Link blog: fiction, google, twitter, bookshop

Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? The Uncertain Biological Basis of Morality – Robert Wright – The Atlantic
“Squaring recent research suggesting we’re “naturally moral” with all the strife in the world.”
(tags: morality science evolution utilitarianism joshua-greene trolley-problem)
Djina Unchained
A social justice blogger. I think it’s a parody, but it’s hard to be sure.
(tags: sjw social-justice privilege tumblr patriarchy feminism)
The cult of Cthulhu: real prayer for a fake tentacle | The Verge
Someone published a Necronomicon. I never knew that.
(tags: necronomicon h.p.-lovecraft fiction magic horror aleister-crowley)
Waterstones’s social stories · Storify
Turns out Twitter is useful for something after all. Waterstones (the bookshop) in Oxford Street have been writing short stories with theirs. I liked “Quantum Leap”.
(tags: twitter waterstones oxford-street books bookshop funny fiction storify)
Burkhard Bilger: Inside Google’s Driverless Car : The New Yorker
The engineers behind Google’s driveless car.
(tags: google cars robots automotive driveless artificial-intelligence)

Link blog: politics, law, privacy, nsa

The mandatory tweets of the self-righteous vacillating centrist stats bore: a user’s guide – Telegraph Blogs
"Sit back with a look of superiority on your face." Tee hee. I think I’ve probably used some of these (though not on Twitter of course, that’s for twits).
(tags: argument twitter funny)
A plea for politeness; or, a call for kindness | Slave of the Passions
"politeness is something you owe to me not in virtue of my natural superiority over you, but in virtue of our equality. You should be polite to me, not in deference to my authority, but in recognition of our shared humanity, according to which I, like you, am a human being with feelings, weaknesses and frustrations; I am vulnerable and capable of being hurt, just as you are." But are people who are systematically better off than others as vulnerable?
(tags: argument politeness privilege philosophy)
Feds Threaten To Arrest Lavabit Founder For Shutting Down His Service | Techdirt
If you shut down your email service rather than giving the US government a back door, they’ll threaten to arrest you.
(tags: law politics nsa email encryption privacy lavabit)
Glenn Greenwald’s partner detained at Heathrow airport for nine hours
"David Miranda, partner of Guardian interviewer of whistleblower Edward Snowden, questioned under Terrorism Act." This is why we don’t permit laws which allow people to be held for long periods without charge, even if the laws are ostensibly about fighting "terrorism". There’s no way that the UK authorities can seriously think Miranda is a terrorist. Via Metafilter, where they’re speculating that the US and UK are spooked because they don’t know what Snowden has actually got.
(tags: law politics terrorism nsa spying heathrow privacy edward-snowden glenn-greenwald gchq)
Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation
"I am an independent Q.C. and not part of the government machine. I am tasked with reviewing the operation of the United Kingdom’s anti-terrorism laws. Where I am critical, I recommend change. My reports and recommendations are submitted to ministers and laid before Parliament." Interesting blog posts and reports on the police use of their anti-terrorism powers.
(tags: law politics terrorism police)

Yep, it’s still there

8856bff18d7ac166b097e64a71f2ca83A friend on Facebook linked to Louise Mensch vs Laurie Penny on the “check your privilege” thing. He went on to say he hadn’t come across that phrase, and wondered if it’s anything more than thinly veiled argumentum ad hominem. I done a comment, which seemed long enough to blog:

It’s jargon from the Internet social justice warrior subculture, as far as I can tell, so if you haven’t heard it, hang out on Tumblr, LiveJournal or bits of the feminist blogsphere (or, you know, don’t). It’s becoming more mainstream, if those articles are anything to go by.

The injunction to “check your privilege” means different things at different times. Sometimes it means “you are not in a position to know that”. For example, if I claimed “there is no homophobia in Cambridge”, someone could rightly point out that I’m not that likely to be a victim of homophobia, so I should probably ask some gay people for their opinions. Saying that continues the argument by undercutting my claim.

Sometimes it does seem to act as what Suber calls “logical rudeness“, that is, saying “CYP!” insulates a theory from argument by attributing some fault to those who do not believe it, stopping the argument about the theory by switching it to an argument about the unbeliever. As Suber says, though, it’s not clear that there’s a general duty to respond to would-be debunkers of theories we hold, and claiming that, say, feminism is nonsense because so many feminists are fans of privilege checking is itself rude. However, Suber doesn’t seem to address the point that, if we’re interested in having accurate beliefs, we should debate those with the strongest counter-arguments: our rudeness should not allow the opposition to conclude we are mistaken, but it should worry us.

Using “CYP!” a single line response (on Twitter, or in a comment box, say) is just blowing off steam or cheering for your team, as far as I can tell. It doesn’t actually mean anything other than “yay for us and boo for you!”

