Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

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Quitting the VDE / Follow-up: My experiences with professional associations and similar groups / Follow-up: A few thoughts on English and German language choices around men and women

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I have previously written both about my disappointing experiences with professional associations and similar groups ([1]) and absurd PC language in Germany (e.g. [2]; and, obviously, a number of texts on English PC language).

As I wrote in [1]:

VDE: So far, knock-on-wood, the least disappointing organization and the only one where I am still a member. There are some VDI-like tendencies, but they are nowhere near as strong and there is much more of the engineer mentality I found wanting at VDI.

I have now decided to terminate my membership in VDE, too. This partially for the simple reason that I have switched careers,* but also due to a growing disappointment with the quarterly membership magazine (“VDE Dialog”). About a year ago, in particular, an edition (04/2019) had a great focus on the environment or the climate, which forewent a scientific and “engineery” approach in favor of Greta-Thunberg-style populism and superficiality. One interview spoke derogatorily of nuclear power; and no-one from the VDE spoke in its defense. To my recollection, nuclear power found no serious mention or discussion—remarkable for a magazine/organization ostensibly targeted at electrical engineers.

*This is a German organization for electrical engineers and members of related professions. Even as an IT consultant, I was stretching it; as a writer of novels, I am wasting my of money.

I wrote a letter pointing this out, and also noting that articles were mostly written by non-engineers, including various freelance journalists. I suggested improvements, including that the set of authors be switched to people with a deeper scientific and technical understanding, and that VDE should remember the typical qualification level and field of the readers—a master degree in a STEM field being a typical education.

This letter has so far remained unanswered* and the situation has not improved.

*Not counting a generic remark in the next edition that there had been a large amount of feedback, both positive and negative, on the topic. Reading between the lines, I suspect that there was a considerable amount of criticism.

The latest edition (04/2020) again addresses environmental topics. The result was similar, including a great emphasis on hydrogen as fuel, but nothing or next to nothing on nuclear power.

It also has a 16-page special on “Corona”, with a similar superficiality and lack of probing and understanding—starting with the abuse of “Corona” for the COVID pandemic: the Corona-family is not a one-virus thing and many (most?) infections are indisputably trivial, e.g. as one of the leading causes behind the common cold. Hitler came from Austria, but not all Austrians are Hitler; SARS-CoV-2 is a Corona virus, but not all Corona viruses are SARS-CoV-2.

However, what really pissed me off, and where we have the connection between the two topics*: One article used “Nutzerinnen und Nutzer” (“[female] users and [male] users”), with a footnote claiming “In der Folge verwenden wir aus Gründen der besseren Lesbarkeit nur die weibliche Form.” (“In the following, for better readability, we only use the female [sic!] form.”) …

*I recommend reading [2] before continuing. Search for “Then Germany:”, if you want to get to the point faster.

So: First the article unnecessarily uses “Nutzerinnen” together with the epicene* “Nutzer”, despite the extreme awkwardness of the phrase—and then it tries to remedy the situation by exclusively using the non(!)-epicene female-only form. Idiotic beyond belief and proving a complete ignorance of language and contempt for the readers. (Who, again, are typically highly educated STEM professionals—not brainwashed snowflakes trying to complete a degree in gender-studies without being expelled for wrongspeak or wrongthink.)

*Roughly, a word which can include both biological sexes irrespective of its own grammatical gender, something very common in German. Here, “Nutzer” (without “Nutzerinnen”) would almost always have been taken to imply both male and female users, just like the English “users”.

The typical motivation for this PC nonsense is to not make readers feel “excluded”. The solution to this largely imaginary problem, here, was to remove a form that any native and rational German* would see as inclusive of both sexes, and to use a form that any native and rational German would see as excluding men, barring an explicit statement to a contrary intent. Consider e.g. a U.S. talent agency saying “we represent actresses and actors, but in the rest of this advert, we will speak of actresses to keep things simple”—where no-one (sane) would have raised even half an eye-brow had the text originally just said “we represent actors” and would almost certainly have expected “we represent male actors”, if the contrary was intended.

*Sorry, “Germanin or German”.

To boot, “Nutzerinnen” is about twice as long as “Nutzer”, which reduces readability, and the original order (“Nutzerinnen und Nutzer”) is flawed, as discussed in [2].

VDE is exactly the type of organization which should take a clear stand against this type of anti-intellectual and contemptuous PC nonsense. It is also exactly the type of organization that should speak out for a scientific approach to climate issues, not populist FUD—which includes an objective and neutral take on nuclear power.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 25, 2020 at 9:56 pm

Spiegel Online and Cancel Culture

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Looking for some information on the current heat-wave, I made the mistake of visiting the truly loony Left German magazine Der Spiegel/Spiegel Online.* I found nothing on the heat-wave, but stumbled on a frightening and frighteningly ignorant piece on “cancel culture”. I will not even try to analyze this (additionally confused and poorly written) piece in detail, but a few remarks that show how absurdly the Left sees and/or distorts the world:

*A very large proportion of the main newspapers and magazines in Germany are paywalled. Der Spiegel is an at least partial exception.

The main thesis appears to be that the term “cancel culture” is an evil rhetorical trick to avoid justified criticism—an outrageous insult to the many who have been canceled and lost jobs, friends, whatnot, over often harmless or scientifically correct opinions.

That the criticism is justified is taken as a blanket truth, again quite contrary to what is seen in real life. Indeed, the vast majority of all such accusations that I have seen have at best been exaggerated or out-of-proportion, and quite often outright wrong. (Cf. a number of older texts.)

The effects of cancellation are trivialized through claims like “In Einzelfällen verlieren die Kritisierten dadurch einen Job, kriegen aber oft sehr schnell einen anderen.” (“In individual cases* the criticized lose a job, but often rapidly find a new one.”). Not only are these “individual cases” quite common,** but far from everyone manages to find a new job in a timely manner, and even those who do find a new job might pay a major price through a loss of income, a career reset, the need to relocate, …

*“Einzelfälle[n]” has a stronger note of rarity than “individual cases”.

**Indeed, as I recently noted, even a spouse with the wrong opinions can be grounds for a firing in the U.S. The situation is not as dire in Germany, but it is bad and growing worse. Idiocies like the linked-to text do further harm.

The cancellation* of an appearance by Lisa Eckhart** during a literature festival (“Literaturfestival”) is taken as a non-issue: her appearance was canceled at short notice for fear of attacks or whatnot and the author of the linked-to text has the audacity to speak of “ein Gespenst”***. In a best case scenario, this amounts to a dubious “there was nothing to fear but fear itself”; in a worst case, it puts the entire phenomenon of “cancel culture” on the level of “just imagination and exaggeration”. The latter is born out by the rest of the text, which to a large part makes that claim; the former could be a contextual half-truth, in that the fears that lead to the cancellation might have been unfounded. That does not remove the damage done to Frau Eckhart and it sets a dangerous precedent for Germany that follows an established U.S. pattern: “We really do support free speech and would love to have you appear. Buuuut: We simply cannot take the risk.” That too, reduces freedom of speech, the spread of opinions, and whatnot, and ultimately it does not matter how someone is brought to an involuntary silence—only that someone was brought to an involuntary silence.

