You too can be a creep with this handy device

A new campaign on crowd-funding site, IndieGogo, seems to be doing well. From March 19 until today (March 31), it has managed to raise $8,171 (US), which is eight times the original goal. What is this important project people are furiously throwing money at? It’s none other than a creepy little camera device to take pictures of non-consenting adults (i.e. without their knowledge), who are more than likely in vulnerable positions!

Please welcome the Spy Cam Peek-I!

You know how you’ve always wanted to take pictures of people, but were afraid they’d get angry because you didn’t ask their permission? What weirdos, amirite? Sheesh! All you want to do is take advantage of their current state, record it and do gods-know-what with your image of this stranger. Why are they being so paranoid? Do they think they’re Edward Snowden or something?

Yes: apparently “discreet” is cool, not creepy or potentially harmful.

Let’s examine what this item is doing exactly.

no one will ever know you were the ONE who took THAT picture or film THAT video!!! So do you feel like James Bond yet?

Sweet. It’s not like people – particularly women – suffer massively from having pictures circulating the web, without their consent, potentially damaging their reputations, their loved ones and their lives because of aggressive ex’s, stalkers, etc. Luckily, every person who takes a picture of a non-consenting person is a good-hearted, perfectly good individual – who knows exactly what will happen when he uploads those pics!

Good thing it can’t be used to look at people entering passwords, pins, etc., too. Haha! No, it’s good fun! Calm down.

Do I feel like James Bond? You mean like a creepy person who is aggressive toward women? YEAH, I DO! THANKS!

Make awesome shots of your friends, completely unaware that they were on camera!!!

I already hate it when they do that. Why would I be ok with them doing it with your invisible device? Why would they be ok with it? If you’re saying I shouldn’t care about my friends’ feelings regarding photographs, then the problem is your device – not my respect for others’ autonomy.

Don’t scare your astonishing award winning picture away! Peek-I is there for you!

I assume you mean the target of your picture, not the picture itself. And that you might scare someone away is probably a reason to reconsider whether it’s a good thing to take that picture. Oh, those pesky morals!

Surely, every one of you was in a situation where it would be nice to take a picture, but…
Not comfortable to do it!
Therefore, you pretend to do something on your device, and at the same time trying to capture the desired scene with device’s camera.

And of course just because we want to do something, we should have all the tools available to do so. I really want every first edition of Dostoevsky: will someone start an Indiegogo campaign to give me the tools to break in to various museums and literary archives to obtain them? But… but why? I really want them! And apparently it’s sufficient justification for people to make tools to see any desires met. Like taking picture of non-consenting others, for example!

Again: that people feel uncomfortable both taking pictures and, importantly, not wanting their picture taken is a sign maybe… maaaaaybe something is not right with the situation. Maybe the problem is your creepy desire, not the negation of it.

Only a few of us have the courage to openly take pictures of other people or objects, at times it’s merely impossible.

Er, people seem very willing to ask others. There might be hesitation because of personalities and so on, but presumably you could just ask. If you can’t ask, then that doesn’t give you free licence to just take the picture.

You can also get great shots of weirdoes walking down the street right next to you, without them realizing what you are doing.

Yeah. Those damned “weirdoes” and their weirdness. Let’s photograph and laugh at how stupid they look. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with laughing at strangers, mocking them, sticking their face all over the Internet: it’s not like they have feelings, loved ones, or careers. Nope: they’re just there for us to laugh at. If they didn’t want to be photographed, they should stop being weirdos!

And here comes the obvious one.

Want a picture of your secret crush? You can make that happen and your crush won’t even think you are stalking him or her, because you will be looking in a different direction

Did you know creepy behaviour is negated by looking in another direction! Wow! That’s amazing! Tell me more, Gandalf.

Just because you don’t get caught doing a crime, doesn’t mean you didn’t still do a crime. Similarly, just because someone doesn’t catch you being stalkerish and creepy doesn’t mean you aren’t. Indeed, a problem we have is that people refuse to believe they’re capable of creepy, stalkerish, harassing behaviour. This seems particularly the case with men.

Also that’s a helluva way to become “closer” to your crush (Indeed: I’m not sure such a person should be with a partner, if they treat people without regard to consent.)

