Archive for July 2011
Following the comments on e, I have just encountered the whopper of a weak argument:
If children do not learn how to write cursive, they will not learn how to read cursive, and they will be unable to read important documents of old…
Documents worth reading will exist in transcriptions using printed letters. Can there be any doubt that understanding the contents of an important document is more important than being able to read the original version? Indeed, the vast majority of older texts worth reading were originally published in printed letters…
It is possible to read a script that one does not know how to write. Indeed, most of the trouble with learning how to write a particular script is mastering the movements—not learning the shapes. If reading is the main benefit, then reading should be taught.
Most of the documents of old are not written in a cursive that is particularly close to today’s versions—and over the centuries of modern English there have been too many scripts for this to be a valid argument. Further, the same argument applies even to printed documents.
Similarly, language changes through the years make any document sufficient old hard to read, even unreadable, to the untrained. In addition, it should be remembered that there are numerous valuable documents in other languages and that access to these would be blocked anyway.
(See the previous post for context.)
Recently, I have seen several posts dealing with whether cursive writing and penmanship are important, should be taught in schools, etc. (E.g. e, e.) The comment sections, in particular, have contained a lot of unsound reasoning and preconceived opinions. Below I will look into a number of examples. First, for context and some explanations in advance, my own comments:
Well, when I went to school, I was forced to spend endless hours training my penmanship (with little positive effect, I might add). In contrast, we spent possibly two hours getting a rough introduction to touch typing. Since I left school, by necessity, the vast majority of all my writing is done on a keyboard…
What modern students should be taught is strong touch typing and sufficient handwriting skills (not specifically cursive). If they want to take handwriting further, they can do so on their own time: A key truth to schooling is that there are thousands of topics that would be worthy of inclusion or preservation (in the eyes of at least some), but that time and resources are limited. Schools have a duty to give the students value for their efforts and must make compromises.
Incidentally, those who learn block letters will move more or less automatically to cursive if they do spend a lot of time writing by hand. (I would even consider it plausible that a focus on good block letters is more beneficial for those wanting to write well in cursive than specific “cursive exercises”.) Thus, the extensive teaching of cursive is wasteful even among those who will eventually need it…
‘Please, there is that aspect of caring that is found in a written note. It is like the person is saying, “I know it would be easier to send an email, but I want you to know that I care so much, I wanted to write a letter to you.” ‘
I see it the other way around (on those very rare occasions) when I receive hand-written letters: The author put his or her own convenience (seeing that most people are still weak typists) over mine, leaving me to deal with the problem of interpreting the writing. (Between individual variation and the repeated changes to what is considered “standard” cursive over time, this can be an issue even where good penmanship is concerned.) Further, it leaves me with a text that is likely to be less thought-through and edited than a letter written on a computer. When we go a step further and compare emails to hand-written letters, there is the additional complication that my ability to answer, quote, reference, and re-distribute in an efficient manner is restricted for no good reason.
Correspondingly, to me, a hand-written text of a non-trival size is disrespectful, bordering on rude. (Excluding cases with legitimate reasons, say a sender who does not have access to computers at the moment or who is too old for computer skills to be expected.)
In a bigger context, I note that a number of commenters express the opinion that cursive would be a vital skill, an important part of writing, whatnot—without in anyway substantiating that claim. These I ask to beware that there is nothing magical about cursive writing, but that it just happens to be a convention, something we are used to. This reminds me of the complaint that the children of today would only learn how to read a digital clock and not a “real” clock—yet, there is nothing real about an analog clock that is not real about a digital clock. That someone grow up with analog clocks and only encountered digital ones as an adult may explain a personal preference. This preference, however, is personal and subjective—and none of the two types of clocks is any more or less real than the other.
The loss of cursive writing may be negative, but considering the opportunity cost of spending time and money on cursive writing (cf. my earlier comment) there really is no case: There are thousand of topics, skills, whatnot, that are valuable and beneficial. Not all of them can be mastered in a life-time, let alone in school. Further, cursive writing is certainly not the most important of these.
I would keep the two issues of penmanship and good grammar (spelling, style, whatnot) separate:
The latter is a vital skill and its neglect in modern schooling is a problem—likely, a severe problem.
