Moral Realism meets Non-Cognitivism

One particular criticism of non-cognitivism is that it is not intuitive (as if this is the arbiter of truth). Much of statistics is not intuitive. The behaviour of quarks and other quantum events are counter-intuitive. This is a poor argument, especially given the limitations of intuition—whatever that might be.

Quarks[1]

In his book Moral Realism, Kevin Delapp advances his belief ‘that as a descriptive thesis, noncognitivism appears exceptionally counterintuitive’. He advances with argumentum ad numeram (or ad populum—take your pick): Most speakers of most languages do not mean by “killing innocents is wrong” merely that they don’t approve of it, or even that they are simply endorsing a norm, no matter how universal in form. Rather they say, namely that killing innocents is literally wrong.’ Moreover, what people think they mean and what they mean may diverge widely. But these are petty arguments.

“Killing innocents is wrong.”

Let’s unpack the example Delapp uses. Let’s even move forward by accepting common idiomatic notions of these terms. The problem is one of scope. Keeping away from any metaphysical complications but considering a cosmic scope, how is this wrong?

Ignoring that people die routinely of natural and otherwise ‘unnatural’ causes—however these might even be classified—, the absence of some particular human or all humans or all life forms would have a nil effect on planetary motion, the birth and death or stars, or of the creation of other universes. An analogue might be similar to killing a single bacterium in your body, an event that happens countless times daily yet you don’t even notice.

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The reason that this is considered wrong relates to hubris, the self-importance humans bestow themselves. It would be amazing for another lifeform with the capacity for language—a shared human language—to impose its parallel morality on earth-dwelling mortals…with the twist that they envision themselves as superior lifeforms. Of course, in the work, the earthlings would justify eliminating this hostile species—and vice versa. Yet neither would be right. As we do on earth now, we’d rely on our divine intuition and know that our vantage was the true one and these usurpers would need to be shown the error of their ways.

In any case, the only reason this logic is justified is by some argument of self-preservation, as if the universe somehow cares about this. Of course, the religious attribute the special place occupied by humans to be justified because we are God’s special children—but these are short-bus children indeed.

Returning to recast the original statement, ‘killing innocents is wrong’, we end up with something less than universal and quite contextual more along the lines of ‘killing [human] innocents is wrong [to me as a human with simple cognitive assessment skills and who has been socially indoctrinated to believe that humans are the most important lifeform in the entire universe or any possible multiverse]. Here wrong means ‘not conducive to the furthering of humanity‘, which is miles away from some claim with a deeper foundation, integrally woven into the fabric of space-time itself.

And when these people counter with, ‘would you want me to kill you’ (smugly clever, indeed), taking this to be some logical checkmate as opposed to the “I know you are but what am I” juvenile retort. Weak tea, indeed.

You might be selling it, but I’m not buying it.

Will the Real Jordan Peterson Please Stand Up?

On the topic of social constructivism and cultural relativism, Jordan Peterson is both a vehement counter voice and a hypocritical adherent. This post calls out Peterson’s hypocrisy. To Peterson, the notion that people create their own reality and especially their own identity is heresy. Worse, he will not abide where someone wishes to be identified by some non-gender-performative pronoun.

In his world, it’s obvious that there are two each of singular, gendered subject pronouns and their correspondent object pronouns: he, she, him, and her. Betwixt the two shan’t ever meet. For people like Jordan Peterson, this arbitrary taxonomical classification is written in stone in a manner reflective of Moses encounter with God on the mount.

Peterson 23:13-15

There shalt be two and only two genders, male and female;

and all humans shall conform to these classifications;

and all humans shall dress and behave in compliance with these classifications

commandments-inline1[1]

For people who view the world like Peterson, there is no distinction between sex and gender, so there is no CIS-this or CIS-that. They will accept for the minority of exceptions for hermaphrodites, but these people are freaks of nature and need to pick a path.

If you have were born with certain primary sexual traits, you must comply with gender stereotypes:

  • Male = Penis
  • Female = Vagina

And these are not cultural stereotypes, by the way; it’s obvious that this is Natural Law handed down from on high because identity is not an individual’s construct. If anything, you must accept with grace the identity society bestows upon you. If they perceive you as X, you had better conform to X or all hell will break loose, and your parents and friends will corral you into the X-mould, if you’ll only listen and comply. It’s for your own good.

Society knows best. If you can’t see it, that’s your problem. It our world, it’s majority rule, and if the masses perceive you as gender X, you had better comply. And don’t be a sissy about it. Purses are for women. Makeup is for women. Dresses are for women. Skirts are for women.

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Image: Men wearing kilts
As action figures are not dolls, kilts are not skirts; even so, don’t wear a kilt unless you are either Scottish or playing dress-up, but don’t play dress-up, and you’d better be toting a bagpipe or we’ll question your motives.

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Where was I going with all of this?

At the same time, Peterson and his ilk defend universalism, they leave open the ability to envision their own deities as realities as they choose in a ‘it’s my personal god’ sort of way. They want to have their cake and eat it, too.

It’s fine to take a position of objectivism versus subjectivism. I mean you’d be wrong, but you don’t really get to cherry-pick from each where it is convenient. Actually, you do, but you’d be a hypocrite, so there’s that. Perhaps just logically inconsistent or disingenuous.

The Treachery of Images

Magritte used art to comment on the distinction between the map and the territory. His The Treachery of Images, likely more commonly known as Ceci n’est pas une pipe, may be the most famous example in art.

Image: Ceci n'est pas un GIF
Ceci n’est pas un GIF

The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture ‘This is a pipe’, I’d have been lying!

