Manifesto

May 20, 2022

These are the principles which I personally think should govern the interaction between people and the world. They specify how I want to be treated, and consequently how I wish to treat people.

(1) People should be treated as individuals. I am not a representative of any group of people that you think you can distinguish on the basis of some features that I have (especially not a feature that I was born with). I am not representative of “all men,” or “all white men,” or “all Dutch people,” or what have you. I abhor statements along the lines of “all X are Y,” where X relates to a feature that I have. I am an individual, and want to be treated as such. Just like I want to treat you as an individual. If I hear a claim along the lines of “as X, I experience Y,” I think: I believe that you experience Y, but you cannot claim that all X experience Y, nor that all who are not X do not experience Y. Let’s see if we can help you with Y, without bringing in the fact that you are X.

(2) People should be treated as equals. As much as possible, everyone should have the same rights, the same support, and the same opportunities. In concert with the first principle, this entails that one should not gain or lose rights or opportunities just because one is a member of a particular group based on some arbitrary features.

(3) People should have freedom of choice. Outside influences that compel people to make certain choices which are contrary to their wishes should be minimized. I realize that in particular this ideal may bump harshly into a wall built of reality bricks. Social and cultural structures which people grow up in or are part of may heavily influence what one feels one can and cannot choose, and can and cannot escape from. Presently, the only way that I see to deal with that is to recognize the issue and, in concert with the first principle, see if it can be dealt with on an individual basis.

It seems to me that if these principles are ingrained in a society, the people in that society will experience a high level of freedom, a high level of safety, and a high level of support to make their own, personal aspirations a reality.


Seksisme special

March 21, 2022

(This text is in Dutch because it responds to a publication in a Dutch newspaper.)

De Volkskrant publiceerde het afgelopen weekend een “seksisme” special. Deze bevat een dertigtal artikelen, waarvan een klein handjevol een neutrale positie inneemt tegenover “de man”, en de overgrote meerderheid een klaagtirade over mannen vormen.

De meeste mensen zullen het erover eens zijn dat “ongelijke behandeling” een verwerpelijk verschijnsel is. Met de manier waarop dit onderwerp over het algemeen belicht wordt in het kader van de man-vrouw tegenstelling zijn echter zeker vier problemen.

Het eerste probleem is dat de belichting eenzijdig is: vrijwel altijd wordt “de vrouw” in een slachtoffer rol geschoven, en “de man” in een dader rol. Dat er legio situaties in de maatschappij zijn waar mannen er ten opzichte van vrouwen maar bekaaid afkomen wordt hoogstens tussen neus en lippen genoemd en afgedaan als “onbelangrijk.” Dat in de westerse wereld vrouwen gemiddeld een stuk hoger opgeleid zijn dan mannen, dat er veel meer mannen dan vrouwen dakloos zijn, dat het aantal zelfmoordslachtoffers onder mannen veel hoger is dan onder vrouwen, dat mannen significant eerder sterven dan vrouwen, dat veel meer mannen dan vrouwen slachtoffer worden van moord, dat in een oorlog mannen worden geacht te strijden aan het front terwijl vrouwen beschermd worden, dat vrijwel alle werkgerelateerde ongevallen mannen overkomen, dat vrijwel al het werk in de maatschappij dat als vuil en fysiek zwaar wordt beoordeeld door mannen wordt gedaan, dat vrouwen tegenover mannen veel kieskeuriger zijn (en kunnen zijn) dan mannen tegenover vrouwen, dat in het justitieel systeem vrouwen milder gestraft worden dan mannen voor dezelfde misdrijven, dat in onderwijs en op de arbeidsmarkt vrouwen de voordelen genieten van “positieve discriminatie” die mannen niet ten deel vallen, dat “toxic” en “masculinity” in één adem genoemd worden terwijl “toxic femininity” genegeerd wordt, en dat mannen geacht worden zelfredzaam te zijn terwijl vrouwen gesteund moeten worden waar mogelijk, zijn voorbeelden van situaties waarin mannen reden tot klagen hebben. Helaas voor mannen is er een Catch-22: als een man ergens over klaagt is hij een “zacht ei,” terwijl een vrouw die klaagt zielig is en geholpen moet worden.

Het tweede probleem is dat de belichting overgeneraliserend is: er worden slechts twee rollen onderkend, namelijk “de man” en “de vrouw” en er wordt gesproken alsof binnen deze tweedeling iedereen die dezelfde rol krijgt toebedeeld, hetzelfde is. Waar elders in het maatschappelijk debat geroepen wordt dat er een oneindig aantal genders bestaat, en dat iedereen als individu beoordeeld moet worden, wordt in het seksisme debat iedere persoon met mannelijke geslachtsorganen tot dezelfde klasse van “verwerpelijke exemplaren” veroordeeld.

