Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The entirely reasonable effectiveness of mathematics in all science

(Originally posted by Pat on 9/7/10)

There is a famous philosophical paper entitled “The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences” which argues that we should be surprised and amazed at how well mathematics—even very abstract mathematics like topology and number theory—works in our most precise scientific theories, like general relativity and quantum mechanics. The paper begins by noticing that pi, the ratio of circumference to diameter in a circle, appears in the formula for a normal distribution, which has innumerable applications in practical science. (Indeed the paper says “natural sciences”, but we use normal distributions most often in social sciences!) It speaks of this as something marvelous and surprising, even suggesting that perhaps this should lead us to a spiritual sort of reverence for mathematics.
Yet, I must ask, what other possibility was there?

I suppose there is indeed something marvelous about the fact that the universe is at all intelligible to us. I am quite certain that the universe is not so intelligible to most other species. I doubt that insects ever reflect upon the universe's causal structure at all—I doubt they even wonder why it rains or why the sun sets at night. Reptiles may reflect upon a few things, perhaps wondering how mating leads to laying eggs or why the sun sets. Most mammals probably think about these things, but don't really understand them. Primates surely reason about many things, and I would guess that they have theories about astronomy, biology and meteorology not too different from our own common-sense folk theories.
We humans—some of us at least—are capable of far deeper understanding of a far wider variety of phenomena; our sharp senses and plastic brains allow us to develop detailed theories of the world. Even our instincts and emotions support us in this endeavor: human folk psychology is by far the most powerfully predictive scientific theory ever devised, and all the great scientific geniuses will report that many of their discoveries started with an intuitive “hunch” that only later could be confirmed by data. Given the huge variety of life forms on Earth and the even vaster variety that in all probability exists elsewhere in the universe, we are indeed fortunate to be among the lucky few with brains powerful enough to grasp, even as poorly as we do, the fundamental laws of nature. Quantum mechanics is baffling to us—but it is quite simply inaccessible to the vast majority of life on this planet. It may be difficult for us to comprehend how the universe could be guided by waves of probability—yet for an ape, let alone an earthworm, it would be impossible to even formulate the notion of “waves” or “probability”. There is in fact something marvelous about that.
Yet for this, we have an explanation in the Weak Anthropic Principle (the only true anthropic principle—saps who endorse SAP should feel a slap that would sound like WAP). Only a species advanced enough to have a fairly deep understanding of reality would ever be concerned about whether and why it had a deep understanding of reality! Ants don't know, but they also don't care.
Moreover, we cannot but presume that the universe is intelligible. A completely unintelligible universe is one in which we could never make any correct predictions at all. Even the theory “the universe is random and unintelligible” would be no more applicable than any other theory, even if was really true in some philosophical sense. So really I don't see why there is anything problematic about the presumption that the universe is at least somewhat intelligible; it wouldn't hurt us in a random universe, and it clearly does help us in this universe. I doubt that everything about the universe is intelligible, for various reasons; but I have no idea how far the reaches of our minds extend, and I would venture a guess that they extend far further than what we know now.
And once we accept that the universe is to some degree within our understanding, I don't see why it's at all problematic to infer that mathematics is likely to be one of the means we use to understand it. The structure of mathematics is based only upon a formalization of logic; it is what happens when logic is made abstract, formal, precise, and consistent. The application of mathematics rests upon the structure of mathematics and the evidence upon which mathematical models were based.
In essence, mathematics is a system of logical arguments. The observed data provide the premises, and the mathematical operations are the logical steps that allow us to infer a conclusion. To ask “why does the universe obey logic?” strikes me as something close to meaningless—how could it not? There is simply no possible world in which noncontradiction and modus ponens fail to hold. One does not need a causal account to explain the nonexistence of phenomena that cannot possibly exist. When you start asking “Why is logic true?” you have surpassed the bounds of questions that it makes sense to ask. A lot of people like to imagine that God is the reason logic is true; but that makes no sense at all. A thing cannot be such that it makes contradictions true. A contradiction simply can't be true. The very concept is vacuous. Even if there is a God, logic is more fundamental than God—God must obey logic, not the other way around. Our minds are evolved to think that all that is true is true because of some thing that makes it so—for so it is, with most of the ideas we have reason to consider, like “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why doesn't she love me?”. If we are not satisfied by the fact that logic is inherently and necessarily true, then it seems to me it must be our brains which are defective—there simply could not be an explanation for what is necessarily so, for what is explained is by definition contingent upon the thing that explains it, and what is necessarily true is by definition not contingent upon anything.
Moreover, to say that it is abstract higher mathematics that we apply to the real world is to completely misunderstand what mathematicians mean by “abstract, higher mathematics”. Topology and number theory seem abstract to most of us, but to mathematicians they are just a step above elementary. Moreover, we really don't use topology and number theory very often in science. Calculus strikes most people as very advanced, but mathematicians regard it as elementary. Calculus is derivable from Peano arithmetic by means well-known to any student of real analysis—which is to say that insofar as 2+2=4 and 3*4=12, the Chain Rule and the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus are true.
I guess it seems a little weird that we use pi in the equation for the normal distribution, but I think this is because we think of pi as “the ratio of circumference to diameter” when on a deeper level it is really more like “-i ln(-1)”. Then we would ask, “why is the ratio of circumference to diameter equal to -i ln(-1)?” but that is something that we can actually derive with calculus. Integrate over the arc length of the unit circle, and you will indeed come out with the value -i ln(-1), which we call pi. (Actually if you use the typical way, you will get something in the form of an arcsin, but that's all right, because the arcsin is fundamentally just a funny way of expressing complex natural logarithms. We can prove that 2 i sin(x) = e^{ix} – e^{-ix}.) It's just that we discovered circles (and hence named pi) long before we understood calculus, complex numbers, or natural logarithms. Once you realize that on a fundamental level pi has nothing to do with circles but instead is a compact representation of “-i ln(-1)”, asking why it appears in the normal distribution is like asking why the square root or the number 2 appears in the normal distribution. We can show you the derivation; it follows logically. If that doesn't satisfy you, well, that's your problem, not ours. It's certainly not math's problem.
Don't get me wrong; I do think that mathematics is beautiful, and that the universe is a marvelous, amazing place. I think we are incredibly fortunate to be the sort of being that has even a tiny sliver of understanding in this vast and unfathomable cosmos. I think it is wonderful that we share kinship not only with the apes and the dogs (who we always suspected were our cousins), but indeed with the pine trees and the jellyfish and the tuberculosis pathogen. I wish more people had a better understanding of all this.
I do in fact think it is incredibly fortunate that our tiny, limited minds are capable of glimpsing the fundamental order of the universe. I just don't see how there's anything unreasonable about that, or why we should be surprised or looking for an explanation for it. I certainly don't think we have any reason to doubt that it will continue to be true.

People really don't like atheists.

(Originally posted by Pat on 8/31/10)

And to some extent, it's not our fault; Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and A.C. Grayling are always extremely polite and respectful, everything they say is temperate and reasonable, and the only reason people don't like them is that they openly criticize religion on a regular basis. You can't win with some people.
Yet perhaps after all there is something wrong with the way some affirmative atheists speak, and the more reasonable voices may end up seeming guilty by association. (Also, have you noticed we're all White men? Doesn't that seem wrong?)