— René Magritte

People commonly or at least idiomatically refer to the terrain when they should be referencing the map. Likewise to the film Inception, we can recurse these maps all the way down. This is represented by the image above, Ceci n’est pas un GIF, which is a further reflection of Magritte’s work.

inception_2010_french_original_film_art_spo_2000x.jpg

But the precursors of social constructionism predate post-structuralism. In fact, they predate structuralism itself. Although Surrealists like René Magritte were products of the post-structuralist era, there were hints of it at the dawn of the Enlightenment.

In 1772, Denis Diderot uses his story, Ceci n’est pas un conte (This is not a story) to demonstrate that a person’s behaviour is not in itself moral or immoral. Morality is not universal, and therefore it is not revealed either.

The point here is to underscore the difference between the referent and the symbol, whether by visual or auditory means. Dualist, René Descartes in his Cogito even understood this difference when he pointed out the ways each of the senses can be deceived. What he didn’t fully appreciate (or at least articulate) is how this disconnect is more prevalent than he had even considered.

3-4 pointing
Image: Perception is reality

Returning to the modern era, in 1966 Peter Berger published The Social Construction of Reality (PDF).  This theory centres on the notion that human beings rationalise their experience by creating models of the social world and share and reify these models through language.

In closing, this is important because even when discussing facts about the world, we are still mired by perception. The legal system understands that eyewitness accounts of an event are among the least trustworthy. Ambiguity exists in language.

An example I used when I was teaching undergrads was the concept of fairness. Who felt that ‘things’ should be fair or that any person should be treated fairly. Accuse me of argument by anecdote if you must, but I have never encountered a person who disagreed with this notion.

But then the conversation got interesting: What was their perception of fair? Did it need to result in equality of outcome or was equality of opportunity sufficient? I wrote about this last year. Similar conversations happened when discussions arose over justice and so on.

My conclusion: There is no reason to believe humans’ employment of language results in a very precise representation of reality. There is even less reason to believe that language provides some vector to know moral truths—or any truths, really. The best course of action is to rely on the slight

My parting gift is this classic Annie Hall bit with Woody Allen and Diane Keaton.

 

Transcript:

Alvy Singer’s Therapist: How often do you sleep together?

Annie Hall’s Therapist: Do you have sex often?

Alvy Singer: [lamenting] Hardly ever. Maybe three times a week.

Annie Hall: [annoyed] Constantly. I’d say three times a week.

Happy Endings

If everything is just “rhetoric” or “power” or “language,” there is no real way to judge anything. 

Somehow, I happened across a blog post, Postmodernisms: What does *that* mean? Of course, this is right up my street, I skimmed a couple other posts on the site and followed some links to establish some contextual frame.

My by-now standard (read: autonomic) reaction to this line of questioning is that this is a correct assessment of the conditional statement.

If everything is just X, Y, or Z, there is no real way to judge anything.

Before evaluating the entirety of the content, let’s look at the lexical choices, in particular:

  • everything: Realising that this is hyperbole. I am going to assume that the author did not mean that everything is X, Y, or Z. I believe he means everything within some imagined yet undefined domain. I’ll guess that this domain relates to some moral or social sphere. Anything employs the same hyperbole, so I’ll ignore it.
  • just: This rhetorically modifies X, Y, and Z, in order to diminish them for the reader, to make them appear petty.
  • real: I believe the term he was looking for is objective or perhaps ontological. Otherwise, we’ll need to discern what he considers to be real versus not real.

Also, notice the use or as a conjunction. This seems odd, as the listed items do not have equal weight or effect. Rhetoric does not exist without language, and power really feels out of place, Michel Foucault’s law of the instrument complicity notwithstanding. To him, power was his litmus.

Constructionism

Firstly, all social perception is the result of the construct of human language. Of course, there is the physical world that exists independently of humans and perception—perhaps this is the real world where real judgments occur. Let’s label this real world the terrain. The earth and the larger universe would exist absent of humans. In fact, it had for aeons and will persist for many aeons beyond the last semblance of humanity. Humans are also real, if ephemeral on a grander scale.

If this independent, objective, real world is the terrain, language is the map. We use language to communicate and make sense of the terrain, but it is only a representation based on our imperfect sense faculties.

cat saussure labels
Image: Symbolic language mapping of terrain

So when one makes a claim that everything [sic] is, say, language, they are making a claim similar to that of Saussure. Saussure was a structuralist. In fact, post-structuralism (or its expanded form labelled post-modernism) was a reaction against structuralists. Within the context of this post, Saussure believed that if one could fully qualify the structure of language, one could achieve a one-to-one fidelity relationship of the map to the terrain.

Post-structuralists pointed out all of the reasons why this was a fool’s errand. Like a geographical map, it is only a representation of the underlying terrain. Language serves the purpose of communication including expression and phatic aspects. One form of communication is rhetoric, which is a form employed for the purpose of persuasion. One possibility of this persuasion is to gain and retain power—or to at least win the upper hand in your argument. I suppose this is where the original statement starts to coalesce: rhetoric, power, and language.

quote-all-models-are-wrong-but-some-are-useful-george-e-p-box-53-42-27[1]
All models are wrong, but some are useful.
My point, then, is that our language map is always disconnected from the terrain. Moreover, it can be a pretty low fidelity map indeed. So when one says that everything is language, they are making a claim that we can not acquire this real knowledge. We can make sensory observations and construct narratives about it.

If you’ve ever taken a basic communications class, you’ve probably experienced the telephone game. Perception works in a similar manner. There are many things of which we have little or no experience save for conveyance through language. But as with the telephone game, fidelity can be lost. This is less likely to be a problem when interfacing with the so-called real world of rock and trees and of lions and tigers and bears.

terrain saussure
Image: Symbolic language mapping of nebulous concept

It is more likely to become a problem when dealing with non-ontic concepts, these ‘things’ that would not exist without humans or, more critically, without language. These artificial (in contrast to real) concepts are things like goodness, justice, democracy, liberty, sovereignty, nations, and on and on, ad nauseum. Humans have constructed narratives about all of these, but if the last human were to die tomorrow, these concepts would die, too. Whether some new lifeform would eventually evolve to develop language and further develop these concepts is debatable.

