Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘debate

Bad-faith assumptions in debate / allegations of e.g. sexism

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Accusations of e.g. sexism are often entirely unwarranted and accusations (in general) from the PC crowd are often exaggerated in a highly distortive manner, often involving undue speculation about motives or the assumption of a hidden agenda, e.g. in the form “criticizes immigration policy” => “must be a racist”.

In the border-areas of these two problems there are some interesting special cases that I have seen repeatedly over the years,* often involving clear non-sequiturs and/or bad faith. The latter in two variations: Firstly, in that the attacker can be acting in bad faith, e.g. maliciously distorting for rhetorical purposes. Secondly, in that the attacker assumes that the attacked spoke in bad faith, making the attack a case of incompetence. (I also point to Hanlon’s Razor and the standard recommendation for Wikipedia editors to assume good faith for further thought.) While I will not necessarily point explicitly to these complications below, they are almost always present to some degree, and I ask the reader to actively consider them when reading the reminder of the text.

*Because I have learned my lesson and try to stay away from Feminist debates, they have been much rarer to me lately than in the past. For this reason, I have few specific examples and links. Similar topics have occurred implicitly in a few older texts, however. I point e.g. to [1] and to my conflicts with and concerns about German blogger Antje Schrupp, discussed in e.g. [2] and [3]. An old debunking of a “male privilege checklist” is likely to contain some examples and/or some material overlapping with the below items.

A few (likely incomplete) examples:

  1. Interpreting criticism of Feminism as misogyny or as having an anti-woman agenda.

    Even if Feminism was a true equality movement (it is not, outside its own propaganda), criticism of it must be allowed. Jumping to (or, possibly, pretending to jump to) conclusions beyond the criticism it self is almost always unwarranted. Equating anti-Feminism with e.g. misogyny is comparable to equating anti-Communism with hatred of the working class.

  2. Interpreting opposition to equality of outcome as misogyny.

    Apart from the renewed non-sequitur, equality of outcome is not equality at all—true equality is equality of opportunity.

  3. Interpreting the belief in physical differences, be they speculative or well-documented by science, as misogyny.

    We must try to see the world as it actually is—not the way we want it to be. This includes being open to possibilities that do not match a preconceived opinion or an ideological agenda, and to respect that others might have a deviating opinion for a non-misogynistic (non-racist, non-whatnot) reason. (It does not include agreeing with that reason, but I would welcome it if e.g. Feminists were to take the trouble to actually research matters with an open mind, instead of blindly believing claims by other believers and the pseudo-scientific field of gender studies—they would find reason to modify a great number of opinions.)

    As an aside, a common sub-problem is that members of the PC crowd fail to consider individual variation, or that their opponents understand individual variation, resulting in absurd conclusions like the opponent who says that the average X of group A is better than that of group B being taken to imply that every single member of group A has a better X than every single member of group B. This including implicit variations, e.g. that the existence of one single member of group B of who excels in X is taken as counter-proof. (Where “X” can refer to a wide range of measures, abilities, whatnot, e.g. IQ or the ability to play chess. Height and the ability to long jump are good examples of similar measures that do not usually* receive this misinterpretation, and that implicitly show why the misinterpretation is idiotic.)

    *Exceptions can exist. Apparently, e.g., the opinion that Serena Williams would not be competitive with even fairly low-ranking male tennis players has been condemned as sexist—without bothering to actually investigate the factual correctness or faultiness of the claim. This shows an element of wishful thinking that is common in PC circles—I want the truth to be this-or-that; ergo, the truth is this-or-that.

  4. Interpreting criticism of an individual woman as criticism of women in general. For example, the claim “Hillary Clinton would be a useless President” has been extrapolated to “Hillary Clinton would be a useless President because she is a woman” (implying “any female President would be useless”)—where the speaker is far more likely to have his eyes set on her weird opinions, disputable morals, relative lack of qualifications, … More extreme extrapolations like* “women are useless in politics” or even “women are useless” are not unheard of.

    *I do not recall whether I have seen such in the case of Hillary Clinton, but similar extrapolations have definitely occurred. I use examples on the same base for consistency.

    This item (and the following) is outright baffling, and one that makes me believe that these interpretations are often either deliberately dishonest (to allow e.g. an ad-hominem attack) or based on the (horribly misguided) blanket assumption that a significant portion of the male population is deliberately trying to oppress women.

  5. Interpreting factual and valid criticism of an individual woman as being motivated by misogyny, a wish to put women in general down, or similar. As a special case, (typically incorrectly) assuming that a man who had displayed a similar behavior would not have been criticized in a similar manner.

