Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Deception, for the purposes of sexytimes

There was a question asked in a nonmonogamy themed Facebook group I am part of.  "Do you consider it unethical to sleep with someone without disclosing existing relationships?"  That is, if you are thinking about having sex with someone, do you feel obligated to tell them that you are married, or dating, or occasionally having sex, etc. with somebody before proceeding?

Personally I would always let them know.  I am loud and proud about being polyamorous so I have no intention whatsoever of ending up in bed with people without them knowing that.  However, the question was about the ethics of the situation, not my personal tendencies, so I will try to answer that.  Keep in mind that this is about people in general though, not my own approach.

I think a lot of people get this wrong by making the trigger for 'this is immoral!' be the other person's knowledge.  I think the trigger should be an attempt at deception instead.

For example, if two people meet at a party, talk for awhile about cars and beer and sports, end up making out, and then have sex, the fact that one of them is in a non monogamous relationship isn't a problem.  If it didn't come up in conversation they don't have any moral requirement to disclose.  That non monogamy doesn't present any threat to the other person, so it isn't something that must be revealed.

Now the other person might well be interested in that fact, but they might be interested in lots of facts.  They might have an objection to vegetarians, Catholics, hunters, liberals, or clowns and they wouldn't have found out about any of those things either.  If you have sex with someone you barely know and you don't ask about your (completely unrelated!) dealbreakers then it is entirely on you if they happen to be the sort of person who has those characteristics.

However, as soon as someone starts to deliberately deceive the other person then they are being immoral.  If I was on a first date this week and my date asked me about my weekend I could say "Oh, my out of town girlfriend was visiting and she and my wife and me and a few other people went out to dinner to celebrate my wife's birthday."  That would be honest.  I could also say "I went to a birthday party on Saturday for someone I have known a long time."  That would be deliberately deceptive, and I would call it immoral.  Quite simply if you are choosing your words carefully to avoid suggesting that you are non monogamous in order to get laid, you are acting immorally.

In any dating type situation I would say you have a moral requirement to make your relationship style known.  That doesn't mean you have to say everything, because if you say "I am a relationship anarchist and I am open to having multiple relationships at once, but I keep them all entirely private and separate" then your potential date knows what they are getting into.  People have a completely reasonable expectation that a date is an honest, open attempt to discover if there will be romance and/or sexytimes, and discussing your relationship styles before proceeding is important.  If a discussion about dating and styles comes up and you don't disclose yours, you are acting immorally.

It does bother me that people are expected to disclose non monogamy in this way while monogamous people are not expected to.  I think everybody should be explicit about what they want whether or not their relationship style is the most common.

In sum I think there are definitely ways to end up having sex with someone without telling them that you are non monogamous and have it be perfectly ethical.  However, if you are distorting what you do to hide your relationship style or failing to answer questions about the topic honestly and completely then you are being immoral.  That applies no matter what the issue you are avoiding is though!

You do not have an obligation to tell anyone you have sex with things about yourself that don't affect them directly, but you do have an obligation to be honest about those things, both in terms of not lying and also in terms of not deliberately hiding the facts.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Just gimme a reason

Recently I had someone who was scheduled to come to an event with me and they ditched at the last minute.  It wasn't a big deal, but I mentioned it to The Flautist and we had a really interesting conversation about it.  She asked first off if the person who had ditched had given me a good reason.  They hadn't, but I also wasn't looking for one.  I don't even care if I get one or not - it just doesn't matter.

The Flautist, along with most people, seem to want reasons for things like this.  It can be as simple as someone not showing up for a dinner party or as big as giving reasons for a breakup.  In my head though reasons really don't matter; the only important thing is results.  For example, if someone skips an event because their car broke down that would normally be considered a good reason, but skipping an event because you just wanted a night alone would not be one.