Judging

All of this aside, let’s look at the perceived intent of this statement, which is the same sentiment behind Nietzsche’s ‘God is dead’ quip.

As has been discussed, the Enlightenment replaced God with Nature and Nietzsche realised that if this worldview were universally adopted. the tyrannic role that God and gods had played could not be leveraged to maintain control or power, much in the same way that the divine rights or kings had withered and died. God played a vital role in this narrative. Nature, particularly human nature, was a weak substitute. This said, moral and natural realists, quickly (and relatively successfully) filled the void with cognitive filler, a perfect pairing for budding Enlightenment thinkers.

Given that even if there were some objective morality (terrain), there is no reason to believe that a human could gain access to it. Previously, priests and pharaohs claimed to possess this ability, but this vector was no longer extant or accessible. Even if a person did have this power through some miracle of some sort or another (or another or another), what reason (other than convincing rhetoric) would one have to believe him (or her—but let’s be honest; it’s pretty much all hims).

Without access to this objective morality, we are left with creating some subjective morality. I fully admit that trying to gain consensus and compliance to a known-to-be constructed moral code would be akin to herding cats. It is no doubt that society would operate more efficiently if all constituents follow the same code.

If wouldn’t matter if this society adopted, say, monogamy over polygamy, so long as everyone accepted this as the rules of engagement. Cultural subjectivism would provide a moral framework for this situation, We have many examples of social arrangements where this is the mode of operation.

Sports are an example. There are rules. Players agree on the rules, protocols, and procedures, and they operate within this socially constructed framework. There is no objective sportsball deity on high that conveyed the commandments, and yet it works.

John+Locke+-+Jean+Jacques+Rousseau[1]

Locke and Rousseau each wrote about social contracts. Granted, they believed in a supernatural Nature with a capital N, but they still felt that people could operate as a society based on some sort compact or accord.

This missing element would be power because those in power could not use some higher power to justify their actions especially in regard to retributive justice and so on.

Commentary

What I still don’t understand after all these years is how this logic works. It is eerily similar to Pascale’s Wager.

If not SOME CONDITION,
then not DESIRED OUTCOME
therefore FABRICATE SOME CONDITION

If not [belief in God],
then not [eternity of bliss in Heaven; instead eternal suffering in Hell, so double down]
therefore [convince yourself of or feign belief in God]

If not [objective means of judgment],
then not [real judgment]
therefore [delude yourself into the belief that an objective means of judgment exists]

And they all lived happily ever after

jessica-brooke-real-lesbian-wedding-orlando-florida-alternative-life-photography-design-first-kiss[1]

 

happily ever after

Insufficiency Theory of Language

I’m not an ethical subjectivist. The truth* is that I am a non-cognitivist. I gravitate more toward Ayer‘s Emotivism. Stevenson‘s Expressivism and Hare‘s Prescriptivism add the element of intention. This may seem like hair-splitting, but the distinction lies in the taxonomy of meta-ethics.

Emotivism and the rest are categorised under the non-cognitivist branch whilst ethical subjectivism falls into the cognitivist bucket. Intuitively, humans appear to have an innate bias toward accepting cognitivism, much in the same way as they seem to be wired to believe in supernatural concepts and see images of Jesus in toast. Whether these are vestiges of some successful evolutionary strategy is beside the point, but the problem it creates is that, in contrast, non-cognitivism is perceived as counterintuitive.

In its essence, cognitivism can be distilled down to the belief that moral statements are truth-apt, which is to say that they can be evaluated as true or false. Because of the current created by intuitionists, I lead with my fallback position, which is one of ethical subjectivism or more likely error theory.

Heads I win; Tails you lose

Although for reasons I’ll articulate later, entering a conversation assuming truth-aptness, the conversation can at least focus on the compositionality and universality components because whether I believe that moral statements cannot be evaluated as true or false, the default cognitive position of the general population is that they can be. This is not to say that I identify as a quasi-realist, which is to believe that there is no truth-aptness but to behave (pretend) that they do.

coin-flip - Captioned
Image: Deciding the truth-aptness of a moral claim

God Is Dead

In his critique of Enlightenment beliefs, Nietzsche declared that ‘God is dead’ as he understood the implications of a society absent a justification for not only believing that morality claims are truth-apt but that they are true, divinated from some metaphysical, supernatural, and universal power. In practice, the Enlightenment replaced God with a rather animated and interactive concept of Nature, hence were born all sorts of natural rights. You may get a sense of some déjà vu, as humans, not being particularly creative, just reappropriated and rebranded the same tropes Theists use prior to that. They just performed a search-and-replace of God with Nature in a manner similar to the Christian appropriation of pagan holidays.

Goddead
Image: God is dead

Non-cognitivism has generally fallen out of favour primarily because it was sort of painted into a corner by the Frege-Geach (embedding) problem, but this issue is only intractable if you accept the given frame.

I should probably just link out to a different source to explain the Frege-Geach problem because I feel it’s a red herring, which only presents a problem if you accept the frame established by the Structuralist

The problem here is that language is a complex, socially constructed communication system. Even if we accept Chomsky’s theory of the innate ability to parse language, the syntax, lexicon, and grammar are still arbitrary human constructs. I can’t likely repeat this point often enough: humans have a poor track record of creating and comprehending complex systems, examples of which are the various half-cocked socio-political, economic, jurisprudent, and philosophical systems. Hubris is evidently a successful evolutionary selection factor, as it persists everywhere and certainly in people of power.

The logical positivists ran into a similar problem when they proposed the verification principle that asserted that a statement is only truth-apt if it is either an ANALYTICAL statement or a SYNTHETIC statement, and yet this assertion with neither analytical nor synthetic, so it itself does not meet the verification principle. It’s simply a normative prescription.

