Quoridor on Board Games Arena

I doubt this will be of interest to any of my readers, but I’ve always dabbled in abstract games (I own a small site about cooperative abstract games) and I’ve recently gotten into this excellent game called Quoridor. It’s very simple but has a great deal of depth and strategy. I’ve also been trying out another game called Gyges.

If you ever want to try it out, it’s at Board Games Arena. My nickname there is Hierophant.

The impossibility of “canceling out” suffering and pleasure.

Two items here. First, a quote from Benatar discussing why we can’t “cancel” out good and bad to give a hedonistic evaluation of a human life. Then, a link that further disproves the point.

“How well or badly a life goes depends not simply on how much good or bad there is, but also on other considerations- most prominently considerations about how that good and bad is distributed.

One such consideration is the order of the good and bad. For instance, a life in which all the good occured in the first half, and uninterrupted bad characterized the second half, would be a lot worse than one in which the good and bad were more evenly distributed. This is true even if the total amount of good and bad were the same in each life. Similarly, a life of steadily inclining achievement and satisfaction is preferable to one that starts out bright in the very earliest years but gets progressively worse. The amount of good and bad in each of these alternative lives may be the same, but the trajectory can make one life better than the other.

Another distributional consideration is the intensity of the good and the bad. A life in which the pleasures were extraordinarily intense but correspondingly few, infrequent, and short-lived might be worse than a life with the same total amount of pleasure but where the individual pleasures were less intense and more frequently distributed across the life. However, pleasures and other goods can also be distributed too widely within a life, thereby making them so mild as to be barely distinguishable from neutral states. A life so characterized might be worse than one in which there were a few more noticeable ‘highs.’

A third way in which the distribution of good and bad within a life can affect that life’s quality derives from the length of life. To be sure, the length of life will interact dynamically with the quantity of good and bad. A long life with very little good would have to be characterized by significant quantities of bad, if only because the absence of sufficient good over such long periods would create tedium- a bad. Nevertheless, we can imagine lives of somewhat unequal length that share the same quantity of good and of bad. One life might have more neutral features, sufficiently evenly distributed over the life not to affect the quantity of good or bad. In such cases, one might plausibly judge the longer life to be better (if the life is of sufficient quality to be worth continuing) or worse (if it is not).

There is a further (non-distributional) consideration that can affect an assessment of a life’s quality. Arguably, once a life reaches a certain threshold of badness (considering both the amount and the distribution of its badness), no quantity of good can outweigh it, because no amount of good could be worth that badness. It is just this assessment that Donald (‘Dax’) Cowart made of his own life- or at least of that part of his life following a gas explosion that burnt two-thirds of his body. He refused extremely painful, life-saving treatment, but the doctors ignored his wishes and treated him nonetheless. His life was saved, he achieved considerable success, and he reattained a satisfactory quality of life. Yet, he continued to maintain that these post-burn goods were not worth the costs of enduring the treatments to which he was subjected. No matter how much good followed his recovery, this could not outweigh, at least in his own assessment [the only assessment that matters], the bad of the burns and treatment that he experienced.”

Better Never to Have Been, chapter 3

Now look at this entry from Suicide Treatise. The basic argument is, if we accept this “canceling out” process and that this somehow validates the harms of procreation, then why not do this for any other crime? Why don’t natalists take it to its logical extent and permit assault, theft or rape if an equivalent good is given to the victim? And if not, why is it okay for the harms of procreation but not any other creation of harm?

Bourgeois Defense Mechanisms.

Being privileged is an uncomfortable position. People are made to feel like they are responsible for the victimization of other groups. Coupled with the fact that privilege is invisible, the privileged are made to feel guilty for something they believe does not really exist. This is a position which must elicit some response.

The most obvious response is to try to claim the higher ground of victimhood and project the violence of one’s privileged group onto the victimized group. Because this is a reaction mainly based on hatred, this is the reaction of more aggressive people. I have written about this in earlier entries, and I have nothing new to add about it.

The other response is to defend one’s own ego and deflect blame by adopting a “progressive” ideology or taking “progressive” actions, which “proves” that one cannot be blamed (“I’m not part of the problem, I’m helping!”) and that their privilege is no longer relevant. These ideologies have a great variety of theoretical purposes, and people who follow them do not explicitly believe that they are using a defense mechanism.