Sam Harris clearly does have a serious vendetta against Islam in particular; most of his criticisms of Islam are valid, but there's something disingenuous about the way he often fails to point out that so many other religions suffer so many of the same problems. Also, he doesn't have the excuse of being personally harmed by Islam the way Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Salman Rushdie were. (I might be concerned if these latter two didn't have personal vendettas against Islam.)
Christopher Hitchens is a bitter, angry narcissist with serious alcohol and tobacco problems. He does have a sharp wit and a talent for writing style; but his absurd attention-hogging (like when he publicized his pubic waxing, or more recently when he came out as bisexual in the most obnoxious way possible, a salacious memoir) makes it impossible to take him seriously.
P.Z. Myers is a jolly and amicable fellow in person, but on Pharyngula he sometimes comes off as quite rude and aggressive (and more than a little sexually perverse—cephalopodophilia?). Sometimes he seems rather crotchety, as when he criticizes people for enjoying religious holidays. The blog format does lend itself to a certain aggressive style of speech (XKCD: “Someone is wrong on the Internet”), but since this is his main public voice I think he might do well to tone it down a bit.
Beyond the matter of tone (and the fact that for some people “tone” seems like a codeword for “criticizing religion”), I also have some concerns about content as well.
Jerry Coyne clearly doesn't understand compatibilism. He seems to think that determinism is fundamentally opposed to moral responsibility, even though virtually no philosophers still think that. Moreover, determinism is an unsettled question, while free will is a settled one. Among serious philosophers there are still a few libertarians, but there are no fatalists. (If it were really true that determinism was fundamentally inconsistent with moral responsibility, we'd abandon determinism, not moral responsibility!) Coyne doesn't seem to understand that compatibilism is the consensus in the philosophical community (as close as the philosophical community ever comes to a consensus), that the “free will” (human-exclusive, acausal, modal, libertarian free will) he's concerned about is largely discredited as a phenomenon and completely discredited as a necessary requirement for moral responsibility. I for one don't even see how libertarian free will is coherent; but even if it is, it's clearly not real, and it's clearly not necessary for moral responsibility.
Indeed, I think that libertarian free will would be more problematic for moral responsibility; it would imply that people's actions are motivated by something other than their character, their experiences, their physiology, and their consideration of the consequences. There would have to be something else (what that would be has never been clearly articulated), and then, how could we get at it in order to modulate it for social good?
So Coyne is a biologist who doesn't understand philosophy. So what, right? Surely plenty of philosophers don't understand biology. (I think Dennett is one of the rare few who do!) Well, the problem is that philosophy, more even than biology, is really important. It is fundamental to who we are and how we ought to live our lives. And so, one really shouldn't pronounce upon these issues if one does not really understand them, for the harm caused by misunderstanding can be enormous. Keynes pointed out that self-styled “pragmatic” men are typically slaves to defunct economists; I would add that they are also often slaves to defunct philosophers.
Imagine if the majority of society really did become convinced that moral responsibility is an illusion. What would happen? I must imagine that people would begin stealing, raping, and killing with reckless abandon. Why shouldn't they? Indeed, if it's really true that moral responsibility is an illusion, we can't even say that this outcome would be bad; it's just one that our programming happens not to prefer. Happy those lucky few whose brains innately enjoy chaos and death! (One of the few parts of the film Pandorum I actually enjoyed was the climactic conversation at the end in which the villain tries to argue that this precisely what we ought to think.)
I got into a heated argument a few days ago at a CFI gathering with someone who professed to be a nihilist; he insisted that there is no true rationality, only arbitrary presumptions; no objective reality, only illusions; and no moral right, only biological imperatives and social conventions. If a majority of people became convinced of such a view, again I imagine that violent chaos would be the result.
I could be wrong; maybe people could come to apathetically accept a meaningless existence and continue to act morally just because they felt like it. For all I know, maybe people would suddenly become great humanitarians in the face of their meaningless, amoral existence. But precisely what worries me is that fatalists and even more so, nihilists cannot coherently argue that this is a better outcome. They can argue that it is more likely (which is an empirical claim that could be tested based on experiments and historical data), or even that they would prefer it—but they can't argue that it would be better. Yet it is more obvious to me that peace is better than war than it is that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, and I would sooner reject the latter than the former. So why should I listen to people who tell me that scientific facts (epistemic value 0.9999) outweigh fundamental normative truths (epistemic value 0.999999999)?
Moreover, what I really don't understand is how you can justify saying these things are true if in fact you think they are true. (You can justify saying them if they are false but you can serve some higher end by lying about them—imagine preventing a terrorist attack by lying about philosophy.) Why bother with the truth? Why concern yourself with honestly reflecting your beliefs? The fatalist can at least say, “Well, I can't help it; my programming insists that I be honest”; but the reply could be “Well, my programming insists that I not believe you”. Worse, what can the nihilist offer? Even worse, why should I be motivated to accept your claims as true? If you seriously abandon all normativity, you have abandoned the basis of not only morality, but science as well.
Now, it is often suggested by religionists that atheism leads inevitably to this sort of violent chaos, which I of course do not believe. And so it might be argued that I have the same prejudiced view toward fatalism and nihilism that others have toward atheism.
But in fact, I think the problem is precisely that most people don't understand the difference between atheism and other philosophies, including fatalism and nihilism. Many religious people seem to think that once one abandons God, one similarly must abandon morality, truth, and meaning. And if that were indeed true, I could completely understand not wanting to abandon God!
And I guess what bothers me is that atheists aren't helping. When atheists talk as if a rational worldview entails that free will is an illusion, moral responsibility is meaningless, life is worthless and morality is a fiction, they are only reinforcing the prejudice that atheists are amoral, heartless scum.
Now, if it were serious philosophers making these arguments, I would have to listen. But not since David Hume has a serious philosopher actually argued for skeptical rejection of moral responsibility—and even he ultimately rescinded this view. The closest I can think of is Richard Joyce, but at least as yet he remains obscure, and I think precisely because he's clearly wrong and other philosophers realize this.
People who argue that free will is an illusion or that morality is a fiction are invariably students of philosophy, or experts in other fields (like biology in Coyne's case). Now, the same charge could be leveled against me; but I'm agreeing with the mainstream consensus of the philosophical community. I think the one who challenges the experts is the one who has the burden of proving their credentials (XKCD once again: ). Moreover, this is not the only reason I think you're wrong; I've just given plenty of other reasons.

Secularists and the "Ground Zero Mosque" Controversy

(Originally posted by Ewan on 8/31/10)

The response to the Park 51 Cordoba House (more commonly known, erroneously, as the “Ground Zero Mosque") has been less than edifying. News organizations, chief among them Fox news, has stoked fear that the center is a bridgehead for jihadism within the United States. Meanwhile, the political establishment in both political parties has been mostly unable to take a stand for the principle of freedom of religion. Barack Obama voiced his support of the right to build, though he later added that he would not comment on the “wisdom” of doing so. Most Democratic politicians have showed even less political courage, usually skipping or only briefly touching on the right of the builders to continue the project and concentrating on how the project is “offensive.” Republican leaders have been worse, either openly fanning the flames of the controversy (as Newt Gingrich did when he compared constructing the Mosque to displaying "putting up a Nazi sign next to the Holocaust Museum").
One of the least edifying parts of the controversy, though, has been the reaction of the opinion makers and organizations in the humanist community. One would think that it would be perfectly obvious to American humanists and atheists that if our nation began to have second thoughts about freedom of religion, such reservations would doubtless go doubly for freedom from religion. Instead, CFI initially issued a press release stating that the Mosque ought not be built because no religious establishments ought to be built near "Ground Zero", an odd and overstated position (PZ Myers endorsed a more extreme version of this, hopefully with tongue planted in cheek). Though the CFI quickly issued a press release walking-back this position, the fact that the first one was issued at all ought to be an embarrassment for the organization.
Humanists ought to be the first to condemn a campaign to demonize a national out-group. Were it any other out-group, this would doubtless be the case, but Muslims are different. Mostly, the Mosque controversy has been used to raise yet another chance for atheist authors to worry about the growing danger of Islam. Sam Harris clears his throat by he supports the legal right to build the Cordoba House, then launch into a somewhat argument as to why its construction Islam is a particularly insidious religion, and concludes, somewhat unconvincingly, that "the erection of a mosque upon the ashes of this atrocity will also be viewed by many millions of Muslims as a victory — and as a sign that the liberal values of the West are synonymous with decadence and cowardice... American Muslims should be absolutely free to build a mosque two blocks from ground zero; but the ones who should do it probably wouldn’t want to." This is an odd conclusion. I can't understand why Harris is convinced that this will be welcomed as a sign of American decadence and cowardice in the Muslim world.  Jerry Coyne agrees with Harris, saying “It was Islam, after all, that propelled those planes into the World Trade Center nine years ago.” The most extreme example of this is Pat Condell's paranoid ranting, which went even farther than Gingrich compared Muslims to Nazis.
One of the most notable things about Harris, Coyne and Myers is that they hardly even mention the bigotry and anti-Muslim bias. Indeed, most surprisingly, the only big name “New Atheist” to denounce this parade of bigotry which has led Americans to oppose not just this community center, but Mosques throughout America, is Christopher Hitchens (younger atheists such as Jennifer McCreight and Hemat Mehta also have condemned the rising intolerance), a man who one can hardly count upon to be on the right side of any issue. Hitchens shows how it's done:
The dispute over the construction of an Islamic center at "Ground Zero" in Lower Manhattan has now sunk to a level of stupidity that really does shame the memory and the victims of that terrible day in September 2001. One might think that a mosque or madrassa was being proposed in the place of the fallen towers themselves or atop the atomized ingredients of what was once a mass grave. (In point of fact, the best we have been able to do with the actual site, after almost a decade, is to create a huge, noisy, and dirty pit with almost no visible architectural progress. Perhaps resentment at the relative speed of the proposed Cordoba House is a subconscious by-product of embarrassment at this local and national disgrace.)
It ought to be said: it is not “Islamophobia” to point out the cruelty of Islamic cultures confining women to a subordinate role and visiting capital punishment upon gays and apostates. Theocracy is a cruel thing. In Iran, where the government has recently suppressed the opposition with torture, murder rape and Stalinist-style show-trials, a rigid Islamic law is upheld which includes the death penalty for sodomy and apostasy. Saudi Arabia, a key United States ally in the region, practices if anything an even stricter form of Islamic law. This cannot just be blamed solely on reactionary regimes, often it is the citizens themselves who enforce these cruel Islamic cultural codes. It’s worth noting that 75% of Pakistanis support the death penalty for apostasy, so that if someone is even accused of such a crime they will likely be murdered by a fellow citizen before a verdict is even given by the government. The fact that Islamic moderates are often in denial about their religion and often won’t denounce sufficiently outrages such as the fatwa against Salman Rushdie is indeed a serious matter. Hitchens points out that even Imam Rauf has a less than perfect record on these issues (it should be noted, however, the Rauf has condemned violence and much that is unsavory in traditional Islam, even worked with the FBI to fight extremism). Yet, these might be important, but they are far from the beating heart of the matter. The important thing about this controversy is what it says about us. Freedom is a key value for of this nation, and the freedom to practice one’s religion ought to be reflected. Even if we don’t agree with moderate Islam, we ought not to confuse them with the warped cult that is Al Qaeda.

Actually, we DO have something in common with fundamentalists.

