14 November 2014

Series of social-cultural things

Upon which I have comments.

1) Serial. I am rather annoyed that most people seem to either think this has a firm conclusion or are annoyed that it seems like the interviewer running the podcast seems to have a firm conclusion/bias in mind.

What is actually happening on the podcast is we are seeing what the criminal justice system can look like. We are seeing that eyeball witnesses often aren't very reliable, but people and police think they are anyway. We are seeing that resources for defense teams to investigate a case and otherwise effective defense counsel are hard to come by. We are seeing that juries tend to be very deferential to police and prosecutors. We are seeing that police don't follow every lead, but that even when they don't, that can be considered "good" police work. We are seeing that once the justice system has concluded guilt, it will be very hard to un-conclude it (usually one has to prove someone else's guilt).

None of that establishes that Adnan is innocent of the murder he was convicted of many years ago. Some of it probably could have established reasonable doubt in a jury trial, which is a different question. Whether someone should be convicted of a crime based on available evidence is distinct from whether this person is guilty or probably did it. Which may be the most important manifestation from the broadcasts is that the system we use, despite our fervent belief to the contrary, doesn't always work the way the airy words we described and imbued it with in our popular narratives of crime and its foes.

2) Shirt-gate. And gamer-gate for that matter.

Seeing what seem like fairly tepid complaints like "hey why's that scientist/engineer wearing that shirt with all the half naked women on it?" or "hey, why's every woman in an average video game look like a porn star?" These aren't that disturbing of issues taken on their own, but they're part of a general problem relating to sexism in society. Probably more disturbing than the shirt itself was the Kardashian shot heard round the world that eclipsed the news we landed a probe on a comet hundreds of millions of miles away.

The shirt is more about the general biases and prejudices experienced by women in science fields or wanting to go into them than the shirt itself. Presumably if men are comfortable enough going to work wearing shirts with erotically depicted female characters on them, then they may be comfortable enough with other sexist or misogynist forms of expression.

Games, I think we're stuck with "attractive" forms to a degree in video games and pop culture media (music, art, photography, movies/TV, print ads, etc). I can see that it can be toned down. The burning question mark is not just the physiques and physical depictions, but also the development of characters within the mediums. One of the simpler tests for film character arcs has been "are there two women as characters who manage to have a conversation not about a man in it". Video games in some sense have an advantage already simply because any female characters involved are often extremely powerful at destroying demons or zombies or Nazis or whatever else the game's foe is (not always, but this comes up enough, and enough games allow for a female protagonist or party member, etc, that one would think it would have an influence on the thinking of women as capable, independent, or something along those lines).

Each of these are themselves problematic, worthy of input as to the varieties of offenses that come up. But what's really disturbing isn't these things as cultural notes themselves. It's that people reacted to anyone bringing them up as though the act of pointing it out or taking any offense to it, requires not merely an argument, but a denigration of the women (it's usually women pointing these out) who are involved in making these points or a defense of men and the apparent demanded and inherited right to ogle or sexualize women as a variety of free speech. This actually isn't under attack that I can tell. I suppose there are people who don't want these movies, T-shirts, or video games to be made and distributed. But the initial reaction wasn't that. It's calling attention to the type of character traits one possesses when one does present as a person wishing to ogle women or sexualize them as characters or "artistic" presentations and whether these are desirable traits for men to possess. The fact that this is reacted to with an often out-sized level of scorn or annoyance then makes itself into a more clear example that it probably is not a set of desirable traits.

For men to try to understand this. Ogling women isn't going away. I find women attractive. I enjoy that about humanity that there are other persons who are attractive to me, and thus find speaking in the company of women I find attractive, spending time around such persons, and so on, engaging and energizing (such as I find spending time around almost any persons engaging and energizing). What I also find though is that women will tend to make for more interesting company when this is not the central attribute of any form of relationship with them. In the same way that if one is a heterosexual male, the attractiveness of your male co-workers, companions, and friends is generally not a major concern (at least this is my experience).

If that's the only attribute of a relationship is that one party spends a lot of time being looked at for looking good, it's going to be really boring or frustrating for one or both parties fairly quickly, and it will also quickly be learned that this is all one wants to contribute to any form of relationship is to look upon another person because they're deemed attractive. One has to spend an often considerable portion of the time recognizing and exercising those other qualities of interaction with other human beings than superficial appearances and one should find that that time is enjoyable. It can be frivolous, rude, polite, funny, intellectual, whatever. But if all anyone sees when they look at another person is a good view, and nothing else, that's more a potentially disturbing character trait about you than a suggestion that more people should provide those good views for you in the form of popular media presentations. And that if these demands as expressed through the exercise of design of games or T-Shirts marketed to people like you are offensive to others, that actually should not be surprising, shocking, or alarming to discover that other people find this a character defect. Beauty and the admiration of it as a concept seen in others isn't going away, and isn't even likely to be challenged as a human evolution. But it's a more complicated venue to navigate and appreciate properly than demanding nude photos of every woman who shows up in an online forum or multiplayer video game as it appears some men are wont to do from the reactions and abrasive attitudes that have taken up arms in the wake of these fairly modest complaints.