    (See preceding item.)

  6. Interpreting any and all mention of women’s looks, irrespective of reason, as misogyny (cf. excursion). Slightly off-topic, we also have the related problem of taking any and all depiction of women that could be seen as sexualized as misogyny, objectification, or whatnot. In rare extremes, even the depiction of too good-looking women is deemed unacceptable, e.g. through “setting unrealistic standards” (cf. another excursion).

    See below for a more specific example.

    This item is not just a non-sequitur, but also often paradoxical in that implies that praising a woman for some aspect of her being would diminish her. If an accomplished women is also good looking, what is wrong with enjoying her looks—especially, when she is obviously deliberately trying to look good? If anything, the implied assumption that men would not be able to appreciate a woman for her brains or her accomplishments is the true sexism… For that matter, I suspect that more women appreciate men for the “wrong” reasons than vice versa.*

    *This is speculative, obviously, but no more so than corresponding claims by e.g. Feminists. More generally, I have the personal impression that men might e.g. like a beautiful actress because they enjoy looking at her, but leave it at that, while women are more likely to jump to a broader admiration of handsome actors, assuming that they are handsome and X, Y, Z even when the evidence is scant or outright contradictory.

  7. Interpreting any negative treatment, any treatment construable as negative, or even the lack of preferential treatment, as misogyny.

    For instance, just a few days ago, sexism accusations were raised when Australian TV failed to interrupt the broadcast of an on-going men’s game in favor of a women’s game about to start ([4]). True, one of the women, Ashleigh Barty, was both Australian and the women’s world number one—but also true: both men were Australian; their match was hard fought, while Barty’s was expected to be (and, indeed, was) a formality; their match was already far progressed, while the women’s were about to start; the men’s match was likely to end before the women’s, had the women’s match been hard fought, implying that the most interesting part of the women’s match could still have been shown; and viewer interest* appears to have favored the men’s match. Even those who would see the case for the women’s match as stronger would be hard-pressed to make a convincing argument for sexism as the motivation—not e.g. someone simply coming to another conclusion based on objective criteria.

    *Of course, some Feminists appear to reason that this disparity in interest is it self a sign of sexism, in need of intervention…

    I have found it a useful exercise to just reverse the roles in a situation and see how the interpretation changes. Assume that the sexes above were reversed and that the broadcast had been changed—would this have been OK or had loud accusations of sexism still followed? My money is on the latter, because in situations like these it is rarely a matter of what is fair on objective grounds—it is a matter of what is to the advantage or disadvantage of women. Generally, this exercise is excellent in revealing the enormous hypocrisy that applies pro women, e.g. behaviors that are tolerated when they would be inacceptable from a man, claims that would or not would not be OK with the roles reversed, etc.

Notably, such interpretations are typically made in a blanket manner, in an obvious assumption of “bad faith”, and without considering whether there might, e.g., be a valid reason for a given criticism. Consider e.g. the poster “Gabriella2” on the Track and Field News forums, which I have occasionally visited: I have noticed him* going off on absurd “bad faith” tangents on a number of occasions. Finally, in what was the trigger for writing this text, he seems to have gone too far and actually received a ban.** The originating*** incident is “bambam1729”, a physician, making an aside remark that he is concerned about Konstanze Klosterhalfen, a very thin female runner, being anorexic. This sets Gabriella2 of again, with claims likes “And then attention is turned to Klosterhalfen. Women are either too muscular, or too thin…Jesus give me strength!”.****

*According to mentions in the linked-to thread, despite the name, the poster appears to be male. While I am myself skeptical, both because of the type of the repeated accusations and because of style of writing, I will use pronouns based on this claim. Certainly, there are plenty of men who are similarly stupid.

**Note that this thread originated as posts in another, likely for a Diamond League event, and appears to have been split-off after the fact. Further note that some of Gabriella2’s posts might have been deleted by the moderators, as is often the case when a ban occurs.

***There was some prior discussion not included here that might have set the mood or agitated people in advance. Parts might be present in another split-off thread (but I have not tried to track what of the original discussion eventually went where).

****I note that phrases like “give me strength”, “here we go again”, “not this shit again”, and similar, are quite common with this type of debater—but that it is usually the rest of the world that needs strength to put up with them and their ever-recurring crap.

Well-reasoned posts by others have no effect, including:

(By bambam1729)

I brought up Klosterhalfen, and if you think that’s inappropriate you have never treated a 20-25 yo woman with stress fractures in their hip, or operated on hip fractures, and seen all the problems that are caused by the female athletic triad. As I said, it was my doctor coming out. I don’t give a shit what she looks like from an appearance point of view, I do care what anorexia does to a female body. The loss of bone strength from it at her age is not recoverable.

