The Wage Gap “Myth” – A Stock Response

The wage gap is a myth!

Women don’t earn less than men!

The 77-cents-on-the-dollar stat is bullshit!

Thus begin countless posts, articles, comments, editorials and even infographics (some of which are illustrated here for your vomit-inducing enjoyment) that talk about the wage gap – written by people I might start referring to as “Wage Gap Mythers”. I’ve literally lost count of the number of times I’ve read this sort of thing in the last few months. Seemingly endless pages are devoted to dispelling the idea that women earn less than men. Every time someone brings up the wage gap, the Mythers drop by. They’ve been shared across Facebook groups, wikis, websites and comment sections so frequently that I really just want to get a stock response written down to them – it saves time.

Basically: “women earn less because the bigger companies don’t employ them.” This is, of course, totally fine and not an issue nor evidence of a problem at all.

The grand irony of all these Myther posts, though, is that while their titles and thesis statements say things like “the wage gap is a myth”, what they then go on to do is to demonstrate the exact opposite. It’s almost creationist-like thinking: start with the conclusion, and shoehorn that conclusion into any and all facts you can find. Even if the facts outright contradict the conclusion or the logic developing those facts doesn’t support it. I’ll demonstrate how this works by breaking the “myth” argument down into a little step-by-step:

  1. State that women don’t earn less than men (or don’t earn 3/4 of their average earnings) – this is our generic Wage Gap Myther thesis statement
  2. State that this is because women do different jobs and have different commitments and so can’t earn as much as men and generally demonstrate numerous reasons why women actually earn less than men
  3. Absolutely ignore that Point 2 directly contradicts Point 1

If there’s time, the next point is to conclude that the real “wage gap” is only a few percent once you’ve taken all the reasons stated in Point 2 into account. Which is like saying “well, if you take into account the slant and the wobbliness, this floor is perfectly flat”. Or “once you’ve subtracted all the people living there, the population of London is actually zero”. Or “once you’ve taken into account all the people in indentured servitude against their will, slavery doesn’t exist”. You get the picture – “if you ignore the potential sources of sexism, sexism doesn’t exist!”, which I think is the most concise summary of the Myther position possible.

Well, given that a lot of men treat women like shit in the workplace and make assumptions that only the men have important jobs while women make the tea… then yes, yes they are paying to surround themselves with cock.

I don’t know how best to summarise the problems with the Wage Gap Myth argument in a way that will get through to Mythers. Because if Mythers are united by one thing it’s the fact they’ve been tricked into thinking they’ve done something highly clever; they’ve delved into the data, they’ve reached their own conclusions, and everyone thinks that when you reveal something as a “myth” it must be a really skeptical, rational and intelligent thing to do… but they haven’t. No data that you can find actually dispels the notion that women, on average, earn less than men – often very significantly. About 20% less in the United Kingdom, about 23% in the United States (a place still stubbornly opposed to any sort of Equal Pay Act) and 16% across the European Union on average, with a massive variance across member states. The studies are there, the statistics are there, they’re not going away. The Myther thesis statement is just plain and simply wrong.

Women don’t do the higher paying jobs. Sexism? Yes. Yes it is. Women don’t do, aren’t allowed to do, are discouraged from, the higher paying jobs. This is the point. This is literally the point. This is not some hidden conspiracy, this is the actual point. You have got so close to the point yet have still managed to so spectacular miss it, it’s like you’ve made the Kessel Run in less than 0.001 parsecs.

So what does that leave you with if you’re a Myther and want to write something on the subject of a wage gap? Well, you can quibble that “on average” needs to be given context, because those statistics are over an entire population of men and women, and you can mention all the reasons that women earn less than men, and, well… that’s about it. Unless you’re a complete fucking idiot in which case you might say “well, this man earns less than this woman therefore…” but the less said about people who try that one the better.

So I’ll summarise why the Wage Gap Myth argument is bullshit, as best as possible in big letters and short words:


In fact, let’s just underscore the irony of these responses one more time: their premise is “the wage gap doesn’t exist” and “women don’t earn less than men” but because that’s a fact that simply is, these “myth” posts have to explicitly acknowledge the existence of a wage gap and then find excuses for it. The Myther argument is nothing but excuses: excuses that simply wouldn’t exist and wouldn’t need to be found if the wage gap was actually mythical.

Did I mention this is creationist-level logic, here? What part of “the wage gap is a myth” and “women don’t earn less than men” is supported by making excuses for the very existence of such a fact?

But anyway, let’s assume a hypothetical Myther accepts this, and they then accept that they are, in actual fact, just making excuses… sorry, finding reasons… for the gap. After all, women do, statistically speaking, do different jobs to men. They do, statistically speaking, take care of children more frequently. They do, really they do, take on more part-time and lower paid work. So yes, you’re right – whether you’re an MRA, a politician, some random blogger who thinks they’re smarter because they’ve stumbled upon this startling revelation – there are reasons women, on average, earn less than men.

We take a hard job that requires constant attention, dedication and a lot of training… and we pay more for the one that is traditionally male. A cynical interpretation? Yes. But unfortunately, the cynical interpretation sounds like it has a lot more explanatory value.

My laconic response to that? “Congratulations! Have a fucking prize!”

(Does the sarcasm come across in text, I’m never sure…)

Do you genuinely think this is news to people?

Do you really think that this somehow isn’t the point social progressives and feminists have been making for years?

Do you actually think that, somehow, this is an okay situation to be in?

Are you waiting for me to declare “Oh how wrong I’ve been! Women aren’t treated like shit in the world! They’re just… erm… treated like… shit! But that’s fine, there are Reasons!”

Let’s use the word “predicated” in a sentence: the Myther argument is predicated on a straw man interpretation that people complaining about the wage gap are under the impression that women get paid ~20% less for the exact same work. This isn’t true at all. Which you’d know if the average Myther had ever bothered reading anything written by a Social Justice Warrior Enthusiast any time in the last few decades. But I really don’t think the average Myther or MRAsshole or MGTOWer would ever be caught dead doing such a thing.


Literally every article on the subject says “the wage gap is a myth” but then goes on to say “the wage gap is real it’s just… shutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutup!!” Sod it, this is worse than creationism.

The Reasons behind the wage gap really isn’t news to anyone. No one who has ploughed any thought into the existence of the wage gap needs to be informed of these reasons. Yes, women earn less because they work different hours at different pay rates because of various reasons. Thank you very much Captain Fucking Obvious. The difference between the progressive opinion and the “we more smarter than you because wage gap be myth” position is that we took it a little further – we asked one more “why?”

Why do women work these lower paid jobs? Could it be that society rail-roads us into particular careers? Could it be that men are told they should do one thing and women another?

Why do women disproportionately do more child-care than men? Surely, if we’re such an equal society that the wage gap is a “myth”, then this shouldn’t be an issue, right? Last I checked, it took two people to make a baby (this may be news to people with the emotional and intellectual maturity of the average Men’s Rights Activist, of course) and so why wouldn’t the responsibility be split nearly 50:50? Surely there should be nothing to take into account from this if there wasn’t a social discrepancy, right?

Or let’s take a more insidious twist on that first “why” – Why do we pay less for jobs that women do? Put another way: do we force women into lower paying jobs, or do we devalue jobs done by women? That dichotomy is the driving force that explains the existence of a wage gap – a fact that “Wage Gap Mythers” very explicitly admit to in their quest to find excuses – and neither option looks like it could let society off the hook.

The answers to those additional “why?” questions aren’t straightforward, nor are they easy to admit to, and certainly outside the scope of this post. But we try. We at least give it a shot, which is certainly an improvement on an argument that stops two logical steps previously and assumes the opposite conclusion.

