A personal style guide on sex vs gender

It’s common to make a distinguish between biological sex (which includes chromosomes, primary and secondary sexual characteristics, hormones, etc.), and gender (which refers to one’s identity, or to patterns of behavior). The thrust of the distinction is to separate social constructs from biological reality.

This distinction isn’t wrong, exactly, but I have some quibbles. Mainly, I think gender is the bigger and more important concept, the one that you should be referring to in most situations. There are several things that people think of as sex, but which are really components of gender.

Here I will develop my thoughts on the distinction between sex and gender. I’m calling it a “personal style guide” because it describes how I use the terms, but I am not trying to impose this usage on anyone else. I realize some people use the words differently, and there can be some good justifications for this.

Woman vs female

Some people say that “woman” refers to gender, while “female” refers to sex. I think this is incorrect, on both the descriptive and prescriptive level.

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Educating atheists on religious aces

This is being cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda.

Recently, I wrote an article for A Trivial Knot about how aces are affected by Evangelical Christian beliefs about pre-marital sex. This is an important topic, but also an iffy one for me to talk about. While I’m ex-Christian, I’m not ex-Evangelical, and the experiences described are not so similar to my own. Basically, I’m repeating and condensing stories I’ve heard from primary sources, such as the Aces in the Church zine and various bloggers. I worry that maybe I shouldn’t be talking about it at all, except to boost other voices.

But the fact of the matter is that a lot of atheists, especially politically active atheists, already have their own prejudices and presumptions about the experiences of religious aces. I have this platform that reaches a moderate number of progressive atheists, so I feel at least a bit responsible to get them on the right track. Also, atheist activists are not such a friendly group that I want to just send them to primary sources.

This was fresh on my mind at the 2017 SF Ace Unconference, so I attended a session for religious aces. The personal stories shared in that space were confidential and I will keep them that way. I did, however, ask them if they wanted me to share any particular message with my atheist readers.

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Origami: Ace WXYZ

Four intersecting triangles, in the colors purple, white, gray, black
Skewed WXYZ, a model designed entirely by me.  It’s about 6 cm (2.5 in) diameter.

There are two things to talk about in this model.  First, the color scheme is taken directly from the ace flag, which feels timely because last week we were just marching in pride parades.  I really like the color scheme of the flag, and also like how easy it is to make these references even in a very abstract art-form like non-representational origami.

Second, there’s the model’s design.  This is an entirely original design, although it’s based on Tung Ken Lam’s WXYZ Triangles.  Folding diagrams, discussion, and mathematics below the cut.

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Quantum games

Last March, I attended the APS March Meeting, which is the largest annual physics conference in the country (and perhaps world?). During the conference, one of the particularly memorable sessions was about quantum gamification, making games using concepts from quantum physics.

Quantum games are an interesting concept, because usually “physics-based games” are only based on classical physics, specifically gravity and collision. The point of having a physics-based game is to have a relatively complex system where you don’t need to teach players every single detail, because they already have an intuition for how gravity and collision work. But obviously, when it comes to quantum physics, players don’t have an intuition, thus the physics must serve some other purpose.

In most of these games, the nominal purpose is either (a) teach physics, or (b) use player data to help physicists. Although I get the sense that the nominal purpose is not always the true purpose. I’m not that confident in the value of collecting player data, and suspect that the true purpose is more about public outreach. And some of the “outreach” projects kinda felt like they were just a way for physicists to do something fun. Well, whatever persuades people to give you grant money.

Anyways, let’s check out some of these games.

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Scientism in the atheist movement

Larry Hamelin pointed me to a recent Existential Comic which criticizes Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris for scientism. The explanatory text below the comic goes on to criticize the New Atheist movement as a whole. It argues:

The real goal [of scientism] is often just to draw a border around what we should or shouldn’t question, because they don’t want any of the fundamental aspects of society to change.

Larry Hamelin has a couple good posts responding to the comic commentary, and looking back on the New Atheist movement as a whole. Partially following Larry, these are my critiques:

  • Harris and Dawkins don’t represent the atheist movement. Harris and Dawkins are widely criticized within the movement, and many (myself included) are positively disposed to philosophy.
  • To the extent that scientism is or was present in New Atheism, it was not motivated by an attempt to maintain status quo. I believe that scientism was primarily a reaction to the way people would hide behind the authority of philosophy, insisting that there exists a complex and subtle defense of religion or belief in God. Of course, the complex and subtle defense did not materialize, and failed to address religion or belief in God as they are popularly practiced.
  • Of all the strengths of philosophy, I do not think effecting social change is one. Certainly academic philosophy is not a force for change. And though my writing is often infused with philosophy, that just makes me a more effective thinker, not a more effective activist.

This might be a bad idea, but let’s read the comments on this comic to see what other people are saying.

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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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