I’ve updated the little script I wrote to keep track of which comments are new on LJ and Dreamwidth (LJ now does this automatically in its default style, DW doesn’t, by the looks of it). Thanks to various people for telling me it was broken for HTTPS sites, which LJ and DW both default to these days.
Userscripts.org is long dead, so I’m now hosting it on my site.
On Facebook, I ran across a couple of Christian responses to the recent resignation of Tim “Nice-but-Evangelical” Farron as leader of the Liberal Democrats.
A worrying sign
A post by John Stevens, Director of the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches, argues that Farron’s resignation is a worrying sign: Farron’s actions as a friend to LGBT people were not sufficient, people were worried about “what Tim thinks” and wouldn’t leave him alone about it.
As Nick Spencer writes, there are two sorts of liberalism. Farron was an example of liberalism as a way of living (or modus vivendi, as we say in the New Statesman) in a pluralist society, but fell victim to people who saw liberalism as a system which itself provides the right answers to moral questions. But taking liberalism as such as system, as Stevens says, opens its followers to the same sorts of criticism that Farron got: can a follower of a system fairly represent the interests of those who disagree with it?
(Unfortunately, Stevens does get dangerously close to using the phrase “virtue signalling”, which should worry him, for is it not writtenwhosoever shall say to his brother, “thou art virtue signalling”, shall be in danger of being a huge arsehole, and that goes double for “snowflake”.?)
Stevens has an interesting argument for liberalism as a way of living: if idolatry is the greatest sin, yet Christians do not want religion imposed by the government as this has historically not ended well (pic related), how much more so (or a fortiori, as we probably say in the New Statesman) ought Christians to allow freedom in law for people to commit lesser sins?
With his mention of a “substantive, even comprehensive” liberalism, Nick Spencer in the New Stateman is gesturing at Rawl’s ideas of public reason. From what I read of this, a liberalism which is what Rawls calls a comprehensive doctrine can’t legitimately be the sole basis for arguments in favour of a fundamental right (such as gay marriage), any more than the religious comprehensive system can be the sole basis for an argument against. As Mariel Johns’s summary puts it,
It is important to remember that secular comprehensive doctrines are not allowed – the same way that philosophical and religious comprehensive doctrines are not allowed. These fall outside the domain of the political. This can be seen if we consider what each type of doctrine might ask with regard to making homosexual relations among citizens a criminal offense. A secular doctrine might ask, “Is it precluded by a worthy idea of the full human good?” A religious doctrine might ask, “Is it a sin?” A political conception would ask, “Will legislative statues forbidding those relations infringe on the civil rights of free and equal democratic citizens?”
I’m not an expert in political philosophy, but this seems to get something important right, namely that sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. “What Tim thinks” can only be of political concern if we’re reasoning from a comprehensive doctrine which says our thoughts can be wrong in and of themselves (such as Christianity, or liberalism of the second sort), or if we can show that what he thinks is somehow relevant in reasoning which is not unique to any such doctrine. Only the latter is legitimate, if I’m reading Rawls right.
So, what should Farron have said? Perhaps “What I think is What The Bible Says1, but look at my voting record and see that I don’t seek to impose my views on others, because (insert Stevens’s a fortiori argument here)”. Note that Rawls doesn’t think people cannot bring forward religious reasons (in fact, he thinks they should, in a “cards on the table” sort of way), only that they should then be backed by public reasons (such as “enforcing religion infringes on the civil rights of citizens”, presumably).
This is easy to say in hindsight, of course.
G J Shearer writes that “Arguing that Christians shouldn’t ‘impose’ their views on society is simply a tacit way of saying that someone else should.” But this ignores the distinction between liberalism of the first, Rawlsian, sort, and liberalism of the second, comprehensive, sort. Perhaps Shearer thinks that such a distinction can’t be maintained, and everything must collapse into a fight between competing comprehensive doctrines. But why think that? It seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy: if nobody makes the effort to maintain it, it certainly won’t be maintained. Farron’s pursuers harmed our political life by making it harder to maintain it.
Shearer argues that secular liberalism is illogical:
What, in effect, is the logic of secular liberalism? We live in a world heading towards extinction, our consciousness created by blind physical laws and driven by a ruthless will to reproduce and survive, therefore… What? Love each other? Look after the poor, the lame, the vulnerable? A moment’s consideration shows that these conclusions do not flow from the premise.
