Ideology check

Yesterday someone came up to me gushing about how she was excited that some person or other was going to maybe run for president in 2020, and today I overheard a conversation about “the wall” and didn’t join in, so it’s got me thinking about what my politics actually are right now because I haven’t considered it in a while. So I’ve listed a few big political issues and then tried to succinctly describe my current thinking on each one.

Abortion: I want to be moderate on this because I know humans have been aborting their unborn kids since antiquity, but that doesn’t make it right and I keep coming back to the very real possibility that human life might start from conception so we should err on the side of caution by not condoning abortion. Make it illegal.

Affirmative action: the only real way to stop racism is on an individual basis. Do away with affirmative action.

Death penalty: I’m on the fence on this one, leaning heavily toward being anti-death penalty. In the real world it just soaks up a lot of resources in the form of the appeals process, and as currently implemented the death penalty doesn’t deter crime. Now, maybe there’s a neglected human need to witness public violence from time to time, which beheadings in the town square used to fulfill, but I don’t think we can resurrect that practice and still get the society we want.

Drugs: Legalize them, but find ways to make drug use way more uncool and/or taboo than it is now. Basically you should be perfectly legally allowed to go home, lock your bedroom door, and shoot heroin, but there should be no way any sane person would then admit to doing it.

Foreign policy: The reality is there are lots of people and groups out there who want to do things that put Americans in harm’s way, so some foreign intervention is necessary. Sorry paleocons, but this is a highly connected world and isolationism isn’t a realistic foreign policy.

Gay marriage: Should have been civil unions. Oh well.

Guns: I dunno. Criminals who are intent on getting guns will always be able to get them. Gun control measures are already in place and keep honest people honest. Gun control advocates seem to not understand much of anything about guns or gun culture. On the other hand, I think the gun rights people often misinterpret the 2nd Amendment. Requiring gun owners to demonstrate certain skills every few years might not be a bad idea.

Immigration: We have a really nice country here, so we’re going to always have lots of people trying to get in. Some of them are truly desirable as additions to our populace, some are not, and the rest are “meh.” I don’t know what the ratios are between those groups. I don’t think a wall is a terrible idea, but I also think we need a better immigration system in general so that we can really have control over our borders and who gets in.

Welfare: Working people sometimes fall on bad luck, or even make mistakes, and I think it’s reasonable that their countrymen should provide a safety net to help them out during tough times. I don’t know how welfare can be structured so that it is actually helpful while also encourages people to be rid of it, but that is a fine end goal to have anyway.

There’s probably other issues I could comment on…if I think of any, and care to, I’ll update the post with those.

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Equity

It seems like lots of social justice people started using the term “equity” a couple years ago, though I’m not exactly tied into that community so for all I know they’ve been using it a lot longer than that. When I saw it I was initially confused, because I only knew the term from a financial or economic context and yet here it was being used in the same context in which I was accustomed to seeing the term “equality”. Thus I figured it was just one of those common grammar mistakes, like when people say “for all intensive purposes” instead of “for all intents and purposes”.

Turns out the social justice people are using “equity” on purpose and it has a specific meaning. While “equality” refers to different people being treated equally, “equity” critiques the notion that equality is possible or desirable when people are on unequal footing, and calls for the “playing field” to first be leveled, usually through means of redistribution, affirmative action, etc. There are several problems with this concept and I’ll try to briefly cover them.

People’s unequal footing is indeed one contributing reason we cannot expect equal outcomes (although we really shouldn’t ever expect equal outcomes, because different individuals will always vary in their ability to take advantage of the same opportunities), but unequal footing needs not impact the ability to provide equal treatment.

Now, the argument goes: equal treatment is undesirable anyway, because the unequal footing means desirable treatment for one person is putting the cart before the horse for another person. For example, a completely meritocratic college admissions process treats all applicants equally, but this means applicants who attended K-12 schools in struggling school districts will tend to be at a disadvantage compared to those who went to schools in strong districts. In other words, this argument says that you can’t provide equal opportunities now to people who haven’t had equal opportunities in the past because the inequalities of the past will influence people’s abilities to take advantage of opportunities now.

This seems true on its face, but leads to what I think is one of the two biggest problems with the notion of equity: either through deliberate sleight of hand or sheer mindless error, the framing of equity is frequently shifted between individuals and groups, and when the framing is on groups they are defined by trendy but arbitrary parameters like race, sexual preference, gender identity, and so on, without regard to whether that framing is relevant in whatever specific context equity is being considered. This is important because no two individuals have had exactly the same opportunities or advantages in the past, and this is true even if those individuals are defined as members of the same group. This means no two people can ever exactly equally take advantage of a given opportunity.

The other huge problem with “equity” is that most of the advantages or disadvantages people and groups have had in the past are impossible to quantify, and yet quantity is needed if anything is to be made equitable. For one thing, a “quantity of advantagedness” would be the only empirical way to determine on whose behalf an equitable intervention ought to be implemented. For another thing, quantity tells you what kind and how much of an intervention to implement. If a gay white guy and a straight black woman are both applying for a job, which one of them is more advantaged? in what way? and by how much? The idea that you can figure this out for people you don’t intimately know and then apply it as some kind of policy is ridiculous.

Taken to its logical conclusion, equity gets you to a Harrison Bergeron situation where people are handicapped for their advantages. Or maybe it settles to the group level, so people who are members of certain groups are handicapped for their advantages. Not a pleasant vision for any society.

It could be that I’m wrong. If you (either of the two readers of this blog) use the term “equity” or know people who do and think I’ve misunderstood it, please educate me.

Complicating the drug legalization debate…

Imagine a scale of mind-alteredness from 0 to 10, where 0 is stone-cold sober and 10 is a complete disconnection from reality.

At 0, your senses are passing along information to your brain completely normally, and it might be said you are perceiving the outside world naturally, in a way that allows you to function as a human adapted to its environment over millions of years. At 10, you might as well be sleepwalking or in a dream state: basically nothing from the outside world is getting effectively communicated to your brain, time appears to no longer exist, you may not even feel you have a body or an identity or any ties to the universe. Where do various doses of various substances get you on this scale? I’ll relate my own take on it:

I’ll start with alcohol, since I have experience with it and it has a fairly one-to-one relationship between number of drinks and where it gets me on the mind-alteredness scale. One drink (a “drink” is a 12oz 5%ABV beer, 2oz of 80-proof liquor, or a 6oz glass of wine) gets me to 1. I feel a bit more relaxed, maybe even get a very slight buzz if I haven’t eaten recently. Two or three drinks within an hour gets me to 2 or 3, which I’d call “tipsy.” 5 drinks in an hour and I’m drunk: obviously (even to myself) not safe to drive, fairly uninhibited in what I say or do, ideas seeming to flow quickly and easily. 7 drinks and the room is spinning when I go to bed and I’m definitely going to feel sick the next day; I very likely will throw up that same night. (I’ve been there only a handful of times in my life.) 10 drinks and I would be black-out drunk, probably close to toxic shock. (I’ve never actually done this, thank goodness.)

10 on the scale could also refer to the opaque depths of a heavy DMT trip or salvia experience. A shroom or acid trip typically maps to 8 or 9, especially if you experience hallucinations. Opiates (taken recreationally) seem to typically get people somewhere between 5 and 8. Caffeine is dosed and ingested such that it offers a lot of fine gradations between 0 and about 2, but you can’t usually take enough of it to get past that — it’ll kill you first.

Cannabis doesn’t seem to have any noticeable effects until you’re plopped down around a 3, where everything feels a little “off”. When people get high they are usually aiming at a 5 or 6: time slows down a lot, hidden qualities in things seem to pop out everywhere, and depending on the strain of cannabis ingested, motor coordination is impaired.

All this might constitute an argument for why all drugs can’t be legalized and taxed the way we do alcohol. Coming home from work and smoking a joint or even a one-hitter bowl isn’t the same, from an intoxication standpoint, as coming home and drinking a beer, even if a legal market in cannabis means more transparency and precision over how it’s dosed. Moderation in weed might always have more to do with how often you use it than with how high you get when you do. For other less-mainstream drugs the difference compared to alcohol is potentially even more dramatic.

Of course, this argument only holds is intoxicatedness is the heuristic by which the legality of a substance is determined; clearly it isn’t.

The internet as reverse beer goggles

Beer goggles are where something sucks when you’re sober, but if you’re drunk it seems amazing. The internet is the opposite: you look at your life and feel really happy with it, even proud of it, but then you look at snippets of other people’s lives online and all of a sudden your own life seems dull, like you’re not living up to your potential, or missing out on a great thing everyone else has, or worse.

The problem is obvious but it still exists and is in fact widespread, which means the solution isn’t obvious, at least not to many people.

Personally, I see two possible solutions: the first one involves not visiting certain parts of the internet, and second one involves still visiting them but constructing narratives and other concepts around them to give them context and de-barb them of their reverse-beer-goggle effects. The second solution is a lot of work and has to be maintained, and those narratives/concepts aren’t guaranteed or foolproof, so it’s usually simpler and safer just to use the first solution.

But of course simply not visiting certain parts of the internet might have costs, most likely to include not being “in the loop”. How important being “in the loop” is probably varies from person to person, but I suspect for a lot of people it is fairly central to their mental health.

So the problem is obvious, the solution isn’t, and the whole thing is very tricky.

Sexual harassment training

The goal of sexual harassment training is noble enough: eliminate sexual misconduct, sexual violence, and unwanted sexual advances in the workplace. But can it be done?

It seems like one inherent problem with sexual harassment training is, people have all kinds of sexual proclivities. For instance, what if a male employee is especially turned on by women in business suits? And of course many women think men look best in a suit. We are sexual creatures after all, and suggestive messages are often presenting themselves regardless of context and sometimes even despite a person’s efforts to ignore them.

Another problem is, some employees might consider the workplace an acceptable venue in which to meet a potential romantic partner or even spouse. That mindset might fundamentally change that employee’s approach to interacting with other employees, at least to the extent that he or she will always be on the lookout for clues that a coworker is interested in such a relationship.

But suppose all that is bunk: no matter what is going on in an employee’s head, a firm barrier should exist between that and the employee’s outward conduct. This presents another problem, because it suggests that nothing can be thought of as inviting sexual attention.

Yet, that is not true. If a woman comes into work wearing a tight shirt with an incredibly low neckline, is she really completely blameless when men distractedly glance at her cleavage during a meeting? Professionals should (and often, I think, can) control their impulses, but it’s easy to get to a point where this expectation is pushed unreasonably far.

And maybe expectations is really what this is all about. Is sexual harassment training about setting expectations, or is it more about setting boundaries around behavior? If it’s the latter, then I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the training isn’t very effective. If it’s the former, then it’s good but misplaced: expectations need to be part of the work culture, even the hiring process. It’s much easier to get people to conduct themselves in a certain way when they’re all playing the same game and all know the rules of that game.

Am I an environmentalist?

As an adult I was never a litterbug, but I used to sort of hand-wave away humanity’s energy usage and our impact on the environment. The planet, I figured, is a big and complex system and so therefore (something, something) it can mostly absorb all our trash, and will support our energy needs indefinitely.

Since then I learned more about how our waste actually gets processed, and about how energy is actually generated and distributed, and my attitude and behaviors have changed.

Now I like thinking about the energy conversions required to produce me and the stuff around me. How many joules will I burn if I get up and walk across the room to throw away some trash? How many calories will I need to eat to make up that energy? How many kilowatts will be spent producing that food? Going the other way, where will that trash go? How much power will be required to turn it into recyclable materials, or to bury it in a landfill? Where will all this power come from? How much energy is spent just to produce it and get it where it needs to go in the right form?

It’s an interesting and honest way to look at the world, though I don’t know if it’s always the most useful. So much of human activity is artifice, disconnected from the truth of how we exist. And we must choose the artifice or be insane.

PS. Wow, this post really didn’t land where I aimed it. Good thing nobody reads this blog!

Why I don’t vote

I don’t have enough certainty that I’m right about any issue or candidate to feel like I could actually vote for (or against) one with a clear conscience. And even if I did, there are always other little hidden things I’d therefore be inadvertently voting for as well that I don’t have certainty about. So I don’t vote.

The alarming thing is this: hardly anyone really ought to have the level of certainty required for voting, and yet most people do, and voting is pretty common. Plus, when people don’t vote it’s usually for other reasons besides epistemic uncertainty.

Why aren’t things worse?? How can such a precarious system work so well?