Monday, August 31, 2015

Deviled Argument

Hello, kiddies. The meds are working once more, which means that once again, Uncle Jeremy is clicking on most gears. And those gears can grind. So, while I promise nothing, if I keep getting annoyed, you keep getting blogs.

Stepping away from social issues (sort of) let's talk about argumentation. Specifically, let's talk about the annoying tendency of those who are, or wish to appear to be, intellectuals to take a negative stance without having an actual stance. Some may call this the "Devil's Advocate" position, but that is a lie.

Just like cake.
See, Devil's Advocate is defined thusly:

In common parlance, a devil's advocate is someone who, given a certain argument, takes a position they do not necessarily agree with (or simply an alternative position from the accepted norm), for the sake of debate or to explore the thought further. - Wikipedia
 What we're actually talking about is "I disagree with position x. Debate?"

Now, that seems reasonable, and you may notice that I've fallen into doing this myself in the past. Why? Well, it's a great position to be in. After all, you don't actually have an argument to make, you just have to continue disagreeing with whatever anyone says. You force your opponent (if anyone is stupid enough to take on that challenge) to debate with themselves.

Pictured: someone stupid enough.
Here's how this conversation tends to go:

"I disbelieve/don't agree with/do not want the thing. And, go."

"Here's a number of reasons to support that thing" or "can you clarify that position?"

"I will restate my initial claim of disbelief, bolstering it with further comments of disbelief, but I will provide no talking points or sources for my beliefs."

"I hear your bolstering as a potential position, and seek to address it."

"I will tell you I disagree with you, and restate my initial claim of disbelief, my initial bolster, and bolster it with further comments of disbelief, but I will again provide no talking points or sources for my beliefs."

And so on, up to this point:

See the problem? It's the debate equivalent of  "why are you hitting yourself?" There's no sound position, no logical response, no way to actually talk about the issue, because there is no issue. Poor Sap is being asked to defend a position without anything to defend against. Because the devil in this case doesn't have a differing position, all Poor Sap can do is argue pros, and hear in response "well, I'm not convinced, what else do you have?"

Let me give you a concrete example. Back when I was a journalist, I got into a debate with a co-worker. Nothing earth shattering, just one of those fun nerd questions that come up when nerds get bored: "are teleporters ethical?"

We went back and forth for two hours. Every time I thought I'd made a point, the argument would change. It was like shooting a moving target that changed shape, color, size, and distance while zigzagging at apparent random. And when I'd finally started to get recursive, so confused that I couldn't keep my points straight, I asked to go back to square one.

"Ok, so I'm lost. What, in fact, is your position on this?"

To which my coworker replied, "Oh, I don't have one, really. I just wanted to see how you'd defend yours."

Are you entirely serious.
See, it could be argued that that was a Devil's Advocate. If my coworker had taken a position. If you have no position other than, "the opposite of whatever you're saying right now" you're not debating, you're playing grade school playground head games. "I know you are, but what am I" sort of thing.

Which brings us back to starting a debate solely based on broad disagreement. So, what's my position on this?

1. Don't call for debate just to hear someone talk, unless you're up front that, "I have no position, but would like to hear arguments made for/against this thing."

2. Don't call "nope" and then ask to discuss, but then use your declaration of "nope" as your sole argument. That's like yelling, "Fuck you!" into the wind and then sticking your fingers in your ears and walking around chanting it under your breath so you don't hear any of the responses.

3. If you want an actual debate, have a position. Again, if your position is "not whatever you say" then the argument is not only one sided, it borders on trolling.

4. If you're just yelling to yell, don't phrase it as a call for debate. You don't look any smarter by calling "my opinion" a "debate."

5. If you want to debate, just to debate, and don't want to come from a defined position (in other words, if you want a conversation) lead with that. There's nothing wrong with, "I don't like thing x, but I'd like to talk to people who do." At least then we know that the conversation probably isn't going anywhere, and that you're either trolling or exploring. But either way, we know going in that it's going to be us saying things, and you either asking questions or rejecting the things we say, and we can make that decision.

So. Stop calling it devil's advocate. It ain't.

Stop calling it debate. It ain't.

Call it what it is: stirring the pot to see what happens.

And then stop freaking doing it.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Structures Of Why

Ladies, gentlemen, and others as applicable. The Ragebooks have opened their arms and given me a glorious vision of fuckuppedness. Look upon this image, and know that I am wroth:

Let's talk, kiddies, about privilege, kyriarchy, and other stories that keep ol' Uncle Jeremy up at night chain smoking and worrying about the flammability of his mattress. Not because of the cigarettes, but because I curse hard enough to set fire to things.

So, first up, privilege. Privilege is any societal system that gives preference to a class of person. That's it. That's the whole thing.


In order: 

1. No, you're not a bad person for having privilege. Being Christian, White, or Straight do not make you bad. The narrative that is being spun by those who wish to maintain privilege is that in order for privilege to be acknowledged, you must also admit you're a bad human.