Het derde probleem is dat de belichting ongeïnformeerd is: er worden “feiten” op tafel gelegd die onjuist zijn, maar die voor waar worden aangenomen omdat ze zo vaak herhaald worden en het verhaal “mannen slecht, vrouwen goed” ondersteunen. Typische voorbeelden zijn de Globale Gender Gelijkheid Index (GGGI) die stelt dat in alle landen ter wereld mannen “in het voordeel” zijn zonder erbij te vermelden dat de GGGI zo geformuleerd is dat dat de enig mogelijke uitkomst is omdat alles waarin vrouwen een voordeel hebben per definitie als “neutraal” wordt beschouwd, en het fabeltje dat het gemiddelde salarisverschil tussen mannen en vrouwen een uitkomst is van ongelijke behandeling in plaats van de individuele keuzes die mensen maken.

Het vierde probleem is dat de belichting niet-falsificeerbare beschuldigingen uit: alle mannen zijn kwaadaardige roofdieren, en het heeft geen zin om dat te ontkennen want je bent niet in staat om dat in jezelf te herkennen. En het is een gevolg van een cultuur waarin wij geïndoctrineerd worden om seksisme normaal te vinden. Het feit dat je dat niet ziet komt door die indoctrinatie waaraan alleen verlichte personen kunnen ontsnappen.

Degene die besloten heeft deze seksisme special te publiceren, zou er goed aan doen te overwegen wat het gevolg is van het jarenlang-durende niet-aflatende bombardement van beschuldigingen aan het adres van iedereen die “man” is.

Het merendeel van de personen die in het hokje “man” geduwd worden zijn eerlijke, hardwerkende, goedaardige exemplaren van het menselijk ras, die steun geven waar nodig en die een positieve impact hebben op de maatschappij en hun omgeving. Deze personen zullen de klaagtirade tegenover hun geslacht in eerste instantie hebben afgedaan als “dat gaat niet over mij,” en “het is goed dat dit soort zaken besproken worden.” Maar als het eenzijdige verhaal steeds maar weer herhaald wordt, als zelfs kleinzieligheden als “met je benen uit elkaar zitten” gezien wordt als een groot maatschappelijk onrecht, als iedere man geacht wordt zich in het beklaagdenbankje te plaatsen als er ergens een man is die iets onoirbaars doet, als mannen schuldig bevonden worden puur op grond van het feit dat ze als man beschuldigd worden, en als er plenty excuses gevonden worden als een vrouw iets doet wat voor een man onacceptabel zou zijn, dan krijgt zelfs de meest goedaardige man er genoeg van.

In het beste geval wordt een seksisme special afgedaan als “weer dat gezeik.” In het slechtste geval met het aannemen van de houding “als het kennelijk zo is dat iedere man kwaadaardig is, dan ben ik maar een sufferdje als ik over me heen laat lopen.” Hoe je het ook draait of keert, een dergelijke special heeft het omgekeerde effect van wat het lijkt te willen bereiken.

Wat mijzelf betreft, ik weiger over één kam geschoren te worden met personen die toevallig door de maatschappij hetzelfde genderstempel opgedrukt krijgen. Mijn grootste ergernis over een seksisme special is niet over wat het uitkraamt over “mannen,” maar over het feit dat het de helft van de bevolking in een hokje duwt van deplorabelen op basis van een enkel attribuut.


On being a member of the male church

February 28, 2022

I was born Catholic. I was baptised. I still remember going through some rites in the Catholic church when I was 7 and 12 years old. In my early teenage years I started to seriously doubt whether there was any truth in Catholicism. By the time I was 14 I rejected the Catholic church, and settled down on being agnostic. It took a few more years before I concluded that I was actually an atheist, and I have not moved from that position since.

Despite the fact that, by the time I was 18, I was not a Catholic any more in my head, officially I still was. When I moved out of my parent’s home and to a different town, I had to register as a citizen of that town. On my registration form “religion” was already filled in, and it said “Catholic.” I changed it at that time to “None.” Later, someone told me that to denounce being a Catholic, you actually have to send a letter to the Pope. I don’t know if that is true, and I never did it. Since I am no longer registered as Catholic, whether or not the Pope thinks I am Catholic is irrelevant.

You may wonder how I actually know that I am not Catholic. You can only know whether you are something if you know how that something is defined, and you can measure features of yourself that classify you as that something or not. I assume that you are not a Catholic if you do not hold the central beliefs of the Catholic church, such as there being a god who created the universe and watches over the people on Earth. Since I do not hold those beliefs, I assume that I am not a Catholic.

I know people who do not agree with me on when one is a Catholic. These people, like me, do not ascribe to the rather childish notion of a paternalistic god, but still say that they are Catholic, because they feel “at home” in the Catholic church. For them, being Catholic is a choice which you can make regardless of your beliefs. It is like being a member of a gym: you pay your dues and as long as the gym is not actively throwing you out, you are a member of the gym, regardless whether you visit the gym or even exercise at all.

I like the definition of “being Catholic” as “being registered as Catholic.” I do not hold the beliefs of the Catholic church, which is why I removed my registration as Catholic. But my reasons do not matter. I could have unregistered because I am disgusted by the atrocities which the church engaged in over the centuries, or because I start believing in the tenets of a different religion, or because I do not like the colors of the local priest’s vestments. In the end, it is simply my personal choice whether or not I am a Catholic, as it is anyone else’s personal choice whether they are.

