Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Archive for September 2018

Brief thoughts on the decline of Latin and Greek as a scientific languages

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When I first, as a child, learned of the use Latin and Greek names for various plants, animals, and whatnot, it was explained to me that this was done to (a) ensure that there was a name that scientists speaking different languages could use and still be understood by each other, (b) still keep the names in a single language.

I am far from certain that this explanation is correct: More likely, the likes of Linnaeus simply started a tradition based on Latin as the then “science language” for his extensive classifications,* which was kept long after Latin lost ground to modern languages.

*Just like I prefer to write in English over Swedish—why not use the language more likely to be understood?

Still, the purported idea is quite sound: Using a single language allows for greater consistency and enables those so interested to actually learn that single language in order to make identification of the item behind the name that much easier;* and Latin has the advantage of lacking** potential for conflict (as might have been the case if English and French or Mandarin and Japanese were pitted against each other).

*Indeed, even a limited knowledge can be a great help, e.g. by knowing a few commonly occurring suffixes and prefixes.

**Or should do so in any sane era: Some politically correct fanatics apparently consider anything relating to “Western Culture” something to be condemned in a blanket manner. Nothing is certain, except for death, taxes, and human stupidity.

Unfortunately, the scientists of old did not stick to Latin, often turning to Greek. (This includes the names of many (most?) dinosaurs.) However this situation was still reasonably tolerable.

Then things started to get out of hand: Over the last few decades names have increasingly been coined in any locale language. For instance, this text was prompted by the recent discovery of the dinosaur genus Ledumahadi—apparently named “a giant thunderclap at dawn”* in Sesotho

*The silliness and apparent lack of “scientificity” of the meaning, however, has little to do with the language. Dinosaurs have been given similarly silly names from the early days of scientific attention (and many less silly names for extinct animals are obscure through e.g. referring to the shape of a tooth). In contrast, many of Linnaeus names could draw directly on existing Latin names for at least the genus (as e.g. with “homo sapiens”—“homo” being the Latin word for human).

Going by Wikipedia, Sesotho has some five or six million native speakers—considerably less than Swedish today and an even smaller proportion of the world population than Sweden in the days of (my fellow Swede) Linnaeus*. If Linnaeus picked Latin over Swedish back then, how can we justify picking Sesotho over both Latin and English today? The idea is contrary to reason.

If someone were to argue that Latin and Greek, specifically, had grown impractical due to the reduced knowledge among today’s scientists, I might have some sympathies. However, if we concluded that they should go, the reasonable thing to do would be to opt for English as the sole language, thereby ensuring the largest global understandibility. If not English, then some other, truly major language, e.g. Mandarin*, Hindi*, or Spanish should have been considered. Sesotho is useless as single language, and not using a single language will end with names that appear entirely random. It will usually even be impossible to know what language a name is in, without additional research, making it that much harder to find out the meaning.

*Here additional thought might be needed on how the names should be written. (Original writing system? Transliterated to the Latin alphabet? Otherwise?)

For those interested in “local” names, there is always the possibility of introducing an everyday name for the local language: Dinosaurs have normally been known by their scientific names even in the general population, but there is no actual law that this must be the case. Call the Ledumahadi “Ledumahadi” in Sesotho and use a Latin or Greek translation* as the scientific name and the default in other languages.

*My limited knowledge does not allow me to make a suggestion.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 29, 2018 at 5:46 pm

Search-engines missing the point

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Search mechanisms on the Internet are another ([1], [2]) common source of “missing the point”, be they global search-engines or site-internal:

When a user searches, it is not to find hits—but to find relevant hits. However, most* search-engines, etc., appear to focus on maximizing the number of hits and to consider relevance a secondary criterion—often combined with an attitude of “we know better than the user what he wanted to search for”.

*In my experiences over the last few years: I have, obviously, only used a minority of the world”s searches (and avoid Google for reasons of privacy) and things were a bit better in the past.

Wikipedia is a good example: Almost every time I search for something obscure, I am met with a message of “Showing results for [less obscure word]. Search instead for [original search word].”—utterly unacceptable! If I search for X, Wikipedia should non-negotiably show the results for X. The first assumption should always be that the user knows what he wants. If there is reason to expect a mistake, e.g. if someone searches for “reciever”, then it is acceptable, often beneficial, to also make a suggestion “Did you want to search for ‘receiver’?”—but the hits for “reciever” should be shown by default. Presuming to override the search punishes those who actually know what they do and do so correctly, while assisting those who do not…* (However, in the specific example used, some room for display of both can be available as per excursion below. In many or most other cases this is not so, because the actual word used is correctly spelled, but just happens to not have an article on Wikipedia.)

*I stress that I do not claim perfection in this regard: I often make mistakes that involve turning two letters around, hitting return before typing the last latter, and similar. However, I have no objections to paying the price of a second search when I actually have made a mistake—having to pay that price when I did not make one, that is what annoys me.

My current main search-tool, duckduckgo*, is truly horrible in this regard. It does normally show hits for what I searched for, but very often in a form so diluted as to make the results useless. This includes an ever recurring “Not many results contain [specific search term]. Search only for [the original search terms]?”, which amounts to “if this specific search term is included, we do not find many hits, so we have chosen to consider it secondary”. However, the terms falling victim to this are usually those that I very, very deliberately included in order to ensure that the relevance of the hits was high enough! In effect, the better my original choice of terms, the stronger they filter, the more valuable they would have made the resulting hits—the less likely they are to be taken at face-value by duckduckgo. Even a single relevant hit is better than a hundred irrelevant hits! This misbehavior is especially annoying when the space of potential hits has to be reduced by several types of criteria, each essential for the hits to be relevant.**

*A good choice in terms of claimed philosophy with regard to e.g. anonymity, and often the default with e.g. the Tor Browser. However, due to the poor search results, I will almost certainly look for a replacement in the near future. Notably, duckduckgo is yet another tool that has grown worse over time. This lately includes ever more “paid hits”.

**Consider e.g. searching for information on installing a certain piece of software, which requires at least three types of information: (1) Installation instructions are different for different platforms, implying that the platform is needed, preferably fairly specifically. Even with Linux there are often differences from distribution to distribution, and the instructions for Windows or MacOS are highly unlikely to be helpful. (2) These instructions are different for different pieces of software, implying that the current software is needed. (3) The fact that an installation is concerned (and not e.g. general product information or information on trouble-shooting a run-time problem) is needed…

However, even when this dreaded message does not appear, the actual use of the search terms appears to be fairly arbitrary and hits are very often of low quality. This to the point that I suspect that duckduckgo internally uses an “or”* search and then delivers the hits based on some ranking** where “and”*** is just a secondary criterion. The result is that I often have to repeatedly manipulate my query using additional instructions,**** which can waste quite a lot of time and be very frustrating, when it occurs repeatedly in a short span of time. It is far better to be honest, deliver the few relevant hits, and suggest a less stringent search, than to pretend that an ocean of relevant hits were found—but which actually are an ocean of irrelevant hits.

*A query like “a b c” should obviously per default be interpreted as “give me hits that match ‘a’ and ‘b’ and ‘c’ and nothing else”—not as “give me hits that match ‘a’ or ‘b’ or ‘c’ or otherwise only partially match my criteria”. The key to good searches is cutting out the irrelevant, not grabbing anything even remotely plausible looking. (The one case for “or”, as a default, that once could have been made, is long outdated. Cf. excursion.)

**Using a ranking is not a problem, but could even be seen as a necessity. (Another problem with Wikipedia is the weak or absent ranking of hits.) However, this ranking must have relevance as the most important criterion. If this is ignored in favor of criteria like popularity, a very popular page that deals extensively with “a” (but not “b” and “c”) might be ranked over an unpopular page that actually deals with all three.

***More strictly speaking, the textual relevance for the search terms.

****Specifically, the use of “+” to force the use of a given search term and quotation marks to ensure that a certain term is taken literally, e.g. “a “b” c” (but see excursion below).

Excursion on synonyms and similar:
An acceptable, normally highly beneficial, exception to the use of the user”s literal query is the application of synonyms and similar fuzziness. For instance, if a search for “horse” does not include pages that use “horses”, “equine[s]”, and whatnot (but fail to use “horse”), there would be a considerable additional burden on the user, including the need for repeated searches or searches that make heavy use of “or” instructions. In the minority of cases where the specific, literal, search-term is required, the user still has the option of being explicit* about this. Some degree of such fuzziness has been a quasi-standard since the late 1990s or the early 2000s.

*Typically, through the use of “””.

However, even this can be taken too far. For instance, I recall once searching for information on User-Mode Linux: Knowing that using the typical abbreviation, “UML”, might give me many irrelevant hits on Unified Modeling Language, I very, very deliberately spelled the phrase out—and found hits dominated by … Unified Modeling Language! Apparently, the search-engine had reasoned that “Hmm, ‘User-Mode Linux’ is the same as ‘UML’, ‘UML’ is the same as ‘Unified Modeling Language’; ergo, I should show hits for ‘Unified Modeling Language’!”, despite the two having nothing to do with each other.

A particular problem with too much fuzziness is that countering it with a literal search will be an all-or-nothing deal (for the search-term in question): For instance, if an over-eager search-engine includes results for “address Doctor John Smith” for the search “address Professor John Smith”, this can be corrected by searching for “address “Professor John Smith””. However, this will also exclude references to “Pr. John Smith” and “Prof. John Smith”. Here, the attempt to combat too much fuzziness requires throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Remark on quotes:
Note that there are three types of quotes used in this text, regular double (“/”), regular single (‘/’), and the-ones-on-the-keyboard (“/”).