With “female athletic triad”, a term not previously familiar to me, he likely refers to something discussed in [5].

(By DrJay, presumably also a physician)

[…]

And I share bambam’s concern about anorexia, and had the exact same thoughts about Klosterhalfen. And take note that posters on this board have not been pointing at the many, many other female (or male) middle or long distance runners about their slender or skinny builds, i.e. Klosterhalfen is an exception and looks like stress fractures and more waiting to happen. Has nothing to do with some sort of “ideal” body, but everything to do with a sometimes fatal mental illness.

(By DrJay, replying to Gabriella2’s accusations of hypocrisy in treatment of male and female athletes)

Most (all?) world class male shot putters are overweight, carrying a lot of extra body fat. Most world class distance runners, male and female, are skinny, underweight by many standards, and I don’t recall seeing concern or criticism for that here before. The difference is that Klosterhalfen, anthropomorphically, is an (extreme) outlier among outliers. She is, as bambam said, cachectic.

Maybe you should start a thread discussing the health risks incurred by the body habitus of male shot putters. I doubt any of us would argue that they are not at increased risk for cardiovascular disease later in life.

As for bambam1729, he finally had enough of Gabriella2 and his nonsense:

OK, Gabriella, that’s it. Call me at [number*] and we’ll discuss this like adults.

As for the message board, that’s it for me. Its been a fun 10 years or so. Don’t care to deal with people who tell me my medical license should be taken away, or I don’t know anything about medical journals, when the people telling me that don’t know shit about medicine.

I’ll await your call.

*The original post does contain the real number, but I prefer to remove it on a “just in case” basis.

Excursion on attention to women and misogyny:
This is possibly the largest non-sequitur of all.

For instance, why should attraction to a woman be something negative?!?! Why would it diminish an accomplished woman if people who appreciate her accomplishment also take note of her looks? If people who do not care for her field* appreciate her for another reason than her accomplishment? This especially when it comes to women who obviously strive to look good.

*A particular common variation is someone who does not care for women’s sports, but who still can appreciate a good looking female athlete. Another is someone with only a casual or an “Olympics only” interest in sports in general, who takes note. (Based on age and physical training, athletes are, obviously, more likely to be admired for their looks than e.g. physicists.)

Why would it be wrong to (as above) raise concerns about a woman potentially being too thin for her own good? Similarly, too fat for her own good? Etc.

When it comes to negative opinions about optics, I can see a partial point along the lines of “if you cannot say anything positive; do not say anything”*; however, while a violation of this principle might be rude or insensitive, there is nothing misogynous about it.

*But I would limit the validity of this principle to specific circumstances, to the degree that I support it all, e.g. when speaking directly to the potentially insulted party and having no specific reason to say anything hurtful. (A specific reason could be e.g. a sub-standard piece of work that needs replacement.)

Talk of “objectification” is particularly absurd: Either it is nonsense or such an everyday matter that it cannot be considered bad, because, by the same standard, admiring a singer for his voice would be worthy of condemnation—as would seeing a baker as a source of bread, without bothering to build a personal relationship.

Excursion on “setting unrealistic standards”:
This is something that has long puzzled me—why should the average woman be depressed because she cannot match a “professional beauty”? Someone who has not only had great luck with genetics, but also has had that more time to spend on her looks, access to better advice and helpers, is wearing professional make-up, and has been photographed (or even re-touched) professionally? (And if she is, why should she not feel the same way when e.g. hearing of a Nobel Laureate?) Would this not rather point to a problem with e.g. the self-perspective in the individual woman than to a problem with modern media? A more rational attitude is to take things for what they are, understand that not everyone can be good at everything* and that looks are not all that matters, use the professional beauties as inspirations or a means to find ways to improve one self (should this be wanted), etc.

*In contrast, if someone dedicates years of work to excellence in a particular area and then falls short of the original hopes, then I would have larger sympathies.

By all means, I too was fairly insecure when I was a teenager, but (a) I grew out of it, (b) I never saw e.g. Schwarzenegger* movies as a problem that put me down, (c) by and large, media influence was a positive, because it contributed** to moving me to improve myself (and even at that, I trailed most of my male class mates by years). If anything, seeing that I was (then) considerably below average in athleticism, my class mates were a greater source of insecurity—and should we then go down the road of “Harrison Bergeron” to protect the feelings of teenage boys and girls***?

