Oh, Reddit

I’ve made my bloggy-blog a Reddit account for the purpose of participating in the atheism+ discussions on there (incidentally: should atheism+ be capitalized or lowercase? I have no idea; help!), and my irony meter has been taking some serious strain.

For any theists who have spent time on reddit, you’re most likely familiar with the “/r/atheism is so annoying” posts and threads that tend to pop up. You get a lot of “For fuck’s sake, /r/atheism, not all Christians are like that!”, “Blindly following Dawkins”, “People don’t hate you because you’re an atheist, it’s because you’re an asshole”, etc, etc.

I’ve tended to side with /r/atheism when these scuffles pop up, because in most cases, when people respond to posts with, “Not all Christians are like that!” no one has actually said that they are all like that. Also because it’s patently obvious that we don’t all blindly follow Dawkins—we just happen to agree with him on a lot of the things that a lot of other people disagree with him about.

Yet, as I suppose I should’ve been able to predict, the new/r/atheismplus is getting a perfect reflection of the above types of criticisms from members of /r/atheism itself. Replace “Christians” with “atheists”, and Dawkins with PZ, or Jen, or Greta, etc, etc.

I think it may be break from the internet time for me. Actually, no, it’s not. It’s Participate In A-Plus-Scribe time. Less being frustrated, more doing awesome helpful things!

“Rude Bitch” vs. Gay Panic: A Demonstrative (and Stupefying) Contrast

Let’s play the illustrating sexual culture double-standards game, shall we?

On the one hand, we have the idea that telling a stranger that randomly hitting on women is not okay makes you a bitch. On the other, we have the gay panic defense: the idea that if a man hits on another man, the subject may attempt to defend themselves against murder charges in a court of law by arguing that the come-on induced temporary homicidal insanity.

Think about that. If it’s a woman getting hit on by a man, she shouldn’t have a problem with it. If it’s a man being hit on by a man, temporary homicidal insanity.

I imagine most people who’ve heard of the gay panic defense think it’s absurd, and that’s good. It doesn’t make the comparison irrelevant. Do you think for one second that any woman would ever even consider using a straight equivalent of the gay panic defense to defend against murder charges? Do you think for one second that any man who had sexually assaulted another man would garner sympathy by talking about how the victim was wearing a hot outfit?

Can we stop talking about how “there aren’t any double-standards” around this shit, now?

Life Update

Internship is officially over. I have mixed feelings about it overall, but I picked up a lot of stuff and I think I’m well-positioned to look for a job as soon as my classes and such are all finished, so that’s good.

One thing that made me happy is that I got my final feedback the other day, and the guy I had the meeting with told me the feedback I got was, quote, “eerily similar” to my own self-feedback. I always tend to be a bit apprehensive about self-evaluation, so it was awesome to be in a circumstance where I could verify that my own assessments of my capabilities were on-target. Inter-rater reliability being important and all.

Some reviewing of what I’ve observed about my pain issues over the course of this experience is in order.

I was very nervous when starting this internship that a 40-hour work week would be more than I could take. As it turns out, though I did have good day and bad days, it didn’t work out that badly. I’m honestly more worried about myself now, not being on a regular schedule, than I was then. The job kept me on a regular schedule where it was easy or required to be social for a large part of the day, get outside, and do work that took concentration. Now I have to enforce that structure on myself, which is never as easy.

Things I’ve noticed that seem to help with the pain:

  • positive social interaction*
  • getting outside
  • being in flow
  • getting some movement in every few hours**
  • changing positions regularly***

Things that hurt:

  • stressful interactions
  • hard chairs

I’ve also taken to fiddling around with exercise regimens, and exercises. The thing about exercises as PT, is it’s not just about them being things you can do, they have to be things you will do. They have to be repetitive enough to help, but not so monotonous that you’re too bored to keep up with them. I’ve always rather enjoyed making little contraptions to accomplish various things, and my latest has been strapping an unweighted barbell to my torso so I can rotate the two ends in small circles as an exercise. I’m sure it makes me look ridiculous, but it’s not half bad as a repetitive, relatively satisfying style of exercise.

I’ve been getting a significant amount of exercise lately. Hopefully my few Twitter followers don’t find those updates annoying–it’s a good place to record what I’ve been doing, and I’m hoping to track how I improve. It is frustrating to have the time and energy, but not the muscle endurance, to exercise more than I’m doing now.

My next steps in terms of work are fiddling with my own projects and self-educating as much as possible. Soon I’ll be the greatest developer in the world. Probably.

Life goes on.

*Pair programming seems to be an excellent way to enforce this

**I took an hour walk every lunch break if I could–the difference in how I felt in the afternoon was significant between when I did and didn’t manage to do this.

***swivel chairs with a lot of adjustment capability are helpful for this

Just a Theory Plus (the requisite Atheism Plus post)

So, Atheism+. All for it.