And this is without getting into the research that demonstrates – in both controlled and real-world environments – that women tend to get offered lower starting salaries for identical qualifications (something replicated with ethnicity, and it gets worse there), get rejected at a higher rate and let’s not get started on the attitudes that they can and do face at work. None of that even comes close to supporting the Myther position.

In many respects, Mythers have their facts absolutely straight. They’ve thought about how society affects women and minorities, how it affects their eduction, their lifestyles, and leads to the fact they earn far less than their more privileged counterparts. It’s just fundamentally annoying that they’re so blinded by the presumed “myth” conclusion that they can’t see what these facts are outright screaming in their face.

You may now commence your incessant adolescent whining in the comments.

Things You Should Probably Stop Saying – “BUT EVERYTHING IS A CHEMICAL!”

GreenChem_greenAnyone who hasn’t lived under a rock somewhere in the barren wastelands of arse-nowhere for the last half century will probably, at some point, heard about dangerous “chemicals” in our food and water supply. It’s an amazingly common trope. It isn’t just limited to food-bloggers and woo-merchants, it’s practically embedded into our language. “These nasty chemicals are everywhere, and they’re not good for us. So eat organic, avoid chemicals, or you will die!” they may cry.

“Avoid chemicals!” comes one piece of advice. “That food’s bad for you because it has too many chemicals in it” says another.

This is, of course, utter nonsense. As evidenced by the average skeptic and pro-science response, which usually goes thusly:

Silly peon! Don’t you know everything is a chemical? Water is a chemical. Air is a chemical. You like drinking water and breathing, don’t you? But you’re an idiot! You don’t get it, you don’t understand what a chemical really is! What about (R)-3,4-dihydroxy-5-((S)- 1,2-dihydroxyethyl)furan-2(5H)-one? That sounds scary doesn’t it! But that’s vitamin C! You’re such an idiot. This is nothing but chemophobia!

And fair point, to a certain degree. Chemophobia – nominally the “fear of chemicals” but is really just the “fear of chemicals whose names you can’t pronounce” – is a serious problem that interferes with scientific literacy and keeps a lot of really stupid people (*cough*Vani Hari*cough*) financially solvent with ActualMoney.

But… because there’s always a “but”… “everything is a chemical” doesn’t actually refute what our hypothetical woo-merchant is saying.

This post is about how “everything is a chemical” is a phrase and reasoning you need to stop using. It misunderstands what it’s supposed to refute, and it doesn’t help.

We know from observation that a hypothetical woo-merchant who voids “chemicals” probably isn’t against breathing an admixture of O2, N2, Ar, and CO2 and H2O in their gaseous state. Similarly, we can presume they’re not against drinking dihydrogen monoxide oxidane, nor are they scared by the concept of vitamin C being generally a good thing. Their behaviour demonstrates this nicely.

Quite clearly, these things are not in the category they are talking about when they say “we should avoid this”. They’re drawing a ring around a group of substances and saying “avoid these”. What they call that ring and that set is irrelevant, because we can clearly tell what they mean from their usage of it. Their use of the word “chemical” might be ill-defined and slightly non-technical (see below), but simply re-defining what they mean by “chemical” on only our side of the conversation does nothing to refute their claim nor their fundamental errors.

They have a set of Things they call chemical. We have a set of Things we call chemical. They say one thing about their set, we say something different about our set. The only thing uniting those arguments is their common label, nothing more.

RefutSustainability_greening a claim based on operating an argument over a completely different set of Things isn’t technicality, and it isn’t nitpicking nor pedantry. It’s just plain fallacy.

It would be as if Person A said “look at those 99 red balloons go by!” and Person B declared “FALSE! There are only 45 red balloons, the remaining 54 are pink!” and concluded that, therefore, Person A was lying completely and no balloons of any colour went by. Or, if on being told that your friend was in hospital following  car crash, you decided that they couldn’t possibly be in hospital because, technically, it was a hatchback not a car. Such skeptical dismissals ignore the point of the argument, ignore the uses of the words that form the argument, and focus instead on a trivial mismatch of labelling, mistaking it for actual content.

Someone arguing to avoid chemicals very clearly use “chemical” to refer to a sub-set of all substances. They know that, and – get this – we also know that. We must, because we’re so eager, apparently, to correct their usage to “but everything is a chemical”. That’s something we couldn’t do if we didn’t at least understand their own meaning. So it’s almost as if the typical “everything is chemical” response actively acknowledges that skeptics don’t really want to engage with the argument, but want to claim superiority in terminology.

It also reduces things to a sound-bite that convinces only the already-converted: “Hey, you told that Food Bitch that everything was chemical! High-five skepto-dudebro!! Haha LOL!”

From the other side, that doesn’t look like a convincing argument so much as people actively ignoring what you have to say, and that convinces no-one. If Person B wants to change Person A’s mind about 99 balloons going by, then their best starting point is to acknowledge the wider variety of hues within the “red” set as used by Person A.

In short: refute what the other person actually talks about, not what you want them to be talking about.

Still, I think there’s a more fundamental error going on. Something that misunderstands chemicals and chemistry, and chemists. And this is where I think I have a few qualifications to butt in and add additional comment:

Calling everything  “a chemical” isn’t even a technical definition as used by actual chemists.

This may seem odd, but actually think of the manipulations that chemists have to do on a day-to-day basis. If chemists accepted “everything is a chemical” in an absolute sense, we’d have no use for the term at all. The water running through a reflux condenser would be a “chemical”. The nitrogen running through the Schlenk lines would be a “chemical”. Our lunch would be a “chemical”. Hell, our bodies are a god-damned dangerous chemical refinery of unfathomable complexity that chemical the chemicals with the chemical chemicals.

If everything was a “chemical” to us, a simple instruction like “put all the chemicals back in the chemical cupboard” – an instruction barked at undergraduates with increased profanity as time wears on – would be literally meaningless. The only way to satisfy such an instruction would be to cram the entire universe into a loosely-defined cupboard. And then put the cupboard itself inside it, too. As, of course, everything is a chemical – including the cupboard. If we had to run a risk assessment on the chemicals used in a prep, would we need to fill in the COSHH form for water, for oxygen, for the cellulose in the wooden desks or the plastics on the chairs? After all, those would all be chemicals, and they’d all be involved.


Look at the chemicals inside a chemical surrounded by chemicals in a bed of chemical… now, fetch me the chemical.

Technically, that’s correct – you know, the best kind of correct. If you want to define it like that, of course. But that definition of “everything is a chemical” is not useful to us.

Professional chemists use “chemical” to mean just a sub-set of all chemicals in the world. We use it to mean just the substances (usually solid, sometimes liquid) that we intentionally mix together for a reaction. Often, even solvents are excluded from the category “chemical” because they’re not often part of that intentional reaction, but just a support medium. I’m speaking in terms of the common parlance, of course, as you’d use it in a daily conversation with another chemist. In a more formal setting we’d use something way, way more precise – like “reagent”, “solvent”, “catalyst” or literally name the substance instead. “Everything is a substance” is more likely to resonate with a chemist than “everything is a chemical”.

Even if we held that on an abstract level that everything is a “chemical”, we wouldn’t (and couldn’t) actually use the word that way. It’d be too broad to have a use.

So, in fact, the “technical” definition of a chemical is far closer to the woo definition than most pro-science skeptics think.

Instead say…

Well, I’d go for something like this. There isn’t a nice sound-bite, but sound-bites are for you and your revision purposes, not for anyone else.

Your definition of “chemical” is really arbitrary. You seem to put substances you don’t like into it, and ones you do like aren’t included… but you’re never really clear why. This is a problem because you ignore some really important concepts such as the dose-response relationship. A sufficiently low dose of something that you might consider dangerous (like cyanide or benzene) won’t cause harm – yet a sufficiently high dose of something you might consider benign (like water) will definitely cause you a lot of harm.

