Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Blaming the victim vs. protection

I recently wrote about those rhetorically dangerous situations where you have two relevant facts, and people focus on the wrong one for the current context. One of those has come up recently with respect to that "me too" thing on Facebook. It deals with an even heavier example than the one I gave in the original post.

On one hand, it is very important to avoid blaming the victim of abuse. It always floors me that anyone would suggest that someone who has been abused is somehow guilty or unclean, yet that's exactly the message that ends up getting sent sometimes. Sometimes it's framed as "you should have prevented it," but in any form, that message is wrong. It's deeply immoral. It's tantamount to colluding with the abuser, since it increases the damage done to an innocent person.

Another true principle is that it is good to avoid dangerous situations. If you don't avoid it, you're not guilty, but still, it's important to teach people to avoid bad situations if they can. If you get mugged in a dark alley while alone at night you're not guilty, but it's still a good idea not to walk down a dark alley alone at night. You don't leave your house unlocked just because it's not your moral responsibility to keep others out of your home.

The problem (well, a problem) is that people who call out that second thing frequently get accused of denying the first thing. That argument about not blaming the victim gets turned into a straw-man argument and thrown at yet another innocent person (ironically), as if any talk about prevention constitutes blame of the victim. That's very unfair, and very untrue. Both principles are important and need to be addressed. And taking an ally and making them look like the enemy so you can have someone to lash out at is counterproductive (and potentially immoral in itself).

So we shouldn't blame the victims. But teaching people to avoid danger is important too. And in doing both, we should be careful not to create enemies out of allies. There are enough bad guys out there as it is.

And one more thing

Speaking of blame: Apparently there are a lot of guys who feel threatened by that whole movement. They hear women saying they don't trust men, and they throw out that "not all men" hashtag and complain, as if they (the men) were somehow wronged by being grouped in with the abusers.

Here's the thing. While it is true that not all men are evil scum, that's not really a super relevant point to the discussion. It's certainly not helpful to a woman who has been the victim of abusive behavior, especially by many men. Women don't owe us their trust. We haven't been wronged if a woman doesn't trust us, even if we really are good people. And even if we are somehow damaged by that lack of trust, that damage is insignificant compared to the level of damage the woman in question has suffered. So if you're feeling threatened by a woman's distrust about men, or even overly-broad accusations against them, then help fix the problem instead of just trying to distance yourself from it.

How can we fix it? Well the obvious way is with your fist or another weapon if you witness an act of abuse. If it's verbal, you can speak up and hold the abuser accountable. At the very least, don't be a part of the problem. Which takes us back to my first point: Don't blame the victim. Stop complaining.

Friday, October 13, 2017


Every once in a while you'll hear someone tell a story that some would explain as a coincidence and then conclude saying "I don't believe in coincidences" or "There are no such things as coincidences." This could be regarding a conspiracy theory or a miraculous blessing. And don't get me wrong - I'm not saying that everything is a coincidence, or that there are no conspiracies, or that God doesn't intervene in people's lives. Of course there are, and of course He does. But denying the existence of coincidences is ridiculous.

The most obvious reason it's ridiculous is that it's so easy to refute. If I flip a coin three times, it might come up "tails" each time. COINCIDENCE? I THINK NOT! If you don't think that's a coincidence, then you must believe that someone rigged the penny, or there is some sort of divine symbolism in the event. Please, please tell me that no one would interpret that event in that way. It could just as likely have been heads-tails-heads or tails-tails-heads. The result was a coincidence.

On a deeper level, I think the real claim that people are trying to make is that important things happen for important reasons. It's easier to believe that, I guess, and maybe it's comforting to believe that there's a specific purpose ]behind a significant event. And again, to be clear, sometimes there is a reason. But sometimes, ya know, there just isn't. The conspiracy side of things isn't as interesting to me, so let's look at the religious side.
Speculation alert: Please remember that I'm not trying to represent my church or anything here. This is how I view things, but I have occasionally been wrong.
Okay. So apparently Einstein had this quote saying that he didn't think that God plays dice with the universe. And Hawking has one saying that he does, and that he throws the dice where nobody can see how they landed. I happen to think that there's some truth in both points of view. Certainly God doesn't leave the success of his plan to chance. But I think he also designed the universe to happen with a certain random element - hence the need for the Fall of Adam and Eve. God wasn't going to create evil and disaster in the world, but he did provide a way for those things to exist so we can experience opposition and grow. This doesn't mess with the plan because God can take a bad situation and bring a good thing out of it. And of course he also provided a way for the results of all that bad stuff to be taken away after this life, through the Atonement and Resurrection of Christ. As in, nothing bad that happens here is permanent; after the resurrection, our happiness will only depend on who we are, not anything that happened to us.