If one really wants to see and experience beauty, it doesn't appear by issuing forward to the world the opinion that you deserve it from others, you will have to contribute to it first at a minimum. Or more pragmatically, the idea that beauty as a commodity one appreciates and seeks to find also includes the women who one finds beautiful as a commodity that one can effectively buy or sell as well through those demands isn't a pathway to find oneself suddenly appreciated as an enlightened and kind being. It forms rather very different impressions in the minds of others instead.

I suppose it should not be surprising that people would react with vitriol to discover that other people think them pigs or sexist or even someone that actively hates women. That would be a rather unpleasant discovery to be made aware of (for most of us). The really curious part is how one intends to define away these undesirable traits by demonstrating them against anyone who points them out.

3) I've entertained some conversations with other secularists, agnostics, and atheists over the years. I find I have a set of policy disagreements or disaffection with some issue or other that aren't always shared. I don't hold that against these "fellow-travelers" and continue to argue for whatever it is I'd prefer and sometimes shrug at whatever it is they might prefer (and sometimes not, as above). I rather expect from years of holding sometimes radical views that other people don't agree with me for any number of reasons. What is not always abundantly clear is why.

What I'm finding in spending more time around or among other atheists as a group of other individuals is that they are sometimes angry. Christians sometimes think or say this is because they're angry at god. They're not. They're angry with you (Christians, since this is America and most of you are of that flock). For what you put them through or for what you still put them through. Entertaining as those diversions on policy are, there are actual people suffering for the upbringing they experienced, the isolation of it, and the lack of options presented, the lack of pragmatic experiences to draw upon. I did not experience these things because of faith or lack thereof or organized religion and my lack of interest in it (I still experienced them but for very different reasons). I did not experience the isolation from family in the way that I could never see them or wouldn't hear from them. Or did not experience a loss of friendships because I changed my belief structure (I may have from becoming somewhat more expressive of my ideas, but my underlying "beliefs" haven't changed very much in decades).

Something I've long thought about religion is that it operates principally with the need for social reinforcement. It evolved in large part as a way to keep a social unit cohesive as it became larger and more unwieldy to operate without chaos and it performs this role very well in fact. "Belief" and beliefs that people hold are largely enforced through the shared affirmation of a social unit (family, church, friends, etc) and not because there are any effective and good reasons for those beliefs to be regarded as truthful and honest interpretations of the world around us. One of the usual selling points people may use is to claim that X number or X% of others agree with them about their preferred method of deity worship. Sometimes, perhaps often, this number or percentage is erroneous anyway, but the idea that this should be persuasive is not a statement that they are holding true and correct beliefs apportioned to evidence. What it is is a statement of social conformity and social penetration. It is saying that we have a strong and cohesive social unit and wouldn't you like to be a part of it?

The flip side to this conformity is rarely appreciated by someone like me though. Because I never had to leave it behind. I've always been a bit of a non-conformist or non-conventional thinker. In part I've developed an instinctive discomfort with people who let me fit in too easily and without disagreements, so belonging to a "strong" group doesn't appeal to me anyway. The flip side for others is that when one rejects those beliefs, and the associated community and its rituals and practices, that community often rejects you for doing so. It does not neatly help people transition to a new set of beliefs or a new worldview in ease and comfort with former relations and associates. Not only does it not assist (which one assumes it shouldn't have to), it often kicks such people to the curb and announces they are horrible people to everyone involved as a means of speeding along that departure. For someone like me, being rejected by people I don't agree with on a fundamental question of worldview and any associated practices isn't inherently annoying or isolating. But I didn't have to agree with them or pretend to for some portion of my lifetime. One assumes this method of penalty is primarily there as a means of discouragement. People inside the bubble may see that the exit is an anguishing affliction of suffering and despair by being deliberately separated from the social networks of support one builds up through a lifetime of shared associations and they decide that their doubts can be a little quieter. Because the US offers easy access to a smorgasbord of religious devotions and their assorted beliefs however (even for those wishing to stay within the rubric of "Christendom"), this method is of diminishing return and effectiveness upon the litany of people who might wish to transition out. What it does not do and not offer in that transition is an easy way out. The exit strategy still sucks. It still inflicts damage for many.

I have some sympathy for that. I'm not sure how one gets from there to "religions should all be abolished", and then operating as though that is a plausible social goal. But I am sure why many people of a variety of atheist thought might be angry at the religions, other adherents, and their institutions.
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