*To boot, as an adult, I consider him too bulky for my own preferences.

**To what degree depends on how inclusive “media” is taken and the exact intent. Movies certainly were a part; fashion magazines were not. Certainly, the brain-washy aspect often implied in Feminist rhetoric was not present—but an aspect of seeing e.g. how the same actor could come across extremely differently in different roles, or in the same role in different seasons of a TV series, was.

***Absent fashion magazines and whatnot, they will still have comparisons in their vicinity—taller girls, girls with bigger breasts, girls with better faces, girls who are slimmer, girls with more muscle, girls with more expensive clothes, …

From another point of view, should we deny others the right to look at depictions of beautiful women or muscular men? Should we ban magazines from using images that people want to see, even at the risk of damaging their profits? Should we force advertisers* to use images that are hurtful to product sales?

*Note that I am generally negative towards modern day advertising, and would be open to some legal restrictions, including on the amount of advertising, the use of animations, and profiling. Beautiful women are one of the very few positive aspects about advertising, however. I also note that some attempts to use “real” people have been less than appetizing, and are better avoided out of concern for the viewers. For instance, during my visits to Sweden, I was repeatedly exposed to an advert of an old crone lying in a bath tub—WTF! I did my best to look in other directions and do not even know what the advert was for…

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Written by michaeleriksson

July 5, 2019 at 8:01 am

Opinion corridors and related topics

with 7 comments

I recently randomly encountered a Wikipedia article on “opinion corridors”, or “åsiktskorridor” in the original Swedish.* While this particular word had flown under my radar, it is hardly a surprise that my native Swedes are the inventors: Sweden is one** of the countries, outside of dictatorships, where the tolerance for “heretic” opinions is the lowest, where those holding such opinions are exposed to the most denouncement*** (sometimes even hatred and persecution), and where politicians are the most likely to ostentatiously profess their (real or pretended) orthodoxy. Indeed, the expression “the Official Truth” (“den Officiella Sanningen”) is often used to derogatorily describe the problem that an unholy alliance of media, politicians, pseudo-academics from the field of “gender studies”, and various interest groups has dictated a certain “truth”****, the questioning of which is grounds for a virtual excommunication: Those with the “wrong” opinion are condemned, censored, see their positions severely distorted (e.g. by leaps like “He said something negative about Islam; ergo, he must hate Muslims.” or “He wants to reduce immigration; ergo, he is racist.”), etc.

*While the Wikipedia article lacks a formal definition, the general intent is easy to understand: Opinions that lie within or move along a certain corridor are acceptable; others are not.

**Unfortunately, this problem has been rapidly expanding in the rest of the world, including the U.S., over the last one or two decades—and is the reason why I have great fears about the current obsession with “hate speech”: The cure could very easily turn out to be a greater threat than the supposed disease.

***Note that I speak of a denouncement on more-or-less moral grounds—not factual analysis and sound argumentation, as can be used against e.g. homeopaths, or even a “you are so wrong that you must be an idiot”. No, a typical reaction amounts to “anyone with such opinions is evil”.

****Often it has little or nothing to do with the real truth, stands in contrast with actual statistics, disagrees with real science, …

This concept, along with several others linked to in the article (including Overton window and Hallin’s spheres), overlap strongly with many of my previous texts, observations, and complaints.* Indeed, one of my most repeated claims is that only actions, not opinions, can be a legitimate cause for condemnation—while e.g. many members of the PC crowd engage in wholesale moral condemnation of opinion and allow themselves to take any action they see fit to silence dissenters. (Leading me to repeat another observation: Fascist is as Fascist does.)

*To mention but a few: [1], [2], [3], [4], [5]. Also note a great many earlier texts on the topic of censorship, especially through feminist bloggers.

This issue complex is one of the most important in today’s Western world, and one of the greatest threats against democracy, enlightenment, sound governance, and even science. Worse, it is a threat against the finding of truth and the development of human knowledge and understanding: We cannot know with certainty, which of our opinions, no matter how plausible they seem or how many others share them, are right or wrong—but we can say with virtual certainty that some of them will be wrong to at least some degree, possibly entirely. By preventing the expression of dissent, the development and improvement of opinion is severely hampered.

That this is not a hypothetical situation can be seen e.g. in the feminist blogosphere where exactly the comments that stands the greatest chance of affecting a change in opinion, e.g. through solid arguments and published statistics, are those most likely to be censored—and in the mean time, the pseudo-knowledge of propagated Woozles, slogans void of arguments, and emotional perception remains the “truth”.