Hume lives! But his guillotine is a multi-purpose tool (it slices! it dices! it cuts both ways!). Suppose the facts are these: we live in a world ruled by an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent creator, therefore… what? What conclusions about morality follow from these premises? You need to add some other premise (like “we ought to do what God wants/commands of us”), and if you need that, why fault secular philosophers for needing to add theirs (like “we ought to do that which leads to human flourishing” or “the greatest good of the greatest number” or whatever)? All moral systems, including theistic ones, are “illogical” by these lights.
He also wonders whether atheist politicians could explain how “their belief that human life is merely ‘an accidental collocation of atoms’, to use Bertrand Russell’s phrase, fits with the various moral imperatives that drive their politics”. Probably not, because politicians, unlike Hume, are generally crap at philosophy. But, as we’ve just seen, Shearer hasn’t explained why his premises about God lead to his moral conclusions, either.
Shearer ends with a call to Christians to get more involved getting Christian values into law: “it is time that Christians began to unapologetically argue that society is best served by Christian, rather than secular, values shaping the public sphere.” This doesn’t seem likely to end any better than it did historically (pic related).
Where’d Trump get the list of bad countries from which none shall pass (except if they have a Green Card and a court order)? From legislation passed on Obama’s watch, we’re told by various people defending Trump’s latest omnishambles. As Seth Frantzman says, 8 U.S.C. 1187(a)(12), the legislation referred to in the Executive Order was signed into law under Obama. However, Frantzman’s commenters make a few interesting points, which I summarise below.
Under the legislation, if you’ve visited one of those countries or are a national of them, this will prevent you from getting a visa waiver.
How’d those countries get into the visa waiver banned list, and is that Obama’s fault? Some of them appear to have been added by a Republican sponsored bill which failed to pass, but became law by getting tagged on to a larger spending bill. This letter is a complaint that Obama had weakened the provisions of that Bill, which, in passing, gives a history of how it became law.
From my extensive viewing of The West Wing, it seems that tagging stuff on to a spending bill is a way to force the point: if you refuse to sign the bill, other important stuff will not be funded. So, it’s not clear how much Obama’s administration approved of the additions (since they apparently went on to weaken it when it was implemented, perhaps they didn’t and their hands were forced, but I haven’t seen any public statements either way by them). Either way, they certainly didn’t ever put that list to the use that Trump has. To use a list to exclude people from getting visa waivers is quite different from using it to bar people outright. Implying that the list of countries in the Executive Order came from Obama is disingenuous.
Presidents Carter and Obama have blocked visa applications from nationals of certain countries at certain times (Obama in relation to Syria). Pointing out that the other lot did something similar and therefore can’t argue that Trump is wrong to do it is called the tu quoque fallacy.
On the Reddits, there’s a bit of debate about what we should understand by the term “atheist”. The most popular view among atheists there is that their atheism is a “lack of belief”, and that they make no claim about whether or not God exists. Take the sidebar on /r/DebateAnAtheist as an example of this view:
For r/DebateAnAtheist, the majority of people identify as agnostic or ‘weak’ atheists, that is, they lack a belief in a god. They make no claims about whether or not a god actually exists, and thus, this is a passive position philosophically.
What’s going on here?
Firstly, some people think that someone who believes or who states a belief has a “burden of proof”. See Frank Turek’s blog, for example, where he makes the analogy to a courtroom (I guess he doesn’t know about Scottish law). In this view, the atheist needs to make their case, they can’t just sit back and wait for the apologist to make theirs. The “lack of belief” atheists accept that a person with a belief has a burden of proof, so they are careful to say they don’t have a belief, just a lack of belief.
Secondly, apologists also like to say that atheists have a belief, therefore they have faith (meaning unevidenced belief), therefore we’re not so different, you and I. Again, a “lack of belief” atheist might accept that a “belief” is “something accepted on faith”, and that believing without “positive evidence” is always bad, but deny that they have a belief.
Finally, the apologist and the “lack of belief” atheist might both accept that “you can’t prove a negative” and relatedly, that to claim to “know” something requires you to be absolutely certain of it.
I think what’s going wrong in all these cases is that the atheists have gone too far in accepting stuff which the apologists made up to muddy the waters (or, more charitably, which is confused thinking shared by atheists and apologists), but then suddenly realised they need to pull up just before crashing into an undesirable conclusion.
What does the “lack of belief” view get right? Well, people do have degrees of belief, so it’s true to say that failing to accept one belief is not the same as believing the opposite belief. The classic example quoted by “lack of belief” atheists is the jar of beans: if I say I don’t believe the number of beans is even, I’m not saying it’s odd, I’m saying I don’t know. If I wanted to put a number on it, I’d say it was 50% likely to odd and 50% likely to be even, in the absence of any other information.