*Note that some of the variations of “cancel” that appear here are literal.

**She was not previously known to me, so I will not speak on details around her. She is alleged to, as a professional comedian, have made homophobic/racist/whatnot jokes.

***Contextually, “phantasm” or other imaginary threat. However, note “Ein Gespenst geht um in Europa” and how that once turned out.

This is the type of blind-to-the-world (or the-truth-does-not-matter) Leftist populism and extremism that makes Spiegel Online unreadable, a news source for idiots, the type of thing that really would need to be canceled. It is also a proof that there is a “Lügenpresse” and/or an “Inkompetenzpresse”.

Written by michaeleriksson

August 12, 2020 at 8:27 pm

A few thoughts on English and German language choices around men and women

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As I spotted when writing another text earlier today, my sources used phrases like “von Frauen und Männern” (“from women and men”), while I find it natural to stick to “men and women” in my own writings. As the situation in Germany is quite interesting (and highly unfortunate) a few words on these issues.

For starters, let us look at men and women in English:

Is it “men and women” or “women and men”, and why? Is it e.g. sexist to use the former or “progressive” to use the latter?

Looking at meaning and sentence logic, the order is irrelevant and it should (to those not subscribing to Feminist rhetoric or some extreme version of the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis) almost always be “men and women” for reasons of rhythm and smoothness—and it should be “ladies and gentlemen” for the same reason, not “gentlemen and ladies”.

Start by saying these phrases out loud a few times, and note how differently they feel. In particular, the human (or English?) ear tends to prefer* trochaic and iambic rhythms and something that allows a pattern of some sort to form. With “men and women”, we have two trochees (“MEN and WOmen”), but with “women and men” (“WOmen and MEN”) we have more random** syllables. The latter can be made to sound good, but would then require a sufficient rhythmic context (or, possibly, an exaggerated pronunciation).

*But not to exclusion. For instance, the anapest (think Dr. Seuss) can be quite catching; for instance, cf. the dactyls below. To some part, I suspect, trochees and iambs are preferred because e.g. English is naturally filled with series of these or their approximations.

**It could be seen as a single choriamb, but four-syllable metrics are not usually applied (for good reasons) and there can be no pattern with just the one choriamb. It could also be seen as a trochee followed by an iamb, but this allows no pattern either, without a larger context.

Similarly, “ladies and gentlemen” is broadly* two dactyls (LAdies and GENtlemen”, while “gentlemen and ladies” is broadly* a dactyl followed by an amphibrach (“GENtlemen and LAdies”). (And a dactyl could, in this informal context, be seen as a “long” trochee.)

*I am not entirely certain whether to treat “gentle” as a single very long or as two separate syllables, as the final “e” is silent and the vowel sound of the “l” is weak or even optional. If two, there might be some dispute exactly how the main beat is to be placed. (Poetry-wise, I am an amateur. And, no, I do not have all of the Greek names memorized.) Then again, it can be disputed whether syllables or length/morae are more important, which would leave us with dactyl or “dactyloid” anyway. Of course, in the theatrical “Laaaaaaaaaaadies aaand geeeeeeeeeentlemen”, the two syllable version is almost bound to apply.

Then Germany:

Here the situation is much more complicated and unpoetic: a simple “Männer und Frauen” (two dactyls, again) compares slightly better than “Frauen und Männer” (another dactyl + amphibrach), but not as strongly as in the two English cases. (Possibly, because of flexibility in splitting the “aue” combination in “Frauen”. I take it as au-e, as the most likely syllables are “Frau” und “en” (with a diphthong “au”), but, with the added flexibility in the pronunciation, “Frauen” can be bent to fit other patterns.)

However, if we look at current German use, we are bombarded with phrases like “Bäckerinnen und Bäcker” (“[female] bakers and [male] bakers”), “BäckerInnen” (artificial word presuming to include both sexes; note capitalization of the internal “I”), and “Bäcker*innen” (ditto; note non-footnote star in the middle).

Here poetry is usually beside the point and other concerns apply, the most notable that these attempts at “gender-inclusive” language are entirely unnecessary in almost all contexts: “Bäcker”, like most* similar male-seeming plurals, is epicene, i.e. can refer to members of both sexes. Ditto the singular in a generic context, where a baker of unknown sex might be referred to as “der Bäcker”, but the known woman would be “die Bäckerin”. This does bring some ambiguity, in that some contexts leave it open whether a certain group is single-sex or not, but in most the “not” can be taken for granted and in many it does not matter.** The same applies, obviously, to the basic English “baker” and “bakers”, because there are no even optional female forms for most “traditionally male” professions (and vice versa). Indeed, many of the problems with Feminist language manipulation go back to the refusal to consider the epicene enough—actual “social” neutrality*** is needed. (Hence, e.g. the rejection of the epicene generic “he” in favor of the neutral or quasi-neutral generic “they”, even at the price of switching from singular to plural.) It is the odder in German, however, where epicenity is very wide spread, including cases where a man is legitimately referred to as “she”. (A more extensive discussion of this in German is present in an older text on gender-neutral language. This text is also relevant to some other points.)

*Including typical professions, but usually excluding e.g. “Männer” (“men”). Even for “Männer”, the inclusion of women could be argued when we do not intend it in the sense of men-as-opposed-to-women, but e.g. members-of-a-troupe-of-X (as with the similar use of “men” in English). An army officer holding a speech to his “Männer” might well take women to be included, as the word points to a certain role or membership, not a sexual division. Context can be important, as even the singular “Mann” is occasionally applied to women, even by other women, in sloppy language—just like some U.S. women might refer to other women as “guys” or even “dudes’. For instance, it is conceivable that an irate teen girl says something like “Du hast meinen Stift geklaut, Mann!” (“You stole my pencil, dude!”, except that “dude’ is less likely than “Mann”) to another teen girl.

**“Bäcker backen Brot” (“bakers bake bread”), e.g., is obviously not single-sex. Ditto e.g. “wir stellen Bäcker ein” (“we hire bakers”; few, contrary to Feminist propaganda, care about sex over ability to bake) and “Bäcker der Bäckerei X” (“bakers of the bakery X”; might be single-sex if few enough, but it would then rarely matter). In contrast, in “zwei Bäcker schlugen sich” (“two bakers were physically fighting”) the details might well be relevant.

***Be it through use of a grammatical neutral, something inherently “non-gendered” (arguably, “they”; but it might also be considered epicene), lengthy duplications (“Bäckerinnen und Bäcker”), or artificial words or constructs (“BäckerInnen”, “Bäcker*innen”).

