more, 16 of my techs don't even appear in Civ V. This is partly because I start at an even earlier point in history - you get to develop tools and fire.

One thing you might be able to tell from that chart is that I think my game is breaking novel ground for an idle game - it's non-linear. You don't buy the +10% upgrade to unlock the +15% upgrade. Everything is a huge jumbled mess. Playing it I find myself really struggling to decide which technology I need more urgently.

It's not all that playable right now because you are going to hit a brick wall after several days. Not because you've done everything but because doing anything further becomes next to impossible. I need to time out the pre-prestige game to a couple of weeks, and then get the prestige system working the way I want it to.

This is what I did when I was a kid. I sat around and designed games that no one would ever play but me. Then I played them a bit and got back to what I really wanted to do - design more. Back then they were written out on paper and mostly played with six-sided dice. Now it's javascript, but the point is basically the same. I'm not sure if you'll ever get to play this, but I'm sure making it.

Friday, 23 September 2016

The Dumbest of the Dumb

Last year I wrote about how the portion of the electorate I revile the most is the swing voter. In a well functioning democracy where the government represents the people's interests fairly well, swing voters might be the wisest people out there. In our democracy they are the least reasonable and least sane of anyone.

If anything demonstrates this it is Trump's recent rise in the polls. Hilary Clinton got sick and had to take a break from campaigning so Trump made up a bunch of ground on her. She's back on the campaign trail and the polls are turning around again.

During that time there were some new reasons to think Clinton was a bad candidate. Getting out of criminal responsibility for violating national security protocols by claiming that a blow to the head made you forget those protocols is about the most transparently corrupt excuse I have ever heard. If I were living in the US, that might have been the final straw for me, I don't know if I would be able to vote for Clinton after that.

But that's not why this happened. People don't dislike Clinton because she is a warmonger - they love warmongers - they dislike her because she is a woman, specifically because she is the sort of woman who can feasibly run for president. They dislike her, apparently, because she is not immune to pneumonia. I guess Trump, not having pneumonia at this moment, might be. Never mind that Hunter from Daily Kos called it weeks ago, before Trump's huge media stunt for his new hotel:
New theory: Donald Trump ran for president only as a publicity stunt to boost room prices for his new Washington D.C. hotel, which is situated on the inaugural parade route and which opens its doors for the first time this week. Want to book the Trump Townhouse for a prime spot watching the parade? It'll cost you $100,000 per night, minimum five night stay.
Because if there were new reasons to not vote for Clinton, there were also abundant new reasons not to vote for Trump. These people are the reason you aren't allowed to campaign on election day - they genuinely might just vote for the most recent name they saw on a sign. I wonder how much having your name come first on the ballot affects the outcome. If it was a full percentage point I wouldn't be shocked.

What's weird to me is that people who make decisions this way are voting at all. Voter turnout isn't very high in the US or in Canada. If your opinion on who would do a better job changes with the wind rather than with any actual facts about the candidates, what is the value in casting a vote?

On one hand, it's a silly question, because clearly my entirely schema for decision making is irrelevant to the group of people I'm talking about. What I call a reason for something and what they call a reason for doing something are completely unrelated to one another. I'm ignoring my own advice and trying to be reasonable where there is no value in reasonability.

On the other hand, it's very easy to suspect that I do know the answer to the question. It's because they think they know just as much as I think I know. I try to use external indicators to confirm that I'm not a moron, but unfortunately they also confirm that it doesn't matter much.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

More on Fines

A week and a bit ago my bad feelings about frustrating others with my inability to remember appointments culminated in me giving up on everything, but in particular, on my relationship with my therapist. A big part of that was my dislike of charges for missed appointments, which I see as unjust insofar as they are a subset of fines.

