Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Prayer request

So, I took a new job back in July, moved across three states to do it.  I wasn't sure that I'd like it a lot, but it was a good career move.  The guy who interviewed me warned me that the hours would be long, which gave me some pause, but assured me that dedication and hard work were well rewarded.  So, I took the chance.

Things were okay at first.  I hadn't quite been trained on enough of my new responsibilities to fill the 60-72 hour work week by the end of my second month, but that didn't matter because they thrust me into a supervisory position.  My boss wasn't thrilled with losing me, and he was sympathetic because in every way except the most abstract I had no qualifications for the job or for the department I was now on loan to ("they figure," my boss said, "you're smart enough, you can figure it out"), but neither of us really had a say in the matter.

I don't want to go into details now about the corporate climate; suffice it to say our management was accurately described in an online review of the company as having "comic-book villain personalities."

So here's my concern.  I left my last job for a lot of the reasons I don't like my current job.  I know it's not like this everywhere, but this seems to be endemic to the industry, if not to American business in general.  It's making me think that engineering isn't what I'm supposed to do for the rest of my life, if I can't go somewhere that isn't going to make me sick.

I ask, then, for your prayers:  that for now I continue to get by, and that I may discern what the rest of my career should be, and succeed in whatever that is.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Never pass up an opportunity to float some propaganda

I haven't been following the tragedy in Newtown, CT very closely; I can't quite bring myself to stare it in the face and I'm reluctant to desensitize myself with another media frenzy.  Instead I want to talk briefly about the media.

As you've noticed, the events of last Friday have provided a great opportunity to bring a long neglected national debate back to the forefront:  gun control.  I tend to see the debate from one side of the argument that you will probably be able to guess easily if you don't already know, but I don't want to talk about gun control itself right now.

I read part of an article this morning that focused on how the gun debate has awakened in the wake of the Newtown shooting.  It attempted to sum up the debate in a few sentences that, for lack of an eidetic memory, I will paraphrase:

Advocates of less restrictive gun laws point to states that have more widespread gun ownership and claim that there is a lower incidence of violent crime.  Gun control advocates disagree, however, and say that jurisdictions with tight gun laws have records of lower gun violence.

Both sides of the debate could be right, because they're talking about two different things.  Through either sloppy or dishonest reporting, the reader is left to wonder which side is going to massage the data better.

Read the paraphrased paragraph over again.  Advocates of gun ownership say violent crime is lower where law-abiding citizens are not prevented from defending themselves with guns.  Advocates of gun control say gun violence is lower where there are fewer guns on the books.

Violent crime ≠ gun violence.  A crime could be committed violently with guns, knives, baseball bats, binder twine, a roll of quarters, or bare fists.  Gun control only attempts to take one class of tools out of the hands of criminals.

Today I'm not going to argue about whether gun control would be fruitful or not.  I only want to draw attention to the fact that honest and informed dialog is not going to be possible if we're not going to hold our sources of information up to better scrutiny.  This instance happened to be obvious to me because I've had practice looking for cases where my political opponents try to have a debate on their grounds under their terms and treat any sign of skepticism as an act of bad faith or ill will.  There have been other instances when I've been let down by sources I thought were more trustworthy (I know, trust not in princes and all that...), and I'm sure yet others that I haven't become aware of.

I strive to be more perceptive.  I don't know if I'm any better at it than anyone else, but I'm better than I used to be.  I encourage everyone to do the same, to challenge their own suppositions from time to time.

A coworker of mine mentioned a few weeks ago, "I don't like FOX News.  They lie."

Honey, lying news outlets are the only game in town, including the networks and publications that tell you FOX is not to be trusted.  Best get used to checking your own facts.

Monday, December 03, 2012

"If marriage is opened to anyone who wants what?"

A chilling exchange crossed the forums at ISCA recently.  A user posited the question "If we opened marriage up to everyone, so what?  What are the things that would go bad in society if this happened?"

