Sunday, May 12, 2013

Science vs Ideologies

I like science.  A lot.  I find scientific study very interesting and I'm completely enthralled by data.  I love looking over data, discussing the ramifications and pondering the meaning from it.  I try to make decisions and develop opinions based on data.  I sometimes have a hard time relating to people who don't.

I associate with a lot of people who also believe in science.  And yes, that's what I mean- they believe in science.  They believe in it as a principle from with to make rational decisions.  They observe the world around them, absorb the data and make decisions based on that.  They research a topic, putting weight in proven facts over opinions.  The alternative is making decisions based on emotion or ideology.  People who do that don't see science as a guiding principle whether they think they do or not.  People who make decisions and form opinions based on unproven ideologies are quite prevalent in this world.  And that's OK, in a free and open society people are welcome to make decisions based on whatever criteria they so choose.  But I've found in my journey through life many people think they believe in science, but when it comes to many subjects are actually ideologues.  Today I'm going to discuss my thoughts on one of those groups that I come into contact with rather frequently.

In general, people observe many things during the day.  They may include:
I have half a tank of gas.
I have $12 in my wallet.
It's Wednesday.

They then make rational decisions based on those observations.  If I have half a tank of gas, that's plenty to get to work and back so I don't need to stop for more.  If I only have $12 then I shouldn't go to a fancy restaurant and order steak for lunch.  If it's Wednesday I'm not going to close down the bar with friends because I have to work tomorrow.  All of those are decisions based on observations.  Most people make hundreds of those every day.  Some are made through a rational process, others are not.

The building block of science is data and I've found that discussing data without emotional attachment is a hallmark of someone who believes in science.  It's reasonable to get emotional about the how and why of the data, but acknowledging that the data exists and is meaningful in some way has to be the starting point.  And I've found a hallmark of an ideologue is emotional reaction to data.

Religious people are often categorized as ideologues, and correctly so.  By definition they have faith in something that transcends the ability of science to observe and document it.  They may even believe in things that have been disproven by science.  That's not inherently good or bad (although perhaps misguided), but in general a person who holds a belief due to faith is unlikely to be able to rationally discuss the topic with a person who approaches the topic from a scientific perspective.  That's not saying that adhering to an ideology is bad and science is good.  Neither ideology in general nor science is inherently good or evil.  Both have been used to promote great benefit and great evil towards mankind. But a person who believes in an ideology is less likely to be open to alternative ideas, whether they are based in science or not.  Quite frankly, it can lead people into believing things, often passionately so, that are proven false.

Religious people are often acknowledged, and even derided, for being ideologues.  I don't support derision, but understanding how a person thinks and makes decisions is important.  If someone makes decisions based on an ideology, then I can't expect them to engage in rational, scientific discourse on the subject.  It's a religious belief which trumps any data that may exist on the subject.  They believe in something rather than understanding something.  They believe a God exists that makes the flowers grow, where a believer in science understands discoveries made that show the chemical reactions that make flowers grow.

I've found on my path through life that many people who think, and even clearly state, they support science, believe in science and/or make rational decisions based on data do not.  Whether they are religious or not, many people are ideologues on certain (or even many) topics.  They hold beliefs that are independent of data or even contradictory to existing data and scientific discovery.  In fact, just as religious people may find data on the history of the Earth or evolution offensive, many people find data on certain subjects they hold passionate beliefs about to be offensive.  And to be perfectly honest, if you get offended by data, or have an emotional reaction to scientific experiments, then you don't believe in science.  You cannot engage in rational discourse on the subject.  What's more, you reduce your ability to spread your belief to mainstream society.

I recently was discussing a topic with a friend on Facebook, which by my own acknowledgement is pretty much a terrible place to have any sort of discussion.  But from time to time I try to bring my own brand of rational reasoning to a discussion started by a friend.  This time, it went horribly awry. 

