Saturday, February 14, 2015

To Sound Smart, Go Negative

A relevant and disappointing article surfaced in WIRED recently - "A Sad Fact of Life: It’s Actually Smart to Be Mean Online"

Some excerpts:
She took a group of 55 students, roughly half men, half women, and showed them excerpts from two book reviews printed in an issue of The New York Times. The same reviewer wrote both, but Amabile anonymized them and tweaked the language to produce two versions of each—one positive, one negative. Then she asked the students to evaluate the reviewer's intelligence.
The verdict was clear: The students thought the negative author was smarter than the positive one—“by a lot,” Amabile tells me. Most said the nastier critic was “more competent.” Granted, being negative wasn't all upside—they also rated the harsh reviewer as “less warm and more cruel, not as nice,” she says. “But definitely smarter.”
Other studies show that when we seek to impress someone with our massive gray matter, we spout sour and negative opinions. In a follow-up experiment, Bryan Gibson, a psychologist at Central Michigan University, took a group of 117 students (about two-thirds female) and had them watch a short movie and write a review that they would then show to a partner. Gibson's team told some of the reviewers to try to make their partner feel warmly toward them; others were told to try to appear smart. You guessed it: Those who were trying to seem brainy went significantly more negative than those trying to be endearing.

There we have it.

Perhaps there is a physical reality that means it is more effort to be lucid and critical, so it would not be so bizarre that we find negativity to be more intelligent. More effort, more thinking must be involved. Right?

The downside is that on the internet, it's easy to have the appearance of credibility. If the reader is willing to share a few assumptions, it's simple enough to string sentences together in a semi-logical way and successfully preach to one choir or another. One does not even need to wear pants while assailing the world with their insight.

And there is no end to the issues that we should be concerned about. Climate change, vaccination rates, pollution, war, economic problems... a safe default is to be concerned all the time about all the things.

Except the train of all things terrible must eventually stop. Nothing can be perfect, but life in many aspects can be quite acceptable. Not every day in one's life can be an ordeal of harassment and destruction of one's civil rights.

Sadly, nobody wants to read about how great one's day was. Content creators have incentives to make every day the worst day. Moreover, "activists" face incentives to create drama and outrage out of ambiguous situations.  As Scott Alexander explains, animal rights groups like PETA will be attracted to create fireworks out of trivialities (pet ownership, perhaps?) rather than fix issues everyone seems to agree with. Similarly, contemporary "feminist" journalism may be condemned to always champion confusing antiheroes simply to court controversy.

There's writing polemic, pushing boundaries, and thinking critically - and then there is pseudo-intellectual trolling and activist delusions of grandeur.

It's fun to participate in all of the above, but maybe the lot of it is thoroughly stupid.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Feminism Likes Big Buts

The subject of campus rape remains a subject of concern, as it should, and Amanda Hess wrote a decent article in Slate on the subject of drunk sex.

An interesting disclaimer was put into the article:
And I’m not raising the specter of false accusations, the rare phenomenon in which a vengeful woman “cries rape” after engaging in consensual sex (or no sexual activity at all).

The article linked to is a piece by Cathy Young, describing a case where a xoJane commenter completely falsified a story about a musician. Amanda Hess' piece wishes to speak about cases where both parties are drunk and what that means as far as legal consent is concerned. It's interesting to consider that the latter not being in the same category of "false accusation", as for an allegation to be false it does not actually need to be a lie with malicious intent.

That is, perhaps Brian Williams actually believes most of the things he says - this does not change the fact that they are false allegations when viewed in the perspective of any reasonable person.

This "but I'm not talking about false allegations" to keep the pseudofeminist hivemind at bay was actually not the biggest but in feminism-related commentary this week -

Where to even begin.

It seems odd that, at a moment when we’re finally making headway on campus assault – with White House-backed initiatives, rape victims sharing their stories, and students mobilizing to make their campuses safer and more responsive to sexual violence – the response from some quarters is to worry for men’s futures rather than celebrate women’s potential safety.

It seems odd we are to celebrate the posturing by the administration and universities that ultimately has not been shown to have made any real changes. "Potential safety" could not be a more accurate portrayal of what has been going on.

No one wants to see innocent people accused of horrible crimes, but there is a distinct lack of evidence that young men on college campuses – even the ones who have raped women – are suffering any harm due to the increased focus on ending rape.

Here is the but that Valenti thought was good enough to highlight in a tweet. It's a long way of saying the ends justify the means. Valenti admits that someone is going to be smeared with little evidence, then bemoans how little evidence there is that enough punishment is happening. Evidence is apparently something that matters only sometimes.

