New Feminism


Based on the newest French initiative, I propose a new way to eliminate oppression of the women in our civilized society.  Oppressed women shall be fined.  There must be zero tolerance for all forms of women’s oppression.  Oppressed women must absolutely stop being oppressed or they shall be banned from all public places including beaches, […]

A Fine Example of Civilized Behavior


Among the few things making humans different from animals is clothing.  No animals clothe themselves.  People who don’t use clothes are often looked down upon as savages.  I also thought that teenage boys would normally show more interest for unclothed women than for fully clothed ones.  Apparently, these stereotypes become outdated.  There is a fierce debate in France on the issue of whether bathing suits fully covering women’s bodies (a. k. a. “burkini”) are acceptable in a civilized society.  The debate is not new, but it was rekindled by this brawl on a Corsican beach:

Witnesses say the brawl began after the Muslim families objected to photos being taken by a tourist. When a local teenager, with a group of friends on the beach, also took a photo the brawl erupted. Stones and bottles were thrown… Soon about 40 men from Sisco arrived to defend the youths, witnesses said, and one of the men was slashed with a harpoon blade.  According to Le Figaro newspaper (in French), some of the older men in the bathing party had attacked the teenagers with hatchets. Villagers allegedly then set alight cars belonging to the bathers.

So, what does the government do?  Do they punish the disturbed obnoxious teenagers taking photos of fully clothed women instead of watching photos of naked ones on their computers?  Do they send a message that men should not attack each other with hatchets and stones?  No.  They call the burkini “profoundly archaic” and “outdated ideas” and ban them from public beaches…

Wait a minute here.  So, if a woman shows up on a beach fully clothed rather than naked, she risks being called barbarian. She will be surrounded by tourists and troubled teenagers trying to photograph her like a wild animal.  This world is, definitely, changing.  This is quite weird. Not only direct sun rays are shown to cause skin cancer, but I also find burkini quite beautiful.

And the last, but not the least point in this story.  The brawl over burkini erupted between men.  Look at the pictures and videos in the news articles.  How many women do you see?  Men tell women what they must or must not wear believing that this somehow protects women’s rights.  But strangest of all, they persecute women for being oppressed.  Makese sense, doesn’t it?  Ahem…, gentlemen,… I understand the eagerness to free the women from oppression, but, maybe, we can ask the ladies what they want to wear?  Perhaps, women have other reasons to dress or undress than to impress or please the men?  Just a thought…

 

The Shackles of Freedom


I was recently reading Richard Stallman’s Personal Site.  Richard Stallman is a legendary software activist who promotes the idea of Free Software.  He is most famous for his GNU project, Emacs text editor, Free Software Foundation, and GNU General Public License (GPL).  His ideas are interesting and highly influential.  GPL, for example, grants people freedom to run, distribute, and modify software under the condition that the modified and distributed software is shared under the same license.  Ability to change implies Open Source Software (OSS).  The word “free” does not mean “free of charge”.  It means freedom to do anything with the code and fully examine and understand what the code does and how.

Richard Stallman tries to live according to his own principles.  He refuses to use any non-free software.  Thus, Windows, Apple, and Google with its Android, Gmail, Maps, Google Drive, and a host of other useful things are off-limits for him.  He believes these companies are unethical and exploit their users in a most outrageous way.  He also does not use Amazon, Facebook, Skype, and Spotify because these companies snoop on their customers.  Any website (such as this one) running complicated JavaScript code is an abomination and a stench in Richard Stallman’s nostrils. He abhors  ebooks as ebook distributors dictate the users what they may and may not do with their book copies.

Richard Stallman is very careful (I’d say, paranoid) about things requiring his identification:

I am careful in how I use the Internet.

I generally do not connect to web sites from my own machine, aside from a few sites I have some special relationship with. I usually fetch web pages from other sites by sending mail to a program (see git://git.gnu.org/womb/hacks.git) that fetches them, much like wget, and then mails them back to me. Then I look at them using a web browser, unless it is easy to see the text in the HTML page directly. I usually try lynx first, then a graphical browser if the page needs it (using konqueror, which won’t fetch from other sites in such a situation).

