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This post is set up to float to the top. I'm getting a bunch of new readers lately, so I figured a welcome/orientation post is appropriate.

Welcome to my journal! (Yeah, yeah, I know, the cool kids call it a blog these days.)

I post intermittently, sometimes at length, usually about personal topics, sometimes about controversial ones. I love thoughtful comments, even (sometimes especially) when they disagree with me. Anonymous comments or private messages are OK, too.

I expect politeness, though -- especially to my other commenters. If you can't be civil, be silent. If I start getting a wave of hostile anonymous commenters, I will likely change my policy.

I occasionally (though rarely) write friends-locked or filtered posts. I have two opt-in filters: fiction (for fragments of stories) and rants (for topics I'm prepared to be offensive about). If you're interested in joining my "friends" list or filters, comment here or email me.

Some links I keep here for convenience:

The elephant is very like a tree.

(A comment in a discussion about Robert Heinlein, specifically about whether he was a radical libertarian or a paternalistic authoritarian, catalyzed by this Moorcock essay, that got long. YIKYS.)

Mostly, I think Heinlein's writing consistently emphasized the idea that human value depends on a small minority of brilliant, confident, competent people who are forevermore pushing forward the frontiers of human knowledge and power.

And to emphasize that further by contrast, it also portrays the rest of humanity (including basically everyone you or I have ever met) as at best useless and more likely a net-negative-value albatross around the necks of those heroic individuals.

I can totally see why it's easy for U.S. libertarians to identify with that, and claim Heinlein as one of their own. I can also totally see why it's easy to look at that and see it as advocating authoritarianism.

But to then get into an argument about whether Heinlein is really an authoritarian or a libertarian is to be a blind explorer of elephants.

Personally, I see the heroic rugged individualist ideal as a commonplace of adventure fiction, which is mostly what Heinlein was writing, which I think was in turn mostly an expression of his desire to sell stories to feed his family.

Stories about communities whose members create value for one another by living interdependent lives can be wonderful in many ways, but they aren't _adventurous_, and aren't terribly popular. That's how we live our lives, and a good thing too, but it's not what most of us fantasize about.

And, sure, Moorcock is right -- when we allow those adventure-fiction myths to overly condition our expectations of the real world, we delude ourselves.

But it's not really clear to me that this is a problem with the myths, or with the fiction that invokes them. Mostly, when I find myself failing to clearly separate fiction from reality, I think the right way to counteract that is not to consume less fiction, or to consume more ideologically correct fiction, but to experience more reality.

Changing the past

So, there's this pervasive SF trope where timetravel is possible and there's a single editable timeline... that is, history can be altered... and altering history is seen as really dangerous, because who knows what will happen, and maybe everything will be worse. (The exception is typically a complete Crapsack World where everything is so horrible that we think "it can't possibly be worse, right?" as in the XMen:DOFP storyline, but leave that aside for the moment.)

This seems so completely ridiculous to me I honestly don't understand how anyone tolerates it without all disbelief immediately crashing to the ground. Of course we never know exactly what the results of our actions will be, but we have a hell of a lot more information about the past than the future. So if we're willing to act to optimize the future, we should be still more willing to optimize the past.

The closest I come to understanding this is something like: if we alter my past such that the new timeline doesn't include all the details I remember, then (my simulation of this reasoning argues) I don't really exist anymore, since having experienced those specific details is a necessary aspect of me. By the same reasoning, neither does anyone else. And that's just awful, genocide on a grand scale. The fact that they are replaced with other people living far better lives (by both our standards and theirs) is no justification.

That said, that line of reasoning seems just as ridiculous to me as what it purports to explain. But then again, maybe that's just me being weirdly utilitarian and having quirky ideas about what constitutes personal identity again. That seems to happen a lot.

And of course, this whole question is intrinsically fictional, since the real world doesn't seem to contain an editable timeline... certainly not a retroactively editable one. But what's intriguing me about it is the narrative element.

So, a question, I guess: is there anyone reading to whom it seems plausible? That is, if you found yourself in a universe like this, would you suggest leaving the past untouched while continuing to influence the future? Would that seem like an ethical choice to you?

Do you want to say more about that, if so?


Noticing what I actually believe.