The real question people have on this subject, though, is "Why did <this bad thing> happen to me?" The answer to that is rarely forthcoming. People try to answer it by saying "God wanted you to learn <this important lesson>" or "God wanted you to have the chance to demonstrate/develop <this virtue>". And maybe he did. But does that mean that he causes natural disasters and leads people into situations where they will become victims of abuse? I don't think so. I really don't. Rather, I happen to think that he allows things to happen naturally most of the time, and when bad things do happen, he steps in and makes something good come out of it, in the long run at least. (Or at least he will if we allow him to.)

I think that's an important distinction, because if you look at the bad things that happen in the world and believe that God did them, or even planned them, then you're going to lose faith in him pretty fast. And I don't mean not believing that he exists; I mean losing confidence that he really is the source of happiness and a moral compass. I've known a lot more people who are mad at God than don't believe in him. And I think that has to do with a misunderstanding of who he is and the role he plays in their life. (And as for why God allows bad things to happen instead of actively preventing them, I think it's important to know that we understood before coming to this life that bad things would happen, but that their effects would be limited to the century or so that we are here. We saw that as a good deal, or we wouldn't have agreed to come. Knowing that doesn't make bad situations less painful, but it does lend a bit of perspective and hope for the future, at least for me.)

Okay, I could go on and on, but this is probably out of context without more of the actual doctrine, which can be better found in other places (like here, for instance). My point, though, is that assuming specific intent behind everything that looks like a coincidence might actually lead you push away people (including God) who are actually on your side.

There are such things as coincidences.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The "split-message dichotomy"

There's this idea I've thought about from time to time that I wish there were a word for so that I could talk about it more concisely. For lack of a better term, I call it a "split-message dichotomy." The general idea is this: Sometimes there are two principles that are both true and relevant, and two audiences that need to understand them. But one principle is more useful to emphasize for one audience, and the other for the other audience. Emphasizing a principle for the opposite audience can cause them to overlook an important part of the truth and end up making bad decisions. You don't always have the luxury of tailoring your message to just the target group, which makes crafting your message tricky.

One example of this comes up a lot in church, when you're talking about a specific commandment, although you could easily broaden it to any piece of good advice if you want. To be very specific, let's use the commandment to stay away from recreational drugs. There are two important messages here:

  • Using drugs is very destructive. Don't do it. The consequences can hurt both you and others, and they may be permanent.
  • If you're already addicted, healing and repentance are possible. Don't give up.
And of course the two relevant groups are these:
  • People who haven't used drugs, but might be tempted to do so
  • People who already have
To someone who hasn't started using drugs, you want to emphasize strongly just how bad the effects of them are, and how some of those consequences may be permanent. If you dwell too much on the availability of help and repentance, you might unintentionally convey the message that people can just try stuff out now and fix whatever problems arise later.

On the other hand, if someone in the room is already addicted, focusing on how bad and irreversible the consequences are might just convince them to give up trying to change. For that person, the message of repentance and the availability of help is exactly what they need to hear.

So you can see the problem. I guess the only real solution is to make sure that you cover both aspects of the issue, and do your best to be aware of the specific needs of the people you're talking to so you can tailor the message as much as possible.

It's pretty common though. I guess it applies to any choice that people make with major consequences. All the chastity stuff comes to mind. But the situation can also come up when one of the audience groups isn't really facing a decision. To use a super heavy example, imagine that you're talking to a person who has lost someone to suicide. They might worry about the soul of that person, since taking an innocent life is a sin. You'd be inclined to explain to them that the person clearly had a heavy burden of depression and probably wasn't seeing things clearly, and that God will take that into account - in other words, the person's moral accountability was probably low. But you would never want to send that message to someone suffering from depression or thoughts of self-harm, because "you can't control what happens" could encourage them to act on those thoughts. (I guess you'd focus on showing empathy and getting them professional help instead.)

Anyway, back to the start - I wish there were a word to describe this situation. Because it comes up a lot, and I don't think that most people think about it. We tend to focus on only one of the two groups, and that can be really dangerous for the group we're not thinking about. It's very important to give proper attention to all sides of the truth so that a little fragment of that truth doesn't blind people to the rest of it.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The authority void

People are good at looking at other people and figuring out (right or wrong) what those people should do to fix their problems, or overcome their weaknesses, or just generally become better. We're not always that good at analyzing ourselves. That's not the end of the world, though, because we have other people around us whose opinions we trust, and who can give us that outside perspective.


When we're little, we have various adults who we view as authorities on various topics. As we grow up, we might change whose opinions we think are the most reliable. These people could be parents, teachers, religious leaders, or friends. But I think that a lot of adults reach a point where they don't have anyone left who they would listen to if they suggested a change. This might happen because you feel so successful that you don't need anything, or because you've thought your life through so thoroughly that you can't imagine anyone else adding anything to it. Or maybe you just don't respect anyone enough - or trust anyone enough - to believe that their input could benefit you.

