Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Stupid Rancher Problem

  I've been thinking about the smart cow problem and how it relates to DRM and piracy, and there's a parallel issue present which I like to call the "stupid rancher problem." Think of it this way: a number of ranchers all share a single field for their cows to graze in, and each rancher controls one gate to that field.  Now, all it takes is one rancher to leave their gate unsecured, and the cows will be able to open it and all escape.  In this sense, there's no incentive for the rest of the ranchers to put much effort into securing their individual gate, because it's not the strongest gate that the cows need to get past; it's the weakest.  To put it simply: only one dumb rancher needs to leave the gate open, then everyone's cows can escape.



How does this apply to DRM you ask?  Well, imagine that you're the copyright holder for some kind of intellectual property.  Say, a song.  There are many ways that your song can reach the consumer: CDs, Vinyl, the Radio, A music video on TV, iTunes, Amazon, and any number of other online distribution services.  Now, even though some of the companies that distribute your music may assure you that they have the most advanced anti-piracy measures in place, it doesn't really matter; your music will just be grabbed for piracy from another source.  Leaning on a rancher to make the strongest gate even stronger will do nothing but waste your time and theirs.  The cows are just going to leave anyways through the gate that's already open (which, in this case, would be CDs).

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Big Transgender Post

This article expects you to have a basic understanding of terminology surrounding the transgender movement, but in case you don't, here's the one-paragraph summary: "Sex" refers to one's maleness of femaleness in the physical sense (ie; your plumbing). "Gender" refers to someone's mental sense of identity of being male or female (what you consider yourself to be or "identify" as). "Female-to-Male" (or FTM) refers to a transgendered1 person who was born with a female body but identifies as a male. "Male-to-Female" or MTF would be the opposite of that2. A person who's not transgendered is called "cisgendered."
I don't really have a blanket acceptance for all transgender issues nor a blanket denial of them. It's a little more complicated with that, so I'm going to list some statements that would generally be used to describe what the transgender rights movement supports, then whether I consider then true or false and why. If any of the issues require further clarification or support after this, I'll write a separate article for them.

  • A person is a man3 or a woman based on what they identify with. Sort of. Like many discussions, this one comes down to a matter. Here, we have two different definitions for man,* one stemmed in gender, and the other stemmed in sex. The exact wording that I most often hear for the gender-based definitions is that a male is "anyone who identifies as a male." The sex-based definition I like to use is that someone is male if they're "phenotypically male," that is to say if they've grown male reproductive organs.
    As far as which of these is correct, they both are to some extent. Some people, when they say "male" are referring to someone who identifies as male, regardless of gender. At the same time, some people are referring to anyone who has a male sex when they say it. Really, in a way, these are two separate words that just happen to be spelled and pronounced the same way. So, they're both useable definitions.
    My position, though, would be that the sex-based version is more useable. The reason for this being mostly that it's the meaning that most people are thinking of when they say male, and most dictionaries would agree with it. There are also some inherent problems with the gender-based definition, probably the greatest of which is that it's a circular definition; it includes the word "male" in the definition for "male." It also implies that anyone who doesn't speak English can't really be male, because they probably wouldn't identify with a word that they don't even know. I know this sounds like I'm being pretty ridiculous in my interpretation of this definition, but when a definition doesn't create any meaning in a word besides the word itself, then it's just not a good definition and opens itself up to these problems.
    I can also see how people might see the gender-based definition as sort of a "straw-man," but that is honestly the definition I've heard most often offered by people who consider maleness to be gender-determined. Still, I'm also willing to listen to other definitions if any readers have another one to offer.
  • A transgendered person feels a strong compulsion to express their gender which they cannot help. Sure. I mean, I don't have the experience of being any of the people out there who say these feelings are so compelling, so who am I to disagree with them when they tell me how they feel.
  • A person should be allowed to wear the clothes and then present themselves in such a way that reflects their gender identity. Yes , with a caveat. This is all about being honest with yourself. If you a person feels that their gender compells them to wear a skirt instead of pants or visa versa, then more power to them. There's really no harm in dressing to express. I put a caveat in here though, with regards to dressing in order to convince people that your sex is something it isn't. I've noticed a pre-occupation amongst transgendered people with their ability to "pass," or present themselves in such a way that no one guesses their sex. This is different than dressing in a certain way for the purposes of self-expression; it's dressing for the purpose of creating an idea in other people's heads, and a false idea at that. I'm not saying that this should be illegal or anything like that, but there is a moral obligation not to, as it is dishonest.
  • Transgender people should be free from violence and harassment because their presentation doesn't match up with society's proscription for how people of their sex act. Absolutely. There are very few things in this world that someone can do to warrant violence against them, and choosing not to fall in with society's gender roles is not one of them. Anti-transgender violence is also (I've heard) one of the factors that pressures transgendered people into hiding their birth sex, for their own safety. So any act of violence against transgendered people for anger over dishonesty about sex is having the opposite effect intended.
  • A transgendered person should be able to use the bathroom, locker-room, or similar facility which corresponds with their gender. No. This goes back to the first issue I brought up, about what makes someone a man or a woman. The reason that we have separate facilities for men and women has nothing to do with self-identities or gender roles and has everything to do with bodies. Being nude is a very corporal thing. In our society, we have this pervasive idea that seeing a nude person who has the same kind of body as oneself and being seen nude by people of the same kind of body is really no big deal, but seeing or being seen by a member of the opposite sex is something to be avoided, or at least reserved for people one is intimate with. Now, one can certainly argue that this idea is pointless or wrong or whatever. It's not my intention to defend this idea as something necessary, but rather just to point out that it is there and that it is the basis for why we have "men's" and "women's" facilities. So it only makes sense that how we divide people into these facilities should follow along corporal lines. Also, there are some single-user, unisex restroom out there; an idea that I'm totally in favour of.
  • Transwomen should be allowed to attend the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival. Yes, but there's more to it than that. for those of you who've never heard of it, the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (or MWMF) is an annual music festival built around female artists and has had a long-running rule of only allowing "womyn-born-womyn" to attend. Recently, they started agreeing to sell tickets to transwomen, but informing them that they are violating the spirit of the festival. Then, they eventually just dropped the rule altogether, but I feel it's still an issue worth discussing. I could probably write a whole post on the MWMF, but I'll try to keep it brief here. Preventing transwomen from attending the festival was wrong and discriminatory, but it wasn't wrong because doing so didn't recognize them as women; it was wrong because trying to limit the festival to only women in the first place was bigoted and discriminatory. There has been a noticeable movement in the transgender community to try and gain access to the MWMF, but they're not doing it by saying that they should end their discriminatory admittance policy, but rather that they should just revise it so that transwomen aren't excluded. The thing about how the transgendered movement has treated this policy, is that they've implicitly said "It's okay that you discriminate; you're just discriminating wrong." The fundamental difference between the MWMF and the places mentioned in the above issue is that a music festival has nothing to do with one's sex or body, so it doesn't justify to exclude people based on their sex or body.
  • A transgendered person should be allowed to marry someone of their birth sex (and opposite their gender). Yes, but same with cysgendered people. I'm definitely in favour of marriage equality (see previous post), so I don't think sex (or gender) should be a factor that prevents anyone from getting married.
  • A person should be legally protected from being discriminated against for employment, based on their gender. I agree. A person shouldn't be disqualified from a job because of their gender, their sex, or whether or not the two "match." The reason being is that none of these things have any baring on a person's ability to work. There are a few jobs that would count as exceptions (e.g. stripper), but these really are just small exceptions and shouldn't allow discrimination in other positions.

