liv: cartoon of me with long plait, teapot and purple outfit (mini-me)
[personal profile] liv
I often worry about the filter bubble thing, that I surround myself with people who have similar opinions to mine. Equally I take pride in being open to changing my mind, but I'm not sure how much that's really true and how much I just like to tell myself that's who I am. And, well, I don't want to spend my time and energy re-examining everything that ever gets challenged by a crackpot or someone with an agenda other than establishing the truth about the world.

I think I have actually changed some of the core values that underpin my approach to the world, and having twelve years of blog archives does help to convince me that's really true, I'm not just fooling myself. I think the most substantial is that I've, to put it crudely, moved leftwards over my adult life. The main underlying shift is that I've started to accept systematic analyses of society rather than just assuming that everything is about individuals making personal choices. I'm still kind of right of centre in terms of what's usually called "politics" in the narrow sense, though even there I'm somewhat more inclined towards redistribution and centralization than I was.

I've definitely moved quite a long way left in terms of anti-oppression politics / social justice / whatever you want to call that. I started calling myself a feminist some seven years ago, having distanced myself from feminism before that. (PS there are deadnames in that link, so if you knew me under a different identity last decade, be aware.) Equally I was quite homophobic as a teenager and even in my early 20s when I understood myself to be bi; I keep reading things where people claim they've always been in favour of gay rights and marriage equality even back in the 80s, but I remember quite clearly that I was influenced by the context I grew up in and was slow to question that.

So I do worry that there is some other group of people I look down on now and in future I will cringe about the prejudiced opinions I hold. It's probably related to race in some way; I basically am and always have been a kind of useless white anti-racist. As in, I believe that all people are equal and that racial appearance and background should never be grounds for discrimination, but I'm not really doing anything very active about it. I know I'm ignorant about many of the specific issues affecting particular ethnic groups, both globally and for people living as visible minorities within white-dominated countries, and I wouldn't be surprised if I held subconscious prejudices. And perhaps moving towards a more systematic analysis, being aware of institutional and historical and societal racism rather than just bad people doing and saying individual racist things is positive progress there, but still.

So, anyway, what I thought I'd do is make a list of what I'm sure of, and look at the range between stuff which is on some level controversial but I'm confident I've seen enough evidence and really don't expect to change my mind, stuff I'm pretty sure of but could be convinced, and stuff I really don't know about.

Most sure
  1. Vaccines don't cause autism. Not only has the original study been shown to be a complete hoax, more than a decade of intense research has failed to find any sort of link. It's impossible to formally prove a negative, but this is so close to being proved that for practical purposes it might as well be.

  2. No race is genetically superior to any other. There are some people who call themselves skeptics who like to consider the hypothetical of, what if racial hierarchies were scientifically real? But really, people have been desperately trying for a couple of centuries to find a "scientific" basis for racist politics, and never come up with anything even slightly convincing. Again, can't prove a negative, but there's a massive body of evidence now. And frankly it's all too convenient a "what-if", so I don't think it's really skeptical at all, it's that some people really want to feel superior and justify their prejudices.

  3. Homoeopathy doesn't work. At least in the narrow sense; water doesn't have a memory, solutions that have been diluted many times do not have potent or indeed any chemical / medicinal effects. Some of the more general concepts that are sometimes associated with homoeopathy, such as approaches to improving health through changing diet, may possibly have some effect, but I think it's pretty unlikely, and if they do work it's some combination of coincidence and placebo effect.

  4. Gender is mutable, and mostly a product of individuals' reactions to their cultures. I reckon just about everybody is wrong about gender, partly because I suspect what gets called gender is lots of different phenomena which really need to be disentangled before useful facts can be established about them. But the post-modern everybody's gender is whatever they say it is camp are probably, it seems to me, less wrong than the people who think you can predict anything useful from the shape of an unborn baby's external genitalia on an ultrasound, let alone divide people into exactly two classes with distinct characteristics. I am somewhat open to the idea that there are some meaningful differences between genders on average, though clearly there's huge individual variation. I'm very aware that I come from a culture that's really prone to the bias that apparent gender differences are fundamental and innate, but it seems not completely impossible that some reported differences represent something real. There are some correlations between things like height, pelvis shape, shape of genitalia and so on, so it seems not completely impossible that some of those correlations extend to personality and skillsets as well.