(Started out as a comment on a discussion tangentially about psychic phenomena.)

I encourage seeking explanations for observed events, rather than dismissing them out of hand.

That said, psychic powers are an explanation with major consequences if true. If I'm taking that explanation even a little seriously, I should expect the implications to change the way I live my life in noticeable ways.

Conversely: if I believe I'm taking that explanation seriously but I'm not changing the way I live my life, I should consider more carefully whether I'm actually taking the explanation seriously.

The same goes for all kinds of beliefs that have significant consequences if true... not just religious and spiritual and occult, but also beliefs about relationships and politics and economics and sociology: if I'm not taking their entailed consequences into account when I make decisions, it's worth backing up and exploring whether I actually believe in them, or am just telling myself that I do.
This started life as a comment on a FB post about this NYT article about trans students at all-female colleges.

My typical approach to gender is to treat people as the gender they consider themselves, regardless of their appearance or anatomy. From that perspective: if a school includes women it includes transgender women, and if it excludes men it excludes transgender men, unless it has an explicit policy of excluding or including students based on their transgender status, which as far as I know these schools don't.

Some thoughts that follow from that:

  1. I recognize that most of my culture has a different perspective... that to a first approximation, my culture treats people as the gender their biology matches most closely. And from that perspective if a school includes women it includes trans men, and if it excludes men it excludes trans women. And I recognize that my perspective denies transgender men a relatively safe space they would (and do) have with my culture's perspective.

    I regret that, and I endorse them having such a space. But I don't think women's-only colleges are obligated to provide it. (Of course, they can choose to, just like they can choose to provide such spaces to other demographics.)

  2. I recognize that neither of those perspectives describe everyone... these categories aren't mutually exclusive, and they certainly aren't jointly exhaustive, and their boundaries aren't crisp.

  3. I recognize that some particularly obnoxious men will pretend to be women if they think they can get away with it in order to violate a women-only admission policy.

    That's fraud and should be treated as such.

    If the problem is that the administration can't reliably tell the difference between transgender women and cisgender men, they should hire someone who can; evaluating incoming students is part of the school's job.

    If the problem is that nobody can reliably tell the difference between transgender women and cisgender men, I'm not sure what I want to say about that case.

  4. I recognize that there's a culture that such schools wish to foster which is indirectly associated with an all-female student body, and which expresses itself in terms of who gets to speak, how women exert power, and so forth.

    I endorse fostering that culture, and I endorse treating people as the gender they consider themselves.

    I further recognize that some people believe that including trans women as a group is inconsistent with that culture. I have no idea whether that belief is actually true, but if it is, then there's a conflict there. (Much as there would be if, say, German women as a group turned out to be "counterculture" in that way. Or various other demographic subgroups.)

    As usually happens around these kinds of intersectional relations in tension, I have conflicting feelings about this, which can roughly be summed up roughly as "don't support one oppressed group on the backs of another" (which to my mind both rejects including the "counterculture" demographic, which puts a burden on the larger community of women, and rejects excluding them, which puts a burden on them).

    In real life, given a tension like that, I endorse looking for a third option. Which I recognize is just dodging the hard part of the hypothetical question here.

    In the absence of a third option, I endorse putting the additional burden on the least burdened group (which, in the case of trans women and cis women, would be cis women).

  5. I recognize that some students react negatively, in some cases extremely so, to classmates whose anatomy and/or behavioral habits are conventionally male... for example, who don't want to share bathrooms with people with penises, whatever their gender and cultural conditioning.

    As do their parents, sometimes. (This concerns me less, but is pragmatically a real issue.)

    Basically I'm in the same boat as above here... there are (at least sometimes) genuine interests in conflict here. And I'm far more confused here about who the more burdened group is, so that guideline doesn't help me much. Mostly, I find myself looking even harder for a third option.

    In the absence of a third option, I'm not sure what I want to say about this.

I'm not especially comfortable with my thinking here, nor with this post, but it's where I am right now.


Oct. 15th, 2014

A friend asked for thoughts about this essay, so I started commenting on it before getting bored and wandering off. Captured here because it's long. I don't especially recommend reading the essay.

Many women are fed up with this, but is the whole thing “sexist”?