The former is an entirely independent nice-to-have (although I see how texting and twitter can create the opposite impression). The practical benefits and the need of being able to write well (as opposed to “at all”) with a pen are extremely limited in today’s world. Indeed, I write more words on the computer per day than I do on paper per month. (With reservations for periods when I do a lot of cross-words—but here I write in non-cursive and all-caps to begin with.) Further, what I do write on paper is almost always intended only for my own eyes.
Of course, we could lament the loss of penmanship on an “ars gratia artis” basis, but the same would apply to e.g. the move from fountain pens to ball-point pens, the disappearance of cobblery, or the lack of harpsicord players. There are far too many arts for the active preservation of all as a universal skill—instead the individual must choose which he wishes to pursue.
On to the issues:
A very common theme is the confusion of cursive writing with hand writing or even writing in general:
The removal of cursive writing does not imply that students are unable to write notes, even letters, and it does certainly not imply that their skills at writing (in terms of e.g. grammar and style) remain undeveloped. On the contrary, these have far better chances when writing on a computer. Notably, the effort and time needed to write a draft is reduced, the draft can be edited (instead of re-written from scratch), re-organisations are far easier, … With computers more time can be spent on the actual text—not just putting down letters on paper.
Indeed, when I went to school, we were taught an almost mockingly named “writing process”, which consisted of three basic steps: Write the essay on paper. Read through and re-write the essay on paper, making improvements. Read through and re-write the essay on paper, making minor corrections and with a main emphasis on legibility. Honestly, how should a student learn to write with such idiocy? When the vast majority on the time available for the essay had to be spent on merely writing letters on paper, instead of thinking about the contents and the language?
Many commenters simply assert, without giving evidence, that cursive is a vital skill, express their horror at the poor cursive of today’s students, or merely seem to say “I like cursive; ergo, cursive should be taught in schools.”—comments void of convincing power.
Cursive has positive effects on cognitive ability:
There is no indication that this would be true, except in as far as almost any activity has a positive effect. Now, writing can have a positive effect, but this is not in anyway restricted to cursive writing.
Cursive is good for creativity:
There is no particular reason to assume this to be the case (and no proof was ever presented). Hand writing may be beneficial over typing in many circumstances (when it comes to the creative process); however, cursive is just a special case of hand writing and not teaching cursive does not imply not teaching hand writing.
Cursive improves fine motor skills:
This may be, but so do a thousand other things—including normal hand writing. Further, I am not entirely convinced that this argument is valid per se: Coordination develops over time and setting targets for students writing that are too far from their natural level of coordination (as was the case for many students in my own one-size-fits-all schooling) will result in frustration and failure. Certainly, my hand-writing improved as my coordination did—not the other way around. It would then be better to give the students exercises that help them develop their more general motor skills and doing so in a matter that is actually fun—not through the boring and mindless exercises in penmanship.
Cursive is faster than block-letter writing:
Cursive is what automatically happens over time when a block-letter writer spends a lot of time writing and starts to write faster, which makes this statement both tautological and uninteresting.
Further, even cursive writing is a lot slower than typing (assuming writers of a comparable training level).
Cursive is needed so that people can sign documents:
This does not require learning cursive, but just learning the signature. Further, a signature does not have to be cursive. Further yet, the need for handwritten signatures is mostly a legacy issue that will disappear over time. Certainly, for legal documents, digital signatures with private encoding and public decoding keys are far superior.
The issue of a “personal touch” is very common:
As can be seen from my earlier comments, this is a very one-sided take that ignores that others can see the issue differently: Personal preference is not an indication of an absolute good.
(Why would I care whether a useful idiot is considered a feminist or a fauxminist? I do not. In fact, it is better that feminism is divided and internally squabbling than united and fighting the rest of the world. However, the text in question is an excellent example of the incorrect reasoning so often used by feminists and within gender studies. Notably, the author, Meg Milanese, is a “recent graduate” with a “BA in women’s studies”, which, in itself, raises more than one warning flag.)