(Originally posted by Pat on 7/13/10)

It's a disturbingly common accusation, made by accomodationist atheists and moderate religionists alike, that affirmative atheists (or New Atheists, as we are known, though all must agree we are nothing new) are “just like fundamentalists” in some way. This is generally taken as a wholesale refutation of everything we are saying, which is at best a hasty generalization and at worst guilt by association.
The usual response is to point out all the ways we are not like fundamentalists—we are open to rational persuasion, we value scientific discovery, we support free inquiry, and so on—and this is worth saying, since in all these respects we are clearly better than fundamentalists.
But in fact I think we do share something in common with fundamentalists, something beyond what we share with everyone else. (Obviously we are all human, we all feel joy and suffering, we all have biological and emotional needs, et cetera. We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.) There really is something about affirmative atheism that is closely akin to religion fundamentalism, something that probably frightens accomodationists and moderates.

This is the fact that we actually believe what we are saying.
For Richard Dawkins and Pat Robertson alike, truth matters. Sentences like “God exists”, “God hates fags” and “Jesus loves you” aren't mere formalities of speech. They are real claims of fact, claims about the way the world works and the way human beings ought to live.
Now, religious moderates would surely deny the claim that they don't believe what they say, but that is because they have what Daniel Dennett calls “belief in belief”. They will insist that they really do think that a Roman Jew was born of a virgin, not because they really think this plausible, but because they have assigned social and emotional value to the affirmation. For an Irish Catholic to deny that the Son of God presents himself in wheat products is for that same Irish Catholic to deny their family, their heritage, their culture, their fatherland. To ask them to agree that this is a wildly implausible epistemic claim is (at least in their mind) equivalent to asking a US Marine to spit upon an American flag.
But the truth is, if they really did believe these things, they would live in a radically different way than they do. If you really think that people who do not accept Jesus will burn forever, you can't possibly believe that it is “rude” or “arrogant” to proselytize belief in Jesus. On the contrary, you must think proselytizing an obligation, a duty, the bare minimum of what a decent human being would do. You should indeed agree that one could, perhaps even should, do much more radical things if there is a good chance it will gain converts. You should be impressed at the heroism of people who baptize infants and then kill them, people who torture nonbelievers until they convert, people who immolate themselves as an act of martyrdom. For if Hell is real, these acts are not merely rational—they are noble; they are heroic. They pay a finite cost to oneself for an infinite benefit to others.
And if, like all reasonable human beings, you are appalled by this sort of action, it can only be because you realize, at least on some level, that religion is false. You can only be appalled by smashing the skulls of newly-baptized babies if you don't really believe that those babies will be sent to Heaven. You can only cry at a funeral if you recognize that “They are in a better place now” is a lie.
I wish I knew how to explain to people that their “belief in belief” is harmful. I wish I knew how to convince them that changing your mind in the face of new evidence is not spitting upon your heritage as an Irish Catholic or a Sunni Muslim, but on the contrary it is embracing your much deeper heritage as a rational being. It is to throw away a narrow, petty notion of identity (as Americans, as Christians, as men, as Whites) and replace it with a deep, fundamental truth of identity (as life forms, as sentients, as rational beings, as moral agents). To abandon religion in favor of science is not to throw away your connection to your family, but rather to recognize that your family in the true sense extends not only to some tiny geneline, nation or sect, but indeed to all life on Earth and all energy in the universe.
But religion matters; it's important. I remember an accomodationist atheist telling me once, “God just isn't relevant to my life”. I have thought about it ever since; I honestly don't know what that means. How can God not be relevant to your life? How can you not care how the universe is run? If you think you are going to be rewarded or punished eternally for what you do, how can that not affect what you choose to do? It would be like having a gun pointed at your head and saying, “Shoot me if you like; bullets are not relevant to my life”. It would be like learning that the brakes on your car are broken and climbing into the car anyway, saying, “Brakes just aren't relevant to my life”.
Now, there is a sense in which God isn't relevant to my life—but that is the sense in which I am quite certain God doesn't exist. Unicorns are not relevant to my life, because there are no unicorns. Alien invaders are not relevant to my life, because there are no alien invaders. But if there were alien invaders, that would be something worth knowing! If there were a God, that could not fail to affect my life! It's not even like aliens or unicorns, which (one imagines) could be hiding in the shadows, watching us quietly, keeping to themselves, never interacting with us. God, if he is who everyone seems to think he is, must be the master executive of the universe itself, the one who controls the laws of nature and shapes them to his will. He must be someone who oversees, someone who rewards and punishes human deeds. And that sort of being could not fail to be relevant to our lives! Moreover, the idea of God—the question of whether there is, in fact, such a being—cannot fail to be relevant. One can no more afford to be agnostic about Heaven and Hell than one can afford to be agnostic about bullets and brake fluid.
It is we affirmative atheists who recognize this, and state it openly. We are the ones who realize that religion makes claims about reality, very important claims that ought to be considered, examined, tested. We realize, unlike the accomodationists and the moderates, that we aren't just throwing around words, we aren't just making empty statements of cultural affiliation. It's not all a game, in which there are Red Sox fans and Yankees fans—it's the real world, in which either Muslims will be rewarded in heaven, Christians will be rewarded in heaven, or neither will be. Fundamentalists realize this too, which is why they are so dedicated to their beliefs.
So, yes, there is something that Richard Dawkins and Pat Robertson have in common. It is conviction. It is honesty. Though they disagree on almost everything else, they do agree on one thing. They agree that the truth matters, that one's beliefs should comport with the facts; they agree that when one speaks, it should not be in empty formalities but in honest statements of sincerely-believed propositions.

So I played "Hey Baby"...

(Originally posted by Pat on 8/3/10)