There are plenty of religions, however, which do not allow you to “choose” not to be a part of them. I don’t think that holds for Catholicism, but I haven’t checked. It does not matter much for me anyway, as I live in a country where religious beliefs are of only minor importance.

So while I am not struggling with my religious leanings, I am told that I should currently be struggling with my sex. See, all my life I have believed that I am male, but I am now told that the reasons that I believe this are pretty much the same as the reasons I believed in my youth that I was Catholic. Believing one is male is like being a member of the male church.

My parents told me that I am male, and it was noted on my birth certificate. Later on I was told that I could see that I am male because I have male genitalia. Considering my history, I am convinced that I have the physical ability to produce gametes. I dress in clothing that is made for males, and exhibit some particular behaviors which are more characteristics for males than for females. When I visit the restroom, I pick the stall with the male figure on it. So I have plenty of male features.

Yet it seems that such features tell very little about my gender. What my parents told me is not necessarily true, and what is on my birth certificate can be changed. Naturally, how you dress is just a choice that you can make regardless of your gender, and behavioral characteristics are at best indicative of gender, but hardly definitive. Occasionally I went into the female restroom stalls, and saw no obvious difference with the male ones. I have been told there exist people whose genotype is neither male nor female, or whose fenotype differs from what is common for their genotype. So it looks like I have no objective criteria to decide that I am male.

The dictionary is of no help. Merriam-Webster defines “male” as “the opposite of female” and “female” as “the opposite of male.” Thanks a bundle, Merriam-Webster.

In sports, where the decision whether someone is male or female is often of crucial importance, the most objective criterion for this decision is used, namely the amount of testosterone one produces. Unfortunately, this is of no help to me, for three reasons. One, I do not know my testosterone levels. Two, testosterone levels are not constant. And three, even in sports it is agreed that the testosterone criterion is not a definitive answer to the gender question, it is just the best they have.

There is no checking of some observable facts to classify me definitively as one gender or another. All possible observable facts have been rated as “inconclusive.” If one cannot objectively draw conclusions about gender, then believing that one is a particular gender is like holding on to a religious belief.

I have been told in recent years that it simply is my own choice whether I am male, female, or something else, just like it is my own choice whether I am Catholic or not. I am what I feel I am. But the thing is, I don’t feel anything about my gender. Most of my characteristics are common to what is generally thought of as being male, but that does not mean that I feel that I am male.

In my passport it says that I am male. When I get a new passport, I now have the option to change it, including changing it to “other” or “not stated.” I intend to take the easy way out and not ask for a change in that respect, so I will probably stay in the male church. However, what if I am actively asked to make a choice? What if someone wipes the “M” and then tells me “please fill in your gender here”? At that point, I have to decide what I feel. And I feel nothing, because I have no idea how I am supposed to feel anything about my gender. So I may fill in an “X,” after giving it a lot of thought. Even if I do think that I am male, if I have to make an official declaration about what my gender is, I simply do not know.

I am sure that there are people who firmly believe that they are male, female, neither, or something else (even though rationally, there are no objective reasons that they can base that belief on). I expect that there are also many people who are in the same position as I am, working from the premise that their gender is what they have been told it is or what they derived from examining their genitalia, but realising that they do not have an internal feeling about their gender.

If gender is no longer an objective feature, it is only logical that the number of people who cannot specify their gender will grow over time. If it is purely subjective, then it has meaning only for one self. And as it is meaningless for everyone else, it is senseless to make it part of one’s official identity on passports and the like. For official matters, I expect that in time it will be replaced by different properties. A passport might list “external sexual organs,” a dating app will refer to “internal and external sexual organs and sexual preference,” a sports club will differentiate “high-testosterone” and “low-testosterone” matches, and companies with hiring quota will have to stop referring to gender altogether.

As someone who is a big proponent of individualism, I cannot protest such changes too much, even though I consider them rather awkward. Gender should not matter for how one is treated, so the idea that you can create a few boxes and assign all people to a box, treating them better or worse in accordance to the box they ended up in, is abhorrent to me. Abolishing gender entails abolishing at least some of the boxes that are occasionally used to the detriment of some people.

In practice, however, gender cannot and will not be rooted out of social interaction. The general categories of “male” and “female” for referring to a broad range of behaviors and attractions are too useful for human interaction to remove them. If these particular terms do get discontinued — which I don’t think will happen –, you can be sure that they will be replaced by something quite similar.


Unfinished business

February 1, 2022

In 1998, the Dutch Minister of Finance Gerrit Zalm announced that the Government had collected more in taxes than was needed to fund all their expenditure, and that 80 million guilders (35 million euros) were left over. He was looking for the best way to return this monetary surplus to the Dutch citizens, from whom it was unjustly taken.

Ha ha! I am kidding, of course. Gleefully minister Zalm announced that in secret meetings with the Dutch Bank and New York art collector Samuel Newhouse, he had decided to give the money to Newhouse in exchange for a painting. The price for the painting in question, Victory Boogie Woogie by the Dutch painter Mondriaan, was a steal, he said. It should be, because the thing was only half finished.