Below, I will analyze this complaint from my own perspective, specifically the ten defining characteristics:
He interrupts women that he speaks with.
Melanese argues that this is rude, would show communicative incompetence, and that men interrupt women more than they do men.
Interruptions can be rude, but they need not be. Indeed, they are often necessary and most interruptions that I have observed or been involved in (be it as the interrupter or the interrupted) have been legitimate. Further, the need to interrupt is often based on the communicative incompetence of the … interrupted: There are many people who simply do not observe the cues others send that they too have something to say, who monopolize the discussion, go on long contentless ramblings, spell out over two minutes what the counter-part understood in two seconds, whatnot.
Indeed, these problematic people are (in my experiences so far) disproportionately common among women. (Which gives us some clues as to why women are interrupted more often…)
He expects to be given leadership roles far before he’s ready for them.
The text gives no real support for this claim, but describes something more akin to men (unsurprisingly) being more likely to take initiative than women. Furthermore, in as far as this claim would be true, there is nothing male about it: I have met plenty of women with exactly this mentality—often among those clearly unsuitable for leadership. Indeed, this type of entitlement-thinking is very common among Swedish women (and, in my second-hand impression, US women).
The accusation of mansplaining (feminists’ favourite way of discrediting their opponents without actually having to provide any factual arguments) has been dealt with at length.
The claim “A feminist man should be able to understand the difference between mansplaining and simply explaining something while simultaneously being a man.” is almost comical, seeing that this is a difference that feminist women seem unable to grasp—with far more accusations of mansplaining being raised because the explainer happens to be a (usually dissenting) man and the dissented a woman than for what feminists claim that “mansplaining” would imply.
He insists that feminism must make equal time for men and men’s issues.
I cannot judge this issue, in particular the frequency of the demand being made, within the feminist movement itself. However, many of the statements made by Melanese are detached from reality and demonstrate that her take on men’s issues is a very destructive and prejudiced one. Take “So yes, men have issues. However, in no way, shape, or form are they of the same caliber as the problems and oppression facing women.” (a bullshit statement, cf. e.g. , ) or the attempt to make men’s main problem to be … masculinity.
In the end: As long as feminism remains about women’s issues, not equality, feminism will remain a force of evil. (It is refreshing, however, that a feminist admits this onesidedness so clearly.)
He continues to partake in media or activities that objectify/degrade women.
The whole issue of objectification and degradation is cheap rhetoric. Cf. e.g. parts of . That Melanese irrationally finds e.g. porn to be degrading does not imply that men (feminist or otherwise) who use it are doing anything wrong—nor that the many women who also enjoy porn would be.
He calls women he doesn’t agree with “bitches”, “whores” or other gender-based slurs.
This particular item is specifically dealing with how this use by a feminist will affect the cause of feminism (i.e. that it is harmful). That part of the analysis is likely to be true; however, this has nothing to do with whether a man is a feminist or a fauxminist—unless we assume that these words would be anti-woman per se. (They are not: They make a statement about a particular woman—not women in general.)
Further, I note that personal attacks and insults is very common from feminist women, which makes the item odd: Melanese’s efforts would be better spent attacking the “argumentation” methods of feminists in general.
He feels entitled to the trust of the women he works with in feminist activism circles.
The basic reasoning behind this item would be sound, but for two issues:
Firstly, the problem of unwarranted and exaggerated distrust is treated to cavalierly.
Secondly, it is based on a very distorted view of reality. Consider e.g. “[…]the daily normality of cat-calling and slut-shaming that women endure” or “the person who is distrustful is a member of a class that is disproportionately affected by harassment, violence and degradation and the person who is not being trusted is a member of the class that most often perpetrates that degradation”—not only cheap rhetoric, but also sexist, one-sided, and prejudiced bullshit.
In addition, the claim “It could be rape, it could be domestic violence, it could be emotional abuse.” is likely equally off: Yes, this would be an understandable reason for distrust, even misplaced distrust. At the same time, rape is rare, women commit more domestic violence than men, and emotional abuse (from what I have seen so far) is much more common from women than from men—yet, the way the text reads, it sounds like this would something that women would be regularly exposed to and men not.