So there's this game on the Internet, called  Hey Baby.
And let's first set aside the fact that it is without a doubt the worst-made first-person shooter ever. The least they could have done was modded a respectable game engine, like the Unreal engine. The graphics would be fine... in 1993. Also, they really should have given you a gunsight, more precise aiming controls, better collision detection, limited ammunition, crouch and jump abilities, levels and scoring, and some weapon options, because that's what FPS is all about... but obviously this is completely beside the point. It is meant to send a message, not actually be a playable game.
I really don't think the "this is a sexist double standard in its own right" argument is at all valid (most feminists seem to agree). Grand Theft Auto is significantly more violent and just as sexist as this game, and it is a mainstream work of entertainment, not a political work of expression. Hey Baby is sexist in the same way that the film CSA: Confederate States of America is racist---to make a point about how horrible that is.
Reviews of the game were largely positive despite its horrible mechanics. But as a gender-egalitarian man who also has a healthy sex drive, there are a lot of things about the game that bothered me.
First, the game is based on no empirical data whatsoever. From the game itself I have absolutely no way of knowing how common sexual harassment is, how intense it usually gets, how many women experience it, how many men participate in it, or what the typical consequences are. I realize that it is a work of art and expression, so perhaps it can't be expected to do such things; but if you're hoping to raise consciousness in men about sexual harassment, you need to be telling us exactly what sort of consciousness to raise. The frequency and intensity of harassment struck me as wildly unrealistic---in the game, every man you meet says something, and no men I actually know would ever say most of these things---and that made the overall message seem hyperbolic rather than persuasive.
Second, there is only one response to any level of harassment---machinegun fire. Now, I understand that the game is intentionally over-the-top to send a message and provide some catharsis. But that is a remarkably extreme response to anything, really; and unless you're also trying to make a point that video games are too violent (which dilutes your message), it's a little jarring. Machinegun fire is an appropriate response to genocide or tyranny; but even as a response to forcible rape it seems rather extreme. As a response to mere harassment, it's like swatting flies with a sledgehammer.
On a subtler note, I think the game's one-act-fits-all structure tends to encourage a black-and-white morality that obscures the real issues of gender and sexuality and is precisely what most bothers me about typical discussions of sexual harassment and rape.
For not all "harassment"  is the same, and indeed not even all "rape" is the same. There is a complex continuum of moral behaviors. Some are mildly impolite, some highly rude; some acts are deceptive or manipulative; others are aggressive, threatening, or coercive; some are outright violent. There is a difference between "I like your bounce, baby" and "Suck my dick or I"ll break your face"; there is a difference between encouraging a woman to drink a bit more than she should and dropping a tablet of gamma-hydroxybutyric acid into that drink. There is a difference between escalating from foreplay to penetration without asking and forcibly tearing off a woman's clothes and penetrating her even as she cries out and fights to resist you. The "rape is rape" mentality of many feminists fails to capture this complexity, and it thereby undermines its own message with precisely the nuanced, compassionate, reasonable people who would be most sympathetic to feminist change.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the game does not seem to understand what constitutes "harassment". I only played for a few minutes before my browser locked up (which is fine because I was extremely bored anyway), but I received the following statements from various "harassers":
"You fucking bitch, you fucking whore, who do you think you are?"
"I don't mean any disrespect, but you're beautiful."
"I like your bounce, baby."
"Very attractive."
"I'm not hungry, but I'd love to eat you."
"Smile for me, baby".
There are at least three types of statements here, and only one of them is really what I would consider "sexual harassment".
Let's deal with those examples first: "Smile for me, baby", "I like your bounce, baby" and "I'm not hungry, but I'd love to eat you" are extremely rude things to say to someone you have just met, they are offensive to me, and I can understand why women would consider them degrading. Even if that man really would be interested in a relationship (and even a one-night-stand is a kind of relationship) with you, he needs to understand that this is not at all the way to go about starting one. (If he were already in a relationship with you, and the two of you had achieved that comfort level, then these statements would be much more acceptable.)  If a stranger really says something like this to you, the appropriate response is to say something equally rude back, like "Well, too bad you're an asshole, baby" or "I'm sorry, I only sleep with men who have tact and understand politeness. Tough luck for you." If you fear he will escalate to violence, then you should either leave now, or if he actually starts to get violent, hit him with pepper spray (or a taser if they are legal in your jurisdiction) and call the police. Rudeness should beget rudeness---and violence should beget violence. Reciprocity is the essence of justice, as I'll elaborate much more upon in my upcoming book The Science of Morality. (\end{shameless plug})
Now, on to the others. "You fucking bitch, you fucking whore, who do you think you are?" That isn't sexual. It's angry. This is the sort of thing one would say in fight with someone. If I ever said something like this, it would be to a woman who had lied to me or cheated on me. And if a man lied to me or cheated on me (remember, folks at home: I'm bi.), I would say something comparable, like "You fucking bastard, you fucking asshole, who do you think you are?" In any situation in which I'd call a woman a "bitch" or a "cunt", I would equally well call a man a "dick" or an "asshole". It's a little strange that our culture assigns gender to many terms of derision, but we do the same thing with pronouns and terms of affection. That is a much more general issue than sexual harassment, and I'm not convinced it is really a problem.
The other two however, strike me as entirely reasonable things to say, and it upsets me that they are in the game. "Very attractive" is a little weird because it has no subject---What, the sky is very attractive? My face is very attractive? Magnets are very attractive?---but extended to "You're very attractive", that's a compliment!  "I don't mean any disrespect, but you're beautiful" is even better---it prefaces the statement with an acknowledgment that you are taking a risk of being misread. These comments aren't lewd, they aren't explicit; depending on context, they may not even be intended to refer to physical appearance. They probably are, but not necessarily. ("You're attractive because you're so smart." "You're beautiful in your own way, deep down.") Now, I've never had anyone on the street say things like this to me, but I would love if they did. It would make me happy. I might well wear a smile for the rest of the day because someone stopped to tell me that I am attractive. Now, maybe that's not true of you---but it definitely could be true of many other women, and men who meet you have no way of knowing either way. Taking a shot by giving someone a polite compliment strikes me as an entirely legitimate thing to do. And you know what? Maybe he does want to have sex with you. What's wrong with that? Why is he suddenly a bad person because he might be interested in having sex with someone pretty? Feel free to tell him politely that you're not interested, or you already have a boyfriend, or you're a lesbian, or whatever. He should then leave in mild disappointment. If he doesn't, now we're talking about harassment. But if he does leave when you ask, he has done nothing wrong! In fact, I'd bet that many serious relationships have been started by a casual compliment on the street.
And this is why I don't think the one-response-fits-all mentality is merely an artifact of the game design. I think it may actually be a political message the designers are trying to send---that polite compliments and angry shouts and lewd presumptions are all the same, and indeed perhaps that all these things are tantamount to rape and should be punishable by gruesome death. The game delights in gory death in a way all-too-common among first-person-shooter games, but it's hard not to feel that the designers would on some level like to do something similar to all the men in their lives. Essentially, Hey Baby treats men the way Jack the Ripper treated women, and even if it is meant to be satirical parody or a hyperbolic counterstroke, I'm not really comfortable with that. There are a few women in the game, but they are literally Immune to Bullets.
We definitely need more consciousness-raising about sexual harassment. We need people to talk about it more often and more openly. We need to set guidelines that both men and women can accept, guidelines that clearly delineate legitimate sexual advances from impolite or harassing statements. But feminists need to keep in mind that there are such things as legitimate sexual advances, and indeed the survival of our species depends upon them; many, especially the "rape is rape" and anti-porn/anti-sex factions, seem to ignore this fact. In most accounts of harassment I've read (like this one, for instance), no distinction is made between expressing sexual attraction toward a woman and being rude and aggressive toward her. A man who wants to have sex with a woman is immediately treated as if he were some kind of monster who is purposefully participating in a massive conspiracy of oppression. "You're pretty, I'd like to get to know you" suddenly becomes a war cry of male against female.
There are two sides to this story. So feminists, listen up: What you say about sexual harassment can hurt people, for it has hurt me. I was raised in Ann Arbor, clearly the most liberal city in the Midwest. I spent most of my high school career thinking (at least subconsciously) that all sexual advances were harassment. I felt that if I came on to someone, I was hurting them, I was being a bad person. It didn't help that I had been raised into a Catholicism that demonized the male-male part of my sexuality. So I didn't come onto anyone; I didn't tell any girls or boys that I thought they were pretty and would like to have a relationship with them. I was lonely and horny and depressed. I don't mean to blame all of this on feminist accounts of sexual harassment; that was surely a small part of much larger issues I was going through. But it really wasn't good for my sexual development to be told (if not in so many words) that wanting to fuck a woman was the same thing as wanting to hurt her. It can't be good for lots of women either, to be told that wanting to be fucked is the same as wanting to submit to patriarchy. There are lots of horrible things men do to women, I know that; and whatever we can do about it, we should. But it isn't helping to tell men that their most fundamental desires, desires for things that could be beautiful and good, are immoral and harmful.
I believe in peace and equality between the sexes. I don't want women to be afraid to walk in the street. But I also believe in sex, and I don't want men or women to be afraid to seek sexual relationships. We need nuance, we need depth; and Hey Baby isn't offering any.

Radicals need rules---but are these the right ones?

(Originally posted by Pat on 7/27/10)

I just finished reading Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals. I can't really be sure whether I would recommend this book. On the one hand, it is a short and compelling read, and Saul Alinsky has decades of experience in socialist community organizing that we should all learn about. (His greatest protegé: President of the United States Barack Hussein Obama.) On the other hand, Alinsky spends a lot of time talking about "radicalism" and "polarizing people"; in the book he defends a philosophy he calls "pragmatic" that strikes me as Machiavellian. I fear that people like me who don't think of ourselves as radical will be repulsed (nerd points++: I think of myself as Lawful Good, not Chaotic Good); worse, I fear that people who do think of themselves as radical will take Alinsky's words as an excuse to engage in acts of destruction.
It's definitely worth reading, but if you read it, you should be careful to realize that it is not the final word on the ethics of reform and revolution. In fact, these sense I get from the book is that Alinsky doesn't know why his organizing was so effective---the reasons he sees are not the reasons I see.
Alinsky spends an entire chapter talking about "the ethics of ends and means", in which he essentially endorses the idea that the right ends justify any means. He doesn't quite go that far, and in fact when he starts out he says something I would entirely agree with: "the question is not 'do the ends justify the means', but 'do these particular ends justify these particular means'?" The scariest thing he says is "In war, the ends justify almost any means." I'm not really sure what that almost means or what constitutes war, but I could definitely imagine socialist revolutionaries (Well-Intentioned Extremists) using these words to justify bombings or murders. The particular examples Alinsky gives, The American Revolution and World War II, strike me as basically uncontroversial---of course revolution was justified in achieving the first modern democracy; of course massive war was justified to defeat the Nazis---but the general point is more frightening to me.
Alinsky also spends a lot of time explaining how his community organizing is not planned, cannot be trained, doesn't follow precise rules and strategies. If that is so, I'm not sure what he thinks he will accomplish by writing a book called Rules for Radicals or organizing a training school for community organizers! But in fact, I don't think it's true at all. As Steven Pinker points out, creative people are often the most creative when they write their autobiographies. Alinsky has decades of experience over which he has developed an intuition for community organizing. He probably doesn't fully understand consciously what he is doing, which is why he is so bad at explaining it---but he clearly is using strategies and skills that are quite subtle and complex. He isn't just "responding to circumstances"---he is shaping circumstances with the expert hand of a sculptor.
Alinsky also spends a lot of time talking about how human beings are innately structured to seek power and advance their own self-interest. This is frankly bizarre to hear from a socialist organizer---this is what we are used to hearing from right-wing Randians and anarcho-capitalists, not socialists!  Moreover, it's simply false; experimental data in social psychology and behavioral economics clearly shows that people care about moral rules, social norms, principles of justice, and concerns of general welfare. There are surprising ways we can manipulate people's moral behaviors by reinforcing the salience of such norms---for instance, by making people sign an honor code. Indeed, the greatest heroes in history have been people who aren't limited by self-interest. How exactly did Martin Luther King, Jr. advance his self-interest by improving rights for Blacks and then getting shot? How exactly did Oskar Schindler advance his self-interest by bankrupting himself to save thousands of Jews?
In this book, Alinsky seems to pride himself on being "pragmatic", a notion he bases on these sorts of ideas about power and selfishness. And surely there is a selfish side to human nature that we need to be aware of (an underrated side of our essential reciprocity I spend a lot of time talking about in The Science of Morality), and there are real dynamics of power that any reformer must be aware of. A certain kind of power does come from the barrel of a gun!
Speaking of "reformers", that is how I would identify my political views; I am a social democrat reformer. I am  not a socialist radical revolutionary. Yet this is not a distinction that Alinsky makes well. He speaks to "radicals" and then talks about the obvious injustices of poverty, tyranny, starvation, corporate corruption, climate change. Why is it "radical" to oppose these things? Why is it "radical" to think that everyone in the world should have equal rights and as much as possible equal opportunity? Why is it "revolutionary" to think people need to work together to make the world fairer and better?
I think it would be appropriate here to remind you of the Beatles song "Revolution" (which is alas still not on iTunes due to some bullshit copyright issues):
You say you want a revolution...
Well, you know, we all wanna change the world.
You tell me that it's evolution...
Well, you know, we all wanna change the world.
But when you talk about destruction, don't you know that you can count me out?
You say you've got a real solution...
Well, you know, we'd all love to see the plan.
You ask me for a contribution...
Well, you know, we're all doing what we can!
But if you want money for people with minds that hate, all I can tell you is brother, you'll have to wait.
You say you'll change the Constitution...
Well, you know, we all wanna change your head.
You tell me it's "the institution"...
Well, you know, you'd better free your mind intead!
Cause if you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain't gonna make it with anyone anyhow!
That's the kind of social change I want people to talk about. Not bombs, guns, anthrax or Molotov cocktails, but protests, pamphlets, blogs, voting, shareholder proxies, campaigning, community organizing, civil disobedience, passive resistance, and noncompliance. And the truth is, that's all the kind of stuff that Saul Alinsky did, which is why he is such an admirable figure. But this side of him doesn't come across well in Rules for Radicals, because he addresses himself to "radicals" who seek "revolution" and are willing to act "by any means necessary".
Maybe Alinsky is attempting a subtle art here---addressing himself to people who are angry and radicalized in order to slowly turn them toward more reasonable, democratic reforms. Maybe he talks about power and violence in order to  attract such people  and explain to them why he thinks more subtle, peaceful means are better. But as someone who came in already convinced that it is peaceful means that we need, this tone was offputting. This result fits well with one of the points that Alinsky does make well: "communication is only possible through shared experience".
In fact, reading Alinsky I came to better understand a lot of the arguments I've had with working-class people about socialism and community organizing. Indeed, Alinsky's words on the subject (p.94) seemed as if they were written for me:
"A classic example of the failure to communicate because the organizer has gone completely outside the experience of the people, is the attempt by campus activists to indicate to the poor the bankruptcy of their prevailing values. 'Take my word for it---if you get a good job and a split-level ranch house out in the suburbs, a color TV, two cars, and money in the bank, that just won't bring you happiness.' The response without exception is always, 'Yeah. Let me be the judge of that one---I'll let you know after I get it.' "
A couple weeks ago, I had essentially this exact conversation with a bunch of angry working-class people on Facebook. They called me "spoiled" and "privileged" and were completely unwilling to accept any suggestion that money by itself could not bring happiness. In retrospect this seems particularly weird, because I should in fact know better than they do: I've not only been with and without money, I also study cognitive science, global justice, and behavioral economics. I'm also happier right now being unemployed and broke than I used to be having plenty of money---not because being broke is good but because the rest of my life is in better shape. My depression is much better under control right now than it used to be when I had a steady job! I have both personal experiences and scientific knowledge. I should know better than most people how money relates to happiness! (It is indeed related, but not as simply as most capitalists imagine, and definitely not the one-to-one correlation that these working-class folk insisted upon.)
But really, Alinsky was right: People don't like to talk outside their domain of experience. I think to some extent we have to---otherwise our domain of experience will never grow---but it's difficult and painful for most people to do so, and I should be more conscious of that. I am not going at dealing with this side of people because it isn't a side I have. The truth is, novelty isn't painful for me---it's exhilarating. I love learning new things about new people and new ways of life. I consistently rate in the 98% quantile for the Big Five personality dimension "openness to experience". I am fascinated by split-brain patients and people with Dissociative Identity Disorder, and someday I might like to study them as windows into the Hard Problem. There is a part of me, the subclinical autistic part, that is uncomfortable with change and transition in my routine---but that's not a very important part of my identity, and change in routine isn't the same thing as change in society. Indeed my goal is in some sense to give everyone the opportunity to live a life of bourgeois middle-class habits.
In all I think Rules for Radicals is worth reading. People who think the world cannot be changed (or doesn't need to be changed) need to read it; people who are radicals who want to change things by any means necessary should read its arguments for why subtle reforms are better. And people like me who see that the world needs changed and want to learn strategies of organizing and reform to make that happen can take comfort and confidence in the vicarious mentorship of one of the great community organizers in history. The world can be changed; it has been before and it will be again.
It won't be easy---if it were, we would have done it already.
But if we work together, we can change the world.