Throughout the campaign page, they demonstrate exactly what you should and can use it for. I don’t know about the legality of pictures, so have a look at my two screencaps on my Twitter page: here and here. The first shows the device being used to photograph down a woman’s top; the second shows the device being used to capture a picture under the table, aimed at a woman’s legs, while she’s wearing a skirt.

OK. Let that sink in: on the page proudly promoting this device are two images showing exactly what you can do with it. I imagine that the majority of women would not be OK with having such pictures taken of them, without their consent. Or maybe I’m just a “weirdo” that should be photographed too?

But here comes the best part. After all this – all of this – comes this sentence:

If you want to take sneaky pictures of people without them knowing, this is the way to do it. Just don’t be creepy about it.

Excuse me?

Just don’t be creepy about it.

What?

Just don’t be creepy about it.

How…?

Just don’t be creepy about it.

But…

Just don’t be creepy about it.

You…

Just don’t be creepy about it.

No…

Just don’t be creepy about it.

WHAT?

This… Ok. Wait. You’re basically saying the following:

HEY GUYS: HERE’S A DOLL WITH ONE TORN EYE, COVERED IN BLOOD, AND EVERY FIVE MINUTES, IT WHISPERS “I AM BECOME DEATH, DESTROYER OF WORLDS” – YOU SHOULD TOTALLY GET IT. BUT DON’T CREEP PEOPLE OUT WITH IT!

You’ve designed a device that is the epitome of creepiness but telling people not to be creepy or invasive? How? What?

Throughout this, I’m not asking for this device to be banned – I don’t know what the ramifications will be. There is certainly an argument to be made if people/most likely women will be violated in their personal space. I can’t see what good reason there is to own such a device beyond mere “fun”. And yet such a minor benefit doesn’t measure up against potential harms that could occur, considering that anyone can own these.

I don’t know what the solution is. What I do know is that I want this device to have never existed; for such actions to not gain such support; for creepshots of women not to be part of advertising a device, without raising any concerns (for IndieGogo, commenters, etc.). I don’t pretend to speak for anyone, least of all women. And I’m not against adults wanting sexy pictures to be taken, to have it distributed – but that can be done with full consent and acknowledgment of such people as persons and them willingly doing so. But we should not be so casual or dismissive of people’s autonomy – especially when it comes to creating environment and scenarios where an invasion of privacy is treated as a joke and unimportant.

I apologise for frequent posts on sexism, but I they just seem to be in my radar. And I won’t have only supporters of creepy devices having their voices heard when it comes to such actions, behaviours, attitudes and items.

The ethics of animals in captivity

At Big Think, I examine what surrounds the morality of keeping animals in captivity: of course, that’s already a somewhat loaded phrase, but for the sake of brevity I just equated that with anything involving animals being in an enclosed “smaller” area (than the normal habitat), by humans.

I’m not convinced all captivity is always wrong – but that doesn’t mean all are or most. Primarily, I want to untangle automatic assumptions that become definitions: that is, by definition x is wrong, when that is not clearly defined; or where there are instances of “black swans” in terms of these topics.

On mocking people’s physical appearance & the ethics of humour

I wrote a post, for Big Think, about why we should be hesitant about mocking other people’s physical appearance. I’m uncertain whether we should never do it: I think that, maybe, we do it too much or don’t reflect before doing it enough. I certainly know I’m hesitant about laughing at or making jokes about someone’s physical appearance.

Humour isn’t equal in its target, in its approach, in its ethical basis. Humour isn’t something that gets moral immunity just because it makes us or an audience feel good. Perhaps that’s why people sometimes can’t understand why some take jokes as statements of hate or mockery or derision: “Hey, it’s just a joke!”. Describing something as a joke doesn’t dismiss it from its moral impact.

I’m sensitive to claims of offence: I don’t think offence is a sufficient argument for not doing something, nor, indeed, is it even an argument. It’s, at its base, an expression of disgust or dislike. But adults know that disgust isn’t enough to make rulings on: just because we dislike something is no reason to legislate or command others to cease it. I hate celebrity culture and obsession over the minute details of strange people’s lives, but I’d never want a law that says no one ever is allowed to write about it.

However, as I tried to stress in the piece, just because people sound the same when they react to their god being mocked and their face being mocked doesn’t mean that each response is justified the same. I argued it’s myopic and, indeed, bullying to dismiss everyone’s concerns under the banner of “(merely) offended parties” – as if everyone who responds to all forms of mockery is equally wrong just because they seem the same.

