Category: Politics

Your Blood Group is Determined by Biology and is a Social Construct

I doubt this is original but it is worth going through because strange right-leaning people keep shouting about biology at me. Oddly though, I was prompted to write not by an argument about nature v nurture but a different argument about invention v discovery in mathematics. I’m not an expert on blood groups (which is sort of the point) so apologies for any biological errors.  Note also this is a description of one specific relationship between a social construct and biology. Others may have things in common but that doesn’t mean they are the same or have the same relationship between a biological aspect and the associated things that a society may construct around it [i.e. neither the social constructs of gender nor ‘race’ is directly analogous to blood group]. Anyway, here we go.

You probably know your blood group. Once upon a time I regularly gave blood and felt a moral obligation to do so. I’m O negative, which is a handy default blood type for donation as it contains neither A, B or Rh factors and hence shouldn’t trigger an immune reaction in most people of other blood types.

But ABO and Rh are just two blood typing systems and even with those two systems, there are variations. Group A can be further subdivided into approx 20 subgroups of which A1 and A2 account for most type-A people. In terms of inheritance, there are also exceptions to the commonly understood rules – CisAB (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cis_AB ). More generally there are tens of other blood typing systems that categorise other factors that can exist in human blood and which can potentially complicate blood transfusion.

The ABO/Rh system is a very effective simplification of a set of much messier, more organic categories. Yes, it is determined by your biology (you don’t get to pick) but the significance of whether you are “A” or “AB negative” etc depends very much on the existence and practicalities of a blood donation system. That system also has practical constraints but it is effectively something societies choose to do and requires political and social support as well as the existence of hospitals and an infrastructure to support them.

I also said that I used to give blood. I’m not allowed to currently because I lived in the UK during the height of the BSE/Mad cow disease outbreak. Concerns about the transmission of a prion disease via blood transfusion have meant that many countries place restrictions on blood donations. That rationale makes some sense given the extent to which prions are not well understood. What makes less sense is the restrictions imposed on men who have sex with other men (phrased that way to match the eligibility questions). Rules on blood donation to prevent the spread of HIV prevent people who have engaged in ‘at risk’ sexual behaviours (e.g. http://www.donateblood.com.au/faq/sexual-activity ). Such rules prevent many gay men in long-term monogamous relationships donating blood. The rules arise out of medical and practical considerations but such rules also have a social impact and arise because of social aspects (from international travel to personal and sexual relationships).

You should note another trick I employed above: I said ‘type-A people’. Once we have categories that can be applied to aspects of ourselves it is easy to see them as categories of people. I’m O negative, well no, no *I* am not, not really – my blood is O negative for the purpose of blood donation, it really isn’t much of a thing about who I am beyond that. The notion of me being O negative only really makes sense in the context of donating blood or receiving a blood transfusion (or a few other related circumstance). Prior to the development of safe blood transfusion and large scale blood donation, your blood group is not something people would know or care about. Even that history is entwined with complex social factors including the development of modern healthcare infrastructure but also the development of modern warfare.

Blood groups have also generated their own pseudosciences and racist theories – a kind of inevitable consequence of any system that allows a categorisation of people entails a dark desire to identify that categorization with other aspects including personality or as a means of identifying some inherent purity. Suffice to say there is little evidence of blood group actually determining anything other than the most likely blood needed in a blood transfusion (and as we’ve seen even that is a simplification – although a very effective one).

In most developed countries blood donation is voluntary but even such a primarily altruistic system has social implications. It isn’t had to imagine a situation in which blood donation was more heavily required or in which there were more significant socio-economic implications to donating blood. In such a situation the layers of social significance to blood type would be greater both in a direct sense and in the sense in which any social division generates its own myths and stereotypes. A world in which blood transfusions had to be more common and was connected to economic status, would with a capitalist-style economy lead to more weird (and unpredictable without knowing more details) stratifications by blood group.

