Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Psychopathic Grooming

Gillette recently appeared to embrace a popular social meme with an advertisement encouraging males denounce their toxic masculinity.

I could write a blog arguing the pros and cons of this particular issue and discuss the controversy around the term toxic masculinity. But I don't intend to for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I am convinced that everyone, even the most fervent supporters of modern feminism, know deep inside that it is not only wrong but also incredibly counter-productive to write off large groups of people based on generalizations. Assigning toxicity to a trait that roughly 50% of the human population possesses is not a positive, ethical, or even effective way forward for society. The toxicity referred to in this case is actually a set of traits that all humans, regardless of sex, are capable of: abuse, condescending, violence, bullying, dismissal of complaints, etc. It is not masculinity that is toxic, it is the behaviours themselves that are toxic. Society's inability to make this differentiation is not surprising considering the widespread ignorance on the scientific method, confounding factors, multi-factorial causation, etc.

Secondly, and more importantly, the reason I won't get into the argument about the meme itself is that, missed amongst the ongoing noise from the gender war, is the appalling behaviour from the company itself. Gillette's approach here is psychopathic.

Psychopaths have numerous traits, including: glib and superficial charm, cunning and manipulativeness, lack of empathy, parasitic lifestyle. In addition, psychopaths are often very capable of mimicking successful societal traits. Psychopaths are frequently charming, drawing people in like moths to a flame with their convincing act that they care about you when in fact they have completely ulterior motives.

It is easy to forget that corporate motive is money. It is easy to be drawn into a corporation's products, their marketing, their message, and to start to believe that they are actually motivated by something other than revenue. They don't. Marketing designed to make consumers feel good about using their products is merely an act, with the sole intention of increasing revenue.

Gillette is no different. They don't care about masculine toxicity. They don't care about men or women in general. They don't care about anything except revenue and profit. And they have taken a calculated risk that this latest marketing ploy will increase revenue and sales. Without question it will increase brand recognition - controversy always does. Gillette's hope in this case is that the increase in brand recognition and free marketing resulting from the controversy will outweigh any negative backlash.

What is particularly abhorrent is the sneakiness of this message; the way a corporation finds a cultural meme, and exploits it to their advantage. The result is an increase in division between the sexes; an increase in the confusion for boys and girls and young men and women about appropriate gender roles or stereotypes. So long as Gillette sales increase, that's OK.

If you glance at any comment section of a news article discussing this ad (see here for example), you'll find people arguing back and forth about the gender issues. Rather, wouldn't it be nice if the dominant comments were dismissive of the corporation involved for being so psychopathic and slimy?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Why I Am Not a Feminist

Wikipedia defines Feminism as: "Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, personal, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. Feminists typically advocate or support the rights and equality of women. ".

Sounds OK, right? Who wouldn't want equal rights and opportunities for both sexes? Initially, the "raw deal" that women have had over the centuries does appear unfair: no vote, often no opportunity to have a career and make as much money as a man, discrimination when women do so, etc. The problem, in my opinion (and I'm admittedly no expert), is that this is a simplistic and sexist point of view in the first place. Years ago I remember hearing a friend who majored in Women's Studies in university being asked the question: "Why is there no Men's Studies major?" Her answer was simply: "You can consider what has happened in the past few thousand years as Men's Studies. This particular friend was a strong feminist. It opened my eyes to the perspective of feminism: that women had been kept down by men throughout history, and that now it was time to turn that around. But is that actually true? I don't think there's any doubt that at times women have been oppressed by men, but is it a common theme in human history? I'm not so sure. Men and women, really male and female primates, have had different roles in family and in society through most of our history for obvious reasons. Maybe it's a generalization, but men have gathered the resources to supply the family or clan with necessities of life while women have nurtured the young and performed many of the necessities at home. Both are vital tasks to survival. Neither is more important than the other, and neither is more valuable than the other. Clearly in modern times, the large advances in technology that have allowed less intensive work on both of those fronts have opened up the possibility to blur the lines between the gender roles.