  5. Individual actions impact on climate change. This is one area where I have changed my views; as a child I thought the whole environmentalism thing was just a fad. I personally try to make choices that minimize fuel consumption and pollution, but I am not absolutely sure this is worth it. I have seen arguments that the only real way to address climate catastrophe is at an industrial and international level, that there's no point consumers buying energy-saving lightbulbs when the national grid is powered by burning fossil fuels. And arguments that it's already too late, we're doomed anyway, so we might as well enjoy international air-travel and profligate first world lifestyles while we can. And both of those seem not completely implausible to me, but I hold on to the hope that it's worth doing what little I can.

  6. Microloans are a good way to tackle poverty. I want to believe this, cos it suits my capitalist mentality. I feel emotionally that if I were poor, what I'd want from philanthropists would be a loan to help me build my own business, so that I could feel self-sufficient, and if things went well I'd be able to pay the money back and not be indebted. When the idea first came out there were lots of reports about how transformative it can be. But lately I'm seeing convincing arguments that it's actually harmful or inefficient, partly because of the risk of usurious interest rates. And people are arguing that it's just plain better to give money to people directly with no strings attached. So I feel I'm approaching the point where I need to reassess making Kiva the main focus of my charitable donations, even though I'm reluctant to let go of doing that.

  7. The ancient Egyptians were Black (according to modern definitions of race). I have seen passionate and convincing arguments on both sides of this, so I have really no idea.

  8. There are other life-bearing planets. It seems unlikely that life arose in the entire universe exactly once, but to be fair I don't really know how to assess that probability. And we don't positively know of any such planets, obviously.

  9. Humans have free will. I would really like to believe in free will, but it's extremely hard to find evidence either way, and I accept the argument that the concept isn't really well defined.

Really no idea

So I guess I want to keep exposing myself to ideas that challenge my beliefs from lower down the list, and to keep on revising my views as I learn more about the world in my 30s and 40s like I did in my teens and 20s. But I don't want to waste a lot of time in environments where people insist on rehashing dated and almost certainly wrong sexist and racist ideas. Anyway, I've found it to be a useful exercise to examine some of my opinions and think about how certain I am of them.

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Date: 2015-07-02 02:42 am (UTC)
lizcommotion: Two African American men gazing at a sign reading "March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom" (bayard rustin)
From: [personal profile] lizcommotion
this is really interesting! i have a feeling i would cringe if I looked back at some of my old college papers. actually thinking today, I would revise my entire honors thesis if I rewrote it now. >.> so it goes... (good thing I'm not in a state of perpetual revision then!)

regarding #7 I'm going to go all deconstructionist on you and say that as a historian by training, I find it not always useful to apply modern definitions to past times? for example, at my university around pride celebrations we used to have a visibility campaign on campus with "famous historical people who were lgbt" (with a fanicer name but i'll probably dox myself). the problem is, um, "gay culture" and "homosexuality as an identity" are fairly modern concepts? and even for someone 20th century like Eleanor Roosevelt, there is no definitive way to say "yes she definitely was sleeping with this lady friend rather than having a very deep asexual friendship with letters that can be read as very intimate but what does intimate mean". is it really fair to appropriate someone's personal life to further a cause, even one I deem good? also, the point of the campaign was to destigmatize lgbt people and be like, "look this famous person was gay! we're not all deviants!" but the point is that we are just people, and just accept who we are. and I'm kind of going off on a tangent.

as far as race goes..."black" doesn't mean the same thing, now, in South Africa as it does in the United States. being mixed-race ("colored" is a category there not an insult), for example, is a completely *distinct* racial category in South Africa, aside from the very distinct histories and experiences people have gone through, and different economic opportunities and...yes. Just listen to Trevor Noah on South Africa for example.

