Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Posts Tagged ‘political correctness

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”.

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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

Undue alterations of fictional characters

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I have long thought highly of both Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and have read their collaboration “Good Omens” at least four times (albeit not within the last ten or so years). Correspondingly, it was with great interest that I took note of the television version of this work.

While the first episode is promising, it repeated the deplorable PC-ification of characters that plagues much of today’s TV and movies: in the first few minutes, we have the introduction of a female* God, a black** Adam and Eve, and a potentially gay*** Aziraphale. The rest of the episode contains several choices that might not be outlandish but did not match my natural expectation, including an Indian looking “Pepper”—would a British girl by the real name “Pippin Galadriel Moonchild” be likely to have non-White parents? On the positive side, the character Dog was not turned into a cat… Other recent examples include a female Doctor (“Doctor Who”), a female Mar-Well and a black Nick Fury**** (“Captain Marvel”), and a black Buffy (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” reboot, still on rumor stage). Marvel Comics is indeed a repeating sinner, with other alterations including a black Kingpin and a black Heimdal (movies) and a female Thor***** (comics). To boot, there are problems with characters being altered in other ways, even when uncalled for and unnecessary, and even when allowing for a switch of medium (cf. a discussion of changes to Blyton’s works, where there is not even a medium switch).

*While a case can be made for God being a woman, the book (I checked) uses formulations like “he” and “his” in the introductory monologue that the TV version has turned into “I” (and whatnot) by a female speaker. Worse, the way this is handled raises the suspicion that the show’s makers went for a (failed) shock value, expecting a lulled into “he”-ness audience to be moved out of its comfort zone. Seeing that the frequency of female Gods in fiction has been quite high, this borders on the hackneyed. (For two off-the-top-of-my-head examples, see the movie “Dogma” and Phil’s claims on “Modern Family”.) Moreover, there are risks involved with making God the narrator, regardless of sex, e.g. in that a too high burden on infallibility arises or in that parts of the narration becomes odd—both exemplified by how the narrator speaks of what might have happened to the surplus baby.

**This could be seen as the realistic outcome of trying to combine Biblical creation stories with what science says about human evolution. However, I would be highly surprised if the original authors and readers of the Bible did not assume a “Semitic” look. (Also note the Shem/Ham/Japheth split of humanity at at much later stage.) Moreover, looking at the evolutionary record and e.g. the first use of fire and clothes, the more ape-like look of e.g. a Homo Erectus would have been a more appropriate result of such a combination.

***In all fairness, this might be over-interpretation by me and is not entirely incompatible with my recollection of the book.

****Repeating an error from a number of earlier movies—the more so, because Samuel L. Jackson just seems wrong for the part, even color aside.

*****According to claims from a few years back. As I have not followed the comics for twenty-something years, I am uncertain what eventually happened. The mere idea, however, of replacing a well-established character, with a mythological background to boot, borders on the soap-opera level.

(This counting only examples of a pre-existing character being altered and only some that occur to me at the time of writing—the list would be much longer if I had kept record; and not to mention the definitely disproportionate number of homosexuals and various trans-this-and-that, and what subjectively feels like a disproportionate number of black characters and female leads. Indeed, I have reached the point where I am almost surprised when there is not at least one homosexual in a TV series and where even erotic interactions have ceased to surprise me.)

In many cases, these alterations (or, more generally, character choices) seem pointless, unless a politically correct agenda (or an attempt to cater to those with such an agenda) is assumed. The odd one here-or-there might be acceptable for reasons like a certain actor happening to be the best choice for a certain part in all regards except for e.g. skin-color or sex, or the wish to reduce the dramatis personae*. With the current amount of change, such explanations do not suffice. Often, they are entirely unnecessary or even silly (Viking god Heimdal being black, e.g.)—there is no benefit from the female God of “Good Omens” and if a TV show about a female Time Lord was wanted, why not just make a show about a female Time Lord?** Equally, for a show about a black vampire-slayer, just go with another slayer—not the already established-as-white Buffy. In an interesting contrast, any casting of white people into naturally non-white parts*** is met with cries of “white washing” or “appropriation”, and extremists go to the barricades even for e.g. casting an NT in an aspie part****.

*A border-line example is the Peter Jackson version of “The Fellowship of the Ring”, where the male character Glorfindel is removed and his part of the story is taken over by the (also present-in-the-books) female character Arwen. Better examples are bound to exist. (And, no, I was not enthusiastic about this or a number of other deviations by Jackson either—but I can at least see the point of the change.)