It also doesn’t take into account multiple safety studies done on substances that account for this and quantify their relative harm. For instance, formaldehyde is certainly a dangerous substance in large quantities – but because it’s a common metabolite, and such a simple molecule that you can find a higher concentration of it, quite naturally, in a single apple than in shampoos that have been forced off the shelves for containing it.

Perhaps if you were more specific about the precise substances you’re against and the dosage limits you find acceptable or unacceptable, and why, then your arguments might be better accepted by the science community. Because as it stands, your definition and usage of “chemical” is simply vague and ill-defined – so we can’t really understand what you don’t like. You only seem to be using it to import the connotations of the smoke-stacks and refineries of the peterochemical industry,  which look bad, and use them to imply that otherwise-benign substances are far more dangerous than they really are.

Feel free to copy-paste that. Add the “you’re an idiot” parts back in as you see fit.

The Damsel in Distress Trope – And Why “But She’s Bad-Ass!!” Is Not An Excuse

To the two fellas currently duking it out over this post on Reddit: play nice, kids – stop looking like idiots.

Let’s take a look at this series of tweets, where the gaming world’s no.1 boogey-woman Anita Sarkeesian laments the inclusion of a “Damsel in Distress” trope in some video game or other. You know, as she does.

Edit: As I was lazy, I originally hotlinked this image and it shifted location. The gist is that Anita Sarkeesian said “this game has a Damsel in Distress in it so it sucks”. and TotalBiscuit responded with “but men get captured too, so you’re wrong”.

Now, a little bit of additional context.

Firstly, I don’t have the game, and I don’t know the details – and I literally couldn’t care (that’s further hammered to death below) about the details. This is absolutely not the point I want to make. The plot details of a specific game lie outside my area of interest.

Secondly, what Sarkeesian is referring to by “Damsel in Distress” (DID) is very extensively covered in one of her Tropes vs. Women videos. The first one, in fact. Which was released about two years ago. So you’ve had plenty of time to, you know, watch it if you want to know where she’s coming from.

To cut a long story short, “but men get rescued too” is not a refutation nor is it a particularly good excuse for implementing an over-used trope in your script. Not least because it’s not a competition between men and women, and if one gets more abuse than the other they win the Oppression Olympics. What I want to point out is how you go about refuting the existence (or otherwise) of a particularly pervasive and over-used storyline.

Again, because I have to lay these things out several times and people still miss it – I don’t care about the individual details of this one game, only that whoever is refuting Sarkeesian’s accusation actually uses DID on the right terms, not ones just made up. I.e., you should refute what she is actually talking about and not something completely different.

Cue the GamerGator wangst…

What DID Entails

DID tropes have nothing to do with being straight-up rescue missions or who saves who. Whether something qualifies as a particularly bad instance of DID depends on far more interesting things such as why the plot point is being used and, because we’re talking about video games, what you “win” in exchange.

If the rescue mission simply moved the plot on and makes sense, then it might not be DID. Rescue missions happen all the time, and yes, men and women get rescued.

If the captive actually does something productive and isn’t useless, it’s probably not DID. If you give them some agency in their escape they’re not exactly playing the damsel. This latter point is particularly true if your captive is an actual character rather than faceless background noise or part of a crowd.

If you take a quick tour around fiction, rescuing of male characters more-often-than-not falls into one of these not-DID categories, and I imagine that TotalBiscuit’s mention of a female character saving a male character falls into these categories, too.

Let’s consider what DID actually includes – or in other words, what are the dysfunctional and over-used plot points surrounding capture-and-rescue plots. Which bits do we considered negative, and are to be found under the banner “Damsel in Distress”, which is convenient short-cut that describes them?

(By the gods, I wish that last sentence wasn’t necessary, but the amount of argumentum ad dictionarium on the internet is one of the most astoundingly bad things about it.)

So that’s the basics of it. Not just “what is DID?” but “why is it bad?” We’ll go into some detail in a moment.

As you can see from TotalBiscuit’s response above, he’s just re-defining the trope as Anita Sarkeesian might use it to mean something more superficial, and declaring victory. It just means “women are captured” and so it doesn’t count as a bad thing if men are captured, too.

Also, did I mention I don’t care about the game itself, only that people argue the right use of DID? Good.

Consider the following: if the prize for going through the game is “getting” the girl, and the only motivation for completing the quest is “getting” the girl, and the reason she’s captured is just a cheap emotive plot device for no other reason than to get the dashing hero to the gorgeous girl, and her capture is something you have to seriously suspend your disbelief over, then it is absolutely textbook DID. In fact, it doesn’t matter whether it “is” or “is not” DID, those aspects of a plot are simply terrible; overused, boring, demeaning to the concept of characterisation, and absolutely disproportionately levelled against women. I’m sure there are hours of video that bludgeons these points to death, or a ton of other blog posts describing the trope in detail and the non-trivial and non-superficial attributes that make it asinine, but it isn’t exactly something you can explain in 140 characters or less.

So the trouble with Sarkeesian’s point is that she didn’t have the word-count to point this out (something you might term “The Dawkins Defence”). Meanwhile, the trouble with TotalBollock’s response is that, despite his claimed intelligence, he decided not to refute her point using her own terms and definitions.

After all, I need to make clear, you have to discuss “Damsel in Distress” in terms of the actual trope, not just “women getting rescued”. Because that’s my point, I don’t really care about the individual details of the game itself. Still clear?

Further Details

First of all, let’s brush up on the use of the Damsel in Distress throughout fiction in general. Conveniently, Wikipedia has a fairly comprehensive article on the subject. Note the points about objectification of the hostage, the motivation for the hero, the general uselessness of the princess stuck in the tower and so on and so forth. The fact that DID is also a specific a fetish tells you that there’s far more than just “it’s something to do with women” involved in it. Overall, it’s an interesting stock trope in fiction.

The facial hair isn’t optional. That is, of course, a core aspect of DID. If the baddy doesn’t have a ‘stache, it’s fine… really…

However, the Wikipedia article on DID does lack a distinct sub-section for video games (for reasons I don’t think warrant going into) so let’s outline the additions to the trope exclusive to, and principally used by, video games.

And let’s remember, my point is that you have to get this bit right and can’t just refute something that Sarkeesian isn’t actually talking about by taking your own definition of “Damsel in Distress”, simplifying it down, and saying something silly. I just thought that was worth pointing out, just in case it wasn’t clear.

The main thing to add on top of the stock character analysis, which you can gleam from reading general fiction, is that games allow the damsel to act as a reward for the player. The interactive nature of a game is really what makes the medium way more interesting to study than a straightforward novel or film. A game has to be written for the player to act out, it has to appeal to them as motivation, and authors/writers need to get savvy to this.

This is why, back in the days of Mario and Donkey Kong, video games often had the stock storylines such as DID that were totally devoid of any exposition. When you simply don’t have the disk space, or the processing power, or your audience is paying by the level in an arcade, you can’t spend time on the story. Think Time Crisis here – which I think shows my age way too much – where the plot is “rescue the President’s daughter… by shooting all these people as fast as possible”.

This aspect of a character being reduced to a mere, near-faceless, personality-free reward is what arguably is the fundamental property of DID in gaming. Sometimes this is quite literal – the original Mario literally went after a pixellated princess with zero back-story. Sometimes, it’s a bit more subtle. As in, she might even get a name. And if she’s really lucky some realistic boob-jiggle physics.

100 pixels of unadulterated sexual thrill… Hey, someone will be turned on by low resolution.

Okay, so seriously for a moment – you can have a “bad-ass”, you can have a “well-rounded” character. Can she still suffer from many aspects of the DID trope?


As the asinine and regressive aspects of the DID trope don’t have anything to do with that.

Is she a feckless captive? Is she out-of-character in getting captured? Is she mostly a reward tacked on to make the plot vaguely interesting? Is her capture actually relevant to moving on the story? Again, these are subtle, and just to make it clear, you need to understand these subtleties and points because you can’t simply refute the existence of the DID trope with “men are rescued too” or “but she’s kick-ass”.