So what’s my point if it isn’t a point about gender or race? The point is very much NOT that other social construct work the same way as blood group might in a fictional society. However, a broader point remains true. Critics of the term ‘social construct’ treat it as if a person is saying ‘wholly arbitrary’ or ‘completely made up’ or ‘fictional’. Treating the term like that makes it an easy strawman to knock down. No society exists in a vacuum*, so the things that our societies construct** are things that have practical limits and which are influenced by the environment that is constructed in INCLUDING the existence of other constructs. But the physical, ‘real’ influences on how a social construct has evolved over time do not mean that the categories, stereotypes or social expectations that arise apply in a deterministic way to individuals – some elements might (e.g. O- blood is safe for me to receive), others less so (e.g. whether there is a greater moral imperative for ‘O- people’ to donate blood) and others not at all (e.g. pseudoscience blood-group personality types).

tl;dr Societies and social attitudes are shaped by ‘real’ things including biology, but that does not imply that biology (or physics or chemistry) somehow validates them, makes them somehow extra true, or makes departure from them (either as an individual or as a direction for society) some kind of revolt against reality or science.

*[OK maybe there is a society of space squid, plying the void between the stars but that is a separate issue.]

**[You’d think that was obvious from the term ‘constructs’. Anything we physically construct has physical limits and depends on physical rules but can still be a work of creativity in which arbitrary, non-determined choices are made.]

Review: Great Britain

The latest plot twist in the long-running series called “Great Britain” is a General Election https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/apr/18/theresa-may-uk-general-election-8-june

This bizarre fantasy series set on a large island “just off the coast of France” imagines a European nation that is somehow also part of the anglosphere. While the deeply amoral but wonderfully costumed historical series of “Great Britain” won huge ratings in the past, critics have claimed that this was “largely due to a hugely powerful navy forcing us to watch”. The exciting World War 2 season of the series managed to recast the protagonist as a more conventionally heroic character, while scaling back on the now tired “Empire” story arc.

Later seasons have shown major ratings drops, as the focus shifted to a more introspective drama with a more diverse cast. Some have blamed the loss of viewers on that diversity, while others have pointed out that there are just so many other countries available to watch these days.

For reasons known only to the script writers, the current season appears to be trying to repeat a minor ratings hit from the late 1970s/early 80s. Viewers will remember that season as a transition from a politically divided country with rising far-right violence, the “Scottish” branch aiming for its own spin-off series (would definitely watch) and a sense of political malaise, to a country run by a right-wing authoritarian woman with a penchant for starting wars.

This twenty-teens riff on that earlier storyline is not playing with quite the same knife-edge drama. Instead of a taught political drama, the current season is a giant game of idiot-ball. The ruling “Conservative” party (could they not have thought of a less obvious name?) is portrayed as cartoonishly evil and incompetent. It simply isn’t plausible that these people who are both overtly unlikable and bumbling idiots would get any votes from anybody. The script writers are forced therefore to make the opposition party equally as bumbling.

While the theme of the “Labour Party” being prone to circular firing squads is a long running one (used repeatedly for dramatic effect in the “twentieth century” DVD box set), this time it feels like a lazy rehash. The left wing leader is written as having almost no capacity to build a broad political coalition on the left, while Labour’s technocratic wing are supposed to be both arch-schemers and also incapable of organising a coup and/or a piss-up at the Labour Party Conference bar.

Critics have suggested that the showrunners painted themselves into a corner when some hack in the writer’s room suggested: “why not let the Euroskeptics win?” Certainly, the “Brexit” story line was poorly written and made little sense as a plot development. The rising tension and the surprise reveal on the day was exciting but it left the story with nowhere to go but a bureaucratic muddle. Nobody wants to see idiots bumbling about unless it is a comedy. Yes, yes rival show “USA” is currently a rating hit with its very dark comedy about a low-IQ psychotic fraudster who somehow becomes the supreme leader of a nuclear superpower, but that is intended to be comedy (surely?) and the whole premise of that current season is driven by one OTT character replete with comedy catchphrases and clown make-up.

As for the big-bad that both “Great Britain” and “USA” are employing in what promises to be a cross-over event (seriously? That never works for Marvel and it won’t work for these shows), the idea of recycling both “Russia” and “Nazis” doesn’t count as a new idea even if you mash them together. It would be like Doctor Who deciding to run a whole season in which the Cybermen were secretly funding wannabe Daleks but in a really obvious way so that the VIEWERS can all see that it is actually Daleks but none of the main characters can. Just how can we take this seriously? And if we aren’t supposed to take it seriously then why aren’t the jokes funny?