A very interesting example of how opinion corridors, Overton windows, et al., can exert undue influence is the situation of the Christian Churches* (especially the Catholic): Large blocks of the population seem to believe the absurdity that the Churches must modify their opinions (e.g. regarding homosexuality and female priests) to match the surrounding world. However, if we accept** that the premises of a religion are true, the opinions, behavior, whatnot of a Church must obviously be based on these premises—not on the current opinion corridor. There can be legitimate instances of changes to an official stance, e.g. because of new revelation, a find of alternate text sources (like with the Dead-Sea Scrolls), a development of the understanding of old texts based on new scientific methods, the discovery of an incorrect translation, …—or, obviously, a previous minority interpretation developing into a majority interpretation. For instance, if a scroll is found, pre-dating the Gospels, relating Jesus’ blessing of female priests, and considered authentic by the Vatican, this could be valid reason to allow female Catholic priests. In contrast, to reject some two thousand years of policy, with a base in Biblical interpretation or theological contemplation, merely because the opinion corridor in overall society has changed, would not be a valid reason.

*While these are the potential victims in this scenario, they have historically very often been perpetrators.

**In my case, as an atheist, arguendo; in the case of those religious, this is almost a given as a matter of definition. Should we not accept these premises, chances are that the Church or religion must be rejected in its entirety. (Similarly, it can be legitimate for someone to see a religious position not matching his own preferences as a reason to reject a particular Church or religion entirely. An obvious example would be a Church that insists on a literal interpretation of Biblical events that are not compatible with mainstream science. Still, this only gives the right of rejection—not the right to force the Church to change its own stance on any given issue.)

Particularly dangerous areas, especially with an eye on artificial “echo chambers”, include:

  1. Governmental restrictions on opinion, be they direct (e.g. an outright ban) or indirect (e.g. in that only sufficiently orthodox parties or scientists receive public subsidies).
  2. Deliberate abuse of or naturally developing “echo chambers” in the education system to enforce some set of of opinions. Unfortunately, this is by no means restricted to the lower stages—as demonstrated by the current U.S. crisis of the college system.

    (If influenced by the government, this can overlap with the previous item.)

  3. A press dominated by some set of opinions.

Note that these can all (a) have a massive effect on the overall population through a very wide reach; (b) can tend to be self-perpetuating, e.g. in that non-conformant parties are hindered from gaining votes through less founds and can therefore not affect changes to the rules for public subsidies, that the chances for a college student to eventually join the faculty can depend strongly on having the “right” opinions, and that an aspiring journalist faces a similar situation. And, yes, these are all definite problems in today’s Sweden.

Excursion on topics, fiction, and similar:
Unfortunately, these problems extend into areas not directly relating to opinion, e.g. in that certain entire fields of investigation, topics for books, choices of characters for a movie, and similar can be unduly suppressed or altered, in order to avoid controversy and criticism. For instance, (real) science that deals with e.g. biological differences between men and women or psychometrics is often viewed very negatively by ignorants. (Say, as inherently sexist or racist, or as modern versions of phrenology. Worse: Some seem to believe that even if there is something to discover in this area, it must not be discovered, to avoid influencing opinion in the “wrong” direction.) Similarly, a work of fiction that shows a hero rescue a damsel in distress (or any number of other scenarios) stands the risk of being condemned as e.g.“perpetuating stereotypes”; while it is common to see tiny women with some martial arts training easily beating up men twice their size and with more martial arts training,* women abounding even among “STEM” professionals, …—that the world depicted is sufficiently PC is more important than that it is realistic.

*Going well beyond the typical, already unrealistic, “hero bonus” that is so common in fiction.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 18, 2018 at 2:36 am

My take on objective truth and subjectiveness of opinion

with 6 comments

Recently, I have been involved in several discussions where the topic of a search for a “truth” has surfaced—and where I (through misreadings by the other party or misformulations by me) have been misunderstood.

For easy future reference, I will here outline some of my opinions in a less ambiguous manner:

  1. There are many issues where taste and preferences, different circumstances and needs, or similar, can be so important that it makes no sense to speak of right or wrong in anything even resembling absolute terms.

  2. In many others, we have an arbitrariness on an abstract level, but a typical context which can make one or the other alternative superior within that context (and the context is sometimes sufficiently given that it need not be mentioned). This applies in particular to issues relating to humans. For instance, the colors of a webpage are arbitrary in principle, but when we factor in how the typical human perceives colors, what combinations lead to higher or lower readability, what combinations can cause a headache, whatnot, then clear statements can be made about the superiority (in context) of at least some combinations over some others.