Fundamentally, this quandary underscores the deficiencies of the constructed language system more than anything else, what I am developing with a working title of Insufficiency Theory. A tangent to this theory is my concept that the only moral truth (and many social truths) are simply rhetorical victories—situations where one agent employing rhetorical devices has convinced others as the truth of some condition.

Intermission

intermission

A problem with writing an unstructured stream of consciousness is that you look up and realise your post is getting pretty lengthy, and there is a lot more depth than you expected. Due to this, I am going to unpack this over several posts over several days.

Disclaimer

DISCLAIMER: I am not a professionally-trained philosopher, linguist, psychologist, or gynaecologist for that matter. I had considered studying Linguistics at uni as well as Philosophy, but I opted instead to study Economics and Finance, as these appeared to be more pragmatic. As relates to philosophy and language, I am an autodidact. This said, this particular area is new to me, so I am certain that I am missing key elements and may have large gaps in my understanding. In some cases, I’ve read more excerpts and others’ perspective on these people and their work than their actual work product. I am trying to catch up, but that leads me to a place fraught with selection and affirmation bias—though I do try to comprehend counter arguments as well. Moreover, I am painfully well aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect, and I am trying to allow for enough time to elapse to move further along this curve.

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Chart: Dunning-Kruger Effect

Article head  image cropped from here: http://existentialcomics.com/comic/80

 

 


* Truth: (n) an opinion or held belief

 

Arguing for the Abolition of Prostitution: Talk About The Men

Apparently, there was a part 0 and a part 2. I didn’t realise that, so I skipped video 1. My bad, as this is one I was particularly interested in.

In this video, Elly’s premise is to focus on the right to buy sex instead of the right to sell it. Pausing for a moment, I’d like to point out that sex is neither bought nor sold; rather access is rented or leased, in a manner similar to renting a streamed movie on Amazon or Netflix. You retain no rights to ownership or future access. You don’t get to keep it when your time is up. Rather than adopt new nomenclature, I’ll continue with the convention in place.

Rather than asking is there a right to sell sex, ask is there a right to buy it, AND ask is there a right to profit off of selling someone else for sex.

Ignoring whether a right can even exist ontologically, I’ll go along and pretend that a right can exist. We’ve been down this street before, but I am commenting in real time, and I am not yet even a minute in. Essentially, she suggests asking two questions:

  1. Is there a right to buy sex?

  2. Is there a right to profit off of selling someone else for sex?

Clearly, these two questions are related. The right to buy sex begs the question from whom, so even though the focus is redirected from the seller to the buyer, there cannot be a buyer without a seller. In practice, the seller is a critical piece of the equation. For example, I may have a right to buy an automobile, but you only have the right to sell it if it is your property; you can’t rightfully sell me your neighbour’s car.

Separately, is there a right to profit from selling sex [as a first party transaction] in the first place, and for selling someone else for sex [as a second party transaction] in the second place?

[SPOILER ALERT] » This video does not yield the anwers to these questions.  

The next order of business is to use these talking points…

  1. Discuss what motivates men to by prostituted women.

  2. Discuss how they view and treat them rather than discuss statistics.

…followed by this assertion.

“There is plenty of evidence that men are motivated to buy prostituted women because prostitution at its core means the availability of sexual access with little to no boundaries to young, attractive women anywhere at any time for affordable prices.”

This is where I go off the rails and critique poor methodology and poor rhetorical form. Let’s unpack this:

  • There is plenty of evidence that…
    • First, plenty is a weasel word. It carries no rhetorical weight unless it is followed with, well, plenty of evidence. How much is plenty? Is there plenty of counter-evidence? Is the evidence more prevalent than the counter evidence or vice versa.
    • Second, what is the source of this unspecified, uncited, and unattributed evidence. Elly references links; perhaps they are the evidence she is references. What is the quality of this evidence?
    • Not to offend, but this wouldn’t even pass as a Wikipedia comment.
  • …men are motivated to buy prostituted women because…
    • Apart from the inability to actually know someone’s motivation, I am interested in seeing where this leads.
    • Elly uses the noun phrase prostituted women. As she employs the adjective form prostituted, I am led to wonder what the motivation was for this word choice.
      • My initial thought is that she is modifying the noun women because wants to differntiate buying women from buying prostituted woman, but I don’t think this is quite right.
      • My next thought is that her motivation to convey that these women have no agency or volition; they are passive objects who are prostituted against their will.
      • My third, or perhaps it was my first, thought is why not emply the plural noun prostitutes. She has already established context that her focus is women, so I am left feeling there is a deeper subtext. Perhaps I am reading too much in.
  • …prostitution at its core means the availability of sexual access with little to no boundaries to young, attractive women anywhere at any time for affordable prices.
    • This is some definition. I’ll need to unpack this one slowly:
      • This definition get to the heart of the matter from the perspective of the  punter.
      • Prostitution is the availability of sexual access…  Yup. Nailed it.
      • with little to no boundaries… Wait, what? Where did this come from? Is there some subclass of prostitutes to which this applies? Surely does not define all prostitutes? Does this define most prostitute? As I understand it—at least the escorts of Backpage of days gone by, a victim of FOSTA—, escorts to have boundaries. Moreover, some boundaries can be expanded by an up-charge. Even reading the negative reviews on the Invisible Men Project, it is apparent that many of the complaints were that the woman refused one service or another, which is to say to enforce a boundary. This appears to be counterevidentiary.
      • to young… I wonder how we are defining young. I wonder what the average age of a prostitute is. A quick Google search of ‘prostitution’ yeilds a recent arrest of 7 women. I am not saying this is a valid random sample or size, but their ages range from 27 to 55 with an average age of just under 40-years old. I suppose to a 70-year-old, these are young. Let’s move on…
      • attractive women… Attractiveness is relative, but let’s just say there’s no accounting for taste. Without comment, I’ll leave it to you to decide the attraction level of these same arrested women.
      • anywhere… This is a bold assertion.
      • at any time… This is an another bold assertion. I am certain there is support for this claim somewhere.
      • at affordable prices. Finally, the end of this parsing party. Affordabilty is another relative term. Who’s the punter and what’s the cost? I’m noticing that first guy perportedly spent £340 for 45 minutes. That’s about $450 US for the peeps reading on this side of the pond, and I am just going to go out on a limb and suggest that is beyond the affordability range of most Americans by several hundred dollars.