Rape remains a chronically underreported crime, and only 2% of rapists ever spend a day in jail. On college campuses, only 10 to 25% of rapists are expelled,less than half are suspended and many are given university-mandated“punishments” like writing a research paper or an apology letter.

This paragraph is ridiculous for a number of reasons. First, the efforts by the White House and campus tribunals have never even attempted to put more people in prison nor do they have the power to do so. Valenti knows this, so why it appears as a criticism here is bizarre.

Second, watch this phrase:
"only 10 to 25% of rapists are expelled"
This statistic comes from this link. Which then redirects one to this NPR article, which includes the following:

Colleges almost never expel men who are found responsible for sexual assault
Reporters at CPI discovered a database of about 130 colleges and universities given federal grants because they wanted to do a better job dealing with sexual assault. But the database shows that even when men at those schools were found responsible for sexual assault, only 10 to 25 percent of them were expelled.
The Center for Public Integrity reports it as such:

Though limited in scope, the database offers a window into sanctioning by school administrations. It shows that colleges seldom expel men who are found “responsible” for sexual assault; indeed, these schools permanently kicked out only 10 to 25 percent of such students.

NPR reported the people as responsible for "sexual assault". Al-Jazeera included this as a subheading of "male college rapists". Valenti went with Al-Jazeera's subheading.

Does Valenti and Al-Jazeera not understand the difference between sexual assault and rape? Do we need to explain this?

Let's say a woman files a complaint with a university officials that a fellow student grabbed her bottom at a campus bar. This would, in the English language, qualify as a "sexual assault". However it is not a "rape" by any means. Imagine the man is brought before the university administration and the institution finds him absolutely culpable, as it should.

In Valenti's feminist utopia, (borrowing from Filipovic for a moment) what ought to happen then is the man should be forever exiled from campus -- as he is a rapist. The statistics say so!

I also believe that the disproportionate worry for accused rapists over their victims boils down to a fundamental distrust of women.

The rape truthers’ belief that any increasing efforts to stop rape and hold more accusers accountable will hurt innocent men is, at best, magical thinking. While multiple female rape victims at 89 different colleges have filed suits citing Title IX violations and unfair treatment by school administrators, there has not been one recent public case of a wrongly-accused male student who suffered significant, permanent legal harm at the hands of a malicious accuser. That hasn’t stopped people from trying to identify one, though.

Ah yes, Title IX complaints. "Look at the Title IX complaints, they matter!" After already destroying statistics (Charles Blow and nearly everyone else also get the numbers wrong) we're going to spend time counting Title IX complaints.

The thing about counting Title IX complaints is that it is a metric that will never change. It's safe to say that every sizable school will screw up something worthy of filing a complaint on an annual basis. All large academic institutions can be thought of as permanently under investigation, as the government will always be asked by concerned parties to do so.

Perhaps it's time to make a wager. If a single school of sufficient size can have a record clean of Title IX complaints for a span of three years, then it's a metric worth following. There is no evidence to suggest that Title IX complaints are not simply the new normal, as even if mistakes are not made complaints will still be filed.

Revisiting this sentence:
"there has not been one recent public case of a wrongly-accused male student who suffered significant, permanent legal harm at the hands of a malicious accuser."

Notice how the words "recent" and "legal" makes the word "harm" nearly meaningless. According to this sentence, the accused are only truly damaged within the confines of a court of law -- and only within some time span that Valenti does not disclose. Those are apparently the only true victims of false allegations. There is some level of irony here.

Later, Valenti points out:
"no school has ever had their funding taken away because of a Title IX violation."
Why would this be infuriating? The threat of a funding loss does not mean that a funding loss needs to happen. It's like threatening employees with dismissal - it's entirely possible that compliance is achieved without terminating people to set an example.

All this said, Valenti's biggest critic remains Valenti:

The tagline:
"Reporting, prosecution and incarceration haven’t eliminated intimate partner violence. Some new solutions offer women hope"
But some advocates say that the focus of mainstream anti-violence organizations – relying on statistics, reporting assaults to police and putting offenders in prison – while well-meaning, may be part of the problem. Grassroots activists believe this broad brush approach is a mistake, and instead are working on alternative methods, from restorative justice to iPhone apps, to tackle violence from a community mindset.

Yes, Valenti wrote a piece about how prison is not always a fantastic idea just a few months before demanding that more men go to jail. Valenti thinks the public at large disagrees with her as there is a  "fundamental distrust of women". Maybe people just cannot follow the incoherence of contemporary "feminist" activism.

"Restorative justice is great, but..."

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Islamophobia and Chapel Hill

A man in North Carolina has killed three college students. The victims were two women and one man. All victims were muslim and of Arab descent.

