Toward a True Understanding of Asexuality

Since this blog is getting lots of views from people who want to read about asexuality, I thought I’d make another post on that subject.

I’ve been on the record for a long time as believing that no one knows what asexuality really is. The AVEN definition of asexuality being “the absence of sexual attraction” is based on political considerations rather than science, and even the political considerations are those of LGBT activists rather than asexuals. With LGBT activists rapidly abandoning asexuals and even becoming hostile to us because of what they wrongly perceive as a turf war (but, then, political activists of all types are obsessed with protecting and expanding their turf), it’s time to ditch the AVEN definition and turn to science for a genuine, fact-based understanding of how we are and what makes us work.

A brief discussion of science and sexuality is in order here. For the longest time, hard science inquiries into human sexuality were suppressed by powerful LGBT activists because they were afraid science would try to “cure” them of their sexual orientations if a firm physiological basis for their orientations were discovered. The unavoidable implication was that a person is born with a certain sexual orientation and that orientation is immutable. Lately, however, the theory has spread that sexual orientation is fluid, and there is broader acceptance of the notion that, like everything else, sexual orientation arises from a combination of natural and nurtural factors. This opens the door to exploration of those factors in a rigorously scientific way that can perhaps lead to a true understanding of what asexuality is, rather than a politically motivated pseudo-understanding pulled out of some activist’s butt purely for activism purposes.

That understanding depends on recognizing the existence of the Introspection Illusion. The Introspection Illusion is a well-documented and widely accepted set of about 60 or 70 ways in which people are wrong about ourselves when we think about ourselves. We cannot arrive at an accurate self-understanding purely through introspection. Yet introspection is the foundation of the political doctrine of self-identification, which is the cornerstone of LGBT activism. The dogmatic unchallengeability of self-identification has greatly harmed scientific research into asexuality, as pretty much all research is based on who “self-identifies” as asexual and who “self-identifies” as something else. Pretty much all research into asexuality to date is therefore unreliable; the simple fact is that, when we self-identify, we deceive ourselves in about 60 or 70 well-established ways. I have no problem with LGBT activists keeping their catechistic dogma of self-identification, but, in terms of asexuality, it desperately needs to be got rid of. What needs to replace it is an objective understanding of what it means to be asexual as established through objective evidence.

Creating a brand new approach to scientific research on asexuality that does not begin with self-identification will take a lot of brutally hard conceptual work, as self-identification is an entrenched hot-button dogma that scares scientists. It is, however, work that definitely needs to be done as soon as possible if one of the communities I belong to, that of asexuals, is to gain any genuine self-understanding.

A Word to You About Media and the Law

This morning, I had a massively old-fart moment thinking about something that was, even being completely fair to every generation, truly better in the Good Old Days than it is today. Back when snakes had legs and I was young, news media people were permitted to protect confidentiality of their sources. If someone asked a reporter not to tell anyone who he was because he was afraid of the unjustified consequences of having his identity made public, the reporter could agree to it safely, because he knew he wouldn’t be forced to violate the confidentiality. There was even a court case in the 1980s in which reporter Michael Harris was on the witness stand in court and the opposing lawyer asked him to disclose the identity of a confidential source. Harris refused, and the opposing lawyer didn’t even ask the judge to force him to disclose it, and the judge never said a damned thing. Regardless of what the law formally said, it was just accepted practice that, if a reporter agreed not to tell anyone who you were, he wouldn’t be forced to.

People probably don’t remember those long-ago events because things are totally different today. Partly thanks to the aftermath of September 11th, there were famous cases in which American judges did order American reporters to disclose the identities of confidential sources, and, when they refused, the judges sent them to prisonĀ  You probably don’t remember any of that, either, because that’s now old news too. Today, it’s generally accepted that nobody can say anything confidentially to the news media and expect to remain anonymous, with the result that every statement made to the news media must be assumed to be totally public. That leads to the news media simply never finding out anything that people don’t feel safe in disclosing to the whole world, which, frankly, turns some otherwise smart and capable reporters into clued-out idiots. This is one reason why today’s “news” is totally a combination Entertainment Tonight and Question Period in the House of Commons.