Fines usually penalize you in inverse proportion to your income. Capitalism is discrimination against people based on how little capital they have and fines are a way of enforcing that. Fines tend to become more expensive the less you are able to afford them in an absolute sense as well. A wealthy person who has their car towed may be out a few hours of their life. A very poor person who has their card towed may be out a car, which may mean they are out a job, and you might have to throw in a job, a marriage, access to their children, and who knows what else. Capitalism tells us that a poor person's life is worth less than a few hours of a rich person's time, but I think it's fair to reject that as obviously monstrous.

In Finland fine amounts are determined by disposable income. Very poor people are asked to pay very small amounts that nonetheless affect them while very wealthy people are charged up to $103,000 for a speeding ticket. That's a considerably more fair system, unsurprisingly, from a considerably more fair country.

But my dislike of having people pay for mistakes goes beyond the income inequality unfairness. Fines for parking and traffic violations are a significant part of municipal revenue where I live and in a lot of other jurisdictions. This National Post article from a couple of years ago talks about traffic fine declines in Toronto and speculates about the cause. While politicians speculated that police may be issuing fewer tickets as a retributive action for having their budget frozen, a spokesperson for the Toronto Police service had alternative explanations:
She pointed to a number of factors, including the declining number of police officers and the fact that officers have been encouraged to issue warnings instead of writing a ticket on a first offence. The service also has new computer system that has taken some getting used to. It takes longer to process a ticket, leaving less time to issue them, according to Mike McCormack, president of the police union.
Police putting public safety in the back seat so that they could make a point in response to budget cuts was a plausible theory. Changes in police behaviour, new computer systems and fewer police are another.

In a story about a mysterious decline in revenues, though, no politician, police officer, reporter or editor thought to themselves, "What if people are just committing fewer traffic violations? What if the threat of receiving a fine affects people's behaviour and people are trying to avoid them?"

There are a number of things people take into account when they decide whether to obey the law. Generally people obey the law to the extent that they buy into the fairness of the law.  Possibility of getting caught plays in there somewhere. Severity of punishment is somewhere down on the list, but as we've seen from failed "Law and Order" agendas, it's pretty far down.

In fact, apparently the City of Toronto can't possibly afford to have people start obeying traffic laws. They can't afford to have people stop parking illegally. This isn't much different than regional or state governments that can't afford to have their citizens stop smoking or to stop gambling. When we have sin taxes for dangerous behaviour or fines for bad behaviour we create a situation where the government doesn't actually want the behaviour to stop, or even to decline by 10%. We supposedly created those financial disincentives to reduce the behaviour, but the real result is implicating the public in the behaviour. It's the equivalent of catching someone running a scam and demanding a cut instead of reporting it to the police. You smoke, you gamble, you drive recklessly and everyone gets a kickback. When I walk down the publicly paved street or go to my publicly paid doctor I am doing so on the back of a fatal car accident that hasn't happened yet.

The only part of this that relates back to paying for missed appointments is the discrimination based on income part. Payment for a missed appointment is there to directly cover loss of income that resulted from the behaviour. That's why in my earlier post I said that me being upset about it wasn't really about experiencing injustice even though it is unjust.

Still, can't I be upset about it about unjust things that happen to other people? It's not like systems are fair just because they produce desired results.

I'd like to know whether charging for missed appointments even does produce the desired results. Or does it, like traffic tickets, just become another line item on a budget while the problematic behaviour just continues?

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Hearthstone Difficulty

I was just about to leave a comment on Bright Cape Gamer's post on the most recent round of Hearthstone heroic encounters when I decided I my comment was going to get too damn long. I've done just a few of the heroic encounters so far, and I agree with the assessment that they are easier than they used to be, but I guess I have an issue with the whole idea of making a Hearthstone encounter "hard".

What does it mean for something to be hard? In Hearthstone it seems to mean two things: 1) Having to come up with a good strategy and build a deck to execute that strategy; 2) Restarting the game over and over until you get the right cards at the right time. (1) is fun, (2) is tedious, but unfortunately, you can't have (2) without (1).