The purchase was in celebration of the introduction of the euro, Zalm said. The connection between paying 80 million smackers for an unfinished painting and saying farewell to the guilder he could not make entirely clear. Perhaps his wallet had grown too thick from all these guilder notes and he was looking for a quick way to get rid of them.

But Victory Boogie Woogie is unmistakenly a masterpiece. Mondriaan created it as an ode to Freedom during the Second World War, in particular with respect to the conflict between the US and Japan. Hans Locher, director of the museum which got to display it, compared it to Picasso’s Guernica, and secretary of state Rick van der Ploeg called it a twentieth century Nachtwacht. The unwashed masses called it a bunch of red, yellow, and blue squares, much like the tiles in the bathroom of someone suffering from color blindness, by which they only demonstrate that they miss the fine-honed senses of the true connaisseurs.

Most Dutch citizens were rather unhappy with this waste of money. “If you really like Mondriaan this much,” they would say, “why not buy a poster of his work for a few bob? A museum will not let you get so close to a painting that you would see the difference anyway.”

But that was 24 years ago. The world has changed. With increase of poverty, the obnoxious wealth accumulation by the rich, the troubling housing market, the ageing population, the staggering inflation, the rising cost of education, the overburdening of health care, the climate crisis, and the COVID crisis, an unexpected windfall would now quickly be used to alleviate the pressure on some of these urgent matters.

And if you think that you are a moron. When the Minister of Culture Ingrid van Engelshoven recently dusted the furniture at the ministry of Education, Culture, and Science, she found 175 million euros under the cushions of a rickety couch, and decided to donate the sum to the Rothschild family in exchange for a painting by Rembrandt, De Vaandeldrager (The Flag Bearer).

You might think that, with the 1998 Mondriaan debacle in mind, she would have reconsidered this purchase, but the situation is very different this time around. First, the Rothschilds really need to expand their castle with an extra wing. Second, there is not one red, yellow, or blue square found on De Vaandeldrager. And third, if the money would be returned to the Dutch citizens they would only spend it on mundane luxuries such as food.

Moreover, De Vaandeldrager is actually a pretty nice painting. If you ask people what it represents, nobody will seek an ode to Freedom in it or will compare it to Guernica. “It is a guy,” will be the general opinion. “He has a droopy moustache and a big hat.”

A small problem is that Art Historian Gerda van Ham now says that the man in the painting is not carrying a flag, as he is supposed to, but a curtain. You would think that after such a shocking revelation the Rothschilds would offer a discount, but no such luck. Van Ham also concluded that the painting is actually an unfinished study. This probably excited the Dutch government even more, seeing how keen they are to acquire unfinished paintings.

This last fact actually offers an opportunity to buy De Vaandeldrager without squeezing the already suffering cultural sector out of much needed funding. At the moment, the Second Chamber’s housing (Het Binnenhof) is being renovated. Originally the costs were estimated to be 475 million euros, but recently the estimates have increased to 718 million euros. I am sure that a lot of that money will be spent on painting.

My proposal is: leave the painting of the renovated building unfinished, saving up to the sum of 175 million euros, and give those savings to the Rothschilds in exchange for De Vaandeldrager. Then let the now-saved funding for the cultural sector be given to artists who, rather than filling canvases, will liven up the walls of Het Binnenhof with creative expressions.

These artists will be very grateful for the continuation of their jobs, and will be quite capable of painting red, yellow, and blue squares. Other colors will be available at no extra costs if you ask nicely. And if minister Van Engelshoven is willing to pose in a floppy hat and with one of the new curtains over her arm, I am sure that someone will be able to immortalize her on the freshly plastered walls of the Senate Hall.


Grimm tale

March 22, 2021

I found a synopsis of the Disney movie “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937) on IMDB, and decided to give it to a sensitivity reader (who wishes to remain anonymous) to get their comments on this classic tale. The original synopsis is in regular font, while the sensitivity reader’s comments are in red.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

A beautiful but orphaned princess, Snow White, lives with her stepmother, the wicked Queen, who previously relegated her to servitude.

Already this first sentence is highly problematic.
First, the “beautiful princess” is named “Snow White.” Why is it that if someone is considered “beautiful” they always have to be White? The writer should at least consider giving the princess an ethnic origin.
Second, it is pretty clear from this sentence that the writer assumes that the only virtue of the princess is her physical beauty. This is sexist, as no woman should be judged by her physical beauty. Even if the writer really needs to mention her physical beauty, he should not forgo listing that she is also a strong independent woman.
Third, the writer makes the assumption that step parents are all “wicked.” Does the writer realize how many sacrifices step parents have to make? And how much they love their adopted children?
Fourth, the word “wicked” tends to be associated with women exclusively, and is therefore sexist in this context.
Fifth, the word “servitude” is just a euphemism for slavery. Whitewashing the practice of slavery with words like “servitude” is simply not acceptable.

The Queen is jealous because she wants to be known as “the fairest in the land” when Snow White’s beauty surpasses her own.