I think everything that should need to be said about it in terms of justifying its existence and distinguishing it from straight humanism has already been said. So I’m going to do something I enjoy doing instead, and draw some analogies. If you consider yourself a good person, but don’t understand the importance of atheism+, continue reading.

You know how annoying it is when yet another person trots out the “It’s just a theory” bullshit with respect to evolution? You know how enraging it can be when people talk about irreducible complexity like it hasn’t been disproven a billion fucking times? Or shit like the banana argument, first cause, etc, etc?

The Ray Comforts, William Lane Craigs, Ken Hams, etc, of the world, by all appearances, trot those things out knowing full well that they’re bullshit. However, there are plenty of earnest, curious people, who simply don’t understand why those arguments don’t hold water. They don’t have the education necessary, or they’ve had the bad arguments relentlessly drilled into them by others, or they haven’t been able to take the time to take a truly critical look.

If you spend much time in the atheist community, you’re the opposite of those people. You get a continuous education into the principles of evolution, the arguments against deities, etc, by default. You have to know those things to explain why theist arguments don’t work. Atheist bloggers explain and re-explain the fallacious reasoning that goes into Point Refuted a Thousand Times (PRATT) arguments all the time. That’s why they’re not called Point Refuted A Couple Of Times Last Wednesday arguments. I can’t count the number of things I’ve read on the Kalaam Cosmological “Argument”, or how atheists can be moral without a deity, or why we shouldn’t just keep our atheism to ourselves. I know a number of different ways to address the problems with each. I’ve known a number of them for years.

There’s a divide. Atheists on side A, and on side B, people who buy into PRATT arguments because they genuinely don’t get it—they don’t have this constant stream of education on it that we have. I have sympathy for the earnestly questioning people who just haven’t gotten there yet.

Thing is, that doesn’t change the fact that no matter who I hear it from, the “just a theory” argument pisses me the fuck off. Because what rock have you been hiding under that you don’t realize what’s wrong with that? How can you live in a modern-day society with access to all of the world’s information at the click of a button and still be so woefully, astoundingly ignorant? Are you really so oblivious about the utter inanity of your points and the magnitude of the case against them?

There’s an inferential distance gap large enough that, very often, both sides can utterly fail to understand how the other side can possibly think what they think.

The point of all this is the following: if you’re a straight white cis male and you don’t get why the issues atheism+ brings up are worth talking about, there is a good chance you are, in this equation, on side B (with the earnestly ignorant theists). There is a good chance that you lack sufficient knowledge and experience to form a useful opinion on the subject. You may even lack sufficient contextual knowledge to realize that you lack sufficient knowledge and experience to form a useful opinion on the subject. We’ve all known religious people like this. It shouldn’t be hard to imagine that on some issues we, ourselves, might be in the same spot.

With respect to feminism (to pick the example I’m most familiar with), when you say things like, “Why do you hate men?”, “All men aren’t rapists!”, “Really, YOU’RE the one being sexist.”, “I never see discrimination!”, and, of course, “Why are you feminists so angry?”

Please, please, please take a step back, and think about how you feel when you, as an atheist, hear things like, “Why do you hate God?”, “Not all believers act like that!”, “YOU’RE the ones taking away OUR religious freedoms!”, “I never see discrimination!“, and, of course, “Why are you atheists so angry?

Think long and hard. Consider the fact that there are good, honest, curious theists who will say the above things.

Consider that you may be a good honest, curious person, and be just as hugely wrong as they are. Consider that if you’re arguing with a member of a marginalized group about the nature of their marginalization, you are the equivalent of a theist arguing with an atheist about theirs. You are the feminism equivalent of “It’s just a theory”.

Understand that when feminists get aggravated with you, it’s often for exactly the same reasons you get aggravated at people who spout, “Just a theory”, as though it’s a bulletproof takedown of the last 150 years of biology.

The solution to your problem is the same as the solution for “Just a theory” theists: educate yourself. I promise if you do, eventually you’ll be able to pick apart your own misconceptions just like so many of us have learned to do with religion.

Self-Deprecation vs. Accurate Self-Assessment

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the idea of being self-deprecating. I often enjoy being around people who are modest, self-deprecating types. I often try to be so myself. As Paul Ingraham puts it, quintessentially:

“Candid self-deprecation is very disarming. I’m terrible at it, but I do my best.”

Self-deprecation is often a person’s way of saying they care more about making you feel comfortable than about showing off. Much of the time, self-deprecating types tend to be good people, and not too full of themselves.

I’m also enthusiastic about the idea of accurate self-assessment, though. Sometimes these two proclivities come into conflict. Too much self-deprecation starts to look disingenuous or obnoxious (the concert pianist who describes themselves as “not very good”).