As an aside, I note that these solution attempts are all “binary”, which implies that the “gender-inclusiveness” is not reached by modern standards to begin with. The epicene “Bäcker” does not have that problem …

To look more in detail at the three typical workarounds-for-a-non-existing-problem:

“Bäckerinnen und Bäcker” is lengthy for no good reason, with a negative effect on readers, writers, speakers, and hearers alike. Moreover, the prefixing of the female version makes the expression clumsier yet, as the second part is a substring of the first and rarely* adds any new real information. (And I see the reverse as poetically sounder.) That the prefix is almost always the female version, even with male dominated groups, opens the suspicion that specifically women should somehow be pushed. (As to the reasons, I can only speculate. Possibilities include “we need to compensate for centuries of oppression” and “we need to show women that they, too, can be X”. Sadly, I cannot, in today’s society, rule out that some Feminists or “gender scientists” put the female form first because they actually do consider women more important.)

*It is extremely rare to see a word like “Bäckerinnen” not followed by “und Bäcker” (resp. whatever male or epicene form applies). A word like “Bäcker”, on the other hand, might well see a more informative extension, as with e.g. “Bäcker und Konditoren” (“bakers and pastry chefs [?]”). If in doubt, what follows “Bäcker” is much more likely to be something other than an “und”, which brings the sentence forward (as with the above “Bäcker backen Brot”).

Interestingly, there have been cases of “innen”-forms used where non have previously existed grammatically, and the single form was then purely single-sex to begin with. Unfortunately, I do not remember exact actual examples, but consider, hypothetically, “Modelinnen und Models”, where the “Modelinnen” is a spurious female plural of the imported “Model”. The same type of problem is possible with the other two cases below.

“BäckerInnen” is pronounced exactly like “Bäckerinnen”, despite the different implications (men and women vs. women only), so this solution is useless for the spoken language and can cause confusion when reading a written text aloud. Moreover, even the optical difference is so small that mistakes of both reading and writing are likely. Those who subscribe to the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, i.e. typically those who push this nonsense, should take great care, as this would be a school example of potential cognitive effects. Indeed, this is a case where even someone largely skeptical towards this hypothesis (e.g. yours truly) might well see a risk (I do). I have always been torn between considering use of this construct gross incompetence and an attempt to replace male/epicene forms with female or female/epicene* forms, the capital “I” being a mere alibi to use the traditionally female form. This type of internal capitalization is without precedent** and likely to cause confusion among those not used to it, including German-as-a-second-language-learners.

*Which, to avoid misunderstandings, would only acquire epicenity through this replacement.

**Barring company names, and similar, which typically arose after this idiocy reared its ugly head. The construct was in use when I first arrived here in 1997. (I do not remember my first own reaction, but I might well have thought it a typo.)

“Bäcker*innen”, a very recent invention, shares most weaknesses with “BäckerInnen”, while looking ridiculous, introducing unnecessary complications for e.g. spell checkers, and moving even further outside the traditional uses of characters. Indeed, a middle-of-word use of a star is usually the mark of a censored character, as with “f*ck” for “fuck”, which raises the question what has been “starred out” and why. To someone used to regular expressions and computers, it is idiotically shaped (cf. below), while a star in other contexts often implies something questionable (e.g. a disputed mark in athletics) or a pointer to a note of some type (as, indeed, in this text). In a linguistic context, which is obviously relevant, its main use is likely to indicate a form of a word that is only hypothesized, as with e.g. Proto-Indo-European reconstructions. (To which other, but less relevant, uses can be added, e.g. as an indicator of multiplication: the overloading of this character is too large to burden it with an additional meaning without a much better reason than claimed with “Bäcker*innen”.) The one advantage is a smaller risk of optical confusion, but the net result is a worsening. (There might or might not be some advantage in speech, e.g. that this could be spoken as “Bäcker-Stern-innen” (“Stern” = “star”), but that would be clumsy indeed, and risk confusion with “Stern” in e.g. the sense of an astronomical star.

How to do it better? Well, if it is not acceptable that “Bäcker” pulls double duty as the epicene term and the male counter-part of “Bäckerinnen”, it would make more sense to me to deprecate “Bäckerinnen” and just use “Bäcker” through out, as an entirely “non-gendered” term. (Effectively, follow the path of English in just using “bakers” resp. deprecating existing terms like “actress”.) However, if someone positively, absolutely insists on introducing new formations, they* should at least follow established conventions. For instance, “BäckerInnen” would better have been “Bäcker/-innen” in a regular writing context, while the pseudo-regexp or pseudo-computerese “Bäcker*innen” would better have been “Bäcker(innen)?” (or “Bäcker?(innen)”, depending on system) or “Bäcker[innen]”.** Of course, neither of these consistency improvements remedies the confusing impression or the pronunciation issues—so stick to “Bäcker”!

*As an aside, using correct and conventional grammar, anyone would realize that “they” refers to the formations (the one plural). With the perversion of the generic “they”, it would be more likely to refer to “someone”. Here the difference in meaning would be small enough to be tolerable, but in other cases considerable misunderstandings could arise. Indeed, the pollution with the generic “they” is so pervasive that I, proof reading, for a moment actually combined the “they” with “someone”, myself. Death to the generic “they”!

**But I would be willing to accept a “*” over “?” to reduce the risk of confusion with a question mark. Otherwise, in typical regular expressions, “?” indicates an optional occurrence, while “*” indicates an arbitrary number of occurrences. “ab?” would then be either of “a” and “ab”, while “ab*” would be “a”, “ab”, ‘abb”, “abbb”, etc. The incorrectly ordered and ungrouped “Bäcker*innen” would then amount to “Bäckeinnen”, “Bäckerinnen”, “Bäckerrinnen”, “Bäckerrrinnen”, etc.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 8, 2020 at 2:22 pm

Karens and related topics

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Recently, I have repeatedly encountered the derogatory term “Karen”, in the sense of a White woman who overreacts against Blacks as perceived threats, criminals, whatnots. This notably in relation to the “Central Park birdwatching incident” (to follow the terminology of the linked-to Wikipedia page). As this tied in well with some of my observations and a few recent texts, I intended to write something on the matter. However, the definition of “Karen” provided by Wikipedia seems to be much wider. ([1] is the same page fixed to the version that I read.)

Below, I will first give an abbreviated treatment of my original angle (based on my original understanding of the term), and then follow with a few observations around this and another Wikipedia page. (The first as it might or might not apply to “Karen”, but definitely contains some important points in general. Also, partially, because Wikipedia often is faulty and partisan in contexts like these, which leads to the second; moreover, usage might well have drifted.)


While it might well be that some White women do have a particular fear or whatnot of Black men, there is fair chance that most alleged observations of this are specious—something that instead reflects undue fears in general among women and/or undue fears of men. This possibly in combination with the behavior of some Black men, or other parts of their appearance than skin color. If so, it is an excellent, multiple illustration of how people tend to jump to conclusions.* Specifically, many women display similar fear-driven behaviors even when the counter-part is not Black. For instance, Germany (a country with few Blacks) has instituted dedicated zones of parking houses for women—not because there is any actual increased danger for women, but simply because sufficiently many women have a greater fear than men and have complained long and hard enough. For instance, I (White) have myself had a few women very hurriedly change side of the street during walks after nightfall (in a manner that makes a coincidence unlikely).

