I’m not a gamer. OK, so I have been known to play some games, but I’m not very good at them and don’t justify committing any significant time improving my playing skills. Besides, I’m fairly occupied outside of the gaming experience. Part of it, I think, is that games I don’t identify with the experience gaming offers. Driving games? No. Flying games? Nope. Shooting games? Nah. Puzzle games. For a few moments, then naw. Building games? Farming games? Role play games? Not so much. That said, many friends and associates play games, so I remain somewhat aware and occasionally participate badly. My son plays certain games, so I am aware enough to allow for a communication thread in the same way I am somewhat conscious of sports because my brother steeps himself in sports. But in practise, I couldn’t tell you the difference between Marcus Rashford and Alex Verdugo.
All of this said, I come upon a piece from a few months ago. Ultimately, it reads like a philosophy on gaming. In the piece, the author, Austin Walker reviews Watch Dogs: Legion and explains why it doesn’t live up to its meta potential. I haven’t played any of the Watch Dog games and might not ever, but his point seems to be that they had the best talent and could have been edgy, but they didn’t. He offers some possible solutions on the edge, but he leaves a fuller solution to the game makers.
For those unfamiliar with the context of Watch Dogs: Legion (as I was), it’s a collaborative anti-establishment game. It promises to rail against the oppressive, ultraconservative, fascist powers through collective action, but as Walker writes, this activity is performative. In the end, nothing changes beyond some superficiality.
Perhaps, this, itself, is the commentary: Nothing changes except at the margins, but I don’t think this was the intent. Instead, it’s about a place to redirect one’s anger and frustration, except there is no resolution. Perhaps it’s supposed to be more about the journey than the destination, but I’m not buying that either.
In any case, rather than summarise Walker’s work, I link to it to speak for itself. And despite its deficits, it still feels it reserves a space not yet occupied by other properties yet, so a little more imagination could inch it into just the right place.
For the record, the last game I enjoyed playing with friends was 7 Days to Die, which I’ve played on and off since 2013 or so. It’s come a long way since it was first released. Interestingly, it’s still in Alpha—some 8 years later, so I’m not sure what that even means anymore.
I haven’t done any film reviews, and I’m not about to start now. I’ve just watched What Still Remains on Netflix.
This is decent post-apocalyptic fare, some catalyst, societies, competing factions, good versus evil, at least in the eyes of the devout. But that’s not what I am going to be writing about.
What still remains contains good writing and strong character development. It does over-employ tropes, but this seems to be the norm these days: modular writing; rearranging the Lego pieces to make something that appears fresh. So what do I have to say?
This is a perfect depiction of the problems with property rights and social contract theory. There are apparently 3 factions—4 if you count independents.
Initially, there were the Changed, never seen on screen and perhaps not even contemporaneous to the current period, though they may reside in the unseen cities. Anna, the protagonist, and her family are among the independent. Peter, a preacher from the ordained, holier than thou faction. In the realm of ‘if you’re not with me (and our God), you’re against me, thence evil’, they are the arbiters of all that is good. And then there are the Berserkers, as named by the Ordained. To the Ordained, Berserkers aspire to be Changed, but the Berserkers view themselves more along the line of Spartans: Pain is good.
All scenes are shot in the wilderness, but the various factions have staked property claims with wide perimeters. The penalty for trespass appears to usually involve death of the offending party—or at least a hefty fee. This is Hobbes’ ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’ life outside of society quip, though he didn’t exactly account for a class of societies despite this being common in his day.
So, these factions don’t actually have property rights; what they have is a notion of property, and they defend it with violence, as is a necessary condition for all property. In so-called modern societies, the violence is obfuscated much in the same manner that supermarkets obscure the carnage behind the meat. It’s still there; it’s just at arm’s length. Violate one of these ‘rights’, and you’ll see the violence inherent in the system.
And then there’s social contract theory—or the gaping flaw in the logic. Anna is an independent, but one can only be as independent as the ability to defend their independence. It’s sort of like contract law. If you can afford to defend a contract, you are entitled to having it enforced.
Redact intellectual property rant.
Anna doesn’t particularly want to belong to either faction, who have divided their world into two pieces in the same manner that, say, Britain and Scotland might have. If you happen to be born there through some loin lottery, you pretty much have to choose a side. Given Sartre’s no excuses policy, you can choose neither; it just won’t bode well for you. You’ve got no real choice.
In Anna’s eyes, upon the death of her mother and brother, she is persuaded with reluctance to return with Peter to his community, a God-fearing bunch. Her mum had indoctrinated her into this cult of God through bible readings, so she was primed for the eventuality. Some independent interlopers attempted to block their return journey by claiming trespass, so Peter summarily offed them rather than paying their ransom—a fee Anna has been willing to tender.