And the corollary is the same: Those (like myself) saying be mindful of what you say because it effects people are not on the same moral ground as those demanding we censor all books that offend a few hypersensitive Muslims.

I want to grudgingly highlight two comments which are emblematic of many comments I’ve seen for some time, from Big Think’s Facebook page.

This argument is the same as censorship

Of course, the Internet, as always is intent on proving that people hate reading and are determined to be as nasty, as unreflective about their impact on others, as possible. You know, until the law steps in or something.

For example, this fellow said in response to my article:

Look at that again and allow me to emphasise the hyperbole: “ANYTIME ANYONE is told “You really shouldn’t say that” it STIFLES ANY free expression”.

What does “free expression” mean to this individual? The ability to mock who he wants? Well no one is stopping him, essentially. It’s his choice to do so. My article argues you should choose – you know, utilise your freedom – to pick the moral path (or what I’ve argued is the moral path). You can choose to ignore me, you can choose to make grand declarations about concepts you haven’t defined on Facebook without argument. You can choose all these things.

This individual – as with many – remarkably manage to equate/confuse “please consider your actions, because we’re fallible and we could be wrong and here’s an argument why…” with “I am the Hand of Justice and Thou Art Wrong. If thou Transgress these here Laws, Thou will be Punish’d Most Harsh’dly!”

I don’t know how people manage to read bloggers and opinion writers as being dictatorships. No one forced you to read, no one forced you to choose to ignore. But for goodness’ sake, realise you have merely articulated your free choice – your CHOICE – to ignore the argument I provided.

If anything, it is those who say “arguments equal censorship” who are damaging to free speech; one of the most effective ways to bring about censorship is to declare opinions you don’t like as being antithetical to “freedom” – instead of acknowledging arguments are part of the very thing free expression is meant to defend.

Stop whining and be strong like me

In my piece, I stressed that we are not all equally strong or capable of dealing with criticism. Again: this doesn’t mean we give in just because someone is offended or hurt. But there’s a difference between mocking ideas and god and a harmless person’s face. There are also good reasons to be able to mock god – but I can’t think of any arguing it’s good or moral or a duty to mock harmless people’s physical appearance. Even if they were such arguments, they wouldn’t be the same and I doubt as potent as the one’s arguing for humour as a tool to undermine sanctity.

But, regardless, a Strong Man just can’t understand why others aren’t like him. We’re just a bunch of wussies, you see. As I quote after, please note [sic] for everything.

1. “you make fun of something that is different, its [sic] normal.”

And we all know we just give into what’s normal, hey bubbah? What’s all this reflecting on whether what’s “normal” is also what’s right or what could be “better”? So silly.

2. stop being little baby’s [sic] about it and get over it.

I’m glad I didn’t point out why this statement might sometimes be worse than the initial insult. That would’ve been embarrassing.

3. “oh no some random guy i don’t know who probably smokes and has 2 bastard kids he doesn’t care for just said my nose is big”.. BIG DEAL!! and yet people get offended by the dumbest smallest comment..

Oh no, some random guy on Facebook I don’t know said I should get over “it”!

4. GROW SOME SKIN!! ARE YOU GOING TO CRY YOUR WHILE [sic] LIFE BECAUSE SOMEONE THINKS YOUR NOSE IS BIG?

How do I “grow some skin”? In a jar? Do you have the recipe? I should’ve just made my post a recipe for skin-growth so all those weak fools who spend the whole life feeling and “looking” different can just ignore them because, luckily, we are all equally strong and “manly”, eh?

5. being different you should be proud of your uniqueness and despite having a large nose or a fat ass you should be proud of what you have that others dont. like a good job, or being a good person..

Yes, all people who have deep-seated issues about their appearance have good jobs because psychological problems means it’s easy for them get great jobs… oh wait. No. It’s not. And do good people tell other people to get over themselves? Or do they say, hey, maybe sometimes people have a good reason to not feel insulted? Maybe the world shouldn’t be a shit place with shit people making others feel shit? I don’t know. I haven’t grown that skin yet so I could be seeing things weirdly with my weak eyes and big feet that I’m so proud of.

6. we are creating a pansy world where kids and adults will be offended and cry over being called a stupid head or ugly face.. i mean really.. we’re f*ing adults here.. grow up..