At the end of the day, I am left with the impression that the purpose of this definition is to incite and inflame not to objectively define anything. In the court system, this is what one would call leading the witness. As such it would be inadmissible. I concur.

Her next course of action is to determine ‘If your opponents are aware of widespread social stigma in society against prostituted people, which causes risks or disadvantages during interactions with law enforcement or social services, ask them if Johns are somehow magically exempt from this’.

Resulting from my previous search, it seems buyers not exempt. In fact, 6 of the 8 people arrested were men ‘charged with patronizing a prostitute’.

Again, an unsubstantiated claim was countered in less than a minute. It feels to me that the tactic is to throw so much word salad at the opponent that they simply can process the mis- and dis-information, and without recourse to Google, they may be overwhelmed and convert having never researched any of the false claims. Donald Trump relies heavily on this technique.

If they are unable to see the misogyny in the words and actions of punters, introduce them to punter forums…where prostitutes are rated like products.

The claim of misogyny is one of intent. It is not a claim that the words are offensive. It is a claim that the intent behind the words is fueled by some inherent hatred of women. I’m sorry but this is unadulterated psychobabble.

I did read the negative reviews on the punter forums, and to be honest at the expense of being accused of mansplaining, these don’t read much differently to bad service reviews on on Yelp or Google. And, yes, the woman are rated—albeit like services not like products: like my stylist butchered my hair; my gardner killed my dog; whatever. Linguistically, this is akin to code switching. They are employing the vernacular of the forum.

Do some of these men hate women? Sure. Who knows? Do they hate all women? Do all men who frequent prostitutes hate women? Do they hate all women or just prostitutes? Do they hate their mothers? Is their hatred of prostitutes simply a hidden hatred of their mother manifest in hatred of women? Do they hate other categories of people? Do they kick cats and beat dogs? Of course they do, and then they go home and beat their wives and children and speak poorly about their aunts and mothers.

Of course, this line of reasoning is just as inane as the line that inspired it.

She mentions men who freely admit to abusing and raping women.

Wait, what? I didn’t see that. I must have been distracted by the snuff films.

I can tell this is just turning into a rant. If there is one thing I can’t stand—and there is more than one thing I can’t stand—is sloppy academics. The rules of engagement for defending a position with integrity are simple. If the goal is to win at any expense, then, as the saying goes, all is fair in love and war. But I am not sure what the prize is here. I am not one to have much faith in the intellectual capacity of most humans, but even I am pretty sure that the majority of people can see right through this subterfuge.

Shake it off, Bry. Just shake it off. Push through it. No pain no gain.

Presumed motivators for men to pay for prostitutes are because…

A. Men want to have sex with no responsibilities with maximum control and no required effort of actually impressing and winning over the other person, and because other men are willing to provide it by pimping out others for their own lucrative profit.

Wow. Another unfounded, ungrounded assertion. Just some claim pulled from thin air. Also, I am pretty sure I heard her say A, as if to enummerate some list, but I never heard any subsequent letters.

  • Men want to have sex
    • So far, so good…
  • with no responsibilities
    • I’ll presume she means with no additional strings attached. I am not sure what other responsibilities we could be talking about.
  • with maximum control
    • I am pretty sure we’ve already trodden this teritory. Perhaps he feels he has (or even has) more control over a prostitute than over some alternative woman. Perhaps he wife or partner won’t allow him to do something or another, but I have a feeling that this maximum control claim is a bit more hyperbole than reality justifies.
  • and no required effort of actually impressing and winning over the other person
    • I am fast-forwarding a bit because this feels like reading it will be like watching paint dry or grass grow. By what Romantic construct is this a thing? Someone’s watched too many Disney films. And this is a game, and the person who pays to avoid effort is a cheater? He jumped the queue. Hmmm. When I say it like that, it does seem awfully juvenile.
  • and because other men are willing to provide it by pimping out others for their own lucrative profit.
    • Let’s just tag some barely relevent rationale on because we can.
    • And let’s pepper our speech with superlatives so the hyperbole doesn’t feel lonely.

Prostitution exists because of the demand not because of a subset of women who are nymphomaniacs.

I have to admit that I loved this last line.

Also [prostitution does] not [exist] because of poverty. Poverty is a supporting factor.

Rachel wins the strawman argument contest of the year. Who is asserting that poverty is the sole arbiter of prostitution? Apparently, some unnamed source in Parliament.


Prostitution exists for one reason: male demand —Rachel Moran


This logic exhibits a fundamental lack of understanding of the basic rules of transactional economics and equilibrium in context with supply and demand.

Not to be a dick about it, but I can demand a Ferrari until the cows come home, but this will not conjure a Ferrari. Believe me, I’ve been waiting for those cows to come home for ages. Also, the supply of Ferraris does me no good either because the transction price is too high; therefore, I cannot afford a Ferrari.

Rachel however is correct—In your face Jean Baptiste Say!—when she recognises that supply does not create its own demand. Sorry believers in Conservative economics dogma. But I digress.

Even if this nymphomaniac offered her services for free, there could be no transaction without demand, so the monetary exchange is a secondary factor.

Don’t sugarcoat the violence that punters and pimps commit.

