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The Strange Escapism in Evolutionary Explanations

Rorschach blot Psychology and many other sciences now routinely turn to stories with an alleged evolutionary basis that are supposed to shed light on the phenomenon under investigation. Sometimes this is justified – when explaining the “antifreeze” glycoprotein in Antarctic cod, selection and genetics are a reasonable approach. This is by no means always true. Mostly, such explanations radically overreach – they are science fiction escapism dressed up as scientific thought.

In attempting to explain a given behaviour – especially a human behaviour – the evolutionary stories risk being misleading. Plausible stories of how a trait was adaptive are useful only in so much as they may lead to new hypotheses that can be tested. But even if those tests accord with the stories, that doesn’t prove them true. Indeed, we can never prove them absolutely, although we can accumulate evidence for or against, and we may be able to falsify them. As a purely metaphysical extra-scientific aspect of research, these stories warrant greater scrutiny than they typically receive.

A strange escapism has thus crept into behavioural sciences where these kind of stories seem to be expected. There is an almost paradigmatic assumption that if we can work out how something evolved that will tell us everything we need to know about that trait. This is nonsense. To learn everything about a behavioural trait requires empirical testing about how it is now, not speculation about how it came to be. These origin stories do not have the explanatory warrant that is all too often ascribed to them. Traits do not emerge because there was a problem to be solved, the traits emerged and this helped the ancestral animals persist because it proved advantageous.

Refinement to adaptations are comprehensive only when the constraints are akin to engineering – flippers and wings, for instance. Behaviour is rarely so clean cut. Just because we can see that wings solve aerodynamic problems (by a process of biological ‘search’ that approximates to design) does not mean all or any features we see have the same kinds of history. Presuming they do, and then using our imagined stories as some kind of evidence therein, is a double error. The stories are never evidence, only speculations. They our occasionally useful – but they are often misleading.
‘We evolved’ means ‘we are different from our distant ancestors’. It also means the advantages and capabilities we possess were passed to us down the chain of inheritance that links us to our ancestors. But we should be cautious claiming we can distinguish the advantages from their consequences.

Only a misplaced faith in adaptationism could expect to explain (say) rape in terms of male traits, all of which predate rape as such: rather, what made rape as we understand it possible was a new independence of sexual desire from the female hormonal cycle. When animals only have sex when the female is on heat, it’s quite difficult to apply the concept of ‘rape’ meaningfully to their behaviours. To be raped is to be forced to have sex against your will, which requires a well-defined conception of individual will that is much harder to apply in the case of an animal on heat. Only when sexual impetus becomes largely independent from hormonal cycles does rape as we understand it become a plausible accusation. Rape itself is not causally implied in this development; it is a circumstantial complication. If we wish to understand the unpleasant nature of rape, we must study its psychology in the here and now, not invent seemingly plausible origin stories. To do so is to dodge the scientific work in favour of mere escapism.

Science is no more immune to mythology than any other aspect of our lives, but we are oddly prone to denying this confluence of fact and fiction when it occurs among scientists. This runs counter to the values of contemporary science. There are near-infinite ways in which our imaginative storytelling proclivities gave advantages to our ancestors, but the way to learn about this trait of our species is to examine who we are now, not fantasise about how we got here. We will never know the whole story, for all that we may improve our understanding of it. It’s a very strange kind of escapism that would rather imagine stories of how we evolved than evolve stories of how we imagine.

You can find more of my philosophy of science in The Mythology of Evolution, out in September.

Exposing the Mythologies of Evolution

Zero Books asked me to write a short piece for their blog, promoting my next book The Mythology of Evolution. Here’s an extract:

Writing The Mythology of Evolution was a fascinating journey for me – one that involved a great deal of research into the state of the subject, and which revealed a much less tidy picture than the ones that are usually offered. Talking about “the theory of evolution” – or even “Darwin’s theory of evolution” turns out to be misrepresent the facts. While evolutionary theories are an important part of contemporary biological sciences, there is not so much a single theory as a cluster of research areas descended from Darwin’s hugely influential image of ‘natural selection’. Metaphors such as these are absolutely crucial to scientific practice – which means that science, like art, is founded ultimately upon our powers of imagination.