It doesn’t work that way, and that’s my point – not any specific details of this one example game. Just so long as it’s clear that I’m not talking about specific details of this particular game, because I’m not talking about the specific details of this game, only the general idea of what DID entails and how you should… fuck it, I’m not typing this out again, if I get any comments along these lines, you’re going in the fucking spam filter.

So once you understand that the core parts of the trope that are considered bad, you realise that “damsel in distress” does not just mean “girl gets rescued”. I won’t go into detail listing every example, that’s been done and it’s not my place to repeatedly prove that it’s out there in the wild, getting over-used, any more than it’s my place to prove atoms exist before discussing novel X-Ray crystal structures.

Can you swap genders in DID? Sure. Feckless idiot of a man gets kidnapped while a woman goes after him purely because it’s her boyfriend. Does that sound like a terrible plot? Yes, it does.

But do you really ever see it qualitatively reproduced that way? Really? I mean, not just the “hey, I found one example after an hour of Googling!!” I mean, like, is it common? Do you regularly see a strong and brooding and deep woman, the one holding the gun on the movie poster or game cover, go searching for a cardboard-cutout man who was locked up by the Big Bad for no other reason than to make the strong and deep woman brood a little bit more and go after him?

Not really.

You can give FFVII a pass because of course Aeris is going to be captured since she’s constantly being chased by Shinra. Of course, conveniently they only ever capture her when Cloud is around to save her, but let’s give it a little leeway. It does, after all, have the audacity to be a good game.

It’s not always a bad thing that must be avoided provided you have a decent excuse or rationale to do it. Aw, hell, you can even play it totally and perfectly straight and ramp it all up to 11 with comical rope and train tracks if you want to go all post-modern and make a commentary on the trope itself. That’s a fun possibility, though I dare say you’ll be stomping all over a very fine line between intentionally regressive crap played for post-modern laughs and just being a complete dick to your heroine like everyone else.

But played without irony, DID is over-used, and it is still sad-as-fuck that this is the go-to option for an easy motivation for Whitey McStubbly to get off his ass and kill bad guys.

Whether the game TotalBiscuit is raving about with Sarkeesian actually involves any of the godawful, asinine, over-used and cheap DID crap, I don’t know. I have no clue about the details of this game. I can’t even remember the name without looking at the screenshot. I literally have not heard of it until this week. I have neither the time, money, nor inclination to buy a PS4 and play something that looks exactly the same as every other game released since they discovered they could implement real-time normal mapping in console graphics. But here’s the point that the tirade from the inevitable mob of ass-hurt Gators and Gamers will probably not read: I really don’t care. Because that’s not the point as I’ve hopefully covered.

I’m going to play the probabilities game, go out on a limb, and make a crazy assumption that one of the plots broached within said game satisfies the DID criteria outlined above, while the other rescue missions really don’t. Why? Because if it wasn’t the case there’d probably be a better rationale excusing it than “because men get captured too”. Hence TotalBiscuit’s counter example isn’t the iron clad refutation he might think it is.

So this is my point: if you want to refute it (and I’m open to refuting Anita Sarkeesian, I have to throw my hand sup and admit I’m not actually a fan for various non-trite reasons), approach it this way:

  • Is the character relevant or central to the plot? I.e., if you replaced her with a bag of gold it simply wouldn’t work.
  • Are there motivations for the player character rescuing her beyond just getting his leg over?
  • Does she have any involvement or agency in her escape, assuming she’s conscious at the time?
  • Was her capture consistent with the character?
  • Is the rescue and the plot leading up to it more relevant to the plot than just getting the hero out of bed that morning?

Although that’s not entirely comprehensive, if you could honestly say “yes” to many or all of those, then it’s not DID. If you can do it for the game in question, Sarkseesian is wrong, and just tilting at windmills with this one specific example. Which, yes, she has an unfortunate tendency to do. And I’m very open to that being the case, but that evidence has not been presented (if anyone can point me in the direction of an adult discussion on this, please do).

Edit: See the addendum below.

A little bit of reading suggests the developers have tried to avoid it, and fleshed out their female characters, but whether they succeeded isn’t really up to them. Again, that’s detail that people can debate over, providing that they’re doing it on reasonable terms.

E.g., not just excusing it with other equally asinine tropes.

A 100%, absolutely realistic female character – stuck in a zombie-infested apocalyptic wasteland and still has time to put on on eye-shadow. Yeah, sure.

Again, for good measure, I don’t care about the details, at all, only that people doing the refuting fight it on the actual terms established. Got that? I mean, I’m serious about the spam-filter thing, I’m not even sorry.

A Non-Damsel in Relevant Distress

Just to underscore that DID isn’t just “woman gets rescued”, let’s ask the following question: is it possible to have a woman captured where it isn’t particularly damsel-ish? Yes. It very much is, and I think non-examples are as illustrative of the trope as examples are.

Take this classic set of cut-scenes from Command & Conquer: Red Alert – something of the high-point of 1990’s real-time strategy gaming.

Woman getting captured? Yep. Rescued by the player? Yep. She’s a bad-ass? Yep.

But let’s consider the questions above as applied to these two scenes:

  • Tanya is effectively a core character that is central to the plot (as far as Red Alert can get, at least). She’s as close to a player-character as is possible in the top-down, faceless-commander format of Command & Conquer.
  • The player is motivated to get her back because you’re getting your commando back. Sure, that’s effectively a “reward” for the player, although it’s closer to unlocking a Mammoth Tank in gameplay terms. This makes her an object, yes, but an object in the context of the gameplay, not an object in the context of the story (objectification in the context of being able to physically command and control a character, which is by the game mechanics non-consensual… games are a little complicated and weird when it comes to this stuff). You’re not winning a date with Tanya at the end, the player’s key motivation is still hitting the Soviets over the head as hard as possible.
  • She features a lot of agency in her escape. She does a lot of resistance, and in fact does most of the hard-work once your spy (who is a nameless NPC at this stage, rather than a proxy for the player’s over-active but under-utilised genitals) has infiltrated the base.
  • The capture is actually within the character’s operational parameters. She goes into dangerous situations constantly, and capture by the USSR is an occupational hazard. Tanya is, indeed, a bad-ass character, and tough-as-hell, but being captured in enemy territory, on a dangerous mission, in the middle of a war, isn’t exactly out of the realms of possibility for people in that position. It’s when your “bad-ass” characters catch the idiot ball, or seem to be targeted with the bad guys coming to her that you’re going to have a problem with this point.
  • Well, the rescue in the plot happens after she gathers intelligence, so I suppose this is about the only point where it slides into DID territory. It’s not, say, a side-effect of the rescue of Einstein or anything else, it’s literally just a new bit to move the story forward for another couple of missions. Although she does fuck up the Soviet’s shit just afterwards, so, fair play.

Above all, though, if you gender-reversed Tanya’s story it would absolutely not sound absurd at all. Whereas, say, Time Crisis, if you were the dashing heroine trying to save the President’s son by shooting terrorists, it might have people wondering if it was a comedy (or shouting about SJWs and making weak men and strong women).

So the Red Alert example doesn’t fall into many, if any, of the standard asinine DID plot-lines. Woman is captured, she’s a bad-ass, but it’s far from destructive or demeaning to anyone. Overall, the scene plays pretty powerfully, and the story doesn’t succumb to treating the female commando like a piece of sex-meat at any point throughout the story.

Isn’t it great that the Red Alert series kept that up?