Hearthstone is not an I Wanna Be The Guy fangame. It's not a game where you can face a challenge that is "Play on the razor's edge of human skill for 6 minutes." The moment to moment decisions you make in the game tend to be extremely straightforward, and the game is heavily governed by randomness.

The pinnacle of this kind of encounter was the Grim Guzzler heroic from Blackrock Mountain. In that encounter each turn your opponent uses their power to put two minions from their deck and one from yours onto the battlefield. If their deck was full of River Crocolisks then this wouldn't be hard, but it is full of pretty big dudes, so you can't just get minions that out muscle theirs. I didn't have all the cards I might have liked but I did have Kel'Thuzad, and I did have the rogue spell Gang Up from beating the Guzzler on normal difficulty. So I built a deck of 29 spells and Kel'Thuzad and simply restarted the game until I could Gang Up on my second turn. When you get a Kel'Thuzad every turn, you don't really need to worry about the fact that there won't be a fifth one.

From Karazhan we have the Illhoof heroic. Illhoof can only be hurt by killing his imps. When an imp dies it does 2 damage to him and comes back. On heroic these imps are 2/2s for 1 mana, and he even has spells in his deck that summon two imps for 2 mana.

So on your second turn you are often facing three 2/2 minions that respawn every time they are killed. This would be problematic even if Illhoof wasn't going to do anything else in the game, but his deck is half-filled with removal, so if you think you are going to stop those imps with taunt creatures you likely have another think coming. Even if you are killing every one of his imps every turn, he starts with more life than you, so the imp attacks will kill you before the imp deaths kill him.

The only solution I can think of is to get some imps of your own. If you steal an imp you get the unkillable creature and it still hurts Illhoof when it dies, not you. The mind control class is also the best silence class, which lets you remove his imps.

But even when you build the steal and silence deck there is a very good chance you will lose. Like I said, he'll often have six power on his first turn and spells that let you take control of his minions are random and expensive. I cast a number of Mind Control Techs while facing boards of two imps and two other minions and lost my coin flip. I got an absolutely shocking number of Demonfires from first turn Mind Visions.

If the encounter were tuned in such a way that you could easily recover from getting a useless card from your Mind Vision and then failing to take an imp with a Mind Control Tech, though, you wouldn't need Mind Control Tech. If he couldn't put you under so much pressure that you needed these things to go your way then there would be numerous strategies to win.

It's just like the WoW encounters that these fights are based off. Ignis the Furnace Master in Ulduar was supposed to be an encounter about carefully controlling his minions and exploding them away from the party and so on. It turned out that the easiest way to do the fight was to tank the minions and just kill Ignis before he beat you. Sartharion with three drakes was one of the hardest encounters ever designed in WoW at appropriate gear levels, but by the end of the expansion people were farming its special mount drops by simply burning down Sartharion. The difference between being able to do N dps and 0.9N dps (for some value of N) isn't winning 10% slower or faster, it's playing an entirely different game.

If Hearthstone Illhoof had 20 life instead of 40, you could try to race him with your taunt minions. If they had made the encounter harder by making the imps only do one damage to Illhoof instead of making them 2/2, you could live long enough to play more powerful minions and spells and open up new avenues.

I had to restart Illhoof a lot of times, but the time I won I simply crushed him. Sky used Kel'Thuzad and Moat Lurker to beat Malchezzar on heroic. On normal mode I used a 33 power C'Thun - he simply died on my first turn against him. On heroic you'd need that C'Thun to have 72 power, so it's a considerably less viable approach, and if you want to take it, you'll need to have a fair bit of luck to make it happen. There are a number of strategies that can be used to beat Malchezzar, but all of them are going to require restarting until you get the right combination of cards at the right time.