But I think both are perfectly fine reasons.  If all the reason someone has is "I wanted to do something else more" then I have no problem with that.  They should do the thing they want to do!  The numbers are what matters.  If I invite someone to 100 events and they skip 5 of them because they felt like having a long bath instead then they are still a 95% attendee, which is good.  If they skip 95% of them because of alien abductions then they are a 5% attendee, and the fact that they had excellent probe related reasons for missing the events simply doesn't matter.  I am going to invite the 95% person to events and not bother with the 5% person.

Since the reasons aren't going to affect my behaviour I don't really care what the reasons are, any more than I would care about that person's choice of activities on any other night.

Same goes for breakup reasons.  If a person breaks up with me then it really doesn't matter much why.  They don't want to see me anymore, so we won't see each other anymore.  I don't mind if they want to tell me their reasons but I certainly don't have any great need to know.  Especially in breakups there is the problem that the reasons given often don't reflect what is actually going on anyway.  Sometimes people lie, sometimes they just say stuff that they believe but which isn't true or useful.  Between confusion, self-deception, and lying the reasons you get during a breakup are not particularly reliable and since I am not going to try to overcome their reasons I don't mind if no reasons are forthcoming.

I wonder how many people are like me in this regard, and why I am like this.  I think some people want reasons because they are afraid that the reason is "You are worthless and unlovable" and getting some other concrete thing is important.  Having something else to blame, something concrete and exterior, can be useful.  But this can't be the only thing because I know people who have a lot of self confidence who still want reasons for things.

Always I try to resolve these sorts of things by looking at my decision tree.  No matter the reason, I am going to invite people to stuff a few times.  If they mostly show up, great, keep inviting.  If they rarely or never show up, then stop inviting.  The reasons for their showing up don't factor in.  If they never or rarely showed up but really want to see me, they will do something about it themselves!

I am curious if there are things I am missing here, so if you have information to share or opinions on why people give reasons, demand reasons, or how they think about them, please do share.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

One more reason to be 'rude'

A couple weeks ago I talked about the justifications for being confrontational when discussing racism, sexism, and other bigotry.  Most of that discussion (including a bunch in the comments) was surrounding the efficacy of calling people racist instead of simply having polite conversation where you describe the issues with people's actions without actually calling them out explicitly.

It remains unclear to me how well explicit call outs of bigotry work in terms of changing minds.  It gets people's attention for sure, and sometimes that has value.  On the other hand it makes people angry and defensive and that often leaves them completely unwilling to listen.  On the other other hand though, it means that people who see bigoted behaviour and the backlash against it may change their behaviour even if they don't change their minds, and that is a victory, albeit an incomplete one.

But the thing I most missed was the effect conversations have on the people being discriminated against.  If you are a trans person, for example, and you see an online conversation about bathroom bills that try to force trans people to use the bathroom associated with their assigned gender at birth, it is going to be a shitty experience.  There are two ways that conversation can go though, and one is better for them than the other.

One way is that their 'allies' talk nicely to the bigots and don't use confrontational language and pretend like bathroom bills are a thing we can have a pleasant debate about.  This is going to be a miserable experience for the trans reader, as that conversation will make it clear that those 'allies' are people who will happily pretend in public that bathroom bills are morally neutral, just a thing to discuss.

The other way is the allies can tell the bigots that they are bigots, that bathroom bills are oppressive bullshit, and that they can take their evil and shove it up their asses. 

The second way is the best way.  Neither way is likely to convince the bigot to change, but one accurately portrays the evil as evil, and shows support for those who are actually being affected by this.  It allows the trans person in the example to see that there are people who are on their side, people who are willing to go to bat for them, people who are willing to call the bigotry what it is and not hide behind polite talk.

Calling a bigot a bigot may not work well in convincing them, but honestly very little will.  Usually it takes the experience of someone close to them being in the affected group, or simply waiting for them to die.

The best and biggest reason to call this stuff out is to send a message.  That message will be heard by oppressors and oppressed alike, and it matters.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Good ideas, bad world

These past few weeks I have been walking Pinkie Pie to school every day.  I think this has made getting up and out easier for her, and it certainly doesn't hurt me to add an extra 40 minutes of walking to my day.  There are times when the walk is mostly silent, and times when the walk is mostly me fussing, cajoling, and harassing her along, but most of the time we have all kinds of interesting conversations.