Addendum 1: It has been pointed out in a comment elsewhere that the definition given of DID here actually makes a few of the examples given in Tropes vs Women or marginally damsel-ish or not DID at all. And I agree. On the one hand, this says that Anita Sarkeesian has something of an unfortunate tendency to cherry-pick, which is noted above. This is bound to happen when you start squeezing details to make a point. On the other, it also underscores that a trope is a fuzzy set, which is sort-of implied above given that there are multiple criteria and no hard-and-fast yes/no membership of the trope. The membership criteria needs to be considered in a more holistic sense than “she does X” and with a slightly more marginal degree than “therefore trope X”.

Addendum 2: A discussion of the individual details in a non-moronic fashion can be found tucked away on r/GamerGhazi. That’s actually a brief but interesting read. Could it be that Biscuit and Anita are wrong in their knee-jerk laconic responses? Yeah, probably.

12 Reasons Why I’m Going To Download Those Pictures of Jennifer Lawrence – And You Should Too!

Following a spate of incredibly blunt posts about why you shouldn’t go hunting for these photographs, I’m going to tell you why you should:

  1. Nudity fixation – the only value a woman’s appearance has, is naked. Clothed? Even clothed well? Nope. No value in that whatsoever. Even totally clad in nothing but a miniature thong and bikini top, that’s not enough. The magic line is at the nipple. Because, you know… erm… yeah. Exactly. See?
  2. Those bitches deserved it – taking intimate photos of oneself is a lapse in judgement. Lapses in judgement like that should be punished severely.
  3. I’m most important – as are my masturbatory privileges. In fact, my ability to fap my ass off to hastily taken snaps from someone’s iPhone takes total priority over human decency and respect. It’s not like they’re people anyway, right?
  4. Lack of consent is hot – and I’m not talking the “no sir, please stop, please…” kind of “lack”. We can get adequate photographs of bare breasts taken with the owner’s consent for suitable recompense anywhere, like Page 3 of The Sun. That’s no fun. What’s really smoking hot is that these were explicitly not for viewing. Aw, yeah!
  5. It’s not illegal – and you can’t make it illegal! Naa-naa-naa-naa! I can’t hear you! Why would you make it illegal? That’s just like an Orwellian thought-crime. Orwell was right, you know! You don’t want to make information illegal, do you? Therefore, I need those pictures.
  6. They like it, really – all quasi-famous people are narcissists. Why else would they have those photos taken anyway? It’s not like they have relationships, or actually have sex, or have feelings. It’s just for them, so they should share it, because.
  7. Pixellation is hot – so what if porn companies were early adopters of high volume HD streaming technology, video distribution, 3D and fully-immersive interactive experiences? That slightly smudged, grainy, taken-through-an-aperture-the-size-of-a-gnat’s-anus look of a camera phone is where it’s at. I blame years of shoddy internet connections, even the word “Buffering” is now immediately arousing.
  8. I’m insecure about my sexuality – I’m totally not gay. Not gay at all. In fact, I’m so not gay I need to run to Reddit right now to tell them all about how I’m masturbating to women. WOMEN, dammit! Because I’m NOT GAY.
  9. If you didn’t want them seen, you shouldn’t have taken them – today is the age of the internet and information. Information is free. Once it’s copied, it’s in the public domain. That means public. It’s interesting to the public and so of public interest. QED.
  10. Because you’re worthless – just imagine them all crying and sobbing when they found out… aw yeah, that’s the stuff. That’s right, slut, you’re worthless, you don’t mean shit. You might be critically acclaimed, famous, talented and respected in an industry but you’re nothing next to my dead-end pointless life.
  11. It’s the feminist’s fault – what do you mean why? Shut up, tumblfag. I’m using Logic and Reason here. It’s always their fault.
  12. I can’t get it elsewhere – why don’t women like me? I’m such a nice guy!

Yes, the above is satirical. Apparently this needs pointed out these days. If the above is a bit much, then there are plenty of fantastically blunt articles on this subject that are worth reading.

Dear Richard – Just. Stop. Talking

Richard Dawkins’ clusterderp continues – tacking on some comments about ‘belittling‘ to an already overwrought post that is basically “oooh, isn’t moral philosophy hard?” stretched out for 18 trillion pages… whatever. But in the race to demonize him as some old privileged grump, I worry that no one has actually bothered to explain why he’s wrong on his whole “[X] is worse than [Y]” kick. Because he is. Obviously. Just why?

Well, he’s sort of right when he notes that merely saying “[X] is worse than [Y]” isn’t an endorsement of [Y] – it’s an endorsement of neither, in fact. Only, this is quite a trivial thing to come out with unannounced because I don’t recall anyone of note, in a public sphere, in seriousness suggesting he was endorsing any of those ‘lesser’ crimes. Maybe I need to get out more, but I know that I haven’t said this, people I know haven’t said this, and people I read haven’t said this. Therefore it’s fair to say that the absence of evidence is inferential evidence of absence that if anyone has said it, it’s not a majority opinion amongst Dawkins’ critics. No, people were mostly talking about how he doesn’t understand the fallacy of relative privation – the “not as bad as” argument typified by his infamous “oh, you were accosted for coffee in an elevator? Shut up, dumb-ass, because women get raped in Pakistan!” moment – a logic, I must add, that is as airtight as its converse “oh, you were raped in Pakistan? Shut up, dumb-ass, because women get accosted for coffee in elevators!”

No, seriously. That’s the actual logic at work, just with the nouns traded around a bit. If you’re going to say “[X] is worse than [Y]”, consider writing it in E-Prime, a critical thought experiment of language that asks you to phrase things without the verb “to be”.* In this E-Prime translation, what Dawkins is saying is “I rank [X] below [Y]”. Well, bully for you, I rank [Y] below [X], what of it? Or perhaps a third party might come along and play some hypothetical [Z] trump card that’s supposedly worse than both… a pattern that can continue indefinitely:

“Oh, you were brutally attacked, were you? Well, stop complaining because at least they didn’t flay you alive!”

“Oh, you were flayed alive, were you? Well, stop complaining because at least they didn’t feed you mind altering drugs that intensified pain and slowed down time!”

“Oh, you were mentally tortured and conditioned to experience a thousand years of continually refreshing pain at the behest of a sadistic hell demon, were you? Well, stop complaining because at least you didn’t stub your toe on a door.”

Or, let’s be really really cheeky here:

“Oh, you think the Church of England is persecuting your right to exist as an atheist? Well shut up dumb-ass because at least you’re not being burned alive somewhere because of your religion” – indeed, it is very ironic that a man whose other best-selling line is a fashionable range of First World Atheism Problems would use relative privation this way.

So, as you can see, not only is this League Table of Unacceptable Badness a never-ending folly of finding worse or better things to outrank what you’re focused on, its internal logic is somewhat limited to personal perspective, and personal perspective only. And either Dawkins doesn’t understand this, or is so bullheaded that he can’t convey his understanding. At all.


This image is purely decorative. It has no relation to the article. Promise.

As much as I take their opinions with a large splash of salt, the Less Wrong crowd have an excellent piece of local jargon for Dawkins’ recent (well, three-year-long, at least, at this point) foot-in-mouth case: The Typical Mind Fallacy. It’s effectively the Mind Projection Fallacy and a few others wrapped up together, but just really like the canonical Less Wrong wording of it:

The typical mind fallacy is the mistake of making biased and overconfident conclusions about other people’s experience based on your own personal experience; the mistake of assuming that other people are more like you than they actually are.

This is the illusion that your thoughts and opinions are typical, that your judgements are shared by all, and essentially that your opinion of one subjective experience is going to be the same as everyone else’s subjective experience. At its worst this fallacy makes people think that their own subjective experience is actually objectively correct – because they’re too self-involved to realise other people exist and might have functioning thoughts of their own.**

This is really what Dawkins is doing here. And, if anything, that’s what is really ‘belittling’ about it. The guy has been attempting to rank subjective experiences according to his own viewpoint – and his own viewpoint only, let’s stress – and claim that this is apparently ‘logic’ because ‘hey, I’m so smart you so dumb!’ You can’t complain about a straw man argument here: he went on record with a ton of “[X] is worse than [Y]” comments relating to personal experience, and doubled-down each time someone said that was a bit naughty. Ranking subjective experiences based on his own internal logic and fallaciously passing them off as supposedly objective is what he is doing whether his proponents think so or not.