**Note that the Doctor is not the one and only Time Lord in existence, and that female Time Lords have a long history on the show. (If Susan is counted, going back to the very first episode.)

***A notable example is the somewhat recent “Gods of Egypt”. While I grant that the result was a little odd, we have to factor in the likely lack of sufficiently many Egyptian-looking and English-speaking quality casting choices, that the equally great error of using English went without criticism, and that no-one prevented the Egyptians from making the movie first—but that they did not. (To boot, I have the suspicion that a casting with Egyptian looking actors would have been similarly attacked by believers in the discredited black-Egyptians hypothesis.) With older productions, e.g. the “Jesus of Nazareth” mini-series, questions of demographics would have made a “truer” casting quite hard.

****Note e.g. criticism against the TV series “Atypical”. Being a likely aspie myself, I find the criticism idiotic.

TV and movie makers, authors, comic artists, whatnots: Please stop this pointless, annoying, or even outright destructive nonsense.

Excursion on skin color vs. hair color:
Why would a change of e.g. skin color be worse than e.g. a change of hair color? First off, I dislike any type of such change that is not hard to avoid*—and this extends to hair color. However: a change of hair color could be explained by a dye job; skin color is more noticeable; skin color often has great implications in terms of character background; and e.g. comic artists are very likely to vary other** aspects of the character but will typically*** not mess with skin color, making it a fix aspect.

*Getting all the details right when e.g. moving from a comic to a (live-action) movie is hard, because finding a sufficiently look-alike actor would usually involve great compromises in terms of acting ability . Hair color is easy, in as far as someone with the wrong hair can wear a wig, shave or dye the hair, or whatever is appropriate.

**Which, frankly, annoys me too. I understand that not every artist will make carbon copies of the style of others, but some take so large liberties that I have had problems with identifying known characters before they were explicitly named or I saw them in the right context (e.g. in the right super-hero costume).

***There is the incredible Hulk…

Excursion on “Doctor Who” and my viewing choices:
When the casting of a female Doctor was first reached my ears, I wrote about the possibility of ceasing to watch the show. For now, this has indeed been my choice, motivated by the combination of the politically correct miscasting*, the preceding drop in quality over several years, and the many other alternative uses of my time (including, but not limited to, many other TV shows). I reserve the right to revise this decision at a later date.

*A claim that should not seen as a statement about the actress or her abilities, which I cannot judge, but only about the distortion of the character caused and, most importantly, the motivations behind it.

Written by michaeleriksson

May 31, 2019 at 10:13 pm

A few thoughts on the word “gender”

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The abuse of “gender” for “sex” has long annoyed me, but I have taken the view that the use for “self-perceived sexual identity” (or similar) was acceptable or even beneficial—if nothing else, the latter is a separate concept and using a separate term for a separate concept is usually a good idea.* However, I unconsciously based this view on a faulty premise: that the grammatical gender was inherently a division into masculine/feminine/neuter or something along similar lines (e.g. just masculine/feminine or masculine/feminine/neuter/common; while an apparently genderless language can equally be viewed as having exactly one gender**). Using this premise, an application to similar*** divisions in other areas would not be absurd—if a good word was not already present.

*Indeed, one of my more common complaints about the PC crowd is the high-jacking of words to mean something different from what would be historically expected and/or expected among other speakers, e.g. (in the same area) that “man” and “woman” would refer to self-perception instead of biology. It would be much better to introduce new words for these new concepts. Even worse is deliberate re-/mis-definition for purposes like manipulation, as with e.g. “racism” and “rape” in some circles.

**At least, assuming that it follows a pattern somewhat similar to the typical Indo-European languages, as e.g. a version of English where “they” (“them”, etc.) was abused as a full replacement for “he”, “she”, “it” (“him”, etc.)—which is where, regrettably, English seems be heading. (The abuse as a generic third-person singular is already dominant.) A sufficiently different language might behave too differently (but is then unlikely to be relevant in this context).

***I stress that e.g. a grammatical “masculinity” does not automatically imply a physical or biological “masculinity”, which is obvious from languages with a more differentiated system than English—hence, “similar” above. This differentiation is another reason not to use “gender” for “sex”—grammatical gender and biological sex are not always coinciding. (In German, words for things can be grammatically masculine, feminine, or neutral, even when a logical neutral might be expected. Words applied to men can be feminine (e.g. “die Person”/“the person”); words applied to women can be masculine (e.g. “der Mensch”/“the human”); words for either can be neutral (e.g. “das Individuum”/“the individual”. Of course, the gender changes based on what word is used—not based on the entity referred to.)