I asserted that firearm ownership and training is especially beneficial to women and elderly due to them, on average, being less physically strong than the average male attacker.  I asserted people who are smaller and weaker (yes, weak is the opposite of strong) are more vulnerable to violent criminal attack and therefore should be more interested in using firearms for self defense, as a firearm takes away the advantage in force a strong male attacker may have.  I've studied a bit of criminal psychology and an attackers selection for weaker prey is widely documented.  But training in self defense, whether that involves a firearm or not, can diminish the disparity in force between a strong, youthful male attacker and  their chosen victim, who is often weaker.

My conversant become offended and lashed out.  For using the words "weak" and "vulnerable" I was called offensive, gross, self-righteous and called out as "victim blaming".  I was asked to no longer participate in the conversation, which I happily left. 

I was surprised by the emotional reaction, although I shouldn't have been.  I'm familiar with the ideology expressed by my conversant, it's some of the basic premises of feminism.  I agree with a lot of the ideals held by feminists, but others I do not agree with.  I agree there is such a thing as victim blaming, but I don't see the acknowledgement of data as one of them.

First, allow me to say I think the feminist movement has done a lot of great things in this country.  It's enacted social change to support women's right to vote, rights in the workplace, and women's participation in education.  In fact, now women graduate from college at a higher rate than men.  Treating all people equal under law is a stance I think is supported by science and something I certainly support.

But back to victim blaming.  If society says it's not a boys fault he raped a girl because she dressed like a slut, that's victim blaming.  I fully agree no one deserves to be assaulted, whether that person is male or female.  Well, maybe not "no one", I think the best response to a violent attack is often by responding with violence or force.  Sometimes it's the only way to stop an attack on an innocent person.  The police departments in the world agree with this approach, which is why they train to subdue attackers and carry weapons like clubs, tasers and firearms.

But, I'm quite familiar with the concept of victim blaming.  I recently attended a festival where my camp held several seminars, the most important one was about consent.  The message that was stressed was "silence is not consent".  I think these sorts of things are good, getting a message out.  When seeking sex, many men assume anything that isn't an outright "NO" is a green light to proceed.  I think it's good that people are promoting a message that consent is important.  That's how we effect societal change, by being outspoken and informative and promoting understanding based on data.

However, where I part with feminism is in a matter of degree and approach.  The feminist response to saying men are larger and stronger than women, is to be offended, indignant and to shame the person who dared discuss the data.  The response is verbal attacks, name calling and attaching derogatory labels.  This approach doesn't help anyone, in fact it drives people from the cause.  It's the opposite of being inclusive, it's divisive.  And it's prevalent in online discourse with outspoken feminists. 

Men are larger and stronger than women.  That's widely known data.  You don't even have to read to know that, it's evident everywhere you look in the world.  Look at Olympic records, any contact sport or activity that involves strength.  I play hockey, and it's rare to find a woman who can play at the level of the men.  They certainly exist, but it's a sport where size and strength are serious advantages.  The same goes for football, rugby, even the recently revived sport of roller derby.  Women aren't competitive at the same level as men.

This doesn't make women inferior, it's just a basic biological difference.  Men have the advantage in strength, women have advantages in flexibility, certain cognitive tests, the ability to bring life into the world (which is kind of a big deal).  Men and women are different, and that's OK.  But pretending those differences don't exist, or being offended when a person suggests they should be taken under consideration is not embracing science, it's embracing an ideology.  Adherence to an ideology that conflicts with science can be dangerous.

As mentioned, I support a lot of beliefs of feminism.  I support equality.  I recognize the culture of violence in this country (and have written about it here) and work to try to change that.  But I think a person can support an end to violence, and an end to violence against women, and still support a rational scientific approach to making decisions in life.  I can condemn date rape and support programs to educate people on the topic, and still acknowledge it's a risk and take steps to prevent it.  And quite honestly, that's where I see feminism failing young women, in the evaluation of risk.

I mentioned before that people observe data in their lives and make decisions based on that data.  One of the factors we use in making decisions is balancing risk vs reward.  If I have half a tank of gas there is a very low risk I'll run out of gas getting to work and back.  The reward of not getting gas is being able to sleep in for 5 minutes.  In this case, the reward exceeds the risk.  If I sleep in more than 5 minutes I risk being late to work.  If I'm late 3 times this quarter I get written up, so that's a much greater risk.  It's perhaps not worth the reward of sleeping in 10 minutes instead of 5.