You can read the whole of Exposing the Mythologies of Evolution over at the Zero Books blog.

Edinburgh Interactive 2012

I’m proud to report I have a gig at Edinburgh Interactive this year with Ren Reynolds, at 2:30 pm on Thursday 9th August. Here’s the blurb:

Are computer games art?

This seemingly obscure academic question can quickly get film critics spluttering, lawyers scribbling, and bloggers, erm... blogging. Why all this passion? Because if computer games really are art then they matter. Not in the sense of computer games being the UK's most successful creative industry where we export products and talent around the world, or games being a massive boost to the British economy. No. Really matter. As a culture that people have to take seriously.

To answer the question once and for all, philosopher and policy wonk Ren Reynolds talks to Chris Bateman about games, art and their intimate relationship. As author of the book Imaginary Games, founder of International Hobo and lecturer, Chris brings the twin perspectives of game maker and academic to this vexed question.

Cross posted from

Faith in Science?

Stained Glass Equation What was brushed under the carpet when ‘faith’ and ‘science’ were positioned as opposites?

One of the interesting changes in the English languages over the past century has been the emergence of a taboo connotation to the word ‘faith’. Sacrilege requires sanctity for its meaning, and the sacred value in this case is ‘truth’. This is something valued by many people with many different views of the world, but it is the highest value of many Positivists, as I discussed previously. ‘Faith’ and ‘truth’ are now positioned by some as opposites, a narrative rooted in a certain negative view of religion. Yet this conjunction erroneously implies there can be no faith in science – and this is clearly an error.

A flash of negative affect just went through some readers, quite beyond their conscious control. Make a mental note of this experience, if you had it, as we will return to this shortly.

The concept of ‘faith’ generally refers to near-complete trust or confidence, and it is difficult to live a happy life without some kind of faith. We need faith in ourselves, for instance, else we slip into depression. Marriage is an act of faith – as emphasized by saying someone has been ‘unfaithful’ when they violate that deep trust that sustains married couples. Faith in science can be most clearly seen in situations where people have hope that apparently insurmountable problems have an imminent technological solution. When no cure currently exists, what does the terminally ill patient pin their hopes on if not science? Vanishingly few people have their lives saved by medical techniques devised after their diagnosis, but the fear of death is salved by hoping.

The knee-jerk reaction to the flash of negativity felt by those for whom “faith in science” is a forbidden conjunction rests precisely on the belief that faith involves, as Kierkegaard shrewdly saw of his own religious faith, taking something on the strength of the absurd. I believe that what makes a marriage work is exactly this kind of faith, and this is very different from the stock Positivists place in empirical testing. Positivism, which is based upon a view of the world that is curtailed at the boundaries of the testable, attempts to minimise faith. Trusting the testable over the untestable does not require faith as such, it is simply the best bet – and Positivists, generally speaking, are always trying to place the best bets, at least when they cannot avoid making bets altogether.

Faith in science, then, is not the pure, cold rationalism of the Positivist. They may love science (if that is not too emotive a term!) but theirs is not usually the faith of marriage or religion. However, faith in science manifests when technology is seen as a source of salvation – often with an accompanying downplaying of the risks. This kind of bias is very human, and does not seem to the individuals concerned to qualify as trusting in absurdity. Nonetheless, issues such as techno-immortality – which from a rational standpoint would be catastrophic for our planet – reveal a genuinely absurd faith in science.

In fact, it may be clearer to call this “faith in science fiction”, since this is a fairer assessment of what is entailed. A fantasy is projected in which miraculous outcomes are attained by the application of science to some problem, without any consideration of likelihood or the plausible negative consequences. The cost of faith is always a certain blindness – although as marriage demonstrates, sometimes holding true to the fiction is what is required to make it fact. Despite the bad reputation, faith is something we all need, and the challenge is not dismantling faith (which might also mean voiding hope) but believing wisely.