He will not hold other self-proclaimed male-identified feminists accountable.
The text does not really deal with the topic of the title; however, the statement “If a man cannot be expected to do this much [risk his social reputation/being called a mangina] while women are enduring sexual assault, violence, and verbal abuse for standing up for their rights, the mantle of feminism has been proven to be too much to bear for him and he is undeserving of the title.” should say enough. How often are women enduring sexual assualt and violence for standing up for their rights? Hardly ever and likely less often than men. Indeed, when I have heard of violence in the context of feminism it has usually been perpetrated by the … feminists. (Cf. e.g. e.) Certainly, feminists commit far, far more verbal abuse than anti-feminists—indeed, they may possibly be the single greatest source of verbal abuse around.
He uses the tone argument on you.
Frankly, I am not certain that I understand this item. However, it does sound like something women do to men, rather than the other way around.
He is pissed off by this article.
The very predictable conclusion: As usual, the whole thing is setup with an illogical “damned if you do; damned if you don’t”—either you agree with me, or your disagreement proves my point. The same evil trick of pseudo-reasoning is regularly used e.g. with regard to the alleged male privilege (“Not having to admit privilege is a male privilege!”) and mansplaining (“Your criticism of the term ‘mansplaining’ is just mansplaining!”).
Generally, many of the items contain prejudice, belief in the “Patriarchy”, and a world-view (e.g. with regard to men’s and women’s situations) that does not match reality.
Today, I encountered a blog post titled The nazi-behaviour of the lefte (“Vänsterns nazistbeteende”), written by a member of the controversial and much maligned party Sverigedemokraterna (SD)—perfectly timed for the blog post I had planned. A pertinent quote:
I jämförelse med judarna i 1930 talets Tyskland har jag det avsevärt lättare. Men jag har drabbats av Berufsverbot och stötts bort från ett arbete. Man har inte målat Davidsstjärnan på min dörr, utan texten RASIST. Varför? Jag har varit folkvald riksdagsledamot för SD.
Är det någon skillnad i den grundläggande mekanismen om en jude får Davidsstjärnan målad på sin dörr och får yrkesförbud eller om en sverigedemokrat får sin dörr hatsprejad och likaledes beläggs med yrkesförbud?
Så vilka är de verkliga fascisterna?
(Compared to the Jews in the 1930s Germany, I have it considerably easier. But I have been affected by Berufsverbotw and been rejected from a job. The Star of David has not been painted on my door, but the text RACIST. Why? I have been a publicly elected member of parliament for SD.
Is there a difference in the basic mechanism if a Jew gets the Star of David painted on his door and receives a profession ban or if an SD member gets his door hate-sprayed and also receives a profession ban.
So, who are the real fascists?
This is a special case of something I have seen again and again: Some people are merely because of their opinions considered so evil that evil actions are taken against them in the name of good. To make matters worse, as with SD, the opinions in question are normally not even the actual opinions of the victims, but the opinions that their abusers claim they would have…
The politically correct, leftists, self-proclaimed anti-racists and equally self-proclaimed anti-fascists are among the dominant sources of such evil. (A recurring topic in my writings. Cf e.g. , .) These people are often blind to the burning cross in their own eyes, while complaining loudly about the ember in their neighbour’s.
Let us repeat and generalize that important question:
So, who are the real fascists?
So, who are truly evil?
The underlying problem seems to be the neglect of a simple principle:
Evil is, as evil does.
It is neither urges nor opinions that determine whether someone is evil, but his actions. Indeed, the figure who actually considers himself evil is found in children’s cartoons and comic books—not real life. Even the likes of Hitler, Stalin, and Mao tend to see themselves as … good. Did Hitler kill Jews because he enjoyed causing suffering or out of a mere disregard for human life? No: He did so because he considered the Jews a force of evil that must be fought with all means for the benefit of society … Whether he tried to exterminate Jews, Nazis, the educated, or sailors is beside the point, as are his exact motivations: What matters is that he tried to exterminate and in doing so caused the world an evil that outweighed anything positive he (strictly hypothetically) could have achieved.