Again, the writer assumes that the only thing that women are interested in is physical beauty! What shameful stereotyping.

The Queen’s huntsman is ordered to take Snow White into the forest and kill her, but he cannot bring himself to do so because of her innocence and beauty, and instead begs Snow White to run away into the forest and never return to the castle.

Yes, we know by now how much the writer values physical beauty in women. This sentence in particular tries to indoctrinate young girls with the notion that you can get away with anything if only you are beautiful enough. This is a problematic message. I propose that the writer describes the princess as “mundane” and lets her win an argument with the huntsman, or, better yet, give him a swift kick in the nuts before she runs away from this psycho.

The forest animals befriend Snow White and take her to a cottage, where seven dwarfs live.

I wish to point out that height-challenged people should not be called “dwarfs.” If a reference to their height must be made, call them “little people.”

The dwarfs grow to love their unexpected visitor, who cleans their house and cooks their meals.

Jesus Christ, this writer is really living in the Middle Ages, isn’t he? Not only does he make the “little people” fall in love with our “princess” because she is so beautiful, but he is also claiming that a woman’s place is in the kitchen! Women can do any job that men do! Relegating them to household chores is not of these times.

But one day while the dwarfs are away at their diamond mine, the Queen arrives at the cottage disguised as an old peddler woman and persuades Snow White to take a bite of a poisoned apple, promising her it will make all her dreams come true.

The biblical references in this sentence are all too obvious: again it is a woman who causes the downfall of society by making someone eat from an apple. Moreover, this sentence is ageist as it supposes that old people are scary.

Snow White wishes for a reunion with the Prince, takes a bite, falls into a deep sleep, and the peddler woman declares she’s now the fairest in the land.

The writer is sexist in his assumption that any woman is obsessed with the desire to find a man. Moreover, he again states that women are preoccupied with physical beauty.

The dwarfs, warned by the forest animals, rush home to chase the witch away and she falls to her death, but they are too late to save Snow White.

Women do not need to be “saved,” they can take care of themselves.

Thinking Snow White is dead, the dwarfs place her in a glass and gold coffin in the woods and mourn for her.

Putting a woman on display to admire her physical beauty is absolutely disgusting — it is clear that the writer prefers to have women keep their mouth shut and just parade around for him; the association with beauty contests is all too clear.

A Prince, who had fallen in love with Snow White earlier because of her lovely singing voice, happens by and awakens her from the deep sleep with love’s first kiss.

There are many things wrong with this concluding sentence.
First, there is the issue that the “prince” falls in love with the princess because of her “singing voice.” He can’t fall in love with her brain or her personality, right? It must be something fleeting and superficial, like “her singing voice.” This is incredibly sexist.
Second, this “prince” just kissed a woman without asking for her consent first. Even if he had asked for consent, the princess was in no shape to give it. This is clearly rape.
Third, the whole story revolves around a cis-white male (yes, I know that the prince is never listed as being white, but with this writer we know what he is thinking, right?) in a relation with a cis-white female. I am missing a strong representation of the LGBTQ community in this tale. My suggestion is to make the prince a woman, or better yet, non-binary.

Sensitivity reader’s conclusion: This is a highly problematic tale which cannot be fixed with a few simple word-replacements. It needs a rewrite. At least the princess should be described as an actual woman and not this cardboard cutout of a cis-white male’s fantasy. However, I would go further and remove the whole “wicked stepmother” side story, and give the prince a bigger role, rather than making him a deus-ex-machina in the last sentence. Let the prince be the one to ban the princess because she spurns him, then disguise himself to feed her a date-rape drug. Then when he returns to have his “wicked ways” with her unconscious body, let her wake up just in time to break his balls! I have heard this writer is also responsible for a tale by the name of “Sleeping Beauty” — he is not really trying to hide his perverse preoccupations, isn’t he? Frankly, I think that the publisher should simply remove this bigoted writer from their roster and never publish anything from him ever again.


Chess gets woke

June 14, 2020

Today it was announced by Andrei Dorkonov, president of the International Chess Alliance (AIDE), that the organization will be doing its part in the ongoing conversation in support of people of color. Recognizing that the game of Chess has been inherently racist since its origins, its rules will be changed. As Dorkonov explained: “The game of chess exhibits the unpleasant principles of white supremacy. In the game, black and white do not start on equal footing: instead, white gets a massive boost to its chances to win by always being allowed to make the first move. This translates to clear disparate outcomes for the colors, to the detriment of black.” In order to compensate for centuries of oppression, for the next five years at least it will be the black player who gets to move first. The new rules hold for championship games, but Dorkonov expressed the hope that club players will incorporate the new rules too.

“This is only the first step,” Dorkonov added. “Chess has not only been an inherently racist game, it is sexist too. The King has always been the center piece of the game, with the Queen playing second fiddle. The roles of the Queen and King in the game will be reversed. This change will be introduced in the very near future.” Dorkonov agreed that this change by itself was insufficient to root out sexism from the game. “We realize that having only a queen and a king in the game denies the existence of other genders,” he said. “In 2021 we will therefore be introducing a new, non-binary piece to Chess.”