  3. Preferences, while arbitrary in principle, can also be seen as better or worse, which can affect the rating of otherwise arbitrary evaluations. For instance, if someone feels that a webpage with a particular color combination is aesthetically pleasing, but that combination leads to text that is very hard to read, then a combination with higher readability should be chosen: Ensuring readability is a more rational goal than aesthetics when it comes to a medium with the purpose of spreading textual information, because it achieves the intended purpose better, is more user-friendly, is more likely to result in pleased and returning visitors, etc. (I make the contextual assumption that this is what is wanted—if someone merely uses the colors to surround images of art works, e.g., then the situation can be different.)

    Obviously, preferring rational preferences is in it self a preference of some arbitrariness. Going into that discussion, however, opens a far wider field. Other similar preferences may be present, but left unstated, in this post.

  4. In many cases, reasonably objective statements can be made based on reasonably objective criteria, and (while the subjective aspects should be kept in mind) it is usually better to do so than to speak of subjectiveness. Often a very high degree of objectivity and/or certainty can be reached (as is often the case in the “hard” sciences) and the mere fact that there is a theoretical possibility of something else on the very edge of probability is no excuse for claims like “Evolution is just a theory!” or many of the extremely relativistic positions of many post-modernists.

    (Notably, post-modernism is based on a few sound ideas, but these ideas are rarely truly understood and they are often applied in an ridiculous manner—to the point that some in the PC or feminist movement seem to consider truth something that, using post-modernist motivations, should be bent to fit their own ideals without regard for the real world. A lack of understanding of science is almost always present.)

  5. Even in those cases where there is no objective truth to be found, the search for an objective truth can be rewarding in that it forces the exposure to different perspectives, the critical investigation of claims and arguments, the weighing of pros and cons, … In this way, a richer and deeper understanding can still be found. Indeed, it even happens that an, as it eventually turned out, faulty scientific model or theory had benefits through e.g. predictions that were better than an even earlier model or no model at all.

  6. The wish to actually search for the truth of the matter (a better approximation of the truth, new or refined insights, …; as opposed to merely convincing others of a pre-formed opinion) is central to good debating.

  7. Objective truth is an ideal that I feel that we should strive for even when it cannot be reached: The more objective and less subjective we become the better—and rejecting this search because we can “only” reach better approximations is not constructive and will lead to less progress and more arbitrariness. A bowler may know that his chances of scoring a perfect game are next to nil, but he can still dream—and if he is a professional, he should also try to improve his game to increase the chance. In the same manner, the scientist, philosopher, debater, amateur thinker, …, should strive to gain deeper insight—even when he knows that he will never reach perfect insight.

    (Reading up for this post, I note that perfect bowling games, while still rare, are far more common today than a few decades ago, due to changes in materials, shape of pins, and similar. The analogy may be best seen with an eye on the “good old days”.)

  8. There is nothing wrong with claim “X, because Y” (unless a non sequitur). On the contrary, this is indirectly a challenge to others to investigate the argument, point to flaws or special cases, come with counter-arguments, …

Written by michaeleriksson

March 1, 2011 at 2:14 pm

The misconception of defensive statements as proof of guilt

with 3 comments

I recently encountered a (sub-)discussione that well illustrates a common misconception: That a defensive statement equals admission of guilt. (The main discussion circles around an anti-Islam academic, does not interest me, and seems to be the same old arguments from both sides.)

Consider the following statements:

(Danny)

I think its fair to say that if you have to end a sentence with “…this statement was not racist,” it was probably a racist sentence.

(Sheikh Jahbooty)

Easy logic.

You communicate. They hear a racist idea. Either you are total crap at communicating or you were communicating a racist idea.

Then you attach, “…this statement was not racist.”

It can mean

1) You are incompetent. (Let’s assume that NYU doesn’t give PHDs to people who lack competence in communicating, although I’m not sure that’s a safe assumption.)

2) You are terribly racist.

(My reply)

Faulty logic:

As case has it, many people abuse the word “racism” to include things that are not racist out of ignorance, while others use it as a (deliberate) personal attack in order to discredit the speaker.

In my native Sweden, e.g., a minority of all uses of “racism” that I have seen the last few years have been justifiable.

In the US, in turn, there are nowadays cases when e.g. criticism directed at Obama or his policies is denounced as racist—despite the fact that Hillary would have been met with the same criticism. (Notwithstanding the possibility that a minority of the criticism does have a racist base.)

See e.g. http://www.aswedeingermany.de/50LanguageAndWriting/50Racism.html for more information.

