Ian Bicking: the old part of his blog

Re: Respecting the whole person comment 000

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Showing a naked woman is not the same as being racist. Again, this is where the argument becomes unreasonable. If someone made misogynist jokes or statements in their presentation, people should walk out, and they should be very angry at the person. Porn is not hate. I would be bothered if someone was racist or misogynistic even if they didn't express their opinion, or if they couched their language in ways to make it seem acceptable. I am not bothered that someone looks at porn. I'm not going to be offended if someone says that they themselves look at porn. You still shouldn't put actual porn up on the screen, but it's a reasonable item of discussion anywhere where the internet or the web is being discussed.

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Ian, the reason I'm pushing the pollution analogy here is to get away from terminology like "hate" and "insult". Sure, porn is not hate. But it may nevertheless be harmful.

Your assumption seems to be that if there's no malign intention behind something then it's OK. But there's no malign intention behind pumping out sulphur-dioxide into the atmosphere either. It's just a side-effect of a perfectly acceptable intention : wanting to make more widgets. The same can be true of pornography; we just want to stimulate ourselves. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have malign consequences.

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Eventually, in the very long term, you hope that less of this propaganda => women feel less pressurized to conform to these social norms => women with more freedom to explore the possible space of career opportunities => more women in IT. (Not because more women in IT is necessarily an important goal, but because their absensce is likely to be a symptom of their lack of freedom.)

It's a different issue, but I don't entirely believe this line of thinking. Women aren't in IT because women choose not to be in IT. That is a choice they make as individuals -- sometimes for bad reasons (e.g. fear or pressure), but often for completely reasonable reasons (they don't want to sit in front of a computer screen for eight hours a day). That women and men make very different choices does not necessarily imply that there is coercion involved. That women on the whole tend not to go into certain professions does not necessarily mean that they are victims of any societal injustice.

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Actually, I'd say this is the core issue. Sure, you don't believe that there's a causal connection between soft-porn in culture and women not wanting to go into IT, or any other constraints on women's freedom to choose a career. I don't know if there is or not. But isn't this the main point worth discussing? Is there or isn't there?

Personally, I think we can hypothesize many causal paths (of which my hackathon is a slightly frivolous, but not entirely absurd example) which can't be dismissed out-of-hand. Even Eby believes, and has written a lot, that the mind is hackable, that we can train ourselves in new patterns of thought and behaviour. If you believe that, it shouldn't be hard to accept that we get a lot of default configuration from watching how other people parse the world within our culture. And that should be enough to make us sceptical of some naive picture of women "making a choice" independent of any external influence. Is this injustice? It depends. I think if the space of options appears larger to men than to women, and that's due to our cultural defaults rather than real insurmountable physical constraints, then, yes, there's a kind of injustice there.

Comment on Respecting the whole person comment 000
by phil jones

Comments:

"""Even Eby believes, and has written a lot, that the mind is hackable, that we can train ourselves in new patterns of thought and behaviour."""

That's a major oversimplification. A big part of what I write about is that there's quite a lot of the mind that is not open to direct extension or hacking, that requires "workarounds" at the conscious or extraconscious (e.g. external systems) level.

An example of this is the idea that men looking at porn are "objectifying" women. The notion of "objectifying" presumes that women are seen as persons first, and then treated as objects. However, this is based on an erroneous assumption about the level on which images are processed. Men have hard-wired pleasure responses to certain visual stimuli, so it's erroneous to attribute any sort of intention to men's response to those images. It simply feels good to look, and it doesn't matter what the man thinks. The most a man can do about the response is to berate himself or feel guilty about the fact of pleasure; there is no way to turn that pleasure response off, only to create various forms of other responses that occur after the fact.

Thus, it makes no sense to me to talk about objectification as if there was some intention on the part of men to "treat women as objects", and this produces non-useful assumptions and behaviors on the part of people whose intention is for men to treat women better. It's more useful for men to learn to accept their pleasure responses and let them go, than to have to spend time fighting them or blaming themselves as bad people for having "objectified" a woman by their response to visual stimuli.

This is really only the tip of the iceberg with respect to non-conscious hardwired responses men have towards women. It's not just pleasure that's activated by the image of an attractive woman, studies have shown that greater helpfulness and risk-taking behavior are also enabled, as well as protectiveness to the female in question. These responses are unconscious and involuntary; they do not require the man's awareness or consent, and are unrelated to the man or woman's availability as a sex partner. The testosterone level of men exposed to the pheromones of ovulating women are also automatically elevated for about 30 minutes, which affects behavior on many levels.

Unfortunately, many branches of feminist thought begin with an assumption that all of these behaviors and responses are voluntary. That is, they attribute to men's actions the intentions that a woman would have to have in order to display the same behaviors, and come to erroneous conclusions. It's this kind of thought that leads to the idea that porn is in some way harmful or toxic because it "encourages men to objectify women". But the reality is that men have their own ability to separate impulse and behavior, and porn is neutral with respect to that. Jerks will be jerks, with or without porn. Likewise, gentlemen will be gentlemen. Porn is 100% a red herring that distracts from the real issue, which is helping men learn empathy.

See, it's not that most jerks are malicious (to women or men), it's that they don't know how any other people feel, because they project their own feelings on to everybody else. A jerk plays mean practical jokes on people, because they're funny to him. A jerk feels arousal in the presence of a woman, and projects that arousal as being shared by the woman, leading to harassment and even rape.

These things aren't because the jerk is "objectifying"; it's because he lacks actual empathy. And today's "sensitivity" training and sexual harassment workshops are piss-poor at actually teaching it to anyone. To be honest, I'm not sure to what extent it can be taught, because to learn it, you'd have to want to. And if you're a jerk, you just go through life wondering why everybody else is so uptight, can't take a joke, etc.

This is why I treat some basic empathy as being essential for hiring into a team. I don't know if it's teachable even in theory, let alone in practice, so from a business perspective I can't afford to hire people without it.

# Phillip J. Eby