“Pansy”? Well, if I told you that’s not a nice word, would you say I should get over it? Or would you care about combating a world that stigmatises gay people and realise that words have an impact; that showing you don’t care about the words you use means you don’t actually care about making a tiny, small change in your life that means more to others than you? Gods forbid you make a tiny reflective free choice to not use words – a virtual non-effort on your part – because it benefits people who probably are not you, but who face stigma and hatred everyday for just being who they are.

But what do I know, eh? We should be able to say and do whatever we want and people need to get over it, because we live in an equal world  and no one is oppressed and society treats everyone like a heterosexual, married, man who wants kids and is in a successful job. (Hopefully ones that also can spell.)

SO GET OVER IT PANSIES, STOP TRYING TO TAKE AWAY MY FREE SPEECH AND LEARN TO TAKE AN INSULT. WE’RE ADULTS HERE AND, THEREFORE, ALL EQUAL.

Should we stop supporting lostprophets, on streaming services, because of Ian Watkins?

The Welsh band, lostprophets, have essentially disbanded, after lead singer Ian Watkins was found guilty of horrible crimes against children. I stopped listening many years ago, thankfully, but I can imagine my first instinct would be to delete all their albums, destroy their CDs and remove any posters or paraphernalia. People have, obviously, also wondered (or screamed) about stores and streaming music services continuing to host lostprophets.

BBC Wales Arts and Media Correspondent Huw Thomas Tweeted about the music streaming service, Spotify.:

When asked if there’s a precedent for this, Thomas replied:

Major retailer HMV appeared to be one of the few he knew about that had removed the band:

(I can’t tell if lostprophets is still being hosted, as I have no access to Spotify due to living in the Dark Ages, according to the Internet.)

Assuming the band is still being hosted, that the other band members’ knew nothing about Watkins’ crimes, and services like Spotify do provide money to artists/performers, is it right for us to ask for the band’s removal from services providing them (both) with an income?

My first thought is that Watkins’ crimes don’t need to hurt more people; in this case, it would be the other band members who appear innocent. Often in our haste, fuelled by anger, we forget that punishment aimed at the offending individual can sometimes, inadvertently, hurt innocents related to that person.

Justice is meaningless if punishment is only a synonym for revenge. No, we’re not courts or police or whatever: but we too can and do punish (witness the rage and the events of the Justine Sacco incident). So the point is to target the wrong-doer and undermine punishment for those closely related.

Of course, one can say that it’s bigger than band members incomes. These gentlemen aren’t,  as far i know, struggling for money, nor are they completely reliant on streaming music services. Thus, by removing lostprophets, Spotify can show support for abused people by saying “we care more about solidarity with your safety and sense of injustice than [say] making money”.  Better yet, lostprophets could themselves withdraw.

But why only Spotify? Should the band members cease all touring, should hosts cancel the performances? Perhaps there’s less at stake with concerts, since most don’t care who host those concerts – since it’s about the band rather than the organisers. Spotify however has its name everywhere, so you can associate that brand directly with the current awful cloud around lostprophets.

Of course, the band has essentially broken up due to Watkins’ horrid crimes. But there are issues that arise if the other, innocent band members were entirely dependent on the band and income from sales.

In many cases, of course, the point is that I can buy all the albums and just destroy them and they’ll still make something; but what about tours, future listeners, and so on, that generates more and new income? This seems little different to instances to any organisation is brought into the spotlight not for the efficiency of what they do, but because of the horrible crime of one or two members. Investors pull out, clients drop them and so on.

There’s no hard and fast solution; it requires case-by-case analysis but, in response, we must remember not to punish too far and too wide off the mark of who deserves punishment (and even then we must decide what that punishment looks like). If I were a fan, I’d probably no longer be – but I would be hesitant since, if everyone did so, it could unnecessarily harm innocent people who just happened to be making money the same way as Watkins.

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Wrong (or right) is a conclusion – not judgement

A commenter indicated, in a post on my comment policy, that “having a comment policy is wrong.”

That was the end of the statement.

This touches on something broader: Right and wrong are conclusions, not the beginnings of a judgement.

When people declare something is wrong – or, worse, is just wrong – we have a duty to ask why: What are the reasons that led to that conclusion? If none can be provided, what reason do we – or indeed the person making the claim – have for taking that conclusion seriously?

People forget this about the terms right and wrong, equating it with things like disgust or attraction. Of course, I’m focused here on right and wrong used in a more moral sense, rather than, say, mathematical or artistic (“That music feels right“).

