Must Read Machiavelli Series

There’s an absolutely must-read series on Machiavelli currently being posted at Ex Urbe. This is history at its most exciting and fascinating. The first is all politics and history, the second is all about philosophy, and more are coming. Well-written, fast-paced, and an entirely new perspective on the man and his era (at least, if you aren’t a specialist in Renaissance history!)


Radfems, Transphobia, Etc.

I don’t have much time, but I wanted to comment on this post by Heather on Zinnia Jones’ channel: “In a radical feminist world, there is no transphobia.” Because I have no time, we will do this in bullets:

  1. It isn’t a No True Scotsmen fallacy: Heather does explicitly acknowledge that there are transphobic radfems. She argues, rather, that transphobia is not a logical result of basic radical feminist ideas. Just thought I’d clear that one up at the start.
  2. I think the idea of a radical feminist world is a little bit self-contradictory. Once a society adopts radical feminist ideas, they are by definition no longer radical.
  3. Like so many radfems, Heather seems to accept unquestioningly that a world entirely without gender roles is possible. But there’s really no evidence that this would be possible, and plenty of evidence to the contrary. Gender roles can change, they can be reduced, maybe, or made less damaging, but human beings are induction machines. I don’t see us ever reaching a point where we can say “Gender roles are gone entirely! Congrats, everyone!”
  4. Heather claims that that trans women, “don’t question themselves, apologize for themselves, or wait for their turn to speak quite as often as cis women are taught to do from birth.” There is no possible way that she could know this with any certainty — there simply aren’t any reputable studies — and as my own anecdotal experience contradicts hers, I really feel nothing wrong with dismissing this.
  5. The above is also, incidentally, a trope so often used by radfems to deny trans experiences, to deny trans women’s existence, that I’m a bit disappointed to see it proposed without acknowledging the complete lack of evidence for it by someone writing against transphobia in radfem communities.***
  6. Otherwise, fine. I would be the last person to say that radical feminism is necessarily transphobic: I know plenty of radical feminists who aren’t, and I agree with Heather than transphobia is not logically derived from basic radical feminist assumptions.
  7. However, I am skeptical of the idea that a radical feminist world is necessarily a world where radical feminist principles are developed logically in order to avoid transphobia. I think a radical feminist world could as easily be transphobic if such a world were shaped by the many transphobic radical feminists. Here’s where I think No True Scotsman shows up a bit: you simply cannot say that a world created from the ideas of transphobic radfems would not be a radical feminist world. It would be a bad world, and an illogical world, and a world not justified by basic radical feminist principles, but nonetheles…..I’m not convinced that it wouldn’t be correct to call that a radical feminist world. In which case, a more appropriate title would be that in a radical feminist world, transphobia would be illogical, or in a radical feminist world, transphobia would not be necessary. Because I think there are things rightly referred to as radical feminist worlds which would be transphobic.

***I should note that she explicitly points out that even so, this is not a reason to deny trans people’s gender identity or existence or any of that, and she does qualify by saying that *sometimes*, not always, childhood socialization is apparent. But, honestly, why even propose this as a true statement in the first place?

You Can Prove Negatives

A quick note: someone whipped out this old bit of folk-logic that “you can’t prove a negative” at me earlier today. This statement shows up an awful lot in all sorts of debates, but despite its folklore position as some sort of rule of elementary logic, no logician ever has actually proposed it.

And that’s because it is pretty clearly not true, after all, it contains within itself its own handy refutation:  “you can’t prove a negative” is itself a negative statement, so if you can’t prove a negative, you can’t prove that “you can’t prove a negative.”

But of course there are plenty of examples of negative statements that people can prove. One of the real elementary laws of logic is that any proposition P is identical to the negation of its negation, that is, to not-not-P. So if you can prove a positive statement, then you also prove a negative statement which is equivalent to it. (If Descartes could prove that he existed with cogito, ergo sum, he could also thus prove that he wasn’t nonexistent.)

“Legitimate Rape” Now A Thing

According to Representative Akin of Missouri,

“First of all, from what I understand from doctors [pregnancy from rape] is really rare,” Akin told KTVI-TV in an interview posted Sunday. “If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”

He’s quite clearly wrong, of course (see here for the history behind his claim) — RAINN estimates 3,204 pregnancies resulting from rape in 2004-2005 alone (a rate of 5%.)

But I think there’s one pressing question here for Akin and those who agree with him: if the female body is so good at knowing when a rape is occurring, why do we, as a culture, not axiomatically trust women when they say they’ve been raped? And if Akin’s answer, or your answer (for those of you who agree with him on abortion and rape), is that sometimes women lie and that false rape accusations, despite being truly extremely rare, should nonetheless be taken seriously, well, I think you’ve kind of answered your own goddamn question.