*Examples are manifold, but one (with many variations) quite relevant to much of my writings is a woman who is fired because she did a poor job, but who instantly attributes this to her being a woman and the decision-maker an allegedly sexist man, without reflection on how e.g. her own behavior might have caused the events and without ever asking herself whether the same would have happened to a man with the same behavior. (Unless, obviously, to answer it with a resounding “NO!’, because she has already made up her mind that she fired because she was a woman.

Then we have to consider what might increase the risk of such a reaction: In my case, I am 6’ 3” and often on the wrong side of 220 lb. Chances are that an already skittish woman is more fearful of me than of someone 5’ 3” and a 110 lb—and that is even somewhat understandable, despite my posing no danger whatsoever to her. Similarly, if someone wears a hoodie, has tattoos, is of over-average muscularity, speaks loudly or with poor grammar, whatnot, chances are that some mixture of own experiences, somewhat true* stereotypes, and built-in circuitry will cause a stronger fear reaction in a woman than would the stereotypical accountant.** These are also, in my impression, likelier to apply to a Black man than a White man. Then: was it really the skin color or might it have been the hoodie, the tattoos, etc.? Or, in light of Feminist propaganda, that it was a man (and not a woman or child), irrespective of skin color.

*Most people who wear hoodies are not criminals, but the proportion of hoodie wearers who are criminals is almost certainly higher than for the overall population. (Possibly, after adjusting for some other factors, e.g. age.)

**With many other factors potentially applying in a similar manner.

Finally, to the degree that skin color does play in, is it a matter of racism or a knowledge of crime statistics? (Remember the context of a woman who is already skittish for irrational reasons—or rational, for all I care. She is already scared as she walks home on an empty street late at night—and then she sees someone who is disproportionately* likely to be a criminal.)

*Note that that this does not imply “likely”, just “likelier”.


I will not analyze these articles in detail, but I mention a few specific oddities that I saw during skimming:

  1. There are no less than three mentions of “privilege” in [1]. None of them make much sense and the whole concept is highly dubious to begin with—and, if not, it has by now degenerated into a generic and argument-free debate blocker. It has no place in an encyclopedic text.
  2. [1] abuses “they” to refer to someone who has already been identified as a “he”. Abuse of “they” is indefensible in general, but when there is no ambiguity about either sex or gender, it is utterly inexcusable and, again, has no place in an encyclopedic text. (Either gross incompetence or blatant ideology pushing.)
  3. [1] claims:

    Kansas State University professor Heather Suzanne Woods, whose research interests include memes, said a Karen’s defining characteristics are “entitlement, selfishness, a desire to complain” and that a Karen “demands the world exist according to her standards with little regard for others, and she is willing to risk or demean others to achieve her ends.”

    This matches my impressions of very many women quite well. At least one or two of these likely apply to a majority of all women (and more than a few men, in all fairness). When it comes to mothers, at least up to a certain age of the child, the situation is even worse, as many seem to think that every non-mother is a second-class citizen. Note e.g. the rude woman in a recent text.

    However, I stress that “a desire to complain” might need differentiation: If someone complains e.g. for the sake of complaining, in the hope of some unwarranted benefit,* for some feeling of importance relating to the complaining (all of which I do have the impression that many women do), then it is a negative. On the other hand, if the complaint strives to point out flaws that could and should be rectified, unethical business methods, governmental waste or incompetence, or similar, then it is a positive—we need more of this type of complaint. (And I engage in such complaints regularly my self. Indeed, this very text could be seen as an example.)

    *For instance, during a restaurant visit, I once heard two women at a near-by table loudly complain to the waiter about the substandard meat and how they refused to pay (or wanted a discount?)—despite having actually eaten all of the meat … They were in the restaurant business themselves, and they knew poor quality when they saw it! (My meal, for the record, was excellent.)

  4. A less reasonable portion is:

    While the term is used exclusively in a pejorative manner towards a person of a specific race and gender, some have argued that “Karen” lacks the historical context to be considered a slur, and that calling it one trivializes actual discrimination. Others argue that the targets of the term have immense privilege, and that “an epithet that lacks the power to discriminate is just an insult.”

    For fuck’s sake! Why would a slur need a historical context? How does “calling it one trivialize[s] actual discrimination”? This portion is also an excellent example of abuse of the word “discrimination”. Later we see one of the abuses of “privilege”, and the claim “an epithet that lacks the power to discriminate is just an insult” is potentially* another abuse in the “discrimination” family and misses the point about slurs.

    *Depending exactly on what is meant: if the use parallels the preceding, it is an abuse; if it implies e.g. that an insult that could apply to anyone is not a slur, it would be correct use (but still a disputable thesis).

    To this I note that Wiktionary on “slur” says “An insult or slight.”, that Merriam-Webster gives “Slur definition is – an insulting or disparaging remark or innuendo : aspersion.”, and that both match my own understanding well—a slur is a (one-word?) insult.*

    *This might be another case of significant modifiers being dropped by idiots, who do note realize that they are distorting the meaning of the core word, e.g. with “slur” as a short for “racial slur”, “sexist slur”, whatnot paralleling “discrimination” as a short for “racial discrimination” (etc.), while the true meaning of the respective word goes under in all the abuses.

  5. I followed a link to the page on “Woman card”. The very first sentence discredits the entire page: “The woman card, also called playing the woman card, the gender card or the sex card, is an idiomatic phrase that refers to exploitation of either sexist or anti-female attitudes by accusing others of sexism or misogyny.”

    If the author had left out “anti-female”, it might have been technically correct for some subset of uses (but highly confusing). However, with that portion in, it is clear that the entire concept is put on its head. The “woman card” is a woman* trying to get advantages of some kind, usually in a debate, by using the fact that she is a woman. This, in most contexts, is a irrational, despicable, and/or intellectually dishonest line of argumentation—and pointing it out is a good thing. Here, however, the “woman card” is twisted to refer to the one pointing the use out and condemning that as despicable—PC bullshit at its worst and entirely unworthy of an encyclopedia.

    *The page also gives Bill Clinton an example along the lines of “be pro-Hillary, because she is a woman”. This could conceivably be viewed as a relevant example of a non-woman, but non-women are definitely far rarer.

    The continuation is as bad: “The phrase is used to describe accusations [sic!] of women either mentioning their gender to gain an advantage in discussions or implying or accusing other people of sexism in order to garner support.” No: it is not the “accusations” but the “mentioning” (etc.) that the phrase refers to. (And this continuation removes the risk that the first quote was just extremely poorly phrased.)

    Note the recurring issue of a PC/Feminist/Leftist/whatnot double-standard: They are allowed to, and do, try to shutdown others with even entirely unwarranted accusations of e.g. “privilege” or “mansplaining”—but do not dare use a similar term against them, even should it have an actual objective justification!

    As an aside, “Karen” is an interesting example, as it might put two factions of the overall PC movement against each other: the Feminist, which would like to see it banned as anti-woman, and the “Blackist” (for want of a better word), which sees it as a means to shut-down non-compliant women.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 4, 2020 at 12:47 am

Unwort des Jahres / Intellectually dishonest Leftist propaganda

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As the recurring reader knows, I am both very interested in language use and political questions. The latter notably as a frequent critic of Leftist propaganda and attempts to control debate or thought in an unethical, often even Orwellian, manner.