Unfortunately, the taboo against faith can make vital political dialogue very difficult to pursue because it all too often results in a demonization of the religious faithful (the married faithful, thankfully, are not embroiled in this problem). The same is true in mirror image: people of faith sometimes demonize the “godless”, which also makes political dialogue challenging. These us-and-them divisions are not as disastrous as liberally minded people tend to assert – which is just as well, really, since the liberal community is almost as bad as their counterparts at hating and persecuting those who hold different community values (see, for instance, my discussion of unmarriage).

These taboos are problematic precisely because they are unconsciously held – our inner animal is well-trained to defend our beliefs, like the guard dog that barks because its owner is afraid. “Faith in science” is as offensive to some as Nietzsche’s “God is dead” is to many theists, and there are innumerable other live wires in our the depth of our feelings. We all have these sudden emotionally-charged intuitions, which are learned responses by some of the older aspects of our biology. Our emotions are more ancient than our species and they have a great claim on how we react to the world, and thus think about it.

However, it would be wrong to believe (as Haidt suggests) that these reactions preclude rational thought from a role in moral judgement – the negative emotional response to “faith in science”, for instance, was learned in response to judgements that might originally have been perfectly reasonable. Often, however, these intuitions are archaeological relics of our emotional past – rebellion against a domineering father, horror at some emotive news story, or cognitive dissonance in the face of apparently inexplicable nonsense. Our default reaction once these intuitions have fired (as Haidt correctly reports) is to muster ad hoc justifications to support our initial response. We are primed for defence – wild animals often need to protect themselves – but when the threat is in our imaginations the grip of the response is no less intense.

Alas, productive democracy is impossible when a sharing of perspectives is precluded. Faith in truth (which is common to both Positivists and most religious people) becomes especially problematic: when someone is obviously wrong on some supposedly key point (such as God, whether pro or anti), all their other claims are automatically suspect. Our inner guard dog won’t let their views into our imagination. In overcoming this limitation, it is helpful to distinguish between what people seem to say, and what people actually want. We are all committed (at least in principle) to freedom of belief, but extending this right to people we disagree with can be insurmountably hard when we insist on understanding their world via the caricature of it that appears when it is translated into our own minds.

If faith were, as some attest, necessarily bad, faith in science (as I have sketched it here) would also be subject to this same criticism. That it generally is not reflects the role of subconscious bias in shaping our moral judgements. We would always prefer to find fault in other people than in ourselves (thus bolstering our faith in our own judgement). If, as Positivists hope and claim, their view of the world is more rational, perhaps a way forward on this impasse is to acknowledge that not all faith is bad faith (an idea explored by Sartre and Merleau-Ponty). This will not be easy for those whose inner animal leaps for the jugular whenever ‘faith’ is mentioned – but this could be our best bet for the cultural disarmament now desperately required to allow new dialogues to be forged.

The Righteous Mind

Righteous-Mind Some researchers are of the opinion that emotions are the primary influence on our moral judgements – that “reason is... slave to the passions”, as Hume delightfully put it. Jonathan Haidt (pronounced “Height”) is one such person, and his latest book The Righteous Mind stands behind Hume in a bizarre attempt to stab three centuries of moral philosophy in the back while waving a triumphant flag for moral psychology. I suspect the book intentionally picks a fight with nerds (New Atheists also get a repeated poke in the eye) just to get them riled up and talking about the interesting collection of stories Haidt has assembled as his case.

Depressingly, the UK hardback edition of The Righteous Mind presented in a very ‘shouty’ way – a gigantic font size makes it look far bigger than it really is, and the front cover shows a hand giving the finger that made me slightly uncomfortable reading it on the train. I’m not squeamish about this sort of thing usually, but when I’m reading a book on morality I’d like it to be something I can show to polite company at least. I notice that the US cover is considerably more laid back (block text with a fake cut mark through the diagonal): did someone at the publisher think that Brits wouldn’t be interested in a serious work of moral psychology if it didn’t have something offensive to show off? I became seriously tempted to remove the dust jacket so that I could feel less inclined to apologise for what I was carrying around.