When the two finally reached the sanctuary, Anna quickly realised that she had no say in the matter: she was either a (good) member or (an evil) dead. To reiterate, this is an underlying problem with social contract theory. There is no exit clause.
Side Bar: Some have argued that the cost of coerced—though they’d never use this term—participation and compliance is owed to the greater good. There is no reason given why this is preferred or across which dimensions better is being assessed—or good for that matter—, so don’t ask. Long live Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill with a hat tip to David Hume.
“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.”
Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau each approached social contracts from their own perspectives, but it may be interesting to note that each was a privileged white male of his day. Sure, Hobbes was a monarchist, and Rousseau was the Thoreau of his day, a nostalgist, but he like the others were beneficiaries of the status quo, save perhaps at the margins.
Anna thought she had sovereignty over her choices. In the end, the plot line prevailed, but then again, this was just a movie, so even her choices were scripted.
So, now I’ve gone and done it. I thought that my commentary on prostitution would be a one-off. However, in researching arguments against prostitution, I happened upon this blog, which led me to videos on Elly Arrow’s Youtube channel. To be fair, she self-identifies as ‘a radical feminist from Germany’, and although there are many cultural similarities between the US and Germany, I could be missing some urgency not present here in the US. Please visit her channel and decide for yourself.
At the start, it seems we have many things in common. She Elly declares, ‘I am the humanist, atheist, pro-lesbian, sex industry-abolishing, gender-critical, radical feminist Liberals and Conservatives warned you about’. Whilst, I am not a Humanist, as I feel this is too narrow of a focus on the larger system, I am an atheist, pro-lesbian, gender-critical, and radical, though perhaps not feminist, as, like the term ‘terrorist’, it’s lost all meaning because it’s been coöpted by so many different factions. . I do have to ponder how one can simultaneously be gender-critical and pro-lesbian or a feminist, as both of these rely on gender identity, but I’ll save this for a possible future topic.
Let me get the ad hominem stuff out of the way first. Perhaps she mentions on her blog or in other videos how she came to this place, but I’d like to understand her experiences and motivations that brought here to this conclusion. She says she used to feel differently, so I’d also like to know how she formulated that conclusion, too. It is apparent that she reads a script, which is distracting. Even the choice to read can be edited to sound more natural. It would also make the presentment more succinct. It would also be useful if she would upload her transcripts to the videos so we didn’t have to rely on the auto-translate feature. Pro Tip: This would also help with search indexing and findability.
How To Make The Case For Prostitution Abolition
In this video, Elly gives good advice on how to engage in a ‘debate’.
Make sure your opponent really wants to debate.
Don’t try convincing an opponent all at once. This is a complex issue, and it is unlikely that you will succeed in countering all facets in one conversation.
Yes. This is the basis for propaganda and marketing alike. Chip away and win small battles before you worry about the war.
Assume the other side has good intentions.
Good intentions are not necessarily relevant; rather, assume they have a reason for their convictions without recourse to good or bad intentions. What would be an example of bad intentions in this arena anyway?
Don’t antagonise your opponent.
Indeed. This is likely to lead to escalating commitment, where they dig in their heals and double down.
No ad hominem attacks: Attack the view, not the person.
Solid advice. Continue…
Change minds on the fence.
Sure. If you are in some context where you’ve got onlookers or evesdroppers, make your points, and take wins where they fall.
In the midst of this setup list, Elly slips in some irrelevant commentary about pimps. This is a related but distinctly separate side issue. Later, she tries to conflate sex trafficking and prostitution, which is again a tangential concern but can be resolved independently. In policy, this is known as scope or specificity. This is an intentional misframing of the argument. Don’t fall for this ploy and adopt this frame. You’ll lose the debate by not recognising that she’s switched domains.
Allow me to illustrate this:
We start simply with a canvas of all work.
Then we add ‘sex work’ as a subset of ‘all work’.
Then, let’s add prostitution as a fully contained subset of sex work (and all work). Again, clearly, this is not to scale. Although sex work can be subdivided into categories besides prostitution, cam girls, phone sex operators, pornographic actors, and so on, and some women may operate in more than one of this subcategories, I will ignore them for the sake of this illustration.
Prostitution can be future subdivided into categories of streetwalkers, escorts, call girls, and so on, each sharing aspects whilst retains distinctions. Besides distinctions in services and autonomy, the ranks comprise of women from different socio-economic classes.
Next come ‘pimps’, but before we get to them, let’s recognise for the moment that these people—for better and for worse—provide a supervisory or managerial function. ‘Managers’ exist outside of prostitution, inside the sex industry and out.
Within the sex industry, and particularly within the subset of prostitution, these managers are called pimps, so we’ll focus our attention there. As depicted, not all and perhaps not most prostitutes have pimps. Presumably, there are pimps, if even by some other name, who ‘manage’ sex workers who are not otherwise considered to be prostitutes.
