The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Category: Gender Page 1 of 4

The Ludicrous Trans Wars

I once read that about one-third of North American tribes appear to have had roles for those born one sex who felt they were actually the other gender. Many other cultures have also had such roles.

Gender dysphoria is not new. What is new are technologies allowing us to change the body much more towards the other technology.

It is being made into a much bigger deal than it needs to be.

I’m not gender dysphoric, but if we had the ability to do full bodily changes and change back, I would certainly have lived at least a couple years a woman to expand my understanding and knowledge of human existence.

Who knows? I might have preferred it.

Not a big deal.

As the technology and social acceptance stand now, I wouldn’t do it just out of curiosity. But there’s certainly nothing wrong with gender-changing.

(I also, due to meditative experience, don’t see gender as fundamental. But it is important to being a human.)

Anyway, the trans-wars seem very misguided to me, overall. If someone wants to change their gender, let them and treat their choice with dignity. There may be some corner issues around some sports due to different skeletal structures, but that’s about it. For children, require a psychologist and a doctor to agree or something along those lines. For adults, it is really their own choice and no one else’s business, and children should be listened to, as well.

We’re walking towards a world in which half of non-human species and a billion or more humans die, while arguing about whether people know whether they want to be male or female and whether they should be allowed to make that choice.

Butt out of people’s private business that almost entirely affects only them and those close to them.

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The Thing About Racism and Prejudice…

…is the unbelievable stupidity of it.

I can understand prejudice based on culture. I can understand prejudice based on religion. I can even understand prejudice based on subculture (if you can’t, remember “Nazi” can be considered a subculture, and so can “Republican,” and I see plenty of straight up prejudice against Republicans).

I mean, in most cases it’s a bad idea to pre-judge people based on your stereotype of a group, because they may not share the characteristics you dislike and you may be wrong about your stereotype.

But skin colour? Why not hair colour or eye colour? (Well, I guess we’ve done those too, especially with regards to redheads.)

Now if skin colour is a proxy for culture, we’re still in the badlands but not 100 percent stupid, but these fools keep mistaking Sikhs for Muslims (not even close, children), and so on.

But, overall the problem isn’t judging people–we’re plenty good at that. It isn’t assigning them to various identity groups–we’re ace at that. It’s not people joining identity groups, they make us join when we’re kids, and we just keep on doing it.

The problem is that these various identities obscure the common humanity beneath them. They divide us from ourselves and make us alien to our neighbours and fellow humans, when we have far more in common than separates us.

Made alien, we treat each other abominably, and think it’s okay because, “They’re not one of us.”

And here we are, with three existential threats (nukes/climate change/environmental collapse) and we’re spending all our time screaming at each other, running around in fear of each other, when if we don’t act properly, we may drive ourselves to extinction, or at least kill a few billion of us.

Skin colour? We care about skin colour? We’re arguing over who likes to have sex with whom? Over people who’d rather be a different gender from their biological one?

Who cares? None of this is important.

Apocalypse, that might be worth a bit more attention. And in a genuine extinction scenario, we’re all equal–even the rich. (In a simply “very bad” scenario, the rich are betting they’ll be fine. If you want to hate someone, hate the people who made themselves rich by making you poor and killing the poor. Hate people for what they do and have done, not shit that they didn’t choose (like skin colour) or stuff that doesn’t effect you (like their gender or sexual preferences).)

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Yes, Gender and Minority Prejudice Exists

Everyone once in a while this question comes up, and there’s someone who just refuses to see it.

Many years ago, what made it clear to me were the resume studies. They all run as follows: identical resumes are sent out, with the only difference being names. Perhaps the names are male or female; perhaps they are studying racial bias and they obviously ethnic or white, “John Smith.”

Every time some variation of this study is run the results come back that women or minorities get less interviews.

For example:

On two different occasions, Speak With a Geek presented the same 5,000 candidates to the same group of employers. The first time around, details like names, experience and background were provided. Five percent selected for interviews were women.

You can guess what happened next, right? When identifying details were suppressed, that figure jumped to 54 percent. (See the update at the bottom please, this may not be accurate.)

Or, for ethnicity:

As part of a different study from 2011, researchers sent out almost 13,000 fake résumés to over 3,000 job postings. The academics went back to this data at the start of 2017 and found that people with Chinese, Indian, or Pakistani-sounding names were 28 percent less likely to get invited to an interview than the fictitious candidates with English-sounding names, even when their qualifications were the same.