On masculinity

(Originally posted by Pat on 7/21/10)

Human gender is bafflingly complicated. There are many times in my life in which I have been tempted to give up on the concept entirely, to say that there is no such thing as "masculinity" or "femininity", only male and female biology and then a series of psychological traits that happen to be more or less correlated with that biology. There is no "manly" or "womanly", only a mass of penises and vaginas, and minds that happen to be attached to them.
But then, what to do with the fact that most of us live our lives more or less enslaved by a search for secure gender identity? What can I make of the fact that a substantial part of my physical and emotional energy has been expended trying to make myself be (or at least seem) more "masculine"? If there is no gender, why are there trans people? Is transsexuality nothing more than an attempt to modify the body to conform to arbitrary gender norms?
What I have come to realize is that even if gender is ultimately the social-psychological impact of biological dimorphism, it is nonetheless a real phenomenon. The correlations may not be perfect, but they are strong enough to be important in our lives. And so it is with this in mind that I reflect upon what masculinity is and what it means for my life.
The fact is, humans are sexually dimorphic. Not radically dimorphic---not honeybees or blanket octopus---but dimorphic nonetheless. We have well-defined sexes, and there are significant differences in physiology and behavior between them. Indeed, what I have come to realize---but resisted realizing for a long time---is that differences in physiology entail differences in behavior. The fact that men are bigger and stronger than women really does affect the way it makes sense for men and women to live.
Indeed, even the mere fact that we have different sex organs influences the sort of beings we are. My boyfriend first pointed this out to me, and in retrospect it's the sort of brilliant idea that seems stupidly obvious in retrospect: There is a very profound difference between an insertive, convex sexuality and a receptive, concave sexuality. To some extent everyone has both, of course; but I definitely have a much more convex gender, and he has a much more concave gender. (This raises two realizations: 1, it can't be all about anatomy, and 2, if he and I weren't as we are, we probably wouldn't be compatible!) It's strange, but to some extent the mere fact that I am most aroused by sticking something into someone rather than having something stuck into me changes the sort of person I am. It makes me inherently more assertive, more ego-driven, perhaps even more dominant. There is something inherently asymmetric about the act of penetration, and we'd ignore this fact at our own peril.
The hardest fact about gender that I have had to come to grips with is the fact that aggression is an essentially masculine trait. This is something I am incredibly uncomfortable with; it is frankly terrifying to me that violence is manly. But the correlation is undeniable: roughly 90% of murders, 99% of rapes, 99% of wars, and 100% of genocides have been orchestrated by men. The biological reason for this is clear enough: Human males have androgenic hormones (testosterone, DHT, etc.) that increase our size, muscle mass, and yes, aggression.
This is not to say that all men are aggressive, nor that women never are; but the correlation is too strong to ignore. It isn't just a cultural pressure or a stereotype; it is a fact, a fact that has consistently held in all human cultures for all of recorded history.
Hence, the greatest problem with human society---that we are so very tribal and aggressive---is almost entirely due to an excess of masculine behavior. If Homo sapiens were a little more feminine, things would be a lot better. And realizing this knowing that I am a man, moderately masculine, who has long sought to be even more masculine than I am---that is terrifying.
On the other hand, aggression is not inherently bad. Aggression can be used for good, and often is. Soldiers and police officers are aggressive, and are widely held in high esteem---this is because they utilize a controlled, targeted form of aggression that, at least in principle, makes the world better rather than worse. It's hard to argue that Jeffrey Dahmer shouldn't have been imprisoned (in fact, it's hard to argue that it was right not to execute him!). It's hard to argue that the United States Marines shouldn't have stormed the beaches of Normandy. This is aggression---and conducted entirely by men, I might add---but it was clearly good aggression, violence used to defend the innocent against worse violence. So maybe the right way to reclaim masculinity is to tame it, to control male aggression and harness it for greater ends.
The second thing about gender that has been difficult for me to accept is that I am about 75% masculine. I have sought to be either 50%---completely androgynous, so I could pretend that gender meant nothing to me---or else 100%---so that I could be secure in my status as a masculine man. Instead I am about 75%, masculine enough for neither true androgyny nor total masculinity to be an option for me. I am forced to deal with the fact that I am mostly a man, but not entirely---and not as much as some people I know and many I have seen.
My own gender identity is really quite strange, and perhaps others have similar strangeness, but I am not exposed to theirs, only my own. I can't arm-wrestle at all, but to look at my chest you would never mistake it for anything but a man's. (My bench press is a pathetic 80 pounds, but I'm working on it.) I like sci-fi action films, but I also like deep, intellectual dramas. I'd wear a kilt, but never a dress. I like clothing that is pink or orange---but I hate clothing that is frilly or covered with flowers. I am extremely talented in science and math, which is generally viewed as masculine---but I can't stand sports, either watching or playing, and have no skill at them, which makes me officially a "pussy". I like my hair long, but really feminine hairstyles (like pigtails) would be highly aversive to me. I am extremely aggressive in argumentation---I almost never lose an argument, though in fact I'm also almost always right---but hardly aggressive at all in terms of actual physical violence. I will tear your argument into tiny little pieces, but if you tripped and scraped your knee I'd help you up, even if I hated you. I like guns, jets and tanks, and know more about military hardware than any of my friends except the one who actually is in the military, but I have never actually fired a gun. I would eagerly enlist for the United Nations peacekeeping force, but I've never had any more than a fleeting interest in the US military that I could actually join (if DADT were repealed or I lied about my sexual orientation of course). (In case you were wondering, the UN peacekeepers are appointed by their national militaries, so there is some chance that I could join the US Army and get deployed to the UN---but it's too small to base decisions on. The US deploys fewer UN peacekeepers per capita than almost any other nation, despite having one of the largest standing armies in the world.) I have great love and compassion toward animals and small children.
One of the most difficult struggles in my gender identity has been the fact that I am not very talented or well-endowed sexually. I am average physically, and my lack of skill is not abnormal for a man of my inexperience---but one of the few things about masculinity that I really do care about is being able to please my lover, and so far I don't have a very good track record of that. I understand what I'm supposed to do in theory (detailed theory---how many men could tell you where your perineum or your vestibular bulbs are?), and I'm always an affectionate and sensitive lover, but I just don't have much skill and experience in that department, and it shows. Maybe it's silly, but when sex doesn't go well, I generally feel emasculated in a way that I never feel any other time. (This occurs with both sexes, though I think I'm better with male bodies than female bodies. It's a little weird when you think about it: Being unable to satisfy a man sexually makes me feel feminine?) This in turn is not good for my depression. (On the other hand when sex goes well, it's the strongest antidepressant I have yet encountered, which makes frankly perfect sense in terms of evolutionary psychology.)
So what does this mean for masculinity? I guess the best I can say is it's complicated. That's not a very satisfying answer---it never is---but at my present state of knowledge, it may be the best we can do. I don't think most people have given gender nearly enough reflection, and I know the scientific community hasn't done nearly enough to study it carefully. Most scientists are still stuck in a concept of gender that is either "gender is a social construction" or "human psychology is just glorified ape psychology, sex dimorphism and all". Both of these are clearly wrong---gender is real, and our biological history does have a great deal to do with it, but on the other hand there is a very complex interaction of biology with society that we would be fools to neglect. Every society has something it means to be "masculine"---and aggression is almost always part of this---but every society also has different meanings of "masculine", and this means we may be able to change what "masculine" means to us as well. In this way, gender is a lot like language, technology, clothing, and many other features of human life; it is in our nature to have them, but it is our nurture that decides their precise character.
We might be able to construct a society where rape is no longer seen as masculine, because it is a cowardly and selfish abuse of maleness rather than a courageous harnessing of male power. We might be able to separate different kinds of war, finding defensive war masculine and offensive war not masculine but subhuman. We might be able to learn to better tolerate deviations from our gender norms, deviations that could in fact help us to improve our lives and expand our identities.
But to do that, we will first need to admit that we are not inventing gender from thin air, but molding a sculpture upon the very real substrate of our biology.