I’ve been following Haidt’s work now for at least four years, ever since his Edge article on the diversity of moral foundations in contemporary politics. He said much that I agreed with, and much that I thought was rash. His position has actually changed very little in the interim, although in the new book he writes as if he’s been through something of a transformation of perspective. Perhaps this is mere showmanship, it’s hard sometimes to know when reading popular science writers, and his acknowledgements make it clear that his agent has prepped him for the popular science audience. Foibles aside, he and I share similar goals – to improve dialogue between partisan groups – but our methods are wildly different and I’m far from convinced that Haidt’s approach is the best way at the problem.

Much of The Righteous Mind is concerned with discussing Haidt’s social intuitionist model (SIM), also called Moral Foundations theory, at length. There’s a lot of anecdotal discussions about his influences that adds a little flavour to the book, but frankly if you really wanted to get at the theories any one of Haidt’s papers would be a more efficient route than this book. A key part of SIM defended here and elsewhere is the claim that rational argument doesn't contribute as much to moral judgement as our snap emotional judgements. We have a moral intuition, Haidt claims, then justify it rationally only afterwards – at least most of the time. Furthermore, the book asserts that our intuitions can be influenced by other people in our social circles but only rarely by our own rational thought.

Haidt’s case is strong in places, but absurdly weak in others. Steve Clark (in SIM and the City) has already pointed out the chief problem with using Haidt’s model to undermine rationalist philosophy: according to SIM, our intuitions are shaped and trained by our social environment; if our social world appeals to rationality in its justifications, our moral intuitions will learn to react accordingly. We may not be born rational (Clark's argument runs), but we can be inculcated into rationality. Since Haidt’s model allows the arguments of others significant capacity for ethical influence, a well-formed rational morality is still theoretically useful, if that's really what we want. What Haidt doesn’t ever do is really consider whether or not rational morality is something we might want to endorse. He backs moral pluralism on pragmatic grounds, but steers clear of actually presenting any specific ethic viewpoint – despite (in the final chapter) wading in on politics having skipped the transitional ground entirely.

Haidt seems to have a strange compulsion to push philosophers under the bus. It’s no secret that academic scientists tend to love Hume and despise Kant, but then I’ve yet to find one who has actually spent any time understanding either. Haidt was an undergraduate philosopher who abandoned the field for psychology, but I’m not wholly convinced he really grappled with the moral philosophers to any reasonable degree. (Perhaps he didn’t get on with his tutors at Yale?) He makes a big show early in the book of turning against philosophy – and in some respects, this rejection is warranted in so much as twentieth century moral philosophy (as many philosophers now admit) was a disastrous rabbit hole of epic proportions. But his argument is weak for the ironic reason that he needs (and does connect with) philosophy at a few key places but only shows a passing grasp of it, leaving him vulnerable to a few common gaffes.

The first error – and this is incredibly common throughout academia – is to believe that the caricature of Kant’s ethics that gets thrown around represents Kant’s views of morality. It doesn’t. Allen Wood, probably the foremost scholar of Kant today, has called the excessive focus on the Formula of Universal Law version of the categorical imperative a ‘sausage machine’ ethics – and this is the face of Kant that Haidt chooses to show. Perhaps this was what was taught at Yale,  but digging into what Kant’s views on morality actually were, they are far more nuanced and (in particular connection with Haidt’s work) Kant employs a morality that touches upon all six of what Haidt calls ‘moral foundations’. Kant is a long way from being as dependent upon non-contradiction as The Righteous Mind suggests, and his sideline about whether Kant was autistic borders on insulting people with autism: why would having a highly systematic mind discount Kant’s views from consideration, exactly?