Perhaps the best, and one of the oldest, is about auditions:

In the ’70s, The New York Times notes, symphonies started having musicians audition behind partitions, and researchers at Harvard and Princeton found (PDF) that when blind auditions were used, the odds of a woman being hired by an orchestra jumped from 25 percent to 46 percent.

There are plenty more where these came from.

Prejudice exists. It is important. It is unfair. I am a strong believer in blind resumes, auditions, and tests. The old fashioned civil service exams cut out a lot of bullshit. Not all of it, of course, tests still have biases, but they reduce bias a lot.

It’s a simple position to hold that everyone should be treated fairly, and that if something is extraneous to ability to do a job, as gender almost always is, and ethnicity virtually always is, it shouldn’t be a factor. This is especially true because, as a society, we insist on distributing goods and services through money, and money, for almost everyone, through jobs. Prejudice, thus, matters a lot.

I’m not a big fan of identity politics, for a variety of reasons. But it is insane to pretend that forced identities and prejudice don’t exist and don’t matter and that it isn’t important to deal with them. I’d prefer to deal with them in large part (but not entirely) by changing how we distribute goods and services, because making it a game of musical chairs with only a few good chairs and not enough chairs for everyone means that someone will always lose, and lose badly.

When there are losers whose fate is shitty lives, a good chance of homelessness, illness and death, the game gets nasty. Less nasty games, with less nasty consequences, lead to less nasty playing. Maybe half of the jobs we do either outright make the world worse off or a net washes which we could do without in a better-designed society. But to live in that society, we’d have to stop distributing the majority of resources through jobs.

Still, again, to pretend that prejudice doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter is jejeune. It exists and it matters a lot and those on the sticky end of the wicket know it and are mad, as they should be.

Update: The curse of shoddy research strikes. It appears the resume study for men and women in STEM may not be a good one. Read here for more.

I’ll talk about this more in the future.

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Lewinsky Is Not Why Clinton Should Have Resigned

I don’t usually write about subjects I disagree with Matt Yglesias on, but this piece on how Bill Clinton should have resigned over Lewinsky is sickening.

It’s not that Clinton’s actions with Lewinsky weren’t awful, it is the moral and ethical vacuum required to think that’s the issue over which he should have resigned.

Clinton gutted welfare. I guarantee that killed a lot of people and hurt way more. Clinton pushed the three strikes laws hard, which hit black communities brutally, locking people up for years for a third strike for things like stealing a bicycle. Bill Clinton engaged in punitive sanctions against Iraq which hit basic medicine, killing and hurting a lot of people. Bill Clinton pushed for the repeal of Glass-Steagall, and signed it; this was one of the causes of the 2008 financial collapse and, thus, killed and hurt a lot people.

What happened to Lewinsky was sad, gross, and wrong. But it came nowhere near the harm Clinton did with other actions.

This inability to think at scale haunts us when dealing with powerful people. What matters most is by far and away what they do as policy. One intern and a cigar is a tragedy, to paraphrase Stalin, but thousands of deaths and people locked up for decades is a statistic.

Oh, there are arguments against this: That killing and impoverishing people is the role of the US president, but that screwing around with interns isn’t, basically.


I actually can see the case. Some things are over the lines. Rape, for example. Or torture. But war causes both, and Bush, Jr. served out his terms, as did Obama. Heck, by some accounts Bush, rather closely supervised some of the torture in Guantanamo and enjoyed doing so.

The bottom line is that we choose our leaders in part because they are functional sociopaths–able to do great evil and sleep at night. We shouldn’t choose them that way, but for a variety of reasons, we do.

But to be concerned about one abuse of position (which was consensual, however) and not about all the vast harm Clinton did to people even more powerless than Lewinsky, to say that’s where you draw the line rather than at, say, welfare reform—I don’t know, it sticks in my craw.

About the only good argument is that people who abuse power in that manner shouldn’t be allowed near power. I agree. But by the time Lewinsky occurred, Clinton had already shown he was willing to hurt the weak and poor at scale.

It’s the statistics that matter. The individual cases only can warn you about the statistics that might follow, and they aren’t always so accurately predictive. (FDR had an affair with his principal secretary. It didn’t make him a bad President and if he’d stepped down it would have been disastrous.)

I wonder if we evolved killer apes are capable of running large civilizations in anything close to an effective and beneficial fashion. The evidence coming in is looking grim.

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How Society Creates Ability

Let’s start with biological sex and the differences between men and women.

There are obvious differences, in size and upper body strength. There are large differences in some of the senses, such as taste and smell (women tend to be far more acute).

Other differences appear biological, but this is not as clear cut as it seems, because socialization feeds into biology.