so...what is even the definition of "gay" or the definition of "black"? is it a cultural definition? well then clearly historically we are SOL. if it's supposed to be biological...there we get dodgy. there is a lot of research that shows that race is NOT biological and is socially constructed (but still real because we believe it is). so people in ancient Egypt may have shown similar phenotypical markers, but does that make them "black"? I think it just makes them "Ancient Egyptians", honestly.

apparently I had thoughts. Sorry! you just are really good at getting them stirred up. that and probably all the stuff going on in the news with, y'know, hate crimes.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-02 02:46 pm (UTC)
lizcommotion: Lily and Chance squished in a cat pile-up on top of a cat tree (buff tabby, black cat with red collar) (Default)
From: [personal profile] lizcommotion
my cat just crashed my response that was quite long.

so, uh, what was i saying?

"whiteness" has changed too, even since the 19th century (as one example). Irish and Italian Americans were not considered fully white for a long time ("no Irish need apply", all the suspicion around Kennedy's presidential run was not just because he was Catholic but also because he was Irish and Catholic, as well as other reasons but yeah that lingered).

TW: early concentration camps (no death chambers) in South Africa pre-WWII
Also, to jump to South Africa again just to show the global differences, during the Anglo-Boer war (1899-1902) over political control in South Africa, a lot of the undercurrent (as I understand it) was about the Afrikaaners feeling oppressed by the British for not being "white enough". The racial tension got passed on down the line later on, so to speak (i.e. apartheid). During the war, one of the first instances of modern, systematic concentration camps were used by the British against the Boers. They were used to house women and children who had been expelled from their land, keep guerrilla fighters under control (via keeping family under control), and keep women and children from supplying the guerrillas. By modern standards, this is white people putting other white people in concentration camps. But for the British then? Not necessarily.
/end TW

many Europeans (particularly the colonial powers like the British and the French) needed a philosophical/scientific/psuedoscientific means of why they were the chosen people post-Darwin. I mean, they still used the Bible, but if we're all descended from common ancestors then that speaks to racial equality right? So thus Social Darwinism, Eugenics, phrenology, and other grody things used to justify racial separatism and superiority for the good of The Empire and Imperialism and Access to Low Cost Goods. That also includes retrofitting history to meet your needs. I haven't done as much study of the history written at this time, but I can tell you that the Order of the Golden Dawn and the Freemasons and a lot of other secret societies with Ancient Lineages that "can be traced back to the ancients" cropped up around this time. (For good history on this, check out Robert Hutton. A lot of his work is on Neo-Paganism, and he doesn't talk as much about the racial implications, but he does trace say the origins of the Golden Dawn or how the origins of "ancient" secret societies influenced neo-Pagans who claimed unbroken lineage to legitimize themselves. FWIW I identify as somewhere in the Buddhist-neoPagan line, I just am cool with accepting the fact that it's "neo" and an interpretation of ancient traditions and new ones just like when I interpret my knitting patterns because I got sick of following the old ones and didn't feel like ripping back.)

tl;dr a lot of ideas about "whiteness" are just as new, and like ideas about race in general they serve to buttress up the system of power and justification for slavery or maintaining Jim Crow and cheap labor and voter suppression, or keeping the lower classes in check in general.

yay sharing ideas! I might try a meme of this myself when I don't have a cat kneading my arms ow Chance u are heavy.

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From: [personal profile] rysmiel - Date: 2015-07-03 04:35 pm (UTC) - Expand

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Date: 2015-07-02 02:49 pm (UTC)
cremains: (Default)
From: [personal profile] cremains
Re: sexual orientation in the past, I mean, what wasn't different? Of course how queerness played out was very different in different times and cultures, and it's hard to relate Greek pedarasty with communities of gay men in the western world today, we don't have many Victorian inverts anymore, etc. But as you note, this is true for "straightness" as well, for nationality, even for gender roles. I feel like people are much more likely to say "X wasn't really black like the modern black people of today" or "X wasn't gay as we have gay people today" than they ever are to say "but X wasn't really Greek in the modern sense" and to say "X wasn't straight/white because straightness/whiteness are modern categories" is basically unheard-of. So I'm actually a little wary of snipping the connection between queerness in different times and eras. We can and should explore differences without closing ourselves off to similarity and, where applicable, solidarity.

