But is it really capitalism?

A few years ago at a conference about queer video games, I said to an acquaintance, “It seems like there are some financial barriers to creating good queer video games.” My acquaintance says, “Yeah, well that’s capitalism.”

But is it? Is it really???

Sure, capitalism makes it hard to make well-funded games catering to a minority group. But it’s pretty hard to imagine an alternative economic system where we decide to invest a disproportionate amount of resources for the cultural benefit of a minority. Of all the problems created by capitalism, I’m not sure this is one of them. If anything, I would blame… eh… utilitarianism.

Capitalism vs utilitarianism

You may have heard that, in the simple case, a “free” market maximizes the good for the greatest number of people–that is, it’s the most utilitarian economic system. It chooses the optimal pricing and product allocation, eliminating “deadweight loss”, which is an angry red triangle that inhabits the supply/demand curves. There are of course, a lot of issues with this claim, most of which are beyond the scope of this post. The currently relevant issue is that hardly any markets qualify as simple.

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Critiques of call-out culture: a linkspam

This is a repost of an linkspam I created in 2015.  So naturally, all the links come from 2015 or earlier.  I’ve removed a few broken links, and added some contextualizing commentary at the bottom.

One of the most common complaints by social justice activists about social justice activism is that there’s a lot of toxicity. Whenever an activist makes a misstep, other activists will “call out” that person, sometimes directing a disproportionate amount of anger and abuse at them. This pattern is often (but not always) referred to as “call-out culture”.

For a while, I’ve been collecting a lot of articles and blog posts which critique call-out culture from an internal view point. My main motivation is that I would like to write about the topic myself, and I’d like my ideas to be responsive to what has already been said.

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Three views on social justice in atheism

Previously, I wrote a post framing social justice as a meta-movement, a movement which seeks to change how all other movements are run. Here I’ll talk about how that applies to atheism.

Why should the atheist community pay attention to social justice? The reasoning is quite elementary: The atheist community is a community. All communities should pay some attention to social justice. Therefore the atheist community should pay some attention to social justice.

Some atheists like to argue that social justice is beyond the scope of atheism. The argument goes that the community should take a neutral position, thus being inclusive of people with various relationships to social justice. However, this is missing the point. The “scope” of the community doesn’t really matter for the argument. All that matters is that it’s a community. As I said before, the same argument applies to the physics community, despite it being obvious that social justice is outside the scope of physics. The “neutral” position is not really neutral, but directly in opposition to the goals of social justice.

However, there are various degrees of “pay attention to social justice” which I describe below.

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Social justice as a meta-movement

What we think of as social justice advocacy today is a conglomeration of many groups and causes. The core groups are women, ethnic minorities, queer people, and people with disabilities. But there are also other groups that we don’t immediately think about, like polyamory or fat activism.

So, what’s the best way to think of the social justice movement? Is it a single movement with many facets, or is it an umbrella term for many distinct movements?

Here’s one way to think about it (not necessarily the only way or the best way). Social justice is a meta-movement, which seeks to change how social movements and communities work. According to common social justice standards, a feminist movement should pay attention to race. An anti-racist movement should pay attention to queer people. A queer movement should pay attention to disabilities, and so on.

There are a number of justifications for this, which I attempt to list:

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Ethnicity in Xenoblade Chronicles X

This is an article I wrote in 2015 about a video game.  My commenters had some insightful responses, so a few of their insights are now incorporated.

In my apartment, free time has recently become dominated by Xenoblade Chronicles X, epic Japanese RPG. The premise is explained in this video:

Quick summary: In 2054, Aliens destroy earth. Earth sends out colony space ships. One of these, New Los Angeles, crash lands on an alien planet.

Xenoblade Chronicles X offers an interesting case study of ethnicity in Japanese video games, because unlike other games which take place in fantasy worlds, this one takes place in our world (although a different planet). What’s more, it takes place in a future version of Los Angeles. Los Angeles, of course, is very ethnically diverse, so by looking at the cast we can see a Japanese interpretation of ethnic diversity.
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On equal opportunities and outcomes

I recently found an article interviewing Jonathan Haidt. It’s in the rather tedious “liberals are going too far and eliminating free speech” genre. I’m not going to address most of it, just this part (emphasis mine):

The left, meanwhile, has undergone an ideological transformation. A generation ago, social justice was understood as equality of treatment and opportunity: “If gay people don’t have to right to marry and you organize a protest to apply pressure to get them that right, that’s justice,” Mr. Haidt says. “If black people are getting discriminated against in hiring and you fight that, that’s justice.”

Today justice means equal outcomes. “There are two ideas now in the academic left that weren’t there 10 years ago,” he says. “One is that everyone is racist because of unconscious bias, and the other is that everything is racist because of systemic racism.” That makes justice impossible to achieve: “When you cross that line into insisting if there’s not equal outcomes then some people and some institutions and some systems are racist, sexist, then you’re setting yourself up for eternal conflict and injustice.”

Here’s the thing. Outcomes are a product of several things: opportunities provided by society, the abilities of the individuals, and random chance. I believe that people in these minority groups do not systematically have less inherent ability than people in the majority. So if we truly had equality of opportunity, I would expect that minority groups would also have equal outcomes, plus or minus some statistical noise.

Comic transcript: This Ayn Random number generator you wrote *claims* to be fair, but the output is biased toward certain numbers. Well, maybe those numbers are just intrinsically better!
Source: XKCD

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Dolezal

Rachel Dolezal came to national attention in 2015 when people discovered that she was a White person living and identifying as a Black person. You can read more details in a recent New York Times article and interview.

I would question the standard liberal reaction to Rachel Dolezal–that is, that she’s a waste of space, mentally ill, and worthy of hatred. I am not playing devil’s advocate. Dolezal’s story has been of personal interest to me since I saw it in 2015, because I immediately recognized some of myself in it.

There were obviously many relevant differences between us, and many critiques of Dolezal seem justified. But it bothered me to see her receive so much hatred. Two years later, I’ve now had more time to think about it and sort out the issues.

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