So I'm not sure I love challenge in Hearthstone heroics. Raid bosses required solving puzzles of what to do and when, and then executing your plans very well. Hearthstone bosses usually have a single puzzle to solve, and the rest isn't execution, it's just waiting for the dice to come up your way. I haven't found the puzzles hard. As for reshuffling, I guess I shouldn't disparage the skill it takes to actually do that until you win, but I finding it hard not to today.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Making Bad Decisions

On Tuesday I decided to stop seeing my therapist. I've been missing appointments a fair bit in the last year, that is, I've been forgetting about them and just not showing up. My therapist has been mostly understanding, but the last time I did it I could hear in her voice that she was getting frustrated. I almost decided to call things off right then, but I went in to see her again. After our regular appointment she talked to me about missing appointments and about whether there was a reason and told me she might have to start being more of a hard-ass about it, possibly making me pay for missed appointments.

About a year and a half ago I forgot about an ophthalmologist appointment. They also had a policy of having people pay a fee for missed appointments. I never went back.

It's not that I can't afford the fee or that I think there is something really unjust about it. The fee doesn't put me off because I'm out money. It puts me off because it quantizes how badly I'm treating the person whose time I am wasting. I feel very bad about frustrating people and making people angry, I don't want to do it. Making someone so frustrated or angry that they require $150+ compensate them for that feeling seems very frustrated or angry to make someone. By way of comparison there have been a couple of times I have taken a taxi home from work because I just couldn't bring myself to be in a crowd of people on transit that day. I think of how bad I have to feel to be willing to spend $15 to avoid the feeling. Multiplying that by 10 would be unbearable.

There's something very, very, very wrong with the math I'm doing and how I'm looking at it. Then again, maybe considering how much I'm willing to suffer for small amounts of money this all makes perfect sense. I don't present this as a reasonable point of view or something that can be argued with. I'm not even truth here, let alone reason. The truth is I don't know what is so upsetting to me about anything.

But somehow when I'm told I have to pay because an appointment was missed, the whole missing an appointment thing becomes unforgivable. What would happen if I didn't pay? Presumably at some point they would drop me as a patient for not complying with their rules. They have already hit the point that they are ready to drop me as a patient if I don't get my act together, and I have no way of getting my act together.

Would I forget my appointment again? Yes, almost certainly. What can I do other than make sure there is nothing to forget. So I wrote to her:
I think I need to put our relationship on an indefinite hiatus. I don't know why I've become so disorganized as of late but I have no reason to think it will change.
And she wrote back:
What's up?  That doesn't seem a reason to stop coming - that certainly wasn't my intention.  Do you feel guilty about forgetting appointments?  Or was today's session difficult?
I'm sure it wasn't her intention, and it's not my intention to use unhappiness about being called out for being bad to try to negotiate a future where I don't get called out for being bad anymore. It's also not my intention to become more and more frustrating and feel worse and worse about myself over time until finally we end at the same result. All things end, I didn't want to dwell on the specifics of how or when or why. Like I said not long ago, the only reason to have a reasonable discussion is if you are open to changing your mind. I feel really bad about this, but I was going to feel bad about it one day.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Breaking the Rules

This piece about trying to get the lowest possible rank in Overwatch is interesting to me for a few reasons: The Guy With the Lowest Possible Rank in Overwatch.

Here is the part that stuck out to me:
Then again, you might look at what Brown is doing and think he’s kind of a jerk as well, given that his good times often come at the expense of others.
Not that long ago I was watching Grubby play Heroes of the Storm and he encountered a situation where someone got mad at him for not trying hard enough to win. In particular Grubby had picked Sgt. Hammer. Hammer isn't a top tier character to say the least, and presumably at the level Grubby plays at everyone is expected to know that they shouldn't be playing Hammer as she is.

The situations aren't all that analogous - somewhere between making a sub-optimal decision for fun and actually wanting to lose you cross an unmistakable line. But both make me think about our perception of responsibility to others when we play games.

With team games where you are joining a team with random people, I think it seems safe to say that you have agreed by joining the team to really try to win. If you don't try, your fun is definitely coming at the expense of others. On the flip side I think Grubby is clearly within his rights to play whatever character he chooses to play - picking your favourite character is part of the game. Someone might try to argue that at high levels of play you have a responsibility to do better, but part of what hanjo's story reminds us is that people at lower ranks aren't less serious about trying to win. The amount to which you are harming another human being by being worse than you should be is the same at rank 20 as it is at rank 90.