ETA: the one place where I do see this is actually in halakhic egalitarianism (gender-blind "orthodoxy") which is based on the idea that we actually have no men OR women today in the sense that we did during classical halakhic development, and/or that everyone today in the western world has a socio-political experience of a "man" as they knew maleness in the days of the Talmud.
Edited Date: 2015-07-02 02:51 pm (UTC)

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Date: 2015-07-02 04:53 am (UTC)
403: Caffiene molecule in yellow and blue. (Caffiene)
From: [personal profile] 403
I recall a post you made some years ago where you were compiling lists of names from different ethnic groups, to be randomly used for patients in tests given to med students. Just so they get used to the idea that they won't necessarily always be working with the WASP demographic. If that's gone anywhere, it's a concrete thing that you've done to reduce institutional racism in the medical profession.

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Date: 2015-07-03 09:08 am (UTC)
403: Listen to the song of the paper cranes... (Cranesong)
From: [personal profile] 403
There are plenty of people who agree in word but not in deed, is all. And every little bit helps. :)

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Date: 2015-07-02 08:43 am (UTC)
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
That's really interesting. I think I'm scared to look back at what I used to believe...

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Date: 2015-07-02 02:47 pm (UTC)
lizcommotion: Lily and Chance squished in a cat pile-up on top of a cat tree (buff tabby, black cat with red collar) (Default)
From: [personal profile] lizcommotion
I know I deleted some of my more embarrassing college papers.
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
I've been thinking several ways about this. One of which is that "free will" as a concept is a mess of overlapping assumptions, many of which have turned out to be unfounded, that give the impression of some sort of paradox.

Another is that "free will" is a feeling, a sensation that "we" make choices unconstrained by "anything" (where "anything" may include "any external agency", or even "the laws of physics").

Another is, when do we make the decision we want to make, and when don't we? We actually don't quite a lot of the time: I want to go to work on time but... oops. I want to quit X... but just one more. I want to make this leap... but agh, scared. Looked at from that perspective, doing what we actually choose to do is frequent but far from the default...
lethargic_man: (reflect)
From: [personal profile] lethargic_man
I like [ profile] rysmiel's argument that there's actually no difference between free will and predeterminism. Predeterminism says you don't have a choice because the current state of the universe determines what will happen next in all cases; free will says you have a choice. But for that choice to be meaningfully free, so it's your choice, it will have to reflect who you are, and what makes you you, what makes you decide the way you do? Answer: everything that's ever happened to you, i.e. the conditions for free choice are the same as those for predeterminism.
jack: (Default)
From: [personal profile] jack
I've sometimes phrased it as something like, if you try to the assumptions:

1. The universe is deterministic (ish)
2. What you do is determined by "you", not anything other than you

You get a contradiction -- assuming "you" is not a subset of the universe. If "you" is the arrangement of stuff in the brain, then them following deterministic laws is you deciding what to do.
rysmiel: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rysmiel
While I did work this one out independently for myself as a teenager, there are philosophical schools built around this notion or broadly similar reconciliations of those concepts; "compatibilist" is the label I have seen associated with them.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-02 10:32 am (UTC)
rmc28: Rachel smiling against background of trees, with newly-cut short hair (Default)
From: [personal profile] rmc28
On microloans, I'm reasonably convinced that no-strings giving directly is better, but in many places a well-run microloan system can make a good difference, and the option there isn't "microloans or direct giving" it's "microloans or nothing". (I'm also influenced by my stepfather who's done economics research on microloans, and thinks they are a Good Thing).