Written by michaeleriksson

September 29, 2018 at 12:03 pm

WordPress at it again: Backups and security through obscurity

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The stream of outrageous incompetence by WordPress continues…

For the first time in half an eternity,* I decided to download a backup of my WordPress blog. In the past, this has resulted in (most likely) a zip-file being offered for saving. Today, however, I was met with a message that a link to this zip-file would be sent to my email account… The link, in turn, was valid for a full seven days, downloadable by any arbitrary Internet user, and protected only by (what I hope was) a random sequence of characters added to the file name. This is not only highly user unfriendly—it is also a great example of idiots relying on “security through obscurity”: It is true that no-one who does not know the random part of the file name (obscurity) will be able to download the file (“security”). However, with the state of email security, a great number of hostiles** would have had the opportunity to grab the email contents and find the link. To boot, this approach opens the door for simple errors or oversights by WordPress to open an unnecessary security hole, e.g. if a list with the current such links is similarly weakly protected… Other risks might exist, e.g. that it might be easier for a family member or visitor to get hold of the email/link than access to the WordPress account.*** In contrast, with the old system, the backup was transient and protected by the normal user-account controls—and if those are breached, it does not matter how backups are handled…

*This is not as bad as it sounds: I write all posts offline, with separate backups, in the first place; there are not that many comments; and I intended to leave WordPress at some point anyhow. Correspondingly, little data would actually be lost, if something bad happened.

**Notably, not necessarily parties hostile towards the individual blogger. More likely, it would be someone hostile towards WordPress or who sees WordPress as an easy source of data. Such a hostile would then watch the outgoing traffic from the WordPress mail-servers, grab all the links it could find, and then simply download everything. And, yes, many blogs will contain contents that are not intended for public viewing, including private blogs, blogs restricted to a smaller circle, and public blogs with unpublished drafts.

***Anonymous bloggers are not necessarily known to even a closer circle and even those who are might have contents not yet suitable for viewing by others. (This need not even relate to something truly secret, which would be foolish in the extreme to put on WordPress in any manner, but could include e.g. a draft of a post dealing with an upcoming proposal, surprise party, whatnot.)

If we consider only the delay, there might be see some justification to accomodate extremely large blogs, where there is at least a possibility that the time needed* for the creation of the backup might be too large for normal in-browser interaction. However, if so, the correct solution would be to present the download only within the account it self. Indeed, even if we assume that this type of linking was acceptable (it is not), the procedure is highly suboptimal: The link should have been presented in the confirmation page, not sent per email;** the availability time should have been far shorter (a day?); and the contents should have been deleted or otherwise made unavailable upon download (if something goes wrong, the user can always create a new backup).

*I received the email almost instantaneously, implying that my backup would have had to be at least one, more likely several, orders of magnitude slower than it actually was before this concern became legitimate.

**Or the contents behind an emailed link be password protected, with the password displayed in the confirmation page; or the contents only being served after a successful WordPress login.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 28, 2018 at 7:36 pm

Tor Browser missing the point

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I have written before of browser makers having the wrong attitude (recently, Pale Moon; Firefox repeatedly, e.g. [1]) and of people missing the point to such a degree that what they do borders on the pointless.

Unfortunately, the Tor Browser is another case, brought to my mind by a recent “user agent”* issue (cf. below).

*Strictly speaking, “user-agent header”. For simplicity, I will use just “user agent” below.

The Tor Browser is a modified Firefox browser that allows surfing through the anonymisation/privacy/whatnot network Tor, while attempting to remove weaknesses in Firefox that could defeat the use of Tor. On some levels, the developers take a very strict approach, e.g. in that they advice against using Tor with another browser. On others they are paradoxically negligent.

Consider the following claim from the current version of the Tor FAQ:

Why is NoScript configured to allow JavaScript by default in Tor Browser? Isn’t that unsafe?

We configure NoScript to allow JavaScript by default in Tor Browser because many websites will not work with JavaScript disabled. Most users would give up on Tor entirely if a website they want to use requires JavaScript, because they would not know how to allow a website to use JavaScript (or that enabling JavaScript might make a website work).

This, however, makes both the use of Tor with the Tor Browser and the many alterations of the Tor Browser pointless… Allowing JavaScript is not just “unsafe”—it is a complete and utter disaster, defeating the purpose of Tor entirely! Indeed, I am very, very careful about allowing JavaScript even when not using Tor, because JavaScript does not only allow a circumvention of anonymity protection (which is not a concern in a more “vanilla” situation)—it also very severely increases the risk malware infections and whatnots. (To which can be added complications like more intrusive advertising, redundant and annoying animations of other kinds, and similar.) It would be better to use Firefox (over Tor) with JavaScript off than to use the Tor Browser with JavaScript on!

The we-do-not-want-to-scare-away-beginners argument normally carries some* weight; however, here it does not, because the damage done is so massive. This is like a word-processing program that does not allow the user to enter text… I would also argue that because someone is a beginner, it is more important to give him safe defaults—I know the dangers of JavaScript; most beginners do not. These beginners might then surf away as they like, in a false sense of security, and potentially find themselves in jail after insulting the local dictator…

*But only some: To a large part, it is a fallacy, because it so often involves insisting on behavior that benefits the beginners for two days and either harms the more experienced users for years or forces them to invest considerable time in searching for settings/plugins/whatnot to make the behavior more sane. Indeed, in many cases, the result is a background behavior of which most users will not even be aware, despite being harmed by it. (Consider e.g. “accessibility services” that run up processor time, increase the attack surface for hostile entities, make the OS sluggish, …, without ever being used by the vast majority of users.)

A much better solution would be to keep JavaScript off by default and give beginners sufficient information that they can judge why things might not work and when it might or might not be a good idea to activate JavaScript.* Indeed, the nature of anonymity on the Internet is such that Tor is of little benefit unless the user has received some education on the traps and problems.

*In most cases, the answer is “never”: The security loss will always potentially be there, even a trusted website can be abused by third-parties, and most sites that require JavaScript to function properly, at some point, require a de-anonymizing log-in or registration, e.g. to complete a purchase. With the rare exceptions, I would recommend using an entirely different Tor Browser instance.

The text continues:

There’s a tradeoff here. On the one hand, we should leave JavaScript enabled by default so websites work the way users expect. On the other hand, we should disable JavaScript by default to better protect against browser vulnerabilities ( not just a theoretical concern!). But there’s a third issue: websites can easily determine whether you have allowed JavaScript for them, and if you disable JavaScript by default but then allow a few websites to run scripts (the way most people use NoScript), then your choice of whitelisted websites acts as a sort of cookie that makes you recognizable (and distinguishable), thus harming your anonymity.

Apart from understating the risks of JavaScript, this argument hinges on an easily avoidable use of NoScript. (Cf. footnote above.) This use is the normal case when using a vanilla Firefox, but it is only a convenience, it is not a good idea with the Tor Browser, and it is not acceptable to let the uninformed dictate behavior for the informed. Better then to inform them! In a pinch, it would be better to not include NoScript at all,* point to the possibility of using several browser instances (with or without JavaScript on), and let those who really, really want NoScript install it manually.

*With some reservations for secondary functionalities of NoScript, which is not just a fine-grained JavaScript on/off tool. Then again, these secondary functionalities could in some cases also help with de-anonymization through making the browser behave a little differently from others and thereby allowing some degree of finger-printing.

The same type of flawed thinking is demonstrated in a recent change to the user agent: Historically, this identifier of the browser, OS, and whatnot has had the same default for all Tor Browsers (with occasional updates as the version changed), in order to make it harder to de-anonymize and profile individual users. With the recent release of version 8.0*, this had** changed and at least the OS was leaked. The implication was that e.g. a Linux users could be pinpointed as such—and because of their smaller proportion of the overall users, their anonymity was turned into a fraction*** of what it was before.

*Based on Firefox 60.x, incorporating the extreme overhaul of Firefox hitherto kept back. I am not enthusiastic about the changes.

**The developers have recanted in face of protests—a welcome difference to the way the Firefox developers behave.

***In some sense: Consider a game of “twenty questions”, where the “questioneer” is told in advance that a mineral is searched for… Not only does such information prematurely cut the average search space in three (mineral, plant, animal resp. Linux, MacOS, Windows), but due to the smaller size of the mineral kingdom resp. set of Linux users, the specific current search space is made far smaller.

The justification for this appears to be a fear that websites would (as per the old default) hand out Windows content to Linux users, causing sites to not work. While this is not as bad as the JavaScript issue, it is bad enough, especially since this change was not clearly communicated to the users.

Again, the reasoning behind the change is also faulty: Firstly, the influence of the OS is fairly small and any site that relies on OS information is flawed. Secondly, the opposite problem is quite likely, that a website sees “Linux” and decides “I have nothing tailor-made for Linux. What if the display is not pixel perfect?!? Better to just show an error message!”, even though the site would have worked, had the Windows version been delivered. Combined, these two factors imply that the change likely did more harm than good even for functionality…

A specific argument in favor of the change was that it made little sense to spoof the user agent, because this information could still be deduced by other means. However, almost all these other means require JavaScript to be active—and no reasonable user of the Tor Browser should have JavaScript active (cf. above)! For those who, sensibly, have deactivated JavaScript, the user agent is now an entirely unnecessary leak. To boot, there are situations, notably automatic logging of HTTP-requests, that have access to the user agent, but not to other values (or only with undue additional effort). Looking at such a log, an after-the-fact evaluation can show that a Linux (and Tor Browser) user from IP X visited a certain North-Korean site at 23:02 on a certain day, while the JavaScript based evaluation has to take place in real-time or not at all. Possibly, the logs of another North-Korean site shows that a Linux user from the same IP visited that site at 23:05. It need not be the same user, but compared to a (real or spoofed) Windows user in the same constellation, the chance is much, much larger.*

*Among many other scenarios. Consider e.g. a certain page on a site which is visited by a Linux user somewhere between 23:00 and 23:30 everyday—had he been a Windows users, no one might even have noticed a pattern. Or consider a user visiting one page of a site with one IP at 23:02 and another page with another IP at 23:03—now the risk that the user is recognized as the same is that much larger. Such scenarios obviously become the more serious when other information is added from the “regular” twenty questions. (And while they might seem trivial when applied to e.g. me or the typical reader, they can be very far from trivial in more sensitive situations, e.g. that of a North-Korean fighting for democracy or of someone like Assange.)

