Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘intellectual dishonesty

Some thoughts around a personal anecdote / suppression of information

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Looking over some old posts, I found a footnote dealing with suppression of information from a discussion:

As aside, there might be some PC-extremists that actually deliberately use such formulations, because they see every sign of sex (race, nationality, religion, …) as not only irrelevant in any context, but as outright harmful, because “it could strengthen stereotypes”, or similar. Not only would this be a fanaticism that goes beyond anything defensible, it also severely damages communications: Such information is important in very many contexts, because these characteristics do have an effect in these contexts. (And it is certainly not for one party do selectively decide which of these contexts are relevant and which not.) For instance, if someone cries, the typical implications for a male and a female (or a child and an adult) are very different. Ditto, if a catholic and a protestant marriage is terminated. Etc.

This brought to my mind an incident with a colleague* some years ago, which well illustrates the problems of such information suppression—and does so even in the face of the most stubborn PC objections**.

*And, yes, he was fairly strongly PC. In another incident, he tried to defend the throwing of eggs at immigration critics when we discussed free speech—he did not seem to see the contradiction with his alleged support of free speech…

**E.g. “that the implications of a male crying are different is just a result of societal brain-washing; ergo, it is even more important that we leave such information out, in order to reduce the brain-washing”.

Our discussion (paraphrased from memory and into English):

He: Huh! It says in the paper that a German killed his daughter over pre-marital sex.*

*Or something similar of the “honor” variety, e.g. having the “wrong” boy-friend.

I: Really?!? Was it a “German German” or a Turk* or something?

*Contextually taken to be someone of Turkish ethnicity living in Germany.

He: Yeah, well, um, yeah, I mean, it waaas a Turk, but I did not want to, um, say it like that…

Firstly, such attempts at censorship waste time, can cause unnecessary confusion, and can make something seem more “newsworthy” than it actually is. (Note the idea that “man bites dog” is news, while “dog bites man” is not. In this case: while honor killings are rare even among Turks, they are virtual unheard of among “German Germans”.)

Secondly, and more importantly: by not providing such information, limits on (in this case) the group of perpetrators are removed and a greater number of innocents are potentially implicated. It is true that those uninformed or weak in critical thinking might build an image of the typical Turk as an “honor murderer”, and I can at least understand the PC case for wanting to avoid this.* However, by not keeping the limiting information, aspersions are now cast on the group of men or the group of fathers: if there was a danger before, it remains and it is extended to a larger group—and the proportion of the innocent in this group is higher yet. This is particularly unfortunate in this specific case, because of the great amount of Feminist propaganda directed at painting a faulty** picture of men as abusers of women—to the point that “mäns våld mot kvinnor” (“men’s violence against women”) is one of the most common phrases in Swedish politics, bordering on being a slogan. To boot, this abuse is often implied to serve the deliberate purpose of oppressing women, for which the above killing would have been a splendid example.

*But I stress that I do not agree with it: Presuming to be a filter of information or an arbiter of what others are allowed to know is inherently dangerous. (If in doubt, because it rests on an assumption of knowledge and understanding on behalf of the presumptive arbiter that could be faulty—and, indeed, virtually always is faulty with the PC crowd.) Moreover, I very strongly disagree with denying knowledge (or e.g. self-determination) to those with a brain in order to protect those without one. (And if we try to separate people into groups by e.g. the ability to think, how can we be certain that the arbiter and the criteria are sufficiently good?) Then there is the issue of filtering out information that does apply to a very significant portion of the group. (E.g. through denying that crime rates in a certain group are far higher than in the rest of the population.)

**In reality, women are violent towards men slightly more often than vice versa, and men are far more likely to be victims of violence overall.

From another perspective, if he had been right in censoring the ethnicity of the father, why was he not obliged to leave out “father” (and the implied “man”)? Why not say “parent”? What makes the one piece of information acceptable/relevant/whatnot and the other not?

In some cases, information is sufficiently prima facie relevant or irrelevant that a decision is easy. For instance, that is was a parent (or other close relative) has an impact on the type of crime, and that it happened in (or in relation to) Germany made the incident more personally relevant* than had it happened in some random place in the world. On the other hand, the hair-color of the involved persons would almost** always be irrelevant, except in as far as it revealed*** something more significant. More generally, it can be tricky—especially, when different people have different priorities, interests, and “open questions”.

*At least for some people and/or for some types of news.

**I point to The Red-Headed League for a fictional counter-example, and note that there might, in real-life, e.g. be situations where violence involving people of rarer hair-colors might be more likely for personal reasons.

***For instance, if the hair-color is locally rare, it might point to a tourist or an immigrant, either of which has a considerably higher degree of prima facie relevance. (While this is unlikely to apply to Germany, it might very well apply to e.g. Nigeria and Japan.)

While I can see the case against providing too much information, I see a stronger case against providing too little and would prefer if e.g. journalists erred on the side of too much. Say that a man has beaten a woman: What is the effect of just saying “man” and what of saying “an uneducated, unemployed male alcoholic with a prior criminal record”?* Whether that much information will always be relevant, I leave unstated, but more information would help to build a more nuanced world-view and to foil attempted distortions of said world-view, e.g. by countering propaganda claims like** “all men are rapists” and attempts to hide negative information about certain groups***.

*When e.g. “college professor” applies, it is no less worthy of mention.

**Note that this works in the context of Turks too. For instance, the (hypothetical) knowledge that this was a first-generation immigrant would have lessened the risk of unfair suspicions against those with a longer familial history in Germany. An (equally hypothetical) knowledge of alcoholism would have lessened the risk even for many first generation Turks. Etc.

***For instance, hiding the ethnicity of criminals does not just protect the innocent members of that ethnicity from unfair suspicions—it also creates a too positive view of the group as a whole. Such a view can lead to poorer decision making, especially in politics. To boot, it can lead to unnecessary personal or group conflicts, e.g. when person A has access to information that person B lacks and B incorrectly assumes that A bases his opinion in the overall issue on bigotry/racism/sexism/xenophobia/… or lack of information. (Ditto, m.m., for groups A and B.) I note that both the Swedish and the German press appear to systematically suppress the ethnicity of perpetrators and suspects.