Religion is the ultimate false advertising. Let's SUE.

(Originally posted by Pat on 7/5/10)

Religious organizations around the world are clearly guilty of false advertising as defined by law.
They make representations that the advertiser has no reasonable basis to believe.
They engage in unfair and deceptive practices.
The statements they make actually deceive a large portion of the target audience.
I think the best target would be the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is a recognized, respected religious authority closely affiliated with the Holy See in Vatican City, but is also registered as a privately owned nonprofit corporation in the United States.
In short, I want to sue the Catholic Church for false advertising that has affected 800 million people. Many of us have worried that the Umich SSA hasn't done enough to really advocate for secularism; well, now is our chance.

If we actually succeeded in winning a judgment against the Catholic Church, this would be a major coup for the secular  community. Overnight it could change the way religion is dealt with in the United States. Of course, the courts could rule that it isn't false advertising, even though it clearly is---simply because the courts, like US society generally, are rather friendly to religion.
But I think we should try. I think the publicity alone would raise a great deal of consciousness, even if no actual damages were collected.
We should structure this as a class-action suit to maximize impact. Each of us may only win a small settlement, but if there are thousands of plaintiffs, the Church will actually be hurt, and the publicity will have a significant impact. This could be a money-making venture for the plaintiffs, though I don't think that should be the primary reason. Depending on how much I won, I would probably give most of it to charity anyway, probably either UNICEF or the Richard Dawkins Foundation, though I've also considered Kiva because microfinance donations can, once repaid, be re-lent as well.
These are the challenges we face:
  1. We need to get a law firm to represent us in the case. It will need to be a firm with nationwide expertise in pleading false-advertising cases and a willingness to continue to the Supreme Court, but also willing to engage religion head-on. Basically we need atheists with substantial law experience.
  2. We need to ensure that we have standing to sue. The easiest way to reject the case would be to deny us standing. All the plaintiffs, therefore, should be atheists who were raised Catholic and can show how this caused them harm. That for me is easy: I was circumcised, which is physical mutilation; my sexual orientation was demonized, which constitutes emotional abuse; and Catholicism was a significant factor in triggering my major depressive disorder, which is a clinically-recognized disability.
  3. We need money to pay for court costs, unless the firm is willing to represent us on contingency. The US court system is horrifyingly expensive, and without substantial funding the project will not succeed. We should look for funding from secular lobbying organizations, like the Secular Coalition for America.
It's an ambitious undertaking. We may not succeed. But the law on the books is clearly on our side.
Now it's time to see if the US court system can put is money where its mouth is.

What is the future of capitalism?

(Originally posted by Pat on 6/27/10)

A review of Richard Robbins' Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism
The book is a weighty tome (it was clearly meant to be a college textbook), so I have not by any means finished it. Yet I am writing this now because right this minute I am clearly in the ideal environment to consider the meaning and future of capitalism, both the good and the bad.
I sit now in Briarwood Mall, with all its glitz and glamour and the ridiculously overpriced jewelry and clothing stores on every corner. I come for the restaurants and the video games, which give me real utility beyond what is “fashionable”, but I cannot help but be drawn into the culture that is conspicuous consumption. There is something beautiful about it all, the young people in bright clothes milling about, the kiosk vendors plying toys and gadgets, even the mindless background music that encourages us to ignore our pains and live in the moment. Moreover, here I am with a 1.3 GHz netbook wishing the WiFi connection was better; I am a part of this culture, and I take great pleasure in it.
But I am not just in Briarwood Mall—I am in a tornado shelter in Briarwood Mall, because the global climate system has chosen this moment to unleash its wrath upon our corner of civilization. I suspect (but of course cannot prove) that this moment is of human doing, that anthropogenic climate change is ultimately responsible for this wave of blistering heat and violent storms.
I can imagine no better place, therefore, to consider the cost-benefit analysis of capitalist culture.

Impeccable timing. The doors have opened, we have emerged from the shelter, and our life as consumers has resumed. I was immediately offered a sample of tea by a smiling and attractive woman as soon as I entered the concourse. As soon as we left the shelter itself, no mention whatsoever was made of the way that we had just faced destructive forces of nature beyond our control or even comprehension. Robbins is clearly onto something when he says that under capitalism, image is everything.
The book is quite overstated—Robbins doesn't take nearly enough time, at least in the portions I have read so far, to consider the good side of capitalism, the ways that market economics really have made us safer, richer, and healthier than any human society has ever been. Like most anthropologists, Robbins harbors far too much love of the hunter-gatherer life. He ignores the fact that in such a life we were at the mercy of disease, predation, and weather. (That tornado shelter may evince the power of nature—but it also offers substantial defense.) Even worse, he ignores the fact that only through this surge of technology and economic growth could he possibly have a job so abstract and cerebral as anthropologist or author.
Yet as I said, Robbins is clearly onto something. Perhaps Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism is a necessary corrective to the excesses of capitalist culture; perhaps by being overstated it attracts our attention in an increasingly ADHD world. Marketing and consumption are altogether too powerful in our modern lives, and there is something casual and hedonistic about our whole existence. We eat tasty food and wear pretty clothes and watch films with beautiful people—but secretly we live lives of quiet desperation, longing for meaning.
My first inclination was in fact to scoff, “This is hippie nonsense, just another anthropologist pining for the imagined savannah. Capitalism (and its altogether kinder child, social democracy) has made the world demonstrably better in so many ways.” Yet when I stopped to consider what I meant by better, I realized that most of the metrics I was using were metrics defined by capitalism. GDP is massively increased, technology is improved, poverty is reduced—but so what? Why are these the things we care about?
There are, however, more objective metrics by which capitalism has improved our lives. We live longer, we suffer less from disease, more of us have enough food to eat and enough shelter to protect us from the weather. As much as I regret that my shoes were most likely made in a Chinese sweatshop, I like the way they feel on my feet, they are good for my posture, and they are vastly better than anything I could have made on my own. Would that they were made by robots—but that is a matter of time and capital, for the technology already exists.
It is debatable whether humans overall have more or less leisure than we used to, but I certainly have enormous amounts of leisure, more indeed than I can financially sustain. (Unemployment is wonderful until your credit cards reach their limits.) Yet only in a society much like this one—and nothing like what we had in hunter-gatherer societies—could I ever consider making my lifebread by writing books and performing scientific research. I would be a terrible hunter and not a spectacular gatherer.
I've been thinking in fact about the Third World, and what it will be like if I decide to join the Peace Corps and teach elementary science in West Africa. I've thought that maybe the experience would change the way I think about life, morality, justice, economics, and especially capitalism. Yet I came to realize that in fact even the Peace Corps is ultimately an outgrowth of capitalism; there could be no Peace Corps without a First World and a Third World, without plenitude in some nations and poverty in others. And the question for me really comes down to this: Is it possible for everyone to have plenitude, or must some always be in poverty?
Though perhaps in later chapters he will change his tune, Robbins seems to think that the latter is true. There will always be haves and have-nots, and if we are to be fair, we must give up what we have so that we too can be have-nots. And perhaps this is right; unfortunately I cannot rule it out. Clearly our credit economy is flawed, and it seems apparent that continuous GDP growth is unsustainable. At some point we will reach the limits of what we can achieve this way, and it is not obvious to me that those limits are large enough to include everyone.
Yet there is so much stuff in the universe! So vastly much energy, material, space, and time. Incalculably, incomprehensibly much stuff. And within us, so vastly much imagination and ingenuity. It is already possible for one human to make more than what one human needs, and our technology makes this more true every day; so why then do we not all have what we need?
Is it, as Robbins supposes, simply our insatiable lust for consumption, fueled by a culture of marketing? Should we learn to live with less? Should I sell this netbook, sell my DVD collection, sell the clothes I do not need to live? Should I eat only vegetables grown in my own garden? Should I do something even more radical still, and move to live in the wild, hunting deer and rabbits naked with wooden spears? Come now, we all know what would happen: I would cut myself and die of septicemia, or else be eaten by a bear. Only a rare few would survive, and they precariously.
Am I just being selfish by continuing to participate in this vast edifice of capitalist culture—does it benefit me at the expense of Chinese children? Or might it be possible, in fact, to share the benefits of wealth and technology with everyone, so that the Chinese children too can have netbooks and designer shoes? Can we make a world where we all labor less and have more?
I think we can. But I haven't the faintest idea how to get there from here. In the meantime I guess I will keep eating at restaurants and writing on my netbook, hoping that I am not pulling the world in the wrong direction.

