No causal comparison

cn: sexual assault and victim blaming are discussed briefly as an example.

Often we observe some phenomena or trend, and we wish to explain what caused it. Different people can disagree on the cause. Or perhaps they agree on the causes, but disagree on which causes are important. Bold claim: There is no objective way to assess the relative importance of two causes.

I’m making a purely abstract argument, but I’ll offer a few provocative examples:

1. Is a given human trait caused by genetics, or the environment?

2. Is personal success caused by hard work, or by lucky circumstance?

3. Is terrorism caused by politics, or by religion?

4. If a woman is victim of sexual assault, is that caused by the perpetrator, or by risky behaviors on her part?

5. Is our knowledge of physics the result of scientific research, or is it the result of the continuing absence of an earth-destroying supernova?

Among these examples, we’d obviously like to say that some causes are more important than others. We are welcome to say so, but there is necessarily an element of subjectivity in our words.
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Linkspam: June 4th, 2016

Did you know that FTB is still accepting applicants?  Apply by June 16th!  This page has information about who you should contact and what information you should provide.

And now for my monthly linkspam.

When a Negative Statement Becomes a Claim – Crys talks about an argument she had about whether bisexuals exist.  She argues that the negative statement (bisexuals don’t exist) is the one with the burden of proof here.  As I said in the comments, skeptics/atheists have a tendency to deny personal experiences on the grounds that they’re not science.  But if you look at actual scientific research on sexual orientation, researchers mostly just ask people for their personal experiences.  Skeptics, you’re doing it wrong.

Identities formed by trauma are still valid – Gosh, this is a really major topic among aces, because traumatic experiences with sexual abuse are after all quite common.  Some aces feel that trauma might have caused them to be asexual, or it might have impacted their sexuality in other ways.  Some aces simply don’t know how trauma impacted them, and will never know.  Aces with trauma are put in a precarious position, where many people question the validity of their identity, and the ace community itself will gloss over their existence.

Anyway, you can read all about this in Miri Mogilevsky’s article.  There are also many personal experiences out there, but I wouldn’t link them, since privacy is a serious issue.  If this subject is of personal importance to you, you can find things in my blogroll.

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Origami: Reverse square tessellation

IMG_0863 (small)

Reverse Square Tessellation, a model by yours truly.

Most of the origami I do is modular origami, but I dabble in other branches of origami too.  This here is an origami tessellation, a folded pattern that could hypothetically repeat infinitely in the plane.  I’ve made a few tessellations by origamist Eric Gjerde, but this here is an original.  Further photos below the cut.

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Sexual revolution = sexual assault?

In 2015, I saw an article called, “I’m A Gay Man Who Loves Sex (And Here’s Why That’s Suddenly A Problem)“, by Noah Michelson. Most of the article is about defending the sexual openness and promiscuity of gay men. But I just want to talk about this one line:

Caramanno is disturbed by “the male gaze” and the way that he has been groped in gay clubs and “eyed by guys the way a hungry CrossFitter stares down a packet of bacon” (which, if you ask me, sounds pretty hot)…

Here, Michelson is criticizing another article by someone named Caramanno.  The groping that Caramanno is complaining about is unwanted groping. Not that the Michelson could be bothered to mention the unwanted part. He simply dismisses Caramanno’s complaints in one throwaway line in an otherwise trite article about the sexual revolution.

You know what, guy? I don’t give a shit about your sexual revolution, because apparently you don’t give a shit about sexual assault. You didn’t show the slightest awareness that you even knew you were talking about it. Somehow, for you, complaints about sexual assault are the same as complaints that gay men get around too much. The fact that promiscuity involves consent but sexual assault does not was somehow too subtle a point. Fuck you.

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Rational ideals

This post is for the Carnival of Aces, whose theme this month is “Questioning your faith“.

Leaving religion was a rather unemotional process for me. There was no catalyzing event. I was interested in skepticism. I learned about philosophical arguments for God, and found them unpersuasive.  Without any real urgency, I spent a whole year thinking to myself, “Gee, there’s really no justification for belief in God, and there may never be.” At the end of the year, I considered myself an atheist.

Unlike leaving religion, leaving straightness was a far more emotional experience. And yet, I tried to treat it the same way. “Am I straight or am I asexual?” was an intellectual puzzle, to be approached under the same rational ideals.  It is not clear to me, after the fact, that this approach was a good idea.  Here I give a taste of my thought process.
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Atheist venting

Coyote, a bloggy buddy, had an anecdote about an awkward atheist encounter. Four people were hanging out playing board games, when an atheist realized that the other three were all Christian. For whatever reason, the atheist decided this was a good time to confront everybody about Christianity and/or defend atheism. Coyote described it as “delivering a predetermined spiel”.

I feel like I’ve seen that before. For example, one time the local atheist student group met up with some Christians for lunch, and there were a few students who really launched into spiels about why atheism is more fulfilling and stuff. Whereas my initial reaction was to ask about their majors and to figure out where they were on the political spectrum.

I’ve also been on the receiving end. Back in the day I’d table for the atheist student group, and sometimes people would approach the table and just start monologuing about how science is the greatest and religion is the worst. Then they’d walk away before I could respond to anything. Okay? Happy to lend an ear?

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Signaling in social justice language

Social justice activists like myself have a tendency to construct a lot of rules about which words to use or avoid. For example, “gay” is preferred to “homosexual” because the latter is too formal, clinical, and distant. On the other hand, “homosexual” may be acceptable when it’s used in parallel with “heterosexual”, or if it’s contrasted with “homoromantic”. These rules can be frustrating to learn, but they have some rationale behind them.

And then there are other rules which just don’t have any clear rationale. For instance, “gay” is to be used only as an adjective, never as a noun, and certainly never as a plural noun (i.e. “the gays”). Why? We don’t have a problem with using plural nouns for other identities, such as “Americans”, “liberals” or “atheists”. Even other sexual orientations are usually acceptable, as in the case of “lesbians”, “bisexuals”, or “asexuals”.

On an individual level, the only rationale is that “the gays” just sounds wrong, and conjures negative associations. It makes me think of conservative preachers talking about all the evil things the gays are up to.

On a broader scale, this is a clear example of signaling. Following arbitrary language rules indicates that a person has taken the time to educate themselves and exercise a little empathy.
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