This, however, is not strictly the case: it happens to be true in many languages, including English and German, but other divisions are possible. For instance, Proto-Indo-European might have had an animate/inanimate division. Even my native Swedish deviates through a somewhat arbitrary division into utrum and neutrum:* The members of these genders, for all practical and modern purposes, only differ in what indefinite (“en”/“ett”) and definite (“den”/“det”) article is used and whether an “-en” or an “-et” is to be suffixed in certain situations.** Indeed, they were more often referred to as “en-ord” och “ett-ord” (“ord” = “word(s)”) than “utrum” and “neutrum” in school.

*The discussion of actual Swedish grammar in school was superficial, incomplete, or even incorrect—a problem that native speakers of other languages might also have encountered. For this reason, I had simply never really reflected on the implications of the Swedish deviation until today. As an added complication, there are several different perspectives on Swedish genders (above, I discuss the most common) and the situation was historically different.

**E.g. “en sak”/“a thing” vs. “ett träd”/“a tree” and “den saken”/“that thing” vs “det trädet”/“that tree”.

Looking outside of grammar, there have been many uses of the word “gender” that also follow the line of a more general classification, e.g. that being English/German/whatnot or belonging to a certain family was discussed in terms of “gender”. Older use for sexual division (e.g. “the female gender”) is just a special case of this, and not* a precedent for a specialized use relating to sex or sexual identity. This makes it the more illogical to use “gender” when it is actually the sex (or even sexual identity) that is intended: a “Sex:” on a driver’s license calls for “M[ale]” or “F[emale]” with some clarity**, while “Gender:” might equally call for “E[nglish]”.

*Similarly, the fact that we could speak of someone being of the “female persuasion” does not make “persuasion” a good replacement for “sex”, because we can equally combine “persuasion” with other words implying group membership. Note that this applies to a wide range of other words too, e.g. “class”, “set”, “category”. (If it had just been “persuasion”, it might have been rejected as an abuse, or something to restrict to humorous formulations, for other reasons. The choice of “persuasion” as an example is based on the higher frequency of “female persuasion” over, say, “female category”.)

**Or at least it used to… However, even for those who cannot or does not want to be classified as male or female, the type of the classification is clear. On the other hand, confusion with sexual acts is highly unlikely outside of the famous joke about the girl who found her mother’s driver’s license (“Mommy! I know why Dad divorced you! You got an ‘F’ in sex!”).

I re-iterate my recommendation never, ever to use “gender” when “sex” is the traditional word. When it comes to sexual identity, the question is trickier because, again, a separate* word makes sense, and I am unable to offer an alternative that is both sufficiently understandable and has a sufficient current use to not cause as much confusion as “gender”*. However, this might be an area where “persuasion” (see earlier footnote) has some possibilities, actually gaining through its more regular meaning in the area of opinions and convictions, e.g. in that the-athlete-previously-known-as-Bruce would be considered of the male sex and the female persuasion.** Possibly, some shortening of “sexual persuasion”, e.g. “sexper” or “seper”, might work as a replacement for “gender” in such an attempt.***

*Another strong argument against the abuse of “gender” for “sex” is that many will assume a reference to sexual identity where biological sex was intended and vice versa.

**Or at least was so “pre-op”. Possibly, additional terminology is needed for the “post-op” case.

***Using an unabbreviated “sexual persuasion” would be too lengthy in many contexts, e.g. on driver’s licenses. It would also risk a dropping of “sexual” in sloppy use, with negative effects on other meanings of “persuasion”—just like “discrimination” and “intercourse” has seen a drift towards using the word solely for a special case implied by a longer phrase. To start with just “persuasion” would be even worse.

Addendum to the linked-to text:
Possibly ten years ago, I wrote “The possibility that existing literature eventually would be actively re-written to adhere to ‘gender-neutrality’ is not at all far-fetched:”. Indeed not: Consider e.g. my (much later) text on distortion of Blyton, where I lament that the actual events and characters of her books, not just specific words, have been altered for similar reasons.

Written by michaeleriksson

April 1, 2019 at 7:47 am

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

with 3 comments

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

Distortion of literary works / Enid Blyton

with 6 comments

While I have always been strongly opposed to censorship, political correctness, intellectual dishonesty, (mis-)editing of the words of others, and similar, there is a particular area that troubles me with an eye on my own contemplations of becoming an author of fiction—presenting distortions of the works of dead authors as if they were the actual works.