“Homosexuality  is wrong” invariably for many translates into “Homosexuals makes me feel icky”. The first can be interrogated, debated, criticised. The second cannot. That people really are disgusted by gay people is a fact, not a moral discussion or argument. It’s no different than saying “I like Pink Floyd”. Of course, unlike being a Pink Floyd fan, disgust of gays translates into more harm – especially when people want government to be their feelings police, making sure other people don’t offend these disgusted people.

Interestingly, both feed each other but can be separate. I find the concept of incest a bit unnerving, but I still defend the right of two consenting adult twins to engage in a sexual, romantic relationship with each other. My disgust shouldn’t be a deciding factor in how others should live, in most cases. But, of course, one’s digust can fuel engagement with the topic. For example, my intense disgust for the American prison system and capital punishment is a big drive in my writing on capital punishment. The same is no doubt true for all of us and the things we engage in.

The point is, however, that we must treat these concepts of right and wrong in the… well, right way. Right and wrong must be treated as conclusions, otherwise it makes no sense; if they’re not conclusions, then they are probably aesthetic judgement. If you think merely asserting right and wrong makes it so, then that’s probably bigotry.

(Also, if someone asks you why something is wrong, try not to tell them to read x, watch y, etc. Sure, certain topics might require more in depth engagement. But if you can’t at least summarise your reasoning, then – yet again – no one has to take you seriously just because you declare it so.)

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Canada top court is sensibile about sex worker laws; Internet reactionaries are not

Great news from Canada.

Canada’s top court has struck down three key laws concerning prostitution in this country, declaring them unconstitutional, disproportionate and overly broad.

In a unanimous ruling, the Supreme Court said the laws prohibiting keeping a brothel, living on the avails of prostitution, and communicating in public for purposes of prostitution “do not pass Charter muster.” It said they infringe on the rights of prostitutes by depriving them of security of the person.

Showing it is possible for old legal folk to act sensibly toward such a touchy (excuse the pun) subject.

[Chief Justice Beverley] McLachlin wrote that given prostitution itself is legal [in Canada], the three laws made it far too difficult for prostitutes to safely engage in sex work.

She wrote the laws “do not merely impose conditions on how prostitutes operate. They go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky — but legal — activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risks.”

The law banning brothels forces prostitutes onto the streets, McLachlin wrote, and the resulting health and safety risks imposed upon street workers is “grossly disproportionate” to the law’s objective of preventing public nuisance.

Sex work is legal in Canada, though some elements, such as public communication, appear to still be criminal.

And with the sensible and adult treatment of sex, not to mention defending it on a public health and harm perspective, inevitably those with less sensible, more knee-jerk reactions, will also find their voice. This doesn’t mean all opposition comprise less sensible people and those in favour more sensible; I’m focusing here on the reasoning, not the people. [Read more…]

My favourite definition of liberalism

Joel Feinberg, in his stunning Harm to Others (Volume 1 of his four volume The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law), provides a definition of liberalism I can strongly identify with.

We can define liberalism in respect to the subject matter of this work as the view that the harm and offense principles, duly clarified and qualified, between them exhaust the class of morally relevant reasons for criminal prohibitions. Paternalistic and moralistic considerations, when introduced as support for penal legislation, have no weight at all. (p. 14)

Feinberg then spends the next few thousand pages, over the course of four books, defending this view, with his usual collection of nuance, topical examples and thoughtfulness.

I don’t often associate with labels or principles – but, if forced to, I’d called myself a liberal in this, specific sense; it would only be of the Feinberg variety (which is a kind of modern, refined Millian take).

Feingberg doesn’t think criminal law is or should be entirely premised on “harm” as Mill and most others understand it; but he doesn’t think it should be based on other things either that are common, such as offence, immorality (loosely defined), and so on. He wants substanial proof that an act is actually harmful and in a significant way, before asking for criminal prosecution; indeed, even then, Feinberg says we should look for alternatives to prosecution and incarceration, if such alternatives exist and are demonstrably more effective.

We shouldn’t be defaulting to criminal responses and punishment, since we do that too often and can do too much and hurt too many. Indeed, as Feinberg highlights, this could itself be immoral: a good example is criminalising marijuana (and indeed most drugs) possession, which creates more harm as a response than the initial crime.