* Social justice movement and hashtag movements: These Internet movements have arisen recently, with seemingly good intentions. They give Internet users the feeling that they’re doing something, anything, to help resolve a social or international issue. In reality, such movements not only don’t actually accomplish anything except occupy space on the Internet, but they can also potentially be damageable.

Although it is not an ideology or a movement, I think the phenomenon of tone policing is in some way related to these. A lot of social justice on the Internet seems to consist of tone policing and reframings of very personal issues (like sexuality and gender), which makes it simultaneously profoundly offensive and silencing.

* Positive thinking movement, self-help movement, New Age movement: Superficially, again, these movements seem like they are powerful agents for change. They promise you the Moon (become the best you you can be! get the kind of life you want! evolve to a higher plane of existence!) and portray themselves as the ultimate solution to social problems.

But from a radical standpoint, there are fundamental problems with any “solution” which concentrates on individuality. Social problems cannot have individual solutions because individual action cannot change the institutions which (through various social constructs and their concrete implementation) are the cause of those problems.

Another fundamental problem is that such ideologies ultimately amount to blaming the victim, and institutional causes are ignored. If your life is not as good as you wish, it’s your fault for not being positive enough. The hardships in your life are the result of your lack of evolution. Got fired? Got raped? Got imprisoned? The institutions have nothing to do with it, you just need to learn from these events and become a better person. You are responsible for your own hardships.

At this point, the “solution” actually becomes part of the problem. The more we concentrate on ourselves, the less we are able to change the actual agents in society that harm and exploit people. Nourishing the ego in such an introverted fashion ultimately means hurting the world.

I would also include Buddhism in this category, if the practitioner becomes a Buddhist for selfish reasons.

* Charity: There is no easier recipe to feeling like you’re doing your part than to throw some money at a charity. But the emphasis on charity turns welfare into an individual endeavor, and diverts attention from political solutions. As Janet Poppendieck discusses in Sweet Charity?: Emergency Food and the End of Entitlement, charity is necessary to alleviate poverty in the absence of political engagement, but it is a time and energy trap for the providers and for the donors, making real solutions impossible to achieve:

There is a little of Wenceslas in most of us. We, too, “find blessing” in exerting ourselves on behalf of the poor, especially if we can simultaneously prevent waste. And we, too, have become distracted by these labors from challenges that urgently require our attention. This is what might be called the “Wenceslas syndrome,” the process by which the joys and demands of personal charity divert us from more fundamental solutions to the problems of deepening poverty and growing inequality, and the corresponding process by which the diversion of our efforts leaves the way wide open to those who want more inequality, not less. The Wenceslas syndrome is not just something that happens to individuals and groups that become deeply involved in charitable activity; it is a collective process that affects our entire society as charity replaces entitlements and charitable endeavor replaces politics.

* Liberal feminism, sex-positivity, trans genderism: Here I am talking mostly about men, since they are the ones with privilege where gender is concerned. Men call themselves “feminists” and “sex-positive” in order to show that they are on the side of women and that they oppose the objectification and exploitation of women, but these ideologies are individualistic, promote objectification, and exploit female bodies and “consent.”

It’s been proven by studies that men who insert themselves into female-dominated fields are given more attention, and I think this is also true of liberal feminism. In practice, many men adopt feminism as a way to attract women or as a rape blanket; by the latter, I mean an opportunity to rape a woman without losing the support of other women because they are ostensibly “feminists” and “one of the good guys” (a real “good guy” wouldn’t claim to be a “feminist” and wouldn’t talk over women’s voices in the first place).

* Cultural relativism: Of all the ideologies I list here, relativism is perhaps the one that’s closest to the “hate” side of the scale. Certainly there is something very hateful to posit that an individual who’s victimized by a cultural practice is not “really” a victim and that we (meaning, Westerners) should just accept all cultural practices, including those who entail harm or death to innocent people.

But I think that in some way relativism does bolster their ego as well. There is something attractively self-righteous in the notion that we should just accept the practices of other cultures and stop criticizing. It feels respectful and right, and makes the person appear as if they support the self-determination of other cultures against imperialist conceits.

The problem comes when we actually look at real acts happening in the world. Acts are not done on cultures, they are done on individuals. And when we look at the fact that cultural relativism is telling us that the suffering of actual people is irrelevant because their culture has authorized it, then we can see how much hatred is hidden behind the self-righteousness.

So unlike the other ideologies on this list, the problem with cultural relativism is not its vulgar individualism but rather its complete inability to confront individuality. It does not propose absurdly individualistic solutions; rather, it proposes doing absolutely nothing because it refuses to acknowledge that there is any problem. In this, again, it is more similar to the hate ideologies than the ego ideologies.

Since I am now mentioning hate ideologies, let me talk about a few of them. Most of the ideologies on this list has a “hateful” counterpart (I can’t think of any specific counterpart for the social justice movement):

* Conservatism (hardships are your fault, you deserve no help) for positive thinking/self-help (hardships can be alleviated by thinking right, you can help yourself).
* Capitalism (social problems will either be solved by the free market or should not be solved) for charity (poverty can be alleviated by you giving money or time).
* MRAs and anti-feminism in general (it is in the natural order of things for women to be oppressed) for liberal feminism and sex-positivity (choosing to be oppressed is freedom).
* Imperialism (we must impose our culture on others) for cultural relativism (we cannot criticize any culture).

You may note that, except for the last point, there appears to be few differences between my comparative descriptions. Indeed, one of my points here is that while these hate and ego ideologies may superficially be seen as opposites, they really are complementary.

So you’ve got positive thinking coming straight off American religious conservatism (see the book Bright Sided for the history of this). You’ve got charity being used by a wide range of (money-raking) religions, businesses, and umbrella organizations to justify their existence. You’ve got the genderists from the right and the genderists from the left basically playing from the same pro-pornography, pro-prostitution, pro-gender roles, pro-rape playbook (in both cases the objective is the protection of male privilege, but for different reasons). And finally, the belief that there is no right or wrong can only lead to the rule of force (because who’s to say that force is bad?).

I am not saying that these ideologies are always used as defense mechanisms. I am also not saying that people can’t hold to one without the other. Obviously you can be into positive thinking or self-help without being a conservative, or a sex-positive advocate without being explicitly anti-feminist. My point is not that these things are the same, but that from a general radicalist standpoint they are adjacent and self-reinforcing pieces of the same puzzle.

If you look again at the three stages of reasoning, I think “hate” ideologies align with the reactionary stage, “ego” ideologies with the libertarian stage, and radicalism with the liberationist stage. And this makes a lot of sense: reactionary ideologies generate hatred for people who don’t keep the party line and hierarchical inferiors, while libertarian individualism massages the ego.

Individualistic ideologies have two facets to their individualism. First, which I’ve discussed extensively as regards to voluntaryism, is the evaluations of actions as if they exist in a vacuum (divorced from any social context, historical context, class theory, or consequences). Second is that the individual is sold on the idea that his or her personal actions are powerful and that individual action can affect social problems (and by extension that failure to resolve one’s problems is the result of individual failure). The latter is what interests us here.

As always, the radicalist response is, as in the three stages of reasoning, that the evil principled stance of the reactionaries and the mindless individualism of the libertarians are the equally incorrect thesis and antithesis which provide a springboard for integrated, systemic reasoning. The radicalist position is both principled and freedom-seeking, but unlike both alternatives it states that social problems cannot be resolved without seeking knowledge about the facts of the matter. The typical reactionary stance is that there are no facts of the matter, only allegiances and inter-subjective truths, and the typical libertarian stance is that facts are irrelevant: both are mired in the subjectivist viewpoint (either that belief creates reality, or a complete refusal to confront reality).

In this entry I did not mention much of religion or politics, although they are an important part of bourgeois defense mechanisms as well. Perhaps this will be a topic for a future entry.

Goliath

Welcome to the Manosphere, have a fedora.

Drew Fairweather, of Toothpaste for Dinner, also writes for Something Awful. In this entry, he talks about the requirements of becoming a member of the Manosphere.

MISANDRY! That’s the word for the imaginary phenomenon of unfair bias against Alpha Men such as the ones we’ve seen here, and it’s the premise of Men On Strike, a book that claims that American society is anti-male. Not only does it claim that mens’ lives in 2014 are patently unfair, it also suggests that women’s suffrage should be reversed, and that abortion and birth control are unfair because men have no say in whether women use them. It does all this under the banner of “Men’s Rights Advocacy,” an Internet-based complaint topic that’s picked up a small but devoted following in the past few years.

Becoming a homemaker is NOT as valid as actually helping society.

Amy Glass questions why we celebrate breeding and homemaking so much and devalue women who do actual important things in the world (unfortunately she seems to suffer from the disease known as “I’m not a feminist, I just think that…”).

Having kids and getting married are considered life milestones. We have baby showers and wedding parties as if it’s a huge accomplishment and cause for celebration to be able to get knocked up or find someone to walk down the aisle with. These aren’t accomplishments, they are actually super easy tasks, literally anyone can do them. They are the most common thing, ever, in the history of the world. They are, by definition, average. And here’s the thing, why on earth are we settling for average?

If women can do anything, why are we still content with applauding them for doing nothing?

I want to have a shower for a woman when she backpacks on her own through Asia, gets a promotion, or lands a dream job not when she stays inside the box and does the house and kids thing which is the path of least resistance. The dominate cultural voice will tell you these are things you can do with a husband and kids, but as I’ve written before, that’s a lie. It’s just not reality.

Ask a Question 7

I have three questions this time. That’s 1.5 times the usual levels of FUN!

***

Name: ondrea
Comment: is the world today more towards a culture of life,or towards a culture of death ,and why?

That’s a complicated question because the terms can be used in many different ways. From an antinatalist standpoint, we can meaningfully say that we live in a culture of life, in the sense that people do not question the necessity to create new human beings and the assertion that sentient life is worth preserving. From another standpoint, I’ve written an entry about how we live in a culture of death, in the sense that we are desensitized to death, preach death, have death-oriented religions, and want to stamp out all that’s vital in children.

So it’s really a matter of the metaphorical aspect you’re using when you’re using the terms “life” and “death.”

***

Name: Louise
Comment: Hi -

First of all I really like your posts on sex positivism and couldn’t agree with you more!

I’m also interested in your opinions on anti-natalism – would you mind elaborating on your stance a little? I’m working towards a PhD on motherhood and I know very little about this movement – would love to know more.

Thanks and all the best,
Louise

Your question was not very specific, so I don’t really know what you want me to clarify. I’ve written quite a bit on the subject. For a sort of introduction-level reading, I would recommend the following:

A little lexicon: childfree, antinatalist, efilist.
Making the case for antinatalism.

Please don’t hesitate to ask me another question if you want to get into more specific issues.

***

Name: Ethan
Comment: Hello there. Awhile ago a friend had linked me to your work that was discussing critique of radical feminism from a transgender persons perspective. It’s my understanding that some radical feminists or “TERFS” as they’re commonly called, don’t believe that transgendered women can rightly claim womanhood. Could you elaborate more on your position in relation to this? I understand that gender is purely a social construct, but I don’t understand what’s inherently wrong about choosing to make your biological sex match up to what’s in your head, or as Gloria Steinem says “making the shoe fit” and I don’t understand why we shouldn’t ally ourselves with transgender people in the struggle against patriarchy. I condemn people like Cathy Brennan that actively seek to stand in the way of transgender rights, but it also seems that the word “TERF” is often used as a snarl world to dismiss legitimate points such as biological femaleness being an integral part of women’s oppression. Could you offer some clarity or insight into this issue?

I do have entries on this term “TERF” and criticizing trans genderist arguments coming later, but I will answer your question in general terms.

You say “some” radical feminists are TERFs (although you should be aware that the term “TERF” is used as a slur most of the time), but this is incorrect. All radical feminists are against gender to some degree and must therefore be TERFs, because the concept of “trans inclusion” necessarily means acceptance of the doctrine of trans genderism in toto- including the belief that gender does dictate behavior, and that people who act in ways incompatible with their gender must switch to the other gender for their behavior to agree with their gender.

This is why your statement that we should all ally with transgender people against patriarchy doesn’t make any sense. Trans genderism is just another form of genderism and is no more liberatory for women than traditional genderism (patriarchy).

You also refer to “make your biological sex match up to what’s in your head.” The latter is the concept of innate gender, which is a construct made up by trans genderists, as I’ve discussed here. I honestly don’t care what transgender people do with their own bodies, and they can adjust their bodies to fit some imaginary mental gender if they want to. I no more begrudge them that right than I begrudge a religious person’s right to worship the god they feel exists in their “hearts.” But that does not confer any obligation upon any feminist to recognize gender as valid, any more than revelation confers any obligation upon atheists to recognize God as real. And most importantly, I also recognize that both the religious believer’s feelings and the transgender person’s feelings are heavily conditioned by society: they did not appear out of nowhere or out of some hidden part of their brain.

The primordial issue is protecting women’s spaces. That is a vital issue because women’s spaces are absolutely necessary for feminism to advance, and that’s always been true historically. People who are born and socialized as men do not understand male privilege (unless they make the effort to listen to women and understand their position, which is something very few men ever attempt) and should not participate in feminist dialogue. Most transwomen believe that, by becoming transwomen, they are automatically entitled to the status of woman, while retaining their socialization as men.

You will note that most treatments of this issue, even the more serious treatments of the issue by transgender people, do not discuss socialization, because they have no ready answer to it (except the very weak gambit of “but we’re all raised differently,” which is not denied by the framework of socialization anyway). I am aware that such treatments do exist, however, and I intend to address them at a later time.

As an anti-genderist, I don’t believe in the validity of “womanhood,” and neither do most radical feminists, so this is not a concern. The issue of whether transwomen are “really women” or not diverts attention from the fact that they were socialized as men, which is the real issue. On that issue, I definitely think they were socialized as men: that’s an undeniable fact. On the other hand, transmen were socialized as women, which is why they are considered part of women-only spaces.

***

“Communism has been tried, and failed!”

A common, popular line of argumentation against communism (some might say, the end of all discussion about communism) holds that communism has been tried and failed, so we shouldn’t talk or think about it any longer.

I guess what we’re butting against here is good ol’ pragmatism. As for any other pragmatic argument, we must first ask: on what standard(s) are we to evaluate whether it “failed”?

If the standard for “failed” is that it no longer exists, well, communism still exists in some places, therefore communism has not yet “failed.”

If the standard for “failed” is that it does not raise the standard of living for people (by which I mean not just economically but socially as well), then communism “succeeded,” because it did raise the standard of living in the USSR. Indeed, when communism ended, the standard of living dropped.

If the standard for “failed” is that it has killed millions of people, then capitalism and democracy have also “failed.” The Black Book of Communism states that 94 million people died due to communism (a questionable claim in itself); the estimates of capitalism’s death toll is estimated at one billion plus, not counting all the deaths caused by neo-liberalism around the world. But who’s counting?

Is it that communism was “defeated”? Well, democracy in Ancient Greece was defeated by the Roman Empire, so democracy is a “failed” system and we should not talk about it any more. We should immediately replace all democratic governments with autocratic governments. Right? Well obviously that doesn’t work, because democracy is “good.”

What about Christianity? Christianity is responsible for countless deaths, including the Inquisition, the native american genocide, and the persecution of the Jews. Christian doctrines were used to fight against measures which raised the standard of living for all, including abolitionism, feminism, gay rights, abortion, and so on. Christianity, as an ideology, reforms itself very slowly and is always behind the times.

Granted, Christianity has not been defeated yet. It is still very much a force for evil around the world. But it will not survive forever (unless we exterminate each other in the centuries to come).

The fact is that no system of thought is eternal. And how do we deal with transformation and renewals? Capitalism and democracy have both gone through a number of iterations, adapting to the exigencies of successive eras (e.g. classical liberalism, imperialism, fascism). So has anarchism, for that matter.

Anarchism of course has been suppressed by States on many occasions and therefore has “failed.” But it still exists, has raised the standard of living for people whenever it has been put into operation, and has not killed as many people as either capitalism or communism. So by these standards, anarchism is more “successful.”

But either way, what does it matter? Pragmatism is not a fair standard of evaluation of anything, because, as in this case, it is based on some implicit, unquestioned standard of “working.” People want to talk about communism being a “failure” as a way to shut down discussion about it. It connects with our mainstream desire for “success” in all domains: who wants to be associated with “losers”? Radicals are less likely to care about “success” or “failure” and to care more about ethical principles.

I would go beyond the principle that no system of thought is eternal, and say that no principle at all (including this one!) is eternal. A principle may be formulated to hold true in a wide variety of contexts, but it is generally not made to be true in all possible contexts. This is true even in science, where even the most stable principles of physics break down near Planck time.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 196 other followers