Now that we’ve established that pimps are not involved in all prostitution, let’s step back for a moment before bringing all of this together. First, let’s recognise that there exists a general category of human trafficking. These humans might be domestic workers, manual labourers, or sex workers.
But for the sake of discussion, let’s limit the scope to the subset that is human sex trafficking, again noting that not all prostitution involves human sex trafficking.
Finally, let’s look at the final diagramme. Here we see the overlaps among the entities, and we can see that, theoretically, we can formulate a policy solution that addresses the deeper exploitation without disrupting the broader order of things.
In the end, one cannot simply conflate either human sex trafficking or pimping with prostitution. This is an attempt to win an argument by playing slight of hand with a language shell game. But at no time does Elly create a compelling argument as to why prostitution somehow does not fall into the category of work.
I am not going to enter into debate at this time the issues that Capitalism and Colonialism introduce into the world at large, though I feel that the real debate lies there.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A mate in an online forum turned me onto Raymond Geuss, who’s got just the perspective I’ve been looking for. I’ve felt that the concepts of rights and justice are weak on etymological grounds, but Geuss’ critique is even more fundamental. In his Philosophy and Real Politics, Geuss undercuts the positions of both Nozick and Rawls. I’ve never been a fan of Nozick, but I do consider (have considered) myself to be a bit of a Rawlsian.
Nozick is a key figure underneath Libertarianism, as this movement is very centred on rights. Opting for rights as his starting place as his preface to Anarchy, State, and Utopia:
“Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights).” — Robert Nozick
As Geuss points out, Nozick ‘allows that bald statement to lie flapping and gasping for breath like a large, moribund fish on the deck of a trawler, with no further analysis or discussion, and proceeds to draw consequences from it’. In other words, Nozick leads with an unsubstantiated claim that ‘individuals have rights’, and then ‘advances’ his position tautologically.
As for Rawls, justice is his centrepiece. In his A Theory of Justice, the opening line is “Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought”. He merely starts from this emotional place and advances his theory based on this basis of justice, yet nowhere does he explain of defend why this should be the foundation. As with Nozick, Rawls simply conjures this out of thin air.
“Justice is the first virtue of social institutions, as truth is of systems of thought.” — John Rawls
On top of this, Geuss comments on the shaky etymologic foundation of both justice and rights. Harkening back to the Latin origin of justice,
As Geuss writes, ‘To begin with the question of the concept of “justice,” it is striking how unclear this concept is in ordinary language and to what extent conceptions of justice differ from one context to another and in different human societies at different times. Thus at the beginning of one of the standard treatises of Roman law, the codification made for the emperor Justinian — one of the most influential texts in European history — we find that the very first sentence gives us a definition of “justice”: “iustitia est constans et perpetua voluntas ius suum cuique tribuens.” That is, justice is “the constant and unflagging will to give each person what is due to him.”
“What have the Romans ever done for us?” – Monty Python
Then he goes on to clarify that “what is due to him” is radically different dependant on being a citizen, an alien, a slave, a woman, a minor, and so on. To simplify this, we are stuck in a tautological loop: one is due what one is due, as determined somewhat exogenously.
Rights don’t fare any better, being even more ambiguous, so I don’t feel so bad about pursuing the irrelevance of these virtue concepts on etymological grounds.
As I read his Utilitarianism, I want to like John Stuart Mill. He seems like such a clever man, but he is a victim of his Enlightenment Age. Attempting to fabricate order created by science’s encroachment on the absolutes of religion and the shifting sentiments toward monarchies, Mill tries to replace this moral compass with Jeremy Bentham‘s utility.
£1 ≠ £1
The problem is that despite (sort of) dispensing of religious doctrine, Mill was still fettered by the dogma of virtue ethics of dignity and duty. To this, he adds happiness. Not to go full-on Foucault, but these are concepts leveraged, like religion, to maintain power—take an elevated system in a constructed society, and the duty becomes a burden to the bottom, save for pretence of duty and dignity at the top.
I’ve had an issue with the concept of virtue and all of its offspring: duty, justice, and so on. I’ll likely write about this later. I expect that I’ll be reading Mill’s On Liberty next, so stay tuned.
Ignoring my contention that Utilitarianism is baseless, I have two other issues, using economic examples, each related to prospect theory (pdf):
Regressivity: A person with less money values an incremental dollar more than a person with more money.
Loss to gain asymmetry due to risk aversion: A person values losing a dollar more than earning a dollar, ceteris paribus.