But is anything really worse than another thing?

The average teenager who has just discovered The God Delusion and thinks it’s the epitome of theological thought might instinctively think “Yes! But of course some things are worse than others!”*** But this is just the Typical Mind Fallacy once more. So let’s go to a less controversial (I hope…) set of examples. Is Guardians of the Galaxy better than Star Wars? Is Plan 9 worse than Rocky Horror? Yes? No? The fact we can debate those questions at all suggests there’s no one true objective answer. We can’t exactly hook those films up to a spectrometer and find out and have it published and settled. Sure, we could go to IMDb and see which is ranked higher, but that doesn’t answer the question. It answers something completely different – namely, “which film is ranked higher on IMDb?” Clearly, this is not answering the question of which is better or worse.

[X] might be worse than [Y] to you, but not necessarily to me. Dawkins tried to say that rape at knife point by a stranger is worse than ‘date’ rape – but is it? To me it wouldn’t be. I’d shrug off an attack (relatively) quickly, I’d be over it in a few weeks. I’d probably be able to go out again. I’d have friends I could trust to help me through it, and after a few months it’d be behind me. But if someone I knew quite intimately abused my trust and ‘date’ raped me? Well, that’d be pretty harrowing. I wouldn’t know who to speak to about it. I wouldn’t know who to trust or confide in. I wouldn’t be quite sure if I could be in a room with a supposed friend ever again. It would start a perpetuating cycle of mistrust and paranoia that would destroy relationships I have with countless people and could last years, if not forever. So sure, give me a stranger attacking me at knife point any day.

Is that last paragraph true? Thankfully I’m not in a situation where I’m likely to ever find out. But that would be beside the point – I would like to see anyone, using the objective logic and reasoning gifted to them by being oh-so-superior public intellectuals or otherwise, prove it one way or another. The simple fact is that one experience is not going to be the same as another. A particularly person may well attempt suicide due to a bad break-up with a boy/girl/other-friend. Another person may go through two bereavements, losing a job, a nasty car accident and being mugged and shrug it off. Extremes, sure, but again plausible and a big kick in the face to the concept that these things are supposedly objectively ranked.

But what about ‘statistically speaking’ – which I mention only because I did read someone trying to defend Dawkins by saying that he was “clearly” talking about this. Well, what is ‘worse’ when it comes to statistics? The more frequent, the least frequent? Again, this comes back to ranking films on IMDb, it’s simply asking a qualitatively different question. Is the most common thing worse? Then it’s clearly ‘date’ rape that we should be worried about, most rape victims know their attackers by a significant margin and being attacked on the street is a comparatively negligible risk. And it’s also clearly ‘mild’ paedophilia we should be worried about because that’s significantly more prevalent than strangers abducting children to rape them – even then, physical and emotional abuse rather than sexual abuse by parents is more common even than that. One might well be a more prevalent problem than the other, that’s for sure, but worse? You can’t say from that data alone.

You want a short and quick answer top which is ‘worse’? ‘Not Applicable’.

At least, with this statistical argument, we’re working with objective facts. But you don’t need to be David Hume to realise you can’t morph this into the same “[X] is worse than [Y]” argument Dawkins has been derping on about. They’re different spheres of judgement, and they’re not even supposed to overlap.

* It’s not a foolproof solution to anything by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s a useful thought experiment for troubleshooting. It won’t magically solve every issue, and you can still be fallacious while speaking E-Prime, but it can direct you speedily to where you’re arguing from a subjective dictionary definition.

** This may explain most of Less Wrong, of course, as they are people who think human interaction is so difficult they can just build a computer to do it for them.

*** I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again – being in a room full of people who applauded Richard Dawkins walking on stage on TV (but, notably, not a single other guest  that appeared on this show) was one of the creepiest experiences of my life and told me that this organised atheism thing is emphatically not for me. Seriously, people, watch Life of Brian, then watch it again and again until you get the fucking point.

Anti-feminists vs Creationists: A Brief Side-by-side Comparison

1. Drawing strange analogies and unusual comparisons out of left field is a useful tactic.

Particularly if they make no sense. Noetics? What the hell is that? Fish-bicycles… ficycles? Who knows.


2. Big convoluted philosophical terms like “critical thinking” and “objective meaning” make you seem deep.

Doesn’t matter if you don’t know what they mean, just use them. Underline them or put them in caps. Make sure you draw attention to the fact you’re using the terms. Just use them – that’s all that matters.


3. Complicated and lengthy statements can mask your lack of experience with the topic you’re talking about.

Well fuck me if information theory, levels-of-analysis, undirected evolution, the fallacy of relative privation, gene expression and the relativity of social privileges are all just too damn complicated to explain in a single pithy one-sentence reply.


4. Ask closed leading questions.

You know the immediate answer is going to favour your cause, and you can shut up the other side before they get to the “but!” part.


5. Simplify everything down to a single factor.

Preferably a factor that has everything to do with your own ego.


6. When stating what you believe, make short pithy and easy-to-understand statements.

Details? Ignore the details. Details are for losers – and might lead to you realising that what you believe in isn’t always the same as what you say you believe in.


7. If in doubt, be white, pretty and have a vacant expression.

It helps us translate what you write into an appropriately mocking voice.


8. The total non-sequitur is also your friend.



9. Make no attempt to understand what you’re opposed to.

Let’s face it – this is exactly the problem for all these examples.





Proud to be…

Via Man Boobz, the blog that gives me my almost-daily dose of depression, comes a particular poster from the MRA contingent of DeviantART (DA is a place I rarely dive into for this stuff, it’s there, but I really don’t want to get involved…).

I’m going to be nicer than David Futrelle here. I can’t just put this up and mock it relentlessly, because I don’t think there’s any wilful ignorance here to mock (there are a few others mentioned in the above Man Boobz post that come close to it, though…). It just needs explained. And when things are explained, there might be a chance that someone might change their mind and evolve.

So I can give the “proud to be a white heterosexual man” thing some benefit of the doubt. It’s not really an overt declaration of hatred or misogyny, it’ simply borne out of a little bit of incomprehension regarding what “pride” actually means when it comes to things like “gay pride”. Simply put, Person A sees other people being “proud” of simply what/who they happen to be, and so Person A thinks “hang on, can’t I be happy and unashamed of who/what I happen to be? I’m proud to be Person A!”

And, to a first approximation, there’s nothing actually wrong with this. When you understand the actual sentiment involved, it’s actually quite understandable and the thought process is harmless.

If another group gets to be vocally “proud” of their life and heritage, but you somehow aren’t, then that doesn’t feel particularly good. Now, personally, I don’t think the retort of “but every other day is Male Pride Day” or “White Pride Day” or “Cis Pride Day” is a particularly good one. It’s simply not. It’s a derogatory dismissal, and self-declared social justice advocates need to cut it out with that shit. Because no, your white, heteroseuxal, cisgendered males aren’t going out of their way every day to overtly display their personal attributes – what is actually going on is far more subtle than that and way beyond the word count of this.

Anyway, with that said, the trouble with the poster above (and the “every day is white pride day” retort, in fact) is that it misses the point of why certain groups have to be vocal about themselves in the first place – or at least deserve to be vocal about it after the fact.