From yet another perspective, these tactics need not be very helpful. For instance, above, I immediately considered it more-likely-than-not that a non-Western immigrant was involved—even in the face of an explicit mention of “German”*. I asked; many others would have jumped to the conclusion and kept it to themselves. Moreover, even I might have asked the wrong question… Was ethnicity the core issue or might it have been religion (or yet some other factor)? Here I saw another case of a Turkish honor killing, where it might (or might not) have been better viewed as a Muslim or a Turkish Muslim honor killing. Having more information, e.g. not just whether the father was a Turk but also whether he was a Muslim, would, again, have given me a more nuanced world-view. This applies the more to those who jump to the conclusion, because even when their conclusions are correct (e.g. “was a Turk”), they need not hit what was actually important.

*While the use of “German” (or “Swede”) to refer to ethnicity is increasingly (and irrationally) frowned upon, the context made ethnicity more likely than nationality, because the clear majority of all people in Germany are German citizens, leaving ethnicity as the natural intention with cases within Germany. Similarly, I suspect, an “Italian-American” is more likely to spontaneously mention that he is Italian (even when not a citizen) than that he is a U.S. citizen (unless he is abroad).

As to what to do instead, if the PC fears are valid? Focus on developing critical-thinking skills, raise awareness of fallacies (e.g. “confirmation bias”), and further the understanding of some very basic ideas like “what applies to some group members do not necessarily apply to all group members”, “that most members of group A are also members of group B does not imply that most members of group B are also members of group A”, “individual variation very often trumps group membership”, “correlation does not imply causation”, and variations. A greater ability to discriminate would also be positive, notably in knowing what criteria are important and what unimportant—but also including ensuring that everyone knows some basic differentiations, e.g. that “Arab” and “Muslim” are not synonymous, that neither (ethnic) Turks nor (ethnic) Iranians/Persians are Arabs, and similar.

Excursion on information and identification:
One concern with being liberal with information is the increased risk of someone intended to be anonymous becoming identifiable. This is a legitimate reason why e.g. journalists should show some restraint, but they should do so on a case-by-case basis. (And I cannot recall ever having heard either the PC crowd or a journalist raise this concern as a reason to censor ethnicity.) For instance, the number of Swedes living in Wuppertal is unlikely to be very large, and just combining “Swede” with “Wuppertal” would limit the candidates correspondingly. Throw in just one or two additional facts and that might be enough to pin-point me—and if it does not, the number of candidates will be small enough that each of them could be considered the match by third parties. I point to the case of a physically assaulted innocent man as just one example of why this can be dangerous.

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Written by michaeleriksson

July 6, 2019 at 1:23 pm

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…

Written by michaeleriksson

July 5, 2019 at 8:01 am

Plato’s cave and the dangers of a limited world-view

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Plato’s famous cave provides an excellent illustration* of the dangers of e.g. censorship (cf. any number of previous texts), opinion corridors, distortion of literary works, echo chambers, and other limits on thought and perception.

*Not necessarily one intended by him, but it still fits well.

Consider someone (for now, voluntarily) sitting in a cave, facing one sole direction, and attempting to understand the world based on the shadows that move on the cave wall: How is this supposed to work? What is there to lose by turning around and trying to catch a glimpse of what happens in another direction? A glimpse of the actual objects, instead of their shadows? A glimpse of the fire? A glimpse of the other walls? Why not climb out of the cave for an entirely new set of perspectives and information? How can the wall-facers even know the extent of their knowledge and ignorance, let alone actually learn something beyond the limited and often distorted information of the shadows?

Yet, exactly this wall-facing is what many people do—most, in the case of the strongly religious or ideological (notably Leftists/PC-ists/Feminists). Indeed, they are similar to the prisoners of Plato’s cave even in that they often react negatively towards those who have seen something else or suggest other truths (also see an excursion below). The condemnation of the unseen without bothering to look at it first, is a recurring theme.

Now, I am not saying that those who do expose themselves to other walls, the world outside the cave, whatnot, will necessarily change their opinions—nor that they necessarily should (this will obviously depend on how well the old opinion fares compared to the alternatives; also cf. e.g. [1]). However, their opinions afterwards will be better—be it because they have replaced a flawed opinion with something closer to the truth, have modified the old opinion to be more nuanced, or have a greater legitimacy in believing the old opinion (should it have panned out, after all).

In contrast, the opinions of those who refuse to expose themselves to other ideas, perspectives, whatnot are next to worthless, being steeped in ignorance and too weakly tested—and those who deliberately constrain themselves prove their anti-intellectualism and misology, no matter what they might claim or believe themselves to be.

Then there are those (again, notably in the Leftist/PC/Feminist area) who deliberately try to chain others in front of that one wall. They try to censor or libel dissenters; force curricula to have an ideological character with a fix world-view; re-write children’s literature; promote ignorance of and/or distort history and scientific findings; … My feelings for them are better not put into words.

I have no objections to people who fairly promote their own opinions (world-view, ideas, whatnot)—this is the equivalent of describing the advantages or contents of a particular other eye direction or the surface world. I also raise no objections to those who attack other opinions with reasoning, factual arguments, sound science, and other intellectually honest methods.

However, very many chose very different methods, aiming at, directly or indirectly, preventing their victims from exploring other sources of information, other perspectives, etc. This is not limited to actively preventing access to these information sources and whatnots; it also includes unfair attacks (e.g. most cases of ad hominem), “science” hell-bent on proving a certain point,* indoctrination of those too young or feeble minded to think critically, and “channel flooding” through ensuring that all** channels that might reasonably be encountered by most people are filled with content supporting or pseudo-supporting the same idea. (These channels would then be akin to the wall, and the “flooders” to the movers of shadow-casting objects, who can further control and distort the perception of the world.)