Pareto efficiency, a cornerstone of Classical economics, does not take this into account. For this theory, all dollars are created (or perceived to be) equal, so it doesn’t matter whether person A, who earns £10,000 p.a., or person B, who earns £100.000 p.a., gets £100, but in the real world, person A would give it a higher value, so a transfer from A to B would be an inferior transaction to a B to A transaction.
This said, person B values the £100 more than having gained the amount, but it is not clear how to reconcile (in order to reach perceived parity) what the fair equilibrium would be, allowing that equality of outcome might not be the desired outcome.
I’ve just finished reading Steven Pinker‘s The Blank Slate. Originally published in 2002 (and re-published with an afterword in 2016), it still feels fresh. Pinker offers compelling rationale for accepting that humans are not blank slates entering the world.
Though I am somewhat of a social justice warrior in principle, I am still a moral subjectivist, a post-modern thinker. Pinker shares his strong feelings against subjectivism, but he provides no evidence of the moral objectivism he advances, relying instead on an emotional appeal; in fact, he employs the same defensive tactic his detractors employ, which is to try to make an empathic connection to the reader.
All he does is to claim that there is an objective morality because everybody feels and knows that X is better than Y, taking a strawman approach. It’s not that I disagree with his Xs and Ys; it’s just that they are subjective not objective measures. He tries to slip in an appeal to popularity by claiming that everybody would (or should) feel this way when push comes to shove.
Nietzsche, I think, had it right in Beyond Good and Evil when he pointed out the dual moral systems of masters and slaves. Although a moral (just) system might be best constructed from scratch in the manner of Rawls‘ veil of ignorance, we are not starting from a blank slate. The power structures are already in place. There is a possibility for upward and downward mobility, but large jumps are not likely except in the manner of a lottery. Other than this, it’s unlikely that one will move from one quintile to another and even less likely to skip a quintile, especially on the upward trend.
In any case, the issue is not whether some might feel subjectively better; it’s whether—across all possible dimensions—a relative, stable equilibrium can be found. Even here, this is not objective, even if it’s not otherwise arbitrary or capricious. The larger problem is one of epistemological empiricism—apart from the ontological question—, whether we can know that we’ve found the objective truth or if we’ve just settled on something that works for our current station.
As much as I really do like Steven Pinker, and I await his next book, Enlightenment Now, I do so only to read how he couches his argument in support of Enlightenment and Humanism, two concepts I feel are tainted by hubris
In the video, Lewis knocks down a weak strawman argument about subjectivism. He starts with a backstory about biological evolution. In his setup, he conflates empirical tautological truth with moral truth and paints them as equivalent.
Lewis introduces right and wrong and good and evil in order to provoke an emotional to realists and cognitivists, and attempts to underscore it with an appeal to tradition wrapped in an appeal to authority and positive ad hominem that ‘until modern times, no thinker of the first rank ever doubted that our judgments of value were rational judgments‘ [in situ].
Lewis notes that if one believes that morals are socially conditioned, then we could as soon have been conditioned differently, but he’s just trying to set up his next strawman, which is to say that some subjectivist, say, an educator or reformer, may ask us to improve our morality, and leads into his punchline, that subjectivism will surely ‘be the disease that will certainly end our species‘ [in situ]. I’ll ignore his eternal damnation quip as quaint.
He points out that some indignation toward the Third Reich (Godwin’s Law) is groundless, but what he continues to ignore is that this claim cannot be made on moral grounds. In fact, from the vantage of a Nazi at the time, they were doing the moral thing. Furthermore, had the Nazis won the war, this would be the prevailing morality.
Here Lewis tries to conjure an is from an ought by claiming that without ‘objective standards of good‘, then any ideology is as good as the next, and so he is simply tilting at windmills and arguing with this gossamer strawman. From this condition, he complains that one cannot measure better without an objective measure, so, therefore, there needs to be an objective measure. This, of course, is wishful thinking, like my complaining that I cannot win the lottery without winning the lottery, therefore, I must have won the lottery. (I accept payment by cash, cheque, or Bitcoin.)
In essence, the argument attempts to make a claim that a subjectivist wanting to make a moral claim of ‘better’ or ‘progress’ cannot because there is no ‘better’ or ‘progress’, these terms being subjective. The strawman here is that a subjectivist would make this claim on the basis of moral argumentation. As even Lewis notes, subjectivists claim value judgments as sentiments or complexes, so preferences. This is true; so the claim would be based on a preference rather than on a moral one.
He proclaims that the question ‘why should we preserve the [human] species?’ is somehow profound. It’s a valid question, but, again, it can be answered outside of the realm of morality—constructed or otherwise. Then he goes down some instincts rabbit hole based on this faulty premise but tries to circle back to his standby old universal moral law.
From the rabbit hole down a slippery slope down a rat hole, he rambles anecdotally. Tailing the vid with some supposed objective prescriptions, it mercifully ends.