Excursion on user agent, etc.:
The situation is the more idiotic, seeing that there are* very, very few cases where e.g. the browser or the OS of the user is of legitimate interest to the website. Apart from statistics** and similar, the main use is to deliver different contents, which is just a sign that the web developers are incompetent—with very, very few exceptions, this should never be needed. If in doubt, it is virtually always better to make a specific capability check*** than to check for e.g. specific browser. Writing websites that look good/function in all the major browsers, on all the major platforms, and even simultaneously in “desktop” and “mobile” versions****using the same contents is not that hard—and doing so ensures that the website is highly likely to do quite well in more obscure cases too.

*Today: In the past, this was not always so, with comparatively weak and highly non-standardized browser capabilities. I think back on my experiences with JavaScript and CSS in the late 1990s with horror.

**And what legitimate reasons do websites have to gather statistics on user agents? The answer is almost always “none”. The main reason that is even semi-justifiable is to optimize the website based on (mostly) the browser, and (cf. above) this is almost always a sign of a fundamentally flawed approach—and the solution is to write more generic pages, not to gather statistics. (In contrast, statistics like how many users visit at what hour or from what country can be of very legitimate interest. A partial exception to the above are major technological upheavals like the switch to HTML 5, but these are likely better handled by more central and generic statistics—or, again, specific capability checks.)

***For a trivial example, if a site needs JavaScript to function, it should check for JavaScript with or in combination with the “noscript” tag (not related to the NoScript plugin)—not whether a browser from a short list of known JavaScript capable browsers is used. The latter will give false positives when JavaScript is turned off and false negatives when a rarer-but-JavaScript-capable browser is used.

****If different versions are needed at all (dubious), this should be an explicit choice by the user. I note that I have very often preferred to use the mobile versions of various sites when on a desktop, because these typically are less over-wrought, are “cleaner”, have a lesser reliance on (unnecessary) JavaScript, come with less advertising, …

Unfortunately, a fad/gimmick/sham of the last few years has been adaptive web design. Attempts to apply this virtually entirely unnecessary and detrimental concept is the cause of much of the wish for e.g. knowing the browser, OS, screen size*, device type, … (other reasons relate to e.g. de-anonymization, profiling, and targeted advertising), to the point that some have wanted to detect the charge level of a mobile’s battery in order to adapt the page… The last is horrendous in several aspects, including an enormous patronization, the demonstration of a highly incompetent design (no page should ever, not even when the battery is full, draw so much power that this is a valid concern), great additional risks with profiling, and a general user hostility—if this was a legitimate issue, give the user an explicit choice: He might prefer to run everything at full speed when low on charge, because he knows that he will be home in ten minutes; he might prefer to run everything at minimum speed even with a full battery, because he is gone for the weekend and has forgotten his charger.

*Screen size might seem highly relevant to the uninitiated, but normally is not—a sufficiently generic design can be made for most types of content. With the rare exceptions, leave the choice to the user.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 27, 2018 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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Untested extrapolation and human nature

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In the Firefly universe, Shan Yu is claimed to have said:

Live with a man 40 years. Share his house, his meals. Speak on every subject. Then tie him up, and hold him over the volcano’s edge. And on that day, you will finally meet the man.

The ramblings of fictional dictators are rarely a great source of wisdom, but this one points to one of the most important life lessons we can ever learn:

The true nature of someone or something is often only revealed in the right circumstances—and what the careless observer believes is the truth, is often incomplete, occasionally entirely wrong. Before we have seen this someone or something in a situation sufficiently similar, we can often only speculate about the true nature (or aspect of overall nature).

This has a very wide applicability, including scientific phenomena,* doors,** businesses,*** …—and, most notably, humans.

*Countless examples exist on many different levels. A high-level example is the contrast between classical physics and quantum mechanics or the theory of relativity.

**Is that solid looking house-door really an obstacle to a burglar?

***The final impulse to get this particular text done was a reader email concerning Clevvermail, which serves as a great example of how businesses only show their true level of (in-)competence, customer (un-)friendliness, whatnot, when something goes wrong or an unusual situation occurs. See excursion below.

Consider a small selection of the many conceivable examples involving humans:

  1. Shan Yu’s example: While I do not agree that we would meet “the man”,* chances are that we would indeed learn something new about the victim—possibly even something that radically changes our view. Take someone that you truly believe that you know** and imagine him (or her) in that situation—can you now truly predict how he will react? Will there be tears? Threats? Promises? Negotiation? Cold fear or hysterical panic? …

    *Rather, it would show us yet another aspect of the man.

    **A spouse, sibling, close friend, … I will mostly use “friend” below, but the examples easily generalize.

    Turn the table: Can you predict how you* would react in this situation?

    *A similar table-turning is implied in other examples; however, mostly not spelled out, in order to avoid redundancies. (Obviously, the chances that we will have a good idea about ourselves is far greater than for others—often because we already have been tested/tempted/whatnot in a similar manner.)

    I would not dare to make the prediction even for myself.

  2. Vice versa, can you predict the circumstances* in which you or your friend would hold someone else over a volcano? Actually drop him?

    *Chances are that they exist, no matter how despicable the act might seem. “Do it—or we kill your family!” would likely do the trick in most cases. Now find the borders. (Or haggle.)

  3. Is that friend a true friend, someone who can be counted on for help, or just someone you enjoy spending time with? Would he risk his life to save you from a volcano?
  4. Given the choice, would a certain friend prefer to help you or to obey the law? How would he generally prioritize conflicting obligations, loyalties, whatnot?
  5. Is that confident sounding colleague actually more competent than the rest or just more confident? Is the better-dressed colleague actually more competent or just better-dressed? Is the higher-up actually more competent or just higher up?

    In my experience, these situations are roughly a 50–50, and judgment should be based on the actual performance.

  6. Would your children ever lie* to you, cheat on a test, do drugs, …?

    *Arguably a bad example—if they are old enough to communicate, they almost certainly do…

A particularly interesting issue is the difference between what we want to do (would do in theory, consider the right thing to do, would do if we had the ability, …) and what we actually do. Will someone who rejects theft be able to stick to his principles when faced with a risk-free opportunity to steal ten million dollars? When stealing a loaf of bread makes the difference between eating for the first time in two days and not eating? Who can tell, when someone has not yet been tested… The difference is often even a physiological issue, e.g. in that another repetition of an exercise becomes so painful that even a strong will falters—or that a truly iron will is eventually foiled by a physical inability to complete a repetition. Then again, lack of trying can also leave us underestimating our abilities. For instance, I have several times gone for a walk, felt so lacking in energy after just a few minutes that I considered going back (“must be a cold waiting to erupt”)—and ended up walking for two hours, feeling more energetic at the end than at the beginning. Intellectual activities are the same: Sometimes sleepiness, a headache, or similar prevents me from keeping myself focused for even five minutes on something that I really want to do—and sometimes I can go into a near trance-like state where I spend hours, with only minimal interruptions, doing something that I would normally look for excuses to avoid.

Excursion on Clevvermail:
If we change a single thing in my experiences with Clevvermail, chances are that I would never have written the linked-to text—assume that my credit card had not been arbitrarily rejected (due to some technical, non-credit, issue):

This takes care of the first item (see the linked-to text) outright. It also takes care of most of the fourth item, because it directly or indirectly removes most of my interactions with customer service. It turns the last item from a major issue into a mere inconvenience, with no unwarranted suspensions, and no reason for me to terminate my account effective immediately due to a gross breach of contract. I might or might not have terminated it even so, but if I had, it would have been in a more regular manner, with no opportunity for Clevvermail to later harass me with an unjustified claim. (Be it because a deliberate fraud now lacked even a pseudo-justification or, assuming mere incompetence, because the restrictions concerning online account-termination no longer applied, and the account would have been terminated online.) Indeed, I might even have come off with an impression no worse than “has a poor UI” and “abuses my email address for spam”—both of which are bad, but not necessarily signs of anything unusual. (Some degree of email abuse is fairly common, even among businesses normally considered reputable. This does not make it acceptable, but at least less remarkable and with lesser implications.)

In reality, however, my card was rejected—and Clevvermail proceeded to reveal much more about it self to me than to the average customer. (Or so I hope—for their sake…)

Excursion on (fake?) friendliness and “service experience”:
An interesting special case is formed by the very many who are unable to see the difference between friendly, often fake friendly, service and good service. Smiles, greetings, a few jokes shared, whatnot, are all positive—but they are merely a bonus. The main point must be that the customer gets what he paid for, without any shortage, hidden costs, own unplanned efforts, …

Unfortunately, many incompetent or, worse, dishonest people bank on uncritical customers confusing a smile with good service or hope that a mere smile will be enough to not have to make up for an error and the associated costs/efforts imposed on the customer. Notably, the less competent (or more dishonest) someone is, the greater the past opportunity to practice fake friendliness…

To boot, there can be many border-line cases where someone is friendly just as a bonus, without manipulative motivations, and the uncritical customer is to blame for focusing on the wrong criterion. For instance, old ladies seem to judge how “good” a physician is more by friendliness than by demonstrated competence. This does not automatically make the physician incompetent; however, his reputation is still misleading.

As an aside, the fact that I am not blinded by friendliness has repeatedly led me to view people, including several past colleagues, in a radically different manner than the majority did—be it because I have judged them by their incompetence, not friendliness, or because I have had a greater ability to see through their surface than most others.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 25, 2018 at 2:04 pm

Weak justifications for poor language

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When it comes to grammar, common arguments from the “everything goes” school include “there are countless examples of X being correct; ergo, X should always be allowed”, “X is not an error, because Shakespeare used it”, and other analogy claims.

Such arguments are usually faulty through lack of discrimination:* It is quite possible for a certain phrasing, grammatical construct, whatnot to be correct in one situation and incorrect in another—and the analogy must only be used as justification when the circumstances are sufficiently similar. An extreme example is “over-exaggerate”: There are situations in which “over-exaggerate” is a reasonable formulation, but it remains an error of the ignorant in almost all cases. Consider e.g. a politician deliberately exaggerating a problem in order to be more convincing—but doing so to such a degree that he loses believability. He has now over-exaggerated.**

*In the case of e.g. Shakespeare, they also forget that a once valid use might now be outdated; that he, as a poet, might have taken liberties in order to improve rhyme or meter; that his language might have contained dialectal features in a pre-standardization English; and similar.