As it stands, you simply do not need to “come out” as straight. You don’t. It’s effectively assumed to be the Default Position. While I’d prefer young children are presumed by default to be implicitly asexual (see implicit atheism) the fact is that they’re usually assumed to be straight. It’s expected anyway.  When little Timmy finally discovers what his penis is actually there for, the assumption is that he’s going to start fancying girls, and not develop a more complex and fluid sexual identity involving having emotional attraction exclusively to females but an open sex life with all genders and sexes. No, that would be weird, or at best unexpected. Even with the most progressive will in the world, you cannot deny that that sort of thing is at least in a minority (between 3% and 10% depending on which bias your survey-du-jour has), and outside your expectation value of “straight”.

So nothing is going to happen to you if you declare yourself as straight. No one will care. I can wear a wedding ring and show off my wife and no one thinks its strange, unusual, or out-of-the-ordinary or beyond the expectation value – in fact it’s so normalised people don’t even consider it as showing off sexuality. Yet it still is. After all, it is blatantly showing off my preferences publicly. Very, very few people who equate two men holding hands as “ramming your sexuality down my throat”, take the time to extend such derision to public displays by heterosexual couples.

In short, nothing really bad is going to happen if you “come out” as straight – and even more pointedly there’s no real “coming out” involved. Well, I do have one circle of friends who are so sexually fluid you really do, but that’s something else entirely. Sorry, guys, I guess I’m just boring… anywho…

Want to come out as gay to the world? That’s a different thing entirely. Oh, is it not as bad any more? Perhaps. But not everyone is privileged enough to live in a nice, clean, middle-class, and progressive environment riddled with first-world-problems. A place where homosexuality accepted and normalised and no one really has a fuck to give about your sexual orientation.

In many environments you risk – at best – being shouted at, condemned, blamed for hurricanes, or derided as a paedophile. That’s the thin end of the wedge; that’s if you’re lucky. Elsewhere you have the beatings, the murders, the arson attacks on clubs, and the places where perpetrators of violence towards don’t just get away with it but are actively celebrated. Sorry to break the “I’ll be nice and just explain things” character for a moment, but when the fuck did you, Mr Proud To Be Heterosexual, have to put up with anywhere near that level of persecution rather than your own imagined bullshit? If you want to come out as gay in that sort of situation, doing so requires an immense amount of courage and personal risk. It’s effort. It’s bravery. It’s achievement. A literal achievement; not just a little X-Box sign that flashes up temporarily because you shot 50 bad guys. 

There are many things I’m proud of being and/or doing, and a lot of areas of under-privilege I’ve fought against. I’ll not bother to list them here, but skin colour and sexual orientation would come pretty far down. So far down it’s really worth ignoring, it’s hardly anything at all, in fact, these are achievements for me on par with “breathing”. Perhaps one day everyone will be able to live in a world where coming out as gay to your parents can be so far down that list it’s worth ignoring, too, and “gay pride” will be as redundant as “white pride”. One can hope.

So, the problem with being “proud” of heterosexuality is that there is no effort involved. You can’t equate that with coming out as non-heterosexual. You don’t risk your parents disowning you, you don’t risk being beaten, you don’t risk being treated as a stereotype your entire life. In short, there is little to be proud of in just being part of a majority, where there aren’t real and tangible fights for your rights on a near daily basis. No matter what your persecution complex may claim, there simply aren’t instances where people wanted to ban heterosexual marriage, or blame lightning strikes on an endorsement of straight people. That’s why people claim “pride” and rightly so, but claiming “pride” for so many other attributes misses the point entirely.

As the snarky response goes; if being proud of being a white, heterosexual male is the best you’ve got, your life must suck.

You’re not thinking like a true atheist!

createRay Comfort, aka Bananaman, has posted this to his Facebook page twice in fairly quick succession recently, while promoting his fuck-awful “documentary”, Evolution vs God. And no, it really wasn’t any funnier the second time. I’ve seen funnier Dan Lietha cartoons, although that’s only because Lietha’s crippling blindness to the irony of what he writes is inherently hilarious.

I know it’s a cartoon and all, but even then a joke needs a logical structure to it. Observational comedy requires (clue’s in the title here) an observation. Unless you’re one of those ghastly right-wing types who just make stuff up to play to their audience’s prejudices, then really it helps if the observations are somewhat factual. A joke should embed itself partially in reality, otherwise what else are you left with? It sounds pedantic, but seriously, when was the last time you ever laughed at something where that wasn’t based in fact?

Anyway, let’s look at the logical structure since we know that Comfort is trying to make a point, rather than make people laugh here. The text becomes fair game for dissection in this respect.

I’ve been thinking about how no one can create anything from nothing….

Okay, this is mostly true. We can see from experience and observation that things aren’t “created from nothing”. If you want to make a sandwich, you get ingredients and assemble them into a sandwich; it was created, but only in the sense that it was assembled from parts and that a sandwich now exists where there were only the component parts of a sandwich before. You weren’t “created” when you were born, you were assembled. You mind wasn’t “created” at any point, it was assembled as an emergent phenomenon caused by the organisation of neurons in your brain. I’m so sorry if that denigrates your existence by removing the magic from it, but reality sends its regards and says it doesn’t really give a fuck.

So, what?

Doesn’t that prove everything must have had a creator?

Wait? What? Okay, okay, we could salvage this car crash if the Walter White lookalike in the other panel says something sufficiently witty, but Jesse Pinkman here is playing the protagonist for the creationist, so we must assume they’re supposed to be presented as “right”. In this case, how? Where is the logical connection?

I’m still struggling to find it. I’m trying really hard. I just cannot figure it out. We start with the observation that we only observe ex materia and no ex nihilo creation events, and make a pretty good inference that this means ex nihilo creation is, in fact, impossible. Although that’s just an inference, there are also good logical reasons why it’s impossible, or at least that if it is possible it would break the concept of causality. But how do we go from there to proving that everything had a creator? The first premise says nothing about the nature of the creator, nor anything about creation requiring a “creator”. “Creator” as in an independently acting agent, as we can make a good case for an unconscious physical cause but not for a conscious creator. After all, a car engine “creates” carbon dioxide and water vapour (from hydrocarbons) but we would be hard-pushed to give it the personal agency implied by calling it a “creator”.*

I’m still looking at those two panels. And I’m thinking, and I just can’t see it.

Anyway, I did say the “joke” could be salvaged if the Walter White lookalike could say something sufficiently witty in the last panel. Alas, I lack the wit and charm required, so offer this pitiful re-write that should appeal:


*”Aha!” perks up that one annoying guy in the front row. “But the engine is operated by a human, therefore the human is the creator!” Perhaps, but the human is driving because of their desire to go from A to B. The “creator” is, in fact, the abstract entity of the daily commute.

So where are the millions of these?

Note: I found this image copy-pasted to a popular Facebook page – although they did decide to edit out the “stupid” from “stupid questions”, which I think is a travesty as “stupid” is a relatively honest assessment. However, they didn’t link back here for the fuller description (that’s okay, I could do without the hundreds of notifications of new derperific comments). Reading through the Facebook comments revealed several dozen rebutal to the effect that the image is “wrong”. Of course it’s “wrong”. It’s wrong for the reasons laid out in the rest of this blog post. But the page owners decided not to link to this blog post, and so no one could read all of these additional thoughts and caveats. Thus, they were all left thinking the image was “wrong” in a much more absolute way, and that the author was an idiot. I’m sure there’s a moral in this story somewhere…

This is apparently quite an old meme, but it cropped up somewhere recently and I thought I’d have a shot at de-bunking it in a single image. Creationist ideas are depressingly easy to debunk, but the problem with truly bad arguments is that it’s time consuming to refute them – so if you can do it in one image, why not try for the efficiency?

So where are the millions of these?

So, that’s it. The intermediate forms are dead, idiots. What next?

Actually, the original is wrong on a further level – which I suppose technically classes it as Not Even Wrong. It mis-identifies the starting animal in the linear ‘Descent of Man’ image as a chimp, and so infers that there are millions of them – although that number is off by an order of magnitude or two. This is wrong.  That starting animal, the common ancestor, is not alive today. There definitely are not millions of them around. Even that creature is dead along with the transitional forms connecting it to us.