*Legitimate scientists will often approach e.g. an experiment or a survey with the wish to see a certain conclusion; however, they try to build it fairly and are willing to adapt their opinions, should the results not be the hoped for. Illegitimate ones will often build the experiment/survey/whatnot so that the “right” result is bound to manifest, irrespective of the truth, and/or interpret the results in such a manner that it supports their thesis (even when someone more objective would come to another conclusion), and/or report their findings in a highly misleading manner.

**For instance, school-children will be so disproportionately exposed to the channel “school” in many areas (including history and social sciences) that agenda pushing among teachers or text-book publishers can do severe damage; college is not as extreme, with adults having more options, but poses a similar danger. For instance, until the 1990s or even later, the single most important source of news for most people in e.g. Sweden was the few state-owned TV channels, and anyone controlling these also controlled a disproportionate part of the information flow. Websites are mostly a contrast, seeing that anyone can chose to simply visit a different set of websites; however, if e.g. Google and Facebook selectively promote or penalize certain contents based on opinion, this could be seen as a further example.

Excursion on Swedish anti-Feminists and similar groups:
A particularly strong parallel can be found in the journey and treatment of most Swedish anti-Feminists: These, like I, usually grew up with a considerable amount of Feminist indoctrination (through school, news papers, political propaganda etc.), they eventually found that the Feminist world-view, even Feminist self-portrayal, did not pan out (by a mixture of critical thinking and exposure to alternate opinions/non-ideological science), and were then derided as ignorants in need of enlightenment by the Feminists when they tried to point out the many Feminist fallacies to others… This matches the scenario by Plato of a former wall-facer who is moved to the surface and considered deficient upon his return—for his failure to see the world in the same way as the remaining wall-facers.*

*A minor flaw in the analogy is Plato’s description of the returning explorers as being temporarily limited in sight until their eyes have adjusted to the darkness again. I am far from certain that I agree with this portion of his (metaphorical) discussion in any context, and it is likely intended to apply only in the context of education and politicians (or possibly the ideal vs. the mundane, or similar) to begin with.

Excursion on Plato:
At least the linked-to piece (covering Book VII of his “Republic”) is yet another example of writing that is poor, long-winded, and has a too low information density. The ever repeating, mindless, agreement by Glaucon is a particular nuisance—not merely introducing noise, but also being outright annoying after a while.* A much better approach to the dialogue format (if such a format is used at all) would be to have Glaucon go into opposition and force clarifications and/or stronger arguments. As is, such opportunities are limited to variations of him not understanding or understanding incorrectly—and even those drown in the constant amens.

*In a twist, this type of agreement is contrary to the spirit of the above. It is also a long way from the reputation of the Socratic method… (The rest of the “Republic” is on my short-term todo list, but I have no other direct experiences with Plato’s writings.)

Written by michaeleriksson

December 26, 2018 at 10:43 pm

What the PC movement gains from silencing Dead White Men

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A very dangerous aspect of some modern excesses of political correctness is the almost whole-sale rejection of anything “Western”, “traditional”, “classical”, … The danger is not* because of typical Conservative counter-arguments about having a common frame of reference or cultural understanding, knowing where we came from, … No: The two much worse, overlapping problems are the following:

*While I do not consider such arguments without merit, they are, with reservations for history, a lot less relevant today, with changing norms and societies, rapidly changing cultural (in senses like fiction and who-is-who) frames of reference, heavy migration, whatnot. For instance, my native Sweden and adopted Germany have very different sets of authors that one “should” know about—and to have a discussion with a modern German teenager, I might be better off knowing something about “Game of Thrones” or Kanye West than about Goethe and Schiller…

Firstly, there are enormous amounts of insight to be found in older works—and, unlike modern works, they have typically been strongly pre-filtered for quality and long-term relevance.* It is neigh on impossible to come up with a thought so truly original than no-one else has published it in the past. Many are even so old and established that they are anonymous adages.** Similarly, more or less any event of today can find at least an approximate parallel in history, making a solid knowledge of history an immensely valuable tool for understanding the current world, including seeing potential dangers. A related issue is that ignorance of history makes it impossible to view historical events, persons, ideologies, whatnot in a reasonable light, especially compared to other events, persons, ideologies, whatnot of the same or another era (including today). Those who denigrate old thoughts, the teaching of history, whatnot, just “because it is old” (“[…] Western”, “[…] by Dead White Men”) slow their own intellectual growth, hinder their understanding of (even) modern society, and are often unable to understand the past in a reasonable context.

*Similarly, that the music of a few decades back appears to be much better than today, is partially a result of the weaker music of then having been filtered out much more strongly over the intervening years than has the weaker music of today.

**A common problem, independent of the PC crowd, is that these are often viewed the wrong way: A proponent might try to “prove” a point merely by citing an adage; an opponent might denigrate them indiscriminately, seeing that they often focus on only one aspect of an issue or a special case. The best gain, however, is when they are seen as “food for thought”, as pointers to some aspect of an issue that we might have overlooked or not considered sufficiently. Generally, the point of exposure to others ideas is not to adopt these ideas—but to use them as stimulation for the development of an own web of ideas.

Secondly, this rejection is a vital part of the survival of the PC movement: People who are well-read in the “forbidden knowledge” are much more likely to see the dangers and errors of the PC crowd than others. A particularly interesting aspect is repeated warnings against censorship, poor reasoning, intellectual dishonesty, and similar. For instance, this text was prompted by encountering a statement by Goethe:

Gegner glauben uns zu widerlegen, wenn sie ihre Meinung wiederholen und auf die unsrige nicht achten.

Translation: Opponents believe that they refute us, when they reiterate their own opinion and ignore* ours.

*Depending on exact intent, especially with “achten” not being a likely modern formulation, I am hesitant in the exact translation. Possibly, e.g. “do not pay attention to” or “do not respect” comes closer to the original intent. The overall sentiment remains the same, however.