Fast forward to contemporary times. What I typically sense from most feminists is significant hostility towards men for these past roles, hostility towards men that there are still some differences in gender roles in society. More importantly, though, what I sense is hostility that not only is there not equality between the sexes, but hostility that women aren't more equal (to borrow from Orwell).

An example of what I mean is what occurred this week with the Jian Gomeshi trial in Toronto. There was wide spread outrage at the verdict when Gomeshi was found not guilty of sexual assault. The assumption, from what I could observe mostly from what I would define as feminists, was outrage that this rapist got off. Outrage that the judge was a biased old white man who let a violent women abuser go free. There are a couple of reasons I found that reaction distasteful. Firstly, it is clear that many people had already made up their mind about Gomeshi as soon as the accusations came out. He was guilty. Now there is a miscarriage of justice because we all know he is guilty, yet he was acquitted. Secondly, there was what I would term the blatant sexist view that women in this situation are always telling the truth and men are always lying. The reality of this particular trial is that three women accused a man of sexual assault. In court there was no physical evidence of the crimes, there was only witness testimony. Then in court the witnesses all lied under oath. I ponder what a guilty verdict would mean for society, and particularly for men: that any man could be accused of assault, have the witness lie while under oath in court, and then be found guilty. Frightening. Imagine for a second if the genders were reversed. Would there be the outrage at an acquittal? To me, the outrage is representative of the feminist anger and hostility not that men and women don't have equal rights and opportunities, but anger that women aren't in control of men entirely.

The reason I am not a feminist is that I support equal rights and opportunity for men and women.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Canaries in the Coal Mine

Much has been written about this year's U.S. presidential election, and much more will be written before November. Most of what I read about it is repetitive and predictable - the obsession with Trump, the inevitability of Clinton, the party establishments versus the unconventional candidates. But, all of that is merely window dressing on the main issue, which is the state of the country itself. American presidential elections are disappointing at the best of times. Rarely do you see a candidate emerge who would actually be the best possible president for the country. The system encourages sociopathic corporate sellouts to run. And, apart from rhetoric, little changes with the elections regardless of which party currently holds the White House. There is the usual divisiveness and anger from each side and the claim that, if only their candidate could be elected and unimpeded by an uncooperative partisan congress, then American could be "great again" (whatever that means is of course widely variable depending on the party). The entire four year presidential election cycle is the very definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results." 

For outsiders such as myself, it is easy to look at the candidates, especially the more clown-like ones such as Cruz and Trump, and dismiss them as buffoons who shouldn't be running for office. But, like mold that creeps into the damp corners of a bathroom, strange and idiotic politicians will inevitably emerge to match whatever strange and idiotic desires voters have. People like to blame the politicians and roll their eyes at the latest personification of insanity that the parties offer up, but really they just represent the desires of the electorate. 

So far this election is different in both the level of weirdness in the candidates but also in the longevity of the perhaps the weirdest of candidates, Trump. There have been ridiculous candidates before, but they have typically faded early in favour of more predictable and established candidates. I propose that the shift this year is representative of a shift in the electorate. A shift away from issues to entertainment. Entertainment has always been part of politics, particularly in America, but this year it entertainment seems to be dominating. Watching Trump give a speech, one is struck by his inability to speak clearly to any particular issue, and by the entertainment he offers those tuning in. Since Roman times and before, entertainment as politics is a bad sign. A sign that the issues facing the country are so dire that the people have given up hope of them being solved. One can't help but wonder if deep inside most Americans recognize that the problem of terrorism (or at least the perception of the problem, since it really isn't a significant problem at all) will ever go away. The issue of American engagement in wars in the Middle East is perhaps something Americans are beginning to realize will never end. The fragility of the economy is not something likely to turn around anytime soon, regardless of who is in the Oval Office. So, perhaps Americans are subconsciously giving up hope for solutions to these problems and are instead turning to politicians to be entertained and pacified. 