A simple example is that people raised under constant stress have differences in their brains from people who aren’t raised under constant stress.

So let’s take a simple claim: Men are better at math. Seems straightforward, quite robust, but it turns out that in Iceland, which is very egalitarian, young women are now outperforming young men.

There is a well-known effect in the social sciences that runs as follows: People who feel inferior, perform worse. This is quite robust. Tell someone they suck, or that they are lower on the totem pole, and they will do worse by pretty much every metric.

So, if you live in a society where men are widely considered superior to women (and let’s not pretend our societies aren’t like this), then that will have an effect. If this goes on as people grow up, it’s unlikely that this effect won’t get baked into brain and body.

Take another standard observation: Women are more prone to anxiety and neuroticism.

The problem with this is that women live in societies where they are less powerful than men, have less money, and are less violently proficient, when violence is often used as coercion.

Put more brutally: They live amongst a bunch of potential rapists who are larger and stronger than them.

So, they’re under constant stress, a point which I don’t think many men truly understand. That constant fear has effects on the brain and body; again, if you’re constantly exposed to stress, you actually become more sensitive to it.

The point here is that it is very hard to determine what is “natural” and what is “social.” We can say, “This is natural in this sort of society,” but that can’t be used as a reason not to change society.

What we do know, I hope, is that it sucks to be scared and it sucks to be told you’re inferior, and that underperforming not because you are inferior but because you’ve been told you are, is unfair and a stupid way for us to run our society.

This feeds into a lot of different things, but the simplest is the misunderstanding of fitness to mean “winning in the current scheme.”

IQ correlates well to success in our society, so we say, “They’re smarter, they deserve success.” But IQ correlates well to success in society because it correlates to two things: (1) academic success, which gates almost all the good jobs in our lives, and; (2) verbal and cultural fluency in the dominant culture, which are necessary to get ahead as well.

In other words, we’ve created a society which says, “If you have a high IQ, we will let you have good jobs.” Well yes, that’s how we made it, it’s not independent. (The getting along with the dominant culture may always be with us, but that doesn’t mean we should always approve of it as a necessity, nor try not to mitigate it.)

Fitness, in racial terms, is actually about being able to survive changes in the environment. Fit species are diverse, and able to adapt, and if a species loses diversity, it is less likely to survive changes.

Much of our environment, as humans, is social. But society changes. The cluster of skills which make up IQ weren’t always highly valued, rather the contrary. Brave-to-the-point-of-insanity dunderheads were what many feudal and aristocratic societies wanted (reading 19th century British colonial military biographies makes this clear). Right now, geeks rule, but when I was growing up they sure as heck didn’t (and their rule, today, is somewhat exaggerated).

These periods come and go. There was a time in the 19th and early 20th century when geeks (actual engineers and scientists) did very well, seeming to rule the roost. Edison is a good example. But as the industries they had invented became mature, they were forced out and down. This took time, but basically after about 40 to 80 years, the engineers become nothing but tools of management: The money men and social glad-handers will eventually take over.

What you’re good at is at least 50 percent due to a simple luck of the draw (arguably entirely, as you didn’t choose your parents, and thus when or where you were born). At that point any genetic endowment you may have (innate ability) meets the environment, and the environment has the final say, in almost all cases, about how well that endowment flourishes, and certainly about how well it is rewarded.

Most of what seems like merit, in other words, is luck. If you have it, be grateful. If it’s rewarded, be even more grateful.

And don’t assume you know exactly which is which.

Those who have been lucky, and thus have merit in a society or environment, should recognize their luck, and be humble, knowing how little it had to do with them. And if you want a metric upon which to measure your life, perhaps it could be how much good you have done divided by how much “merit” you have.

By this measure, the rich are rarely worth saving, because as studies show, the poor give more compared to what they have than the rich do.

That fact should be chewed on very carefully.

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If People Want To Use “Ze” As A Gender Neutral Pronoun, Whatever

Oxford’s student union has suggested using “ze” as a gender neutral pronoun.

(Edit: Apparently, they haven’t even done that!)

It is an offense to use the wrong pronoun deliberately, but not required to use “ze” for everyone. This follows the University of Tennessee suggesting tutors ask students which pronoun they prefer.

I remember in the 70s when “Ms.” came into use. It felt really awkward, but in a couple years I didn’t even notice. It was an issue of basic politeness, if a woman didn’t want to announce her marriage status, it was polite to accommodate her and did me no harm. Gender neutral pronouns exist in various languages, and frankly, if “ze” comes into wide use, I might prefer it to the awkward “he or she” in places where “they” likewise feels awkward.

