Archive for the ‘disturbing the peace’ Category

The Vision of Metropolis

Tuesday, 10 January 2023

Ninety six years ago, on 10 January 1927, the movie Metropolis premiered. Now-a-days, Metropolis is primarily remembered for its robot and for its depiction of a city of great skyscrapers, elevated roadways, and aircraft. Others will remember it for what they take to be a humanistic message about the relationship between physical labors and thought-workers being brought and kept into harmonious relations by kindness. The ideologic subtext is often unrecognized.

Within the social order depicted in the movie, while money is a feature of the economy, that economy seems to be fundamentally technocratic. The city is under the ultimate control of a single institution, with headquarters in der neuen Turm Babel [the New Tower of Babel]. At the least, this institution controls power production and water delivery. The institution seems to employ the entirety or nearly the entirety of a substantial proletariat, living and working underground. The institution can act as a state in response to a violent uprising by this proletariat. Moreover, the head of the institution, Joh[ann] Frederson, is said to be responsible for the city more generally.

Observable, productive members of society, fall into very few classes. The narration and the female protagonist refer metaphorically to the proletariat as die Hände [the hands] and to a managerial class or to its leader as das Hirn [the brain]. Other classes are nearly irrelevant to the conception. For example, those dismissed from managerial positions are said to descend to the proletariat.

(The managerial class and proletariat are depicted as utterly male. Females employed above ground seem all to be young courtesans; females below ground are shown as living with the wage laborers, but not as employed outside the home.)

The work of the proletariat is terrible; their living conditions impoverished. But the proletariat are lacking in intelligence and self-control. When one, Georgy 11811, is rescued by Freder (son of Johann Frederson) from labor that is overwhelming Georgy, and tasked by Freder with going to an apartment to meet with him later, Georgy instead takes money left in his care and goes to the pleasure district, even as his savior suffers in place of Georgy. (Freder's other disciple, drawn from the managerial class, is unfailingly faithful.) Later, with just the one exception of a foreman, each and every man and woman in the underground allow themselves to be persuaded to destroy the machinery running the city, and then thoughtlessly monkey-dance in the ruins even as their children face drowning when water from the reservoir comes flooding into the residential area. Plainly, one wants no dictatorship of this proletariat, nor to have them make any decisions of import.

But, using that robot, Johann Frederson deliberately had the proletariat agitated to such violence, to excuse his bringing them under more repressive control. He's not merely callous, but quite willing to do horrific things to human beings, in order to realize his vision. He only comes to recognize that he has done horrific things when he discovers that his own son may be amongst those killed.

The resolution is to be a new order in which the classes — die Hände und das Hirn — are reconciled by Freder, das Herz [the heart].

Fritz Lang, who co-scripted and directed Metropolis, was reportedly appalled to discover that the National Socialists loved the movie. Despite assurances that he would not be considered Jewish though his mother had been born a Jew, Lang fled Germany. His wife Thea von Harbou, the other scriptwriter and the author of the novelization, was not appalled, and joined the National Socialist Party after divorcing Lang.

The reason that Lang should not have been surprised is that the popular visions of fascism and of Naziism — and the vision of a better society presented by Metropolis — were of a technocratic order in which class distinctions were natural but classes were brought together in harmony. Yes, indeed, the Nation Socialists in particular wanted to wipe-out a great many people on the way to such a harmonious technocratic order, but still such an order was part of their vision.

The bottom line is not that Naziism was somehow less awful because it had the vision of Metropolis and that vision is cool. The bottom line is not that fascism is somehow cool because it has the vision of Metropolis and that vision is cool. The bottom line is that Metropolis has a fascistic vision, and so people should be goddamn'd uncomfortable if they've thought that its vision were cool. They ought to ask themselves Hey, am I, after all, a bit of a fascist?

Most people are. No one ought to be.

Epistemics, Sex, and Gender

Saturday, 15 October 2022

Everyday discussions of epistemics don't require us to discuss foundational epistemology explicitly. Were someone asked how she knew that Johnny and Judy are dating, it would typically be sufficient for that someone to say that Judy were wearing his ring. We don't usually need to ask whether the witness had a false memory or hallucination, mistook someone else for Judy, &c. But it is important always to understand that no one just knows any complex proposition. The only things of which we have perfect knowledge are the things immediately before the mind — such as a feeling of coldness — and then we don't perfectly know their sources. Perhaps some of us are utterly reasonable in constructing models of the world to explain things such as our occasional sensations of coldness; certainly nearly all of us are so convinced of these models that we refer to a major share of their propositions as knowledge. But none of us just knows that Johnny and Judy are dating, that it is cold outside, that his or her eyes are blue, &c. Any reasonable belief in these things is an inference ultimately resting upon primitive experience.