FUCK YOU, Pakistan

(Originally posted by Pat on 6/26/10)

You, the government of Pakistan, have taken it upon yourself to scan the Internet for content which you deem "blasphemous" or "offensive to Muslims".
Therefore, I and the rest of the atheist community will take it upon ourselves to ramp up the blasphemy quotient of the Internet OVER NINE THOUSAND, so that either your plan will backfire into allowing more blasphemy, you will detach yourself from the Internet and all the trade and communication it offers you, or else you end up spending all of your time rooting out blasphemy and don't have the resources to do anything else.
Moreover, I am going to do it without saying anything that isn't actually true or at least highly plausible.

First of all, Islam is a false and evil religion. It has killed thousands, if not millions of people. It is demonstrably worse than other religions; while Christianity is terrible, Islam is far, far worse. I'm not sure if Scientology is worse than Islam; it's close either way.
Muslims are in rare cases murderous tyrants, terrorists, and even genocides; but this of course true of every belief system, including atheism. No, I am more concerned with the majority of Muslims, who hold views that are racist, misogynist, anti-Semitic, and antithetical to democracy. When censorship like yours is actually popular among Muslims, you clearly demonstrate that Islam is not prepared to handle the liberal, secular republic that is the pinnacle of human civilization.
Muhammad was a megalomaniac, a sociopath, and a child rapist. He organized a society under his own tyrannical rule, and through Machiavellian social engineering he managed to persuade people that he was a prophet of God. Osama bin Laden's moral character is quite a bit better than Muhammad's; after all, to my knowledge bin Laden doesn't rape children.
The Arabic for "Allah" can be easily decorated to look like male genitalia.
Women in many Muslim societies risk having acid thrown in their faces if they challenge accepted social and sexual norms.
Jews and Christians circumcise males, which is bad. Muslims "circumcise" (a euphemism for radical clitoridectomy and labioplasty) females, which is quite literally an atrocity.
The Qur'an contains all the worst parts of the Bible and almost none of the good parts. The idealistic peace and love of Jesus was forcibly excised (not unlike the mutilation of a circumcision in fact), to return to the absurdity of Noah's Ark and the genocidal evil of raping and pillaging the world in the name of God. Compared to other literature and philosophy of the time, the Tanakh was a moral regression of about 200 years; the Bible was a regression of about 500 years; the Qur'an was a regression of at least 1500 years.
Muslims started the Crusades by invading the Byzantine Empire. This is not to justify the Christian response, but rather to show that it wasn't a one-sided Christian genocide of Muslims, but on the contrary a war that Muslims started and lost.
Because it is only a book and doesn't deserve anywhere near the respect it receives, I once read from a translation of the Qur'an in my left hand while masturbating with my right. And yes, I know all about Muslim taboos about translating the Qur'an and using the left hand; that was part of the point. Though there are some pornographic parts, they really weren't erotic enough to get me off, so eventually I put the Qur'an down and finished off with my own fantasies.
The Qur'an is  a waste of trees and would be more useful for humanity as fuel or toilet paper.
Salman Rushdie is a good and brave man who risked his own life to make the world better. Moreover, The Satanic Verses is quite an enjoyable and enlightening read.
Some of the cartoons about Muhammad that caused riots were actually quite funny and poignant.
Think about it: A large number of Muslims riot over cartoons. This is how morally defective your culture is.
Speaking of moral defects, equal rights for women and gays are advances in morality---substantial advances at that. Large portions of the human population now have well-deserved rights that they did not otherwise have.
Sam Harris often isn't harsh enough on other religions, including Christianity and Judaism but especially Buddhism; but his criticisms of Islam are entirely accurate. Your religion pretty much deserves all the criticism it can get.
Secular liberal democracies are demonstrably more successful societies than theocracies. (We are richer, healthier, happier, longer-lived, more stable, etc.)  Our prosperity and your poverty is in large part due to the fact that we seek freedom and equality and you repress and control religion and sexuality. An obvious way this is so: 50% of the human population is female, and it works a lot better to have that 50% working rather than trapped in the home.
Though I abhor censorship in all its forms and would never seriously consider it, I am forced to admit that the world would be overall better off if the Bible and Qur'an were banned. I protect these books only on the principle that books must be protected; this protection has no basis in the value of the books themselves---for they have none. I protect the Qur'an for the same reason I protect Mein Kampf and the Marquis de Sade.
Finally, you can't possibly win this fight. Your theocratic governance and evil religion may cause a great deal of damage, but we in the secular democracies have the money and the technology, and in the long run that is why we will win. You can join us and live, or continue to fight us and die.
Fuck you, Pakistan.

The mathematics of desire

(Originally posted by Pat on 6/22/10)

Or, using cognitive and social psychology to find a happy medium between fantasy romance and evolutionary reductionism
I've noticed that atheists and religious people have very different ideas about sex and romance. For the most part, I think atheist ideas are better. We aren't nearly as guilt-ridden about everything remotely sexual; we don't obsess as much over displays of body parts; we have more egalitarian attitudes toward women and LGBT people. Atheists are much more likely to admit that sex is good, it's part of who we are and what we do.
Yet there is a facet of atheist views on sex that I find troubling. This is the general tendency among atheists to either 1) treat sex as casual and meaningless or 2) reduce it to callous Darwinian calculations. The two often go together as well; if sex is just “mingling genes”, then what's the big deal? (I wasn't able to find any examples of this among prominent atheist bloggers, which is good to see; but I encounter it a lot in private interactions, and it's part of the sentiment of this Onion article—the Onion editors are clearly atheists, as you can see from any of their religion and science articles.)
I think this kind of thinking comes from an eagerness to reject everything of religious culture; in particular we want to reject religious norms of marriage and the pseudo-religious idea of a “soul mate” for each person. This is a healthy impulse—we should challenge religious norms and superstitious ideas wherever we find them—but we must also be careful not to let our proverbial infants be lost in their proverbial drainwater.
(NSFW warning: Mild. It's about sex, but not very explicit.)