All of this made me think about non-team games, though. If you sit down to play Dominion with me, I'm not going to make optimal plays. I'm going to try to do the funnest thing I can see to do with the cards. If you were playing based on an expectation I would play optimally, you aren't going to predict my movies. If we play Agricola the same might happen. Maybe I'll decide that I just feel like farming sheep that game. Given how taking moves blocks other players in Agricola, this could really mess up people's plans. But did I agree to try my hardest to get a top score when I sat down?

I started playing against real people sometimes in Magic Duels. There is a 20 gold bonus for your first real-person win each day and many quests are locked up in real-person only mode. Unsurprisingly the players on Magic Duels are not top notch players or deck builders, and while I managed to lose a game yesterday, I generally just clean up.

What is really interesting about Magic Duels, though, is that if your opponent concedes or leaves the game, the game brings up a window telling you that happened, and then asking you if you want to continue playing against an AI opponent. You get the rewards for winning whatever happens: whether you leave right away, play on and win, or even play on and lose. Once your opponent leaves you've won your reward for winning the match.

But what Magic Duels recognizes is that Magic is fun to play for the joy of playing Magic. Maybe you got the twin Eldrazi Titans in play and you really want to get the chance to attack with them. Maybe you've got some outrageous combo and you want to finish going off. Maybe your opponent just disconnected and you'd like to see how the rest of the game plays out.

So if I sit down at your Puetro Rico table and start maximizing sum of the score of the players instead of maximizing my own score while trying to minimize yours, am I being a jerk by messing up the game for everyone else, or am I okay having fun my own way?

I feel frustrated and angry at the assumption that we are all sitting down to play a game with the same goals, and that we at the very least ought to be trying to win. If you are practicing for worlds and you want everyone to play under a certain set of assumptions, that's fine. If you don't like the way I play a game and don't want to play with me that's fine. I just don't want to buy into some kind of automatic rule about playing to win. I'm not sure I even like winning.

This is a metaphor for life.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Reasoning Against Trump

Right now it's Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump, but in the past it's been other struggles and in the future it will be other struggles. For the most part, people think of themselves as reasonable and level-headed and think of people who disagree with them as unreasonable or foolish. They try their best to explain their very good reasons for thinking what they think and become frustrated that people who disagree with them don't understand.

I'm going to take a bit of an unconventional position here. Actual reason, actual logic, actual rational discussion are all completely out of place in the political arena, and, in fact, in most arenas.

Maybe that doesn't sound so unconventional. There are tons of people who think that. Generally they say that people are too stupid, especially people with different views than themselves, and that reason doesn't get anywhere. Instead you have to use tricks to try to persuade people.

But that's just self-aggrandizing nonsense. If people are that stupid, then you too are that stupid.

When I wrote a post to talk about how stupid logic is, I called it "truth engineering." It's a system for taking facts, encoding them, and spitting out more true facts about them. It's a system for taking an argument, encoding it, and determining from within that model whether or not that argument supports its conclusion. I said that logic is stupid, by which I meant that propositional logic is not at all good at modelling real life problems. Logic does, however, form the basis of math and computer science and is a big part of science. I think those things work, so how can I think logic is so bad?

Mathematics, computer programming and science are all engineering of other sorts. In order to work they need to rest on a system that lets them declare some statements to be valid and others to be invalid. Propositional logic may be a very good system for fulfilling that role, but it isn't the only one that could have been used. The value of logic isn't that it tells us what is true. The value is that it gives us an audit trail.

Because no matter how complex and bizarre your system for determining whether facts A and B let you conclude fact C, it would work just fine for math. If you doubt that think about the incompleteness theorem: propositional logic doesn't even work and we use it just fine anyway.