If so, this is a very dire sign for America. It is a sign that America is beyond hope in returning to any sort of economic or global greatness, at least of the sort that many Americans seem to yearn for. In short, it is a sign that the American Empire is in its final throes. The self-serving buffoons running for president this year, while odious and slimy, are nothing more than a representation of that shift. They are the canaries in the coal mine, indicating that the possibility of any real political solutions is beyond hope.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Trudeau the Sociopath?

In Canada we are facing a federal election in October. The election campaign is in full swing. Leaders for each of the three main federal parties (Conservative, Liberal, and New Democratic) are traversing the country, holding daily news conferences in which they dribble out promises of millions of dollars spending on various special interests. In addition, Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, is campaigning. But, with no chance of forming government, her campaign has less of a smarmy feel to it. Her comments are much more true to the party's beliefs, rather than aimed at trying to swing some group of voters as the other leaders appear to do.

I am not impressed with the political leaders in Canada. I find that the whole federal political process is becoming more and more polarized. I dream of a political scene where parties can offer opposing positions on issues, but can make their position clear. And in which parties feel no need to constantly muddle their opponents' points of view. I wish they would just boldly state their point of view and let the voters decide if they agree. The whole process is becoming decidedly sociopathic.

I watched Peter Mansbridge's interview with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau the other day. I generally avoid TV and any form of video coverage of the election campaign. I'd rather read about it. However, I decided to watch this interview since Trudeau's party could potentially form government (albeit a minority one), and because I have heard enough of both the Conservative leader Stephen Harper and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair to have a pretty decent idea of what I think of them. Trudeau, though, I am more or less ignorant of. I know he is wildly popular among some Canadians. As a relatively young, relatively new face on the federal political scene, he also comes from a family with deep connections to the Canadian political scene, his father having been probably Canada's most famous, and certainly its most intellectual, prime minister for about 14 years between 1968 and 1984. I have heard all of the arguments against Trudeau - that he is too young and inexperienced, that he is just a pretty face, that he feels he is entitled to the job of prime minister, that he doesn't really stand for anything, etc. I had generally dismissed those as more attack ad style comments that don't really mean anything. So, I was surprised by my feelings as I sat watching Justin Trudeau being interviewed by Peter Mansbridge. To me he came across as smug, unable to really answer a question (even more so than a normal politician), unable to really articulate his party's position on what they would do in power, and, as the interview progressed, I felt that I had no other term than sociopath to best describe his communication. If a sociopath is someone who can communicate in a charming way, convince people they are normal but are actually all in it for themselves, tell people what they think they want to hear rather than speaking plainly and honestly, constantly sell people an image or product that doesn't actually have any substance to it, then in my opinion Trudeau fit the bill perfectly.

His conversation with Mansbridge was the exact opposite of my desire to see political leaders take a bold position and let voters decide. All of his answers were nebulous. It is clear that he knows Canadians are divided on many issues, so he spoke in a sort of code, hoping not to upset those that disagree with him more than he was hoping to win the support of those who might vote for him. I didn't need to see the whole interview to know that I can't vote for him and would be sorely disappointed if the Trudeau led Liberal Party won the election (unlikely as that looks at the moment). And this is coming from someone who, though I have never voted for the Liberal Party, I have supported their views and actions on many things.

Another sociopath in politics. Who would have thought?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Who Should I Vote For in 2015?

I must be the worst blogger in the history of the internet. I realize this is my first post in eight months. However, since no one is really reading my blog, I suppose it doesn't matter. Vicious cycle.

Canada faces a federal election this October (or sooner). Through a recent change in the election process, there is a fixed date for federal elections. In the past, of course, the election was called by the sitting government at a date more or less of their choosing, and it had to fall within the mandate period following the previous election. With the new system, the federal government can still call an early election if they think it is to their advantage (or technically they would be forced to if there was a vote of non-confidence in the House of Commons - though that is virtually impossible in a majority government situation). So, this year's federal election will be held on October 15th.

The Conservative Party of Canada earned their first majority government in 2011. This happened despite their earning only 39.6% of the votes. This 39% earned them 166 seats out of a total of 308, giving them the necessary 155 or greater to form a majority government. I am biased - I am not a conservative voter, despite my conservative fiscal leanings - but I think it is fair to say that a majority of Canadians are not represented by the current government. Roughly 60% of voters did not vote for the party that won, and of course there are many citizens who also did not vote. Many of them (minors, for example) are unable to vote. Such is the nature of parliamentary democracy. Once a party has majority rule, they can pretty much do whatever they want. Issues still need to be debated and voted on in the House of Commons, but since a bill passes with a majority vote, so long as the ruling party whips the vote they can ensure the passage of whatever bill or budget they want. For the term of their mandate, it is in many ways a dictatorship.

Any party that wins might govern this way, and in the 1990s the Liberal Party governed much the same way. They formed government with less than 50% of the votes, and with their majority in the House of Commons they pretty much did as they pleased.

The big difference with the current government is that the majority of voters (about 60%) all vote for parties that have much in common. The Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), and the Green Party, moving more and more left of centre respectively, have much in common when compared to the Conservatives. Therefore the 60% who did not vote Conservative are probably more likely to be consistently disappointed with the government's decisions than if one of the other parties were in power.

To illustrate this point, I recently took a poll of how I should vote in the coming election. I found a webpage which allows you to fill in a number of responses to issues, and to attach a significance level to each question:


The poll then provides you with a breakdown of how you should vote, and how strongly your views align with each major party. The first time I did the poll, I was told that I was 98% in line with the Liberal Party. The next time I did it (answering much the same as far as I could remember), I was  98% lined up with the Greens:

What is interesting about the results, though, is that the Greens, Liberals, and NDP all line up 95% and above with how I feel about various important issues. The Conservatives line up only 21% with my views. There is a major outlier among the major political parties in Canada, and it is the governing party. According to this poll, I should be relatively content to vote Green, Liberal, or NDP. (Indeed I would say that I have yet to decide which of those parties I will vote for, if I decide to vote). The only way the Conservatives will win another majority government is if the 60% of voters who don't vote for them end up splitting their votes between the other parties. If everyone would hold their noses and vote for the Green, Liberal, or NDP candidate most likely to win in the particular riding, then the Conservatives would be reduced to an also-ran. Yes, this might mean that for many Canadians we would not see our first choice of party in power, but it might also mean that the party in power would side with us on 95% of the issues, rather than only 20% of the issues.

There is a movement afoot in Canada called ABC - Anything But Conservative. I can see their logic.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Scientific Knowledge

A while back, I wrote a guest post on Bruce Gerencser's blog The Way Forward in which I discussed what science is. Some interesting conversations and comments developed on that post (they are visible at the end of the guest post), which got me thinking a bit more about a common misunderstanding about science and its role in uncovering knowledge. I appreciate the comments others have made and the discussions that have ensued. I want to make it clear that I'm not out to win an argument with anyone about this topic, but as a scientist I do often see people misunderstanding science, and there is a deliberate battle against science going on in society at the moment because scientific advancement always challenges the agenda of those who are dogmatic, superstitious or bound to belief in a single book such as the Bible (in many ways this has always been the case - think Galileo).

So, the common misconception is a function of interpretation of the fact that science has not yet given us all knowledge. Science is a process of discovery, it leads to knowledge. Science is capable of leading to knowledge about all things that are knowable, though it does not always do this for two reasons: 1) sometimes the resources (money and technology) are not available to run the experiments; and 2) some things are inherently unknowable - some questions simply have no answer.