I occasionally also browse unrelated sites using IceCat via Tor. Except for rare cases, I do not identify myself to them. I think that is enough to prevent my browsing from being connected with me.

I never pay for anything on the Web. Anything on the net that requires payment, I don’t do. (I made an exception for the fees for the stallman.org domain, since that is connected with me anyway.) I also avoid paying with credit cards.

I would not mind paying for a copy of an e-book or music recording on the Internet if I could do so anonymously, and it were ethical in other ways (no DRM or EULA). But that option almost never exists. I keep looking for ways to make it exist.

How I do my computing

Stallman avoids any services requiring his personal identification: Uber (perhaps, for good reason – Uber does seem unethical), Amtrak, Netflix, Airbnb.  Apparently, he flies airplanes occasionally as he visited China, Greece, and Israel among other countries.  It’s hard to travel overseas anonymously. I wonder why he does not object being identified and searched in the airports.  I personally consider it humiliating to take off my shoes to go through stupid gates and being searched by TSA officers. He does not seem to be against filing income tax returns as he has scorned the “shared economy” companies (Uber, Airbnb) for using offshore tax havens.  This is another inconsistency as many people believe income tax is unconstitutional and a great infringement on multiple constitutional freedoms.  (Disclaimer: the author of those writings, Irwin Schiff, has died in prison in 2015 where he was put by the federal government, technically, for not paying taxes).  It would be interesting to find out how Richard Stallman reconciles flying airplanes and filing income tax returns with his principles.

I read all this and thought “Wow!  Is there a limitation that one would not be willing to impose on himself for the sake of freedom?”

“Doublethink” is the Test of a First-Rate Intelligence


Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.
George Orwell, “1984”

The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
F. Scott Fitzgerald

ergo

Doublethink is the test of a first-rate intelligence.

Q.E.D.

Justice vs. Forgiveness and Mercy


Much of religion revolves around justice.  Christians believe in the final judgment day when the evildoers will be punished and the righteous will be rewarded.  At the same time, forgiveness and mercy are also at the very foundation of the Christian faith.  Justice and forgiveness seem to be incompatible with each other.  Atheists exploit this conflict to make a point that Christianity is immoral.

I think, the contradiction is in the reciprocity of these concepts.

An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.

This expression attributed to Gandhi, but, perhaps existing long before Gandhi, shows the flaw in the biblical concept of justice. “An eye for an eye” approach creates a vicious cycle of violence that can only be broken by forgiveness.  Forgiveness and mercy, on the other hand, are supposed to create forgiveness and mercy in return.  But sometimes they don’t.

Reciprocal relations have to start small and build on themselves.  When I don’t know if I can trust a stranger, I trust him with something small. Then I build my trust on my experience.  Trust builds on trust, but it starts unconditionally.  It justifies itself, like faith. Or, rather, it’s justified by the experience of practicing it. In the same way, we can find out if forgiveness is worthwhile.

Dialogues with Atheists I


One of my old dialogues with an atheist on an atheist forum. I was asked what I actually believe, which was unusual. I shared some thoughts I find worth repeating here.


Chuck,

I appreciate your interest. I’ve seen a lot of condemnation and criticism in atheist forums, I have not seen much interest to understand.

I believe, there is a force that “makes things happen” – in the physical world, but, most importantly, in our minds. There is “something” that drives us towards a better life – justice, love, etc. I think, it’s a simple human belief, and many atheists may believe the same thing. For me, it is hard to imagine the possibility of any social progress without such belief. I believe that we should seek to understand this force and submit to it. Christians may call it “the Holy Spirit”, atheists may say, it’s “genetic code”, but those are just words, placeholders for the concept. We are talking about the same thing, whether we want it or not.

We only understand what we can visualize. Some people visualize God as an old man with a beard in the sky. Some visualize the Holy Spirit as a dove, light, or water. I don’t think, any of those are correct visualizations. I may agree that “God” of the OT who writes with a finger on stone tablets and walls and speaks from a cloud or Jesus of the NT are fictional characters – attempts to visualize the concepts. You know wisdom when you see it. It may come from Tom Sawyer, Daffy Duck, Winnie the Pooh, Cat in the Hat, or Jesus. God is wisdom, not Daffy Duck. As for Jesus, even Christians believe, he was a man. If I think of Jesus in a sense that I described, it does not matter to me if he is fictional. I view the virgin birth and physical resurrection as symbols. The Bible is full of such symbols and metaphors. Such views do not contradict the idea that Jesus can save us (where “Jesus” is a visualization of the “force” driving us towards good).