**Whether such a use of “over-exaggerate[d]” has ever taken place is unknown to me; however, until five minutes before starting this text, I had not even contemplated the possibility that it could ever be anything but wrong—and the rarity of the correctness shows the danger of superficial analogy arguments that much better. (At “five minutes before”, I read the phrase “exaggerating too much” and saw the applicability to “over-exaggerate”.)

A more common example is the use of “and”, “or”, and similar conjunctions at the beginning of a sentence. There are cases where such use could be seen as correct. For instance, “Mary had a little lamb. And everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.” would not bring me to the barricades.* I even occasionally use incorrect** such formulations my self, in a manner that I consider acceptable in context. Correspondingly, I cannot condemn a leading “and” in a blanket manner.

*However, I would have preferred “Mary had a little lamb; and everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.”, because the full stop implies a strong separation that the “And” then reduces, as if someone was simultaneously pressing down on the gas pedal and braking. (Alternatively, I might have tried to cut the conjunction entirely.) Generally, I always remain a little skeptical: Even when the construct can be argued as grammatically acceptable, there are often reasons of style, logic, coherence, whatnot that speak against it.

**For instance, I might use a leading “And” within brackets in situations where I (a) want to strengthen the connection to the preceding text to overcome the bracket, (b) do not consider the bracketed content important enough for more words or even fear that more words might reduce legibility in context. (Of course, others might argue that if the text was that unimportant, it should have been cut entirely…) Similarly, my footnotes are almost always intended to be read in the immediate context of the main text, and will not always be complete sentences or thoughts without that context—some footnotes and brackets could be seen as a branch on a trunk and only make sense when the branch is entered from the trunk. (Why not forego the bracket + “And”, as another case of simultaneously hitting the gas pedal and braking? Well, the bracket is often beneficial to break out less important or less on-topic thoughts, as with the current. From the point of view of the main text, the bracket serves to separate such parts. However, sometimes the connection with the unbracketed text then becomes too weak from the point of view of the bracketed, and the “And” remedies this. This argument does not hold with Mary and her little lamb.)

However, most practical uses remain both incorrect and unacceptable, and those critical of these constructs do not typically suggest a blanket ban—only a ban of incorrect cases. For instance, where someone with an even semi-decent understanding of English would write “Mary had a little lamb and a goat.”, a journalist or a pre-schooler might write “Mary had a little lamb. And a goat.”, which is incorrect by any reasonable standard.* However, the problem does not reside with the “And”, but with the way a single sentence or thought has been artificially, confusingly,, and unnecessarily divided into two parts, one of which cannot stand on its own. The error is one of interpunctuation—not of what word is allowed where. “Mary went home. And took the lamb with her.”, makes the same mistake, if a bit more subtly. A faulty separation of a subordinate clause is a common variation, and often includes a far wider range of words. Consider e.g. “John went home. Because Mary was sick.”: Both parts contain a complete sentence and the situation might be salvaged by simply removing the “Because” (at the cost of no longer having the causal connection); however, a “because” clause can come both after and before its main clause, which can cause a lot of ambiguity. For instance, how do we know that the intention was not “John went home. Because Mary was sick, Tom also went home.”, with a part of the text missing?** What if the text, as actually given, had read “John went home. Because Mary was sick. Tom also went home.”? Was it John, Tom, or possibly both, who went home because of Mary’s health?

*Notably, the complete-sentence standard; however, see an excursion for an alternate suggestion and more detail.

**This gives another reason to stick to the rules: If a text contains language errors, it is often not clear why; and by deliberately deviating from correct grammar, the ability to detect accidental errors and to deduce the true intended meaning in face of errors is reduced. Equally, a deliberate deviation can make the reader assume an accidental error where none is present, leading to unnecessary speculation. Other examples that can soon become tricky include leaving out “unnecessary” uses of “that”, “unnecessary” commas, and similar. If in doubt, doing so can lead to their exclusion out of habit in a situation where they were definitely needed.

Someone criticizing such sentences usually does so, directly or indirectly, because of the division—of which “And” is just a result. Even if we were to say that sentences are allowed to start with “and”, “or”, whatnot, these sentences would still be wrong, because they still make an absurd and ungrammatical division. As an analogy, if someone has a viral infection accompanied by a fever, the infection does not go away because the patient’s body temperature is declared normal. More generally, we must not focus on superficial criteria, like a temperature or an optical impression of a sentence—we actually have to understand what goes on beneath the surface and we have to ask the right questions. Above, the right question is “Is the interpunctuation correct and reasonable?”—not whether a sentence starts with an “and”.

Excursion on my historical take on “and” et al. and on the reverse mistake:
I my younger days I belonged to the “never acceptable” school, largely through committing the opposite error of “sometimes wrong; ergo, always wrong”—something equally to be avoided. My opinions have become more nuanced over the years. However, I still feel that these constructs should be left to those with a developed understanding, because (a) by simply resolving to never start a sentence with “and” et al., a great number of other mistakes will be far less likely to occur (cf. above), (b) even most grammatically acceptable uses are better solved in other ways (cf. footnote above). I would also argue that a grammar which does categorically forbid these constructs would be perfectly valid and acceptable—it just happens that established English grammar does not. (In contrast, a grammar that allows e.g. “Mary had a little lamb. And a goat.”, while conceivable, would make a mockery of the concepts of full stop and sentence. The purpose of these are to give the reader information about the text not necessarily clear from the words themselves; and it would be a lesser evil to abolish* them entirely than to spread misinformation through them.)

*while interpunctuation is a wonderful thing writing systems tend to start without it uptothepointthatthereisnotevenwordseparation we do not need interpunctuation but do we really want to forego it fr tht mttr nt ll wrtng sstms s vwls still misleading information, is even worse

Excursion on complete sentences:
A typical criterion for the use of full stops is that all sentences are complete, typically containing at a minimum subject and verb. However, I would argue that it is more important to have a thought* of sufficient completeness** and sufficient context to understand that thought. For instance, this is the case when someone takes a fall and says “ouch”; a soldier shouts “incoming” or a surgeon says “scalpel”; a (compatible) question is answered with “yes”, “no”, “probably”, “the red one”, …; one opponent exclaims “son of a bitch” to the other; any number of imperatives are used (“buy me an ice cream ”, “assume that X”); etc. Indeed, a subject–verb criterion might not even make sense in all languages. Many Latin sentences, e.g., will only contain an implicit subject, implying that at least an explicit subject cannot be a universally reasonable criterion. (The English imperatives could also be seen as a case of an implicit subject.)

*I see myself supported by the more original and non-linguistic meanings of “sentence”, which are strongly overlapping with “thought”. Also cf. “sense” and “sentiment”.

**I deliberately avoided “complete thought”, which could imply that the entirety of a thought is expressed. This, in turn, is only rarely the case with a single sentence. (Cf. [1].)

However, these examples are only valid given the right context: Go up to a random person on the street and say “yes”, and chances are that he will be very confused.

“And a goat.” will usually fail this criterion, because it is so heavily tied* to something else that it cannot stand alone. Usually, this something is the preceding own statement (“Mary had a little lamb.”), and the best solution would be to integrate the two (“Mary had a little lamb and a goat.”) or to complete the missing portions (“Mary had a little lamb. And she had a goat.”). However, there are some cases that can be argued, mostly relating to immediate interactions (spoken word, texting, and similar). Consider e.g. “And a goat.” as an afterthought** to a previous complete thought or as an interjection by a second speaker—and compare it with “Oh, wait, it just occurred to me that I would also like to have a goat.” resp. “I agree with the previous speaker, but would like to add that we should also buy a goat.”, and similar overkill. In contrast, “Mary had a little lamb. And everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.” has two separate and independent thoughts, both of which are complete subject–verb sentences, both of which could be taken as stand-alone claims with minimal context. (Except as far as the “And” sends a confusing signal and would be better removed in a stand-alone context; however, the result remains a perfectly valid sentence even in the traditional sense.)

*Interestingly, just “A goat.” is more likely to be a valid thought, because the “And” points to something else that must already have been communicated.

**With sufficient delay that the afterthought cannot be integrated into the whole: If someone is currently writing an essay and sees the sudden need to add a goat to the discussion, there is no justification for “And a goat.”—there is more than enough time to amend the text before publication.

However, in most cases, I would recommend sticking to the traditional “complete sentence” criterion, because it makes a useful proxy and can serve to avoid sloppy mistakes when trying to be clever.

Excursion on full-stops for effect:
Full-stops are often deliberately (mis-)used for e.g. dramatic effect or to imitate the spoken word. For instance, “Mary had a little lamb. And a goat.” might arise in an attempt to put extra emphasis on the latter, to simulate a “dramatic pause”, or similar. I recognize that there is some benefit to this effect—but not to how it is achieved. I strongly recommend using the “m-dash” (“—-”) for such purposes—and do so myself all the time.* To boot, I would strongly advice against striving for a literal pause, seeing that the written and spoken word are not identical in their character. Notably, most proficient readers do not “sound out” the words in such a manner that an intended pause would actually occur.

*To the point that even I cannot deny overuse… Then again, I do not suggest that others change the frequency of their use of the effect, just that they replace one means of achieving it with another. Some might raise objections against this use of the m-dash, e.g. based on historical use for parenthesis; however, I do not use the old semantics, there are other means to achieve a parenthesis effect, and the m-dash is otherwise fairly rare in modern English.

A particularly idiotic use is the insertion of a full-stop after every word, to indicate that each words is heavily emphasized and separated in time, e.g. “Do. Not. Do. This.”: The only situation where this might even be negotiable is when spoken word is to be (pseudo-)transcribed, e.g. as part of a dialogue sequence in a book. For a regular text, including e.g. a post on a blog or in a forum, textual means of emphasis should be used (italicization, underlining, bold type, …)—the written word is not a mere transcription of the spoken.