1Some people have a problem with using "Transgendered" as an adjective. I am not one of them.
2Of course, there are more categories out there than "male" or "female," but I'm trying not to over-complicate thing
3For brevity's sake, I'm just going to be talking about how this argument applies to whether or not someone is a man. Everything in this section can be applied to whether someone's a woman, as well.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Paradigms for right and wrong love

  I find it amusing that opponents of same-sex marriage will often put up some kind of slippery-slope argument against it saying that if we broaden our definition of marriage, surely even broader definitions, including things like polygamy and marriages to children, will follow.  I find this amusing, because a great deal of these people support using the bible as a guide to what kind of marriages we should have, and the bible is pretty pro-polygamy, and pretty lax on the whole adult-child relationship thing, too.  Marriage as a system of ownership is also a pretty common theme in the bible.
  There have been plenty of articles written on how the bible is a poor standard for what kinds of marriage should be allowed, but has anyone ever taken a look at other standards, not just for marriage but for what divides "right love" and "wrong love" in general?
  Probably the most common description for what makes right love (or at least marriage) is the "one man and one woman" paradigm.  This has the downfall of allowing things like marriage as a system of person-ownership.  I shouldn't really call this a paradigm either, because it's more of a laundry list of qualifications than an idea about being wrong or right.  I mean, there's no inherent morality surrounding the idea of there a single man, or about there being a single woman.  This idea looks less like a paradigm for right love and more like the shortest way to describe marriage that doesn't include the three most obvious kinds that society finds unpalatable (same-sex, polygamous, and child marriages).
  Of course, I should point out that support for one of the three kinds mentioned above doesn't necessitate support for the others.  When people believe that acceptance of same-sex marriage will lead to acceptance of polygamy or pedophilia, they seem to generally run on the assumption that proponents of same-sex marriage support an "anything goes" standard.  From my experience they're mostly wrong in that assumption, which is good because otherwise we would see widespread support for forced marriages, polygamy, and child marriages.
  A standard that I think is much more common in the pro-gay-marriage camp is the "two consenting adults" (or, less commonly, the "two or more consenting adults") standard.  This one is pretty good, but it has the same problem as the "one man and one woman idea" in that it' not really a paradigm so much as a list of qualifications.  It also has the problem of allowing for marriage-as-ownership and similar scenarios, as long as both parties say they agree to it.  Really, aside from allowing same-sex marriages, this set of qualifications is almost the same as the "one man plus one woman" set.  I want you to think about that for a second, because it really highlights how these both fail as paradigms.  One of them allows a type of marriage that the other doesn't, but neither of them really includes any justification for why they fall on the side they do.
   Now, you know I wouldn't bring up this subject unless I had my own paradigm to proscribe, and I do.  It can be described in one word: equality.  For any relationship or marriage to be right, good, and healthy, it must be equal.  The equality paradigm would exclude polygamous relationships, because they carry in their composition the implication that a man is worth 4 (or however many) women, while a woman is worth 1/4th of a man.  The equality paradigm would also exclude pedophilic relationships, because an adult is at a fundamentally higher position in society than a child.  It would also exclude bestial relationships, because a human has a much higher position in society than an animal.  This applies to more than just the members of the relationship but also how they act towards each other; any relationship where one person acts as the ultimate decision-maker is unequal.  Forced, coerced, and ownership-based relationships would also be excluded, for obvious reasons.
    What this paradigm would not exclude are opposite-sex relationships or same-sex relationships.  Nor would it exclude couples who like to engage in S&M, assuming that what they do is decided based on the mutual enjoyment and consent of both parties.
    Now why is this the best paradigm, you ask?  Aside from not including the negative kinds of relationships that I mentioned the above paradigms imply, it's also based on a pretty good ideal that a lot of people seem to be quite fond of.  When you love someone in a romantic way, you put them on equal importance as yourself and you become partners.  "Partners" in relationships means the same thing that it does in business; they don't become your boss and they don't become your subordinate.  They become your partner - your equal - and treating them like your equal will keep the relationship healthy.  Plus "Marriage = Equality" it's much snappier and fits on a bumper-sticker better than "Marriage = Two consenting adults," don't you think?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Underdog’s Advantage