You can guess without me telling you what I think of the whole thing. But there is an additional component that applies more broadly than to the news media. Certain non-media professions, such as lawyer and priest, have always had not only the right to keep certain things confidential, but the obligation to do so. Lawyers mostly still retain those obligations and rights, and, judging from my eight and a half years working in legal support, protect confidentiality obsessively. But what if every competent adult had the right to preserve confidentiality? It would have to be carefully managed to prevent abuses and frivolities, but laws or even a constitutional amendment could be drafted that carefully described the specific conditions under which any American (or Canadian) citizen would be safe in keeping secret something another person had told him, even if a judge could potentially order them to disclose it. That would force everybody to think hard about what it was safe to tell someone else confidentially, as well as what they could agree to keep confidential. And, although most people are already pretty good at thinking, some extra practice at thinking hard never hurt anyone, plus there would be an additional element of trust and freedom in prudent private conversations, a greater amount of interprersonal responsibility, and the necessity to exercise sound judgment just a little bit more.

So how about it, legislators? Are you reading this, and what do you think about drafting a bill?

The Private-Public Divide

It’s no news to most of us that the public record is stilted, pretentious, ceremonial, sterile, and ultimately false. When we hear a public figure speak in the news media, we know that what she is saying was written by a speechwriter and then vetted by lawyers. But, although news media reports themselves are not written by speechwriters (except insofar as that’s what news writers are), they have that same taint of vacuous falseness about them. So do statements made by lawyers and judges at a public trial or other on-record legal proceeding, such as a cross-examination on an affidavit. Very often, you also find movies and TV shows promoting socially required banalities, and sometimes you catch WordPress bloggers parroting socially prescribed tropes. Meanwhile, reality happens behind the scenes, off the public record, in the back rooms and around the dinner tables of the world, where few of us ever find out about it unless we’re participating. Private speech is down-to-earth, realistic, effective, fertile and ultimately true. Most of us already know that. We know that reality happens behind the scenes, while what gets publicized is a false and misleading coverup of what’s really going on.

What’s ultimately responsible for this state of affairs is the hegemony of critical realism. This type of realism is based on one central claim: that there is a difference between superficial appearance and an underlying substratum constituting reality. This is the true foundation of science–not the scientific method, but the underlying belief that what presents itself to us is ultimately a false appearance that requires digging into in order to unearth what’s really going on. Although as old as thinking itself, this view became dominant during the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, and it has reshaped the human world; so that, these days, everything we lay eyes on is necessarily a false appearance, and the true reality is hidden. It’s entirely responsible for the distinction between public and private speech.

Is this the way people really want to live? I doubt it. If we had the choice, we’d live in a world in which things were exactly what they seemed to be, so that we could give our weary minds a rest from constant suspicion. But I don’t know whether anything can be done about it any more. Time is entirely linear, so that nothing ever repeats itself, and the present does always stand on the shoulders of the past. Now that we’ve let the demon of critical realism out of the bottle and allowed it to achieve world domination, it would take extreme effort and a long time to rehabilitate the very nature of our perspectives and the very nature of the human world itself.

NOTE: This is a repost.

The Private-Public Divide and Critical Realism

It’s no news to most of us that the public record is stilted, pretentious, ceremonial, sterile, and ultimately false. When we hear a public figure speak in the news media, we know that what she is saying was written by a speechwriter and then vetted by lawyers. But, although news media reports themselves are not written by speechwriters and vetted by lawyers, they have that same taint of vacuous falseness about them. So do statements made by lawyers and judges at a public trial or other on-record legal proceeding, such as a cross-examination on an affidavit. Very often, you also find movies and TV shows promoting socially required banalities, and sometimes you catch WordPress bloggers parroting socially prescribed tropes. Meanwhile, reality happens behind the scenes, off the public record, in the back rooms and around the dinner tables of the world, where few of us ever find out about it unless we’re participating. Private speech is down-to-earth, realistic, effective, fertile and ultimately true. Most of us already know that. We know that reality happens behind the scenes, while what gets publicized is a false and misleading coverup of what’s really going on.