Any hope for this series? Well, the “Scotland” spin-off currently under discussion has the advantage of an engaging, young cast and charismatic characters. However, if those characters leave the main series for their own show then what is the main show left with? Cheaper versions of 1980s characters with half the charisma and weaker dialogue.

Best move for the writers? Ditch the current story line. Yes, that requires a somewhat rapidly implausible set of events: Labour gets its act together, wins the general election, reverses Brexit, fights the Nazis, uncovers the Russian plot and sorts out whatever is going on with the Great British Bake Off (I don’t watch it but the cat does). Can they really pull all those plot lines together in less than a month? I hope so but it seems unlikely – in which case the show will descend into a kind of ethical entropy: somewhat nasty people with low competence bumbling around nastily for no good reason and with no direction. Who wants to watch that?

Details: “Great Britain: Season 482” available on Netflix, HBO, CNN, BBC and most encyclopaedias. Two stars.

The US in Syria

Trump has upped the ante in Syria http://www.smh.com.au/world/live-us-launches-missiles-on-syria-what-we-know-so-far-20170407-gvfs3i.html

What to make of that given the unambiguously appalling nature of the Assad regime? This is bad news.

Way back at the start of this decade, when the drumbeats for war against Iraq were growing, there were multiple arguments about the merits of deposing dictators and regime change. Some were from neo-conservatives but many were from people in the centre or the centre-left of politics. Such debates do matter but I’m not going to rehash them. Simply put ALL such arguments rely on an assumption of COMPETENCE.

I hate the X is a cancer and we need to surgically remove X style arguments for oh, so many reasons, not least of which is that it’s a bad analogy and cancer survivors have enough on their plate without being dragged into bad geopolitics analogies. However, it does illustrate one point: even if the analogy was right/appropriate it IMPLIES THAT YOU NEED A VERY GOOD SURGEON. Applying this logic it was obvious wayyyyy back, that even if arguments for regime change in Iraq were sound on principle, that George W. Bush was a simple refutation of each of them.*

If you are attempting something both dangerous and difficult and which has a very poor record of success then you need somebody VERY competent organising it.**

Now, arguably, the US military has gained more experience of how to handle these kinds of conflicts by virtue of long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq but, BUT, the actual executive branch of the US government is at a level of competence that makes George W look like a genius.

For those who may have felt they should support interventionist actions by Clinton or Obama or even supported George W Bush’s Iraq adventure, there is NO hypocrisy in not wanting Trump to engage more deeply in Syria. The man is a dangerous incompetent and the checks and balances on him are weak in this arena.

*[I suspect Tony Blair actually followed similar reasoning but ended up in a different place i.e. Bush was going to do this anyway and mess things up so Blair felt he had to step in and help. This demonstrates how clever thoughtful people can perpetuate dangerous stupidity.]

**[Putting ethics, geopolitics and military aside – which in itself is a bad idea]

Some responses to that Nazi piece

Chris Chupik mentions this piece in the comment section at Sarah Hoyt’s blog.

Coyote Gravity by Christopher M. Chupik

Oddly he says this:

Christopher M. Chupik March 26, 2017 at 12:09 pm
If you believe the commenters, I’m an American Christian Conservative Trump-supporter.

News to me.

Except…well nobody (i.e. zero people) call him either an American, Christian or a Trump supporter. I expect non-sequiturs and claims of persecution but I’m actually a bit baffled by this. Naturally, he doesn’t quote anybody but wow, talk about people running in mid-air with no ground below them.

Hoyt also adds, counterfactually:

 accordingtohoyt | March 26, 2017 at 2:03 pm | Reply

Oh, we all are. In fact I was going to do a post on this. They don’t understand quite a number of us are not Christian, not straight, not cis anything. They divide by conformist group, so the only reason we don’t belong to them must be our unacceptably characteristics and being members of the establishment they imagine (which hasn’t existed for at least 100 years.) The scientific name for them is “Asshats.”

