What is normal: An analytic approach

This post has been cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda.

In an earlier post, I touched on a particular problem: not only do I not conform to what is “normal”, it is far from clear what “normal” is, or if “normal” even exists.

I think this is particularly a problem for aces. Aces must often identify what is normal in order to resist it, but at the same time they don’t have direct experience with what is normal. If aces are too confident in their perceptions of the normal, this could lead to offensive views of allosexuals (e.g. the notion that allosexuals are constantly horny). If aces are insufficiently confident in their perceptions of the normal, this can lead to crippling self doubt. So here I outline my analytic approach to the problem.

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Oh, politics

Election media coverage, that carousel of drama, has recently led to public discussion of superdelegates in the Democratic Party primary elections.  The story is that even though Sanders beat Clinton in New Hampshire by a landslide, Clinton somehow won more delegates anyway.  That’s because some delegates are decided by popular vote within their respective precincts, while other delegates, known as superdelegates, are chosen by the delegate alone.

Paste magazine has a good explanation of the entire process and its application to current events.  Basically, the superdelegates don’t have nearly as much power as it may first seem, because if they went against the popular vote, enough voters would object that it would throw the general election.  Furthermore, superdelegates have not actually voted yet, and have only made non-binding promises on who to vote for.  Many superdelegates have not made any promises at all, so counting the promises amounts to selection bias.

However, I want to point out one aspect of the Paste article which is absolutely ridiculous.  Note the article’s title is “After Sanders’ Big Win in New Hampshire, Establishment Figures Want to Scare You with Superdelegates. Here’s Why It’s Bullshit”.  Okay, but who are these establishment figures, and where are they trying to scare us?

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Evolution is an asshole

If evolution were a person, that person would an asshole. That person is literally Hitler. More than ten thousand Hitlers! Evolution wants us to be “adaptive” and “fit”, but why should I want that? Why should I want evolutionary adaptability? At best, evolutionary adaptability aligns with my interests, and at worst, adaptability amounts to cooperation with an evil and uncaring god.

So when someone suggests that being asexual or GLB isn’t evolutionarily adaptive, my response is “So what?”

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Judgments by source should go alongside judgments by merit

Sometimes in social justice discourse, people evaluate arguments based on the person who is making them. For example, if a person argues that racism is not much of a problem today, and that person is white, we might choose to disregard that argument.

Many critics think this leads to an incoherent epistemology.  I emphatically disagree. Fallacies be damned, there are many practical reasons to care who is making an argument.

On the other hand, I have certainly observed some… excesses. For example, in some cases, a person is assumed to be white, cis, male, heterosexual, based on the thing they were arguing for.  In some cases, this assumption turns out to be incorrect, which creates a whole distraction.  I will not comment on whether this pattern is common or uncommon, but instead outline an approach that people should be taking instead.

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Which expectations am I confounding?

This essay was written for the Carnival of Aces, which is this month themed on “relationship stages”.  It has also been cross-posted to The Asexual Agenda.

There are strong cultural norms regarding the proper trajectory of a romantic relationship. In my mind, they start with initiation: one person asks the other person out. The couple has a few dates, and then they “go steady”, whatever that means. Eventually, they meet each other’s parents, they start living together, they get engaged, and get married.

Since these are cultural norms, you’d expect them to be everywhere. You’d expect to find lots of popular articles describing them as the way “all” relationships work. But when I recently searched “relationship stages”, I found something different.

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Arguments and folding

It’s said that in Poker, the correct strategy is to fold at least half the time. This is because in a two-player game, you’re bound to lose half the time, and folding minimizes the cost of losing.

By analogy, we should be folding about half the time in arguments too. In an argument where one person is right and the other person is wrong, about half the time, the person who is wrong is you. And if you’re wrong, then the best course of action is to change your view.

Granted, there are plenty of arguments when both people are right, or both people are wrong, or neither person is making any sense at all. Also granted, you may be the kind of person who is wise and educated, and who mostly chooses YouTube commenters as opponents.

Lastly, on consideration of the game theory, it turns out you shouldn’t necessarily be folding quite half the time.

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Ideological recoil

I want to identify a common pattern that occurs across all sorts of political and quasi-political arguments. The pattern is this:

Alice opposes a certain ideology. She thinks the ideology is a significant factor in a wide variety of problems. She has many opinions and notions which are based entirely on opposing that ideology, or correcting its errors. She has a tendency to see the ideology in many people, including people who don’t see it in themselves.

I would describe Alice as recoiling from an opposing ideology. That ideology takes up a large amount of conceptual space in her mind. Many things are seen in relation to that ideology. This can be particularly frustrating when you interact with Alice, and she sees you in relation to the ideology she opposes. Alice tends to think you’re either with her or against her.

In the past, I’ve described this as Alice as being “reactionary”, since her views are based on a reaction against the opposing ideology. I switched to a synonym for two reasons. First, “reactionary” is sometimes defined as a particular variety of far right-wing politics. Second, “reactionary” has a negative connotation, and I want a more neutral term. When someone recoils from an idea, I’m not saying that’s good or bad–it could be either. Maybe Alice is recoiling too much and it blinds her. Or maybe she’s recoiling exactly the right amount.

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Report: Information theory

Today I’ll look at the paper that established information theory: “A Mathematical Theory of Communication“, by Claude Shannon in 1948. (mirror link)

We’ll start out with my favorite sentence in the paper:

THE HEAD AND IN FRONTAL ATTACK ON AN ENGLISH WRITER THAT THE CHARACTER OF THIS POINT IS THEREFORE ANOTHER METHOD FOR THE LETTERS THAT THE TIME OF WHO EVER TOLD THE PROBLEM FOR AN UNEXPECTED.

The above sentence shows glimmers of sense, which is astounding given that it’s generated randomly without any considerations of grammar or meaning. Of course, this may not seem so impressive in a world where we have Google Autocomplete and the What would I say? Facebook app. But it all started here!

Shannon’s paper considers a very general problem: communication. Communication means taking a particular message and reproducing the message at a different location. Another way of thinking about it is that you are selecting the actual message from a large number of possible messages. Information is a quantitative measure of the ability to select the correct message

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You are the center of the universe

People have been asking me: “If the Big Bang began at a some point in space, then what–”

Hold it!  The Big Bang did not begin at any point in space.  The Big Bang is everywhere, it has no center.  The standard analogy is that space is like the surface of an expanding balloon, and as you can see a balloon has no center on its surface.

big bang balloonImage from “Misconceptions About the Big Bang“, which incidentally is a really good article.

People find this confusing though, since balloons do have centers (not on their surface).  Scientists also say that the universe as we know it used to be the size of a grapefruit.  Doesn’t a grapefruit have a center?  Well you got me there.  So where’s the center of the universe?

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