For instance, I recently stumbled over the Wikipedia page on “The Famous Five”, and was distraught to read:

In modern reprints, George still wants to be a boy, but the statement that her short hair makes her look like a boy has been removed as it is now considered offensive to assume that girls need long hair to be considered feminine. Anne’s statement that boys cannot wear pretty dresses or like girl’s dolls has been taken out. Julian and Dick now help the girls with cleaning the house and washing dishes.

This increases the series of children’s’ books* that have been distorted in an irrational and destructive manner, contemptuous of both the author and the readers. (To boot, the claim “now considered” is a further inexcusable lack of encyclopedic standards on behalf of Wikipedia. A correct claim would be that e.g., depending on what applies, the “censor’s** considered it offensive” or “some population groups considered it offensive”.) Not only are such distortions despicable in general, but here the reasons appear to be particularly weak. I note, concerning the hair, that in such young people it can be the only physical differentiation and that judgments like “looks like a boy” and “looks like a girl” have to be measured against the time in which they occurred. To boot, George almost*** certainly otherwise dressed and whatnot as a boy, making the hair just one piece of a puzzle. Removing references to the hair thoroughly distorts the original intentions. Similarly, removing Anne’s statement distorts her character and misrepresents the times. This is especially bad, as it removes the contrast between the boyish/unconventional George and the girly/traditional Anne, weakening the two characters and the “group dynamic”. That the boys help with house-work again misrepresents the times and risks a character distortion—how do we know that they would have helped, had they lived in today’s world? Worse: I strongly suspect that these changes, especially the last, is not so much a matter of wanting to avoid offense as of deliberately influencing modern readers to hold a certain set of values—an utterly inexcusable reason for an already inexcusable act.

*Other examples include “Huckleberry Finn”, “Doctor Dolittle”, and the Swedish “Ture Sventon” and “Pippi Långstrump [Long-Stocking]”—among the at least dozen cases I have heard of. (The true scope of the problem is likely orders of magnitude greater and afflicting many more languages.)

**I call a spade a spade—these people are no better, arguably worse, than regular censors. (To “call a spade a spade” is another example of how unjustified censorship is common: Here, “spade” refers to a digging implement in a saying that goes back to ancient Greece. Still, there are people who consider it offensive because the same sequence of letters, much more rarely, has been used to refer to Black people…)

***It has been a very long time since I read one of the books, and there is some minor room for a combination of character being misremembered and contents not matching what would be reasonable based on first principles.

I note that the motivations give in other contexts tend to be very poor. For instance, Swedish censorship and distortion have been directed at the word “neger” as being offensive—however, unlike the English “nigger”, “neger” was never offensive. This changed at some point in the 1980s or 1990s when the PC movement presumed to declare it offensive. This with no reasonable motivation and likely based on a mindless analogy with the English “nigger”—if the one is offensive, then so must be the other…

A particular perfidious version, inexcusable beyond the inexcusable, is the claim that certain changes were made because “we” are sure that this is what the (long dead) author would have wanted—a presumption so moronic and/or dishonest that I feel like punching the speaker in the face.

Such changes, worthy of the Ministry of Truth, are a crime against the author, who sees his work distorted, and a crime against the reader, who is refused the opportunity to read the original work and whose view of the world of old is potentially distorted. Indeed, for a member of the politically correct who actually had a brain, would it not make more sense to let the children see that the world was different in the past and draw their own conclusions? Would it not be better that a girl noted that Anne did house-work and that Julian did not—and questioned the “why”? To look at Anne and George and ask who she would rather be? For the girl-who-wants-to-be-boy* (or vice versa) to look at George and how she had the courage to go against convention even back then? Etc.

*However, I am uncertain to what degree George’s wishes were comparable to some modern cases and to what degree she just wished for a more boyish life-style, considered girly-girls silly, whatnot. Not only are my contacts too far back, but I doubt that Blyton would have been explicit on the topic (if it even occured to her).

As for myself, I have not yet made up my mind on whether to become an author of fiction, and chances are that I would never have a sufficient and enduring popularity that such concerns would actually be relevant. However, I state now and for the record that I absolutely and categorically forbid such distortions of any of my works, current, past, present, and irrespective of type. If I am alive, I will exercise legal options; if I am dead, I will come back to haunt the culprits. The latter especially if someone presumes to try that utterly inexcusable excuse “we know that this is what he would have wanted”—you now know that it is not!