I've noticed a little trend in arguments, that the person with a less-popular opinion will tend to have an advantage in an straight argument against someone with a position that the majority of society holds. This is because the person with the unpopular opinion has likely spent more time thinking about their position and how to defend it. Where-as someone with an opinion that's shared by most of society will not see as much of a need to defend it, and so wont spend much time thinking about it. It has nothing to do with the less popular opinion being more correct or better thought out; they just have more of a motivation to do research and come up with support for what they believe.
A good example is the belief that the Holocaust didn't happen. Most of you reading this now probably believe that the the Holocaust did happen, and probably feel fairly passionate about that belief as well. Yet, you've probably not spent much time thinking (or researching) how to argue this opinion against someone on the other side of the issue. Someone who believes it didn't happen, on the other hand, probably realizes they're in a small minority with that opinion, and so anticipates that they'll have to defend their belief a lot, and has put more thought into how they'll defend it. Because they've put more thought into it, they'd probably be able to argue fairly well against you on the subject. This is the underdog's advantage.
The advantage starts to go away if more people begin subscribing to the minority belief, and it starts getting more recognition. At that point, enough chatter begins in the media and in social situations that people actually begin thinking about their beliefs on the subject and coming up with reasons to support it, or at least memorizing slogans. This is when the issue becomes controversial.
An issue becomes controversial when enough people support the minority side of it. An issue isn't controversial (basically), if you can bring it up with someone you don't really know and expect that their beliefs on it will side with your own. It is controversial, if you can't really make that assumption. For instance, "Women should have the right to vote," is not a very controversial statement. "Same-sex couples should have the right to get married" is.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Cube Staircase

     Sometimes, when arguing a position, people will use a string of points, where-in each point supports the one following it, but does not end up supporting the subsequent point after that.  If you look at these arguments as a series of short “Because A, then B” statements, then each one of them as an individual is sound, but the argument as a whole is not.

    The reason it’s not sounds is because, although each points supports the one after it, it does so in such a way that doesn’t support the following points.   Here’s an example:

I’ve heard that this vacuum is powerful enough to pick up a chair; so, this vacuum sucks really hard.  If any product sucks really hard, you shouldn’t buy it.  So, you shouldn’t buy this vacuum.

    It’s true that a vacuum is powerful enough to suck up a chair, that it sucks really hard.  And it’s also true that if a product sucks really hard, that you shouldn’t buy it.  However, these aren’t true using the same sense of the phrase “sucks really hard.”  In this example, the conflation is really easy to spot, but people often sneak these into their arguments in a more subtle way.

     Here’s another way to think of it: imagine a staircase, made out of cubes.  Each cube is placed off-center from the cube below it, but in such away that its weight will still be supported and it wont fall off.


     Now imagine that a few more blocks were added on, and each block supports the block above it in the same way, and if you look specifically at any two sequential blocks, they will seem to support be supported.  However, each block will support two-or-more blocks above itself, and over-all the structure is unsound, and would fall down.

CubeStaircase2      Arguments work in the same way.  Each piece of evidence given needs to support the point which relies on it, but also every piece which relies on that one and so on.