I don't just know how it feels to be a man. I know how it feels to be me; I have memories, which I presume to be reliable, of how it felt to be me; and part of my model of the world (constructed to explain my experience) contains adult male bodies, one of which is my body. And, to that extent, I know how it feels to be a man. When someone else tells me something at odds with my experience of being a man, I don't think Oh, maybe I'm not a man after all! I just infer that the other person is either a man over-generalizing from his own experience or from reports, or is someone who is not a man but engaged in incompetent conjecture. I don't know how it feels to be woman. I don't even know how I would feel if I woke and found that my mind were operating in the body of a woman (which I presume would be different from how I would feel if my mind had for its whole existence operated in a female body). I simply cannot know without the experience. I could, in theory, know that I were unhappy being a man. I could, in theory, know that I wished to have a female body. But I cannot know how it feels to be a woman, and thus in no sense could I know that I somehow had a female mind in a male body. It is impossible for me to know that I am a woman. It is impossible for those who have never had a female body to know that they are girls or women. It is impossible for any of them to just know that they are girls or women. But they can certainly know their unhappiness or know their wishes. And the complement is true of those who never had the experience of being in a male body. They cannot know that they have male minds. It is impossible for those who have never had a male body to know that they are boys or men. It is impossible for any of them to just know that they are boys or men. But they can certainly know their unhappiness or know their wishes.

Hormone treatments are available to make a brain that was supposedly already female be more like an actual female brain and more as if in a female body, or a brain that was supposedly already male be more like an actual male brain and more as if in a male body. But this treatment would be actively absurd if the mind of the subject were already that of the opposite sex. I am not somehow really more a man than my levels of androgen or of testosterone or of estrogen have ever allowed me to be; likewise, I am not somehow really more a woman than my hormones have ever allowed; nor is anyone else. Those receiving such hormone treatments are not of the opposite sex; they are seeking to become more as if of the opposite sex.

If a male body could be made of a female body and vice versa, then it wouldn't matter that the female body had previously been a male body or vice versa. But present technology allows no such thing. A body that has undergone the most extensive reässignment surgery is ruined for purposes of return to its original sexual configuration. What alteration is available is primarily cosmetic, and highly destructive. Testes don't somehow become ovaries or ovaries testes; they are discarded. Breast implants may later be removed, but mammary glands become tissue to be sold or incinerated. The rest of the reproductive system is savaged.

And, if a male body could be made into a female body, or vice versa, then the change would always be something of a leap in the dark. Quite plausibly a great many people would be happy with where they landed, but others would be depressed, shocked, or horrified. With the procedures presently available — with an ultimately irreversible leap — many are indeed depressed, shocked, or horrified, without even the genuine experience of a body with a new sex. I've had at least one friend kill himself because of what he'd had done in trying to be remade into a woman. In the case of children, we are not so much considering leaping in the dark as being picked-up and thrown into the darkness. In ten, twenty, and thirty years, most of those who had been cheering the throwing will speak and write as if society were at fault in the case of those children who discovered that they'd crashed in a terrible place.

Our response to those who have come to desire interaction as if of the opposite sex should not be founded in mystical nonsense; but neither should it be characterized by condemnation or by intolerance. People should not be prohibitted from doing as they will so long as only consenting adults are involved. I think that radical treatments to change an adult's appearance to resemble that of the opposite sex are plausibly the best way for some people to alleviate very great unhappiness. I think that accommodation of such people, treating them as if they are of the opposite sex, is often quite appropriate. However, no one has a right to be treated as something that he or she is not. And, in some cases, very good reasons underlie sexual distinctions and subverting those distinctions is less humane than respecting them.

Much of the discussion of transsexualism has involved confusion — often deliberately fostered — between sex and other definitions of gender. The use of gender to mean sex actually dates to about the same time as it was introduced to refer to the somewhat related but distinct grammatic classification; but, for a time, use of gender in the sexual sense fell away. It began to be repopularized for purposes of euphemism, and continues as a euphemism into the present. The grammatic sense was related to the sexual sense in that things that were male were usually named with words that had the masculine grammatic gender and things that were female were usually named with words that had the feminine grammatic gender; but many things that did not have any sex were named with words having a masculine or feminine grammatic gender even when a neuter grammatic gender was a feature of the language, and some things that had sexes were assigned names with the neuter grammatic gender. Grammatic gender was an often odd social construct.. Grammatic gender and notions of rôles appropriate to each sex each influenced the other. At some time around 1980, the idea began to catch-on of using the term gender not in reference to sex nor in reference to grammatic gender, but to socially or personally constructed notions of those sexual rôles. The scientific and philosophic study of social or personal constructions of sexual rôles is itself very worthwhile; and the analogic appeal of extending gender to refer to such constructions is evident. However, the pre-existing and repopularized use of gender to refer to sex facilitated a hijacking of discourse, which confused sex with a social or personal construct of social rôle, under which hijacking it has been pretended that persons who are masculine are ipso facto male, that persons who are feminine are ipso facto female, that some males are neither male nor female, that some females are neither female nor male, and that any otherwise legitimate distinctions by sex must be replaced with distinctions by personal constructions of sexual rôle.