What I really think most atheist discourse is missing is an understanding and acceptance of relationships, of the cognitive and social psychology of romantic experience. There is not enough consideration of what it means for two (or more) people to engage in an intimate relationship, and why that might in fact be desirable even if we were asexual organisms.
Of course humans are evolved animals, and so our sexuality must be such as natural selection has made it; but we must not presume, like most popular evolutionary psychology is wont to presume, that this means that heterosexual mate competition is the only experience of that sexuality.
For sex isn't just about mixing genes. It is about that, but it isn't just about that. Because we Homo sapiens are an intelligent, social species, a substantial proportion of our sexual activity has nothing to do with reproduction—and despite what religious people may think, this has always been true, long before “free love” or contraception. Fellatio was not invented in the 1970s; indeed, it its practiced by a number of different primates, and recently it was found in bats. Ethological accounts of why animals practice fellatio always say something about “couplings including fellatio lasted longer and were more likely to conceive offspring”; but why is that true?
I contend that it is because:
  1. Fellatio feels good, especially for the recipient.
  2. Males who receive fellatio in the course of mating enjoy the mating more and are more committed to the pairing, so they invest more in pleasing their partners in turn.
  3. Females realize this, and offer fellatio to secure their bonds with males.
Mutatis mutandis for other forms of non-reproductive sex, like cunnilingus and mutual masturbation. Hence, the essential force here is reciprocity, an inextricably social relation; hence, it's not surprising to me that the species with the most oral sex are also the species with the most reciprocal altruism. (We are by far on top in both categories, though in oral sex bonobos do offer some competition.)
Well, reciprocity is not dependent upon sexual anatomy. I can engage in reciprocal altruism with people of any anatomical configuration (though what kind of reciprocity I could engage in might be anatomy-dependent). Reciprocity is intrinsically bisexual—which is why bonobos are innately bisexual and I think humans are as well.
Why, then, don't friends exchange sexual favors? Well, sometimes they do. But typically they do not, and this too requires explanation. If sex is a primarily social act, why then are our social lives so much richer than our sex lives?
It could be that oppressive religious norms have made their mark upon our minds and society, and in a more liberated world we would be more sexual with our friends and acquaintances. No doubt this is to some extent true. As much as I'd like to think so, I haven't completely eradicated the stench of Catholicism from the far corners of my psyche.
But I think there is something more as well. Sex represents an extreme form of intimacy; in sex we make ourselves physically and emotionally vulnerable to an extent unmatched by really any other activity. As much as we might try to pretend that sex is just some casual activity that people occasionally do, it isn't—sex involves intense hormones, strong emotions, the exposure of our most vulnerable body parts, risks of injury and infection, and the revelation of our deepest, most private thoughts and desires. Sexual intercourse is the closest two bodies can possibly be to one another, and I would contend that is often the closest two minds can be as well.
Moreover, this is why I like sex—and I don't think I'm alone in that. I've had sex that wasn't intimate in this way, because we explicitly planned it out so that it would not be. We carefully closed as many channels of intimacy as possible—we don't get to know each other, we don't have much in common, we don't spend time together, we barely even talk. He shows up, we strip, I suck him, he sucks me, he leaves; I never see him again. That kind of sex approaches genuine casualness; but it's also incredibly unsatisfying. It's the kind of sex that leaves me thinking, “Why didn't I just masturbate? It would have been just as good and a lot easier.”
Yet the few times—all too few—I've had sex where I really felt an emotional connection, really felt intimate on a number of different levels, were the most wonderful experiences in my life. There were only three people with which I've had such experiences, and then only on a handful of occasions; but there was something beautiful about each occasion, and I expect to remember all three of these people for the rest of my life.
So why don't friends have sex? Because friendship is not quite the same level of intimacy that really makes for satisfying sex. It is comparable, which is why friends do sometimes become sexually involved; but it is not the same, which is why most don't and those who do find that it changes their relationship dramatically.
What of the idealistic romantic concept of “soul mates”? Isn't it silly to think that there is one person out there, the perfect one for you?
In so many words, yes. But in fact there are good reasons to think that something like that really does exist, at least for most people in most circumstances.
The universe is not run by a central planning agency; no unified authority regulates your chromosomes at birth to ensure that you have a perfect match somewhere. You have some degree of compatibility and incompatibility to everyone else in the world, and the challenge of dating lies in finding the most compatible person you can. You desire certain people, certain people desire you; the trick is making the two line up.
Indeed, this desirability is multidimensional—what you need in a friend is not necessarily what you need in a lover, which is not necessarily what you need in a lifelong partner, and each these in turn may be time-dependent or circumstance-dependent. But I do think there is a strong correlation (I'm certainly more likely to be attracted to someone I actually like as a person), and not too much change over time or circumstances, so for now let's presume that we can express romantic compatibility in a single constant value. WOLOGIMBAT this number ranges from 0 (completely incompatible) to 1 (completely compatible).
Now, it should be apparent that different people have different desirability metrics, and furthermore that these metrics are not symmetric. Someone could be the very apotheosis of my desire and nonetheless have no interest in me at all; or conversely someone could be very strongly attracted to me while I am only interested in them on a platonic level.
Presume that the human population is finite (so far, so good). Presume that for any given person, everyone else in the world has a well-defined desirability value (seems plausible, if accept that we don't actually know these values a priori). Then, it follows from the well-ordering of the real numbers that:
  1. There is a person who is most desirable to you
  2. There is a person for whom you are most desirable
  3. There is a person for whom the product of your mutual desirability is maximal
So, is there a soul mate after all? No... because, unfortunately, there is no reason to think that these three properties describe the same person. Indeed, in the general case they are most likely to be completely different people.
For instance, consider this simple population of 4 individuals, A, B, C, and D, and their respective desirability matrix (the diagonal is 0 because masturbation isn't as fun as sex):
Consider the situation for A:
The most desirable mate for A is D—f(A,D) = 1.
The mate who most desires A is C—f(C,A) = 1.
The mate with the highest product of mutual desirability for A is B—f(A,B)*f(B,A) = 0.25.
So, what should A do? It's hard to say. Maybe it depends whether A most values being with a desirable mate (choose D), being desired (choose C), or having equal mutual compatibility (choose B).
It gets worse. It is possible for the preferences in the system to be intransitive, resulting in what are essentially voter paradoxes. Suppose there are only three people, and their compatibility matrix looks like this:
There are three possible arrangements, presuming monogamy:
A and B can pair, leaving C alone; call this AB,C.
B and C can pair, leaving A alone; call this A,BC.
Finally, A and C can pair, leaving B alone; call this AC,B.
The preferences look like this:
A: AB,C > AC,B > A,BC
B: A,BC > AB,C > AC,B
C: AC,B > A,BC > AB,C
This is isomorphic to Condorcet's paradox, which is easier to see if we write it this way:
AB,C = X
AC,B = Y
A,BC = Z
A: X > Y > Z
B: Z > X > Y
C: Y > Z > X
Suppose we choose X. Then it seems we should have chosen Z, because 2/3 of people prefer Z > X.
So now, we choose Z. Then we should have chosen Y, because 2/3 of people prefer Y > Z.
What if we instead choose Y? We should have chosen X, because 2/3 of people prefer X > Y!
Now, what if we allow polyamory? Doesn't that solve the problem? Not really.
If it were really possible to love n people as much as you love 1 person, for all n (or at least for relatively large n), then polyamory would solve the problem—the optimal result comes when everyone just sleeps with everyone in a mass kibbutz-orgy. (Or if sex with some people is so bad it's worse than no sex at all, then you just don't have sex with those people and have sex with everyone else.)
But because in real life adding another partner forces you to divert time and energy away from other partners, polyamory doesn't resolve the paradox—it only compounds it. Sometimes it might produce the best outcome, depending on the specifics of the cost-benefit function for each partner, but often it won't. Each of the partners you already have would prefer you not add any more, but each of the people who isn't your partner wants you to add them. Sometimes adding another partner will make you yourself happier, but not always. The conflict between these interests is inevitable, and at some point you'll have to decide how to weigh them against each other.
It turns out dating is as complicated as we always feared!
There is good news, however. We don't live in the general case. The specific features of our real situation actually give us reason to hope.
In real life, there are two primary components to desirability, objective value and compatibility.
Objective value is basically evolutionary value; it includes the things that pretty much everyone wants, like good health, a sexy body, well-endowed sex characteristics, intelligence, wealth, status. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have very high objective value.
Compatibility, on the other hand, is based on how similar someone is to you, what you have in common, how your tastes and personality traits mesh with theirs. It's not quite the same as similarity, since for instance a straight man wants a straight woman, a top wants a bottom; but in general it is a symmetric relation—if I am compatible with you, you are compatible with me.
Desirability can be taken as a sum of these two:
D = O + C
The desirability matrix, then, is the sum of an objective component and a symmetric component.
The objective component would look like this:
A and B have high objective value, so they get 0.5 across the board.
C and D have low objective value, so they get 0.2 across the board.
The symmetric component would look quite different however:
A is much like B and C is much like D, so the compatibility scores reflect this. (C is much like C, etc., but like I said, sex is more fun than masturbation.)
Summing these two gives the following desirability matrix:
A0.5+0.0 = 0.50.5+0.5 = 1.00.2+0.1 = 0.30.2+0.1=0.3
B0.5+0.5 = 1.00.5+0.0 = 0.50.2+0.1 = 0.30.2+0.1=0.3
C0.5+0.1 = 0.60.5+0.1 = 0.60.2+0.0 = 0.20.2+0.5=0.7
D0.5+0.1 = 0.60.5+0.1 = 0.60.2+0.5 = 0.70.2+0 = 0.3
To clean that up in case it's not obvious:
Now the answer is obvious:
A's best choice is B, and B's best choice is A, so A and B should be together.
C's best choice is D, and D's best choice is C, so C and D should be together.
In evolution this is called positive assortment; like mates with like.
But more importantly, everyone wins! Perhaps there are soul mates after all!
Of course, reality is much more complicated than this simple example. So, as I started by saying, the answer is somewhere in between.
There are additional considerations besides objective value and compatibility, though those are the two primary factors. Even with just these two components it can happen that (say) D is so objectively undesirable, that C would still be better off with A, even though A and C aren't very compatible. Given the vicissitudes of attractionality, it could turn out that C wants D but D doesn't want C. And even when two people are compatible, other factors can prevent a relationship from working out.
Moreover, if you allow polyamory, there is a cost-benefit analysis to be done in each case for each person—essentially, is this new person so desirable and compatible that it is worth adding them to the mix even though it takes time away from my other partners?—and this is a relation that can be expected to typically assort positively as well. But it won't always, and again we need conflict resolution.
Yeah, it's complicated. Often, it doesn't work out. But I have gone through all of these mathematical machinations to make the following central point: It's not unreasonable to think that there is a best person for you.
It would be unreasonable to think that there is a perfect person for you—no one is perfect. It would be unreasonable to think that you will be able to accurately gauge your compatibility with a single glance—there is so much you need to know, it will take months if not years of a relationship to discern your real compatibility. It would be unreasonable to think that you will automatically meet your soul mate and never have to work at building or maintaining a relationship—there is no central planning of the universe to allow such things.
Yet it is not unreasonable to think that there is in fact someone, somewhere in the world, who is the best choice for you—and furthermore, it is not unreasonable to think that you will be the best choice for them as well. With high probability, we can predict that your match is out there somewhere. Moreover, you needn't search the whole world, because compatibility is in large part made of similarity, and the kind of people you spend a lot of time with, your friends, colleagues, co-workers, acquaintances, are likely to be quite similar to you.