Take an example: I tend to think that I’m smarter than most people*. This presents a problem: I like making people feel at ease, I like being self-deprecating, and all of that. But I also think honesty, both with yourself and others, is important. I think people who are good at thinking, writing, baking, candlestick-making, etc, should say so.

I used to identify much more with that line from Ten Things I Hate About You: “So, you’re disappointing from the start, and you’re covered, right?” Set expectations low and you can only exceed them. Then if someone gets in a relationship with you, you can only end up being better than they expect. Whereas if you oversell yourself, you might disappoint someone. I’m a skeptic, though. Eventually, I picked up on the fact that there’s a flip side: if you’re a good person to be in a relationship with, and someone decides not to be in one with you because you represent yourself in a relentlessly self-deprecating way, it’s your fault that person missed out on the experience of you.

The best thing to do is, well, be honest and try to be accurate, I think. Old habits die hard, though. I can’t help but be uncomfortable being explicit about the fact that if I’m honest, I think I’m smart, decently witty, good at making people feel comfortable, far above average at communicating (though I still have much to learn), and can kick your ass at word finds. If I’m honest, a part of the reason I wanted to start a blog is because I think I have important things to say. Saying that out loud, though, remains uncomfortable.

I like figuring this out, though. I like that part of the justification for it (underselling means people might miss out on you) requires me to think about the fact that I am something someone could reasonably be described as “missing out on”. So that’s something.

*I’ve elected to leave out the story of the long period between my realizing that I thought this and deciding I was probably right for the sake of brevity. However, for the sake of assuaging my nervousness about being thought of as arrogant, I’ve elected to include the previous sentence explaining that there was one.

So Long

Internship officially over. Well, that was a whirlwind. Hopefully I’ll have more time for writing now. Time will tell.

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

Thoughts on the Idea of Being a Good Kisser

I don’t understand the idea of being a good kisser. I can parse what people are talking about only theoretically when they use terms like “good kisser”. I’ve been told, on occasion, that I’m a good kisser, which is, in it’s own way, a nice thing to hear, but most of the time I find it a profoundly weird thing to hear. I don’t think of kissing as a skill.

In fact, now that I think on it, this reminds me of a conversation I had joking about the idea of someone advertising themselves as a “professional” boyfriend, as though that would be a reason to go out with them. That’s not something you get “professional” at really. Granted, there are certain important skills to have, but having those skills doesn’t in and of itself make you a good boyfriend for a particular person. Being a good match for that person does.

I don’t want to be a “professional” kisser. I want to be kissing you. When I kiss I do it because I want the experience of being plugged directly into the raw feed from your brain. To the extent that it has anything to do with skill, I would imagine it has to do with the ability to relax, to not think about what you’re doing, to just allow the flow of that indefinable, intuitive, fantastic exchange of analog brain.

It’s a lot like conversation. You can be a decent conversationalist or a crappy one, but there’s a type of conversational resonance that happens when you’re paired with particular people that’s largely independent of conversational skill. A large vocabulary is nice, but it takes a backseat to conversational resonance, and to just being able to relax.

The times I have experienced unpleasant kisses have uniformly involved people I didn’t feel particularly connected to. Those people have had a wide range of styles. But the reason I haven’t enjoyed kissing them hasn’t ever felt like it had much to do with style. I wonder sometimes if it had to do with the fact that I might have been kissing someone who thinks of it in terms of skill. I just don’t find that idea sexy. I don’t want people to want to kiss me because I’m good at it, I want them to want to kiss me because I’m me. If I think someone is a good kisser, I don’t think of it as being because of “that thing they do”—if you’re thinking about doing “that thing you do”, I don’t particularly care how good you are at it, you’re spending concentration on “that thing you do” that you could be spending on me, and that probably comes across, and it probably makes the whole thing less sexy than if you’d just stop doing that thing and focus on who you’re doing it with.

On Thunderf00t, Correlation, Causation, and the Stifling of Freethought (or Lack Thereof)

A lot of people have been talking about Thunderf00t being kicked off of Freethought Blogs lately, and one comment keeps cropping up.

“Oh, it’s so ironic that a place called Freethought Blogs has kicked someone out for a differing opinion.”

I’m going to keep this brief, because it’s simple and should be obvious (and I have coding to do): kicking out someone with a different opinion than you is not necessarily close-mindedness. It can be, but it isn’t necessarily. The question is this: was the differing opinion the reason he was kicked off? The thing is, having a differing opinion doesn’t make your opinion intelligent or informed. You can have a differing opinion, and your opinion can still not be valuable.

Take, as a hypothetical, a discussion on atheism and religion. It’s safe to assume that Francis Collins, Pat Robertson, and Fred Phelps all disagree with Richard Dawkins on a few finer points. Does anyone think that Francis Collins, Pat Robertson, and Fred Phelps’ contributions to such a discussion would all be equally valuable?