My alarm bells go off when people put words like that in scare quotes. I mean, I don't know if it's "sexist." I don't even know what the question means*. But if you're asking whether it's sexist... well, does it express or further the differential treatment of individuals based on their sex or gender?

Well, jeez, of course it does. Next question?

Well, it’s impossible and indeed wrong to say a whole industry is one thing or another.

Oh please. Of course it's possible to say a whole industry is one thing or another.

For example, the biotech industry is profitable. No, of course each individual piece of the biotech industry is not individually profitable; that isn't what anyone in the real world means by the statement. If that's not clear to the author, perhaps the author should stick to talking about simpler concepts.**

something that is created with the intention to titillate isn’t sexist. It only becomes so if it is held up as an expectation of how a gender should behave

Wait, what, who? Where did that come from?

This game is made by an all male development team, so it’s naturally going to cater to male tastes.

And we're not going to explore the mechanisms whereby the development team came to be all men, because Reasons. No, we just take that as a given, from which it "naturally" follows that it caters to male tastes, because men can't be expected to cater to female or human tastes... just like we can't expect women to raise sons.

None of that is sexist, just immature. It’s indulgence of male fantasy, designed by males for males.

OK, I'm done now. If you want me to take this kind of essay seriously, start with some sort of assertion of what it is you think sexism is, because as it stands it sounds like you're just making shit up.

* - Or, well, I hope I don't. Because what it sounds like it means is "Is the whole thing going to make feminists yell at me for this hypothetical thing they label "sexism" even though it doesn't really exist?" But leave that aside for now.

** - Though it's kind of two strikes now, because pretending to this sort of confusion is a common tactic of people who want to avoid talking about claims of systemic discrimination by pretending that they are equivalent to claims of universal discrimination by individuals. #notAllSophists
So, How to deal with me (or any INTJ) is making the rounds again.

This essay makes my teeth itch. (And I say this as someone who usually codes as INTJ.) This post started as a comment that got out of hand in response to it... I've probably written things much like it in years past.


The essay-writer describes his preferred style of interaction as:
  1. We have a rational debate.
  2. You present your arguments.
  3. I present my arguments.
  4. Your arguments are weak.
  5. My arguments are strong.
  6. You should be convinced.
  7. ...
  8. The universe is now in order.

This is an OK way to approach conversations about what's true about the world. Not great, but OK.

My basic problem with it can be summed up by the word "debate," which recurs over and over in the post.

Debate is (in its idealized form) an adversarial process, in which there are two opposed positions and each gets an advocate and whichever advocate presents the best arguments wins the debate.

That's fine. It's a fun game, and I totally get why people enjoy it. I enjoy it myself. I also enjoy Who's Got The Brain? and French Toast.

To believe, as the essay-writer does, that we have an obligation to debate all propositions... well, at best, that's just an arbitrary aesthetic preference, akin to insisting that we must start all social interactions with a game of French Toast. Nothing wrong with that, though it admittedly gets tedious after a while.

At worst, though, it's an expression of an implicit belief that the results of debate have some kind of moral significance... most often, that the position that wins a debate is truth, or perhaps Truth, and that's Good.

Which is just straight-up false. Debates are won by whoever does the best job of debating. Yes, advocating a position that happens to be true is an advantage, but by no means an overwhelming one. To treat debate as a method for obtaining truth (let alone Truth) is irrational.

So, what, then, the vole whose voice sounds an awful lot like this essay-writer's replies, we should just accept the Received Wisdom instead and be obedient little sheep?

An alternative to debate: discussion.

No. (And, incidentally, the rhetorical tricks and logical fallacies implicit in that question are a big part of the reason debate isn't a reliable method for arriving at truth.) That frequently works even more poorly.

But for example, consider:
  1. You present your reasoning.
  2. I present my reasoning.
  3. We each update our beliefs based on the novel reasoning we've been presented with.
  4. The universe is now in order.

... as an alternative.

This needn't be binary... lots of people can participate at once.

It needn't be adversarial. We might start out agreeing on something, and end up agreeing even more strongly (since each of us has discovered new reasons for believing it). We might start out disagreeing on something and end up disagreeing more strongly. Or less strongly. One of us might convince the other of our position. We might both be convinced of a third position. We might both be convinced that our initial position is false without having a new position to replace it.