Of course, more than just grammatic gender or our notions of sexual rôles are here social constructs. Our language and every other language is a social construct, and the taxonomies of biology and of every other science are social constructs. More generally all taxonomies are personal or social constructs. But that does not make propositions subject to falsification by a device of recategorizing things, of exchanging labels amongst categories, or of applying new labels to categories. Rather, with a change of language a proposition is expressed differently; with a relevant change of taxonomy, a proposition involves more or fewer categories. If we adopted the convention of using Earth to mean only the Western Hemisphere, both that and the Eastern Hemisphere would continue as they would under the old taxonomy, rather than the underlying geophysics changing. Propositions about a sex do not become false or true by the device of insisting upon a new definition of man, of woman, of sex, or of gender.

Sexual [Meta]-Preferences

Friday, 20 May 2022

As I noted in an earlier 'blog entry, I use the words choice and choose simply to refer to selection; and, when I say that someone prefers X to Y, I mean that if given a set of mutually exclusive options that include X and Y then Y will never be selected. Some people try to mean something else by one or both of these terms. In the case of choose, they seldom if ever explain what that something might be. R[obert] Duncan Luce proposed to define preference in terms of probability of selection, rather than in an absolute manner as do I; that difference won't bear meaningfully upon what I have to say here.

One might have preferences about one's preferences. For example, preferring-not-to-prefer simultaneously X to Y, Y to Z, and Z to X for any X, Y, and Z. But note that making choices based upon the preferences that one has is different from choosing to have the preferences with which one makes the choice. Choices about preferences are meta-choices; preferences determining meta-choices are meta-preferences.

In theory, all choices could be determined by preferences, all preferences could be meta-chosen, all meta-choices could be determined by meta-preferences, all meta-preferences could be meta-meta-chosen, all meta-meta-choices could be determined by meta-meta-preferences, &c out to any finite level of meta that you might imagine. But the levelling cannot be infinite. At some point, one reaches a level that wasn't chosen. Varieties of choices and preferences that are turtles all the way down are an impossibility. A class of choices cannot have any members if it is defined such that each member is underlain by a choice of that same class. Likewise for preferences.

And hence I come to the expression sexual preference. As introduced and still generally to-day, it refers to what one sexually prefers; it says nothing about what one meta-prefers or meta-chooses. People said to have sexual preferences are thereby said to choose with those preferences, not to have chosen the preferences themselves. Someone said to have heterosexual preferences is not thus said to have chosen heterosexuality itself, and so too of someone said to have homosexual preferences. And if we deny that sexual preferences can be real because they are not underlain by a choice of sexual orientation, then we must claim that all non-sexual preferences are likewise not real, because it's never turtles-all-the-way-down.

The only people who will be offended by the term sexual preference itself will have confused preferences with meta-preferences — or will be those people who have simply embraced the claim that the term is offensive without much thought as to why it should be so. And a rather large group will not actually be offended, but will rôle-play as if offended, because they observe that this behavior is the practice of their political tribe.

On Taking the Law into One's Own Hands

Monday, 17 May 2021

In almost every instance in which the admonition Don't take the law into your own hands! is used, the intention is that one should defer to some other party. But there are various parties to whom one could defer, some of them rival. A choice to defer at all is itself a choice about what is the law and implicitly about how it should be applied. In choosing to defer to one of these parties, rather than to another, one has already taken the law into one's own hands, if only then to let it go. A person is always responsible for such choices. Sometimes, deference is a very appropriate choice, and perhaps even the only appropriate choice, but one is responsible for choosing when and to whom to defer. The only way that a person could perhaps not at all take the law into his-or-her own hands would be in utter passivity — not even acting to draw some other party into the situation as giver or enforcer of law. And, still, to choose passivity would be a choice, and sometimes a morally unacceptable choice.

Those who insist that we should not take the law into our own hands almost always intend that we should defer to those with the most social power concerning law. Various concerns might motivate that intention, but most often the admonition comes from members of that group (state officials), or from people who take it that the social power somehow arises from virtue of some sort, or from those who believe that the only alternative to deferring to those with the most social power is so obviously barbarism that no argument need be made. If a reader believes that I need to critique any of these cases, then he-or-she should comment below to that effect.

Might as Well Be Me

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Every day, I encounter one or more academic studies arguing that this or that historical figure were homosexual.