(Lòt Poto-a)

Well, I always have doubts about the validity or authenticity of someone’s perspective when they are unnecessarily defensive. Think about it. The subject of race comes up in a conversation and the first thing someone says is “I don’t hate white people,” or “I have a black friend” (Just ONE black friend! Ha!).

If you have nothing to hide, then you have no reason to try to defend yourself. End of story.

What happens is simply something very different: There are great groups of people (including racists, anti-racists, Swedish leftist, and feminists) who often fail to argue their case by arguments, but instead tend to use personal attacks, undue generalizations, and distortions of their opponents opinions.

The result is that the opponent again and again sees himself confronted with the same, usually unfair, accusation of e.g. mansplaining. The case of racism is dealt with by the above link, but also in e.g. my discussion of Sverigedemokraterna—the core being that being a racist is not to be confused with (above) being anti-Islam(ism), anti-immigration, or justly criticizing an individual member of a minority on objective grounds. My article series on Unfair argumentation methods has some discussion of the more general topic of name calling instead of arguments.

Now, when again and again confronted with such accusations, it is only natural that one learns to expect them—and this is the reason behind such statements: Not knowledge that one is X, but knowledge that one regularly will be accused of being X.

The above tendency to name calling is sad enough, but the sickening part is that when someone either tries to preempt the unfair accusations or reacts negatively to them—then this is taken as further proof against him! In combination, these argumentless debate methods bring the opponents into a “damned if you do; damned if you do not” situation—either they remain silent and see themselves vilified through a misrepresentation of opinion; or they speak up and are vilified with the very fact that they spoke up as “proof”.

I note in conclusion that some of the most narrow-minded, intolerant, biased, and over-generalizing people I have encountered in the blogosphere and in Swedish politics have been self-declared anti-racists, anti-bigots, and similar—exactly those people who the most loudly complain about narrow-mindedness, intolerance, whatnot, in others.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 8, 2010 at 12:30 pm

Comment censorship and comment policies V: Selective distortion of debate

with 4 comments

One of the main reasons why I object to comment censorship (cf. earlier entries) is selective distortion of debate. This is comparatively common on “image building” blogs—together with censorship for the purpose of not to having ones “wisdom” or “expertise” questioned.

Those who spend a lot of time in the blogosphere have probably noticed that there are many blogs that are more geared at building the image, brand, reputation, whatnot, of the blogger than at anything else. Usually, the individual entries are relatively poorly written, high on over-use of “you”, and consist mostly of information that anyone could get from an introductory book on the topic at hand—or that is so trite that even the educated layman already knows it. This, however, is presented as the supreme knowledge of a leading expert.

(For examples, see e.g. the marketing tage at WordPress; in particular, entries with titles like “10 ways do X”, “5 common errors in Y”, and similar.)

While I have been a victim of censorship comparatively rarely, disproportionally many cases have occurred on this type of blog—probably, because I often question the content, point to errors in reasoning or fact, show an alternate view point, or similar.

A recent poste that I found on the WordPress frontpage provides both a good example of this and an illustration of why it is dangerous. (It should be noted, however, that this blogger is not a perfect match for the profile above. That he actually tries to give some, if specious, justification for his censorship, is what makes his entry a superior illustration.)

The blog entry, author mrl8nite, contains a legitimate discussion of what formats to use for resumes and the like, ending with the conclusion:

Bottom Line – Stick with the Word 2003 “.doc” format for now, as it is still the de facto standard document format.

My first comment (published):

PDF should be the default, unless the prospective employer explicitly requests something else. For some reasons why we should never send (specifically) MS-Office formats without the receivers explicit consent, see http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/no-word-attachments.htmle

As an aside, it is important to differ between application and format (although Microsoft has done its best to obliterate this definition): Even if someone has to send a Word-2003 document this need not be done in MS-Word: OpenOffice can handle that just as well (with reservations for some features that do not belong in a resume in the first place, like complex macros).

mrl8nite’s reply:

Thanks for the remarks. I understand your point, and I mentioned some of this a bit in the posting. However, I want to make sure the readers understand that when it’s about a resume, it’s not their choice, it’s what most of the recruiters and job sites and corporations want to receive. We need to make sure that our preferences for “document storing and sharing” don’t get confused with what needs to be done to have the highest chance of getting an interview. While I don’t disagree with your point about Open docs and I respect your preference of PDF (also a proprietary format), it’s about job search success and not diminishing the opportunity to get to the next step in the job search.