However, if I thought it was 50% likely that there was a God, I’d still be in church every Sunday. The consequences of being wrong are too great to risk on a coin toss. I think most atheists consider it much less likely that there’s a God, unlikely enough that, if the question were about anything other than God, they’d be happy enough to say “X does not exist”.
Burden of proof
Going back to the first point, we should distinguish between rules of debate (or of a courtroom) and rules of rationality. An atheist who goes into a debate and says just sits there repeatedly telling their theist opponent “you haven’t proven your case” deserves to lose the debate. Entering into a debate requires taking up the burden of convincing the audience.
But it’s not true that if we want to be rational, we take on a duty to defeat all comers when we believe something or say out loud that we believe it. Being rational means we ought to have good reasons for our beliefs, but our time is limited, so we cannot become experts on everything. Rational belief in evolution doesn’t require us to rebut everything in a Gish Gallop in a way which would convince a creationist.
On to the second point. As I’ve mentioned previously, atheism doesn’t require faith, at least in most common senses of the world. A belief is just a mental assent to some statement of how things are. This assent isn’t something that only happens because a person has faith: perhaps they have excellent reasons for their belief (or perhaps they don’t: both cases are examples of belief).
There’s also some confusion about evidence, where some people don’t realise that absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Something that doesn’t happen when your theory says it should have can provide as much evidence as something that does happen.
Proving a negative, absolute certainty
We can certainly prove a negative in mathematics (the square root of 2 is not a rational number, there are no even primes above 2, and so on). Outside of mathematics, it’s difficult to reach 100% certainty for anything we believe, but that just means that we’ll have to make do without it. It’s generally harder to show that something does not exist than that something does (where we can just point to an example of the thing), but remember, something that does not happen can still be evidence.
In either case, just because we can think of ways in which we could be wrong does not mean we shouldn’t believe something or act on that belief (for example, by saying out loud that we believe it or know it).
Are atheistic arguments failures?
Sometimes, people say they’re “lack of belief” atheists because of the variety of things one could refer to as gods, but that the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good capital-“G” God does not exist. I think this is one situation where the “lack of belief” idea makes sense: where the person has not really considered all the possible things that could be called gods. We can only formulate a belief when we know what we’re talking about. (But see You can’t know there isn’t an X out there, previously).
But, elsewhere, I’ve also seen Internet atheists respond to Christians with the “lack of belief” definition, i.e. saying that they lack belief in the Christian God. This seems to imply that those atheists think all the arguments against the existence of that God are failures (they’re presumably aware of the arguments if they’re discussing atheism on the Internet), so they can’t say there is no such God, only that they “lack belief”. That’s an odd thing for an atheist to think!
A friend commented the other day that I don’t post much on here any more. I do occasionally write interesting stuff over on Reddit, so I thought I’d make some blog posts based on some of those comments. Here’s a little realisation I had about how we talk about the physics of lindy:
A follower was telling me how she always needs to create her own momentum or she won’t move anywhere, and I responded that if she does so, it breaks one of the most basic rules of following and causes confusion and miscommunication in the dance. — LindyEverywhere on Reddit
Followers aren’t on frictionless wheels. Naturally, they’d stop, but the game is for them to pretend to have a lot less friction than a body on legs actually does (and maybe a bit less mass, too, I think). They’re not just physically getting moved around by the leader without co-operating by playing that game. Shifting people who aren’t co-operating is martial arts, not lindy 🙂
What lindy teachers seem to be referring to when talking about keeping momentum and not injecting energy is that once you’re playing the game, you play it consistently. Maintaining that consistency is not a natural consequence of the physics of the situation, so the follower you were talking to was right to say physically, she’s actually moving herself a lot of the time, or, not having wheels, she’d just stop. Playing the game consistently is a learned skill.
Because this game is so engrained into the dance, a lot of experienced people abbreviate the description of what’s going on by speaking as if what followers do is just allow physics to take its course (when they’re not throwing in their own stuff, I mean), when what they’re actually doing is simulating being a different sort of body and allowing a simulated version of physics to take its course. I imagine this is a bit confusing for beginner follows. (The other thing is that I’ve heard balboa teachers talk about a different simulated physics for follows turning down a line, where they lose angular momentum and so curve in).
One good exercise I’ve seen for teaching this is to play “lindy tennis”: half of you get into a circle, half of you are the tennis balls. The people in the circle set the balls off across the circle with some direction and rotation, which the balls maintain (except for avoiding collisions with teach other). When the balls reach the edge of the circle, the people there catch them and re-direct them (gently!). Playing this fixed an awful lot of “followers stopping themselves” i.e. killing the momentum rather than continuing the line around beat 4 in swing-outs from open, because it teaches what the pretend physics is.