While that makes it wrong from the very start, I think it’s important to also dispel the idea of linear evolution – instead of a straight line it’s a criss-crossed tree of inter-breeding, separation, diversification and extinction-driven pruning that’s unbelievably complicated. But I suppose that’s the price we have to pay for the nice, fun and clear ‘Descent of Man’ image. It gets the main message across – we evolved from ‘lower’ life forms, but it’s a simplification. Any simplification, where the nuances of the real picture are compressed to save space and get a message across, is prone to misunderstanding when people try to decompress it again without the right knowledge. And this is what happens here; creationists have taken the ‘Descent of Man’ image, unpacked the cute little diagram to figure out what it means, but made the wrong assumptions about the identity of the first creature in it. And so, “how come there are still monkeys?” remains a frequently asked question – and “where are the ones in the middle?” is the next logical question to ask.

It’s possible that modern chimps are relatively unchanged from the common hominin ancestor (not a completely unforgivable assumption, I’m sure, but it might be a tad awkward) making the idea that we are evolved “from” them have some degree of truth to it. Evolution is driven by environmental factors that make adaptation necessary; if you lack those factors, then only a minor amount of genetic drift will occur and so our closest living relatives may have a lot more in common with our common ancestor than we do. As a result, we can throw some caution to the wind about assuming that there are millions of chimps that we evolved from, and wonder where we can find the intermediate species that connect us. In this case the answer is still the same: they died out a long time ago. The branched species went extinct (as do the vast majority of species) while the surviving line eventually evolved into us.

So where are they? They’re buried under tons of rock, that’s where. Mostly crushed and eaten away by time.

We could reinterpret the question in a different way, though, and ask why there aren’t countless extant intermediate species today. Why are species alive today so diversified into the concept of a “species”? Why isn’t there a living continuum of different species that blend nicely from one related animal to the next? Why do we have discrete species rather than a continuous species? Now that is an interesting question, but it would be for another time.

Five points

Found on Google+

There are at least five – (probably more) assumptions made by evolutionists that cannot be proven. The whole theory rests upon these assumptions.
1. Life from non-life.
2. ALL varieties from a single cell.
3. Time – Billions of Years.
4. Physical Universe (where did matter itself come from ?)
5. Order in the Universe from Chaos.

Now, I’m not necessarily answering this because it’s easy (even though it is) but because the person who said this had read the Uber Rant of Death and thought that it meant I couldn’t defend any positions – and then thus went on to write the above quote, proving that, as I said in that rant, creationists aren’t terribly bright, nor particularly original in their thinking. I’ll put the kettle on, and I bet I’ll get this finished by the time it takes me to have one cup of NATO standard.

1. Life from non-life.

This is real easy. The trouble is that “life” isn’t some magic thing. There are a lot of properties common to what we might call “alive” that aren’t shared with things that are “dead” (or “not alive”) but the actual category has very, very fuzzy edges. The reason we think it’s a real thing is because the rough category is extremely useful to us – it splits the world neatly into things we can eat or could eat us, and things that don’t. “Life” used like this is a fallacy of compression, not a real argument that makes sense in the context of abiogenesis.

The rough edges come in the form of degrees of what we might call “life”. For instance, we can class replicating polymers as “alive” thanks to their ability to undergo descent with modification – i.e., exactly what DNA does in living organisms. Or there are viruses, prions and independent mitochondria that blur the edges even more. And that goes all the way up to the emergent properties that form a consciousness.

But, in short, the origin of life is not a magic, single-stage event. It’s a process. At one end we have “not alive” chemicals, and at the other end we have “alive” highly organised chemicals. There is no single point where a magic spark occurs to create life from not-life. Given this approach and the evidence used to back it up, there’s neither a great logical nor physical leap that “life” can spawn, eventually, from “non-life” – material in the universe can easily creep from one to the other by degrees.

2. ALL varieties from a single cell.

Not entirely sure what this means but I assume it means common descent from only a single-celled organism. I don’t see how this is an assumption. Barring the discovery of a second genesis any time soon,  the fact that all life runs on the same chemicals and same basic cellular structure is pretty strong evidence for a single ancestor of all life. We can see varieties of bacteria emerge and evolve from single cells quite reliably, just as we see varieties diverge from larger organisms.

I really, really don’t see how this is an assumption. It’s logically inferred from evidence.

Though, I do want to point out that this loose and poorly defined use of “varieties” here is pretty much a standard creationist talking point. They get to hide behind their lack of detail.

3. Time – Billions of Years.

If I’ve missed anything else out, it’s probably on this list. Seriously, unless you’re going to propose Last Thursdayism, this is a fact. There’s really no getting around it. We don’t “assume” the world is old enough for this to occur, we damn well know it.

Though, amusingly the rate of evolution required by baraminology (the YEC equivalent of taxonomy) would be able to get around this. Seriously, creationists believe in a type of Super Evolution that, if true, would be demonstrable by all sorts of monkey-giving-birth-to-zebras weirdness that we don’t actually see. The irony of this is that many really crappy creationist arguments involve saying evolution involve straw man monkey-giving-birth-to-zebras weirdness and admit that this doesn’t happen. Yes, they claim they have evidence against evolution and evidence for baraminology – but present evidence for evolution and against baraminology in its place. And people still wonder why creationists get called idiots…

4. Physical Universe (where did matter itself come from ?)

This is just a case of “back at ya”, really. Ex nihilo (“from nothing”) creation is actually most commonly found in supernatural, creationist proposals for the beginning of the universe. It’s not necessarily a proposal common to modern cosmology, which proposes an ex materia (from existing material) creation based on a singularity.

Ex nihilo creation is also not particularly logical. It would require “something” acting upon literally nothing (and I’ve yet to find a coherent argument for why this isn’t semantically identical to “taking no action”) to create everything. That alone breaks the concept of causality and sort of wrecks the idea of a “creator”, because you can’t have a creator without cause-and-effect to identify the cause.

I find that to be slightly more interesting than the common case of replying to it with the more usual response that “the origins of the universe have no bearing on evolution”. This much is true, though. We could have been sparked into life by a wizard fidgeting with a magic field and it would literally not change the physical laws that govern descent with modification and natural selection. Once those laws are in place, they operate as they operate; their origins don’t particularly matter because the operation and nature of those laws are what we can see now, independent of their origin. So, I’m going to have to have a hell of a lot more detail about why it should.

5. Order in the Universe from Chaos.

Now, this is interesting. Because, actually, order is something of an illusion here. The order that life creates is, in fact, very localised. Order isn’t coming from chaos, and in fact, disorder is constantly increasing. This is simple thermodynamics. But before the creationists start thinking that this is some tacit admission that evolution is impossible (or whatever) they need to realise that this isn’t actually a problem. Indeed, it’s really a benefit and what makes it possible.

Chemical reactions are driven by order turning to disorder. We call it entropy. Entropy is a property within thermodynamics that always increases, and never decreases. BUT, and this is a big all capital letters BUT, only within an enclosed system. The only truly enclosed system is the universe itself. Providing the overall entropy of the universe increases, a reaction is thermodynamically “legal”.

So, consider life – yes, yes, what our compression fallacy says is “life”.

It converts ordered molecules into heat. It slowly mashes up cells into waste. Protein folding is driven primarily by the increase in entropy of all the solvent molecules surrounding the unfolded protein suddenly being released. Even where it doesn’t balance, it’s caused by the energy input (in the form of heat and radiation) from the sun – which is caused by thermodynamically legal actions within the star itself. So there are no violations of this principle at all involved in evolutionary biology. Indeed, following this to the letter is what makes the system work.

And, as I figured, responded in a fairly short-and-sweet manner all in the space of a single up of tea (and yes, it was still warm at the end). It’s not difficult.