Excursion on full-stops in long sentences:
I sometimes have the impression that an artificial full-stop has been inserted to prevent a sentence from being too long, by some standard. (Possibly, some journalists write a correct sentence, see it marked as “too long” by a style checker, and just convert a comma to a full-stop to land below the limit. Then again, some journalists appear to use a full-stop as the sole means of interpunctuation, even when length is not a concern…) The result is a completely unnecessary hindrance of the reader: Because valuable hints are now absent or, worse, misleading, it becomes harder to read the sentence. (Note that there is no offsetting help, because the actual thought expressed does not magically become shorter when a few full-stops are inserted.) For instance, when reading the FAZ (roughly, the German equivalent of the New-York Times), I have often encountered a complete sentence of a dozen or more words, followed by “Because”/“Weil” at the beginning of a subordinate clause of another dozen words—and then a full-stop… The result is that I, under the assumption that the grammar is correct, “close” the first sentence, absorb the second with the expectation of applying the causality to a later main clause, and am then thrown entirely off track. I now have to go back to the first sentence, (at least partially) re-read it, make the causal connection, re-think the situation, and then scan forwards to the end of the subordinate clause again, to continue reading. It would have been much, much better to keep the subordinate clause joined by the grammatically correct comma—the more so, the longer the sentences.

Meta-information:
My use of full-stops and capital letters in the above examples is deliberately inconsistent. Mostly, I have tried to avoid them in order to not complicate matters around the resulting double* interpunctuation. However, many examples have required them to be understandable. When it comes to standalone “And” vs “and” (quotation marks included), I have used “And” when it appeared thus in the example, and “and” when speaking of the word more generically.

*Examples like ‘abc “efg.”, hij’ are awkward and can be hard to read. I also categorically reject some outdated rules around interpunctuation and quotes that originated to solve pragmatical problems with equally outdated printing technology.

I found the asymmetry of “Mary had a little lamb and a goat.” a little annoying, and considered adding a “g-word” before “goat”; however, a reasonable “g-word” was hard to find* and some of the later stand-alone examples became awkward.

*The most orthographically and semantically obvious example is “giant”, but it is typically pronounced differently. Other candidates made too little sense.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 21, 2018 at 12:11 am

Abuse of political power in Germany

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A recent German debate around Hans-Georg Maaßen and his forced resignation* from the office of president of the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (colloquially, “Verfassungsschutz”) well illustrate the problems with the societal attitude towards the Left** and “Right”** in Germany:

*Technically, it appears to be a promotion; however, there is no doubt about what actually took place.

**Caution: While the Left is an at least semi-coherent group, the “Right” is not. Notably, the “extreme Right” often has little in common with the “Right” in general, being defined (by the Left) solely through e.g. attitudes to nationalism and immigration, even in cases where it has more in common with the Left than the (non-extreme) “Right”. This problem is largely ignored below, because the sub-topics relate strongly to the Leftist view of the “Right”.

After large-scale, allegedly immigrant hostile and violent,* protests in Chemnitz, Maaßen made claims amounting to his having no decisive information about hunts (“Hetzjagden”) of foreigners during the protests, and he expressed doubts about the authenticity of a video circulating the Internet—quite correctly pointing to recurring problems with exaggerations and distortions around alleged “Right-wing” violence. He might or might not have been wrong about the events and the video,** but even should his estimate have been wrong, he could still have been truthful, e.g. in that no such decisive information was known to him or that he had genuine doubts about the authenticity of the video, awaiting a deeper investigation. (Note that the situation was chaotic and information given in e.g. media has been contradictory and confused.)

*I have not investigated the details, cf. excursion, and neither support nor reject these claims, except as far as I advice others to be similarly cautious in the light of tendentious news reporting. I note, however, that the protests were a direction reaction to a murder involving immigrant and/or asylum-seeker suspects.

**I have not investigated this either.

Nevertheless, this has led the Leftist parties of the German Parliament to (successfully) demand his resignation. This confirms the ever-present problem of the Verfassungsschutz being seen as a tool mainly to restrict freedom of opinion on the “Right”. Consider e.g. that the parliamentary party AfD has repeatedly been the target of unfounded claims of “Verfassungsfeindlichkeit” (“hostility towards the constitution”) by Leftist parties—while a direct continuation of the ruling East-German Communist party, SED*, also sits in parliament, and is met with no such claims. Or, among the extra-parliamentary and more extreme parties, consider how there have been repeated attempts to have the Right-wing NPD banned outright, while the Left-wing MLPD*, openly calling for revolution and dictatorship of the proletariat, is tolerated. There is an extreme and intolerable double-standard, where the Left has to commit acts and express opinions several degrees worse, before the same treatment is awarded. Indeed, it is obvious that very large parts of the Left (in Germany, in Sweden, in the U.S., …) sees its own opinions as the sole acceptable norm, with any non-Left opinion almost ipso facto being evil, extremist, or otherwise worthy of condemnation.

*To avoid misunderstandings: I am not saying that these parties should be banned—just that it is an anti-democratic hypocrisy to tolerate them while calling for the ban of lesser evils in another camp.

Excursion on news reporting, etc.:
Maaßen is quite correct in that there is a major problem with distortions through press and media (as well as, obviously, Leftist propagandists). This includes the same double-standard as discussed above, conflation of fellow travelers,* and even reporting that puts the true events on their head, e.g. in that a longer article discusses violence around an “extreme Right” demonstration and only at the very end briefly mentions that the demonstration had been peaceful until Leftist counter-demonstrators attacked it… The likes of Antifa are certainly a far greater problem and far more deplorable than the people they attack. (I have already made similar points in [1].)

*E.g in that a demonstration or protest somehow involving immigration is considered “extreme Right” in a blanket manner, without looking at the motivations of the group as a whole or, more importantly, as individual members. I point particularly to the Pegida phenomenon, which collected a wide variety of people with very different motivations. I recall in particular a brief discussion with a colleague a few years back: He positively bragged about how he was fulfilling his civic duties by being a counter-demonstrator—and followed this up with a condemnation of the Burka, where he had to draw the line… Many of his “enemies” had opinions no worse than that—as he would have known, had he bother to find out. Indeed, many on the Left consider it a firing offense when a Muslim does not want shake hands with a member of the opposite sex…

As a side-effect of these distortions, the truth of events is very hard to find, which is why I have not even tried in this case. (As it does not matter what happened, when it comes to evaluating Maaßen’s fate. Chances are that he would have been condemned either which way, because he did not do his “duty” of using the Verfassungsschutz to put down the “Right” and the “Right” only. Cf. parts of [1].)

Excursion on Maaßen:
My own opinion on Maaßen in general is divided, seeing that he has been a source of controversy before, including for a decidedly negative NSA-style attitude to surveillance; however, most of the controversy, going by memory, has been Leftist condemnation of his failure to be sufficiently compliant with Leftist ideas about who is good and who is evil. Of course, what he has or has not done, said, whatnot, in the past does not alter the fact that the recent events were rooted in politics and ideology—not in Maaßen’s actual suitability for the job.

Excursion on Verfassungsschutz and Verfassungsfeindlichkeit:
In a bigger picture, I find the Verfassungsschutz and the concept of Verfassungsfeindlichkeit troubling. While much of this amounts to legitimate activities, e.g. tracking terrorists and potential sources of political violence, the setting is disputable, and e.g. a “Federal Office for the Prevention of Terrorism and Political Violence” (or similar) would have been better. By focusing on the constitution, there are implicit limits on the “correct opinion” that are not tolerable in a Rechtsstaat, because of inherent defects. For instance, the German constitution prescribes, non-negotiably, non-revocably, that Germany is to be a “sozialer Bundesstaat”, effectively a social/well-fare (federated) state, which is a thoroughly anti-democratic restriction. (But I stress that merely having the “wrong” opinion in this regard will not bring the Verfassungsschutz into action.)

Of course, the German constitution arose in a manner that makes it a snapshot of political opinion shortly after the demise of the Nazis, which is not a good basis for a document that potentially will last for hundreds of years—and it was not intend to be more than a temporary solution. (Unfortunately, after roughly seventy years and the re-unification of Germany, there is precious little chance that a more suitable constitution will arise.)

Excursion on Marx et co:
The mentioned double-standard is highlighted by where the controversy originated: Chemnitz (aka Karl-Marx-Stadt) still has more than a few traces of the old East-Germany, including a giant head of Karl Marx at the edge of the central park. Similarly, Wuppertal (my current residence) has a major street named after Friedrich Engels.* A test for Verfassungsfeindlichkeit could have ended badly for both (had they been active today), and especially the Karl-Marx head is in bad taste, because it is not there as an independent honoring of Marx, but as a remnant of the old East-German propaganda and symbolism.

*Engels, coincidentally was born and spent a fair bit of his life in and around Barmen, the specific part of Wuppertal where I live. Generally, Wuppertal has been the source of quite a few prominent Leftists, including Johannes Rau (whose career included a term as German President).

Excursion on the coalition government:
I have repeatedly written on the democracy problems caused by having an unholy alliance form a coalition government (e.g. [2]). The events above are a potential illustration: Many of the demands for Maaßen’s resignation came from the junior and Leftist partner (SPD). Had it not been a member of this unholy alliance, the senior partner (CDU/CSU; e.g. in a more natural coalition with FDP) is more likely to have kept him on: Do we get rid of that one guy or do we risk the coalition failing?

Written by michaeleriksson

September 19, 2018 at 12:56 am

The justification of the Left now and then

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I have more sympathy for the Socialists, Communists, etc. of older eras than I do for even the more moderate parts of the modern Left—even a partial refocus on new issues* aside.

*E.g. Identity Politics in the U.S. and Feminism in Sweden.