Edit: Thinking about it some more, it seems more “real” at high speeds and when the connection is transmitting an impulse, and more “faked” at low ones and when the leader isn’t exerting a force: in the first case, it may be that it feels like your upper body is being moved by the connection to the leader and you’re just keeping your legs under you so you don’t fall over (which is still kind of a choice, but a natural one), but the thing where follows are told to keep moving at a slow pace having been given a small impulse seems like something you learn to do so as to pretend you’re a frictionless follow moving in a vacuum.
Delicious have started adding spam to their RSS feeds, which probably means they’re circling the drain and are desperate for cash. I’ve moved all my bookmarks over to Pinboard instead, following in Andrew Ducker’s footsteps. I’ll delete the Delicious account in a few weeks, so if you happened to be following the RSS feed there (and getting the annoying spam), you should follow the Pinboard one instead.
I’ve hacked on the bookmark posting script a bit, and the regular bookmark postings on this blog (which are also copied to my LiveJournal) should be working again.
Over on top cosmologist Sean Carroll’s blog, there’s a guest post by his fellow top cosmologist Don Page, who is a Christian. Page was responding to Carroll’s debate with William Lane Craig. Page does not find Craig’s Kalam Cosmological Argument persuasive, but has his own reasons for being a Christian, which you can read about over there (spoilers: maybe God is the simplest explanation for the fact that the universe is orderly; also the Resurrection happened).
The comment thread beneath the post is huge and goes off in all sorts of interesting directions. Page makes use of Bayes’ Theorem in his arguments. There are some people who use in their day jobs (rather than just reading Less Wrong and bullshitting, as I do) who respond to him, notably Bill Jefferys, staring here.
I’ve been commenting on and off. I reconstructed the threads I got involved in as the lack of threaded commenting over there makes it difficult to follow. I’ve been reading Peter Boghossian’s “A Manual For Creating Atheists” (which I hope to post about at some point) so I was trying for some Socratic dialogue and questioning of “faith” as a means of knowing. See how I got on:
My followup: would you believe someone who said “The Koran is true and you need to respond to it”?
I was interested in Daniel Kerr’s comments (for example, here, here, and finally here, in response to one of mine). He says that simplicity depends on a choice of mathematical language, but I thought this was just a constant factor. However, the comments rapidly go off into model theory and stuff about the Axiom of Choice, so I got lost. Can anyone comment on what he’s saying and whether he’s right?
He makes the true point that, in the recent case, things were made worse because the perpetrator was a famous and popular teacher. But he then went off the rails in saying that the community’s reaction was victimising men by targeting them rather than only dealing with the abuse of fame, and even implying that the codes would be abused by popular men to corner the market in women. I commented saying that, although the recent case was certainly about the misuse of fame, the discussion that followed allowed many women talk about problems they’d had, most of which were not with famous teachers.
On the question of differentiating flirting and harassment, this thread linked to Dogpossum’s own guide to dating dancers. Some people quibbled about Dogpossum’s advice, but I think the point is that if you’re asking how to do it and not fall foul of a code of conduct, you’re saying you’re not sure of your social skills and need rules. If you are skilled enough not to creep people out anyway, you can probably treat them more as guidelines.
I also bigged up the Northerners’ STEPS code and their FAQ, where they make it clear that “we certainly aren’t suggesting that dancers aren’t allowed to form romantic relationships at our events (including, a-hem, extremely short relationships)”.
On Metafilter, Reddit has a reputation as a terrible place full of MRAs, libertarians and other ne’er do wells, but The Logical Lead didn’t get a very good reception for his stuff, so I suppose it depends which sub-reddits you’re talking about.
This post links to descriptions of sexual assault.
Lindy hop got its own version of the Jimmy Saville revelations recently, when it became clear that a long standing international dance teacher (who wasn’t someone I’d heard of prior to this, as it happens) had abused various women. Jeff Leyco has collated a bunch of links to people talking about it, the most important of which is Sarah Sullivan’s original blog posting describing her experiences.
There’s sometimes a confusion about types of evidence, and between degrees of evidence and degrees of belief, that happens when people read accusations like this online. Testimony is evidence, especially if it’s potentially costly to the testifier if they lie. We rightly demand a very high probability of truth before we bless certain beliefs for certain uses (for example, in a court of law or a science journal). But that the probability doesn’t need to be as high before deciding to keep someone away from young women at dance camps, for example. There were surprisingly few “oh, the Internet says it, so it must have happened, riiiight” comments, but not none. Those commenters looked pretty foolish when the other shoes dropped, and a pattern of predation emerged in the reports of other women. If you’re not actually having to decide whether to allow that teacher to come to your dance camp next weekend, it seems wise to shut up and wait for those other shoes to hit the floor rather than sounding off on the Internet.