To bring out the difference between action and thought, consider two people:
The first is a pedophile. The second is dedicated to the well-being of fellow humans. The first has resisted every urge, for fear of harming children. The second is a believer in corporeal punishment as a means of building character and discipline, and takes every opportunity to give a child a solid thrashing.
Which of the two does harm in this world and which is harmless?
Now, some may protest that the pedophile is an accident waiting to happen or that the risks are too large. To a large part, this is just prejudice, built on media portrayals and political propaganda: To my knowledge, there is no indication whatsoever that pedophiles would be more different from non-pedophiles than homosexuals from non-homosexuals, Christians from atheists, or women from men. (Indeed, compared to the last case the difference is bound to be smaller, and the same may well be true for typical individuals in the former two cases.) Further, most of us spend a majority of our lives with sex partners that are far from what we consider optimal—or go without partners entirely. Why should pedophiles be considered unable to control themselves when almost everyone else is?
Indeed, this is one of the most common problems with the issue: It is seen as near unavoidable that the pedophile will lose control and rape the neighbour’s children; that the member of the “extreme right” will (metaphorically or literally) build concentration camps and invade Poland, should he land in power; etc. Notably, this happens even when the risk is objectively small and when in direct opposition to the own judgment or stated opinion of the presumed perpetrator. A particular problem is circular reasoning along the lines of “X is evil because he has opinion A. That X denies having opinion A is irrelevant—after all, he is evil and, therefore, a liar.”, which leaves the victim without a defense.
Besides, if we set out to eliminate every possible risk of evil, we would create a despotic police state with no regard for human rights—which certainly would be a thing of very great evil.
To expand on the above discussion of Hitler: How do we know that Hitler was evil? Well, Hitler’s evil did not manifest in hating Jews or being a nationalist—but in waging unjustifiable wars and committing genocide. If we look merely at his opinions and ideology, there are, today as well as then, hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of people with opinions of a similar extremeness—some on the left, some on the right; some Christian, some Muslim, some atheist; some men, some women; some German, some Tibetan; some vegan, some meat loving; some racist, some anti-racist; … What makes the difference is not what they believed, but what they actually did. Someone who hates Jews is merely misguided—not evil. Someone who kills the Jew-hater, despite his being innocent of anything other than thought—now, he is evil. Indeed, if hate against a particular group of people was a crime worthy of punishment (be it capital or otherwise), then very few of us would go unpunished: Those of us who have never hated another group, no matter their current feelings, are a very small minority. Then again, how many of us actually acted on that hate? In contrast, how many have now overcome it?
My urgent plea to those who are convinced that they do the work of good and that the means justify the end against the evil they fight: Remember that “evil is, as evil does” and re-examine your own actions for signs of actually having become a greater evil than the evil you set out to fight. The road to Hell is built with good intentions.
Disclaimer: The above is not intended to be a full treatment of the concept of “evil”, and deliberately ignores a number of issues (including whether evil truly exists and whether e.g. a mentally ill person could be considered evil). The topic is more narrowly focused on a “bad guy”/“good guy” differentiation.
The post makes a long quote from a feminist work that I will analyze below, and seems to have an exceedingly naive view of what feminism is:
Do you think it’s fair that a guy will make more money doing the same job as you? Does it piss you off and scare you when you find about your friends getting raped? Do you ever feel like shit about your body? Do you ever feel like something is wrong with you because you don’t fit into this bizarre ideal of what girls are supposed to be like?
As has been discussed repeatedly, it is a myth that women earn less than men for equal work. Cf. e.g. . The number of women who are raped is comparatively small—far smaller than feminists like to claim. The perception that a woman has to adhere to a certain ideal and her insecurities about this stem primarily from herself and other women.
Well, my friend, I hate to break it to you, but you’re a hardcore feminist. I swear.
Not at all: Apart from the contextual remarks already given, equal pay is not something feminist (it can even increasingly be seen as anti-feminist); however, the stubborn belief, contrary to evidence, that women earn significantly less than men for equal work is indeed strongly overlapping with feminist opinions. Similarly, an opposition to rape is not feminist—only the distortion of statistics and definitions, and the cheap rhetoric around it. Similarly, again, criticism of e.g. body ideals is not feminism—but the unfair attempts to blame men for them usually are.