There are two reasons for this:

Firstly, we now live in a very, very different world* than, say, a hundred or two hundreds years ago. Not only is the affluence of society so much larger, making a reasonable living possible even for most of the less well-off**—but our success in life is now mostly determined by ourselves: Today, anyone with a great brain (and many utterly without…) can get a higher education, almost*** any occupation is open to everyone with the right capabilities, almost**** anyone can run for public office, etc. Sure, having rich parents, parents with the right contacts, whatnot, can be a great advantage, but such advantages are usually considerably behind e.g. own intelligence, industriousness, and (regrettably) likability.

*I will silently imply “Western”, in a broad sense, in most of the discussion. Some of it can, however, apply to non-Western societies, e.g. Japan. Certainly, some of the negatives of the Western past can be current reality elsewhere, e.g. in North-Korea.

**While actual poor do exist, they are quite rare. Most of the alleged “poor” of modern Leftist rhetoric are only poor by a highly misleading change of definition, leading far better lives than their peers of a hundred years ago—and having advantages in many areas over even the kings of medieval times. (Consider, for the latter comparison, quality of healthcare, life-expectancy, books to enjoy, scientific knowledge available, quality and selection of music costing next to nothing—let alone the existence of computers, movies, the Internet, …)

***An obvious exception is joining the clergy of some Church as an atheist.

****Some restrictions are often present, notably involving citizenship and age, but these are usually reasonable—unlike e.g. “must be a nobleman”.

Go back in time and it becomes increasingly more likely that someone with the wrong background did not even learn how to read, had to work so hard for sustenance that personal or career development was impossible, had barriers set by social rank, etc. Even as little as a hundred years ago, the world was radically different from today—e.g. in that universal suffrage was mostly absent or newfangled, that an eight-hour working day was a fantasy to most people, and that malnurishment was still abundant. Russia, prior to the 1917 revolutions, was actually, not just nominally, ruled by a monarch and saw peasant conditions verging on serfdom.* Indeed, actual serfdom existed into the 19th century in some countries, including Russia and parts of Germany**.*** The 19th century conditions even in parts of Britain were partially horrible, often worse than in the pre-industrial era; and even the 20th****, even war-time aside, sometimes contained working conditions beyond the comprehension of many members of the modern, mostly historically ignorant, Left.

*Not that the revolutions led to much improvement…

**Germany back then had more in common with Russia than e.g. the U.K. and the U.S. did, and it is hardly a coincidence that Marxism arose in the one and found ample ground in the other.

***To which can be added e.g. the U.S slavery. However, no matter how unfortunate it was, it was also limited to a small minority of the population, while serfdom could be far more wide-spread.

****I recommend Orwell’s “The Road to Wigan Pier”.

Secondly, the state of knowledge around relevant issues was not as developed back then, and opinions that today are naive to any informed and rational thinker need not have been so at the time.* Most notably, the understanding of economics was much weaker than today and there was no opportunity to retrospectively compare the performance of e.g. “free markets” and “command economies”. Today, we can compare e.g. East- and West-Germany and note how the differences vastly exceeded what could have been expected from pre-existing issues and external factors; we can note how the gap between the Soviet Union and the U.S. grew over time; we can compare the likes of Taiwan and South-Korea with the likes of Cuba and North-Korea; we can currently observe how Socialism is running Venezuela** into the ground.*** However, we can also now, unlike before a Communist/Socialist regime existed, see how Communism/Socialism fails through its naive understanding of human nature, e.g. in how it is only a matter of time before the pigs wear clothes and walk on two legs, and how principles like “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” give unproductive incentives and beg for abuse****.

*Some leeway might be given to the high-school drop-outs of today—but not to professors, leading politicians, professional authors, …

**Venezuela also shows that this is not merely a matter of e.g. dictatorship vs. democracy, which might otherwise have been a convenient excuse…

***As a partial counter-point, we could also point to the economic success of Social-Democrat Sweden over a long stretch of the 20th century. However, Sweden fell well short of the other mentioned Leftist countries in terms of suppression of market forces (even speaking of a “third road” as a compromise between Capitalism and Socialism), did incur structural issues that could have proven problematic over time (had the Social-Democrat dominance not started to break in the 1970s), and benefited from some factors not or only indirectly relating to Social-Democracy (including early investments in literacy/education, an improvement relative other countries through not being a combatant in WWI and WWII, and the ability to profit from the needs of the former combatants in the post-WWII era), leaving the question of whether Sweden was successful because of or despite the Social-Democrats.

****Contrast this with an insightful and only semi-joking German definition of “team”—“Toll, Ein Anderer Macht’s”. (Roughly, “Great, Someone Else Does It”.)

Overall, the main single issue might be that the fights for equality of opportunity and for equality of outcome once largely coincided—today, it is abundantly clear that the two were merely fellow travelers. (Except to those who stubbornly and in face of massive evidence to the contrary cling to an outdated “tabula rasa”/“nurture only” world-view—which is what makes this world-view so very, very dangerous.)

Written by michaeleriksson

September 16, 2018 at 11:07 pm

A principled approach to sex

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Matters of sex, sex crimes, and sexcrimes have featured in some earlier texts, but never with a deeper treatment of my thoughts, premises, and whatnots. Below I try to partially remedy this.

First some principles:

  1. Sex is by and large beneficial, something mostly welcomed, even sought out, by most people. In this it differs from e.g. being robbed and highly resembles e.g. eating: People might not be hungry at any given time, they might not like some specific food (some might even be allergic), they might have a great aversion to being force-fed, they might be tempted to eat more than they should, careless eating can damage their health, etc. However, eating is and remains something seen as positive by almost everyone—and refusing food completely is not healthy.

    Indeed, sexual intercourse is one of the things normally seen as the most positive in the human experience and one of the most sought after. This most definitely includes by women*—I even have the strong impression that women are more interested in sex than men are, even though their sexuality might work differently.

    *Incidentally, this observation (and its sibling, that women really like men—likely more so than men like women) goes a long way towards explaining the success of “pick-up artists”: This-or-that technique might have a positive effect, but it does not magically convince an asexual romance-only creature to jump into bed with a random guy—it pushes those already (at least potentially) interested in the right direction. Most likely, their main benefit is that they make the pick-up artist try to push in the first place… Vice versa, the absence of this observation goes a long way towards explaining the problems many young men (unnecessarily) have.

    As a special concern, overlapping with the following two items: While there are many cases of “with whom”, “when”, “where”, “how”, …, that many of us would see as decidedly negative, it is not a given that others share the same aversions. For instance, there are apparently many octogenarians (and people a hundred pounds overweight, pizza faces, whatnot) who enjoy having sex with each other. While I, personally, would much rather eat broccoli than follow their example, they prove that there are people who see even this a something positive—possibly, on a “better than nothing” basis. Correspondingly, if someone knowingly steps into bed with someone even considerably older, fatter, whatnot, we cannot rule out that the experience was a positive for both parties. On the contrary, the event it self is a prima-facie reason to assume at a minimum* that it was** not so large a negative as to be preventative for the person concerned (although it might have been for someone else).

    *Often, it might be expected to be an outright positive; however, obvious exceptions lower the bar of what we can assume with reasonable certainty. Consider e.g. someone who engages in pity-sex: We cannot necessarily assume that actual enjoyment was expected, but we can assume that any negative expectations were considered sufficiently small to be outweighed by mere charitable satisfaction and whatnot. Similarly, a prostitute might or might not have wanted to have sex with a given customer, had this been the sole point of consideration, but the fact that she did have sex shows that any negatives at least were smaller than the amount of money earned.

    **Or, more correctly, expected to be. What actually happens cannot always be predicted—but then even someone highly attractive could turn out to be a disappointment.

  2. What is considered perverted, sick, twisted, or (above all) illegal today in one society need neither have been so in the same society in the past (or be so in the future), nor in another society today. Condemning certain sexual acts must be done only with great caution and erring on the side of too permissive—we do not need more sexcrimes.

    Good examples in many Western societies include a greater permissiveness towards homosexual activities* and extramarital sex**, contrasted with a greater resistance towards teenage sex*** (including increases or suggested increases of the age of consent) and a drift towards explicit and verbal consent****. (Some of these will be discussed below in more detail.)

    *Positive development.

    **Mostly negative development.

    ***Mostly negative development.

    ****Extremely negative development.

    A consequence is that if something is legal in one society considered “modern”, “civilized”, whatnot, we should think twice, even thrice, before making it illegal in any other society also considered “modern”, “civilized”, whatnot. (To, in a reversal, think twice about making something legal, would normally be contrary to erring on the side of permissiveness. However, in other areas, e.g. relating to surveillance, the reverse principle might apply—and then the conclusion is reversed too.)

    However, not everything that should be allowed is also to be recommended, and my favoring a greater permissiveness concerning a specific issue does not necessarily mean that I favor taking advantage of this permissiveness. Living on pizza, beer, and potato chips is (and must be) legal—but it is not a good idea. While I will not explicitly address this below, it does apply to a significant part of the discussion.

  3. Mutual consent must be the main criterion for judging the legitimacy of a sexual act, and e.g. the moral or religious* opinions of others (except as below) are irrelevant. However, if the act is harmful or a “breach of contract” towards someone else, the legitimate interests of that party must also be considered. For instance, if two sexual partners are “exclusive”, neither is normally** allowed*** to engage in sexual activities with a third party; for instance, if the act amounts to a trade of sex for a promotion, the interests of the employing business and the other candidates for the promotion must be considered and the trade must almost certainly be rejected. Overriding societal concerns, e.g. a fear that incest, prostitution, or pre-marital sex would have negative effects on society, might be a further source for restrictions, but should only be applied when the evidence is very strong, the negative effects very large, the restrictions on the individuals not undue, and when the restrictions are limited to the harmful**** area. (And, no, I am not certain that these criteria would ever be met in anything resembling modern society, including prostitution and pre-marital sex. However, see an excursion on incest towards the end.)

    *The most important part of the freedom of religion is the freedom from religion. An exception is obviously present in as far as a religious organization, e.g. the Catholic Church, can impose requirements on its members as a condition for membership.

    **Exceptions could include e.g. a situation where partner A refuses sex over a prolonged time against the reasonable expectation of partner B. In such cases, partner B would not commit a “breach of contract” by engaging in a sexual act with a third party, but would merely remedy a breach by partner A.