The point is that I can write out my proof and you can come along and independently determine whether or not my proof is valid. I can write my code and you can come along and independently determine what it does or why it doesn't do what it was supposed to do. I can do my experiment and you can independently examine whether the data I collected supports or discredits my hypothesis. Logic doesn't show that I am right. It shows whether I am right. Playing chess against a stranger isn't a good way to win at chess, it is a good way to see who will win at chess.

In the words of Screwtape:
By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient's reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result?
Logic or reason or being rational or whatever you want to call it is useful in one circumstance: the overarching goal of the parties involved is to determine what is right, not who is right. And even then you aren't going to have much luck with it if you don't have a better system for interfacing with reality on top of it.

So don't make a rational argument against voting for Donald Trump unless you are ready to accept the conclusion that you should vote for Donald Trump. If you aren't, reason and logic aren't your thing.

I don't want Donald Trump to be the next president of the united states, and here is why:

Donald Trump has said some nasty things about Mexicans and Muslims. Whether or not he will actually implement any policy that affects those groups, racist people in the US will take his win as a sign that racism is acceptable. They will yell "go home" and people with darker skin than theirs, they will hold rallies to intimidate people our of neighborhoods, they will attack people in the street. I think of the people who will be affected by that and it doesn't seem like a country that allows that to happen is a just country.

Donald Trump picked as his Vice President Mike Pence who supported a law that required funeral services for miscarried and aborted pregnancies. My understanding is that most women have miscarriages in their lifetimes, but even if it's not most it's a lot. The pain that would-be parents go through when they are trying to start families and a pregnancy results in a miscarriage can be very severe. To take the very divisive issue of abortion and paint miscarriage with the same brush seems like a recipe to heap scorn on people who are going through the some of the toughest times of their lives. To take people in that position and put more burdens on them seems really inhuman to me.

Donald Trump has spoken gleefully about bombing other countries. I am against war in general, but specifically I felt that his attitude towards going to war showed a complete lack of empathy. Some people think war is sometimes necessary and some people disagree, but someone who thinks of going to war without thinking of the people who will die, who will be displaced, who will be maimed, when the war comes is someone I would never want in charge of the decision to go to war.

I think, I feel, I am upset. If you think Donald Trump is a better choice than Hilary Clinton for president, I'd be happy to hear what you think and what you feel.

Monday, 4 July 2016


We have all kinds of different levels of organization in our lives. There are international agreements, nations, provinces and states, municipalities, communities, families and individuals. These can be a little fluid and we could argue about subdivisions of the individual - I didn't mean to make a comprehensive list - but the point is that there are many different levels at which decisions are made and those decisions are imposed upon other levels with varying amounts of authority.

In Ontario whether or not it is criminal to perform the work of the sort a particular professional engages in is a country-level question. What is required to qualify to perform a certain kind of work and laws regarding worker rights more generally are a province-level question. Where work of a given kind can be performed is a municipal-level question. Who actually does that kind of work - given compliance with other laws - is an individual decision. That's, apparently, what we think is a good balance of collective and individual decision making to determine who practices law, who teachers at a high school, who collects garbage, and who sells sexual intercourse.

A person might disagree with that. Maybe they think that provinces should have the power to pass criminal laws of their own, just like states do south of the border. A person might also disagree with whether boundaries are being respected. For example, they might try to argue that in making selling sex illegal is interfering with provincial powers to set employment standards.

I'm sure lots of arguments could be made about the best way to organize powers into a hierarchy. But one that I really can't accept is that the United Kingdom had to leave the European Union to get back its "sovereignty."

It would be pretty hard to organize the world in such a way that the UK did not have to answer to the EU in one form or another. Rather than being a member they might simply work out international agreements, but those would presumably have some kind of enforcement mechanism. One way or another, the UK isn't going to simply go it alone, and Europe's input will continue to matter to UK policy.