What’s ultimately responsible for this state of affairs is the hegemony of critical realism. This type of realism is based on one central claim: that there is a difference between superficial appearance and an underlying substratum constituting reality. This is the true foundation of science–not the scientific method, but the underlying belief that what presents itself to us is ultimately a false appearance that requires digging into in order to unearth what’s really going on. This view emerged during the Renaissance and became dominant during the Enlightenment, and it has reshaped the human world so that, these days, everything we lay eyes on is necessarily a false appearance, and the true reality is hidden. It’s entirely responsible for the distinction between public and private speech.

Is this the way people really want to live? I doubt it. If we had the choice, we’d live in a world in which things were exactly what they seemed to be, so that we could give our weary minds a rest from constant suspicion. But I don’t know whether anything can be done about it any more. Time is entirely linear, so that nothing ever repeats itself, and the present does always stand on the shoulders of the past. Now that we’ve let the demon of philosophical realism out of the bottle and allowed it to achieve world domination, it would take extreme effort and a long time to rehabilitate the very nature of our perspectives and the very nature of the human world itself.

How Opposites Converge

George Bernard Shaw, the British playwright, was talking to American financier William Randolph Hearst when he said: “You financiers are lucky that you can afford to worry about art. We artists must worry about money.” Rarely were truer words uttered, because creative people typically struggle with poverty, which routinely forces us to degrade our art; while those whose strength is amassing wealth end up with enough resources to relax about making ends meet and turn to higher principles, such as artistic quality. Or at least it used to be that way, in the days of patrons of the arts, such as the wealthy Italian families that underwrote the work of Leonardo da Vinci and Michaelangelo. These days, I find wealthy people to be much more mean-spirited and convinced that making money purely for the sake of money is the only worthwhile goal in life. If they give away money it’s only for a tax writeoff, because it’s especially important to them to screw the government even if they suffer financial losses they would have avoided from not screwing the government. But money is just a symbol for other things, sterile and unproductive in its own right. The real wealth behind the symbol of money still comes from those who actually create, whether through the creativity of ideas or through the genuine innovation of new technologies. In the end, the makers of wealth know they are sterile and depend on the fertility of indigent creators, and many resent it, which can explain the often psychopathic exploitation of creative people in the past 110 years.

There is a parallel within the legal profession, where I had an unaccredited supporting role for eight and a half years, ending about eight years ago. The senior partners, especially the superstars, have amassed enough wealth, prestige and pull that they can afford to be anal about integrity and proper conduct. For a support person they’re a pleasure to work with because they are staunchly well-mannered and pleasant. The young nobody lawyers who haven’t made their fortunes yet, however, must devote 95% of their time to finding loopholes within the rules of their profession in order to get an edge over opposing and competing lawyers. While they protect themselves from exposure and liability, they can’t afford to stand on a single ethical principle for a single second. For a support person they are generally a nightmare to provide services to because their exclusive focus is circumventing the rules. But it is those ethically iffy juniors who erect the structure underlying the power and freedom of the ethically steadfast senior partners. In the end, the honesty of the seniors depends on the dishonesty of a far larger number of juniors. That is something everyone within the legal profession is well aware of.

Then there is the big one, which is the zero-sum game between effectiveness and reflection. Effectiveness is needed in order to get things done. Reflection is a key component of what is needed in order to figure out what you should want to get done in the first place. Those two things cannot add up to more than 100%, although they can, and do, add up to far less. Those who prevail in life are those who are the most effective, which necessarily means the least reflective. The resuilt is a world ruled by people who are great at meeting their objectives but have no clue as to how to choose objectives wisely in the first place. Meanwhile, those who are best at choosing objectives wisely are completely useless at achieving them. This is just the way the universe is structured and nothing can be done about it. But our species used to deal with it by having the effective people consult the reflective people from time to time and get their input on what their next goals should be. Today, however, effective people consider themselves self-sufficient and look upon reflective people with contempt, considering them useless because they are not effective. The result is a kind of whimsical self-worship among the true leaders of the world, who actually worship their own perspectives, pursuing every whim that pops into their heads out of an unconsidered presupposition that they have a natural right to get everything they want. And there is a trickle-down effect, with more and more other people imitating them in the hopes of achieving similar levels of success. Except that the whims of effective people are ultimately second-hand. They come from the blood and sweat of the reflective people, who are not even acknowledged as human but around whose unappreciated thoughts the world still revolves.

tl;dr all opposites converge in the end, and we are one.