Wednesday, August 5, 2009

How pornography is and isn't protected

To start: A reiteration of something I think I said- this isn't really a blog, but a place for me to semi-anonymously post rants about stuff and think about my ideas. As a result, don't expect too much coherence.

Anyway. First, some definitions. You don't have to agree with these; I just need to be precise for the purposes of my argument.

Pornography is defined as material that uses sexual elements for the purpose of sexual arousal/titilation (now there's a fun word!).

Erotica is defined as material that uses sexual elements for the purpose of creative expression, or any sort of expression (so, we include both nude sculpture and the sex scene in Looking for Alaska, and even anatomy textbooks, if we consider those sexual).

One thing I've heard from (frequently religious) conservatives is that pornography is not protected under the First Amendment, for whatever reason, and, by my definition (which is most likely different from theirs), it isn't. Whether sexually arousing material should be restricted is, of course, still up to debate, but it isn't constitutionally protected.

However, erotica is absolutely protected. It, by defintion, is used for expression, and the First Amendment (not to mention the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but I'm being Amerocentric) protects expression.

The issue is, then, how we distinguish pornography from erotica. After all, if a work is used in any way at all for expression, it's protected; therefore, in order to ban (or, I would argue, restrict at all, including agewise) a work, we need to decide that it has not use whatsoever than sexual arousal. Then we have the issue of who does the deciding, especially because any kind of meaning at all to anyone, anywhere would protect a work from restriction.

So, unless we want to establish censorship boards and somehow align them with public opinion, plus deal with the headache of varying standards, we should just eliminate a ban on sexual materials.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Intuitively Defined Racism

Disclaimer: This was written more to vent than anything else, so I didn't edit it at all. I might, eventually; I just don't want whoever is reading this (which I suspect isn't many people) to think that I can't write.

First, a link to the post in question. You can find your way to the rest of the blog.

The post is her definition of racism, and I quote (the entire post):

An ongoing series. Here’s something you need to understand before engaging me in any debate:

Racism = Prejudice + Power

By definition, Blacks and other minorities cannot be racist because they do not have insitutional, systemic power. The term Minority doesn’t even refer to a minority of numbers any more (after all, minorities outnumber whites in many places, now), but instead to a minority of power.

So, again: Racism = Prejudice + Power

Reverse racism does not exist. It just doesn’t.

My issue with this- she's defining racism in a very non-intuitive manner. Reading the discussion after the post, I come across her main idea, which I partially agree with: there are two different ideas that "racism" describes, and that there need to be terms for both of them. The first meaning is "racially-motivated prejudice", which (though "prejudice" is a sketchy term too) is the belief that race influences a person's actions more than it actually does. The second is "institutional racism", which is when a society or system is set up based on racist beliefs, which generally means that someone is getting the short end of the stick.

Note that the second definition doesn't use "discrimination", because I don't think that the connection between distinguishing and harming is self-evident enough to have them described by the same word, and that it uses "racism", from the first definition. This is because it's a deriative definition. Definition number two is based off definition number one.

I think that the most obvious way to define such a term is to pick the first definition, and then use some sort of modifier, like "institutionalized" to describe the second. This way, we get terms for both that both have obvious etymologies. However, ABW takes the other view- that we should pick the second as the definition. The obvious problem is how to describe the first.

Based on this clarification of terms, I agree with her. While anyone can be racist (so reverse racism, by my definition, can exist), only those in power can be institutionally racist (so, there is no such thing at all as reverse institutional racism. However, this distinction is not made clear enough, and most of the disagreeing commenters seem to think she's using "racism" to mean racism, when she's using it to mean institutionalized racism.

When I started writing this, I was annoyed at ABW. Now I'm not; in fact, I almost agree with her. I suppose that writing this post served it's purpose. However, as an addendum: the other salient point of criticism is that she says that blacks can never be institutionally racist. Later comments reveal that what she meant was that in the US, blacks can't be institutionally racist, but they can in, for example, Zimbabwe. This Amero-centricism is an artefact of her only having experience with American race politics, which is a perfectly valid reason. I merely suggest to ABW: If you want to not come across as a white/male-basher, don't say things that can be interpreted that way.