Apparently, Haidt wants to claim that philosophy has failed in the context of ethics (which, if we looked at the twentieth century moral philosophers might be defensible) yet at the same time he also recognizes that the great moral philosophers did have a role in shaping contemporary society. There is a tension here that is never quite resolved. When he comments that historians could tell a compelling story about how we got to where we are culturally, all I could think was “absolutely – and a number of moral philosophers would be key to this story!”. Alastair McIntyre’s After Virtue actually does tell this story rather excellently, and would have been useful reading for Haidt’s book. What a shame that Haidt has decided that philosophers couldn’t possibly have anything useful to contribute to the debate on ethics…

As many historians will attest, Kant’s work had wide-reaching effects in the transformation from feudal to contemporary society, and his influence can still be strongly felt both in contemporary commitment to Human Rights and also in the roots of the United Nations, not to mention the creation of the modern University. Neither is Kant the only philosopher to have had such social influence:  John Stuart Mill, for instance, actively worked to abolish slavery and to improve the democratic status of women. Trying to brush moral philosophy under the carpet with Haidt’s rather ill-chosen phrase “the rationalist delusion” seems to miss entirely the role of imagination in establishing ideals that ferment social change. Ultimately, he wants to bring about such social change too – he might find it a lot easier with a handful of good philosophers working with him!

A second error – and this is also common throughout a number of the sciences – Haidt is far too quick to turn to evolution for answers to questions that can be answered without it. There’s a huge amount I agree with in his presentation of contemporary evolutionary theories, including his defence of group selection (a similar argument appears in my next book, The Mythology of Evolution). For much of the discussion Haidt manages to update perspectives on evolution with a moderate degree of success, albeit sometimes as a part of overlong digressions. However, Haidt’s (scientific) partisan positions ironically distort his claims in a few places.

For instance, Haidt talks metaphorically about our “Hive switch” that allows us to work effectively in social groups. He states: “If the hive switch is real – if it's a group-level adaptation designed by group-level selection for group binding – then it must be made out of neurons, neurotransmitters and hormones.” This is a weird claim! Perhaps it ought instead to say: “If the hive switch is real then it must be made out of neurons, neurotransmitters and hormones – and it may be a group-level adaptation designed by group-level selection for group binding”. The ‘if’ in the middle clause is misguided because Haidt’s claim then becomes that the nature of the hive switch is determined teleologically by the kind of evolutionary interpretation we put on it.

Yet the empirical nature of the ‘hive switch’ is something to be determined by study of human behaviour, not by speculation about its plausible evolutionary origins. Except as an imaginative spur for research, the group selection aspect is utterly tangential here. The reason, it seems to me, that Haidt has to defend group selection is because the excessive focus on individual selection after George C. Williams (whose work is the basis of Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene) made it far harder for scientists to be open to research that seems to run contra to that paradigm while it prevailed. But this is a failure of those particular scientists to separate their metaphysics from their work – Haidt can’t make this situation any better by doing the same but in reverse!

Lastly, and on similar lines, I find Haidt’s support for E.O. Wilson’s early excessive claims in respect of sociobiology to be incredibly bizarre, and ultimately one-sided. Don’t get me wrong, I like Wilson's work – but it has got so much better since Sociobiology: The New Synthesis. Haidt claims that Wilson was proved right about the “cannibalization” of social science by biology. Surely this is the partisan bias of a part-time evolutionary biologist! When I look at contemporary psychology et al, what I see is on the one hand a much greater willingness to accept cross-disciplinary data – my own work in game studies uses neurobiology, for instance – and on the other hand a rather bizarre insistence on turning to evolutionary speculation as a bolster to theories that actually rest better on empirical foundations. What I don't see is the cannibalization of any social science disciplines by biology: there are still an extraordinary number of sociologists, for instance. Either Haidt does see this cannibalization somewhere, and this is why he thinks Wilson was right, or he doesn’t think Wilson meant what he appears to say in 1975. Either way, this whole thread comes out rather less well in The Righteous Mind than most that Haidt chooses to pursue.

All these complaints may make it sound that this is a terrible book: it’s not. There are many worse books trying to take control of ethics on behalf of science, and few better books about the reasons that US politics ends up at a standstill. But it’s an incredibly uneven book, especially considering that it wants to see itself as the basis for a moral armistice between liberals and conservatives. Why would anyone aiming for peace write a book that spends so much of its time kicking various factions in the shins? Im certainly not a fan of excessive rationalism, but even I baulk at calling it a delusion – a move surely motivated by marketing issues and not by any concern for science or morality. It’s odd that a book that is so committed to moving past the partisan perspectives that have paralyzed contemporary democracy should itself be marred by incredibly tendentious views on so many subjects.