This so well matches so many encounters I have had, especially with Feminists, who (a) appear to consider it more important to suppress dissenting opinions* than to give arguments against them and in favor of their own, (b) often argue by mere assertion (or mere slogan), (c) seem to believe that a lie repeated often enough is the truth. Large parts of the German Left appear to believe that the best way to push an opinion is to march along the street and scream it at the top of one’s voice. Excesses in U.S. colleges include systematic disturbances and sabotage of speeches given by not-sufficiently-kosher guest lecturers, including such absurdities as circumventing a ban on disturbances in the lecture hall by using strong loud-speakers immediately outside the same…

*In a parallel to the contents of this text, I have often noted that even perfectly factual statements run a severe risk of being censored on e.g. Feminist blogs, for no other discernible reason than mere dissent. Factual arguments, statistics, etc., appear to increase the risk of censorship.

What if these people stopped for a minute to think about the above quote, draw appropriate conclusion, and adapted their behavior correspondingly? Clearly, it is better for the success of such movements to prevent exposure to such thoughts—or to discredit them by Goethe (or whatever author) being a Dead White Man.

Or consider history: It is so much easier to be on the far Left, when all one knows is the atrocities of Hitler—but not those of Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot. It is so much easier to paint Blacks as disadvantaged and slavery as a White-on-Black atrocity, when comparing the U.S. Blacks of 1840 with modern society instead of the Whites at other times in history, when not making comparison to other historically disadvantaged groups (notably the Jews), and when not being aware of the greater history of slavery (be it concerning Blacks or generally). It is so much easier to propose censorship, restrictions on occupations, indoctrination, whatnot, without having to make comparisons to e.g the McCarthy-era or any number of dictatorships (not to mention “Nineteen Eighty-Four”, moving on to literature by Dead White Men).

The simple truth is this: If people are exposed to “heretical” ideas, allowed to read “dangerous” books, take the time to think for themselves, …, a certain type of movement will be very hard to sustain. Examples include large swaths of the Leftist and PC movements in e.g. the current U.S., Sweden, and Germany; various (past or current) dictatorships, notably the Marx-inspired ones; various religious organizations and sects; …

Excursion on alternatives:
Could not the same insights be gained from other sources? Often they can; however, why go looking for something that is already under our noses? Especially, when that already available will in most cases be objectively superior to the replacement? For instance, when we already have a certain college course, taught for decades and based on an even longer academic history, why throw it out? If we have a literature requirement, is it not natural to focus on those works actually available natively and in the local language?* If we want to draw general lessons from history, why not look to countries** where historians have gathered detailed knowledge covering a long period of time? Etc.

*Not only will the availability of material in the local language be far larger where local authors are concerned, but we also have to consider that even a good translation is invariably different from the original, that even a good translation will leave issues of prerequisite cultural/societal/whatnot knowledge, that even a good translation is usually inferior to the original, and that most translations are not good… To boot, leaving the Western world, most countries have weaker or considerably weaker literary traditions.

**In addition, it is usually preferable to have a stronger focus on the local country, seeing that the local history will often contain information more useful in understanding the current local society. (Benefits from being local will, obviously, require different choices from country to country, from area to area, from cultural sphere to cultural sphere—and are only a pro-something-Western in the case of a Western country.)

If it turns out that this-or-that other source provides some alternative insights, there is nothing wrong with using it in addition. If it turns out to be better, it might even be used instead—I do not advocate a focus on the Western for the sake of having something Western, and a study of e.g Chinese history, literature, philosophy, …, might give equal benefits*. However, the same cannot be said when we look to e.g. Nigeria. Moreover, this is nowhere near what many of these extremists suggest: They appear to start with the assumption that anything related to Dead White Men is evil, and see its abolishment from e.g. school curricula as an end in it self, giving preference to untested and very likely inferior alternatives.

*Barring pragmatical issues, e.g. the aforementioned translations, or local relevance.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 3, 2018 at 11:27 pm

Aldi screws up / Follow-up: That noble cause / Follow-up: Plastic bags, the environment, and dishonest companies

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Shortly after finishing my last post, I went to buy some groceries—and promptly encountered another cases of a misguided noble cause:

The Aldi Nord store that I visited had decided to discontinue disposable bags entirely, with the pretext or under the misguided opinion that this would benefit the environment. (See a previous article on a closely related topic for a skeptical discussion of this idea.) The result was that I was forced to buy a 49 (!) cent bag for frozen goods that used several times as much plastic as a normal bag, would pose a far greater threat to nature if ever left outside, and which I am unlikely to ever be able to re-use without considerable extra effort: The walls are very thick and there is a stiff handle over the width of the entire bag, making it impossible to e.g. fold it and carry it in a jacket pocket. There were other alternatives that might or might not have been more suitable for re-use; however, they were even more expensive. This included textile bags for roughly EUR 1.50 that optically seemed to be of the same quality as textile bags I have bought elsewhere for twenty cents… (Please refer to the earlier post and my suspicion that the true drive is money-making—not environmental protection.)

Well done: The environment has just been harmed in the name of the environment.

The highly dubious pro-environment arguments aside, what are the effects of the discontinuation of disposable bags? More costs and efforts for the consumers!* For instance, in the past, I could just go by the store on my way between work and home—no preparation needed. Now, I have to either bring a bag with me to work (must remember to do so in the morning or even carry a bag as a matter of course); go home, collect a bag, and then go back to the store (or to another store not on my way); or visit the store as normally and pay a severe markup for an even more anti-environmental bag. Well, there is one other alternative, at least for now: Just avoid Aldi in favor of more customer friendly stores…

*A common issue with “causes” is that extra costs and efforts are put on third-parties that have little or no practical say in the matter at hand, making the cause cheaper to implement for the decision makers, but still costly to society as a whole. Cf. e.g. the smoke alarm discussion in the post on noble causes.

Trying to find some information on the topic I encountered one (German) article* that compares the new situation to the old GDR (in this one aspect). It also makes several good points, including that the new policy is mostly a symbolic, feel-good action—not something that truly benefits the environment.