The attempts by a group of Leftist populists to push their own “Unwort des Jahres”* has annoyed me for years: It pretends to be a group of linguists** acting in a linguistic capacity, but in reality it works to further its own political and ideological ideas in an entirely non-linguistic manner. Not only are words chosen in a manner as to (backed by its faux credibility) paint political opponents in a negative light, there even seems to be a tendency to pick whatever area “The Cause” has received the most push-back during the past year and choose a word specifically to hit back in that area. This behavior is, obviously, grossly unscientific and intellectually dishonest.

*“Unword of the year”. Cf. e.g. other German expressions like “Untier” (“monster” or “beast” in a modern sense) to “Tier” (“animal” or “beast” in an older sense). Also see German Wikipedia and (with less content) English Wikipedia, as well as the official website of the group.

**And might well be—the point is that the members do not act as linguists or using linguistic (or other relevant) criteria, but political and ideological ones. Of course, if non-linguistic criteria, including those mentioned below, are to be used, linguists have no authority and are, in fact, inferior to those with a more relevant background.

Indeed, while the shallow-most* outward presentation is “linguists”, even the official criteria almost precludes a scientific approach and clearly demonstrate that it is not a matter of e.g. good or poor use of language. One of the official pages gives e.g. “gegen das Prinzip der Menschenwürde” (“contrary to the principle of human dignity”) as a criterion—but even these criteria are usually hard to reconcile with the actual choices. Looking at the motivations given, it is often clear that no attempts has been made to see the perspective of the users or to understand the use in context. I would even argue that the activities of the jury are contrary to its own alleged principles. Certainly, these principles are not applied in a politically neutral manner, but in a manner slanted very strongly, in U.S. terminology, pro-Democrat and anti-Republican.

*For instance, the video-text of ARD, a public German TV sender, speaks of “eine Jury aus Sprachwissenschaftlern” (“a jury of linguists”).

Consider e.g. this year’s choice: “Klimahysterie” (“climate hysteria”) While climate issues are very important, we do have a problem with excesses and misguided propaganda, that might well even justify the use of “hysteria”—and certainly, indisputably, there are many individuals who are hysterical on the issue. Note e.g. the ridiculous “Greta Thunberg” phenomenon or how the climate debate is increasingly dominated by emotional arguments and cheap rhetoric instead of reason and scientific arguments. Also note that exactly this type of behavior has strongly contributed to the current climate situation through prioritizing a reduction of nuclear power over a reduction of fossil fuels for decades. (Nuclear power once filling the same propaganda role as global warming does today—and with far less justification.)

Or consider the 2014 “Lügenpresse” (“liar press”): While it can be disputed to what degree the German press is actively lying,* there is no doubt that the average journalist is both incompetent and poorly informed. It is also well established that the average journalist is further to the Left than the non-journalist population; and there are plenty of examples of journalist and media at least deliberately filtering the facts in a manner that violates my suggestions for a new press ethics. Notably, the mentality that the facts need to be filtered, lest someone comes to the “wrong” conclusion (i.e. another conclusion than the journalist), seems to be extremely common. Also note that outright journalistic fraud is by no means unheard of (cf. e.g. [1], [2].)

*The expression, in my opinion, is to a large part based on misattribution of intention.

Particularly negative is that the frequency of use does not appear to play in. For instance, the 2012 “Opfer-Abo” (“victim subscription”) seems to refer to just several uses by a single person—the unjustly-accused-of-rape Jörg Kachelmann. While this phrase could be disputed as linguistically almost nonsensical, the underlying problem is a very real one: The fact is that, contrary to Feminist propaganda, false rape accusations are quite common. The narrow-minded jury, however, decries this use as being too accusatory of women—in a manner that exemplifies his claim that women can position themselves as victims even when they are the perpetrators. (See excursion for additional details.)

It is also notable that many true “unwords” have gone without attack, e.g. the atrocious “NGO”, an untranslated adoption of the already misleading and idiotic English abbreviation (and unabbreviated term), and the ever recurring “Rechtsruck”.

Something quite telling is that there is also a “word of the year” published by the (much better known and much more renowned) Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (roughly, “Society for German language”). When the unword was introduced in 1991 it was published by the same source—but two years later some row caused a splinter group to move away and publish the unword independently. Unfortunately, the lower credibility and disassociation rarely finds mention, leaving many with the impression that the unword is chosen by an entity of true noteworthiness, instead of reflecting the private political opinions of an ideologically motivated splinter group.

Excursion on “Opfer-Abo”: German Wikipedia describes the use with:*

*Here and below: Some minor typographic changes have been made. I leave “Opfer-Abo” untranslated. Some translation might be approximate due to differences in idiom and whatnot.

Im Herbst 2012 hatte Jörg Kachelmann in mehreren Interviews geäußert, dass Frauen ein “Opfer-Abo” hätten. Mit ihm könnten sie ihre Interessen gegenüber Männern zum Beispiel in Form von Falschbeschuldigungen durchsetzen. Die Wortschöpfung selbst stammt laut Aussage Jörg Kachelmanns von seiner Frau Miriam. In einem Interview der Zeitschrift Der Spiegel, bei dem er gemeinsam mit seiner Frau Miriam interviewt wurde, sagte Kachelmann: “Das ist das Opfer-Abo, das Frauen haben. Frauen sind immer Opfer, selbst wenn sie Täterinnen wurden. Menschen können aber auch genuin böse sein, auch wenn sie weiblich sind.”

Translation: In the Autumn 2012, Jörg Kachelmann declared in several interviews, that women had an “Opfer-Abo”. With it, they could enforce their interests against men, e.g. through false accusations. The word it self was, according to Kachelmann, created by his wife [sic!]. In an interview by the magazine Der Spiegel, which interviewed him together with his wife Miriam, Kachelmann said: “This is the Opfer-Abo that women have. Women are always victims, even when they turn into perpetrators. Humans, however, can be genuinely bad, even when they are female.”

This is by no means an unreasonable claim and well matches much of female behavior that I have seen myself and observations by others around e.g. rape accusations, divorces, and similar. Consider e.g. a great number of discussions on Minding the Campus. I note e.g. that I spent a considerable amount of time reading relationships forums some ten or fifteen years ago, and found a horrifying double standard, including instances where the exact same behavior from a man and a woman received opposite “advice”, often putting the blame on the man in all cases.* Much of Feminism amounts to finding a reason why someone or something other than the woman at hand, preferably a man or men in general, is to blame for everything negative that happens to her, with no thought of own responsibility.**

*E.g. that if a man hit a woman it was because he was an ass-hole and she should leave him immediately; while if a woman hit a man, it was because he (!) was an ass-hole, who drove her to violence, and he should forgive her and start behaving better.

**E.g. that if a woman does not get a promotion, it is not for lack of competence but discrimination; if a woman is insecure about her looks, it is not her weakness but brain-washing by “society”; etc.