I call it discussion, and consider it far superior to debate as far as games to play on a rainy afternoon. But it's not a reliable road to truth, either. (Let alone Truth.)

An alternative to debate: exchanging evidence.

If we're really interested in arriving at truth, we might want something more like:
  1. We make observations of the actual world.
  2. We assign confidence-levels to beliefs based on the evidence those observations provide.
  3. Where our confidence-levels differ, we share the observations that provide evidence.
  4. We each update our confidence-levels based on the novel evidence we've been presented with.
  5. The universe is now in order.

(Robert Aumann wrote a paper, "Agreeing to Disagree," in 1976 where he showed that certain kinds of reasoning systems that use a process like this sufficiently completely will necessarily converge on a common belief. I've never read the paper, but as I understand it, humans don't even come close to being the kind of reasoning systems for which that's true.)

Rationality vs. Ego.

There are plenty of other alternatives, and I'm not especially proposing these two. That last one, in particular, sounds incredibly tedious.

I mention these alternatives because they discard the adversarial aspect of debate, and I wanted to demonstrate that rationality does not at all depend on that adversarial aspect.

Backing up to the quoted process, I note point #6: "You should be convinced." About this, the essay-writer says:
Unfortunately, many people seem not comprehend step 6. If your arguments are not rational or do not make any sense and mine are rational, then you must yield. If you do not, then the world is not in order. Don’t you people want the world to be in order?!? It is very likely that you and I will not know each other very long if we cannot get past #6. [..] The bottom line is that I expect people to act in sane, logical and rational ways. When they don’t, it makes the entire system of human interaction break down.

Big talk, that. And simply false. The "discussion" procedure and the "Aumann agreement" procedure I describe above don't require step 6 or anything like it. The participants might change their minds or might not. They might come to agree with one of their opponents or they might not. And it's all perfectly rational and human interaction goes on quite happily.

The only thing that's lost is the ability to win debates.

Honestly, when people get as hung up on #6 as the essay-writer does, they lose a lot of credibility with me. I begin to suspect that they are being driven not by the need for everyone to behave in sane, logical ways, but rather by the need to win, to force others to acknowledge their superiority.

That's not how sanity or logic or rationality work.
That's how ego works.


Of course, this whole discussion so far has been about rational discourse and ways for it to arrive to ever-closer approximations to a reliable search for truth. (Or Truth.) If I'm phobic about cockroaches, the essay-writer wants to "debate" that... which is to say, he wants to treat my phobia as an expression of the proposition "cockroaches are dangerous" and debate that proposition. And then, once he's won the debate, he gets to expect that I will be convinced that cockroaches aren't dangerous... which is to say, that my phobia will go away.

This is, of course, nonsense.

And the reason it's nonsense is because my phobia isn't (exclusively) an expression of that proposition, so convincing me that the proposition is false won't affect the phobia at all. Among the other things my phobia is is an emotional structure. And the essay-writer doesn't give a fuck about emotions. He's very explicit about this over and over... emotions just don't matter.

To which my response, roughly, is "Oh yeah? Well Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!" ("Enemy Mine" reference. Watch the movie; you had to be there.)

More politely... look, it's a free country. He doesn't have to value my property rights, as long as he stays the fuck off my land. He doesn't have to value my continued survival as long as he keeps his hands off me. He doesn't have to value my emotional wellbeing as long as he doesn't ever talk to me.

But if he expects to be allowed to handle something I value, he'd damned well better be prepared to treat it as though it were valuable.

More on being an individual.

In a recent conversation inspired by this post, a friend of mine suggested instead throwing out all the cultural narratives and approaching all people as unique individuals and presenting myself as a unique individual.

And in the abstract, that sounds good to me. When I try to approach it concretely, though, I realize I'm not at all sure how to do that.

I mean, it's relatively easy for me to throw out outgroup narratives by adopting the mainstream/majority narrative... at least, in cases where there's no obvious visible marker of outgroup status, like skin color in the US... but of course that's not the same thing at all.