    ***Here we encounter the issue of what should be considered ethically and what legally wrong. This is a complicated issue that I will mostly ignore. However, as general guide-lines: (a) With an eye on the risk of creating sexcrimes, it is likely better to err on too little (especially criminal) law even on acts that are ethically wrong. (b) Even acts that are not strictly illegal can have legal consequences, e.g. through allowing an otherwise disallowed divorce, allowing the other party remedial action, or necessitating compensation.

    ****For instance, if the aversion to prostitution is based on negative effects on marriages, banning prostitution for the unmarried would be too far-going. (To boot, a ban for those married could be redundant if cheating already is an ipso-facto wrong.)

    In a more limiting context, additional restrictions could be justifiable, if sufficiently proportionate, e.g. that employees agree to forego office romance as a condition for employment based on the employers fear of undue complications (also cf. the footnote on religion above).

    (Much of the above could be deduced from two more abstract items, (a) freedom of self-determination, with variations, and (b) the application of some basic contract-law principles. I only very narrowly decided against a corresponding re-working. Also see an older text where I am more explicit about applying contract law to marriages.)

  4. People, again including women, are responsible for their own actions and decisions. Putting the blame on someone else, wishing for monetary compensation, or, at an extreme, involving the police must be reserved for those instances when someone else is objectively and considerably to blame, e.g. when a hot-dog vendor is so sloppy with hygiene that a customer ends up with food-poisoning—but not when the customer is sick after voluntarily downing one hot-dog too many or later has poor conscience for breaking a diet.

To next look at a few more specific issues, while applying the above principles and some common sense:

  1. Consent to sex should be taken at face value and people should be held* to consent given: If someone consents to something normally viewed as positive, it is unreasonable to demand that others should second guess the consent, let alone assume that “yes means no”. If someone consents** to “Here, eat this hot-dog!”, this should be taken at face value—notwithstanding vegetarians, health-food enthusiasts, hot-dog haters, and those who have just finished a three course dinner. In contrast, consent to “Here, eat this cyanide pill!” would almost certainly indicate something very off. Even “reluctant consent”, e.g. to get the other party to stop nagging, must be taken at face value: Unless threat or violence is involved, no-one forced that vegetarian to eat a hot-dog—the offer could have been turned down. Not doing so makes it the consenter’s decision and he must carry the consequences of the consent.*** Ditto “consent followed by regret”, etc.

    *Excepting the right to withdraw consent before the act, e.g. in that someone indicates interest in sex at the way home, but would rather go to sleep once actually home. Of course, the withdrawer might legitimately face negative consequences, e.g. (in the context of a bar pickup) not being allowed to remain in the apartment of the other party. (How far-going the consequences is beyond the current scope and would depend on the details of the situation.) A withdrawal of consent during the act is trickier: It might be OK in principle, but (a) it is not a given that the other party can conscionably be expected to stop, (b) the harm done to the other party is likely to be larger if sex is interrupted than to the first if it is continued (note that the original consent is a very strong indication that the act was at worst not a big deal—more likely a positive). Barring unusual situations like actions that are unreasonable in context, e.g. unexpected sadism, and radically changing circumstances, e.g. an urgent phone call, such withdrawal is unethical.

    **Here we can also draw other analogies to understand when sex should normally be considered unwanted. For instance, if someone goes up to a stranger and shoves a hot-dog into his mouth, this will rarely be met with enthusiasm and might well lead to assault charges. Similarly, combining “Here, eat this hot dog!” with the brandishing of a gun moves us to a very different territory.

    ***Indeed, this will very often apply even when we discuss something negative. Considering e.g. consenting to shoveling snow, cleaning the house, helping someone move, …

    This even applies to most* cases of intoxicated consent: Firstly, the opposite leads to too much arbitrariness, puts too much responsibility on the other party, and causes paradoxes like two drunk people simultaneously “raping” each other. Secondly, the responsibility for own actions include use of alcohol and other drugs, and if this leads to sufficiently impaired judgment that poor decisions are made, the blame does not reside with others.

    *Not including loss of consciousness and near unconsciousness, and potentially excluding some very severe other intoxications that leave someone entirely unable to make reasonable decisions. However, even a fairly severe intoxication should not be a hindrance to consent, a mild one under no circumstances. If someone drunk consents to hand out a ten-dollar bill, it is still his own fault. If he is unconscious and someone just takes the ten-dollar bill from his wallet, the thief is to blame. If someone crashes a car while driving under the influence, this increases culpability. Many jurisdictions contain (and all should contain) provisions to give some degree of protection against consequences of actions taken while heavily and obviously intoxicated, e.g. in that a contract or Las-Vegas marriage might be contested on this basis; however, these are intended to annul annullable negatives—a sexual act that already took place is no longer annullable and sex is not a negative.

    (But it does, obviously, exclude “consent” given e.g. under threat of violence—just like with any other transaction.)

  2. While restrictions on consent based on age are not unreasonable in principle (analogous to restrictions on the ability to enter contracts), many countries of today are too limiting.* Not only do we have to consider the general “sex is good” principle, but also that teenagers have strong natural sexual drives while being** sexually mature or close to mature, that even marriage and procreation has been historically common among even fairly young teenagers, and that many hit the height of their physical attractiveness during their teens—it is natural*** for a teenager to have sex. Looking at TV, it is not uncommon for a parent to complain loudly to (most often?) her friends over not having had sex for a few months—and neither is it uncommon for a parent to be callous towards a teenager going without sex for years.

    *I will not try to give a specific recommendation, seeing both that this might require considerable research and that I am against discrimination by age, as opposed to individual characteristics. (In general, not just regarding sex; cf. [1].) However, a limit based on sexual maturation might be reasonable: Going above its completion will lead to increased sexual frustration; going below its onset seems pointless through bringing little benefit (but potentially some danger) to the individual. Other considerations include a better protection against non-consensual sex (someone too young might not be able to reject a sexual advance in an effective manner, and a blanket ban could be helpful by reducing the risk of such advances) and when (cf. below) someone can be trusted with preventatives. I also note that my native Sweden has a limit at age fifteen, which seems like a reasonable compromise when I look back at my own teenage years (assuming that an age-based limit is applied).

    **Not all teenagers are, either because they are still at the beginning of their teens or because they are slow developers; however, the sexual drive correlates strongly with sexual maturity.

    ***Not everything natural is automatically good, but I have yet to hear a strong argument for the opposite in sexually mature teens.

    Looking at mental maturity, why would someone aged seventeen (sixteen, fifteen, …) not be able to give meaningful consent? Why, looking at the U.S., should the age of consent be higher than the age of legal driving, with the ability to end or ruin lives in a matter of seconds? Sex (with proper precautions, cf. below) is not harmful*—but I suspect that waiting too long can be:

    *Weirdly, some people seem to be under the impression that sex below even eighteen has some quasi-magical harmful property in it self, that the participants would somehow, in some manner, be mentally damaged or turned into perverts just through having sex. This might or might not be true if we go back to true children (where this opinion appears to be outright common), but there is no non-superstitious reason to apply it to e.g. someone aged seventeen. (Even for true children, the risks are likely exaggerated, because the research has naturally focused on victims of abuse by those considerably older, leaving the question of what negative effects were caused by sex and what by e.g. pain, powerlessness, a feeling of betrayal, whatnot. However, here I strongly suggest erring on the side of caution.)

    I would argue that waiting too long to be sexually active can be more harmful, e.g. in that sexual frustration can get in the way, that sexual expectations grow too high (followed by a severe let down), that the “first time” is built-up in the mind to the point that it is surrounded with anxiety, that porn* is used as a substitute, or similar. (But I note that a lower age limit does not automatically ensure an earlier debut.) To boot, a higher age-limit can be harmful through forcing those who violate it (and let us not be naive here) to sneak around and jump through hoops, e.g. where preventatives are concerned.

    *I have nothing against porn, per se, and I do consider most of the criticism against it exaggerated or outright wrong. However, it can take up more time than just having sex, it can disrupt sleeping patterns (the teen having to avoid parental oversight), it can create an unrealistic image of sex, it can increase the risk of having a computer infested with malware, … (The latter being far more likely to happen, without adequate protection, than a regular STD among those who have sex.) In a twist, it could also very easily lead to illegal activities with potentially very dire consequences, seeing that searches for porn involving those of a similar age are quite likely and reasonable—and these are normally (mis-)classified as “child porn”.

    Counter-arguments focusing on the risk of pregnancy or STDs are flawed, should they want to ban sex in general (below a certain age): If the target is to prevent pregnancy and STDs, measures should be taken that attack these more directly. Such could include a requirement for additional precautions (notably, condoms) for those below eighteen, beyond a lower age of consent. The actual age of consent might then be geared at what point someone would be sufficiently responsible and well-informed to take such precautions.

    For some discussion of age-based limits in general, see [1]. For issues around undue prolongation of childhood, see e.g. [2].

  3. While explicit consent is better than implicit or implied consent, it is also often unpractical and unnatural—and it opens up too much room for interpretation of what constitutes consent.

    Apart from situations where consent is either impossible (e.g. for someone unconscious) or where it is highly unreasonable to assume consent (e.g. with a stranger requesting sex while brandishing a weapon), it is better for all involved parties to insist on rejection being explicit. If at all possible, rejection should also be verbal, to avoid any type of misunderstanding.

    Note especially that sex is very often something that just happens naturally, through continual and, usually, mutual, escalation, especially between significant others. The opposite might even quench the interest of the other party.* Of course, such continual escalation gives plenty of opportunity for an early rejection that terminates the process well in advance of actual sex.

    *As an extreme, if fictional, example, I point to the German sit-com “Türkish für Anfänger”, where the unusually busy wife once responded to her husbands spontaneous advances by trying to schedule sex for a later time, causing him to sulk for several days, and eventually resulting in a row.