If you don’t, then we’re agreed: having a differing opinion doesn’t say anything about whether or not your opinion is useful or intelligent. It doesn’t mean that you’re contributing. You can have a differing opinion, and still be kicked out of a forum for reasons that have nothing to do with whether or not you agree with the prevailing opinion.

Here, I mangled a Punnett square to illustrate:

If you want to argue that Thunderf00t was kicked off of Freethought Blogs for having a differing opinion, fine. Knock yourself out (please). But you don’t get to say, “Look, he had a differing opinion and he was kicked off, therefore FTB is anti-freethought!”

You know why, because correlation doesn’t prove causation, motherfuckers. Go prove causation and get back to me. Show me it wasn’t because we was arguing like an ignorant dick, and get back to me. Until then, the correlation you’ve identified doesn’t mean shit.

The Case Against Labeling Relationships

I just got off the phone with a friend of mine who’s been talking to a guy about how—or if—to define their relationship (dating, friends-with-benefits, going out, etc.). I’ve found that as I’ve gotten more experience, I’ve gotten more uncomfortable with labeling relationships. I’m not 100% opposed to it, but I’d like to talk about the reasons that labeling is not always a good idea.

Labels are useful insomuch as they make life more efficient. Calling your relationship with someone a “friends with benefits” thing saves time, which is why we have a word for it. It’s an efficient way of communicating a set of basic assumptions about the nature of your relationship to your partner.

Efficiency: good. Now to the bad.

The bad stuff is twofold:

First, everyone seems to have a slightly different definition for every relationship label. Sometimes drastically different (poly people, think of the fun times you have talking with mono people about the word “commitment”). This means that if you use a label, the best possible case is you have some explaining to do beyond the basic label in order to be on the same page. The worst case is that you both incorrectly assume you’re using the label in the same way. The worst case is an invisible time bomb.

“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

George Bernard Shaw

Once when I was in high school, I went to lunch with a pair of friends. They spent the entire meal arguing about whether psychoanalysis was a legitimate form of therapy. One said that none of the methods had been shown to work and that many had been shown not to work. The other said that it was perfectly legitimate and helpful for many people. It was only after we’d all gone back to class that I realized what had happened. Friend A was taking a psych class, and had been assuming that they were talking about Freud’s theories. Friend B had not, and was assuming the colloquial definition of psychoanalysis—thinking about feelings. They had managed to spend an hour emphatically disagreeing with each other about something they almost certainly agreed on.

Within the last 6 months I’ve had arguments just like this with the word “relationship” and the word “monogamy”. Arguments that only happened because we assumed our definitions of the words were the same when they weren’t.

The risk (and it is a big risk) when using a term to define a relationship is that you will find out much later that your definitions were entirely different when you thought they were the same. Or worse, that you won’t find out, and the relationship will disintegrate for reasons you never understand.

The second problem with labeling relationships is roughly this: if you apply a label to your relationship, it’s a bit like you’ve added a third player. It’s not just the two of you that have expectations now. There are expectations attached to the label, too.

This problem came up for me once when a girlfriend and I were arguing about how much to talk on the phone. She wanted to talk every day, and I didn’t. There’s a phrase that tended to come up in these conversations that I hope I never hear again: “But I’m your girlfriend!”

We would have been much better off talking about the two of our wants and expectations. Instead we got sidetracked on what the expectations are for someone you call a girlfriend. Perceptions of how a girlfriend/boyfriend relationship is supposed to be got in the way of the only things that were actually important: what I wanted, what she wanted, and how we could figure out something that worked for both of us. There were a lot of problems in that situation, and the label added to them. It would’ve added to them even if we had completely agreed on definitions. Of course, we didn’t (see problem 1)*.

I’ve found that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown much less fond of the idea of asking “What are we?” and much more fond of asking things like “What do we want to do?” If I want to kiss someone, I ask to kiss them. If I want to do a kink scene with someone, I ask to do a scene with them. If I want to fuck someone, I ask to fuck them. If I wanted to live with someone, I’d ask them that. And I’d want it to be me asking. Not some feeling that it’s about time. Not, “Well, we’ve been Going Out For A Year, I guess we should.” Me.

Labels are useful if they save you trouble. Sometimes they do save you trouble, even after you do the math, but other times I don’t think that’s the case. Sometimes the alternative, talking about how you feel and what you want to do, is worthwhile, and it avoids the risk of thinking you’ve communicated when you haven’t.

*Another way of thinking about this problem is that adding a label to a relationship is, much of the time, like writing out a prescription for your relationship, and prescriptions are too static and standardized to work in the real world.

Related: http://lacigreen.tv/sexplus/sexuality/4740-the-thing-about-identity-labels