These are not unreasonable questions.  Too often the most common argument made is the "appeal to squick," the notion that if something seems gross, there's something wrong with it.  True or not, it's a subjective and emotional standard that can't stand on its own.  It was the discussion that followed that was bothersome.  Paraphrased nuggets of wisdom from the "discussion:"

"Who cares?"  "Are we supposed to clutch our pearls and say 'land sakes, God a'mighty' while all these terrible things happen?"  "If there's some species-ending occurrence like not enough people preferring to couple with adult humans, instead preferring animals or machines or children, so what?"  "Only adults have legal standing and the ability to sign contracts, so the line is drawn at polygamy and gay marriage; anyone who thinks otherwise is an idiot."

It's these last two that bother me.  I don't know what kind of idiot it would take to realize that people are already pushing beyond plural and gay marriage, beyond the line Mark Shea describes as "consent as the sole criterion of the good."  Sure, statues and children and dolphins can't sign contracts legally, but children at least have the ability to do so, and machines could be programmed to do so, as long as we're maintaining the facade of mutual consent.

If you want to blur the line between what's accepted now and what you want accepted, start on the fuzzy cases:  machines programmed to do what you already want, children who might be precocious enough to be emancipated or who might just be brought before a judge more sympathetic to the head of the local chapter of NAMBLA than to the well-being of children.  If you can throw the matter of consent into question, you really don't have to stop there.

"Oh, but plural marriage isn't illegal--bigamy as an instance of fraud and adultery/cohabitation laws being excepted--it's just not legally recognized," it was said.  Um, no.  Legally recognizing these arrangements is the whole point.  There are already people who do these things and it is decreasingly held in check by the forces of shame and law.  If it weren't unhealthful we'd already have more than the alleged hundreds or thousands of people practicing these things successfully.

And if "species-ending occurrence" doesn't strike you as a bad thing, how can, or why should, anyone else explain that any of the problems that are less dire than suigenocide are both problems and real possibilities?  If you want to have a thorough discussion, more power to you, but do you honestly think the burden of proof is not on the people saying "What could it hurt?"  If you really want to be honest, you should be calling to heel your allies who are making bad arguments that you already understand well enough to counter on behalf of your rhetorical opponents.

"Well, even two-person marriages don't always last forever, so what's it matter if larger ones don't, either?"

The fact that polygamous arrangements are not more successful than normal marriages is beside the point.  The point is that they are less successful.  Between nuclear families and plural marriage you have millions of people who cheat in secret; or who start seeing someone new before breaking it off with the current significant other, because they know it's not going to last long if they're open and honest with everybody about it; or who do so with the knowledge and toleration of the other party because they have some other compelling reason to keep up appearances.

Again I am compelled to remind my reader of boiling a frog in a pot of water.  If all it takes for evil to succeed is good men doing nothing, then all it takes to get good men to do nothing is trick them to make a thousand trivial compromises while evil hides in plain sight.  We see it on TV, we see it in our communities, we see it at work:  something unpleasant happens, people shrug and say "Well, it's just the times we live in; who can mount a crusade against a swarm of gnats, let alone this?" and everyone gets used to things being worse than they should be, without quite being able to explain what's wrong.

ISCA seems, more than most places I've been on the Internet, intolerant of the slippery slope argument. I think it is because back in the heyday of BBSes, it was not uncommon to find debaters who committed the classical slippery slope fallacy.  Whether it is a fallacy, or a bad argument, in contemporary usage depends on the circumstances, much as the appeal to authority does:  while an appeal to authority is valid if one can accurately cite the position of a legitimate expert, the slippery slope is valid if one can demonstrate the progression from making the first trivial compromise to reaching the state that the debater warns against.  While one can still sometimes have interesting discussions there, this propensity for assuming that arguments they don't like are badly framed arguments really makes me question the value of coming there to mine for post fodder.  Maybe it's a good intellectual barometer for the state of society, but there's not much room these days for new or unpopular ideas.

I wonder if there's a good theology on tap that runs during the winter around here somewhere.