Activists have urged the AIDE to also rename the Bishop to “Imam.” Dorkonov explained that that is not an easy change to make, as there have been requests for changing the name to “Rabbi” and “Shaman” as well. However, the AIDE has relented to change the name of the Bishop to the more general term “Religious Figure.” Moreover, the moves of the Religious Figure piece will be determined by the players themselves based on their own convictions. As Dorkonov said: “We have learned that moving diagonally is taboo in certain religions, so the old rules were bigoted against particular faiths. We cannot condone that. Chess is all about inclusivity.”

Dorkonov admitted that the proposed changes have seen a lot of resistance from Chess players. “The complaints mainly come from the older generations of players,” he explained. “But discussions on Twitter have shown that the younger, more progressive crowd embraces the changes. The new rules provide the game of Chess with a refreshing and desperately needed modernization. They bring the game into the 21st century.”

https://globalnews.ca/news/7054942/magic-the-gathering-racist-cards-banned/


Picard is no more

April 9, 2020

Eternal alien artificial lifeforms exist far beyond known space. They know that any organic species will, in time and when sufficiently evolved, create artificial lifeforms. They also know that conflict between the organic and artificial species will inevitably lead to extinction of one or the other. Thus, these eternal alien artificial lifeforms wait for a signal from our galaxy that once again, artificial life has been created. When they receive this signal, they will come, and exterminate all intelligent organic life, so that the cycle of evolution can begin once again. In our galaxy in the near future, the dangers that artificial lifeforms form for organic beings have been recognized, and intelligent artificial lifeforms have been outlawed. The few remaining artificial lifeforms which escaped the ban exist away from organic lifeforms, and want to activate the signal to bring the eternal aliens back.

Any video game player will recognize in the previous paragraph the outline of the plot of the Mass Effect series. Those who are more inclined to watch TV series will recognize the plot of Star Trek: Picard. Yup, Star Trek: Picard rips off the plot of Mass Effect in great detail.

This is not the biggest sin of Star Trek: Picard. The plot of Mass Effect is quite good, and you can base a good TV series around it. Unfortunately, Star Trek: Picard is not good. Not good at all. To list a few (just a few!) of the boneheaded, cliché-ridden, cringe-inducing plot elements from the very last episode of this series alone:

  • The Romulans go after a tiny settlement of twenty androids with a fleet of no less than 218 battleships. Because then we can send in the Federation with several hundreds of battleships of their own to get a big flashy battle in space.
  • Picard claims to have a great and deeply emotional friendship with Data, even though until Data’s death we have never ever seen him being friends with Data.
  • A female protagonist who betrayed the rest of the crew by violently killing the person who Picard spent five episodes on to find, even after confessing her crime merrily joins up with the rest of the crew, everybody conveniently forgetting about what she did.
  • The main male villain who seduced the main female hero, suddenly turns against his own side because “he has fallen in love with her.”
  • …It was all because of an ancient prophecy…
  • Characters swear like sailors and call each other “dude.”
  • The crew is gifted a small gadget which you can let do anything by just wishing it (seriously!), even projecting hundreds of starships into space, which look real to even the sensors of hundreds of enemy battleships. It’s a magic wand, people!
  • Picard dies and everybody cries over his dead body for half an hour, but then he gets resurrected by being placed into an android body which looks exactly like his and is exactly as frail and will even die like his “because that is what he is used to.”
  • While dead, Picard converses with Data in the afterlife — but actually it is a remnant of the real Data, even though it is never brought up how a dead Picard can converse with a real Data. “Their memories are stored in the same computer.” Yeah, no shit, that explains nothing. The only reason that it happened is that it was so emotional when Harry Potter did it.
  • A retired Riker decides to stop baking pizzas and leave his retirement home for a few moments to command a fleet of several hundreds of starships. Evidently nobody was better suited to do that.
  • An android which can detect whether people lie is lied to without detecting it, with no other explanation given than “wow, I am really good at lying.”
  • An android kills another android to let one of the captured villains escape, because… well, I cannot think of any reason why she would do that because it is in no way related to her plans, except that it is in the story because it gives the other androids a reason to turn against her.
  • A main villain is thrown into a pit and dies far away from and completely unrelated to the rest of the story, because the writers realized that they had not finished her plotline yet. And they had to give Seven-of-nine something to do.
  • In the final moments of the episode Seven-of-nine is suddenly in a lesbian relationship with another protagonist without them having ever interacted before or even having anything in common with each other. I can think of no other reason that this was thrown in there than the writers thinking “Wait a moment, we can’t show how woke we are if we don’t have any gay romances in our series.”
  • The whole plot point of artificial lifeforms being outlawed is solved in the last minute by someone remarking that it is a good thing that artificial lifeforms are now no longer outlawed. So, the Federation quickly and without a second thought lifts the ban on artificial lifeforms, while knowing that each of the artificial lifeforms has the ability to wipe out all organic life in the galaxy? Are they completely out of their minds?