I have screwed up on this. I tend to get heated whenever people use words in certain ways, and in my angrish, I called out the "Not All Men" meme as reverse sexist (that's not a thing, by the way) and demanded to know why we needed to use gendered language to have that discussion at all. 

I was then called on this, at varying levels of volume, by people who deal with gender bias every day. The answer is, we need gendered language to have a conversation about gender BECAUSE WE CAN'T EXACTLY USE BOTANICAL TERMS YOU FUCKWIT.

And I was wrong. And I apologize. Because what had happened was, I felt as though the conversation had to first absolve me of my perceived guilt before I could allow it to happen, which is patriarchal bullshit.

Privilege is a component of society that we should all want to change, because the only thing that happens when we level the playing field is that everyone wins. And we, as a society, like winning. 

Score the points! Do the things! Go Team ProperNoun!
2. Not a zero-sum game. What's zero-sum? Zero sum is a closed system in which any decrease of a variable causes a concomitant increase in all other variables. Basically, when you compare privilege to a zero-sum, what you're saying is this:

Jenny starts with two apples. Bob starts with three. The only possible way for Jenny to get another starting apple is to take it from Bob, because orchards, grocery stores, and so on don't exist. They can never be really equal, because for one to get ahead, the other has to lose. 

You make me ashamed to accept your adoration, human.
That's not how anything works. Life isn't a closed system. If it was, there'd be no humans, because every person born would automatically kill someone. "Welcome to the world, Junior! Better live a good life, because your Grandpa died so you could take his place!"

"Don't be silly!" shouts Strawman Schmoe. "In the real world, there's always winners and losers!"

Nope. Whatever you may think of him, Bill Gates won life fairly hard. Loving wife, great kids, successful business, household name, one of the richest people on the planet. 

So, look me in the eye and tell me that when Bill Gates gives vast sums of money philanthropically, he's losing at life. 

"But he's losing money!" despairs the Strawman.

No, he's giving it away. Because he freaking can. And since he wants to, and likes doing it, everyone wins there. The people who are being helped win, and Bill wins because he's making the world a better place in atonement for 3.5. Oh, yes, we still remember, Bill. We will always remember.

Ahem. Moving on. 

Basically, getting back to the apples, handing Jill another apple doesn't take anything from Bob. Bob still has three apples. But Bob is clutching his apples and batting at the people trying to hand Jill an apple because he's been told, despite the fact that he's holding all three of his apples, that the apple being handed to Jill is his. Like somehow, one of his apples will magically dis-the fuck-appear the moment Jill touches that apple. It doesn't make sense.

But people still believe it. 

3. Does not mean your life doesn't suck.

Apples. Because why the fuck not. 

Want a metaphor, dearie? *cackles*
Bob, Ted, Phil, and Hector have three apples to start with. Joe, Jill, and Melinda have two. Does this mean that Joe does not benefit from the social systems that prop up Bob, Ted, Phil, and Hector?

Nope. Because privilege isn't a fixed commodity. You don't get handed your privilege card when you're born and immediately gain everything that it's possible for privilege to hand you. 

Non-apple example: Me. I'm white, male, I was raised Christian, and I come from a middle class economic background. 

So: the fact that I'm white means people are more likely to hire me. When I do get hired, I'll probably make more money than a person of color, or a woman regardless of race. My background means that I had access to a good education, which affords me opportunities in work, life, and relationships. I would also note that my whiteness makes me more likely to get a good education, but I was home schooled, so I don't fit that metric.  Being raised Christian meant that I could turn on the TV and see the values I was taught to believe were true on the box, and that if I saw anything different, I'd also be likely to find a great many authoritative sources condemning that difference as immoral.  

While I have all those privileges, that doesn't mean that I'm not living paycheck to paycheck. It doesn't mean that I go to an Ivy League school. It doesn't mean that my whiteness gets me a pass on the disadvantages (socially, that is) to being gay.

But just because I have disadvantages, doesn't mean I don't benefit from privileges. Privilege is built into society. Society favors a certain class over others. The fact that I have problems doesn't mean I don't have privileges. End of story.

Apples, again: Joe only starts with two apples. But let's say Joe and Jill trade apples for oranges. Even though they have the same starting rate, implying that there's no privilege on Joe's part, Joe will pull ahead (assuming parity in all other registers. Work with me, I'm using fucking fruit.)

How will Joe pull ahead? Well, Joe will get four oranges for every four apples he trades. Jill will only get three oranges for every four apples she trades. While neither may ever become the Grand High Master of Orangedom, Jill will end up with less than Joe. 

Phil, on the other hand, will become the Grand High Master of Orangedom
 earning him this delightfully scented Citrus Crown.


Oh gods, this. Now, I mentioned this back with the whole zero sum bit, but this isn't about gain/loss. This is the idea that beyond a zero-sum equation, any attempt at leveling the playing field is no such thing. This is the idea that the playing field is already level, and leveling it actually attacks you.

Well, not to put too fine a point on it, but the playing field looks fine to you because you're standing on the side with all the advantages. 

"But my way of life is being attacked!" Strawman wails.