Also, don’t differentiate violence that happens on the job, such as a dope dealer or a loan shark that would have occurred, perhaps even sooner, whether or not she was a prostitute. Let’s just pretend that these are related to her line of work because it helps to inflate number to make our position more sellable.


occupation definition


When a prostituted woman is raped or killed, the most likely rapist and/or killer is a pimp or a John. That makes prostitution the only so-called occupation which [sic] changes the most likely perpetrator of severe bodily harm from a partner or relative to your customer or employer.

And this is relavent how? Perhaps we should make associating with partners and relatives illegal. It seems that they are the biggest concern.

Why is this a so-called occupation? Is this not a job or line of work?

Lastly, make it very clear that this dynamic and this level of violence does not magically change under legalised prostitution.

OK.

The set of men buying and selling women doesn’t really change.

I disagree. Where prostitution is illegal, the good men are going to exit the system, and only bad men will remain. Of course, if you define all men who frequent prostitutes as misogynists, then I suppose you’ve created a situation where all men are bad, and so I stand corrected.

Let’s see how that renders as a categorical syllogism:

  • – All men who frequent prostitutes are bad.
  • – Joe is a man who frequents prostitutes.
  • Joe is bad.

I see how it works. I stand corrected. All punters are evil. Burn them.

Under legalisation, too, men retain their disgust for the prostituted and their disrespect for their boundaries.

Here we go again with the broadbrushing.

Ample evidence are the punter forums of Germany, the Netherlands, and New Zealand. This contempt and the sever mistreatment does not change unless there is effective widespread social intervention that teaches children for elementary school onwards that prostituted women and men are just as human and deserving of respect as anyone else and that all sexual interaction requires enthusiastic consent, which means that it cannot be bought.

Prostituted women and men are just as human and deserving of respect as anyone else…which is why we should deprive them of their livelihoods. Nothing says “I respect you” more than kicking the chair out from under you.  That’s my creed.

Not merely consent but enthusiastic consent. Not only do I have to work, I have to do so enthusiastically.

Abolitionists have an issue not with the prostitutes but in the system they are caught in and the men who operate and benefit from it.

I think I am approaching the end of this clip.

The systems they are caught up in is Capitalism and a market economy, a system that presumes to be able to put a price on anything.


A cynic is…a man who knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing. — Oscar Wilde

Hatred of a system does not equate to hatred of a person in that system.

I agree, and so…

Humans have a piss poor track record in understanding complex systems, whether weather, poitical, sociological, economic, or otherwise. The issue here is that you can hate the system and love the person, but if you disrupt the system intentionally or otherwise, the wide ranging effect may prove disaterous.

Punters love the system but hate the women. Abolistionists care about the women.

Where is all this categorical hatred coming from?

Lastly, Elly mentions that she is working on a video piece to summarise the important stats and info on who punters are, what they do, and why they do it.

And here is where I will challenge your integrity. Who here would believe—especially insomuch as by her own admission that she recommends hiding inconvenietly opposing facts—any reporting would contain an accounting of unbiased and unabridged data, metrics, or summaries or that proper methodological rigour would be applied for the study.

On the topic of studies, in the description of the video on the page, there are links, which I’ve copied here for comment.

  • Rachel Moran at Femifest in London
    • This is a PDF of speaking notes or a transcript of Rachel’s presentation in London, based on her experience as a sex-trade survivor. Rachel’s is a sad story, but it is her story.
  • The Invisible Men project on Tumblr
    • Yet again, a list of cherry-picked perhaps 180 quotes from some Canadian forum. This is contemptuous. I only read about a dozen and a half of them. In order to be even somewhat useful (instead of being polemic) would be to see all of the reviews, and to see what percentage of people wrote these reviews. You can’t convince me that there are no doting reviews. These are exempted because they dilute the disingenuous shock value of only negative reviews. Even a simple word cloud would be more useful than this hatchet job. (I feel like finding one of these forums and cherry-picking the rest of the story just out of spite.)
  • Prostitution Research & EducationAbolish Prostitution And Provide Real Alternatives
    • This is a full forum of resources. I have not done anything more than scan the initial page where I landed. I may return for more context. If you seek additional information, visit. I think it goes without saying that the information here is slanted, much like watching Fox News in an attempt to understand American Liberal politics.
  • How Porn Creates the John: Porn, Trafficking and the Social Construction of Masculinity (Youtube video from a lecture given in December 2012)
    • Being on the topic of social constructivism, this one should be right up my street. I haven’t watched even a moment of this video, so am probably commenting prematurely, but it is interesting to me how some people accept the concept of social constructivism when it relates to a different perspective, but rarely do they accept their own perspectives as social constructions. This is a cognitive bias.

I am not so sure I have the interest in commenting on the rest of the series. To be honest, Elly has other series as well. I’d like to take a look, but I’m afraid I’ll have a similar reaction that the position and content haven’t been well thought out. Perhaps a strong editor would help, a disinterested party who would maintain (or otherwise elevate) the integrity of the content and who would provide needed rigour.

In the end, Elly’s message would be stronger and more cogent, and she could shed the chaff whilst retaining the substance.

 

The Rhetoric of Foucault

OK, so this isn’t at all about Foucault’s rhetoric. My main riff this year is the assertion that there is no Truth, only rhetoric—or should I rather say Rhetoric. I created a Reddit post asking for references to other philosophers (or whomever) who had made a similar claim, to which I was offered Vico and Rorty. Unfortunately, there were only two responders, and their assistance was superficial.

What I did encounter by one of the responders was a criticism similar to that levelled at Foucault, hence the inspired title of this post. This critique at its essence is that having proposed no positive solutions to the issues I point to, I cannot defend my position. In fact, as with Habermas‘ fault with Foucault, evidently, I have disarmed myself.