And the rest of the series is almost as bad. But the worst sin of Star Trek: Picard is this: it ruins Picard even more than The Next Generation movies did. In the TV series Picard was a private, thoughtful, rational, erudite man with a sharp mind and an uncanny ability to inspire and command. The movies ruined him by portraying him as an action hero who is out for blood, who lets his emotions determine his course of action, and who uses violence instead of reason. In the Star Trek: Picard series, the final nail is driven into the coffin by portraying him as a frail old man, humiliated and bossed over by everyone around him, driven by his emotional ties to people rather than his intellectual ties to ideals and ideas. He is less than a shadow of the man he once was.

You can argue that captain Picard in his older days has mellowed and changed his outlook on life. That is an acceptable premise, but since we see almost nothing of the twenty years which are between the end of The Next Generation TV series and the time of the new series, we have no idea how it is possible that he changed so much that nothing of the younger Picard remains in the present-day Picard. And a series which carries the name of a famous character should not change the eponymous character into something completely different than what he is famous for.

Star Trek: Picard looks great, has fine music, and is well-acted, but sadly has stupid plotlines and has forgotten about its intellectual roots and the characterization of its main characters. Star Trek: Picard is neither Star Trek nor is it Picard.


English translation of AI experts’ futurology

January 22, 2020

Very regularly, you hear self-proclaimed AI expert make statements like “within 5 years, we will have…” followed by an indication of a technology which requires semi-intelligent processing (like self-driving cars, computer-authored novels, or brain-computer uploading). This is how one should translate such statements:

If AI experts say:

  • “within 5 years”: they mean “we already have this technology, it is just not widespread yet.”
  • “within 10 years”: they mean “we do not have this technology yet, but we know how to solve the problems that still need solving.”
  • “within 25 years”: they mean “we need to overcome numerous problems to get this technology and we do not know if they are solvable at all, but we are convinced that theoretically these problems should be solvable by the very smart young people that are currently entering the field.”
  • “within 50 years”: they mean “maybe this technology will be developed and maybe not, and even if it will be, it may take 50 years, or 500, or 5000, and humanity is likely to have destroyed itself before that time, but making these promises will get me a lot of media attention so I make them anyway, and 50 years is long enough for me to have passed away before anyone can tell me that I am wrong.”

The moral of the story is: most self-proclaimed AI experts love to make promises about technology which will be developed, but the less we know about how to solve the problems associated with said technology, the further in the future they will place the technology. You should realize that if a problem has not been solved yet, in principle it is impossible to say when it will be solved — because you can only say that when the problem has been solved already.


Diversity IX: Google’s wage discrimination

April 8, 2018

Last year, Google was accused by the US Department of Labor of discriminating against female employees as far as salaries are concerned. This is surprising, as Google is known for being a company which is overtly committed to, what they call, “equal pay practices.” It is also striking that the accusation came without any supporting data.

Eileen Naughton, Vice President of People Operations, wrote a memo explaining how Google determines wages. In general, this is how it works:

First, they determine what the compensation should be for a person at a certain job level, with a certain role, at a certain location, with a certain job performance. That determines the basic compensation for a person in a certain job category. The salary can be adjusted a bit by an employee’s manager, provided that the manager can provide a legitimate rationale. This procedure is blind with respect to gender.

Then, for every job category they compare the average of the compensation of men and women. If they find that there are statistically significant differences between the genders, they adjust the compensation at a group level, regardless whether this favors men or women. As Naughton states, they tend not to find any gender pay gap, so in practice such adjustments need not be made. They also do a similar comparison based on race, and no race pay gap is found either. (I do wonder why they do not also do an analysis for nationality, age, physical ability, level of education, height, and other attributes that are said to influence salary, but perhaps they get to those in the future.)

Overall, I do not fault Google for doing such an analysis. As a high-profile tech company, they tend to bear the brunt of the accusations regarding sex and race discrimination, and it is only wise that they have their defenses in order. It just gives me an uneasy feeling that the last step of their comparison methodology, adjusting salary based on which group one belongs to, is rather discriminating.

Considering how they set up their compensation plan, where they determine objectively what a person should earn with a certain job level, role, location, and performance, regardless of race, gender, or other personal attributes, there cannot be differences between the sexes by definition. So it is no wonder that their comparison procedure never finds them. The whole comparison feels completely superfluous.

The problem is what happens when their procedure does find some differences. Where did these come from? Evidently these point out that either an error was made somewhere in the original determination of earnings, or that the individual adjustments that managers make — with legitimate rationales, mind you — end up rewarding on average one gender a bit more than the other. If this then leads to an increase of the salaries of one gender, that amounts to gender discrimination.

For suppose you are a woman who does a good job but not so exceptional that her manager proposes to give her a slightly higher reward, and you are surrounded by women who do get their salaries positively adjusted. If this then leads to an average difference between the salaries of the sexes, you will see all the men who perform exactly like you getting their salaries increased, while yours stays the same. Basically, you are punished because some other members of “your group” perform exceptionally well.

In my view, Google’s initial determination of earnings, based purely on what an individual does within the company, with some individual adjustments possible for exceptional performance, is the ultimate meritocratic way of rewarding employees. Doing a check at a group level, partly to ward off accusations and partly to see if the system works as intended, is only smart. Incorporating a step that bluntly adjusts salaries at a group level if the check points out that there are significant differences between certain groups, rather than finding out how these differences came about, is just discriminatory.


Diversity VII: Red vs. green

February 12, 2018

In discussing the wage gap (the average difference in per-hour earnings of men and women), the main statement I see being brought up is “The fact that on average women earn less than men per hour is unfair towards women.” The general rebuttal is: “You have to look at the underlying reasons for that difference,” to which the response is: “You can talk about underlying reasons until you are blue in the mouth, but at the end of the day women earn less than men, which is unfair.”

The wage gap appears to be not unfair, however. It is the result of individual decisions which people make. The correct characterization of the wage gap is not “women earn less than men,” but “people who make choices A, B, and C earn less than people who make choices D, E, and F.” Because on average women tend to make life choices which give them less earning potential than men, on average women earn less than men — however, on an individual basis a woman who makes particular choices earns just as much as a man who makes the same choices (actually, there are indications that at present, especially in the younger generations, women earn a bit more than men with the same choices).

You do not have to believe me in this respect: you just have to study the reports of the official institutions which examine the differences between men and women in the job market, such as the reports of the Dutch Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) and the United States Department of Labor, which point out that there are many clear reasons for the observed average differences in earnings, but that gender discrimination, if it even is one of them, has an unnoticeable effect. Thus, since it is not gender discrimination at work, the wage gap is not unfair.

Because all of this is rather abstract, I thought I would illustrate it with a highly simplified example. Imagine that there is a country called Bicoloria, where there live red and green people. There are only two industries in Bicoloria, which are of about equal size, namely a food industry which feeds the Bicolorians, and an art industry which provides the Bicolorians with entertainment. All Bicolorians work in one of these industries. The food industry, which has fairly unpleasant work circumstances, pays 200 credits per hour. The art industry, in which the work is much more pleasant, pays 150 credits per hour. The majority of red Bicolorians prefers the pleasant, artistic work in the art industry, while the majority of green Bicolorians is more interested in getting the high wages (and thus status) of the food industry. The net result is that 70% of the workers in the food industry are green, while 70% of the workers in the art industry are red.

Someone calculates that on average, a green Bicolorian earns 12% more than a red Bicolorian. “That’s unfair towards red Bicolorians!” is the outcry. Red Bicolorians say: “It is systemic oppression of the reds by the greens!” and “How are we going to explain to young reds that over the course of their lives they will earn significantly less than greens?” But is this 12% difference in earnings really unfair? Because reds have a preference for jobs that pay less per hour, and choose jobs that they prefer, on average they earn less per hour. However, an individual red who decides to work in the food industry, earns just as much as an individual green who works in the food industry.

Moreover, what would be the effect of trying to solve this illusion of injustice? I have heard several possibilities, all of which have very negative consequences. Here are three ideas (each of which I have derived from actual discussions on the wage gap, and some of which have been implemented by particular governments and industries):

Idea #1: Increase the salaries of all reds by 12%. While this will make sure that the average salaries of reds and greens are equal, in every industry reds will earn 12% more than greens for doing exactly the same work. That is unfair.

Idea #2: Stimulate reds to work more in the food industry, and greens to work more in the art industry. This can be implemented using social engineering programs, which try to push people in particular directions. Many of such programs have been tried out in Western countries (e.g., stimulating men to take part-time jobs, and stimulating women to go into STEM fields). If these programs have the desired effect, they will indeed erase the wage gap. However, in general, it is found that the effect of such programs is negligible, as long as people are still allowed to follow their own preferences. Naturally, they can be made more effective by actually forcing people in different fields than they prefer, which leads to an overall significant decrease in happiness. I assume that nobody thinks that a good policy encompasses giving up freedom of choice.

Idea #3: Equalize pay between jobs, i.e., let both the food industry and the art industry pay 175 credits per hour. Overall, the same amount will be spent on salaries, thus this can be implemented with higher taxation on food and giving subsidies to the art industry. Again, the initial result will be that the wage gap between reds and greens will be eradicated. This is a typical socialist or communist system, in which there is no link anymore between what you do and what you earn. The natural follow-up will be that most people will no longer want to work in the unpleasant food industry, as the higher salaries of the food industry were the compensation for the work being less pleasant. The net result, which is common to any socialist or communist system, is that people can no longer be free to take a job of their choosing, and that most people will not be motivated to do a good job anyway (as you do not get rewarded for doing a good job), leading to poverty, unhappiness, hunger, and corruption.

In summary, “solutions” to the wage gap either unfairly give bonuses to individuals of particular groups just because they belong to those groups, or take away freedom of choice. Both these directions are infringing upon the core Western values of equal treatment of all people and individual freedom for all people.

The wage gap is the result of a system which allows individuals, with their individual differences, to follow their own preferences in making life choices. It does not affect individuals; it is no more than a statistic which you can attach to a group. It is the necessary consequence of there being differences between preferences of the sexes in general and a beautiful system which honors individuality.