In any case, I think that this situation - where there's no one in your life who could convince you to change course. If you're in that position, and if (by some crazy chance) there's some decision you're making or habit you have that is preventing you from getting where you want (or need) to go, and if you haven't already figured out the solution, there's really no way you're going to get there!

I'm speaking in general terms, but this is a situation that drives me crazy when I see it in other people. Back to my first comment, I can see someone I know and care about proverbially heading for a cliff, and it's super obvious to me what they need to change. But I don't have enough of a relationship of trust to give that input. And I can see that nobody else does either. And so disaster happens.

Of course, I'm not in this situation, I hope. For one thing, I'm married to someone very wise. (I highly recommend this.) And I'm pretty sure I'd at least consider the advise of a bishop (for instance) who counseled me to change something. And then there's extended family. So hopefully I'm not driving anyone else crazy over this particular issue.

But the point is (PSA time): If you can't think of anyone whose advice you would listen to even if it seemed wrong at first, FIND SOMEONE! Because otherwise you are betting your happiness in life on your own ability to make perfect decisions, and you're gonna lose. And that's going to drive me crazy.

Thank you.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Metroid: Samus Returns

I played Metroid: Samus Returns over the last couple of weeks. It is glorious.

For context, we haven't seen a new Metroid game since 2010, and there hasn't been a new side-view one since 2004. That was Metroid: Zero Mission, a remake of the original Metroid game. It was wonderful too. I remember going out to buy it on its release day. I finally found a copy at the third place I went to. I started playing on my Game Boy Advance in the parking lot. (Fortunately I had late classes at the time.) And ever since that day, I hoped that they'd remake Metroid 2, which needed a remake even more than the original, since the sequel was a Game Boy game. (Yeah, four shades of gray.)

Earlier this year, there was an ill-timed fan remake called "Another Metroid 2 Remake". Nintendo shut it down pretty fast for now-obvious reasons, but it was pretty cool too. It raised the bar for this one. But... man, Samus Returns is really, really good.

The graphics are amazing. The screenshots on the Internet look a little odd, but on the tiny screen nothing looks polygonal - it looks real. For instance, I love how the wave beam makes these little spiral-y trail-y things on your shots. And of course with the 3D on, it's even more amazing. I actually kept wanting to zoom in and look at things in greater detail.

The controls are great - they make use of every single button on the 3DS (except for the "New"-model-specific ones) and still use the right part of the touch screen to select weapons. (This is actually a bit tricky - it takes a while before you stop pressing the wrong button for some things.) The mechanics are nice - the game is challenging, but not tedious. My favorite thing early one was the map. If you come across an item that you can't get yet, the map sticks a little icon on there for you, so you know where to come back to later on. They threw in teleporters, which is handy, because the world is much bigger than I expected it to be. The "fast" ending requires you to beat the game in under four hours, compared to 2 or 3. (My first run took nearly twelve.)

The Metroids are pretty cool. They're a bit stylized and don't quite look like their counterparts in other games, but Metroids are known to develop differently in different environments, so that's not really a problem. The Queen battle was particularly satisfying. (It was also really hard - I had to leave and gather more items before I finally won, although I have since learned a trick that would have made life easier.)

Of course no Metroid game is ever likely to approach the awesomeness of Super Metroid, even if only due to nostalgia. And I think Metroid Prime is still my second favorite, for similar reasons. But I find myself wondering whether I like Samus Returns better than Zero Mission. It has several points in its favor: Samus Returns is longer, has better graphics obviously, there are no annoying Speed Booster puzzles, it has unique new abilities, there are "checkpoints" (temporary save points) before and after major milestones, and it doesn't even have the immodesty issue in the ending scene. (Unless you buy and use one of the Amiibos to unlock "Fusion Mode", but I hate Amiibos.) But there are a few disadvantages as well: less variety in boss battles and not as many catchy tunes among them.

Speaking of music, Samus Returns does have some good stuff. It's mostly "mood" background music (although it's a huge improvement over the original), although it has a nice remix of the one good tune in the original, plus a few from Super Metroid in a couple of places. The ending music is silmilar too, but it's extended and doesn't quite come across with the same level of catchiness. Of course Zero Mission doesn't have as good music as Super Metroid either, but it does have more "tunes" and less "background" stuff, which I like.

So the comparison is a tough call. We'll have to see how my impression of the game changes after some time has passed. Right now I'm trying to decide whether to attempt a speed run or to play the game on Hard mode. Either one is going to be tough, since I lost a lot in the first run. But the game is awesome, so that's okay.

Here's a Tableau viz, just for fun: