söndag 10 maj 2015

Social Justice and Statistics

The philosophy of social justice is a direct consequence of statistics, and hence solidly scientifically backed.  I don't think people realize this, so I will try to explain my viewpoint here.

Social justice is not the only possible interpretation of the numbers, but it is a valid interpretation - a reasonable conclusion to draw from the data. I will argue that when analyzed, a piece of social statistics will lead to one of only three possible conclusions, outlined below.

Let us take an example: Consider the black incarceration rate in the United States. Black male Americans are six times as likely to be incarcerated as white male Americans. Why?

As soon as you have asked "why", you have done something very, very important. You have asserted that a statistical structure such as this has an underlying why - a reason. You have asserted that it is not random. You have asserted that a reason can be found.  That this is so is a statistical inevitability. If you flip a coin seven times and it comes up heads six times, you have good reason to suspect that the result is not random. If you flip it seven million times, and it comes up heads six million, you have fact. Fact, at least, with the same certainty that a certain particle in a lab behaves so-and-so, or that such-and-such a chemical compound reacts in a certain way. There are roughly 300 million Americans, more than enough data points to make statements about fact. So. We can be certain that there is some reason for this anomaly.

The social justice interpretation is that this is due to a system underbuilt by invisible privilege - underlying structures in society that actively discriminate against black men, that, though largely unseen by whites, pervasively and actively games the system against black men.

It seems to me that those who disagree with this interpretation instead typically call the reason "black culture" - the argument that nothing is wrong with the system at large, merely with the culture in which black males grow up; with gangs, crime, welfare, laziness. Black men are simply the result of a culture that creates criminals.

And here is where a four-year old can push the discussion further. "Why? Hey, why?" the four-year old will ask. The four-year old asks a good question.

If it is the case that a culture consisting of 40 million or so Americans raises lazy criminals, why, we have enough data points to make further assertions. So now, instead of dealing with the questions "Why are black Americans commonly incarcerated?" we are dealing with the question "Why does black culture create criminals?".

Well, maybe it is because of some kind of systematic,  underlying, invisible structure in black culture that actively lead black men into lives of crime. But culture does not exist in a vacuum. If it is only because black men are raised in ghettos, well, where did the ghettos come from? Maybe because of some systematic, underlying structure in culture...

We can continue down this rabbit hole of cultural cause-and-effect until we arrive at some true root cause, some social inequality or injustice, at which point we have - again - asserted the truth of the social justice paradigm, just at some deeper, more fundamental level. Or we can continue down it until the data points become so few, and so blurred, that it all seems like random happenstance - but "random happenstance" in these matters is people making decisions. It is true that if you flip a billion coins, you might find some pattern arising out of total randomness. If you view people's decisions as coins being flipped, sure. But to do so is to wash your hands of any choice you ever make in your life; not an unscientific viewpoint, but most certainly a cowardly one. It is to claim that all our problems are just the outcome of coin flips, and there is nothing we can do to change them. It is to claim that we are both acting without cause (as there is no underlying reason for the coin's result) and without agency (as we have no influence over it). We call this viewpoint nihilism. 

What remains? Well, there is the third, obvious interpretation: That black people are genetically more prone to crime than whites. That would certainly explain the statistical results, and it means white people can't be blamed for this outcome as they just happen to be naturally superior, law-abiding citizens.

Given only the data points that black men are more likely to be incarcerated than whites, this isn't a viewpoint that I can disprove with statistics. Which means you are entitled to believe it. You in that case have "a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement" - which is the textbook definition of racism. 

I cannot tell you not to be a racist. You're entirely entitled to that opinion. I can however tell you that if you're not on the side of social justice, you are either a nihilist or a card-carrying racist.

lördag 11 april 2015


To some, this is probably very old hat. To others, it might be new. I am articulating it so as to remember it myself, because I think it is a good way of grounding knowledge in the absence of more solid data.

This is an observation - a learning without anything really solid underpinning it. But I think it is true, and therefore I will write it down. The observation is this:

1. When individuals or large masses of people complain about or conversely like something, it is for a reason.

And the more important corollary,

2. The reason is not always the reason stated.

Now; while this may seem like a simple observation, it has one very useful immediate consequence - namely, that whenever we observe a social movement, it is never without reason. It follows that it is never logical to dismiss the opinion of any group - no matter how seemingly stupid or irrational from our point of view - because their behaviour is for a reason, making it fundamentally rational given its premises. The tricky thing is figuring out what those premises are.

Consequence of this point: If tens of thousands of people are upset about something, there is a problem somewhere. There is never no problem. Nor is the problem ever trivial, or they wouldn't be this upset. If I insult a book, I can inflame hundreds of thousands of fans to come after me - but not for the trivial reason of the book itself. If people are willing to go to war over a book, it means something more to them than just the information contained within. It is in some sense personal - representing community, power, self-worth or any number of things. It wouldn't do this without some sort of historical context around it because the action of latching onto the book so hard is itself not without reason.

Grand sweeping trends do not come out of nowhere; and the only way to change the turn of the behaviour is to address the root of the problem. If people are angry, and you know why they are angry, the problem is fixable. If you do not know why, it likely isn't.

fredag 26 december 2014

An Unmentionable Event, part 1

Miss Winchester had found herself in quite a conundrum. It appeared that she didn't have anything to wear, which was perhaps an ordinary problem for a young lady in the finer circles of Eisenkrone Academy; but in this particular instance, the conundrum pertained less to the shifting fancies of fashion, and more to the fact that her wardrobe appeared to have disappeared into thin air while she slept.

“Oh my,” was Miss Winchester's expert assessment of the situation, “Oh dear me, my wardrobe seems to have vanished.”

It was an astute observation, owing to the fact that she was a well educated lady with a keen eye for detail; it was also, fortunately, an observation she made to herself, being dressed only in her night-gown, beneath which she wore very little in the ways of modesty, and above which she was similarly undressed. This left her in the precarious state of having only a single layer of clothing between her and the world at large, which was, of course, a dreadful dilemma.

Had the matter vexing Miss Winchester been something other than a matter of acute embarrassment, she should of course have summoned her loyal butler Ralph; or failing that, her close friend Cecil. Alas, she knew they were both quite passionate young men, prone to shock and – in Cecil's case – behavior he might later regret. Given that the situation presented a mystery, her good friend Mr. “Sherlock” Lloyd Wilder might perhaps have suited the situation – but Miss Winchester wouldn't dream of calling on a friend whilst improperly dressed. Indeed, it seemed she must solve this situation by her own accord.

Miss Winchester leaned forwards, taking good care that her backside wasn't pointing toward a person, depiction of a person, or anything that might with a helping of imagination resemble a person. She knelt down towards the ground, narrowing her eyes, and nodded solemnly to herself.

“I say! A clue!” she said, to herself. For indeed, there where the wardrobe had been was instead positioned on the floor a small copper coin, valued at five Teutonian pfennigs. Miss Winchester stood up, straightening her back. It seemed perfectly clear to her that the culprit must have left the coin there as some kind of calling card; she imagined some manner of gentleman thief, calling himself Monsieur Five-Pfennig, who no doubt crept about at night like a dreadful rapscallion and made away with extremely heavy wardrobes. Presently her eyes swept over the floor to see if the thief had left some other manner of clue.

“I say!” said Alice, indeed saying it, as she spied something sticking out from underneath her door. It appeared to be one of her unmentionables, wedged between the door and the door-frame. “A trail!”

Regrettably, the trail led out into the corridor. Miss Winchester was getting quite excited about pursuing this dastardly thief, but not so excited that she would even in her wildest dreams burst out into the hallway whilst naked both beneath and above her clothes. That would be dreadfully rude to her fellow club members, who after all even now had nothing but a few dozen feet of solid stone between their virgin eyes and her own indecent state of dress. But! What if some of her unmentionables were likewise scattered in the corridor? Why, she should die of embarrassment!

“I daresay,” she said, indeed daring to say it, “I shall quickly have to formulate a plan!”

 And so, grabbing needle and thread from her dresser, she began her work.  

Facets of Fantasy: Legacy

“You will live as long as I. Maybe even longer. You know that, right?”

“Yes, Teacher.”

The street was full of noise. All around them Kyoto rose, with its face of glass and steel and concrete, and its voice of bicycle bells and street vendors and bustling crowds. A city more than one million strong, a city that dwarfed the city of his youth – the same city, the same Kyoto as it had been then. But his youth seemed a million years ago now. In reality, it was scarcely more than a century.

“I'm barely an old man. If the cycle had not begun... Who knows how long I would have lived?”

His student nodded. A giant of a man, a blond foreigner from a land he'd barely known in his youth; the land of the Eagle. A strange man to inherit the Sword. A strange man to guard the Book of Truth. But he had been the best choice; he had humility, despite his strength. And he was skilled, moreso than any of his other students. It had been the best choice.

“How old are you really, Teacher?”

He thought.

“I was born in the Edo era. I am one-hundred and sixty-two years old. My body is perhaps sixty.”

“How does that happen, Teacher?”

His voice was like a child's. He barely spoke Japanese, and his words were simple, clumsy. David. Like the small man from the Christian Bible. Though he wasn't small. Or Christian, at least as far as the Teacher knew.

“The Sword keeps you alive. The doctor... Your friend, he says it does something to DNA. Rewrites it. The old ones said it rewrites your destiny; maybe that is what they meant. Listen carefully: Now that you have inherited it... I am going to die. Every day I go without it, it's as if I age a year.”

“But Teacher – you said nothing-”

“Draw the Sword.”


“Draw it.”