I find this line of argumentation weak tea at best. To argue that one has no claim to declare something incorrect if they don’t have a correct replacement for it is absurd. For example, I don’t know what 13,297 ÷ 1,492 equals arithmetically; but I can assert with confidence that it does not equal 2. Moreover, to criticise, one doesn’t need the ‘ability to generate positive alternatives’.

“There is no truth but rhetoric.”

So when I say there is no Truth but rhetoric (for non-ontic concepts), I am making a Truth statement. As such, this assertion—by my own admission—is only as strong as the rhetoric I can muster to its defence. Alas, my defences are weak, and so the argument fails. Were I to make a stronger argument—a more convincing argument—, it might be accepted as Truth.

Evidently, my first mistake was to separate ontic and non-ontic, which is to say things existing apart from their given names and those whose existence is entirely fabricated. An ontic thing might be a stone, a tree, a planet, a star, or the sensation of pain. These things exist even without language, a label, or an observer. As Saussure and other structuralists have noted, in semiotics, there is the signified (or referent) and the signifier—the object and the identifier. In the context of language, these are tautological.

There_is_no_Spoon[1]
There is no spoon.
Non-ontic things are conceptual, freedom, truth,  justice, rights, gods, and so on. I may opt to replace non-ontic with language-contextual or some such to sidestep the taxonomical quagmire. Or perhaps I’ll adopt the dichotomy of concrete versus abstract. These concepts do not exist outside of language. They are wholly constructed in a complex system created by humans—and humans whilst humans have done OK with complicated systems, they have an abysmal track record when it comes to complex systems. By analogue to the physics of solids, there is more space than atoms, and the atoms and their constituent particles are in constant motion—zero-degrees Kelvin, be damned. Our senses perceive something to be there, but as in that scene in The Matrix, ‘there is no spoon‘.

In my mind, leveraging Saussure’s ideas are useful to depict the differences in the concrete versus the abstract.

1bb[1]

The famous painting depicted above illustrates explains the difference between a signifier and a referent. In this image, there is only the signifier. Magritte makes clear the distinction with the text, Ceci, n’est pas une pipe: This is not a pipe. It is merely a depiction of one. To be even more arcane, the image is a signifier to another signifier that in turn refers to the referent.

A sign is the device that encapsulates the concept. It may be visual—an icon (an illustration of photograph) or a written word or even Braille—or it can be spoken or signed, as with American Sign Language. These are all signs.

cat sign

Notice when one considers a sign that a concrete cat (or in French, chat), it is pretty clear to what one is referring. Above the line, we see the signified, the idea conveyed by the sign. This doesn’t mean that everyone sees the silhouette depicted above, but it is a catlike thing, a feline animal, a mammal, normally with four legs and a tail. Perhaps you are thinking of a particular cat. But to someone with a grasp of the language in which you are communicating, when you say cat, there is little room for ambiguity. In fact, if you are trying to teach someone a different language, say, French, you could show them the cat with the chat signifier, and they would grasp your meaning almost instantaneously.

All language is arbitrary and socially constructed, so there is no connection between the words—say, the spelling or shape of a word—and its referent. The words cat and chat do not look like cats.

There are concrete things that cannot be so readily translated into an icon; for example, the wind. However, one could fairly quickly be able to articulate or gesticulate, as the case might be, the notion of wind. The same cannot be said for the abstract concept of justice.

As I’ve mentioned before, justice, especially one of the restorative or retributive varieties, is a euphemism for vengeance. The distinction is supposed to be found in the intent, but intent cannot be known; it can only be inferred. And, speaking of Foucault, justice can only be delivered from a power position.

But the notion of justice relies heavily on social construct; it has geo-spacial dependencies. What is considered to be just in ancient times may not be considered just now. What is considered just in one country might not be considered to be just in another. And this is more than a difference in instantiation. It is due to the arbitrary if not capricious articulation of a nebulous concept.

Returning to Foucault, (Christian apologist) Nancy Pearcey declares his stance paradoxical: “[when someone] states that it is impossible to attain objectivity, is that an objective statement? The theory undercuts its own claims.”

First, Pearcey merely asks a question about objectivity, but it doesn’t matter. The answer is: this may as well be an objective statement, but it’s just another language game. Wittgenstein (and Russell and Heidegger and Rorty…) was on the right path when he pointed out that the ambiguity inherent in language provide cover for all sorts of mischief. I’m only pretty sure that Derrida might yield paydirt as well. Besides, let’s pretend for a moment that there exists some objective truth, there is no reason (language game; except in accepting the broadest definition, reason is a capability elusive to many if not most humans) to expect that this truth is either accessible or verifiable anyway. The best one can do is to pose a more convincing rhetorical argument.

Reason /ˈrēzən/ (noun)
the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgments by a process of logic

A similar critique has been advanced by (another Christian apologist) Diana Taylor, and by Nancy Fraser who argues that “Foucault’s critique encompasses traditional moral systems, he denies himself recourse to concepts such as ‘freedom’ and ‘justice’, and therefore lacks the ability to generate positive alternatives.”

So whilst I’ve just managed to stream-of-consciousness my contention, I am not in a position to resolve anything. For now, I’ll settle for documenting my position as I continue to search for other supporters and formulate a more cogent response, a more robust rhetorical presentment.

If anyone can direct me to resources relevant to my position, let me know in the comments. I’ll appreciate it. If you don’t agree—which would be expected, as this is the accepted orthodoxy—feel free to comment as well. 

 

Sam Harris and the Myth of Perfectly Rational Thought

On Property

We take property for granted. John Locke espoused life, liberty, and property. Rousseau observed that “The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine”, and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.”

The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society.

But property and its defence is nothing more than some accepted rhetoric. Libertarians presume this to be some inviolable right, and Anarchists and Socialists believe that property—well, private property anyway; real property—is a common good.