Then it occurred to me that, should I ever become famous, someone will write an article or monograph or book arguing that I were homosexual.

Then it occurred to me that I won't even have to become famous; there are so many academics who want to argue that someone were homosexual that none of us will be ignored. Sooner or later, in the case of each person for whom there is material to be interpretted, one of those academics will get around to arguing that the person were homosexual.

Then it occurred to me that I might be able to get a publication in a journal of sociology or of gender studies by arguing that I were homosexual. I wonder how that would look on my CV.

I Still Don't Know Why He Ever Liked that Guy

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Years ago, a friend and I were talking about something, and he mentioned Hitler. I declared

I don't know why you ever liked that guy!

in reply to which he barked

Oh! That is a lie![1]

Well, no, it wasn't a lie. I escalated by betting him dinner on the matter. Then I explained to him that, since the truth of a proposition is a precondition for it to be known, one of the ways that I could not know why he'd ever liked Hitler would be if he'd never liked Hitler. Another way would be if I'd never believed that he'd liked Hitler, regardless of how my friend really felt about Hitler.

Indeed, the contradiction of I don't know why you ever liked that guy! is I know why you at some time liked that guy! Formally,[2] [formal logical expression] So,

I don't know why you ever liked that guy!

was a truth (though perhaps not a simple truth, as he'd had trouble seeing it).

Having won the wager, I waived the prize; my objectives in betting had all been met. Now, had he won the wager, then I'm sure that he'd have collected; but had I claimed, as he'd thought, that he'd once liked Hitler, then he'd have been quite justified in extracting the dinner; it would have disincentivized my insulting him in such a way, and off-set the felt sting of the calumny.

[1] That was how he spoke. He often began with Oh!, and when learning English in Hong Kong he had been taught to avoid contractions.

[2] (2015:09/24): I have edited the formal expression, seeking to have it capture more completely the structure of the natural-language expression.

Self-Locating QR Code

Friday, 14 June 2013
QR Code pointing to

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day Is Here!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

To-day, 20 May, is Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. I'm quite disappointed that its founder has retreated; I could not have withdrawn in good conscience, even though my contribution demonstrates that I am pretty poor at working in charcoal: [drawing of the head of a bearded man of Mediterranean stock]

Some people have chosen to draw caricatures, but my objective was simply to violate a grossly illegitimate prohibition. As such, I sought to draw Mohammed. If the death threats become more narrowly focussed on those who creäte caricatures, then I will creäte a caricature.


Wednesday, 18 November 2009

I received notice this morning from eBay:

We received a report about a message you sent to another eBay member through our Email Forwarding System. The message violates the Misuse of eBay Email Forwarding System policy. We want to let you know about the report and invite you to learn more about communication between sellers and buyers. To learn more about the Email Forwarding System guidelines, please go to:

We're taking a neutral position regarding the report we received, but if we continue to receive similar reports, we'll have to investigate. Policy violations can result in a formal warning, a temporary suspension, or an indefinite suspension.

If you have concerns related to this matter, you can contact us by going to:

Well, I'd like to know about what message this complaint was levelled. But, naturally (this being eBay), there's no appropriate option at index_selection.html, and the best fitting options require that in one field I provide a relevant item number or user ID about whom I'm complaining. My own user ID is rejected from this field.

Over the years, eBay, like many other corporations, has modified its interface and protocols to make them dumber in ways that specifically increase the difficulty of confronting it with responsibility.

eBay was founded by Pierre Omidyar, whose user ID is pierre. So I entered that user ID in the field, and it was accepted. Doubtless that, if others do likewise, then the software will be tweaked to prevent it.

Doing the Bidding of the Beast

Friday, 31 July 2009

I am amused by this eBay bid history:

I'll translate:

  • On 27 July, at 11:30:10 PDT, seller posts item with an opening bid of $1.00 and some still unknown reserve price.
  • At 19:36:05 PDT, first bidder enters a maximum bid of $6.16; this does not meet reserve price, so first bid is $1.00.
  • On 29 Jul, at 12:45:05 PDT, second bidder enters a maximum bid of $5.00; entry automatically pushes bid of first bidder to $5.50.
  • 10 seconds later, second bidder enters some maximum bid more than 50¢ than first bidder's maximum bid, and finds that his or her bid is now $6.66.
  • 12 seconds later, second bidder enters some higher maximum bid, but his or her bid remains $6.66.
  • Another 12 seconds later, second bidder enters some even higher maximum bid, but his or her bid remains $6.66.

If the second bidder were to enter a bid not less than the seller's reserve price, then his or her bid would become that. Otherwise, his or her bid will remain at $6.66 until some other bidder enters at least $7.16.

(BtW, I put the words reserve and maximum in quotes, because, as far as I'm concerned, eBay abuses each term, one way or another.)