However, this is a minor issue, especially in America, where the right to an abortion has been receding for years and is now at real risk of being lost. I’m for trans-rights, etc…but the right to an abortion effects far more people and is far more basic.

(Theresa May, the UK’s Prime Minister, also supports a reduction in the allowed time for abortions to 20 weeks from 24, though how much she cares about this issue is unclear, and it’s not nearly the same thing as an overturning of Roe v. Wade in the US. Meanwhile, in Canada, we have no abortion law, and the world has not ended.)

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The Problem with Identity

We all have an identity, or rather, we all have identities. You may have a religion, a country, a profession, and so on. A Buddhist American Accountant female bisexual Patriots fan.

And so on.

Our identities are both accidents and predetermined. They are accidents of birth–the body we are born with, where we are born, who are parents are; the nature (the body, including the brain) and the nurture (the conditioning we receive through our lives and the physical changes our lives impose on us–starting with nutrition. Few things will screw you up for life faster than bad nutrition as a child).

We take these identities to be who we are in different contexts. You are never more your nationality than when in another country, for example: ex-patriot communities can be very strong and if there aren’t a lot of you, suddenly just coming from the same country is a very strong tie. As a teenager in Bangladesh, I experienced this first-hand. Every Canadian was a potential pal. Anyone who spoke English and was from a western country ranked close.

Within our own countries, we often identify first by what our work is: The first question we ask others is usually, “So, what do you do for a living?” We assume this is important.

One can base their identity on skin color or gender–or the rejection of gender norms.

Identity  is often strongest if the identity is in conflict with society. To be gay in 1950, or Russia today, is defining. To be a public cross-dresser matters. To be dark-skinned in America gets you a ton of unpleasant attention, to be visibly Muslim in Germany the same. Some identities mark you out as a safe target for certain types of aggression: transgenders, women, and black males, for example.

The more people treat you as an identity, the more you either become that identity or react against it. For every gay who makes that integral to who they are, there is one who thinks it shouldn’t be so important, who wants to be recognized for something else. The same for women or those whose skin color isn’t the norm in their country, and so on.

To be proud of an identity one didn’t earn is an odd thing. People who are proud of their heritage always strike me oddly: You didn’t chose your parents or ancestors, of what is there to be proud?

Most people who are religious just belong to their parents’ religion and don’t take it very seriously. If they’d been born in a different religion, they’d be at the same level of engagement.  Again, what is the source of pride?

Likewise, to be proud of your biologically and socially assigned gender seems odd. Did you choose to be male or female? Even if your society has norms that must be met to be a “real man” or “real woman,” well, you just did what almost every other man or woman does.

Proud of your parents? Well, I guess, but, ummm, if anything it should go the other way.

Identity, too often, is little more than tribalism.

It is, however, an advanced form of tribalism.

Humans are wired to operate in groups of up to about 150 people. That’s as many people as most individuals are able to treat as individuals.

You can treat those people as individuals, you can care about them and look after them as individuals. You can trust them because you know each of them individually

To care about more people, you must have an identity in common which allows you to see them as part of your band, and to trust them.

Tribes (the step above bands) did this. Nations did this. Religions did this. The Zeus cult was used to allow people to trade safely together, since they worshiped (and feared) the same God.

To have a shared identity is to belong to a community. There are shared communities everywhere. One woman I know travels the world and finds friends and places to stay because she is a long-time fan of a particular band, and knows other fans.

Identity can become community, and members of communities can care for each other.

The strength of shared identities can pretty much be determined by looking at how much they care for each other or trust each other.

Shared identities leading to caring communities (which can mean caring enough to pick up weapons to defend each other) is the bright side of identity.

The dark side, of course, is that anyone you don’t share an identity with is someone you don’t owe as much care to.

“Not one of us” is one of the most dangerous statements in the world; ostracism is often death. You can see it today in all the refugee deaths: They aren’t “us.” You can see it in the refugee camps, statements of, “We aren’t going to let them become one of us.”

We find ourselves in four types of games. Me against the world. My group against the world. Humanity against the world.

And then there’s “We are the world.”

It is jejune to act as if me against the world, or my group against the world, or even humanity against the world doesn’t work. North Americans and Europeans have higher standards of living than most others because they out-competed many other groups, and that includes “wiped entire other groups out.” They won their wars.  They ruled or bullied almost every part of the world at one point or another.

As individuals we can certainly create “good” lives by out-competing everyone around us. Many people extend this to their own families.