  4. Looking at the special case of homosexuality: In a typical constellation, we have two consenting adults, no third-parties are in anyway hurt, and, barring e.g. a Biblical* ban, there is no reason to treat a homosexual couple differently with regard to sexual intercourse** than a heterosexual one.

    *As discussed above, even a Biblical ban should not be of relevance to those who neither, themselves, support such an interpretation, nor are members of a Church that does.

    **However, there might well be other areas where different treatment is warranted. I do not take it for granted (nor do I rule it out) that e.g. marriage and adoption should be open for homosexual couples.

  5. Looking at the special case of prostitution: If there are no other hindrances involved (lack of consent, age, unfaithfulness, …), there is no reason to not allow it—and if such hindrances are present, it would already be disallowed, making additional legislation, at best, redundant. Correspondingly, I consider bans on prostitution highly misguided and violations of the self-determination of the involved parties.

    The specific argument that prostitution would somehow be an ipso-facto abuse of women (or otherwise be a great evil towards them) falls flat on its face, seeing that the possibility of prostitution does not leave the involved women (and men) worse off than without the possibility: If prostitution really is worse* than the alternative, that alternative can still be chosen, even if prostitution is available. If prostitution is not available, the alternative is the only thing remaining.

    *Moving slightly off-topic, I note that negative effects often relate to the illegality and/or poor status of the profession; that the negativity is often considerably exaggerated in media, and outright demonized in feminist propaganda, compared to what many prostitutes themselves say; that a comparison with other jobs must be made (cleaning toilets is legal, working in coal-mines is legal, …); and that, contrary to feminist propaganda, there are even some who enjoy the job. Be especially wary of assuming that all prostitutes lead the same life—there is a world of difference between an up-scale call-girl and an over-the-hill streetwalker. (Generally, feminists have views on and around prostitution that are simply not born out by facts and logic, and are often based on absurd premises. For instance, I once read about a “study” where a certain, very large, number of “trafficked” women had been found: There were X foreign hookers in the region. Since a woman would never voluntarily prostitute herself, these must all be involuntary. Because they are foreigners, they must have been trafficked. Ergo, we have X victims of trafficking…)

    Of course, if prostitution is deemed illegal, then we have to treat it like any other “criminal sale”, with the main responsibility being put on the seller, not the buyer. If in doubt, if the buyer is committing a crime, he does so after enticement, implying that e.g. the Swedish law that frees the prostitute of all responsibility and views the buyer as the sole criminal is not merely illogical—it is insane!

Excursion on incest:
Incest is a tricky issue, not least because my own automatic reaction is “yuck”. However, exactly such automatic reactions are problematic and lead to suboptimal decisions. Looking at it more objectively, we have the pro-side that mutual consent would normally be enough to allow it, and a con-side that comprises at least three arguments: Firstly, the risk of inbreeding. This is historically a strong argument and likely the reason why a “yuck” reaction is so common—evolution has taught us to avoid it.* However, with today’s preventatives and (in a pinch) “post-ventatives”, this is not much of a factor, unless the parties are deliberately aiming at procreation. Secondly, the increased risk that a dependency, helplessness, whatnot, is abused. This might be enough to warrant a ban over a fairly wide range of ages (and possibly other aspects), but not for independent adults. Thirdly, this could cause a number of complications within the family. Barring such constellations that are banned for other reasons, notably abuse of minors, I would tend to consider it something to allow—but also something to very strongly discourage.

*However, this is unlikely to be the whole explanation. For instance, U.S. fiction often shows this type of reaction towards even first cousins, while other cultures limit it to the more immediate family.

Excursion on STDs and pregnancy:
I mostly ignore these factors above, for the sake of simplicity and noting the plethora of contraceptives, medicines, and whatnot that are on the market. (And pregnancy is not always considered a negative…) For those who act responsibly, STDs and pregnancy are not that large a problem in today’s world. Those who do not? Well, they have themselves to blame—and their lack of responsibility should not lead to restrictions for others.

However, this area can lead to additional restrictions where e.g. cheating is concerned. For instance, a husband and wife might deliberately chose to have sex without condoms, knowing that they are both “clean”—but what if one of them cheats? A carelessly contracted STD now affects the spouse as well as the cheater. Similarly, an unwanted pregnancy will also usually affect the spouse.

As an aside, while many jurisdictions have what amounts to a strict liability for men regarding pregnancies, it would make much more sense to keep the men guiltless for (unwanted) pregnancies and put the strict liability on the women: Women have a greater set of contraceptives, a greater control of what contraceptives are used, and ultimately will make decisions relating to abortion. A responsible and careful man can still accidentally impregnate someone; a responsible and careful women, on the other hand, is extremely unlikely to become accidentally pregnant—and if she does, she can do something about it. Still, when an irresponsible woman and a responsible man have an unwanted pregnancy, she decides whether he will spend the next two decades paying child-support… This system is fundamentally flawed, outdated, and unjust.

Excursion on text structure and quality:
The above is the result of a collection of thoughts and half-written pieces unsystematically gathered over several weeks, originally conceived as a single list. This was highly chaotic, and I did some restructuring through dividing the original list into two, dealing with principles and conclusions respectively. The division is somewhat arbitrary and the result not ideal, but I prefer to leave it at this, seeing that a truly strong piece would require a thorough rewrite and likely the extraction of some parts into separate texts—and that I have a large backlog of texts to complete. Other compromises include removing some intended cases and not expanding the treatment of some others to the degree originally intended.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 15, 2018 at 5:32 am

The 2018 Swedish parliamentary election

with one comment

A few words on the recent Swedish parliamentary election, with some reservations for the results not yet being finalized:*

*Numbers are taken from two Swedish Wikipedia pages, on the 2018 election resp. the historical election results.

  1. Gratifyingly, the overall decline of Social-Democracy appears to be continuing. While the Swedish incarnation, and the current government former, did well by international standards, with 28.4 %; it also reached a new record low. The previous low was 28.5 % from 1911 and the first somewhat modern election.

    This, even without unholy coalitions, follows the trend in Germany, although the Germans are in danger of dropping below 20 %, while the Swedes just went below 30 %. (On the other hand, the joint Social-Democrat/former Communist/Green block is roughly equally strong in Germany as in Sweden. Also see below.)

  2. The main individual competitor, Moderaterna, dropped even more, but its three close allies saw a sufficient gain to more than offset this, leaving the group roughly on par with the Social-Democrats and its allies (a former Communist, now Leftist-/Feminist-populist, party and the “Greens”). The chances are good that the Social-Democrats will not form the next government.
  3. The “Greens” came close to missing the 4%-barrier*. Had they done so, it would have been easier to form a non-Leftist government. Let us see what the next election brings…

    *Parties with less than 4 % of the overall votes are not awarded seats.

  4. The Feminist extremist/populist party Fi did not only, again, fail to reach the 4%-barrier, but took a severe hit. With a mere 0.4 %, chances are that it will become a non-factor in the future. Unfortunately, this cannot be seen as an indication that Sweden is finally turning against Feminism, because many of the other parties are strong (if, I hope, not always honest) proclaimers of (Gender-)Feminist ideas. (Including Patriarchy this, structures that, men oppress women, domestic violence only happens to women, we need to spend as much time discussing female mathematicians as male in math books, variations of the 77-cents-on-the-dollar fraud, …)
  5. However, the further advances of Sverigedemokraterna could be a sign that this is happening: While the main focus of this party is immigration skepticism, it has also often clearly distanced it self from Feminism. With 5.7 %* in 2010, 12.9 % in 2014, and now 17.6 %, it has grown to be a candidate for second largest party, will potentially hold a lot of sway in the otherwise even parliament, and is increasingly forcing the rest of the parties to take issues around immigration and Feminism seriously. This is very positive, seeing that the refusal to discuss such issues in a critical and open-minded manner has had severe consequences for Sweden.

    *Entering parliament for the first time. At the time, many viewed this as a complete disaster and Sverigedemokraterna as the worst evil Sweden had seen in living memory. (Cf. e.g. [1] and a few links from there.) The reactions were worse than those of Hillary and her pack deplorables after the election of Trump…

    As an aside, Sverigedemokraterna is a good example of why the Left–Right scale is useless. They are almost invariably classified as Right-wing, Right populist, or even (usually by the extreme Left) as extreme Right. However, if we look at other issues than “anti-PC” and nationalism, they are (or at least were*) very often overlapping with the Leftist parties. Indeed, my first encounter with Anna Ardin (Feminist/Leftist propagandist and, later, infamous for rape accusations against Julian Assange) was relating to her loudly complaining about how a Swedish newspaper had pegged her as a voter for Sverigedemokraterna in an online test… A member of the (non-hyperbolically!) Loony Left pegged as having more in common with Sverigedemokraterna than with the party of her official choice…

    *I have not looked into their current opinions in detail, but they do appear to have drifted in a more conservative direction over the last eight years. However, the greatest criticism, often amounting to “Sverigedemokraterna are Nazis in disguise” came from that era…

  6. An interesting development is that the Social-Democrats have made overtures towards its non-allies to form a government without involvement of Sverigedemokraterna—well in line with their behavior in past years. For now, they appear to have been turned down. To boot, chances are that, with the current size of Sverigedemokraterna, it will be impossible for the Social-Democrats to push this through by swaying just one Moderaterna’s three allies to defect—at least two would be needed, which is extremely unlikely to happen.

    This is doubly gratifying in that it points to both a turnaround in the general treatment of Sverigedemokraterna and a refusal to fall into the anti-democratic trap that Germany has been caught in.

Readers from e.g. the U.S. should beware that the “political middle” is considerably more to the Left in Sweden than in the U.S. Applying Swedish measures to a U.S. context, the middle-line would not go between the Democrats and the Republicans, but splitting the Democrats in half. Vice versa, the U.S. political middle would cut the Swedish “Right” in half.

As for myself, I continued my practice of not voting—I see none of the current parties as deserving my vote, the choice being one of the lesser evil. (I have not done the leg-work to pin down said lesser evil in this election, but in the past it has usually been Moderaterna.)

Written by michaeleriksson

September 11, 2018 at 3:36 am