Edited to add: There’s some more discussion of this over on Liv’s journal. Read the comments too.

Link blog: philosophy, ai, tumblr, society

Like Worms in the Belly of Some Great Beast: Family Values and Crusader Kings II | Ruthless Culture
Civ-type strategy video games encourage the player to see through the eyes of the self-perpetuating bureaucracy. Mentions the Iron Law of Oligarchy. Via Gareth Rees.
(tags: games politics hobbes oligarchy civilisation society charles-stross)
Omniorthogonal: Hostile AI: You’re soaking in it!
Unfriendly AI is already here, in the form of corporations.
(tags: ai corporations unfriendly)
Hume 10 —Atheists Nil
Simon Blackburn on Hume’s Dialogues: "So is Hume himself an atheist? The word does not fit, and he never so described himself. He is much too subtle. Philo the sceptic says that we cannot understand or know anything about a transcendent reality that explains or sustains the ongoing order of nature, while the theists like Demea say that we cannot understand or know anything about the transcendent reality, which is God, that explains or sustains the ongoing order of nature. Since the inserted clause does not help us in the least, the difference between them is merely verbal. And this is Hume’s conclusion."
(tags: religion hume atheism philosophy david-hume simon-blackburn)
Riker sits down | MetaFilter
Commander Riker has a way with chairs. The YouTube video is doing the rounds, but I’m linking to the Metafilter thread as it contains comments from "The Riker Who Mounts the World", as well as links to Wil Wheaton’s take on it.
(tags: chair funny enterprise riker video star-trek)
Bad ideas from dead Germans | Meaningness
"Outside of traditional Christianity, most of what counts as religion and “spirituality” in America nowadays is actually recycled German academic philosophy from two hundred years ago. This might sound absurd, or irrelevant. In this metablog series, I hope to show that it is true, and that it matters."
(tags: german philosophy spirituality idealism)
From Otherkin to Transethnicity: Your Field Guide to the Weird World of Tumblr Identity Politics
(tags: privilege identity-politics tumblr otherkin)

Link blog: philosophy, atheism, anglican, church-of-england

God Is Not Dead Yet | Christianity Today | A Magazine of Evangelical Conviction
William Lane Craig lays out his best arguments for the existence of God.
(tags: kalam william-lane-craig christianity religion apologetics atheism philosophy)
On God and Our Ultimate Purpose
Stephen Maitzen argues that introducing a God does not solve the question of what, if anything, makes life meaningful.
(tags: god purpose stephen-maitzen maitzen atheism philosophy)
Cycle of Fear –
Tim Kreider (of “The Pain, When Will It End?”) on the meditative value of fear: “When I’m balanced on two thin wheels at 30 miles an hour, gauging distance, adjusting course, making hundreds of unconscious calculations every second, that idiot chatterbox in my head is kept too busy to get a word in.”
(tags: meditation funny flow cycling anxiety)
How filthy lucre could subvert the Church of England | World news | The Guardian
“Conservative evangelical churches threaten to withhold cash from pro-gay and liberal ‘heretics'”. What fun.
(tags: andrew-brown money evangelicalism church-of-england anglicanism anglican)
Beyond Mitt’s Underwear: Part 1: Apostasy and Restoration
tongodeon did an excellent series on Mormon beliefs. This is the first part, which links to all the others. The conclusion is worth reading even if you skim the rest.
(tags: lds joseph-smith underwear mitt-romney religion mormonism mormon)
Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is – Whatever
An explanation which tries to avoid those problematic identity politics jargon terms (see what I did there?)
(tags: sexuality feminism race privilege gender)

Link blog: atheism, meme, sam-harris, politics

New Statesman – Faith no more

"Earlier this year, Andrew Zak Williams asked public figures why they believe in God. Now it’s the turn of the atheists – from A C Grayling to P Z Myers – to explain why they don’t "
(tags: atheism richard-dawkins philip-pullman daniel-dennett sam-harris)

Pompous Theist

You've seen Advice Dog and Courage Wolf, now enjoy Pompous Theist. Well observed stuff: I've seen quite a few of these "arguments" in my time.
(tags: atheism meme funny humour theism religion)

“Shut Up, Rich Boy”: The Problem With “Privilege.” | No, Seriously, What About Teh Menz?