Excursion on other distortions:
Unfortunately, the general problem of distortion is not limited to e.g. censorship and children’s literature. Notably, newer German editions of older texts often come with the claim that the orthography has been “behutsam angepasst” (“cautiously adapted”) or similar, in order to match modern German—and this even for works that were written as late as the 19th century… This might be less harmful than the above, but still brings risks and disadvantages—and most changes are pointless in that the average reader could take the old spelling in a stride.* (A better solution would be to add a few corresponding notes. For truly extreme examples, a parallel original and “translated” text is an option.) For instance, one reason to read older books is to get a feel for the historical language, which is no longer possible. For instance, any such change risks an unintended distortion.** For instance, it is possible that the author deliberately chose a more traditional spelling over a more new-fangled one, in which case the alteration is in direct contradiction to his will.

*A notable example is the common use of “th” in many cases where today “t” is used, e.g. “Thal” vs “Tal” (“valley”). Consider e.g. the extinct Neanderthals vs. the valley Neandertal—at the time of their discovery, the valley used the “th” spelling, which is preserved in the anthropological name, while it uses the “t” spelling today. (And, yes, Neanderthal is correctly pronounced with a “t” sound—not with a lisp.)

**E.g. because two words that used to be spelled (slightly) differently are now spelled the same or vice versa, because some rhyme or play on words does no longer work, or because some spelling choices might have been very personal. (The latter especially in times when the orthography was less standardized than today.) An interesting example is the disappearance of older words, word cases, whatnot. Consider e.g. a modernized version of Shakespeare that replaces “thou” with “you”, etc.: This would lose a lot of nuance as to who is in what relationship to/with someone else and how the relationship might change over time.

The problem is not necessarily limited to dead authors either (but is particularly perfidious there, because they cannot defend themselves). Translations are a horrifying source of problems, at least in Germany, where I have encountered many efforts so awful that they should have led to a summary firing. The German translations of Terry Pratchett’s books have often been disastrous (cf. portions of a text on Pratchett’s death)—and do not get me started on German movie translations… While this is often the result of mere incompetence, e.g. ignorance of what a certain word/phrase/reference/… means,* it can also be deliberate. Notably, there is a school of translators who attempt to hide the fact that a work actually is a translation at any and all cost… (Including rather losing a play on words than giving an explanation of it, or rather re-writing cultural references to some highly approximate local equivalent.) This is an anti-intellectualism and dishonesty that is truly deplorable.

Excursion on Blyton:
Blyton might have mass-produced works with little literary value and might, by reputation, actually have approved in exchange for a bit of extra money. None of that matters: The editors have no such actual approval; the distorting effect for the readers remain (cf. above); the works have, irrespective of literary value, a great following and have been loved by millions (implying that any change is likelier to do damage than to do good); and, above all, if this is accepted for one author, what protects other authors? Indeed, even “To Kill a Mocking-Bird”, widely considered a work of considerable literary accomplishment, has been targeted by the PC crowd. It is important that not one inch be given to these people.

Excursion on tomboys and Feminists:
A peculiarity when it comes to e.g. Feminists and tomboys vs. girly-girls is that “tomboy” is often described as some type of insult or framed in a context of boys/men looking down on the tomboys who “should” be proper girly-girls instead. This repeats a pattern of ignorance and over-generalization about what men are actually like and what they actually think about women—I very much preferred George to Anne at that age, I have preferred girls/women with boyish/mannish interests later in life, and the same applies to a very sizable portion, likely a majority, of the male population. Yes, when it comes to sex and romance, there are many cases where a certain femininity in behavior and style can be attractive; no, when it comes to playing, socializing, whatnot, the tomboy and her adult successor tend to do better. For that matter, too much femininity and/or stereotypically female behaviors are a turn-off in romance too. (Too much make-up, too many shoes, too much emotionality, etc.—the likes of Carrie Bradshaw are not a good ideal.) Of course, even a boyish girl/woman can be quite physically attractive, aesthetically pleasing, and even feminine—this is not an either–or area. (Consider e.g. Evangeline Lilly in “Lost” or Keira Knightley in “Bend it like Beckham”*.) When a man says “tomboy”, it is more likely to be a compliment than an insult.

*Incidentally, a good example of German mistranslations: It was renamed to the alleged English title “Kick [sic!] it like Beckham”… Also a good, if fictional, example of how men tend to view tomboys—compare the positions of the two fathers and the two mothers towards the respective daughters and their “boyish” interests.

Written by michaeleriksson

December 18, 2018 at 8:22 pm