Against apologies

Disclaimer: This is not in response to any particular apology. This has been on my topics list for years.  Frustratingly, when I finally committed it to words, someone went and made a public apology, and I had to postpone this to avoid association.  So here we are.

The title, “Against apologies” can be interpreted in several ways, so I will clarify my meaning up front. There’s nothing wrong with people apologizing for things they’ve done wrong. There’s nothing wrong with accepting or rejecting those apologies. The thing I am complaining about, is when people demand public apologies, and then when the apology arrives, they pick out some small detail that they say shows the apology wasn’t really sincere. I think this is more often than not, a flimsy pretext to reject apologies no matter their content.

But I am not saying that we need to accept bad apologies.  Rather, I propose that if we’re going to reject an apology, then we don’t need to invent an excuse. For some kinds of wrongdoing, we may decide that no apology will ever be acceptable.  We should be unashamed to say so.

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Call your congress critters on SESTA/FOSTA

Remember when Tumblr decided to ban adult content? Well one thing I learned from all of that, is that it’s traceable to a specific set of laws, passed earlier this year, and which will begin to be enforced in January. I’m referring to SESTA & FOSTA.

I don’t really need to explain it, since Vox has already done a good job, and there’s a website dedicated to stopping SESTA & FOSTA. Here I give the short version.

SESTA & FOSTA are a pair of laws intended to fight sex trafficking. Under previous law, websites with user-created content could not be held liable for the civil wrongs of its users (however they are liable for federal crimes and intellectual property laws). SESTA & FOSTA add an exception, making websites liable for sex trafficking and sex workers who advertise services. Lumping together sex trafficking and sex work does not make sense.  And arguably this does not stop trafficking or sex work, but rather makes things less safe for sex workers and trafficking victims.

In any case, the proof is in the pudding that SESTA & FOSTA are too broad and vaguely written. Many tech companies, including very large ones that can certainly afford liability insurance, now think it’s too risky to host content that has even the vaguest resemblance to sex work. I mean, Tumblr banned illustrated porn. Facebook’s new content guidelines are so vague that they could include solicitations for dating, or even private banter between couples.

The upshot is that this passed congress without any significant opposition. The Senate voted 97 to 2, and the House voted 388 to 25. Clearly most of congress didn’t understand the implications of what they voted on. Call your representatives and let them know.

So you want to discredit an academic field

Perhaps you’re an evolutionary biologist who thinks evolutionary psychology is too panadaptationist. Or you’re a creationist who thinks evolutionary biology is the devil’s handiwork. Maybe you think Freud is fraud. Or you think climate science is fake news produced by lizards. Perhaps you find postmodern theory to be a bunch of anti-scientific babble. Or perhaps you have a bee in your bonnet about how gender studies believes in “cisnormativity” in “the workplace”.

No matter your target, whether your crusade is honorable, foolish, or malevolent, discrediting an entire academic field is a tall order. After all, an academic field is the work of many very educated people, and you barely have enough time to read even a few pages. You have difficulty understanding what Gibberish Studies is even talking about (which is of course one of your critiques!), and you have a life outside of attacking academics, and also your writing deadline is tomorrow. What to do?

If discrediting an entire academic field is too ambitious, then perhaps it is also too ambitious for me to write a comprehensive guide telling you how to do it. This might fit into the demarcation problem in philosophy, but it’s an unsolved problem–anyway, who has time to read all that philosophy? I give you something more low-brow, simply a list of practical tips.

1. Get a degree

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Reason is a powerful aesthetic

I feel like we’re living in a golden age of YouTube vlogging. Every month my link roundup seems to include Lindsay Ellis, Contrapoints, or the like, because they make powerful arguments, and they’re very entertaining. This past month, ContraPoints posted a video called “The Aesthetic”, which I felt was worthy of a longer comment.

The video asks, “What matters more—the way things are or the way things look?”

Justine: I’m not against reason. Reason is a very powerful aesthetic. If you’re a man.
Tabby: What if you’re a woman?
Justine: Oh, don’t be a woman. That’s not a good idea.

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On Asian student groups

Back in my college days, I participated in queer Asian student groups. When I’ve told people about this, many of them have had a kind of negative or suspicious reaction. Why is there a need for students to subdivide themselves out by race like that? One or two people have also compared it to the idea of having a student group for White people, which sounds problematic.

This is similar to reactions that people have to Pride parades, or Black history month. Where’s the straight pride parade, they ask? Where’s White history month? I’m assuming readers already understand why there isn’t a White history month, and I’m just listing out standard arguments as a reminder: Because Black people are an oppressed group, and White people are not. Because White people come from an incoherent collection of distinct backgrounds such as German, Italian, Polish, etc. Because every other month is already effectively White history month.

The funny thing is, the same arguments don’t quite work for these Asian student groups. My university had more Asian students than White students. While you could say that Asian Americans face some degree of marginalization and stereotyping, the fact of the matter is, that’s not the primary reason students came together, and not the primary thing students would talk about. And if you thought “White” was an incoherent collection of distinct backgrounds, I invite you to consider how much larger Asia is than Europe.

So why was it okay to have queer Asian student groups?

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In which I destroy marriage

Attentive readers may have noticed a while ago when I started referring to my robot boyfriend as my robot fiancé. As I’ve told various people, we’ve been cohabiting for years, so we’re functionally already married. But after graduating, getting legally married has become a good financial decision, for two reasons.

First, it lowers our taxes. The general principle is that marriage most benefits couples where one partner has much higher income than the other.1 Since I’ve been unemployed for at least the first half of 2018, marriage very likely benefits us this year.

Second, it lets me buy health insurance through my partner’s employer. This is fairly significant, because I regularly take medication for asthma, and this stuff is surprisingly expensive without insurance coverage. Obamacare guarantees that I at least have the option to buy healthcare, but as I found out when I looked at insurance plans last December, the options aren’t nearly as good as what you can get through employers or universities.

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The intelligence hierarchy

Never Let Me Go is a book about a bunch of unusual kids, who grow up without really understanding how unusual they are. They go to a special school, and the school is particularly intent on having the kids show creativity, and produce artwork. The reason the school wants artwork is… oh, I shouldn’t spoil it. The kids don’t really understand why. All they understand is that to have an artwork chosen by the school officials is an honor.

And therefore it is a basis for social hierarchy.

To the kids, art isn’t an outlet for creativity, it isn’t a matter of amusement, but a matter of achievement. There’s one kid who drew a silly picture one of an elephant one time, and as a result the kids perceive him as lagging behind. For years, he gets teased, pranked, and throws huge tantrums. He finds peace when a teacher takes him aside and tells him it’s okay to be less creative. The other kids are scandalized by the very idea.

I’ve been thinking about this story, and how it resembles our own situation. The truth is, we grew up into a system that we didn’t really understand, but where we understood that being smart was an achievement. We’ve had personal experience building social hierarchies around perceived intelligence, before even understanding what a social hierarchy is, or why intelligence is important. We’ve pinned the labels “smart” or “stupid” on other people, and had them pinned to ourselves, often on flimsy evidence, and these labels have governed the early years of our lives.

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