In either of these cases, but more commonly in the first case, many non-scientists are tempted to state this as a limitation of science, that science cannot provide all knowledge. Since there are gaps in knowledge, some people believe that those gaps represent things that science cannot tell us, and which other non-scientific methods of discovery can tell us. Often, these types of things that are claimed as outside the realm of science are spiritual or supernatural. While it is technically correct to state that science cannot uncover knowledge of the supernatural, that is only because there is no evidence of the supernatural. To this point, we would be wrong to assume that the supernatural exists, because there has never been any evidence to support it. But, to then claim that that is a shortcoming of science is a fundamental error. Science is not limited because it cannot explain the supernatural. The supernatural does not exist, therefore there is no knowledge of it to uncover. How do we know that the supernatural doesn't exist? Because there is no evidence for it, and there is evidence for everything that exists.

Along the same lines, it is often erroneously claimed that science cannot disprove the existence of God. This is a very common claim, and one which people make when they have some rudimentary understanding of how science works. Once you understand that science examines evidence and then draws conclusions, you are able to look at things for which there is no evidence and claim that science cannot disprove it. An example would be the claim that science cannot disprove the existence of an invisible deity. But that is very different than claiming that science cannot disprove the existence of a specific god, such as the Christian God. By extending that claim to a specific deity, the claim no longer holds true. The claims about the Christian God are well known and are described in detail in the Bible. All science has to do to disprove that particular god is to disprove some of the things that are claimed about him. For example, once science showed that the world didn't come into existence in six days, there was a massive piece of evidence against the Christian God. (Christians might then start to claim that the six days are only figurative, that they might represent a much longer period of time. But notice that this claim was only made after science had shown that the world was not made in six days, as a form of trying to make the old conclusion fit the new evidence). I attempt to tackle this issue in a previous post entitled "God is Indeed Dead: It is Scientifically Provable."

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A glimmer of hope

Much of the time I find myself less and less engaged on the internet. The internet was a great idea that has, like many great ideas, been hijacked by self-interested groups who only care about money (read: corporations). One can barely open the internet today without getting blasted with ads. It was not always this way - only a few years ago one could read email, visit news pages, look at blogs, etc. more or less advertisement-free. Corporations have recognized the huge potential of the internet in marketing (and especially individualized marketing - for which I blame Mark Zuckerberg). On many news webpages, the article one is reading typically occupies only 10 - 20% of the screen area, with the rest being ads. YouTube has gone from a great grassroots entertainment to an opportunity to blast ads at people. (I'm always left wondering - when YouTube gives people the option to skip the ad - who the hell doesn't skip it?).

Despite all of this, one aspect of the internet that I do appreciate is the ability for the individual to comment and engage. A generation ago you would sit down to a newspaper and have no idea how other readers reacted to the same news. Today you simply scroll down and read the comments - something I admit to doing more often than I actually read the typically shoddily written article (why are modern writers unable to construct paragraphs longer than two lines?).

The comments sections always entertain, and educate on my fellow citizens' points of view. Many times they comments are rooted in ignorance of whatever topic the article covers. Articles about global warming or evolution seem to bring out most ignorance in this regard. But, one thing that gives me hope against the global political-corporatist machine, is the seeming increase in comments that are fed up with politicians being in bed with corporations. Let's face it, their not just in bed, they are performing some pretty acrobatic and kinky sexual acts with each other. However, there seems to be an increasing awareness in the population that this is happening. Whether people are willing to do anything about it remains to be seen, but I do take hope. For example, in an article this week pointing out that Canada has lost a significant number of jobs in the past month, the overwhelming majority of comments focused on the ridiculous notion that governments create jobs. Their mantra of "jobs, jobs, jobs" at election time was always pathetic and ridiculous, now it seems that many are seeing it for what it is.

The other example that gives me hope is the very common comments this week in response to the mass shooting of police officers in Moncton, New Brunswick. Most of the comments were encouraging news outlets to refuse to print the perpetrators name and to only name the victims in the hope that refusing to glorify the perpetrators of such heinous crimes might reduce the number of copycat events. I whole-heartedly agree with this point of view, but it was very nice to see it dominate my fellow citizens comments this week.

Dare I admit to not being a cynic today? Maybe it's the sunny weather.