"I’m a feminist writer, but I don’t like to use the word “privilege” in my writing. Here’s why not:"
(tags: feminism privilege)

Why Have Hackers Hit Russia’s Most Popular Blogging Service? – TIME

Where LJ has been the past week or so. For once, it's not their fault.
(tags: internet security livejournal politics ddos)

Drama, science, evolution, morality – the usual

Link roundup and browser tab closing time…

Expel the evildoer from among you

If you’re not reading back over my old entries (why not? I used to be much better before I jumped the shark), you might not have noticed that there was some LJ drama over the last one. robhu conclusively won the debate on whether complementarianism is sexist by the cunning ploy of banning me from commenting on his blog: an innovative rhetorical tactic, and undeniably a powerful one. But it’s not over yet. I’ve realised that he may have made a Tone Argument, which might enable me to reject his ideas out of hand and advance three squares to the nearest Safe Space, so I’m awaiting the results of a steward’s inquiry. It’s possible I may have too many Privilege Points to make a valid claim for Tone Argument, but I’m hopeful the powers that be will see things my way.

Could out-consume Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

Down on the Premier Christian Radio boards, they’re talking about science and religion again, specifically whether science can ignore the possibility of God’s existence. I’ve been sticking my oar in, as usual.

Red Ken again

When I reviewed Ken MacLeod’s The Night Sessions, I reckoned that he had something to do with Christianity himself at one point, as the observational humour was too keen to come from a total outsider. It turns out he’s the son of a Presbyterian minister. At an SF convention in 2006, MacLeod spoke about his childhood, discovering that creationism was wrong, and the social contract. This old speech of his was linked from his recent blog posting on the changing meaning of evolution. MacLeod says a change occurred in the 1970s when Jacques Monod and Richard Dawkins introduced a thoroughly materialistic theory. This replaced older ideas that evolution is progress up a sort of secular Great Chain of Being, ideas which C.S. Lewis grumbled about, though not for the same reasons as the biologists. “Evolutionary Humanism was no doubt troubling enough to believers, but at least it wasn’t a vision of blind, pitiless indifference at the heart of things.” It’s the latter vision which MacLeod says has so riled modern creationists. I’m not sure whether he’s right, but it’s an interesting speculation.


Some people argue that if there’s no God, you can’t have real morality. We’ve discussed this previously here (and also here). The debate seems to boil down to which definition of morality you find psychologically satisfying, since as far as I can tell it has no practical consequences: almost everyone thinks that Bad Things are Bad, whether or not they also think there are moral absolutes.

Anyway, Jeffrey Amos over at Failing the Insider Test has an interesting post specifically about the idea that morality shows there’s a God. Firstly, he argues that all moral systems have the problem of where you start from, so the Euthyphro dilemma isn’t introducing a new problem for theists. Nevertheless, it does show that the problem isn’t solved by introducing God, either. Secondly, he argues that a theist must either say that God’s ideas of morality are not similar to ours, in which case pretty much everyone is wrong about morality and once we allow this, it’s no stretch to say that they might be wrong about it in a different way (for example, maybe true morality doesn’t have to be absolute). Or a theist must say that God’s morality is similar to ours, but this runs into the problem of pain: a God whose morality was similar to ours wouldn’t allow there to be so much suffering in the world. The standard response that God allows suffering for inscrutable reasons doesn’t help: if God is inscrutable, how can we know his morality is similar to ours? The second prong of the second argument isn’t new (gjm11 makes it here, and I doubt he was the first), but I think Amos’s article states it very clearly.

Being uncomplimentary about complementarians

Readers: in a recent thread on robhu‘s journal, Rob said I had misrepresented complementarians (of which he is one). I’m not sure how many of you click the links in my postings and have noticed that I occasionally have a joke with them, but to be clear, on the occasions where I have linked the word complementarian to Houseplants of Gor, I did not mean to imply that complementarians are the same as Goreans. Unlike Goreans, complementarians do not believe that women are intrinsically inferior to men and should naturally be their slaves. They believe that men and women are equal in status and dignity, but should occupy different roles in relationships like marriage, with women submitting to men’s loving, self-sacrificial leadership. You can find a summary of complementarian beliefs in the Danvers Statement on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

Despite the complementarian assertion that men and women are of equal status, I find complementarianism problematic because it seeks to perpetuate a hierarchy with men in a position of power over women, and claims that this sort of hierarchy is normative. While I should probably be cautious about comparing historically oppressed classes for fear of being called problematic myself (this being one of the worst things that can happen to you on LJ, as some of you will know, second only to being accused of “fail”), I’d note that replacing “men” with “white people” and “women” with “black people” in complementarian statements would not result in something many of us were happy to sign up to (with the possible exception of Rudyard Kipling, who was big on loving, self-sacrificial leadership). To be clear, I am not saying the complementarianism is racist (I’m saying it’s sexist), but I believe the analogy is appropriate as members of both classes were and are oppressed as a result of being born into a particular group.