There was some use of the word “awkward” to refer to the perp. People who are socially awkward don’t do the stuff described by these women, which, moral considerations aside, requires some nerve (in the case of initiating physical contact) and Dark Side social skills (isolating the victims, telling them they’re special, and so on). Let’s stop calling predators “socially awkward”, it’s an insult to socially awkward people.
Codes of Conduct
One popular suggesting in the wake of all this is to institute codes of conduct for dance events. Having been initially a little wary of that, I’m now in favour as a result of chatting with friend C (who got me into lindy in the first place) and reading around.
One thing that seems to be happening is that people are adopting language from codes for professional conferences. I’d argue that these codes are not suitable for use at dance events without modification. If you’re going to have a code, it’s not a talisman against predators that you can just hold up like a crucifix in front of a vampire and hope they go away. You have to enforce it, and that means getting language right so it’s enforceable.
What am I on about? Broadly, that there’s a difference between the environment you want at a conference where everyone’s on the clock (and subject to employment law) and something that’s a cross between a party and the practice of an art.
There’s also some danger of confusion between the social justice concept of a Safe Space, and the sort of environment the general public would want to dance and socialise in. A Safe Space in the former sense is typically heavily policed against a fairly strict and specialised language code which bans certain words, and the police usually prohibit discussion about matters they consider settled. Assuming that such Spaces make anyone safer, they do so at the expense of other good things, which are put aside in favour of an overriding concern for Safety; and the converse is also true: not making your Space Safe means you’re trading off those other goods against the risk of some people not being Safe (see Mefi, previously). Face this, accept there’s nothing wrong with trading off goods against each other, and don’t use the phrase “safe space” to describe the environment you’re trying to create.
Edit: another thought that occurs is that unless you have the resources to police heavily, you cannot in fact offer a totally safe space even if you want to, so your terminology should not offer something you’re not going to deliver.
More specifically, we need to say more about banning “sexualised material”: if it means porny pictures are banned that’s fair, but do you want to ban a bunch of those songs about food which aren’t actually about food or the songs in which there’s sexual commentary on men’s and women’s bodies? Probably not, because we allow things in an artistic context that we don’t want to see around the office (if you were trying to create a Safe Space, the answer would be different here).
Relatedly, partner dancing got started in part as an early form of speed dating, and some people come to dancing hoping to meet romantic partners, in a way which would not be appropriate for a professional conference. There’s nothing wrong with this in itself, though there are wrong ways to go about it and one needs to be alert for the difference between dance chemistry and sexual desire. I don’t know how to convey this in a short document, but just “no harassment, no sexy stuff” won’t cut it.
When we dance, we’re touching another person and, in some dances, adopting a close hold. It’s worth going into more detail about what’s OK here, rather than just banning “inappropriate touching”. It’s also worth dealing with what to do when bad stuff happens by accident when moving at speed, not something that ForkMyDongleCon ’13 attendees had to worry about, I guess. (I’d also like to ban teachers from initiating back-rub circles at the end of lessons, please: that sort of touch isn’t what people signed up for).
I like the policies of Mobtown, Baltimore (though the bullet about various banned -isms shades towards Internet social justice jargon and makes me wonder if I’ll get the boot for saying “Mark’s such a crazy dancer”) and Holy Lindy Land, Israel. I like Bryn’s suggestions on Sarah Sullivan’s posting.
A couple more general points: it’s worth distinguishing hints and tips from serious offences. It’s worth emphasising that we’re dealing with hopefully rare stuff here and most people are lovely. I remember discussion of Cambridge Dancers’ Club’s etiquette page where people wondered whether a long etiquette manual might put the punters off. Both these points can be addressed by having a serious bit and a funny FAQ (a FAQ’s a good format for avoiding the CDC page’s wall of text). I like Holy Lindy Land’s pictures, too.
Final point: there’s no point in any of this if there’s no-one to tell about problems or if problems are not investigated and resolved once you tell someone. This requires a lot of the people who organise events, who are often volunteers. In the case I’ve heard about where harassment was not dealt with at an event, those organisers were women, so it wasn’t a case of men belittling women’s problems. Organisers want to be liked and find confrontation difficult, just like anyone else. I’ve never done that job, so I don’t know what to do about that.