Published by Allen Lane, ISBN 978-1846141812.

The Impotence of Partisans

Partisans – whether political, religious or nonreligious – are committed to their views. As such, they cannot contribute to democratic dialogue except by clarifying their ideological stance for the benefit of active citizens. Genuine democracy thus only belongs to those whose minds are open to influence by dialogue. Sadly, most such people are turned off politics by the furious rants of our ever-more diverse zealots. Partisanry is thus not only impotent, it risks paralysing democracy as a whole into impotence.

Partisans are mere signposts for the extreme positions available. This is a useful function, since they collectively represent the views on offer. However, this becomes largely irrelevant once the sole choices on offer are extremes. It is the task of those pursuing ideals of freedom not simply to adopt any one apparently correct viewpoint (since this removes a person from productive debate) but rather to find the truth between all the different partisans’ dogma and rhetoric. Only when all the stories have been truly understood can we plausibly claim to know which directions could lead to better lives for everyone.

The Thin Play of Dear Esther

My thoughts (finally) about Dear Esther are over on ihobo today. Here’s an extract:

This thin play is precisely the game’s strength, since it allows the fictional elements more focus. Walking around the island is, many people have commented, meditative. It is strongly reminiscent of the early sections of Silent Hill 2, which also focus more on evoking atmosphere and experience, with challenges and puzzles deferred to later. In Dear Esther, however, those victories-to-come never emerge, and the game seldom uses fear or anxiety to raise the level of excitement. It aims for a much calmer state-of-being, one that I am tempted to compare to the also-meditative play of William A. Romanowski’s tranquility, although the games have very little in common representationally.

You can read the entirety of The Thin Play of Dear Esther over on


Unmarried Supposing the only people who are married are those men and women that made a public commitment to one another, what can we say about those unhusbands and unwives who do not or cannot ratify their love institutionally?

Say what you will about conservatives, on the issue of marriage they have remained remarkably consistent. Those that have a strong view on the subject would like men and women to get married before having children (or even before having sex), and they would like only men and women to get married. The liberal overreaction to this position is that such people must overtly or covertly be homophobes. It’s essentially impossible for committed liberals to understand why anyone would want to preserve the essential nature of a traditional institution that dates back millennia for the sake of the institution itself.

The fact of the matter is, the vast majority of liberally minded people don't care one jot about marriage – the only reason it has come to matter is because commitment to the liberal ideal of equality engenders outrage when anything is approached from a perspective of asymmetry. Thus despite being fairly cool on, or even openly opposed to, the institution of marriage, a great many liberals suddenly care deeply about gay marriage, because they believe everyone has a right to enter into an archaic legal and religious arrangement, even though they themselves don’t actually believe in it.

Marriage has been steadily losing popularity for some time now. A great many of my friends are in long term, committed relationships; few are married. Having children makes no difference in this respect; they continue with the now-ridiculous relationship roles of ‘boyfriend’ and ‘girlfriend’ even though they have obviously made a long-term commitment to one another. They are, to my mind, already married in the practical sense. They have just refused to ratify it publically because, to their mind, they see no reason to elevate an entirely personal matter to the level of the community. I call friends in such situations ‘unhusband and unwife’.

Unmarriage demonstrates the hilarious nonsense in the contemporary liberal approach to marriage: as far as it applies to themselves, it is antiquated and of no importance. But tell any liberally minded person that there’s some minority who isn't allowed to do it and suddenly it’s an outrageous affront to human dignity. There’s something approaching hypocrisy in this attitude. Of course, the conservative attitude to marriage isn't a great deal more coherent, but at least in such cases there is a genuine concern about marriage as an institution. It’s something their political opponents cannot seem to fathom.

This talk of ‘institutions’ may make some liberally-minded people scoff – equality, autonomy and freedom are more important than mere traditions, it may be tempting to claim. But pause to reflect where the conception of Human Rights as freedom – upon which these values rest – has its origin. It is a product of the Enlightenment, built on the philosophy of Kant and others. (Indeed, Human Rights as freedom is something specifically developed by Kant). Freedom is also an institution, and even if this were denied, Human Rights can only be understood as institutional, as with all law.