You said,

“I see the Pope and many other religious leaders as scriptwriters and ventriloquists who push people around by saying “You had better obey because it is the word of God.”

I agree. I do not like this tone either. In a church where I go, there were several sermons on this very issue with the main thought “do not put your own words in God’s mouth, put God’s words into your mouth”. In NT, this was frequently an issue between Jesus and the Pharisees. They were trying to push their agenda on him using the letter of the law. So, your attitude is not “anti-Christian”. In fact, I find it Christian. We don’t need a performance of a ventriloquist. Frequently, it’s enough to step into a church to see such performance.

“Do you believe in a self-conscious God?”

I don’t think, I can make a coherent speech on this subject. Just to show the nonsense of this question, I will try. He is supposed to be conscious of everything. That includes himself, doesn’t it? Also, without self-consciousness, how can one feel compassion? Or how can one feel compassion without the ability to be hurt or harmed or feel pain? On the other hand, I’m not sure if being conscious of everything is different than being conscious of nothing. Both concepts are nonsense. It only makes sense to be conscious of something in particular. Once we say “I’m conscious of X”, we must be conscious of our consciousness. Being conscious of my consciousness makes as much sense as knowledge of knowledge, beliefs about beliefs, and reasoning about the reason. This does not make much sense, does it? As I said above, such questions are only useful to show the limits of our reasoning abilities. They simply short-circuit our logic machine. We have to step outside this logic machine to comprehend the issue.

“Does God have thoughts and desires? Is he a jealous and angry God?”

Can a force have thoughts and desires or be jealous and angry or be conscious of itself? We give these attributes to the forces with our metaphoric language (furious storm, calm weather). And we have to understand these forces to survive.

“Does he create things and destroy things?”

You can say, “things appear and disappear”, or “being created and destroyed”. It’s linguistics which reflects how we think about things. These two phrases say the same thing.

“Am I risking one of God’s lightning bolts by typing these insolent questions?”

We all are risking to die the next minute. We’d better do something good while we can.

Intelligent Design. What Does It Mean?


Some time ago, I made a post “Created or Evolved?” arguing that technology which is thought to be created, in fact, does not have a specific creator and rather evolves.

In my previous post, “Intelligence is in the Eye of the Beholder“, I pointed out that the term intelligence refers to the level of complexity.  The term intelligent is usually reserved for systems complex enough that we don’t quite understand their behavior.  Once we fully understand the system behavior, the illusion of intelligence disappears.  This is why, although we have very complex devices today doing very sophisticated things, it is still believed that “artificial intelligence” (AI, for short) is still in the future.  I think, it will always be.

Another necessary feature of intelligence is a perceived purpose.  If we don’t see a purpose in system’s behavior, we don’t call the system intelligent.

Now, let’s put the pieces together and answer the question, was the world intelligently designed by a creator or has it evolved?  Since even things created by humans do not have a single creator and rely on fusion of ideas to evolve from simple to complex, the world has, certainly, evolved.  However, when a system appears to have a purpose and we do not fully understand how it works, we tend to consider it intelligent or designed by an intelligent agent. And the world does seem to fit this description.

Intelligence is in the Eye of the Beholder


SelfAwarePatterns has recently made a post titled “Let artificial intelligence evolve? Probably fruitless, possibly dangerous” arguing that if we want to create intelligent machines, we must let them survive in the real world and let them evolve.  I made a comment that may be worth turning into a post.

I said

Intelligence is in the eye of the beholder. “Intelligence”, perhaps, refers to the level of complexity. When a machine is complex enough that we do not understand how it makes decisions to do certain things, we call it “intelligent”. But when we understand how machine’s actions are triggered, the impression of “intelligence” disappears.