For example, when I lived in Brazil for a while, I often noticed how my interactions with people there were conditioned by the group identity "US American", both in how it influenced other people's treating me, and in how it influenced my own behavior. Back in the States I don't think much about the "US American" group identity, because it's so ubiquitous as to go unnoticed... but it's still there, and I expect it's still informing my behavior and perceptions and treatment.

By contrast, the queer and Jewish and Hispanic identities are easy to notice in the US, because they're outgroup identities to the mainstream.

And I can imagine "throwing out" those outgroup narratives, but what I imagine happening if I do that is not that I replace them with a greater sense of my own individuality (either in my own perception, or anyone else's), but simply that I replace them with a more mainstream cultural narrative. E.g., when I don't present as Hispanic in the US (which I mostly don't, since I'm fair-skinned and speak without a trace of Hispanic accent), it's not so much that I'm seen as a group-identity-less individual, as it is that I'm seen as White. When I don't present as queer, I'm seen as straight. When I don't present as Jewish, I'm seen as Christian. And so on.

So... I dunno. Maybe that's just a limitation of my imagination, or of my skill set. Maybe if I worked at it I could reach a point where I don't see myself and am not seen as Hispanic or White, as queer or straight, as Jewish or mainstream Christian, but simply as an individual unaffected by all of those cultural narratives, both in my own thinking and in how I'm thought about by others.

That seems really unlikely to me, but of course the benefits of a skill set I haven't yet mastered often feel unlikely, so that's not definitive. More troubling is that I'm not sure I know anyone who has mastered it... but then again, maybe I just don't notice it when I see it.

So... well, OK, that's a possible answer to the question I asked.

On the other hand, maybe "adopt a mainstream cultural identity instead" is actually what we're talking about here in the first place.

Or maybe there's some confusion between the two... that's easy enough, since mainstream cultural identities tend to be difficult to observe in the first place. "Straight" is only visible as an identity because "queer" exists; in the absence of the latter, we'd no more notice a "straight" cultural identity than we notice a "mammalian" cultural identity.

So perhaps the idea is that adopting a mainstream identity isn't really "adopting an identity" at all, it's just "being an individual," since identities we don't notice don't matter?

Regardless... it's certainly true that when I do that thing, however we label it, other members of the mainstream are more likely to pay attention to my individual rather than group attributes. And I did start all this by asking how I can encourage being seen as an individual rather than an instance of a group, and while I didn't particularly mean "being seen (by the mainstream) as an individual," that's certainly a significant subset. (And the more people who adopt this strategy, the more significant it becomes.)

That's logistically difficult for "queer," admittedly, unless I want to stop being seen in public with my husband... though perhaps not as difficult as all that. I'm reminded of the staff of a local diner I frequent who spent years believing earthling177 and I were brothers, for example.

And in any case, it's easy enough for "Hispanic" and "Jewish" (funny, I don't look Jewish).

So... well, that's another answer to the question I asked.

National Coming Out Day

I ran out of new things to say about National Coming Out Day years ago, so I will continue my tradition of recycling the Dave's Sexual Orientation Greatest Hits:

Out! (
Coming out...(
Coming out, and coming back (
The queer agenda, part N of M. (


Another shooting death in MO.

I'm writing this because accounts are pretty fragmented and I'm trying to keep track of the stories in a coherent way.

Not linking to anything just yet. But as I understand it, there are two versions of the story right now:

1) Police version: Vonderitt Myers was one of three teenagers who ran away when a uniformed off-duty police officer in a car made a U-turn. The officer (who was working a private security shift at the time) pursued, at first in the car and then on foot. Myers jumped the officer and they struggled. Myers then pulled out a gun and fired at the officer 3 times, missing each time, before his gun jammed. The officer fired back 17 times, killing Myers with at least one of those shots.

2) Community version: Vonderitt Myers was one of three teenagers who ran away and was pursued by a police officer. Myers was unarmed. The officer stunned Myers with a taser, then fired 17 bullets, killing Myers with at least one of those shots. The officer then threatened witnesses.

According to Charles Jaco:
MO Courts CaseNet system shows a Vonderrit D. Myers was convicted last Aug. of unlawful use of weapon, resisting arrest=ankle bracelet.

I'm told that 17 bullets is the magazine capacity of a standard-issue Glock, and that emptying the magazine when firing one's gun at all is SOP.

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