Huh? Is it the quip about modern conservatives thinking demons are real and nazis are imaginary that annoyed them? Because Hoyt just appended her comment to a piece that complains about witches and which disputes the existence of Nazis. The comment relates not to what I think conservatives ARE but as to how conservatives PORTRAY themselves, as amply documented by fellow pups in recent weeks.

Are conservatives all kinds of people? I assume so, because I’ve never met a group of people that wasn’t diverse at least on some dimensions. Do modern right wing conservatives/libertarians let straight Christian men call the shots and control the debate? Hmmm, yup. Indeed we all saw how that dynamic played out in the Puppy-debacles.

Ho hum.

Weird Internet ideas: Are modern nazis imaginary? (spoiler: no, they’re real)

We’ve been busy watching Rabid shenanigans with books covers, but meanwhile over in Sad Puppy domains, Chris Chupik has decided that modern Nazis are largely imaginary. Chupik, for those who don’t know, is notable mainly as a regular commenter on Puppy blogs but sometimes he guest-posts at According to Hoyt. https://accordingtohoyt.com/2017/03/25/coyote-gravity-by-christopher-m-chupik/

[This get’s long so more below the fold…also ‘Spencer‘ is usually an external link but each time to a different article rather than peppering this piece with quotes]

Continue reading

John C Wright is upset that people didn’t take his Left=Witches argument seriously

In a piece entitled “Rational and Magical Thinking”, Mr Wright attempts to deal with the criticism of his previous argument. Here’s a taste:

Here is the difference between arguing with a rational atheist and arguing with a Leftist: suppose for the sake of argument that you penned a column describing the psychology of Leftism as involving a neurotic (if not deliberate) confusion between symbol and object, commonly known as “magical thinking.”

Magical thinking is thinking where the believers believes that manipulating a symbol manipulates reality. By this definition, anyone who hopes to remove race hatred from among men by changing the words used by one race to refer to another is engaging in magical thinking.

Let us further suppose that when you list three or four examples of magical thinking about the Left, one of the groups mentioned is a coven of wicca who claim to be casting spells on Donald Trump. Let is finally suppose you call them by their traditional name, witches.

Now, a rational atheist will argue with you, and say that since the supernatural does not and cannot exist, therefore there are no witches, so your column errs in referring to these people by that term.

This argument is fallacious (it depends on the fallacy of ambiguity) but it can be addressed. Once you point out that the column is explicitly agnostic on the question of whether the witch’s spells actually are real, the question of whether the people calling themselves witches are real can be addressed. And that is a simple question of fact that the rational atheist can discover for himself.

Whether witchcraft is real or not is a question not addressed by the column. The people who think it is real are real.

Mr Wright gives a straw man example for a case of ‘magical thinking’: ‘anyone who hopes to remove race hatred from among men by changing the words used by one race to refer to another is engaging in magical thinking’. Ignore the straw man element here for a moment and consider the elements.

  • What are the symbols in this example? Words.
  • What is the ‘reality’ in this example? Racial hatred.
  • What kind of thing is that ‘reality’? A set of ideas and attitudes and emotional responses.

Put that all together and Wright’s example implies this: attempting to use words to change ideas, attitudes and emotional responses is magical thinking. Now, this is perhaps not far from his actual beliefs, in so far as he seems to believe in a kind of Platonistic spiritualism, but in this essay, he is ascribing this ‘magical thinking’ to the left, not to himself.

Looking back at his original essay you can see the same confusion. Aside from the actual examples of people overtly calling themselves witches, his other examples of people on the left engaged in supposedly magical rituals are all the same. In each case, it is people doing symbolic things in an attempt to effect how other people are thinking.

That is not ‘magical thinking’, that is ‘people communicating with other people’. In short, Wright is confusing cognitive psychology with magic.

‘Ah!’ Says an imaginary interlocuter, ‘You think minds are based in physical reality and so you do think physical entities are changing because of symbols being manipulated!’

Meh. We don’t even need intelligence or to delve into how minds might work to see that mechanical devices can exist which can effect physical change because of how I manipulate symbols. I’m doing that right now as I type on this laptop. That isn’t magic or magical thinking.