All right, I've asked it any number of times, but I'll say again: how?

Let's look at a lovely bunch of coconuts: The Men's Rights Movement. 

The basic premise here is that, far from struggling for parity with men, feminists (and anyone who talks about patriarchy, privilege, kyriarchy, or discrimination in society) are actually attacking men for the purpose of...

Ok, this is the part where it breaks down, because beyond "YOU HORRIBLE BITCH" I have no idea what they actually think is going to happen. Something about an Amazonian matriarchy where men are slaves who live at the whim of women? Or something?

Basically, any change. Anything that implies men aren't the natural superiors. Anything that implies that people of color aren't failing because they're just...bad at things?

I actually had a nut of this flavor tell me that we should stop helping black people because we're encouraging them to foster a culture of deliberate failure, knowing that we'll always extend a handout out of misplaced guilt. 

Read that sentence a few times. Breathe that in. Black people disadvantage themselves so they can suckle at the teats of welfare. It's not all their fault, because we train the poor savages to expect that we'll save them from their own natural incompetence. That's the most awful, shitty, racist thing I'd heard in a long time. 

MRA's (Men's Rights Activists) pretty generally scream insults and nonsense while declaring that any evidence of gender/race/pickametric disparity is flawed, made-up, biased, or invalid. Near as I can figure out, their reason for doing so is that the world works for them, and so any change to make it also work for other people would make it less "theirs," and anyone that says it's not fine the way it is is a poopyhead. 

It's self fulfilling logic: it works for me, so we don't need to fix it so that it works for you, because it must not be broken, because it works for me.

Let's take another: these arguments are tired and old, and all over the interwebs, so we'll boil it down to the most basic. 

Christians are not being persecuted in this country when laws are passed to cater to people who are not Christian or do not hold with all Christian beliefs. 

"But we're being forced to live in a country where the laws allow things we don't like!" shouts Christian Strawman.

Well, welcome to the country the most people have been living in for years. The only difference is, now the law allows for more people. It's broader, more open, more secular. And since the laws should not, and were never intended to, institute a Christian theocracy, you just have to accept that the same laws that let you pray, worship, and make decisions for yourself based on your faith, now allow more people to pray, worship, and make decisions based on their faith or lack thereof without first having to accept that Christians come first.

Straight people being attacked because gay people have rights? How, precisely? You aren't required to sleep with people of your own gender. You're not banned from choosing the sexual or romantic partners you want. You haven't lost the legal right to unite before the government in a legal compact with the person of your choice. 

But now, we have all those options too. We're not required, societally, to sleep with people of the opposite gender. In many places, we're even protected from being fired or beaten up because of who we date! And we can get married now, which is simultaneously great, and also a kinda dumb consolation prize for the fact that we still risk getting killed for kissing the people we love, still have trouble having and keeping kids, and still have a higher youth suicide rate than straight people. But hey, it's a start, and a nice start at that.  

So anywho, conclusion'm forgetting something...wasn't there another word way up at the top we were going to talk about?

Oh, right. Kyriarchy

A kyriarchy is an interconnected set of systems that privilege specific classes based on any number of factors. In other words, the society we live in.  

What? Don't like that definition? Go look up kyriarchy for yourself. I promise you'll like my definition better. No?

Ok, well, the actual definition replaces "any number of factors" with "oppression, domination, and submission."

Yeah. Want to talk about oppression? People of color being arrested more than their white counterparts, serving harsher sentences, having fewer chances at rehabilitation, and having decreased access to the systems of education, financial stability, cultural acceptance give advantages to white folk. 

Domination? Let's talk about Christian companies *cough*hobbylobby*cough* denying coverage of any number of women's healthcare products based on the faulty assumption that they are abortifacient, but cheerfully covering Viagra. A drug with the stated purpose of giving a man an erection is fine. A drug to control a woman's birth cycle isn't. 

Submission? This one's going to get me yelled at, but look at popular women's culture. It is wrapped around the idea that in order to be beautiful, you have to live up to a standard set by men. Or ideas like, a woman will naturally give up her name in a marriage because a man's name is important. Or that boys are tough, strong, dominant, and girls should be gentle, caring, and passive. 

How is that submission? Well, the part where, women will go along with this, even if it is counter to their interests. This is true for a lot of classes on the receiving end of the unlubed shaft of kyriarchy: the ideology of the privileged class has been shouted so often across so many registers that they internalize it.

That's right: kyriarchy is so good at what it do, that the people who are getting the short end of the stick sometimes think they deserve it. Because that's just the way things are. 

So, NOW a conclusion down here:

Look, folks, I understand change is scary, but I swear to you that everyone getting the same treatment, and being able to live to their best is good for us all. So why do we still support it? Well, I would like to point out the other thing kyriarchy is good at: dividing people so they can't get a clear look at what's wrong with the world around them. 

After all, if you're looking at a thing and going "that's...wait...what?" and someone runs up behind you and shouts "THEY'RE COMING FOR YOU!"

Chances are, you're not going to remember to go back and work out why that other thing looked weird.