*While the article is dated in July, it remains current. The process from first announcement to final implementation has apparently taken quite some time.

Fortunately, at least for the time being, most other chains still provide disposable bags, but I fear that the writing is on the wall. For one, there is an opportunity to earn* more money; for another, the other chains will suffer in image among the environmental naive, should they not follow suit.

*Or at a minimum having a higher ROI, depending on how high or low the old net profit was and how customers adapt to the new situation.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 11, 2017 at 11:20 pm

Taking my grandfather’s axe to the politically correct

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Among the many things that annoy me about the politically correct is their wide-spread inability to differentiate between word and concept/intent/meaning/…. At the same time, I have long been annoyed by the pseudo-paradox of the “grandfather’s axe”. Below I will discuss some related, partially overlapping, points.

One of the most popular “pop philosophy” questions/riddles/paradoxes is (with variations):

This axe belonged to my grandfather. The head has been replaced occasionally and so has the handle. Is it still the same axe?

At the same time, we have the old saying “you cannot cross the same river twice”. How then can it be that I have crossed the Rhine hundreds of times? (Not to mention many crossings of other individual rivers, including the Main and the Isar.)

In the first case, we have a question that simply cannot be resolved by logic, because it is ambiguously formulated; in the second, the apparent contradiction arises out of a very similar ambiguity:

The meaning of “same”* is not defined with sufficient precision, because “same” can be used to refer to several (possibly many) different concepts. When we say “same axe” or “same river” do we mean e.g. that it is the same basic entity, although changed over time, having some constant aspect of identity; or that it is identically the same without any change? Something in between? Looking at the axe example, it might actually be too unrefined to bring the point over, because it only has the two parts (with some reservations for the type of axe) and it might not be obvious that more than one interpretation is reasonable. Consider instead the same example using a T-Ford: Someone has an old T-Ford standing in a barn. His great-grand-parents bought it, and several generations have made sure that it has been kept running over the years, be it through sentimentality, interest in old cars, or hope for a future value increase. By now, every single part** of it has at some point been exchanged. Is it still the same car? If not, when did it cease to be the original car? Similarly, is this still the same hands I am typing with that I used seven years ago***? Fourteen years ago? That I was born with more than 42 years ago?

*Alternatively, the ambiguity could be seen to lie in “axe” and “river”, or a disagreement about what part of an entity carries the identity. In the case of river crossings this might even be the more productive point of attack.

**Assume, for the sake of argument, that this happened a single part at a time and that any part that might have been taken to carry the identity of the car was not changes as a whole in one go—if need be through intervention by a welder.

***Assuming that the common claim holds true that all cells are replaced within a space of seven years. (This is an over-simplification, but could conceivably be true specifically for a hand.)

As is obvious, understanding what someone means by a certain word, means understanding which concept is intended. Conversely, it is in our own best interest to avoid such ambiguities to the best of our abilities*, to be very careful before applying a word in manner that implies a different concept than is normally intended, and to prefer the use of new words when a new differentiation is needed.

*Doing so perfectly is a virtual impossibility.

To exemplify the last point: In today’s world, words like “man”, “woman”, “male”, and “female”, that used to have a clear meaning/make a differentiation in one dimension, can be used for at least two meanings/making a differentiation in one of two dimensions. It is no longer necessarily a matter of whether someone is physically, biologically a man or a woman—but often whether someone self-identifies as man or woman.* Now, this in it self is merely unfortunate and a cause of confusion—the second differentiation should have been done by adding new words. The real problems arise because some groups of politically correct insist** that the new*** meaning is the proper meaning; that other uses would be “sexist”, “discriminatory”, or similar; or, with a wider net, that the concept behind the new meaning is what should dictate discussion.

*For the sake of simplicity, I leave e.g. post-op transsexuals and unusual chromosome combinations out of the discussion.

**See the excursion on “Tolkningsföreträde” below.

***Whether “new” is a good phrasing can be discussed. A possible interpretation of events is that these potential concepts happened to coincide sufficiently in the past that there never was a need to differentiate. If so, which concept or word should be considered new and which old? There might well exist situations where this question cannot be fairly answered or the outcome is a tie. In this specific case, it seems highly plausible to me that e.g. a nineteenth century human would have taken the biological as the sole or very strongly predominant meaning; and the use of “new” seems reasonable. (However, the point is mostly interesting because it gives another example of how tricky word and meaning can be. No reversal of which meaning is old and which is new will change the problems discussed in the main text—on the outside a marginal shift of blame can take place.)

In many cases, words are redefined in such a grotesque manner that I am unable to assume good faith, instead tending towards intellectual dishonesty as the explanation. A prime example is a sometime use of “racism”* to include a strong aspect of having power—with the ensuing (highly disputable) conclusion that black people, as a matter of definition, cannot be racist… At extremes, this can be taken to the point that all white people are, !as a matter of definition!, racist. Similarly, some feminists redefine “rape” in a ridiculously manner, notably to arrive at exaggerated numbers for rape statistics in order to justify their world-view. At the farthest extreme, although thankfully very rarely, I have even seen the claim that if a woman consents today and changes her mind tomorrow (!!!) then she has been raped…

*Generally a very abused word, including e.g. being used as a blanket replacement for “racial” or as a blanket attack against anyone who even contemplates the possibility of racial differences.

Quite often lesser distortions take place (often driven by a general tendency in the overall population), including the artificial limitation of “discrimination” to mean e.g. unlawful or sexist/racist discrimination: Discrimination is generally something good and positive—there are only rare specific types of discrimination that are problematic. Hire someone with a doctorate over a high-school dropout and you have just discriminated—but in the vast majority of circumstances, no reasonable third-party will take offense.