It must be admitted that at least one person was reading early reports on Twitter with the morbid and regrettable hope that the suspect was not a man, not white and definitely not a secularist. If the murders could be branded just another "honor killing", it would be simpler to reconcile with certain worldviews.

The suspect is by many accounts a left-leaning, pro-choice, pro-LGBT secularist. Not a right-wing Christian nutjob, not a delirious escaped inmate, not a Brevik-like manifesto-wielding psychopath, but a seemingly regular guy that likes to read Richard Dawkins and watch Rachel Maddow.

It meets all the qualifications of a racist and Islamophobic hate crime like the shooting in Wisconsin.

Some may run to point out to claim that the inevitable comparison to the Charlie Hebdo shooting is a false equivalence. Others may point out that the shooter may have been motivated by a pitiful neighborhood parking dispute and not out of anti-theistic rage.

Regardless, what matters is that it's immensely disappointing, tragic, outrageous and unacceptable that secular folks are not better than such violence. It matters not whether the trigger was a hijab or a parking spot. If believing in a higher power makes one relax about parking spaces, then within modern life it is absolutely a moral obligation to take up monotheism.

This blog is decidedly "Islamophobic" and will remain so, if that word has any meaning. Islam is a terrifying dogma that too many confuse for a social, economic and legal policy. At the same time, hijabs should not be confused with threats and parking spaces should not be confused with things that are worth killing over.

There is another escape route to be closed for some on the secular left - it may be said the shooter was a "pro-gun nut", which would put him at odds with many "sensible" supporters of the grand secular conspiracy. While it's true that many of the secular left would not have armed this man, pointing this out is ultimately a derailment. If the man had not a gun, he would have victimized these youth with his fists and given well-read "progressive" secular "rationality" just as much to think about.

As everything is politics, many things recently said about Islam by secularists will be viewed with a sense of irony. It is the time to hear this criticism and be better for it.

It's difficult to find enough words to condemn this man's actions, but the search is meaningful.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Is Rape Complicated?

Recently Cathy Young published an article on The Daily Beast that included a lot of information from the perspective the accused rapist in allegations at Columbia University that have become a form of performance art.

Young's piece is straightforward to understand as it is largely simply reporting on the perspective of the accused - the accused denies the allegations and provides evidence he feels exonerates him. Much of the evidence happens to be recorded communications of the accuser(s) being friendly with him in Facebook chats and emails after the purported assaults occurred.

The accused seeks to show that the allegations are false by demonstrating that the accusers were absolutely cordial with him even though he's supposed to have terrorized their lives as far as to warrant his expulsion. The argument is that if they are being nice to the alleged perpetrator at the same time as plotting his demise, the chances they are lying out of insanity or jealousy increases.

"Feminists" rush out to loudly proclaim the simple fact that rape victims do not need their behavior policed - being polite does not mean someone has not been victimized.

It's absolutely true that victims do not have to fit a profile of behavior. Everyone deals with trauma differently. Perhaps most relevant to this story, victims cannot be expected to immediately verbally dress down their abuser in order for their claims to be taken seriously.

Yet there is something missing about this empathetic view of victims. Too often "activists" have already decided who the victim is - calculations about the victim's feelings are interesting only in that they paint the foregone conclusion in an ever more sympathetic light.

The mantra often repeated from accusers and their advocates is "Why would I lie?"

A potentially similar statement that often remains unvoiced is "Why would I rape?"

It's very black and white. The accuser is a complex character in a confusing situation, dealing with conflicting emotions and motivations.

Meanwhile, the accused is to be a simple sexual sadist. Blurred lines do not exist - the accused is a horny automaton that knowingly steamrolled consent. The only thing to do now is to exile the cancer from the community.

Easy, right? Perhaps one can be convinced after seeing manipulations of statistics pointing whichever way the author wants. Opinion pieces give us good reason to believe that rape is a complex subject. Bizarrely, this is said to be another reason why skepticism is a bad thing!

It seems the best course of action is to withhold judgment until more information is known. Yet there are elements that believe fact-finding and character witnesses are tools to be used in only one way, that is in support of the "survivor". "Believe survivors" is an ideological talking point repeated so early and often that it becomes a weapon to crush any hope that a transparent investigation into what exactly transpired will occur.

While it is not true that one person must be a rapist or the other is a liar, the topic is so poisonous that nobody is thinking at all about the possibility that neither party is actually a culpable and abusive evil. The choice narrows and lines are drawn.

But are "Why would I lie?" / "Why would I rape?" not questions with the same answer?

"Because you need help."