Saturday, February 28, 2009


Some of you out in Readerland might have heard of Conservapedia, while some of you might not. While you can figure out what it's like by reading the front page and a few controversial articles, (try "Feminism", "Liberal" and "Atheist") I'll summarize.

Conservapedia was started by a certain Andrew Schaflay, when (really!) he objected to a student using the BCE and CE dates on an assignment. It sets itself up as a noble crusader against the waves of "liberal bias" from Wikipedia, the "Liberal Media", and really everyone else who doesn't agree with them.

You can see for yourself what kind of place it is; suffice it to say that it has at its base a fundamental flaw. The first, proudly displayed Conservapedia Commandment is:
Everything you post must be true and verifiable. Do not copy from Wikipedia[1] or elsewhere unless it was your original work.[2]
The second is:
2. Always cite[3] and give credit to your sources,[4] even if in the public domain.[5]
And the fifth is:
5. Do not post personal opinion on an encyclopedia entry. Opinions can be posted on Talk:pages or on debate or discussion pages. Advertisements are prohibited.

These rules are widely and constantly ignored, as long as it is a conservative doing so. The vast majority of controversial pages contain completely unsourced opinions throughout them. A good example is that of Liberal, where the introduction says that:

A liberal is someone who rejects logical and biblical standards, often for self-centered reasons. There are no coherent liberal standards; often a liberal is merely someone who craves attention, and who uses many words to say nothing.
Edits to change or remove such unsourced, opinionated material are reverted (if the page itself isn't locked), sometimes leading to user bans. While there is a basis for such actions, namely Conservapedia's self-proclamed conservative viewpoint, it's obvious that the opinions of conservatives (namely Conservapedia's founder and sysops) are treated as fact.

However, this is an entirely ridiculous basis for an encyclopedia. Would anyone trust a source that openly championed its own bias? Conservapedia effectively definies "truth" as "what I think". The problem is that the opinions of one person or a small group of people will always be biased, however subconciously.

Wikipedia, while it has issues of its own, doesn't do this at all. It accepts that any establishment of absolute truth is futile or impossible, and instead takes the opinions of reliable, respected people and condenses them into a coherent discussion. Whatever Andrew Schaflay may think, "NPOV" does not mean that factual articles are diluted with wrong opinions. It merely means (as someone stated on Wikipeida's talk page for its Conservapedia article) that, if 90% of reliable sources have one view and 10% have another, the page should express the first opinion 90% of the time and the other 10%.

Furthermore, many users of Conservapedia, particularly Mr. Schaflay, despite repeatedly decrying liberals as small-minded, beady-eyed and hypocritcal personal attackers, frequently act in such a manner. Browse the talk pages of controversial articles if you want more examples of this. I simply direct you to this page (I'm Umlaut). While I agree that I was unclear, his conduct was unacceptable.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Hello, World

So, this is a blog.

I'm setting this up for a variety of reasons. I'm doing this right now because I'm putting off doing homework. However, the real reason is to have something to bounce ideas off of. I am interested in how things work, and why they are the way they are, which is relatively easy in the case of math and science, it isn't in the case of philosophy.

If I want to, say, learn more about differential topology or Lie algebras, there are places I can look and people I can talk to, and I can be reasonably sure that they are neutral. Science is a bit harder, but you can still do it. However, possibly due to my own ignorance, almost everything I've been able to find about philosophy, morality and religion has been obscure, incomprehensible, unbelievably pretentious, or biased. Therefore, I've resorted to trying to figure things out on my own.

However, doing so requires time and people to talk about things with, which I don't always have. So, in writing this blog, I hope to hash out and my own philosophical, moral and religious ideas, as well as anything else that pops into my head.