Yet other cases go back to simply not understanding what a word means or through having been so overwhelmed by figurative use that objectively perfectly fine uses are unfairly condemned. There is nothing wrong, e.g., in calling a tribe that still lives in a stone-age society primitive—it is primitive. (In contrast, calling someone with a different set of ideas primitive is either an abuse of language or an insult, depending on preference.) This phenomenon is reflected in the concept of “euphemistic treadmills”, were one word is replaced by a second to avoid demeaning connotations (e.g. through school-yard use), then a third/fourth/fifth/… when the resp. previous word also develops demeaning connotations (or is perceived to have done so). The problem is, of course, not the word it self, or the connotations of the word, but the connotations of the concept—changing the word is a temporary band-aid, and in the end it does more harm than good. To cruel children, e.g., it will not matter whether that other kid is formally classified as a spastic, as a retard, as being “differently abled”—he still remains a freak to them. (Or not, irrespective of the word used.)

The last example brings us to the related issue of word and intent: There is, for instance, nothing inherently racist or otherwise “evil” in the word “Nigger”. The word might very well signal a racist intent (especially with its current stigma), but, if so, it is that intent that is problematic—not the word it self. That “nigger” is not an evil word is, in doubt, proved by its common use by black people without any negative intent, possibly even with a positive intent. Other uses can have yet other intents and implications, including (like here) the purposeful discussion of the word it self. Still, it is quite common that politically correct extremists want to, even are successful in, censoring this word it self in works written when its use was accepted or where its use reflects what a character would realistically have said—not just a negative intent, or even an “outdated stereotype”*, but the word it self. This to the point that similar attempts have been directed at the cognate Swedish word “neger”, which never had any of the implications or the stigma that “nigger” had, nor its historical background**—until some point in (possibly) the eighties where it suddenly grew more and more “offensive”. (No doubt under the direct influence of the, strictly speaking irrelevant, U.S. situation.) Similarly, “bitch”*** is not inherently sexist: There is nothing harmful in my referring to my dearest childhood friend, Liza, as a bitch—it is an objectively true and value-free statement****.

*I strongly disagree with any later interventions into literature, even children’s literature like “Tom Sawyer” or the various “Dr. Dolittle” books, considering them a fraud towards the readers and a crime against the original author. However, that is a different topic and censoring based merely on words is more obviously wrong with less room for personal opinion.

**In my strong impression, even “nigger” only took on its negative connotations over time: There does not seem to have been an original thought-process of “I hate those damn blackies and I want to demean them; ergo, I’ll call them `niggers’.”. Instead, as in an earlier paragraph, the word was in use, just like “lamp”, by people by a certain attitude, speaking with a certain intent, and that intent over time came to dominate the connotations. However, there was at least a somewhat rational and understandable process in the U.S.—in Sweden, it was just an arbitrary decision by some group of political propagandists.

***To boot, “bitch” (and many other words) do not necessarily fall into such categories, because they do not necessarily make statements about e.g. women in general. Often, they are simply sex (or whatnot) specific insults used to refer to an individual woman. Similarly, “son of a bitch” is usually simply a sex specific insult for men. A rare instance when “bitch” could be seen as sexist is when referring to a man as a bitch (“Stop crying, you little bitch!”), because this could be seen to express that his behavior is simultaneously negative and feminine (“only weak women cry—are you a woman?”).

****She was, after all, the family dog…

Excursion on “Tolkningsföreträde”: A very common problem in Sweden is the incessant assumption by groups of politically correct, feminists, …, that they have tolkningsföreträde—originally a legal term, assigning a certain entity the right of interpretation of e.g. a contract in case of disagreement. (I am not aware of a similar term in e.g. the U.S. legal system, but it might well exist. A similar metaphorical application does not appear to present, however, even if the same attitude often is.) Its their way or the high way: They decide what a word should mean. They decide what is sexism. They decide what is acceptable. Etc. Have the audacity to question this right, even by pointing to the possibility of another interpretation or by pointing out that their use does not match the established one, and what happens: You (!) are accused of demanding tolkningsföreträde… (And, yes, they appear to be entirely and utterly unaware of the hypocrisy in this—or possibly they use the claim as a deliberately intellectually dishonest means of undermining opponents: I sometimes find it hard to resist the thought of there being some form of commonly taken course or set of guide-lines for the politically correct in how to sabotage one’s opponents…)

Written by michaeleriksson

September 10, 2017 at 9:09 pm

Reality disconnect

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I have often, including in some of my latest posts, written about a “reality disconnect”* among e.g. politicians, journalists, feminist propagandists, … where the things that they loudly claim** in public simply do not match reality. And, no, I am not saying that they simply see the world differently than I do (if I did, I might be the problem!): There are many points where main stream science says something very different; where actual statistics are incompatible with the claims; where the statistic might seem superficially compatible, but logically must be interpreted differently than they do***; etc. Not to mention the many cases where a certain set of data allows a handful of conclusions and they just jump to and stick with the one single conclusion that matches their world view, without even considering the possibility that one of the other conclusions could be true.

*I am not certain whether I have ever used this particular phrasing, however.

**What is genuine opinion and what attempts to manipulate the public is often hard or impossible to tell. In the case of high level politicians, I would tend towards manipulation attempts; in the case of journalists, feminists, and lower level party sympathizers (including many bloggers), genuine opinion could be more likely.

***Cf. e.g. the the “77 cents on the dollar” bullshit.

To date, I have been focused on issues relating to e.g. political correctness; however, there are many, many other instances where similar reality disconnects exist.

Take e.g. the issue of doping (in general) and anabolic steroids (in particular)*: The view painted in media and “public information” is invariably that this is a great evil, with numerous unavoidable and debilitating side-effects. The high use among e.g. gym goers is viewed as a major issue. If we look at actual experiences and data a much more nuanced picture arises, up to the point that the overall effect on someones life can be positive.