Wikipedia further says:

Die Jury [member list omitted] begründete die Wahl damit, dass das Wort Frauen “pauschal und in inakzeptabler Weise” unter den Verdacht stelle, sexuelle Gewalt zu erfinden und damit selbst Täterinnen zu sein. Die Jury behauptet, dass nur fünf bis acht Prozent der von sexueller Gewalt betroffenen Frauen tatsächlich die Polizei einschalteten und dass es dabei in nur drei bis vier Prozent der Fälle zu einer Anzeige und einem Gerichtsverfahren komme. Der Begriff und die damit verbundene Aussage sei sachlich grob unangemessen. “Das Wort verstößt damit nicht zuletzt auch gegen die Menschenwürde der tatsächlichen Opfer.”

Translation: The jury [member list omitted] justified the choice by the claim that the word “in a blanket manner and unacceptably” would accuse women of inventing sexual violence and thereby become perpetrators. The jury claimed, that only five to eight percent of the female victims of sexual violence would notify the police and that only in three or four percent of the cases a charge and a judicial proceeding would follow. The term and the implied statement would be factually grossly inappropriate. “The word thereby also violates the human dignity of the actual victims.”

There is a lot wrong with the above, including that Kachelmann himself has been harder hit than the wast majority of rape victims and that it is quite clear that he, himself, has been falsely accused—years of anxiety, a ruined career, a (temporarily) ruined reputation. What is with his human dignity and whatnot as an actual victim? As for the numbers, I note that there is no* mention of the rate of false accusations, which is high, and that the low numbers given sound more like Feminist propaganda than true numbers. (Cf. e.g. an older text on rape statistics, including links, and the older text on Kachelmann linked to above.) Even had these numbers been true, however, they would be largely irrelevant, because they do not address the issue behind Kachelmann’s claim. (They could indeed be seen as support of his claim, because a low rate of true reports would increase the proportion of false reports, and give a strong argument that rape accusations should be scrutinized more closely than is often the case.) To claim that it would be unacceptable for the victim of a false accusation to complain about false accusation is it self unacceptable and in extremely poor taste. The claim that Kachelmann would raise a blanket (“pauschal”) suspicion is at best exaggerated and seems motivated by bad faith.

*There might have been in a larger context than what Wikipedia quotes, but it would be an odd thing to leave out. Moreover, the official Feminist “truth” is that a woman would never, ever lie about being raped, which reduces the probability that realistic numbers would have been given.

Written by michaeleriksson

January 14, 2020 at 2:26 pm

The loss of the grammatical number in the third person / Follow-up: Abuse of “they” as a generic singular

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Since publishing an older text on abuse of “they” ([1]), I have come to fear that the problem is far worse: the grammatical number and the feel for number is increasingly lost in the third person (possibly, elsewhere too). I suspect that the PC abuse is compounded by weak thinkers/writers simply ignoring questions of numbers and pronouns. Examples include an almost consistent use of “they” for multi-person and non-biological entities,* incongruencies that give the impression that the writer made decisions based on a coin-flip,** the extension of “they” to entities with a known grammatical gender and biological sex,*** a near consistent use of “they” with e.g. “everyone”, and the replacement of “one’s” with “their” as a companion to “one”.

*E.g. corporations or music groups. In the past, these have very often been referred to by “it”, which is also more logical in many cases. (Apparently, there used to be British vs. American divide here.) Notably, “they” might be defensible when it comes to e.g. a music group or a sports team in reference to a somewhat collective action or a situation where it is clear that we have a grouping of individuals, e.g. “Team X won. They mounted an irresistible offense.”; however, not when we have a more abstract entity or an action that is not the work of a similar grouping, e.g. “IBM increased its market share. It has had a great year.” or “Team [club] X is recruiting player Y to strengthen its defense.”.

**E.g. in that “they” is combined with singular or plural forms in a manner without an underlying logic, be it with regard to grammatical or physical number. The same author might then write “they were” (plural/plural) and “they was” (plural/singular) in two different sentences referencing the same entity or entities.

***E.g. “I met my cousin. They were happy.”. Note that this often happens when there is no sign of “non-binary identification” or similar. Certainly, the sheer number of instances is too large to be explained by such factors; certainly, it cannot explain the common use for animals.

A particular idiocy is the mixture of forms, as when a sentence or paragraph uses both “they” and phrases like “he or she”, e.g. “The white player moves first. He or she could move a pawn or they could move one of the knights.”.* (Also cf. “one” above.)

*While this example is fictional, I have seen at least a dozen similar examples since writing [1], most on Wikipedia. It also exemplifies the many, many instances where “they” is simply unnecessary and could have been avoided with a trivial change, without deviating from “gender-neutral” language, by using “[…] or one of the knights.” or similar.

If current trends continue (let us hope that they do not!), the third person will be reduced to “they” in just a few decades. Note: “the third person”—not “the third-person generic singular”. We will then have a system of “I”/“we”, “you”, and “they” for the first, second, respectively third persons. (Where the current calls for “he”/“she”/“it”/“they” in the third person.)

Where are the emergency brakes for language change?

Written by michaeleriksson

November 13, 2019 at 10:41 pm

Wikipedia, Wiktionary, and political correctness

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I have long been concerned with the infestation of Wikipedia by unencyclopedic PC propaganda, where it is clear that many see Wikipedia as yet another platform for furthering their private agendas—science and objectivity by damned. (Cf. e.g. parts of [1] and “young adult fiction” below.)

During the last few months, I have become a frequent visitor of Wiktionary, as a very valuable tool for the struggling author. To my distress, I found many cases of potential similar abuse even here, where it might seem implausible. While any individual case might be a coincidence, the proportion of the articles that contain odd examples and potential distortions is too large to allow coincidence to be the overall explanation. (For instance, any one of the below examples might be harmless or coincidental when taken alone. Possibly, the entire page discussed might be seen as a coincidence. However, when we look at the sum of all pages, this would stretch credulity.)

Consider e.g. Wiktionary on “sneer”. The English section currently contains three examples of use (given below). All three could have been chosen for their “PC value”; with one, it is outright likely. Moreover, two of them appear to be quite young, while the third goes back no further than 1963. This despite aspects like historical* use and somewhat stable** use being of great importance on a site like Wiktionary.

*While Wikipedia is silent on age, Etymonline gives estimations of 1550s (verb) and 1707 (noun). The examples, then, cover about a tenth of the life-time of the word.

**Examples from 2019 could reflect a temporary fashion, while older examples are more likely to represent a stable use and meaning. (A wish to demonstrate current use is still best met with examples that are, say, ten or twenty years old and still seen as “current” in meaning.)

Looking at these examples in detail, we have:*

*Note that some changes in typography and formatting might be present for technical reasons. Use of square brackets reflect the state on Wiktionary, and are not additions by me.

  1. 2019 July 24, David Austin Walsh, “Flirting With Fascism”, in Jewish Currents:

    During [Tucker] Carlson’s keynote, he wedged sneers at his critics for crying “racist!” in between racist remarks about [Ilhan] Omar, jeremiads against the media (“I know there’s a bunch of reporters here, so . . . screw you”), and an attack on Elizabeth Warren and her donors (“She’s a tragedy, because she’s now obsessed with racism, which is why the finance world supports her”)—all to gleeful applause.