Just as marriage is an institution, so to some extent is unmarriage, and just as there are many different kinds of marriage, there are diverse forms of unmarriage. Only one form, however, consists of a loving, committed, adult couple that are not permitted by law to be married. This situation is changing in parts of the world, but legal reform is slowed by the inevitable resistance that will always occur when traditions are revised. To enact lasting institutional change requires forging new visions of ideals. Sadly for gay marriage, it seems no-one can be bothered to do the work.

One of the most shocking aspects of this issue for me personally is the staggering arrogance of the liberal community in their steadfast refusal to understand the moral perspective of their opponents. Since the consequence of conservatives caring about the institution of marriage is a staunch reluctance to allow gay marriage (which does, after all, alter the specifics of a truly ancient tradition), liberals go straight to bitching about how Christians are homophobes. Never mind that many Christians support gay marriage, nor that the reasons many opponents of gay marriage have for their resistance are more concerned about concepts of family than sexuality, per se. Since ideals of liberal equality are denied to gay people it must be homophobia. It is the classic formula of the political knee-jerk reaction: my values are violated, your values don't count.

What is it that we call those situations where one group of people make outrageously prejudicial assumptions about some ethnic group and then despise everyone under that identity? It's on the tip of my tongue... Ah yes, I remember – racism and bigotry. Far too many liberals feel it’s okay to be a bigot about all Christians because some Christians are indeed bigots. This is no different than (say) believing all black people are lazy because there are some lazy black people. It’s as if there are good and bad kinds of racism, and the bad kind is whichever set of beliefs you yourself do not hold.

But I can't let the conservatives entirely off the hook here, since they too have their fair share of nonsense in respect of marriage and unmarriage. It makes no sense, for instance, to claim that marriage is inappropriate for gay people because of the lascivious, wanton behaviour of the gay community at large – does anyone seriously believe the heterosexual community scores any better on this front? If you investigate the incidences of casual sex in the world, you will find that the vast majority occurs between partners of different sexes – hardly surprising since heterosexuals outnumber homosexuals by perhaps as much as fifty to one.

Given that there are gay people in unmarriage – in loving, stable, long-term relationships – wouldn't it be better for the institute of marriage if we all said: ‘we want to help you publically ratify your relationship in the spirit of what marriage has come to mean: a celebration of love’? What good does it do the institution of marriage if we force people who wish to be married to remain in a state of unmarriage?

Unlike many conservatives, I support gay marriage, because unlike most liberals I support the institution of marriage. When two adults are willing, in the face of the infinite mystery and uncertainty of existence, to make a commitment to one another founded upon their mutual love, we should support them and help them celebrate it publically. It should not matter what flesh those two souls inhabit if their love is genuine. It is a bigger injustice to force such lovers to remain unwillingly in unmarriage than to allow them to marry, whatever their respective genders.

As I suggested before in Twilight Saga and Gay Marriage, liberal voices have failed to decisively win the argument in favour of gay marriage precisely because they have not made the story about the deep love that exists between committed (gay) partners. Instead, they try to make it about equality, because that’s their sacred value, and that way the argument seems pre-empted: no further discussion required. Real democracy, however, requires discussion. Those who claim to value freedom must be willing to grant that freedom to those who disagree with them.

Does Overjustification Hurt Games?

Over on ihobo today, my thoughts on how Achievements and gamification might be the enemy of free play, based on the overjustification effect discussed by psychologists:

When the game offers explicit rewards in advance – for instance, and now most commonly, as a result of Achievement or Trophy schemes – these rapidly condition the player’s interactions with the game in question to the point that whatever intrinsic enjoyment there might have been in the game soon becomes secondary to the pursuit of the next badge in the collection… Once the badge has been earned, many players will move on to other things, even if the activity they are passing from would have been fun for much longer.

You can read the whole of Does Overjustification Hurt Games? at