Mr Wright then complains that people on the left treated his argument with disdain:

But a Leftist does not argue in this way. Rather, his argument is that you are a stupid lunatic for being afraid of witchcraft, and for thinking that everyone on the Left is a practicing satanist.

Now, if you notice, there are three things wrong with this argument: first, you neither said nor implied what the Leftist accuses you of saying or implying. So it is a strawman argument, therefore irrelevant. Second, it does not address the argument you gave, merely mocks you as a person. So it is ad hominem, therefore irrelevant. Third, it is not an argument at all. An insult is not an argument.

One cannot argue with this for the same reason one cannot argue with poop flung by a monkey. The monkey poop is not attempting to discuss a difference of opinion nor come to a conclusion about the true answer to any questions being discussed.

Why would a Leftist in an argument make statements he knows or should know have no relevance to the argument?

The answer is as given above: the words uttered are merely symbolic. It is a verbal form of magical thinking.

He is correct here that the reaction to his claim was not a reasoned argument. He is incorrect that therefore the reaction was irrational or another example of ‘magical thinking’. Laughing at poorly constructed arguments with absurd conclusions is both reasonable and rational.

Mr Wright is capable of structuring argument but he often fails to do so and he has great difficulty in continuing a rational dialogue in good faith. Why, in such circumstance, should anybody on the left treat his argument with any kind of depth of analysis? His conclusion was false and easily refuted – the tortured root by which he reached a false conclusion (replete with much-overblown language) is of interest only from an educational perspective.

So what is magical thinking? Magical thinking is when people confuse their desires with reality i.e. when people confuse what they would like with what actually *is*. That might involve rituals or manipulating words, but it is just as frequent when people use their own powers of thinking to bemuse and befuddle themselves – just as John C Wright is apt to do on a range of topics from history to climate science.

Put yet another way, when a person ceases to be able to distinguish between fact and fiction.

Demons and witches and the left

A follow up from the earlier post on John C Wright’s belief that the left (in general) is essentially a religion of witchcraft. I failed to include a link so here http://www.scifiwright.com/2017/03/the-last-crusade-in-the-kingdom-of-witches/

And again, recently, many throngs of lunatics in a ghastly display of vulgarity, completely with nudity, swearing, and other degradations, wearing images of women’s genitalia on their heads. The gathering was called a protest, but no protester could articulate for what cause they gathered. It was yet again called a political movement, albeit, again, no law nor policy nor any specific political act was demanded to be done or undone. What was it for?

They are rituals, ceremonial, magical. They are sacraments, symbols intended to create the result they symbolize.

In the comments to my post, Doris V Sutherland pointed to some statements made by Wright’s fellow Dragon Award winner, Brian Neimmeier. I’ll link to one of his posts that goes into some detail: http://www.brianniemeier.com/2015/12/the-demonic-obsession-of-cultural.html

Extraordinary demonic activity may occur in various ways. Some refer to these phenomena as “stages”, but they’re more properly called “areas”, since they don’t necessarily follow an orderly progression.

The areas of extraordinary demonic activity are:

External physical attacks: pain and/or harm inflicted by a demon.

Oppression: various external torments that often masquerade as extreme bad luck.

Obsession: uncontrollable, irrational thoughts induced by demonic activity.

Infestation: refers to demonic attachment to a place, an object, or even an animal.

Possession: one or more demons takes control of a person’s body (not the soul).

Subjugation: voluntary submission to demonic influence.

Brian then goes on to ask whether SJW’s show signs of demonic possession and concludes that most don’t show the signs but do show the signs of ‘demonic obsession’. He later concludes:

Since the current social crisis more likely involves external demonic obsession than internal possession, mass exorcisms aren’t required to address the problem. Just as physicians can mediate divine healing through their skill, ordinary people can mediate deliverance from evil through prayer and fasting on behalf of our afflicted brethren.

Phew! I for one, strongly encourage those concerned about SJWs to wholeheartedly put their efforts into prayer and (reasonable) fasting. Also, check under your bed for talking cats. Oh and maybe check your calendar to see if it is the sixteenth century still.

Oh, and one last sppoooookkkky thought – remember how the right keep projecting their own faults onto others? And now they think people are controlled by demonic forces? Sleep tight.