    This example is months old, from a political/partisan source (and one with an apparent “anti-Fascist” take at that), and the quote at least represents someone as trying to criticize use of the word “racist” while actually being racist. Now, I am not aware of who Carlsson is or what his opinions are, but abuse of the word “racist” is a massive problem in today’s world, be it out of ignorance or in order to discredit opponents without having to address their arguments. (The same applies to e.g. “sexist”, “xenophobe”, “Fascist”.) I have discussed this repeatedly in the past, notably in [2].

    To boot, the structure of the example, with formatting, quotes-within-quotes, etc., makes it highly unsuitable as an example for other reasons.

  2. “Now here’s someone who should attend privilege workshops,” sneered she.

    There is no date or source given, but the reference to “privilege workshops” is a clear indication of a very recent origin, likely within the last few years, decades on the outside.

    The whole “privilege” bullshit is another staple of PC rhetoric, as I discuss e.g. in [3].

    A potential partial save of the example is the interpretation of the sneerer as evil, as with the above example and, possibly, the below. I am not much inclined to extend the benefit of the doubt these days, however.

  3. 1963, Margery Allingham, chapter 8, in The China Governess[1]:

    It was a casual sneer, obviously one of a long line. There was hatred behind it, but of a quiet, chronic type, nothing new or unduly virulent, and he was taken aback by the flicker of amazed incredulity that passed over the younger man’s ravaged face.

    This is the example least likely by far to be an abuse, but combining the quote with the name of the source, there is at least a possibility that it too portrays or pretends to portray a scene of racism or other “ism”, e.g. something anti-Chinese. (I have not investigated this further.)

In a bigger picture, “collaborative” or “public contribution” sites like Wikipedia and Wiktionary are exceptionally sensitive to such distortions. Have just one high-school or college student out of one hundred spend an hour a week performing such deliberately abusive agenda pushing, and the legitimate editors would be flooded. (Even discounting the considerable risk that many of the legitimate editors have pro-PC or pro-Left biases that unconsciously distort their efforts.) That such deliberate distortive editing does take place is indisputable. A blatant example is the Wikipedia page on “young adult fiction”, which I encountered somewhat* recently. At the time, the page was dominated by the side-topic of “diversity”, another PC staple and one of a highly dubious justification—if nothing else, I did not even care if the heroes where human when I read this type of fiction… Currently, this sub-topic has been reduced to a shorter section—but at the cost of creating an entire new page on diversity in young adult fiction. This new page is almost as long as the main page…

*At some point in 2018. I intended to write a longer critical text at the time, but never got around to it.

Moreover, looking at the talk page, it appears that this is the work of a user Kaylac8215, who claims that “I will be working on this wiki for a class project. I will be doing basic copyediting and reformatting, as well as adding a section talking about Diversity in YA lit.”, which (together with other statements) shows both misguided intentions and an external motivation. (Entirely aside from the fact that the sometime abuse of Wikipedia editing as a pedagogical tool is inexcusable. The work produced is almost invariably well below the regular standard. Any teacher who pushes this should be summarily fired.) Her approach is later discussed negatively by others, but the result of this discussion was not the deletion of the major part of the text, just the move to a new page.

While I have not reviewed the current state of the text, I do recall that I found it highly one-sided and poorly written at the time of my original encounter.

Written by michaeleriksson

October 22, 2019 at 7:16 pm

Unorthodox thought and the ability to find refuge

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That diversity/freedom/tolerance of opinion is import to scientific and e.g. societal progress is hardly surprising—nor that the current trends towards the establishment of “official truths”, blanket* academic rejection of non-PC thought and limits on academic freedom** for its proponents, whatnot, are very dangerous.

*Because it is non-PC and irrespective of the state of evidence, arguments, etc. If a rejection took place on scientific grounds, it would be different.

**Limits on academic freedom are not in order, even when science points against an idea/theory/field/whatnot. This partly because early impressions can deceive, e.g. in that an implausible-seeming theory can be validated at a future time (as is fairly common); partly because once restrictions are allowed where they might seem acceptable, they can spread to areas where they are not acceptable. (Cf. e.g. opinion corridors and their current influence on politics and media.)

Compared to large stretches of Western history, this could involve a fatal change:

I am toying with the idea that the relative success of Western society between some point in the late middle ages and the 20th century was partially based on the ability of unorthodox thinkers or thought to escape oppression or to find an otherwise more nurturing environment. Comparing e.g. Europe and China, Europe had (a) a greater number of distinct groups with their own autonomous territory (e.g. the Italian, French, German, and Swedish areas), and (b) a much greater number of independent states (including the many German and Italian ones). This was not only a source of potentially greater diversity, of potentially a greater number of cultural and scientific centers, of potentially more literary traditions, whatnot,* but it also had the side-effect that someone with too unpopular ideas in one country or city could move on to the next, someone who woke the hostility of one ruler might make friends with another, etc. If all else failed, there was always the escape overseas, as with some unpopular religious groups. Of course, even if the individual thinker did not manage to escape, some of his books and ideas might still be available in other parts of Europe—Galileo might have been silenced, but his ideas lived on. In less dire cases, someone who failed to find sponsorship for an idea (or e.g. his art) in the one city might have better luck in another.

*On the down-side, also a risk e.g. of ideas traveling slower or never leaving the area of their origin.

A notable example is the Catholic–Protestant split: If the German emperor (or the Pope) had had the power and authority to just forbid Protestant thought, Catholicism would have remained dominant and without major competition, while the Protestant ideas might have lived on only in small and powerless under-ground movements. As is, many German rulers individually sided with the Protestant movement, there was a very major and prolonged turmoil, and both Germany and Western Europe ended up split roughly 50–50. Indeed, e.g. Sweden and England sided with the Protestant cause mostly because their respective king wanted to strengthen his own position vis-à-vis the Pope and the Church.

In contrast, Christianity once became the dominant religion in the Roman empire simply through having a Christian emperor. (And appears to later have aggressively lobbied the respective rulers when it moved into new territories.) Other attempts to reform the Christian faith or to split* from the Catholic church on a more local level might have had some temporary success, only to fail in the longer run, because there was no refuge available (as with e.g. the English Lollards).

*The East–West Schism had a very different character and very different circumstances.

Similarly, much of the great Greek progress took place in an environment of city states.

This idea is speculation, I have not gone through the (considerable) leg-work to see whether it checks out more in detail, and I have not even spent as much time mulling it over as most other topics. But: When we look at current developments, where scientists run an increasing risk of being globally condemned for having the “wrong” opinions or even researching the “wrong” topics, I feel forced to mention the possibility. What if even seemingly totalitarian, intolerant, whatnot societies still allowed progress through such escapes, while the modern, allegedly democratic, diversified, enlightened*, whatnot society will fail horribly? (This especially when combined with e.g. the strong current trends of anti- and pseudo-intellectualism in the softer sciences, an increased focus on feelings and subjectivity over facts and objectivity in public discourse, etc.)