*Disclaimers: a) The intent is not to paint doping in a positive light, nor even to paint it in a more nuanced light (although I would see it as positive if some of the readers develop a more nuanced view). The purpose is rather to demonstrate the problems of reality disconnect, intellectual dishonesty, lack of critical thinking, etc. The apparent topic matter is just a very suitable example, especially since I would rather not write yet another piece on e.g. feminism. b) The only drugs I take myself are coffee (large quantities), alcohol (small quantities), and the odd aspirin/tylenol/whatnot. (However, I did originally look into the topic with an eye on a possible future use, to compensate for the effects of aging that will eventually manifest. I leave this option open for now.) c) No-one should ever take these types of drugs before knowing what he is doing. (Cf. e.g. item 1 below.)

Consider some common problems with reporting:

  1. Severe problems, let alone disastrous ones, usually go back to people taking drugs without doing the appropriate research (either not researching at all or going by what some guy in the gym said) or people simply being stupid.

    For instance, I once saw a YouTube video speak of a body-builder friend who, as a first time user, had taken a large shot of insulin* on an empty stomach and not eaten anything afterwards. He started to feel weak and, instead of now urgently eating something, went to bed to rest. He fell unconscious and hours of seizures and life in a wheel-chair followed. Notwithstanding that insulin is a drug that is generally considered dangerous, being a “lesser evil” even for actual diabetics, this shows a great degree of ignorance and stupidity: Even five minutes on the Internet would have taught him that it was vital to compensate with carbohydrates; indeed, an at least vague awareness of “insulin shocks” and similar in diabetics should be present in anyone who has even graduated junior high school, and that at least the potential for danger was there would follow immediately. To boot, chances are that a low blood-sugar level would have diminished the results he was hoping for, because one of the main ideas would be to increase the muscles uptake of glycogen, thereby making them larger**—but with low blood sugar…

    *Insulin is used by many (non-diabetic) body builders for the purpose of muscle growth.

    **Whether this actually works, I do not know—the line between science and “bro science” can be hard to detect on the Internet. It is notable, however, that body builders often go for size over strength. Glycogen can contribute to overall muscle size, but the actual “weight pulling” parts of the muscle remain unchanged.

    A common issue is failing to “cycle” (effectively, taking a break from drug use): This is basically the first thing to pick-up when even considering to use drugs—yet many fail to do so and see a health detriment with no off-setting benefit. Cycling has the dual benefit of a) giving the body time off to function normally and to at least partially restore it self from side-effects, and b) to diminish the “tolerance” towards the drug, so that a smaller dose is needed once the break is over: As with e.g. alcohol, the more the body is used to it, the more is needed to get the effect one is looking for—and the greater the damage to those parts of the body that cannot or are slower to adapt. Take a break and the effectiveness of a smaller dose increases again.

  2. Many reported cases go back to misrepresentations of the actual events.

    A particular notable case is Arnold Schwarzenegger’s heart surgery, which has been blamed on steroids. In reality, there is no proof of a connection whatsoever. More over, his version is that it was a congenital problem… (Schwarzenegger could, obviously, be lying, but there is no obvious reason for him to do so: He has already publicly admitted to drug use and what he did was, at the time, perfectly legal.)

    Another is Gregg Valentino and his “exploding arms”: This issue, including the invasive surgery needed, did not stem directly from use of any type of enhancer—it stemmed from being sloppy with injections, especially re-using dirty needles. This sloppiness led to a severe infection, the situation was made worse through amateurish attempts at self-surgery, and the professionals were forced to take drastic measures. With proper handling of injections (possibly even with a sufficiently early visit to a physician) this would not have happened; with such improper handling even medically legitimate injections (e.g. to treat diabetes) would have led to similar problems with equal probability. (With some reservations for where injections for what purpose take place.) To boot, one documentary that I saw claimed that “steroids” ruined his arms—which is not at all the case. What he injected was synthol, a type of oil which is used for localized, artificial optical improvements (often highly unsuccessfully…), which has nothing at all to do with steroids (or any other actual performance enhancer). We could equally claim “dieting ruined her breasts” when a looks obsessed woman suffers a breast-implant burst—a ridiculous non sequitur.

  3. Comparisons are usually made based on extremes. If e.g. a world-class body builder spends twenty years taking steroids, HGH, IGF-1, and whatnot in enormous doses, and develops some form of health problems, this does not automatically mean that an amateur who uses much more moderates doses of a single drug will immediately develop such problems—or necessarily even after twenty years.

    Similarly, much of the public perception on steroids (and PEDs in general) go back to the East-German (and other Eastern European) athletes from the 1980s, in particular the female athletes. What was seen there, however, does not necessarily have much importance for the average gym goer of today, including that we compare with world class athletes on a forced regimen—but also because the knowledge of how drugs work has grown and the drugs available has become more sophisticated. For a man, the partial comparison with women is also misleading, both because the physiological reactions can be different outright and because some effects considered negative for a woman need not be negative for a man. Some, e.g. a deeper voice, might even be seen as positive. (Of course, those that affect health, not just superficialities, are negatives for everyone.)

  4. Effects of various drugs are often conflated, especially through “steroid blaming” (e.g. with Gregg Valentino above). For instance, the so called “roid gut” appears to have little or nothing to do with steroids. Instead, it arises through growth hormones*, which simply make everything grow—including the internal organs. This to the point that some people appear to think that any and all PEDs are steroids.

    *Generally, I have the impression that growth hormones are considerably more problematic than steroids in terms of side-effects. This impression could be wrong, however.

  5. There seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to associate any health problem in a body builder or strength athlete with drugs in general or steroids in particular. However, a proper comparison must look at aggregates and not individual examples: There are plenty of non-drug users who have developed severe health problems, including e.g. the heart, at forty or fifty, even many who have died. The question is therefore not whether such cases occur among drug users—but whether* they are more common and/or more severe. However, this differentiation is not made: Instead it is X died at age 50, he took drugs; ergo, the drugs killed him.

    *The result of such an investigation can very well be that they are more common and/or severe—I am not saying that e.g. steroids are harmless. The matter at hand is one of scientific thinking and intellectual honesty, not the pros and cons of drugs.