For instance, my smartphone may suddenly tell me: “Hey, if you want to be in time for that meeting, you’d better start now and, by the way, avoid that highway – there is an accident near exit 69.” That’s intelligent, right? How did it come up with such a timely and useful message? But, of course, the smartphone “knows” about the time and place of my next meeting from my Google Calendar. It also knows my current location from GPS and can calculate how long it takes to get to the meeting using Google Maps. It also knows about the traffic based on the information from thousands of smartphones on the road aggregated at the Google server. The smartphone does not just “decide” that this message would be useful to me. The smartphone knows nothing of being useful. It is programmed to do things that the designers of Google Now considered useful. So, if we don’t know all these things, the message appears intelligent. But if we do understand how things work, the impression of “intelligence” disappears.

However complex the machine, if it exists, humans (at least, some) must understand how it works. Perhaps, nobody individually, but collectively, there will be a group of experts whose knowledge covers all aspects of the machine. So, perhaps, existing machines will be never considered “intelligent” and the term “intelligent” will always be reserved for some mysterious “next generation”. Of course, nobody has an idea what the next generation of machines will do. So, it’s quite appropriate. On the other hand, we might as well consider that the AI already exists because what I described in my example would certainly blow my mind 20 years ago.

Another thought. “Intelligence” implies purpose. There are very complex natural systems with very complex behavior. But unless they do something that appears useful or purposeful to humans, they are never called “intelligent”. The term “intelligence” seems to be closely related to goal setting and decision making and, therefore, to the question of free will. Before we answer whether machines can be intelligent, we need to answer whether humans are intelligent themselves or are mere automatons. And there is no answer to this question. It’s a matter of philosophical worldview.

 

Toilet Laws Belong in the Toilet


…figuratively, not literally.

These pictures are taken at the First Unitarian Church in Portland, Oregon.  Yes, in a Church.

Just stumbled across this post  calling to Sign the Boycott Target Pledge.  There seems to be an unraveling brouhaha in online media (thanks, Just Merveilleux) around the issue of who goes to which bathroom.

The AFA petition claims

Target’s policy is exactly how sexual predators get access to their victims. And with Target publicly boasting that men can enter women’s bathrooms, where do you think predators are going to go?

Oh, yes! All male sexual predators are going to dress as women and rush to Target bathrooms, overtake them, and stampede our unsuspecting innocent wives and daughters who have a legitimate need to pee in a place designated for this purpose by God almighty. Why? Because that’s exactly how they get access to their victims! They catch the victims when they are most vulnerable – with their pants down, sitting on the toilet in a Target bathroom! And (OMG) it is now legal!

I have a few questions to the proponents of legislation to ban people from using public restrooms based on how they look:

  1. Why can’t a male sexual predator dress like a man and go to a men’s public restroom to harass our unsuspecting innocent husbands and sons?  To follow the AFA logic, we must prohibit men from entering men’s restrooms for the fear that they might commit heinous sexual crimes there.
  2. What is the connection between a person’s appearance and the likelihood that this person is a sexual predator?  Who could imagine that Catholic priests (yes, priests) could molest children?  Should we ban everyone who looks like a priest from entering men’s restrooms?
  3. How are these laws going to be enforced?  Shall Target have a security officer checking patron’s genitalia at the bathroom entrance?
  4. What if a person’s gender is misjudged?  Who will pay compensation to the victims of unwarranted humiliating bathroom police raids subjected to strip searches simply because someone imagined that they may have a different kind of genitalia than one might think?
  5. How would you like being dragged out of a public restroom by a security guard with your pants down because someone thought that you don’t look like a person they thought you look like?
  6. And, finally, why are you so preoccupied with other people’s genitalia?

The proponents of the bathroom laws claim that they “never said that all transgender people are sexual predators”.  However, they clearly imply that anyone who dresses to look like the opposite sex and goes to a public restroom does so for no other purpose than committing sexual offenses.

Just recently, I happened to translate the subtitles for this TED video into Ukrainian.  I agree with the speaker on multiple points.  Instead of banning people from going to public restrooms, the legislators should mandate unisex single-stall restrooms in all public places, just like they mandate wheelchair ramps, accessible parking, and other amenities for people who don’t fit the narrow brackets of “normality”.  I can totally see these facilities used by parents who need to take their children of the opposite sex to a bathroom, for example.