Indeed, I would not hesitate to claim that someone who truly wants equal opportunities, rights, responsibilities, whatnot, for the sexes is, by necessity, anti-feminist: Feminism is currently the greatest single threat to this goal—as is abundantly clear to anyone with insight into the situation in Sweden.
For some reason, feminism is seen as super anti: anti-men, anti-sex, anti-sexism, anti-everything. And while some of those antis aren’t bad things, it’s not exactly exciting to get involved in something that’s seen as so consistently negative.
On the contrary, feminism has for a long time benefited from an undeserved reputation as a force of good—including begin “pro-” (most notably pro-equality). That the pendulum is starting to turn is a good thing. (Notwithstanding that the presence of absolute nutcases, e.g. Andrea Dvorkin, has made the proportion of early anti-feminists and those sceptic to feminism in the US greater than in e.g. Sweden.)
As an aside, I have to ask which of the “some of those antis” that “aren’t bad things” are: A plural is indicated, which implies that at least one of “anti-men”, “anti-sex”, and “anti-everything”, would be good. Twisted world-view or lack of writing ability? Experiences with feminists could point to the former, the previous incongruency in the first three sentences quoted point to the latter.
The good news is that feminism isn’t all antis. It’s progressive and – as cheesy as it sounds – it’s about making your life better.
Feminism is severely regressive and destructive. If “your” refers specifically to a woman, the last sentence may be true in theory, but wrong in practice—in the end feminism is likely to do more harm than good to women too. Where men are concerned, even consideration for negative side-effects on men (e.g. from new legislation) is usually absent; attempts to actively improve life for men are as good as unheard of.
As different as we all are, there’s one thing most young women have in common: we’re all brought up to feel like something is wrong with us. We’re too fat. We’re dumb. We’re too smart. We’re not ladylike enough – stop cursing, chewing with your mouth open, speaking your mind. We’re too slutty. We’re not slutty enough.
A pure strawman: Firstly, this is an over-generalization. Secondly, the ones doing the “bringing up” in this direction are typically other women. Thirdly, the claim ignores the many similar issues that men have. Fourthly, this has nothing to do specifically with feminism—feminism is not the white knight in shining armor who will save the poor women from this windmill.
Looking at the comments, it is not an iota better:
Well, feminism is a strong word but being a feminist doesn’t necessarily mean “man-hater” I think that is a misconception. It’s just about being equal in spite of biological/gender differences…
The implication that feminism would be seen as equaling man-hate is partially a strawman, partially glossing over the fact that disturbingly many feminists have very strong negative feelings about men—when not hate, then at least despise. Further, severe prejudices about what men want, think, do, and what the “male role” is are abundant.
Feminism is not about “being equal in spite of biological/gender differences”. On the contrary, a significant part of the main feminist ideology of today is the stubborn denial of any such differences (outside of mere physical characteristics). Further, the feminist movement has proved again and again that it strives not for equality, but for women’s rights and benefits—even at the cost of equality.
(Caroline Garrod/the blog author resp. text quoter)
I would argue, though, that “feminism” doesn’t have to be a strong word – it can and hopefully one day will be universally perceived as a normal statement, as much as one would say “of course I’m antiracist”.
Again a direct reversal of the actual position of feminism in public perception. Being feminist has been the politically correct and accepted position for several decades—at best/worst, it has been a merely acceptable position; at worst/best, half the college women loudly proclaim themselves to be feminists (usually without having any idea of what modern feminism entails).
The recent growing turn-around is positive and it is to be hoped that one day the claim “of course I’m antifeminist” will be just as normal as “of course I’m antiracist”: Feminism and racism are both destructive ideologies that no enlightened person should support.
(With reservations for “racist” and “anti-racist” being used in their proper meanings. As have been observed repeatedly, this is rarely the case. Cf. e.g. .)
The author of the original text, by the way, is Jessica Valenti, whose name I have repeatedly seen associated with anti-male prejudice, blaming of men, and similar. A quick web search found e.g. e and e.