Yesterday Pinkie Pie asked me why prices don't include tax.  She thought that it would be much easier if all listed prices just included tax because that way we would actually know what we are going to pay for things.

Oh boy do I have a rant for that!  I told her that there are places in the world where this is true, it is a far better system, and she was completely right that it makes it easier for customers.

I have a tricky line to walk here.  I want to let her know that she is right and had a good idea, but I also want to let her know the reality that lots of people have had this idea and it isn't being implemented for stupid reasons.

The lesson that there are many good ways to change our society and they often don't happen because people are shortsighted, selfish, or just terrified of change is a necessary one.  It isn't a happy one though, obviously.

"Yeah, good idea!  But of course like many good ideas it will be crushed under the weight of assholes and fools.  Welcome to humanity."

A week ago we were talking about homelessness and how society should cope with it.  Pinkie Pie suggested building a huge hotel and just inviting all the homeless people to live there.  The intention is noble, but that actual implementation is not particularly feasible.  I talked to her about the best approach that I am currently aware of - building simple, one room dwellings and just letting homeless people live in them.  It grants a lot more privacy, safety, and autonomy than many other solutions and is far cheaper than housing the homeless in hospitals and jails, which is often the place they end up at the moment.

Pinkie Pie didn't like my solution and really wanted to build a hotel for the homeless people.  Sure, fine, her heart is in the right place, and she has plenty of years yet to learn that some solutions, while logistically feasible, are not politically plausible.

So Pinkie Pie is learning about economics and social services on our walks.  I, on the other hand, am becoming much more familiar with just how terrible the Percy Jackson movies were compared to the books.  Hela's island was done completely wrong, don't you know.

It turns out I don't know.  But I am learning!

Monday, February 12, 2018

Fight for her love

I just finished watching an episode of Bob's Burgers and it pissed me off.  The basic plot is that Tina is attracted to both Josh and Jimmy.  Jimmy and Josh both are attracted to her.  Tina asks Jimmy to the dance, Jimmy delays because he wants to play it coy.  Josh asks Tina, Tina accepts, and Jimmy realizes that he was an idiot for playing games and losing out.

All this is fine.  It is the standard stupid stuff people do in relationships, especially at the age of 13.

Then while Tina and Josh are at the dance Jimmy shows up and demands a dance off to determine who wins Tina.


I hate this trope so much.  Everyone just falls into line, accepting that Tina will be contracted to be in a relationship with the boy who wins the contest.

She doesn't get to just be with the boy who treated her well.  She doesn't even get to choose.  She is an object to be fought over, a trophy awarded for talent.

Now Tina actually likes the idea of the two boys dancing for her and is all hot and bothered about it, but that basic premise sidling in there, accepted so casually, pisses me off.

I never particularly liked a lot of the standard shitty sexist tropes in romantic comedies but the years I have spent being polyamorous have really ended any tolerance that I once possessed.  It isn't that I find the idea of only being attracted to one person bizarre - lots of people do that, and it is fine.  I am going to continue being attracted to and involved with way more people than is good for me, but you go ahead and only do one at a time. 

But what is becoming less sensible by the year is the idea that you would even want to forbid a partner from having other partners.  I am slowly drifting away from the mainstream here, to a point where I look at people desperately needing their partners to be exclusive and it puzzles me.  Why?  What, exactly, is the point?

I get that it is convenient, of course.  Having an open relationship does tend to cause other people to freak out.  But actually having a desperate need for it?  Weird.  Which is all kinds of bizarre because I spent most of my life so far doing just that, but it is getting so distant now that I can hardly remember what that Sky was thinking.

The episode ends with Tina trying to convince both of the boys that they ought to try some sort of threeway relationship.  This part actually goes just the way I wish it would - both of them politely decline as they aren't interested in that and wander away without anger or bitterness.  People asking for what they want, and getting useful, honest replies, and everybody respecting each other's wishes?  In a romantic comedy situation?  What?

So while the end of the show was okay, that trope of 'boys compete over who gets to win the girl' needs to die in a fire.  We can do better.  What should have happened is that when Jimmy shows up and demands a dance off, Tina should say "Um, no.  I went to the dance with Josh because he wasn't playing crappy games with me.  I date who I want, and if you want to date me try acting like the sort of person I would want to date.  Bye."

Thursday, February 8, 2018

WW1 forever

Charles Stross recently wrote a blog post that I really liked.  He talked a lot about why he doesn't read science fiction much anymore even though he is a science fiction author.  His reasoning was largely that people usually write science fiction without really filling out the world in ways that make sense.

The main example he used was the way that space battles are so consistently staged like WW1 fighter battles.  The planes move slowly enough and have short enough range that they can see each other easily and a viewer can watch them spin and twirl around each other as they battle.  In short, it is visually appealing, even though it makes no damn sense in nearly any science fiction setting.  The most obvious example is Star Wars where the way space battles were staged was clearly for the benefit of the viewer, not because any of it was logical.  To this day the same WW1 style of space fighting continues to be used even though pilots that shoot guns at each other well within visual range went out of style by WW2 and don't seem likely to ever return.

Stross doesn't like worlds where things don't make sense.  He wants to be able to figure out why the bread vendor on the street that the heroes walk along is there.  He wants the system of money and culture and tech to all fit together seamlessly.  You can have wonder and magic, tech that is beyond current scientific understanding, but if you give people teleportation technology then you should actually change society in response.

Star Trek is a great example of another silly trope in science fiction - the high tech showdown at OK Corral.  So many science fiction stories give people weapons and tactics that are simply lifted out of Westerns and plopped down in futuristic situations.  Nobody seems to have advanced past six shooters.

There are good counterexamples of course, and I have a few in mind.  The Forever War is a great example of futuristic battles that do not rely on six shooters or biplanes as models.  Humans fight a war that is completely alien to what we are used to and I LOVE it.  I don't know that it is any more 'realistic' because it does rely on tech magic wands but the author really tries to extrapolate and do something interesting and it feels right.  Ship combat uses plausible physics and it really does make the story feel more real.

The Hyperion series is the second great example because it shines in showing off what a futuristic soldier with futuristic equipment might be able to do.  Unlike Star Trek's pathetic six gun phasers a soldier in this universe would be wearing armour that lets them fly, provides effective, shifting camouflage, and has a variety of defenses against beam weapons, projectiles, and other attacks.  That soldier's gun is capable of taking down a small flying craft at tens of kilometers distant and can deliver flechettes to destroy unarmoured targets, beam weapons, or explosives.  The soldier operates all of their gear with a powerful, effective direct connection.  Such a soldier could take out a small army of modern day soldiers or even destroy an aircraft carrier by themselves if they were so inclined.  THAT is what a soldier hundreds of years in the future should be able to do!

I think this is a big part of why I am not as big on Star Trek or Star Wars as many other nerds.  I know a lot about them but they don't grab me the way really top drawer science fiction does because they are so obviously staged for cinematic combat, not for logical conclusions.  Similarly I found Ender's Game the movie to be a big letdown, in part because it went with stupid tropes like asteroid belts being all close together and silly WW1 style ship combat.  There were lots of problems with that movie, but those ones really got me down, especially when they were shoved in there even though the book didn't have them in it at all.

It matters to me a great deal that the monetary system of a futuristic political entity make sense.  I am okay with violations of physics, so long as those violations are spelled out and then taken to their logical conclusions.  What I want is a wondrous new world, imagined to take into account all the strange things the author has dreamed up.  What I don't want is a reskinned Western shootout or WW1 battle.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

A couple of years

I have been doing my weightlifting regimen for 2 years now.  I figured it would be a good time to reflect on the changes that have occurred and think about what goals I might aim for in future.  When I started out I had a few benchmarks that seemed difficult but possible - primarily I wanted to be able to bench press 250 pounds.  That was the maximum weight possible on the bench press in my high school and it seemed like a nice round number to aim for.  I started off maxing out at 140, and for the first while I was able to consistently see the numbers go up.  However, the machine at my place maxes out at 200 pounds so I can't actually test myself properly this way anymore.  My best guess is that I am maxing out between 300 and 320 pounds at the moment based on ratios I found were consistent in the early going.

There was a point awhile ago when I thought I might be able to triple my original value and end up at 420 pounds.  I am no longer convinced this is possible, barring heavy drug usage, and there is no way I am going to do any of that.  My new round number to aim for is 350 since that is 2.5 times my base strength.  While it is probably a while off yet I think it is a reasonable goal since I am still making gains even though they are much slower now than they were at the outset.

One of the difficulties here is that I am on the downslope in terms of strength training capability.  Bodybuilders can have pretty long careers as far as athletes go, but once you are in your 40s your body's aging imposes too great a penalty to overcome.  It takes years to build up muscle, which I think is why bodybuilders can go a long time, because at 20 you simply don't have enough years of lifting to have achieved your full potential.

I am turning 40 this summer and that means I am rapidly going to be hitting my peak possible strength and then will begin the slow but unstoppable decline from that top point.  Probably I have at most another 3 years of potential consistent gains before the marginal benefit from another year of lifting becomes less than the marginal penalty of being another year older.

The question of how I am going to maintain my motivation once my numbers start dropping is a good one.  I like levelling myself up and seeing progress - when that progress becomes negative it may be difficult to find the desire to keep hitting the gym as hard as I have.  I have years yet to figure that out, but that point is coming.

I think if you had told me that I would be able to bench press 310 pounds by this point when I started I would have been impressed with that value.  I am quite happy with that progress.

But hey, the main reason I wanted to start doing this was to look big and ripped.  How is that part coming along?

The answer is partly good, partly bad.  The bad part is that I want to be bigger, and when I look at myself I still see myself as the skinny kid is who is far behind me.  That muscle dysmorphia hasn't suddenly gone away because I put on 35 pounds of muscle.  I can measure myself and compare pictures and see the differences, but that fundamental view of myself as not quite measuring up is mostly unchanged.  This isn't surprising, as most bodybuilders continue to compare themselves to others and find themselves lacking no matter how big they get.  Much like many eating disorders it is all about the brain, not the body, and no matter how big or small you get the brain seems to think the same way.

I don't think my muscle dysmorphia is serious, or a problem.  It makes me want to work out which is honestly a good thing for my health and I haven't taken on any bad habits because of it.  It is just a thing that is there, and it doesn't seem like it will change.

On a more upbeat note I would say that my muscle gain and appearance change is really positive.  The people that habitually see me naked seem to quite like the changes, and the people that don't see me naked are impressed, or at least notice.  When I can manage to be objective I like the extra mass and I like the way I look more.  I like the shape of my arms a lot more now, even if there is that voice in my head that keeps on telling me I am still way too skinny.

My upper body changes seem positive, to me, but honestly the lower half of me isn't particularly.  My legs and butt are bigger, but they don't actually look better.  I don't think it is a bad thing, but it is kind of interesting to me that my arms, chest, and back got a lot of definition to go with their size, but my bottom half just got bigger without any other changes in shape.  I can see the beginnings of a bodybuilder's physique on my upper body, but the outrageous quads on a bodybuilder's legs are nowhere in sight.

As far as actual utility goes the strength is rarely used.  I can lift and break things better than ever before, but the world is largely speaking designed for people much weaker than me so it seldom matters.  I am healthier and in better cardiovascular shape too, which will make me live longer and be able to better flee zombies.  One of those things is likely to matter.... the other, not so much.  I am more useful when doing labour up at the cottage, and occasionally I hoist a lover up in the air just for fun and they seem to like that, but honestly when I consider the amount of time and effort I put into lifting the benefits don't seem quite worth it.

Still, even if the benefits aren't all the brochure said they would be I intend to keep going.  If nothing else I may keep myself health enough that when we finally do invent something to make humans immortal I may still be in good enough shape to use it.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

On the virtues of yelling

I read an article recently in The Atlantic talking about how liberals should change their tactics in order to achieve greater progress when talking to conservatives.  The idea is that conservatives often do things that have liberals yelling "Racist!" at them, and that if we just sat down and had civil conversations about the problems with specific conservative policies rather than calling people bigots we would get much further.

It is a pleasant thought.  What if we could just be gentle and kind to people pushing awful, destructive policies that actively oppress marginalized groups, and then those policies would change?  Wouldn't it be great if we could just stop calling people racist and then they would listen to us and be better?

You can probably guess that I think this is a stupid plan.

There are two things at play here, and I think it is useful to separate them.  First, there is the issue of efficacy.  If we want to push a progressive agenda that reduces oppression, is it effective to be nice to people instead of calling them bigots?  The article just assumes this with no proof - according to it, we would convince many more people to be good if we stop calling out bigoted behaviour when we see it.

*If* this worked I would buy into it.  I am big on results, and if I could get people on board by just politely talking about the problems with their behaviour I could see doing that.  If people who want to make voting require more proof could be made to see how that does nothing significant to reduce voter fraud, that voter fraud is a non issue, and that preventing poor people (who are disproportionately people of colour and queer) from voting is a problem, I would be happy to talk nicely to them.  

But I see absolutely no sign that this actually works.  Certainly some people listen to calm discussions, and some people listen to outrage, but I have seen *nothing* that suggests that calm discussion is broadly more effective.  All the calm discussion in the world wasn't going to end slavery, or get women the vote, or achieve other progressive milestones.  That took violence, protest, and extreme positions.

So if being nice to bigots actually changed minds, I could be convinced.  But I don't think that it does work, so there isn't an efficacy argument.

The second argument is about whether or not it is appropriate to use loaded terms like racist or bigot just because someone voices a political opinion.  

Of course it fucking is, if their opinion is that government ought to do things that oppress people.

When people don't have health coverage, they die.  When queer people aren't allowed to marry, are pushed out of housing or jobs because of their orientation, or are physically assaulted, they suffer.  Some will even die due to the negative health consequences of these things.  When wealth is shifted towards the extremely rich and away from the poor that creates serious suffering, and, again, death.

So if someone pushes for governments to enact policies that do these things, they are actively trying to cause pain, suffering, and death.  They may not intend pain, suffering, and death, but they do intend to push agendas that cause those things and they are unwilling to do the utterly trivial research and/or thought required to realize this.  

When someone does this and we call them racist or bigoted, it hurts their feelings, and then they cry about how their political views are just opinions, nothing important.  But being called racist, well that is positively hurtful!

"Look, I am just asking for people that are different from me to die.  No need to get mad about it.  If you want to be taken seriously, you need to debate with me in a calm manner!"

It reminds me of a quote attributed to Margaret Atwood.  "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them.  Women are afraid that men will kill them."  It describes this situation nicely, really.  Many people pushing conservative viewpoints are terribly afraid of being called racist, and yet fail to see that the people on the other side are afraid of DYING.

If you are going to call for death and suffering for others, you had damn well better be ready to be called nasty names.

When people call for law and order drug wars, when they try to oppress queer people, when they act as though being poor is grounds for being dead, then telling them calmly how they are wrong might change them.  Yelling "Racist!" at them might change them.  It is hard to say which will work.  But what I can say for fucking sure is that if someone was calling for me to suffer and die while simultaneously insisting that I be polite and kind to them I would call them all the nasty words in the book and I sure wouldn't let them pretend that they are owed calm discussion of their reprehensible views.