Update #1: What is unsurprising but nonetheless depressing is that Todd “the female body prevents pregnancy in cases of rape” Akin is on the House Science and Technology Committee. Here’s a petition to call for his removal from that committee.

Proof by Contradiction: a Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there was an evil king. He had all he could desire: a huge castle, servants, riches, and more power than he could shake a stick at. But as time wore on, even these could not comfort him, nor could they solve his one problem (and this wasn’t his usual problem, which was that he was so powerful even he had to obey himself.) No, this problem ran much deeper. Even with everything he had, there was one thing he couldn’t have: friends. He would try to become friends with people — but he could never have a true friend, because eventually friends disagree, and he was an evil king, and you don’t disagree with evil kings. So he became lonely. And lonelier. And as he became lonelier and lonelier, he became bitterer and bitterer and bittererer.

Finally, he became so enraged at everyone who had friends, that he began to devise an evil plan. He would hold an enormous feast, and after the feast, all the guests would be lined up. “And then,” he said aloud, in his evil planning voice, “I will begin to draw numbers from a hat, and with each number drawn, one guest shall die! Moreover, as I have no friends, each guest will die when the number of friends they have at the feast is called!” His plan completed, the King began to put it in motion. Until he hit a fatal snag.

He spent weeks and weeks trying to devise a guest list, but as you’ll recall, he was so powerful he had to obey his own commands, and he had said that with each number called, one guest would die. But try as he might, he could not figure out a guest list (even with his evil party planner) that would invite guests where each guest had a unique number of friends at the feast. Finally, the king sent for his evil royal mathematician, the evilest mathematician there was. “O King,” said the mathematician, “how my I serve your Royal Evilness.”

“Help me with my guest-list, and I shall reward you beyond your wildest imagination,” the king responded, detailing his dastardly plan.

Cowering in sudden fear, the mathematician spoke, her voice trembling. “Your Majesty, it — it is not possible.”

“Explain yourself,” the king roared.

“Well, Your Evilness,” she spoke again, “suppose you invite k guests. Since you aren’t counting guests being friends with themselves, for each guest there are k-1 other guests to be friends with. So the most friends any guest can have is k-1. The least number of friends any guest can have, clearly, is 0. Which means that for any guest there are k possible numbers of friends: 0, 1, 2 ,3, …, or k-1. But now, you see, you have k guests and k numbers-of-friends you need to pair. If you want each guest to have a unique number of friends, you must therefore pair some guest with each of the k numbers-of-friends. Thus one guest, Xanthia, will have 0 friends, and also another guest, Bartholomew, will have k-1 friends. But since Bartholomew has k-1 friends and there are k people counting him, he must be friends with Xanthia. But then Xanthia and he are friends, which makes no sense, since Xanthia has no friends and thus Bartholomew and Xanthia aren’t friends. This is clearly impossible, and so each guest cannot have a unique number of friends, and so therefore there must always, no matter who you invite, be two guests with the same number of friends.”

And with that, the king suddenly ceased to exist. For, you see, his existence had become the battleground of two great Necessities: the Necessity of his power said the feast must exist, and the Necessity of the Laws of Mathematics said the feast must not exist. Thus, his existence was a contradiction, and therefore, he did not exist.

And so, children, the kingdom was saved from the evilest, powerfulest, loneliest King in the world.

Well This Is Depressing

Apparently Kristen Stewart is no longer going to be a part of the Snow White and the Huntsman franchise. The link pretty much covers the truly depressing part of this, so I’m going to shut up about that and talk about why this is the death of that franchise.

Honestly, here’s the thing: she and Theron made that movie. And Theron is out, unless they do some ultra-stupid rejuvenation thing (this is Hollywood, after all.) Who gives a fuck about watching the further adventures of the huntsman? I mean, sure, he was good, but terse and stoic white male action heroes aren’t exactly hard to find.

The movie’s success hinged on giving agency and depth to two character tropes (fairytale princess and evil queenwitch) usually deprived of both. It wasn’t perfect, but it did a pretty good job, and that’s what made it not just a fun action-fantasy movie but rather something even more engaging and meaningful. Which is why The Further Aventures of the Huntsman: Frown Harder, even if a well-done movie, isn’t going to be, on any really meaningful level, a Snow White and the Huntsman followup.

Maybe they’ll prove me wrong and bring in a new strong female lead for the next movie. But it’ll still, at least from they are saying, be centered around the Huntsman.

‘Cause we’ve never seen that movie before.

ADDENDUM: I will note that it only took about half a screen of comments on Salon to find some  truly disturbing ones. Do not venture there.