I have an issue with ownership of real property, though I don’t have such a strong opinion on possession. In reality, this is more of a practical matter than a defensible philosophical position. It has emotivist roots. As Hobbes noted (or I’ll paraphrase liberally), even animals in his state of nature have possessions, but there is no right to these possessions (which belong to the monarch anyway in society); there is only the ability to try to retain ownership through force.

In practice, this is what society does. Insomuch as the force is more potential than kinetic, allowing the state or community to exercise this force by proxy, it is not dissimilar to our consumption of meat products at arm’s length by sheltering the violent reality by intermediary grocers.

And we shelter ourselves through language. We don’t eat cows and pigs, we eat beef and pork, chateaubriand and bacon.

Returning to property, real property, it’s yours as long as you possess it, but it is not yours from a distance, and it’s not yours to bequeath. If we are to embrace capitalism—which I don’t, but for the sake of argument—, we should allow the property to go to the purpose that will provide the greatest utility. History as a judge demonstrates that it is unlikely to happen to be the someone’s heirs.

Looking back at books & such in 2017

Evidently, I ‘read’ a lot in 2017. To be perfectly honest, I listened to a lot of long-form audiobooks in 2017. Here is a summary of my favourites. The ♠ symbol indicates that I read rather than listened to the audiobook version.

  • Recommended Favourites
    1. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow by Yuval Noah Harari
      This is a strong follow-on to his Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind. He assesses the present and extrapolates from the past to formulate a vision of the future.
    2. Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella Meadows
      ♠ Whilst not philosophical, per se, this is a reminder of how much of what we analyse is based on systems and how poorly humans process complexity.
    3. What Is Property? by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon
      ♠ I could have captured this under Classics, but Favourites rates higher. Proudhon does a bang-up job of critiquing private property, especially as rentier. Some have espoused stronger views, but he was a trailblazer and a trendsetter.
    4. Good Strategy Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt
      Another non-philosophy book, this was more supportive of my rent-paying day job. He does a good job of defining strategy and explaining how poor most executives are at it—despite how many have done MBA-level coursework in Strategy at top-tier schools.
    5. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
      One of the few fiction pieces I read this year, I am not sure if I’ve read a better book. Whilst it’s difficult to judge over an expanse of years and decades—given falible memory and circumstances—, it’s got to be one of the top two or three.
    6.  Neo-Nihilism: The Philosophy of Power by Peter Sjöstedt-H
      Although this work is entirely derivative, it is presented as a compact summary, and I enjoyed it on a plane trip from someplace to somewhere.
    7. Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue by John McWhorter
      Full disclosure: I’ve been a McWhorter fanboy for years, but again I enjoyed his perspective on language and linguistics.
    8. The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker
      I like Pinker’s presentation style, though I am not quite on board with his defence of Humanism and neo-Enlightenment position. These aside, his analysis resonates once I compensate for the bias they introduce. I read this after having read Robert Wright’s The Moral Animal, which trod some of the same ground. I recommend it, too; I just found Pinker’s presentment to be superior.
    9. Philosophy and Real Politics by Raymond Geuss
      ♠ This came as a recommendation as result of an online conversation in a Libertarian forum. I listened to it as an audiobook and the read it to fully grasp the material. It was well worth it.
  • Classics
    1. Discourse on the Origin of Inequality by Jean Jacques Rousseau
      I enjoyed this quite a bit, and though it’s viewed through quite the quaint Romantic lens, it is nonetheless enjoyable. I was strongly considering this as a favourite, but I opted to place it at the top of the Classics list.
    2. The Social Contract by Jean Jacques Rousseau
      Although I appreciate Rousseau as a thinker and writer, I didn’t really like this. It was a decent thought experiment in its day, but in the end, it’s just a Romantic and fanciful sort of origin story.
    3. Beyond Good and Evil by Friedrich Nietzsche
      I also considered placing this in Favourites. Nietzsche or his translator provide coherent exposition, but in the end, I found it to be spotty. Though many find it to be a hard pill to swallow, his extension of Hegel’s master and slave (herd) morality still resonates today.
    4. On the Genealogy of Morals: A Polemic by Friedrich Nietzsche
      A strong follow-on to Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, though not quite a favourite. Nietzsche is a master rhetorician, and this polemic is quite enticing. What struck me most is how he presaged Freud by at least a decade.
    5. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding by David Hume
      ♠ I actually read rather than listened to this classic. Hume, the Empiricist, was so far ahead of his time.
    6. Anarchy, State, and Utopia by Robert Nozick
      More of a modern classic—whatever that means—, Nozick tries, but the entire idea is based on a faulty premise and wishful thinking. I understand he walked back some of his position in his later years (of which there weren’t many), but he never quite jumped off the Libertarian bandwagon.
    7. On Liberty and Utilitarianism by John Stuart Mill were refreshing, as I mention here. Whilst I don’t agree with his consequentialism, I appreciate what he has to say. Ultimately, he demonstrates what is wrong with empiricism. Still, definitely worth the read.
    8. The Republic by Plato
      I found this book to be sophomoric and lame logic. I truly don’t understand how this tripe is revered. It’s like listening to some random dude tripping balls at a party. It’s saving grace is his Allegory of the Cave, but I could have read that on the back of a cereal box. I didn’t need it to be buried in a book.
    9. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism by Max Weber
      Not a favourite in the least. Probably the least interesting book I read in 2017. If I read a worse book, I mercifully put it aside and didn’t slog through it. Let’s just say I read this. Check that box. This was the epitome of boring. I almost quit, but as it was relatively short, I persevered. Weber’s main point of how Calvinism created the environment to allow Capitalism to flourish, could have been presented as a pamphlet. I was not interested in the deep historical perspective. YMMV
  • Great Courses
    In addition to reading and listening to the books above, I enjoyed several courses, which I recommend highly and I’d be remiss not to mention. Follow the links to read about them. 

    1. The Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Derrida (publisher)
    2. No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life  (publisher)