    Similarly, there is often a blanket attribution of cause and effect whenever a potential cause is known—and this is not limited to e.g. PEDs. If x percent of the users of a certain drug has a certain problem, we cannot conclude that this drug caused the whole x. Instead, we have to make a comparison with an otherwise comparable control group. If we find that y percent of these have the same problem, then the drug, approximately/statistically speaking, caused x – y percentage points of the cases. Similarly, a smoker who dies of lung cancer did not necessarily develop lung cancer because he smoked: Chances are that he did, and smoking certainly did not help—but he could still be among those caught by another reason, e.g. air pollution. There simply is no guarantee that he would have lived, had he not smoked.

    Strictly speaking, we would also have to make more detailed comparisons in order to judge various issues, but this too is never done (at least outside of scientific research): How is a particular aspect of health influenced by spending hours a day training with weights? By eating twice, thrice, or even four times as much as ordinary people? By using a diet with unusual fat/carbohydrate/protein proportions? By repeatedly “bulking up” and then forcing the body fat down to just a few percent? By weighing a hundred pounds more than normally expected, even be it muscle instead of fat? What if there is some genetic link between an inborn increased ability to build muscle, as would be expected even in a drug-taking top body-builder, and some medical problem? …

  6. Side-effects are often overstated or misreported. For instance, hypogonadism is often cited as a negative side-effect of steroid use: “If you take steroids your testicles will shrink!” Now, this is at least potentially true; however, there is an important addendum that is virtually always left out: They will usually* bounce back again after the steroid use ceases. Not all steroids have the same strength of various side-effects. Some side-effects can be countered by other drugs**, notably where excess estrogen is concerned.

    *Depending on the state of research, where I lack the depth of knowledge, “usually” might be an unnecessary addendum or replaceable by “almost always”. The time frame and the probability will naturally depend on length of use and quantities used; as well as whether the user has “cycled”.

    **Whether this is a good idea, I leave unstated. It will likely depend on the specifics of the situation, notably what side-effects the second drug has. However, when viewed in light of some arguments against steroids, the possibility must be considered. To e.g. try to scare someone away from steroids with the threat of gynecomastia without mentioning potential counter-measures is just unethical.

  7. A particular nefarious issue is the constant phrasing with “abuse”: Basically, any and all use of e.g. steroids is called “abuse” in a blanket manner. Good journalism should be impartial and stick to the facts. This includes using value-neutral words like “use” and not value-loaded words like “abuse”—no matter the journalist’s own opinions.

Of course, a side-effect of such propaganda is that we no longer know what we can or cannot trust: Is this-or-that recreational drug as dangerous as claimed? It might or might not be—but we are robbed the opportunity to learn this without doing time consuming research, because what is said in the media simply cannot be trusted.

In the bigger picture, I suspect that at least part of the problem is that some people come to the conclusion that something is evil, and take it upon themselves to prevent others from coming to a different conclusion through deliberate distortion of facts, demonizing something or someone, irrational emotional arguments, whatnot—they believe* that they have the truth and fear that others are not smart enough to find this truth, if left to their own devices. Indeed, this explains very well the apparent paradox that the surest way to be censored on a feminist blog is to comment with a strong counter-argument, a link to statistics contrary to the point of the original post, or otherwise doing something that could bring other readers away from the (often outrageously untrue) “truth”.

*The twist is, of course, that these people, more often than not, are less intelligent, less informed and more prejudiced, and worse at critical thinking than many or most of the people they try to “protect”. Unsurprisingly, they are also often wrong…

A good example of this is a group of anti-tobacco campaigners who visited my school class when I was some 10 to 12 years old: They started off trying to disgust the pupils away from snus, by discussing the potash content* and how potash was gathered for snus production through doing something** to the contents of chamber pots***… Now, snus is a nicotine product, it is addictive, it can cause health problems: These are all things that could, conceivably should, be told to school children and/or the public in general. Putting forth an absurdly wrong story in order to convince children through a shock effect is simply unethical, intellectually dishonest, and likely does more harm than good: When adults lie about one thing, how can children trust them on another? Why should they believe that snus is addictive, that this is not just another lie to scare them away? Etc.

*I seem to vaguely recall that even this claim was outdated, potash once having been an ingredient, but no longer being so. I could be wrong, however.

**I am a little vague on the details, especially since they simply did not make sense to me even then. (And, of course, the claim had nothing to do with reality, starting with the simple fact that chamber pots barely existed in Sweden at that time.) The story was so preposterous that it can be safely assumed that they were neither ignorant nor stupid enough to believe this themselves—it had to be a deliberate lie told to children in order to manipulate them.

***Surprisingly, the implied pseudo-etymology works almost as well in English as in Swedish: potash -> pottaska, chamber pot -> potta

Another example, which depending on developments might result in a separate post, is the recent claims of the German SPD that women would earn 79 cents on the euro—and, oh my, how unfair! I contacted them per email to complain and the answer (among a number of naive statements) showed that they actually, indisputably knew that any true difference was far smaller at, on the outside*, 5–8 % (i.e. 92–95 cents on the euro)—even using their own numbers. They are deliberately lying to their voters! See also e.g. my discussion of the 77 cents on the dollar and note the similarity of numbers over geography and time—this is exactly the kind of similarity that tends to indicate a biological (rather than e.g. a cultural or societal) variation.**

*Contrary to the beliefs of the SPD, an unexplained difference of 5–8 % does not mean that we have a systematic wage discrimination of 5–8 %—this interval is just an upper limit on the maximal size of any wage discrimination. Using studies with more factors, there is no reason to expect more than at most a marginal variation to remain. Interestingly, they also claim that while the West-German difference was 23 % (i.e. exactly the U.S. 77 cents), the East-German was a mere 8, which ties in well with some thoughts in my previous post. Note especially, this the eastern parts of Germany are still worse off than the western part and that there are still plenty of educational choices made and careers started during the GDR era.

**However, two data points does not make for any degree of certainty.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 26, 2017 at 7:11 pm