For the sake of abstract future benefits

I’m reading a piece by Paul Bloom in the Boston Review arguing that empathy is a bad thing. I say it in the present tense because I haven’t finished yet; I stopped to argue with something he said, before finishing the whole thing, because I feel like it. If I were reading it offline I would do the same thing in a notebook. (So it will probably turn out that he answers the question, but I want to say anyway.)

Most people see the benefits of empathy as akin to the evils of racism: too obvious to require justification. I think this is a mistake. I have argued elsewhere that certain features of empathy make it a poor guide to social policy. Empathy is biased; we are more prone to feel empathy for attractive people and for those who look like us or share our ethnic or national background. And empathy is narrow; it connects us to particular individuals, real or imagined, but is insensitive to numerical differences and statistical data. [Read more...]

Talented mediocrity

Will Self says Orwell was a talented mediocrity.

The curious thing is that while during the post-war period we’ve had many political leaders, we’ve got by with just a single Supreme Mediocrity – George Orwell.

I don’t doubt characterising Orwell as a talented mediocrity will put noses out of joint. Not Orwell, surely! Orwell the tireless campaigner for social justice and economic equality; Orwell the prophetic voice, crying out in the wartime wilderness against the dangers of totalitarianism and the rise of the surveillance state; Orwell, who nobly took up arms in the cause of Spanish democracy, then, equally nobly, exposed the cause’s subversion by Soviet realpolitik; Orwell, who lived in saintly penury and preached the solid virtues of homespun Englishness; Orwell, who died prematurely, his last gift to the people he so admired being a list of suspected Soviet agents he sent to MI5.

Orwell who wrote decent, readable, but far from brilliant prose. Yes, that Orwell. [Read more...]

It was finally time to “do the right thing”

The BBC News Magazine has a longish piece by Shaimaa Khalil about not wearing hijab then wearing it then not wearing it and now wearing it again – in which, bizarrely, she never mentions the actual (and obvious) gender politics of it. It’s just a religious requirement or duty that she either accepts or doesn’t accept, but the content of the requirement/duty is left out.

She talks about photos from the 50s and 60s that speak volumes about social change in Egypt.

There they are in short-sleeved dresses, impeccably cinched at the waist. The dresses of some of the younger ones actually stopped well above the knee. And the hair! [Read more...]

Different rules for different f00ts

Oh looky here, what do you know – Phil “Thunderf00t” Mason who thinks Anita Sarkeesian is lying about getting threats for the sake of “PR” – that Phil Mason posting in October 2011 about threats he gets.

October 8 for instance.

So here I am at the Texas Freethought convention, where I’ve met for the first time Matt Dillahunty from the Atheist Experience, and been having a great time with folks such as Aronra (also met in person for the first time) and many others when I get email from the infamous ‘crying muslim’ (dawahfilms).  He STILL seems to be operating under the delusion that universities base their hiring and firing policies based on how much a v. whiney pussy complains about how someone explained to him that his religion made him both behave like an ass, and why his religion was evidently stupid.  The baffling thing is he seems to think that I will be intimidated by his delusions.

And October 11. [Read more...]

Guest post: Percept and its related concepts

Originally a comment by Brony on We’re adept at masking inconsistencies from ourselves.

percepts [the object of perception]

That word. Percept and its related concepts have been invaluable to me in getting an understanding of how brains and minds unify with respect to human behavior. When I consider that word a whirlwind of brain anatomy, journal articles, psychology and sociology stream through my thoughts. It’s so relevant to unifying how emotion, reason, logic, what is in perception, and resulting system one and two responses operate in a functional, real-world sense. The picture is not complete but so many useful pieces are already there.

[Read more...]

Smart marketing, good business

Dave Futrelle is getting death threats for blogging about the death threats sent to Anita Sarkeesian. Meta-death threats. Second order death threats. Death threats to punish exposure of death threats.

And if this is what my inbox looks like for merely writing about Sarkeesian, I can only imagine what her inbox looks like. I suspect she gets threats like these all the time; the reason she called the police about several of the threats she got this week is that the threateners posted her personal information as well.

But, according to some observers, it’s your own fault, and her own fault. You should both shut up about them, because. [Read more...]