 

Homosexuality is Unnatural


“Homosexuality is unnatural” is the first line of defense of gay marriage opponents.  I used to think so too, just because I’m straight. But what does “unnatural” mean?  “Unnatural” is the opposite of “natural”.  Depending on the context, “natural” can mean a number of things.

“Natural” can refer to something occurring in nature, without human participation.  “Unnatural” in this context means something man-made, something that can be seen only when humans are involved, something that would never develop without human participation.  If homosexuality is unnatural in this context, one would not observe it in wild animals.  A simple search on Wikipedia on “homosexual behavior in animals” reveals this.  Oh, My God!  Just a short list of “homosexual offenders” in the animal world:

Not the bed bugs! I was particularly impressed by the documented case of homosexual necrophilia in mallards.  Here is the link to the original paper PDF.  The author, Kees Moeliker, also made a TED talk about this interesting case with a few additional details, such as an example of a frog engaging in an oral sex with a live goldfish.  This paper and this video come to my mind each time someone uses the word “unnatural”.

Bed bugs, dragonflies, and lizards having homosexual affairs also destroy the myth that homosexual behavior is a choice unless we want to claim that dragonflies have consciousness and can choose what they do.  If God created dragonflies, he must have created homosexuality too.  Can dragonflies sin?

This video in Russian called “Homo sapiens – homosexuality in humans and animals” (you can turn on English subtitles) mentions that homosexual behavior is observed in over 1500 species!  It also shows many interesting examples of the contexts and reasons of it showing that the function of sex is not only reproduction, even in the animal world.

So, it’s not just a “fluke” of nature.  A random event with a negligible probability of observing.  Homosexuality in nature is very common. So, one cannot use “not observed in nature” definition to claim that homosexuality is unnatural.

But there are other meanings of “natural” and “unnatural”.  For example, people may say that “it is natural for the sun to rise in the morning and set in the evening”.  This simply means something commonly observed.   It’s a synonym of “normal”.  So, something not commonly observed or regularly done is identified as “unnatural” or “abnormal”.  “It is unnatural for me to wake up at 3 am” simply means that I normally do not do it. Perhaps, this is what most straight people mean when they say that homosexuality is unnatural.  First of all, other people can regularly do things that I would never do and it would be natural for them.  What is commonly observed in one area or culture can be very uncommon in another.  Even the sun does not rise and set every day in summer or in winter in areas close to the poles.  “Water boils at 100C” is only true at the sea level and on Earth.  On Mars, water does not normally boil at all.  It’s too cold.  This means, we only call homosexuality “unnatural” or “abnormal” because we don’t observe it too often.  But is it a good reason to oppose homosexual marriages?  We don’t see redheads too often as well.  Shall we call red hair a “genetic abnormality” and ban them from marriage also?  Claiming that homosexuality is “abnormal”, that it’s a “genetic deviation”, a “disease” of some sort, seems bogus.  When “unnatural” is used in the sense of an uncommon behavior, opposition to gay marriage is based in mere tradition.  “It has always been this way” (followed by the quotes from Genesis).

Sometimes, “unnatural” means “immoral”.  E.g. “It is unnatural to steal and kill.”  But declaring homosexuality unnatural because it is immoral and immoral because it is unnatural does not make a lot of sense.  One of the two has to be defined using different terms to avoid circular reasoning.

Sometimes, “unnatural” means “disgusting” or “repulsive”.  In this sense, “unnatural” means something a person would not normally do (see notes about “normal” – “abnormal” above).

Bottom line.  Some definitions of “unnatural” do not hold water with respect to homosexuality.  Others lead to circular reasoning.  Those that cannot be refuted, are reduced to 1) physical disgust or 2) tradition, often based in religion.

What other meanings of “natural” and “unnatural” have you seen?  My advice: avoid using words “natural” and “unnatural” in any debates.  In my experience, the most common source of misunderstanding in discussions comes from using different, unclear, or too broad contexts for common words.  Some people claim all we see around us is nature, therefore everything is natural.  Some people believe in supernatural.  If the supernatural is not natural, i.e. unnatural, then God is unnatural too.  “Careful the things you say, children will listen.