So far, a perfectly acceptable and constructive exchange which could be beneficial to the reader who wants to make an informed choice. The problems begin when mrl8nite decides not to publish my following comment. Unfortunately, due to an unexpected browser crash in the interim, the text is lost to me, but the gist, from memory, was:

  1. PDF is the generally recommended standard for exchange of documents and is the “smallest common denominator” to be preferred as a default. (Assuming that plain-text and HTML are not acceptable in the context.)

  2. Those who require a different format have the opportunity to state so.

  3. MS-Word is actually seen as unprofessional by at least some companies. (Due to problems with viruses, information leaks, compatibility problems with different versions, and poor printability.)

  4. PDF (unlike what mrl8nite implies) is far from my first choice: I would go with LaTeX and PostScript or a more “semantic” approach—if I had the choice. The reason why I go with PDF is that I do not have the choice, and that PDF is the safest bet, with regard to compatibility, courtesy, whatnot.

The problem here: It may be that, specifically for job applications, MS-Word is the better choice (mrl8nite repeatedly emphasizes tracking systems and claimed problems, to which I am skeptical, with information extraction from PDF files). It may be that PDF is the better choice. It may be that it is toss-up. However, by cutting off the discussion we are not given the opportunity to find out. Notably, an uninformed visitor reading this page will likely, by default, be convinced by mrl8nite’s position—not because it is the correct one, not because it is better argued, but merely because it is the only one given free reins.

Importantly, we also have no idea how many other dissenting comments by others, using what arguments, were disallowed. As a result, the page is nearly valueless in the quest for the best format. (Just like a sales pitch for X brings very little value for someone wanting to make an informed decision between X and Y.)

While I, obviously, do not know what the degree of censorship was, others were censored too. I quote a private email (in response to a “reminder” comment from me, wanting to eliminate the risk that my second comment was simply stuck in the spam queue or similar):

> At the time of writing, my comment from “August 23, 2010 at 9:16 pm” remains unpublished. I kindly ask you to correct this.

Thanks. I am working through numerous replies. I am also trying to make sure that the discussions remain beneficial for my core readers and provide a clear guidance on the resume/jobhunt process.

Further, the concluding comment by mrl8nite (my emphasis):

[…]

I haven’t approved all of the feedback, as just another “thanks for the article” posting, while appreciated, would deter from the good discussions taking place here. Also, I’m trying to keep the discussions focused on helping job seekers and as such have limited extended discussions where we might confuse the job seeker, avoid commercial advertising, or get us too far away from the key point (yes, I think PDFs are a good alternate choice; yes, I like Open products; yes, Word files have limitations; yes, I like html resumes; yes, update your LinkedIn Profiles; yes…).

For this post, the focus of the article was, based on my research and feedback from many recruiters, that Word 2003 .doc files are still the most accepted, the lowest common denominator [stealing a formulation I used to refer to PDF in my unpublished comment], the most beneficial to recruiters/managers, and thus the best choice (for now) for you to share your resume when a file needs to be sent. […]

From the above, it is clear that mrl8nite had a very clear agenda of pushing his pre-formed opinion—with only marginal room for discussion. This is, obviously, contrary to the spirit of good blogging and the (ideally) productive discussions, back-and-forth, refinement of opinion, etc., that is an integral part of blogging.

In the end, the readers that mrl8nite claims to want to help are the biggest losers from his distortive censorship.

Written by michaeleriksson

September 2, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Unfair argumentation methods I: Preliminaries

with 2 comments

As the recurring reader knows, I have an article on misuse of the word “racism” (and some related issues) in the workings—but it does not seem to actually become written and, further, is branching out in scope.

To counter this, I have decided to make a series of somewhat shorter articles dealing with unfair argumentation methods. The preliminary schedule is (within, possibly, the next week): This entry dealing with preliminaries; a discussion of this problem in general and on the Swedish left; a discussion of the Swedish party Sverigedemokraterna, and how they are treated; three specific examples from discussions I have myself been involved in recently from respectively Germany, Sweden, and the US; and the originally intended article (maybe split in two, depending on developments). Possibly, I will throw in a post with links to my previous writings on related topics or interesting discussions by others.

Obviously, this series of articles can only cover a few aspects of a very wide topic—and the reader is cautioned to be wary of the incompleteness of the discussion.

Considering the topic (and for reasons that will be clear in due time), I will use a stricter comment policy than usual for this series of entries. Notably, comments containing any form of bad language or personal attacks, controversial claims not supported by links, misrepresentations of others opinions, or any indication of foul play or ill intentions (regardless of the target), will be blocked or edited.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 4, 2010 at 12:27 pm