And humanity can use the entire world as its preserve, without caring much (if at all, in practical terms) what happens to other life forms, including ones like dolphins, which are clearly sentient. We can “win” from this, and we have.

But we can also lose by doing this, because we are not isolated from other people, other animals, other plants. Heck, from microbes (especially not from microbes).

How we treat other people comes back to haunt us. We hurt them, they hate us. We make them poor, they pollute, that pollution eventually hurts us. We deny them medicine, they get sick, that sickness pool eventually hurts us.

We treat other beings and, indeed, the unliving world, as something other than us, not caring for them, or for it, and we get climate change. We pollute, which is a win for the industries who do it, and we suffer huge levels of chronic illness.


We do this because we do not identify with other people. America is against Russia, against China. India is against China. Muslims and Christians are against each other. The rich are against the poor.

Blah, blah, blah.

We certainly don’t give a damn what happens to other animals, not in any practical sense; the number of large fish in the ocean, for example, has dropped about 90 percent since the 30s, and the 30s had already seen huge drops. The Grand Banks, off the Canadian Maritimes, in the 15th century, were so rich with fish you could simply drop a bucket in and come up with fish. Today that fishery is gone.

We are killing trees that create the oxygen we need to live. The ocean’s oxygen cycle is in danger.

Our identities, our refusal to identify with everyone, and especially with everything, is going to wind up killing a lot of us. A hell of a lot of us.

But I want you to consider this another way.

What sort of people do you like being around?

I will posit that most people enjoy being with other people who are happy. People tend to be happy when they are healthy, have enough stuff, and do work they enjoy.

Happy people are just way better to live with. Happy people also don’t commit nearly as much violence. Security for others is security for us. Happiness for others is happiness for us. People who are prosperous in the truest sense, which is to say, people who are not scared of losing their prosperity, are generous. (Most people in the world are not prosperous in that sense.)

Identity links us to others, but it also cuts us off from others. We can win from that, as individuals and groups, but we are at the point now, due to limited resources and carrying capacity, where we cannot win as a species that way.

And perhaps we have always lost as a species, and as individuals, if you consider the highest good to be love. For those who truly love, want the best for others.

I recognize in identity the attempt to connect with others, to overcome human limitations. I hear in it the attempt at human choice, when our identities are not the ones approved of by our communities.

But I believe, in the end, that if someone’s most important “identity” doesn’t allow them to identify with all life, that identity has become mal-adaptive to our survival.

Identifying with all life doesn’t mean tolerating all behaviour, rather the contrary, by the way. The problem we have can be boiled down to selfishness, greed being a species of selfishness.

That doesn’t mean people have to live like crap; that’s a myth. Yes, we will need to reduce carbon expenditures and environmental impact and make room for other species, but that can be done in a way that is win/win because we live in ways that are terrible for our health, for our sense of meaning, and for our happiness. We will have to live differently, not worse.

That’s another article, though, but to want to do the right thing, you have to believe it is the right thing. If your identity doesn’t include the rest of humanity, or the rest of life as worthy of life, and a good life, you will not and cannot do the right thing.

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I Am So Happy About Gay Marriage Being Legal in the US

But, yeah, sorry, but, can we talk Obama for a moment?

Rainbow White House

Obama did not support gay rights until after he was subjected to IMMENSE pressure, including public heckling and a gay donor strike.

Now, I appreciate a politician who will cave to interests I believe in, but let’s be clear, this is a case of caving.

My friends, above all things, supporting, trusting, and giving credit to people who do not actually have your interests in heart is what hurts you, again and again. Until you learn who you can actually trust (and for what), you are going to continue to get hurt.

Among the other news of the week was the passage of “Fast Track” legislation for the TPP trade deal. That is going to cost many of you your jobs, and it is going to make many of the rest of you poorer, even if you keep a job. People I trust on the Hill tell me that Obama has NEVER lobbied harder for anything (not even Obamacare) than he did for TPP.

Obama, as a rule, is happy to give you things that the oligarchy doesn’t mind. They don’t, overall, mind gay rights. A large chunk of the oligarchy wanted Obamacare (it was and is a huge subsidy to insurance and pharma companies, among others). There is a reason the public option was never seriously considered by Obama; it was a potential threat to insurance companies.

None of this is to say Obama is all bad, he certainly isn’t. But he is not your friend if you want widespread economic prosperity, and he never has been. Nor will he ever be. Nor, to point out what should be obvious, is Hilary Clinton (also not always for marriage equality).

You set yourself up for immense hurt when you trust the wrong people with political power and it is important not to engage in revisionism about what is, after all, very recent history.

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