So if someone is concerned about EU management of fish stocks, or they would like a return of a visa system for visitors to the UK that would clearly be disallowed by the EU, then I can see why they might want out of the EU. But if it's just about sovereignty, then they are saying, without feeling it requires any further explanation, that a number of unspecified powers currently allotted to the EU would be better managed by the UK.

This strikes me as being like those people who say that sex education shouldn't be taught in school because it is properly taught in the home. It's an appeal to natural order or natural law.

Of course there is nothing natural about children being educated in anything by the parents as opposed to by other members of the community. There is nothing natural about national sovereignty or even about nations. I bet there are some good-enough reasons to think that certain powers of the EU would be better as powers of member states. But "sovereignty" is the outcome of separation, and not a reason for it's own being.

Thursday, 30 June 2016

Go Towards

The other night, after she burst into a hard-to-explain screaming tantrum, I ended up sequestering my four-year-old in her room. For reasons I won't go into at great length, I don't leave her in there by herself but rather join her in her room on occasions like this and listen to her screaming and take the occasional punch or kick.

She wanted out of the room, she wanted to go see her other parent. That wasn't going to happen because the whole reason that I stepped in was that she her level of screaming had become temporarily intolerable to said parent. So I stood in front of the door, being pushed and kicked, thinking about whether there was anything I could do to deescalate this.

After things calmed down a bit and she was sitting on my lap talking to me about what happened, she still occasionally turned her body towards the door to her room in a half-hearted lunge. At this moment it occurred to me what she was doing. She wanted a thing, so she was moving her body in a straight line towards that thing.

To get out of the room she needed to do a few things. She needed to stop hitting and kicking. She needed to stop screaming. She needed to talk to me about what happened and how she ended up so upset. But she didn't want to do those things, she wanted to move physically closer to the thing she wanted until she was upon it. All that other thinking and planning stuff was running contrary to the most basic common sense: Go Towards.

There's a game that they played with monkeys where they show monkeys two numbers and have them pick one. They then got a number of candies equal to the other number. Monkeys are smart enough to figure this out. But when you present them with two plates of actual candy and the game works the same way, they just keep picking the bigger plate and getting the smaller one. With abstract thinking they can set aside their impulse for more, but when real candy is actually in front of them it's just too much to handle.

Something that often amazes me about people is that everyone has encountered numerous conflicts that were caused by misunderstandings, but when we get upset at someone, we don't immediately think "I should check if this is a misunderstanding." Shouldn't we have been conditioned to think that by our experiences by the time we are adults?

It takes effort to consider an alternative to the shortest distance between you and the thing your emotions are urging you towards. Emotions are decisions you have already made and require second guessing.

All of this came to mind while reading a couple of consecutive posts on Bright Cape about not overreacting to violent deaths: Everything is Fine, Precise Demands. In particular, the comment on the second one about how maybe that's a much harder thing to do than the posts imply.

In my multi-year quest to figure out what it is about me that makes me different from other people, Sky is a useful resource because whatever it is about me, it's probably about him too. That's not to say we're altogether similar, you'll notice a lot less posts on his blog about being depressed. But just like one person with autism might be depressed and another will not, having a similar neurological structure doesn't manages to say a lot about someone while leaving a whole bunch unsaid.

So when I describe "hearing voices" and Sky describes having two personalities, I see a big parallel there. Neither of us integrate emotions with rational thought. We are able to say, "Now now, emotions, you go over there and let us think." Well, we can do that at least as well as a person can tell a young child to leave them alone while they work. That is, it's not that it works every time, but it's that we having the emotions segregated form the rationality in the first place.

I'm not sure non-integrated emotions is an essential description of their difference, or if it is just a symptom that occurs from it. What I am fairly sure of is that the way my mind-architecture is set up makes it very easy for me to sideline the Going Towards impulses in favour of reasoned decisions. The big question for me is whether this is such an extreme difference that is constitutes a different kind of relationship with emotions rather than a different place on the spectrum, and whether I have any idea what it is like for a normie to try to behave based on conscious thought when they are experiencing powerful emotions.