This is how people make rational decisions, by observing or researching data, balancing risk vs reward and finding the right choice at that time.  However, if someone lives their life by an ideology, then they lose sight of this decision making process.  A person who believes in rewards in the afterlife is more likely to martyr themselves for a cause than someone who doesn't.  A person who ignores the health risk involved with smoking is more likely to put themselves at risk for lung cancer.

And this is how I think feminism puts young women at risk.  They push the message that "violence shouldn't happen" and "there is a culture of violence involving males against females", both things that I agree with.  Getting to a world without violence is a good goal and one I think we should work towards.  I don't know that it's achievable, but it's a good goal regardless.  Every violent encounter prevented is a positive step.  But societal change takes time, often generations.  If we teach girls that "no one deserves to be assaulted" without backing it up with risk avoidance and self defense training we are doing girls a disservice.  We should be doing all those things.

Because we don't live in a world without violence, without rape, without relationship abuse.  We should continue work to get there.  And we should deal with the realities of the situation today.  If we only do one and not the other then we are putting women at risk.  Feminism that doesn't include risk avoidance and self defense puts women at risk.

People have to take the personal responsibility to address risk in their life.  If a man goes to a seedy part of town and shows off his fancy watch, jewelry, boasts about his Mercedes and flashes a wallet full of hundreds when he pays for a drink while he proceeds to get sloshed, he's increasing the chance he's going to be mugged.  Displaying things that people want, like cash, jewelry, and luxury automobiles while making yourself vulnerable by being drunk makes you a prime target for a criminal predator.  Hell, there was a time where just having flashy shoes or clothing made you a more likely target for violence in certain neighborhoods.  Does a person have a right to where flashy clothes and shoes?  Absolutely.  Does doing so putting them at higher risk to be assaulted by a criminal predator?  Absolutely.  One has to balance the reward of looking good and being trendy against the risk of a mugging.

But when I listen to and read feminist ideals, the idea of personal responsibility and risk avoidance is almost always absent.  The entire focus is on bad men and how they need to stop.  I agree with that message, but only in conjunction with personal responsibility.  It's a topic I've been passionate about as my daughter has aged.  I agree no one deserves to be attacked, raped, mugged or assaulted.  But it happens.  And until it doesn't it's people's responsibility to teach young women (and men for that matter) about risk avoidance and self defense.  I don't want my daughter to go to a party where anyone is raped.  And when someone is raped at a party my daughter is at (because it's something that still happens) I want my daughter to not be the person who is raped.  Did the girl who passed out drunk deserve to be raped?  Absolutely not.  Did she put herself at higher risk by getting passed out drunk?  Absolutely.  It's all about choosing to not be a victim.

If you get so drunk you pass out you are increasing the chance you'll get raped.  You don't deserve it, but you increase the chance.  We need to teach that to people, men and women.  It's not victim shaming, it's basic risk evaluation and decision making.  If you walk down a dark alley in the bad part of town at night you increase the chance of being mugged.  If you live in a high crime area you increase the chance you'll be a victim of crime.  If you are small, disabled or weak then you need to take responsibility to minimize the risk of attack.  It sucks, but you are more likely to be chosen as a victim by a criminal predator if you are not as strong as they are.  Since most criminal predators are male and between 20 and 40 (based on data) this is the standard by which one should evaluate risk.  Are you as strong as a male in the prime of their life?  Perhaps you are.  Perhaps you aren't.  If you aren't, then you should take the responsibility to make yourself a less attractive victim.  There are many simple ways to do this.

But pretending that this data doesn't exist or isn't pertinent is harmful to the well-being of young people.  And being offended by data means a person can't engage in rational discourse on a subject and therefore can't be part of the solution.  That's a serious problem.  An ideologue can only be heard by other people who share their ideology.  This is the real danger of this particular feminist message- it's relegated to people who already embrace the ideology.  It's not something that's being accepted by the mainstream since it's based on ideology.