While there are important differences between them, complementarians and Goreans are similar in that both advocate a male-led hierarchy and claim it is the correct and fulfilling state of all male/female relationships. As such, the two philosophies are, shall we say, equal in status and dignity, with complementarianism certainly not deserving more respect merely because it originates in a religion.

Hope that’s cleared things up. Must go, scribb1e‘s just finished cooking my dinner.

Update: Expelled!

Edited to add: So, Rob didn’t like my analogy and banned me from commenting on his blog.

Of course, I didn’t chose the analogy at random. The question at hand was whether complementarianism should be considered sexist. I think it should. If similar statements to those complementarians make about women were made about another historically disadvantaged group, like black people, we would rightly consider them discriminatory against that group. Likewise, there have been times when sentiments we’d now consider discriminatory have been couched in terms of self-sacrifice and serving the disadvantaged group, as Kipling’s poem illustrates.

Is complementarianism as bad as racism or sexism at its most horrible? No. It is patronising rather than hateful, and I’m not sure how much harm it does. There are much worse examples discrimination around today. I suppose what irks me about complementarianism is that it pretends to righteousness (that, and the fact that I was once taken in by it). Were the early Christians ahead of their time in their attitude to women? Quite possibly, but complementarians are behind theirs.

If anyone feels the analogy was taking things too far, I’d be interested to discuss it.

Update again: Censored!

And now the post has gone. I never appreciate people playing the “unpublishing” game: here’s my copy so you can see what I actually said.

Logical Rudeness

apdraper2000 joined the discussion on people who have fully general counterarguments against the opposition, with a link to Peter Suber‘s essay, Logical Rudeness. Suber’s essay is well worth reading.

What Suber calls logical rudeness is a response to criticism which insulates the responder from having to address the criticism. Suber comes up with a taxonomy of logical rudeness:

The primary type is probably the application of a theory of justified dismissal, such as a theory of error or insanity, to critics and dissenters. Another major type is the interpretation of criticism as behavior to be explained rather than answered. This is closely connected to the type that refuses to see a meta-level in the critic’s criticism, and will not allow critics to escape the object-language of the theory. A rude theory may reinterpret criticism as a special kind of noise, or as unwitting corroboration. A theory may evade criticism without rudeness by postponing as answer or referring the critic to the answer of another. The abuse of postponement may be rude, however, as when the motions of postponement are made shorthand for dismissal, or when the subsumption of an objection under a larger system of belief is made shorthand for refutation. A rude theory may be held for reasons other than its correctness, such as the support for the believer shown by voters or grant-giving agencies. A weak sort of rudeness lies in any unfalsifiable theory, and a strong sort lies in boon theories which identify critics as nonpossessors of a special boon. The theories of justified dismissal and the boon theories tell critics that they are disqualified from knowing truth or even deserving answers because of some well-explained foible or fault in themselves. All the types have in common an evasion of a responsibility to answer criticism on the merits, when that evasion is authorized by the theory criticized. All types are triggered only by expounded criticism, and only insulate the proponent from conversion or capitulation, not the theory from refutation.

There’s the potential for this sort of thing in anyone with a belief whose scope is broad enough to explain why some other people don’t believe it. As mentioned previously, some Christians tell atheists that atheists know there’s a God really and are just being atheists to annoy, because they know it teases. Some atheists tell religious people that theists won’t accept atheistic arguments because they’re afraid of death, or too immersed in the church community to bear the social cost of leaving. In a conversation about race or gender, it won’t be long before someone claims another person’s view is held because of their privilege. And so on.

Suber calls this rude rather than fallacious because it is possible for people who hold true beliefs to be “rude” in this way (and in fact, rejecting arguments because they come from rude people is itself rude). Rather, rudeness violates the norms for debate, but by those same norms, we’d like even people who hold beliefs which lead them to be rude to be able to join in.

In Suber’s taxonomy, some sorts of rudeness seem worse for debate than others. Towards the end of the essay, Suber distinguishes “fixed belief” from “critical belief”, the difference being whether the believer is prepared to concede that they might be wrong. Suber says it’s not clear that critical belief is possible or desirable in all cases. In particular, it seems to me that people who regard disagreement as a moral defect will find it hard to be critical believers.

Suber wonders about the value of debate (by which I assume he means the general to-ing and fro-ing of philosophical conversation, not merely formal public debates). It seems to me that this value partly lies in reducing the problems of filtered evidence. We ourselves filter the evidence we search for, but a multi-sided debate might serve to correct this. One way of squaring a desire for debate with beliefs which justify rudeness might be to admit that we hold such beliefs, but to avoid rudeness itself as a tactic. Beliefs which justify rudeness might legitimately influence whether we want to have the debate at all, but once committed, it seems worth holding our own beliefs critically.