So I don't make Kiva the main focus of my giving, but I do donate some money through Kiva on a regular basis (about once a quarter) and I'm a bit picky about what I'll donate to.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-02 12:04 pm (UTC)
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
From: [personal profile] wildeabandon
WRT 4, there's one very strong psychological correlation with shape of genitals, and that's how attracted you are to people with differently shaped genitals, and that to me is much stronger evidence that there are likely to be other psychological correlations which aren't just societal than any of the physical things like height.

WRT 6 - I would recommend switching from Kiva to Give Directly

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Date: 2015-07-02 01:34 pm (UTC)
wildeabandon: photo of me with wavy hair and gold lipstick (Default)
From: [personal profile] wildeabandon
Yes, that's what I'm saying. I agree that the proportion of people who are Kinsey 0 straight is getting smaller, but it's gotten smaller from about 95% to about 90%, and I don't think the proportion of people who are exclusively Kinsey 6 has gone up much, so it seems highly unlikely to me that they'll meet in the middle.

I agree with your second paragraph, but I find monosexuality so completely alien that I can't easily speculate to what extent it's driven by presentation or physicality, but it is so very common, and it feels to me that that has some bearing on how we view gender.

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Date: 2015-07-02 08:06 pm (UTC)
naath: (Default)
From: [personal profile] naath
Most people I'm aware of experience attraction before they know anything about the shape of the object of their desire's genitals

I find this a bit odd a way of thinking about it, because there a LOTS of things that make me "go off" someone I thought at first glance was cute and now don't want to be involved with. The idea that some people think are on first glance attracted to a person who they later find out has their non-preferred genitals and can't have their preferred type of sex and thus decide that they don't make a very good relationship-partner isn't totally unthinkable to me.

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Date: 2015-07-02 02:22 pm (UTC)
kerrypolka: Contemporary Lois Lane with cellphone (Default)
From: [personal profile] kerrypolka
This is really interesting, because it's very different from how I think about thinking about things. Also apologies because I've just reread this and it sounds like word vomit from a first-year philosophy student, but here it is anyway.

I think I'm more action-focused than knowledge-focused than you are, so one of the things I first look at when deciding to spend time on thinking about something is, will this make a difference in the way I act? If not, I'm less likely to spend time on it. For example, if I knew that there is life on other planets, but that life isn't in contact with us or likely to be, that wouldn't affect how I act, so I'm not going to spend time and energy working out whether I think it's true.

Whether ancient Egyptians were black in the modern sense doesn't have very much impact on how I act, but it does a little bit, mostly around discussing casting of Antony and Cleopatra (yes, I know she was a Ptolemy, there are other Egyptian characters in the show) and remembering to keep in mind that modern categories of race and ethnicity are not fixed objective things. Which I try to do already, so it's really useful in that way (and that it's not known/fixed kind of helps with that too, because it's an example of race/ethnicity not being a definite known and set thing).

I'm also really uncertain that objective knowledge or objective 'truth' exists in any meaningful way when you really drill down into it – not like 'woooo everything is subjective, lying for efficacy is OK', but, like, with No race is genetically superior to another - well, what is 'a race' and who belongs to each one? What is 'superior' (useful in nature? Useful in society? Neither of those things but valued by society?)? What is 'genetically', when we've observed that social factors can change people's physical and psychological attributes, and that this can be inherited? What I would rather do than ask, "Is it 'scientifically real' to say that 'no race is genetically superior to another'?" is ask "Are there significant enough differences between people with different shades of skin to justify people or societies treating them significantly differently as groups?" IE I'm much more bothered about working out the action (is it right to treat/not treat people differently) than with whether or not something is scientifically real (what does scientific mean? WHAT DOES REAL MEAN).

So, eg, whether or not humans have free will has absolutely zero impact on how I decide how to act – if we do, we do, if we don't, we don't – and I really can't imagine my spending much time working it out. A question I do spend a lot of time trying to work out is "what can I do make the world as better as possible?" (Which is quite hard as it turns out.) And knowledge is part of that but I'm mostly bothered with working out knowledge ('knowledge') that can be used to make the world better, which to be fair I think is most of it!
Edited Date: 2015-07-02 02:26 pm (UTC)

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Date: 2015-07-03 08:14 am (UTC)
siderea: (Default)
From: [personal profile] siderea
Whether ancient Egyptians were black in the modern sense doesn't have very much impact on how I act [...]