*What passes for enlightenment today is often the exact opposite, the holding of a set of (often poorly supported) opinions and a pride in condemning everyone not sufficiently orthodox.

As an aside, the repeated use of religious examples above is not coincidental: not only are those among the most obvious—there is also a strong parallel in attitude with the current PC crowds. This includes many occurrences of a quasi-religious conviction of being right, belief without or even contrary to evidence, a wish to indoctrinate others “for their own good”, extreme condemnation of the “heretics”, and similar. Indeed, from what I have read about Galileo in the past, his treatment might originally have been met with more factual arguments and a fairer treatment than many heretics against the PC “truths”.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 21, 2019 at 4:34 pm

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.

Written by michaeleriksson

July 6, 2019 at 1:23 pm

“Good Omens” / Follow-up: Undue alterations of fictional characters

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In the meantime, I have had the time to watch the remaining five episodes of “Good Omens” (cf. [1]).

The series does not quite reach my memory* of the book, but it comes close and is very good in its own right, bordering on a “must see”. Moreover, it remains unusually close to the source, with most of what I remember left in**, not that much added, and changes in other regards that were mostly non-distorting. This even for the too convoluted, unsatisfying, and overly convenient*** culmination/confrontation (which forms the “true” end of the book and series, the remainder being more of an epilogue)—something that leaves me with mixed feelings: on the one hand, I usually strongly dislike distortions of the original; on the other, this would have been a golden opportunity to remedy the book’s greatest weakness.

*But (here and elsewhere) remember that my last reading was years ago, which means that my memory could be off.

**If often shortened, which might be a necessary evil due to run-time. For instance, in the book, Adam and his gang had a greater exposure and more time to build sympathies and an image of their individual characters, and a rival gang was cut out entirely in the series.

***While neither a deus ex machina, nor a “and then I woke up” applies, we have the same type of convenience.

In a bigger picture, and with hindsight, [1] likely aimed at a too narrow target: While “Good Omens” does a good job (excepting PC issues), many other works have been exposed to changes that go beyond both the individual characters and the issue of (specifically) PC alterations. (The recurring reader will likely understand why I jumped the gun a little.) Super-hero movies based on comics tend to be particularly bad—to the point that it might be outright misleading to speak of an adaption of the comic (let alone an individual story) and that the movies simply cannot be considered canonical. Most often, they are something in the lines of an alternate-reality canon or a “based on characters”. Then we have issues like a movie version being made the one year and an incompatible movie reboot taking place a few years later (examples include the Fantastic Four and, twice!, Spiderman—even when just looking at live-action and a reasonably “modern” era). The several examples of gender-benders and “black-washing” that I gave with regard to Marvel movies are misleading, in as far as Marvel’s problem goes well beyond sex and race.

When switching mediums, I admit, some degree of compromise is hard to avoid. For instance, when going from book to movie, we have concerns like run-time, how to (and whether to) bring over inner monologue, how to handle narration when no explicit narrator was present, the addition of features not present in a book (notably, a score), the degree to which the actors chosen actually match the descriptions in the book, … With comics, the often decades long history of individual characters and usually highly troublesome canonicity situation in the comic, it self, makes the task of making a movie unusually hard. Changes and compromises can be a necessary evil in order to make a quality adaption possible. The problem is that far too many works are brought over in a manner that sees the original version as just a rough guide-line or even just an inspiration. (To boot, I do not see it as a given that a successful book/comic/whatnot should automatically be turned into a movie/TV-series/whatnot, or vice versa.)

Revisiting what I said about “Good Omens” in [1], problematic sex and color choices continued through-out, including handing the part of the archangel* Michael to an actress. Not only is this a male name (my own name, in fact), but this is the second Michael gender-bender in a comparatively short period of time. Prior to this, I had only ever heard of a single (real or fictional) woman carrying that name—actress Michael Learned, who was often billed with an explicit “miss” to avoid miss-, sorry, mis-understandings.

*In all fairness, angels have often been depicted in an asexual or ambiguous manner in art in the past, and I might have given the series a pass, had it not been for the God issue—as I did with the movie “Constantine” and the archangel Gabriel (played by Tilda Swinton). More generally, there is a gray area when it comes to such non-human entities, and whether they should be seen as men/women or somethings that has just taken male/female guises. (I do not recall whether Michael was ever referred to by a pronoun.)

A related distortion is how Pepper (a child) showed strong signs of blindly believing in Gender-Feminist nonsense like the “Patriarchy”—and even accusing another woman* of being sexist towards her… My recollections of the “book Pepper” are of someone with a head of her own, who would be unlikely to blindly spout what her mother** (?) had told her.

*Or entity-played-by-an-actress. (Specifically, War, who was actually a woman, or using a female guise, in the book too.)

**Who might have been in the hippie and/or mother-goddess crowds.

The use of God (irrespective of sex) as a narrator found yet another area of problems when the character Metatron appeared and presented himself as the “voice of the Almighty”… As stressed, this was to be seen more as a metaphor (implying spokesman or similar), leaving God with her own more physical voice; however, the result is still absurd. Here it would have made more sense to make Metatron the narrator or to cut the character entirely. (To my recollection, he was only in one brief scene of the series, and had a considerably greater impact on the book.)

In a twist, the series (and the book) contains several points of which typical members of the PC crowd (and Feminists, Leftists, whatnot) might take heed. Note e.g. the complications caused by assuming that someone is “good” or “evil” based on group membership, rather than on the individual and actual actions. (Examples include the division into angels vs. demons, witches vs. witch-finders, decent people vs. Jezebels, and possibly a few more. In the book, Adam’s gang vs. the rival gang is likely an example.) Or consider the destructiveness of attempting to force people into a set of behaviors or opinions against their own will, most notably Adam vs. his gang. In the overlap between these two areas, the day was saved because Crowley, Aziraphale, and Adam ignored what they were “supposed” to do.

The recurring reader might recall my various delivery issues earlier this year. The deliveries in both book and series had a very different pattern, including several deliveries ordered hundreds of years in advance that arrived at the correct place at the correct time, and a delivery man so dedicated to performing his deliveries that he was prepared to (and did) give up his own life to do so.

Excursion on exceptional switches of medium:
In some cases, a switch of medium can be associated with changes that clearly improve upon the original. If additionally, the original is not yet widely known, the changes might be acceptable as per Oscar Wilde’s tulip analogy. For instance, two of my favorite TV series are based on inferior predecessors: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was preceded by a movie that was nowhere near as good—a complete* re-vamp (pun intended) made for a much better product. “Dexter” was preceded** by a book series that was vastly inferior—at least partially because of changes made, including Dexter no longer (literally) being possessed by a demon…

*However, some events from the movie, set before the TV series, have been validated in canonicity through later references.

**In my understanding, the book and TV series ran parallel with a highly diverging continuity, but the first book or books preceded the TV series. I have read two of the books and am in no hurry to add to my tally.

Written by michaeleriksson

June 1, 2019 at 9:45 pm