Home > Morality > Scott Adams’ Narrow Pen, ctd.

Scott Adams’ Narrow Pen, ctd.

Scott Adams was generous enough to reply to my critique. He believes I misrepresented his position. That’s certainly not how I’d like to conduct an argument so I’ve decided to highlight his criticism.

I notice you have to change my opinions from what I wrote to something a little bit crazy before you can debate them.

You cleverly change my prediction about chemical castration into a “should” that wasn’t in my writing.

You turn my common sense observation that nature has a role in our actions into a crazy absolute: “if every fleeting impulse can’t be acted upon…”

And so on. I just picked two.

You should try arguing with stuff I actually said. You’ll find it more challenging.

Scott Adams

I hope to honestly engage in what he’s actually arguing. It’s is never my intention to misinform my readers.

On forced castration, Adams wrote,

That might sound to you like a horrible world. But the oxytocin would make us a society of huggers, and no one would be treated as a sex object. You’d have no rape, fewer divorces, stronger friendships, and a lot of other advantages. I think that’s where we’re headed in a few generations.

Additionally, Adams argues that men wouldn’t even “miss” their “urge for sex.” With all those advantages, Mr Adams, it seemed like you implied that it’d be good – considering you didn’t mention a single disadvantage, it appeared on balance that you favored it. I apologize for being incorrect; although, when writers don’t say exactly what they mean understanding becomes “more challenging” than it would be otherwise.

On the second point, I don’t disagree that “nature has a role in our actions.” I believe genetics play an enormous role in shaping our behavior – more so than most people willingly acknowledge. But, the point seems to be more than just “nature has a role.” If it was, I’m not sure why you bothered to write anything. Does any thinking person actually disagree with that? Once again, your writing acts “like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details” (to quote Orwell). Scott, if I’m not perfect in conveying your meaning, I’m sorry; the snowblower I needed to clear a path through your dense pack isn’t a precision instrument.

Feel free to also elaborate on the difference between our characterizations of what you wrote. I distilled one of your major points as “Adams believes that society is a “virtual prison” if every fleeting impulse can’t be acted upon.” You wrote, “society has evolved to keep males in a state of continuous unfulfilled urges, more commonly known as unhappiness.” And, “in general, society is organized as a virtual prison for men’s natural desires.” [my emphasis]

Furthermore, it seems like you’re arguing that if some of men’s natural urges can’t be acted upon (e.g. sexual, violent) without being judged as shameful or criminal that means that society is a “virtual prison” that only locks up males. Yet, society doesn’t actually punish all of men’s desires. Predominately, it only punishes acting on those desires that society perceives as harmful to others. Interestingly, “others” can be male.

A buddhist might observe that the attempt to ceaselessly satisfy desires is itself the source of unhappiness. But I’ll stick to just wondering why anyone should feel caged in unhappiness if they can’t be “tweeting, raping, cheating, and being offensive.” Moreover, men decide for themselves to act on competing internal impulses – would you also describe that inner judgement as jail? By balancing the shaming of some males’ urge to rape with depriving men so fully of their personal freedoms that they’re trapped in perpetual misery, you’ve improperly calibrated the scales.

Society isn’t like a zookeeper that put “lions with the zebras in the same habitat,” as if men “tweeting, raping, cheating, and being offensive” is just as natural and necessary as a carnivore fulling its nutritional needs to survive. Society forms rules and customs to facilitate voluntary and beneficial interactions between a cooperative and social species. Not all moral guidelines are perfect (far from it), but they’re not set up “zero-sum” against men.

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  1. July 1, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    Having read Scott’s post and your post here, I tend to lean toward your side. Reading Scott’s post made me think about what society does to its members. I think he was wrong that a woman’s nature is acceptable while a man’s is not. I think society must restrain those natural urges which will disrupt it. It (the restriction) is the price we all pay to have a civil society. Let’s not get caught up in the chemical castration issue, it’s unimportant (though, dampening that urge might have horrible consequences involving drive, ambition, and innovation). Society is a bit like a zookeeper. It separates men and women in order to affect a sort of control over them. It suppresses women’s urge to copulate through customs and taboos thus granting them power, it writes laws and sets customs for behavior toward women by men, it created marriage, and then divorce. It defined men as protectors and providers, it defined women as nurturers and servers. We have, in the last 100 years or so, been in the process of re-ordering a societal structure that served us fairly well for a thousands of years. There are bound to be problems when you do that.

  2. July 21, 2011 at 11:19 am

    I used to read Scott Adams’ blog until I realized how often it is just Adams coming up with clever paradoxes that challenge traditional ideas simply to watch people squirm and get hits. However, there appears to be no intention of reaching a greater truth. Indeed, it seems he scoffs at the idea of greater understanding, being content with logic games and totalitarian ideas. This would be great if you could ever get a sense that he actually cared and wanted clear debate. The problem is, as is demonstrated on your blog, that it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, but because such scrutiny requires inferences, Adams can always play the denial game and say you are putting words in his mouth. I can generally put up with all this because I enjoy his writing, but the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was that every once in awhile he would throw in a post about free will and watch his hits skyrocket. In the parlance of our times: IMHO the OP is always a Troll.

    • July 21, 2011 at 11:41 am

      Ya, I also got the sense that clarity wasn’t a priority for him. He challenged many critics that they misinterpreted him, including me, but refuses to say exactly what he meant.

      He also uses a weird definition of free will – at least in one of his recent pieces on it. That post starkly illustrates his ability to obscure. He’s happy to use two different definitions within the same post; the 2nd he uses as a synonym for confirmation bias so he can say some opponent of his doesn’t have free will.

      Although I hope you don’t object to my occasional post on free will (it’s not just to deterministically generate hits, I promise).

  3. July 21, 2011 at 11:50 am

    Only time will tell, but I can’t fault you for it, you have no choice in the matter. Sorry, a little bit of Adams logic there.

    That’s rich though. I stopped reading his blog like 4 years ago and I was a little worried that my complaining about his constant free will debates wouldn’t make sense, but I guess he is still at it.

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