Well, consciously, no. But if I understand the research correctly, knowing things like that does shift unconscious biases you, definitionally, would be unaware of having, and get expressed in behavior.

Classical conditioning being what it is, we are all programmed by our experiences of the world and come to unconscious models of how things are and how things are likely to be. Our experiences include things like the media we consume, and the semantic knowledge we pick up from school and books and other education.

When we get a white-washed view of history, that doesn't merely misinform us about facts. It shades our unconscious assumptions about what sort of people did which sorts of things – and which sorts of people do which sorts of things.

So correcting those narratives can be important in correcting our mental calibrations, which have been shaped by society that have quite a bit of racial animus in them.

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Date: 2015-07-03 04:56 pm (UTC)
rysmiel: (Default)
From: [personal profile] rysmiel
You've heard me ramble on many of these points before, but fwiw as new things occur to me now.

Individual actions impact on climate change.

Depends on the scale of the actions. Putting myself in a position to professionally contribute to large-scale biofuels projects, for example, feels a thing worth having done that could have substantially more significant positive impact on climate change than whether I am willing to fly internationally.

At the moment, I am reasonably convinced we are less than a billion dollars from either getting fusion to work or determining that it won't be workable at anything plausibly visible from current tech level. I am reasonably convinced we are less than a billion dollars from determining whether induced algal blooms can serve as a large-scale carbon sink effectively enough to be worth using to counter greenhouse gas build-up. I am absolutely sure that we are a lot less than a billion dollars from understanding soil fungi genomics well enough to make a major difference to how much land is agriculturally usable. None of those are plausible as individual actions for more than a tiny handful of individuals, but they're also a good deal smaller as projects than changing the political direction of major countries.

And arguments that it's already too late, we're doomed anyway, so we might as well enjoy international air-travel and profligate first world lifestyles while we can.

That strikes me as a false dichotomy. I do not see that reducing everyone to significantly less comfortable lifestyles than the well-off in the West is either a necessary nor acceptable component of addressing many of the major problems facing us as a species.

Microloans are a good way to tackle poverty. I want to believe this, cos it suits my capitalist mentality. I feel emotionally that if I were poor, what I'd want from philanthropists would be a loan to help me build my own business, so that I could feel self-sufficient, and if things went well I'd be able to pay the money back and not be indebted.

From my emphatically not capitalist mentality, the thing I am most at variance with in that logical construct is the whole notion of not being indebted.

Humans have free will. I would really like to believe in free will, but it's extremely hard to find evidence either way, and I accept the argument that the concept isn't really well defined.

How does ambiguity about free will as a thing interact with what you say above about assuming that everything is about individuals making personal choices, then?

(no subject)

Date: 2015-07-03 05:49 pm (UTC)
From: [personal profile] khronos_keeper
6.) To be honest, I think that in light of living in the US myself, and seeing how society and economy interact, and having lived as the daughter of small business owners my whole life, I have mixed feelings with this,

At least in the dairy industry, the bigger farms are literally owned by the banks simply because of how much debt the actual farm owners are in to these banks.

My parents got something like loan to start off their own small dairy. WHich they paid off within 10 years of operating, and in the 20 years of operating total have taken out small loans to finance things like expensive farm vehicles.

My parents stance on loans as small business operators is that it is literally inevitable, and it's more common than not to end up having to take out so many loans and be in so much debt that you end up working well into your 60s and 70s just to get out from under it.

Keep in mind that the cost of operating small agricultural enterprises in the US generally guarantee that you will live in what would be considered poverty by federal guidelines. So while loans offer good opportunities to stay in business, it's also an extremely toxic and dangerous environment for like 90% of the people who are taking them out. And you still stay in poverty.

So I dunno. There's probably a more effective way to support the small business industry other than loans, but I'm certainly not economically aware enough to hazard suggestions.


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