The Sword unfolded from David's arm, shining, living metal, from the ancient times. From the previous cycle. If the Teacher was old, then the Sword was – how old? How many guardians had held it? How many bodies had it bonded to, like it now bonded to David's? The thick strands of biomass flowed from his powerful forearm, intertwined at the hand, forming the hilt. The weapon purified, intensified, distilled into liquid metal and poured out to form the glinting blade, the blade that could cut through anything. A symbiont, the doctor had called it. A living creature, bonded with the host.

He admired it. He had never seen it like this before, in another man's hands – not since his own Teacher drew it that fateful night in Satsuma.

“This blade will be your life, David Blaze.”

“Yes, Teacher.”

“You will use it to guard the Book of Truth. Until it passes to another. Until you die. Only then will the Sword move on. Only then will your duty end. It is not seemly for a Guardian to grow old in peace.”

The student caught on. His clear blue eyes searched the old man's face, searched for a clue beneath the snow-white eyebrows, between the crow's feet that lined his ancient eyes.

 “This blade will be your life, David Blaze. And yes. When your teaching is complete... it will also be my death.”

Facets of Fantasy: Empire

Salt water splashed her face, and the smell of the ocean lingered around her. She wrapped the brown cloak tighter about herself, frowning at the fabric – so rough, and so dark, not at all the garb she was used to. When they arrived, in that strange northern country, she'd wear what she wanted to. This she swore.


She was there. She was always there.

“How long will the trip be?”

“Eight days. This is a fast ship, but the crew is Nipponese, Miss Tsuru, and-”

She hated the name. "Tsuru". It was a necessary name, a disguise like the rags she was wearing, but she hated it still - a common name, a mere animal. Noble, perhaps, but not suited for her. 

“And I must stay hidden for now. I know. Not that I care.”

“There are many Nipponese students at the Academy as well. If they find out-”

“Do what you must.”

Naimitsu bowed. It was hard to read her body language, but a lifetime with her had taught Akane plenty. This was the solemn bow, the bow of regret. The bow that told Akane just what Naimitsu was willing to do, in the name of the Empire. In the name of the Empress.

“I will act as I choose when we reach the shore. I don't care about the daimyo's warnings. If there are threats, you remove them. Is that understood, Naimitsu?”

“Yes, Miss Tsuru.”

There was darkness in her eyes. Akane didn't know what became of those Naimitsu called 'threats'.

Not that she cared.

Facets of Fantasy: Sea

Once, when he was very young, he had gone out to see the ocean. He couldn't remember how old he was, but even now, it seemed to him as though it was his very earliest memory that still dwelt in his brain. He had gone to the sea with someone – an adult, perhaps a priest, perhaps even his father. It had been a man, nonetheless. The man had showed him the great ocean, and the ships sailing upon it, and he had spoken.

“Son-” he had probably said, or maybe “Young man”, or possibly even “Aust” - Aust couldn't remember the exact words. “Son – I think the only way you can understand Creation is by looking at the sea. It's perfect. It's so smooth, and flat, and beautiful, and untouched – and yet it hides so many secrets. Some are beneficent – people to meet, beautiful sights to see – but some are dreadful: Storms, whirlpools, terrible monsters. Always remember, though, that there is someone responsible for everything. Someone is causing everything in the world – nothing “just happens.” Just as every island has its ruler and every storm has its port, someone cares for everything in this world, and when you grow up, you will be responsible for something too. Maybe one day, you'll have your own island.”

But then again, he thought, what is the sea? Water. He had mastered water long ago. The sea meant nothing to him, now. Salt water. He could rule water, make it bend to his will, make it sing and dance if he wanted to – but sometimes, when he looked at the sea, a little of it splashed his face, and he could have sworn it came from his eyes.

Facets of Fantasy: Tears

The man's breath was heavy with alcohol, his accent stained by the tongue of Those-We-Raid. He raised a hammer high. He spat. He said, “This is what we do with rebels.” The hammer fell. The shoulder broke.

He woke up, sweating. Long hair tangled in his face, blinded, but he could feel the pain shoot up and down his useless arm again. The bedroll stank of urine. The young'uns said Varro wet himself from fear, in his nightmares. The truth was more prosaic; age. His bladder played tricks on him, had been for a few years now. Probably some sickness he'd caught in his youth... back in the slave days. Back when they broke his shoulder.

He couldn't sleep. Rolling out of the cloth, he climbed to his feet with his good arm, grunting as he went. The camp was silent.

Except, of course, for the newcomers. They were sleeping nearby. He wondered if Harkon knew about it, the way he spoke in his sleep. His tongue was thick and strange, the language of the Far West, where a mighty Empress had a fleet of a thousand ships. Varro didn't speak it, not a lick, but he understood the feelings well enough. Was it a greater shame to piss or to weep in one's sleep? Varro didn't know, and he was too old to let shame rule him.

The old man had lost his clan. Let him sleep and not feel shame.

There would come a time when he'd weep while awake, not giving a damn who saw.