Think of some examples.  If you are a rational person, are your decisions and opinion affected when the Pope changes interpretation of doctrine in the Catholic Church?  When Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa on Salman Rushdie did is sway your opinion about Rushdie?  Did you think he was a bad man and deserved death?  Or did it instead make you respect the organization that issued the fatwa less?  I know what my answer is.

Modern feminism is very good at making women indignant.  But so far it's been relatively ineffective at preventing violence against women.  Overall violent crime has been doing down for a couple of decades, but violent crimes against women have been holding steady as a percentage of overall violent crime.  Why is that?  The message is everywhere!  But unfortunately, because it's based on ideology and not data it limits the scope of the people who pay attention to the message to people who already adhere to that ideology. 

Just as you give zero fucks to who a group of Muslims think should be put to death, the males who are carrying out the majority of the attacks against women could care less about how you define victim blaming.  In fact, by embracing ideology over data feminism drives otherwise reasonable people from the cause.  They spend a lot of time and have no effect on the problem, or even perpetuate the problem by leading young women to believe they can act as slutty as they want and be as drunk as they want in the worst part of town and not become a victim of assault.  And unfortunately, that's untrue.

Being a woman doesn't negate your responsibility to make rational decisions about risk.  And a lot of what I read from feminist sources suggests otherwise.  That put women at risk.  Modern feminism is too often an indignant woman's club, where to bring value it needs to go mainstream.  How do you go mainstream and gain wider acceptance?  By embracing data and science.  Science last the ages and permeates cultures.

Trigonometry is a set of proven mathematical rules that are accepted as true by cultures worldwide.  The internal combustion engine is prevalent in every country in this world.  Smallpox vaccines were adopted globally to a terrible disease.  Manufacturing methods involving modern materials can be found even in third world countries.  All of these things were brought about by science.

Think about who influences your own life.  Let's go back to the subject of flowers.  Who are you more likely to take advice from regarding flowers- your local pastor who teaches that they are a gift from God, or the horticulturist who tests your soil and determines it needs more nitrogen?   I think a rational person is going to choose science every time.  Sadly, I'm often disappointed.

I haven't even really talked about science here, just data, the building block of science.  Science is coming up with new discoveries every day, but we can't embrace that until we at least agree to discuss data without an emotional response.  Take a moment and read each of these statements below:

 - Geologic evidence suggests the earth is billions of years old
 - Being obese carries health risks
 - The average recorded temperature in recent decades is higher than the recorded average temperature in the previous century.
 - On average men are larger and stronger than women
 - Black men commit crimes at higher rates than white men
 - Violent crime has steadily dropped in the US for two decades
 - Cities with the highest murder rates also have the strongest gun control legislation in place

If you read any of those statements, based on widely available and studied data, and had a reaction other than "duh" or "that's interesting, I wonder why, maybe we should research this more", then perhaps you are an ideologue on the subject.  If you read census data and have an emotional reaction, you are likely an ideologue.  If you read data from a medical study and it makes you angry, then you aren't making decisions based on science.  If you are offended by data, you are probably live your life by an ideology rather than by rational decisions.  By doing so you are limited your ability to influence humanity in a positive manner.

As mentioned earlier, I support people's right to live their life and make decisions however they want.  And I choose to live my life by trying to embrace rational thought and data-driven approaches to problems and decisions.  And quite honestly, have no time to spend discussing topics and solutions with people who don't.  I can't out-reason faith, I can't have a rational discussion with an ideologue.  And to modern feminists in particular- if you choose to alienate people like me from the conversation who actively promote women's rights, how do you think your message is being heard among the people who most need to be reached?  I'm pro-women's rights and a moderate politically (according to political tests anyway, I do have a serious bent towards freedom) and the message, tone and condemnation I get from feminists I try to engage in conversation sours me on their message.  I can only imagine how it's received by people who start off the conversation already prejudiced against it.

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