It’s Time to Stop Being Proud

It's Time to Stop Being ProudThere has been a recent controversy in the trans community. It brought up something that I spend a lot of time thinking about: the nature of competition and choice. But before I discuss that, let me go over the controversy.

Trans Athletes in Women’s Sports

EssenceOfThought and Rationality Rules have been fighting since the latter created a video, “The Athletic Advantage of Transgender Women (And Why It Is UNFAIR).” His basic argument is that if we don’t stop trans-women from competing in women’s sports there will be no women’s sports because it will only be trans-women who compete at the top levels.

I think there are generally two gut reactions to this. For most people, this just seems like “common sense.” For others, this seems like the typical hysteria of the bigotted mind.

You can work your way backward with EssenceOfThought’s most recent video, Rationality Rules Non-Apology & Tone Policing — A Critical Response.

On the facts, I side with EssenceOfThought. I have to admit to learning quite a lot. Not surprisingly, I haven’t given much thought to sports or biological changes caused by hormone treatments. To his credit, Rationality Rules has also been educated and changed his thinking — at least to some degree. So there doesn’t seem to be a lot of argument on this matter.

Tone Policing

As for the rest of this controversy, I don’t especially want to engage. But I don’t like the way Rationality Rules or his defenders have behaved — taking potshots at EssenceOfThought without owning it.

I know that EssenceOfThought can be brutal online. I like that. In one video (that I can’t find now), a friend of Rationality Rules says it is wrong to make instant messages public while briefly showing the twitter feed of EssenceOfThought. I believe this is in reference to their fight with Logicked. Out of context, it is just a smear — and a cowardly one given EssenceOfThought is never mentioned.

As EssenceOfThought has pointed out, this is nothing but tone policing. That’s petty, but I don’t necessarily have a problem with that. But it’s useless. And I do have a problem with that.

What Do Sports Prove?

Over the years, I’ve come to see hierarchy as fundamentally incoherent. This is a natural outgrowth to my rejection of free will. Without it, any person’s position in a group is entirely outside their control.

Thus, if one is the best sprinter, it is the result of the body (including the brain) they were born with as well as the environment that body interacts with. Much is made of the work-ethic of great athletes. But this too is not a choice but the result of the body and its environment. There is no choice — only the illusion of choice.

If this is not clear, read Free Will.

What Do We Take Pride In?

Despite all this, humans continue to feel pride in “choices” they believe they have made. And I understand: it is important for society to have standards — they help individuals to make good decisions — ones that make them happier. But it makes no sense for individuals to feel pride in what they do.

Instead, they should feel gratefulness. If you’re smart, you are lucky. And there is no point in society praising intelligence since it is its own reward. The same goes for knowledge. Or height. Or speed.

But I know what people always say. It’s some variation on, “But Donovan Bailey worked really hard!” Sure he did. And his work ethic was something else he was gifted.

I think it is great that humans strive to improve themselves. But in our endeavor to pit people against each other, we soil a noble endeavor.

A good example of this is how grades work. Most successful students know the experience of becoming addicted to good grades and losing their love of learning as a result. (See Alfie Kohn’s work.)

But this is all practical stuff. I’ll have to write an article about it sometime in order to make a convincing case. My point here is we are all just given. We may think we create ourselves, but we’re really just along for the ride.

Transgender Athletes

To me, the most remarkable thing about transgender women is how hormones change their bodies in fundamental ways. EssenseOfThought pointed out a few things in this regard. One is that trans-women generally have lower testosterone levels than cis-women. What’s more, hormone therapy “reduces muscle mass, bone density, and hemoglobin count while increasing body fat.” Yet excellent trans-women athletes were normally excellent cis-male athletes.

This shows how we aren’t in control of who we are. This has obvious relevance to transgender people. But it is much bigger than that. Thus, it makes no sense to me that we let people live in poverty or otherwise suffer. Beyond setting up a society that gives people the best chance to thrive, we need to get past notions like success.

Shaun created a great video two years ago, Paul Joseph Watson is Wrong About: Sports. He summed up with this:

If you’re prevented from being entertained by [watching a great women’s soccer game] because you’re sitting there thinking, “Well, they couldn’t beat the German men’s team!” then that’s just sad.

I want a world in which individuals are appreciated. We act like we live in such a world, but we don’t. Instead, we live in the world of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. If you don’t have abilities that make you marketable, you’re an outcast — or at least someone of no value. We celebrate those with red noses when we need them. But that isn’t appreciating individuals.

I specifically use this example because I know what I’m talking about goes back to things we teach children about inclusion and love. But these morals are not what our society is based on. Appreciating people as people and not for how they can make you richer or entertain you should be the goal regardless.

But it’s also the case that we have no reason to be proud that we are smart or fast or knowledgeable. Again: we should be grateful. We are lucky. But we are not great or better than others.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

10 thoughts on “It’s Time to Stop Being Proud

  1. I think you’re mostly right vis-a-vis free will. There’s been times when people made shitty, self-centered decisions which hurt me or my friends, and my first reaction is always anger: “but how could they do that? I wouldn’t have done that!” How much of this is based in childhood experience, though, or random interactions which have made me loathe those shitty decisions? I’m certainly not doing anything noble and selfless in this world, others do far more. If I’m better than jerks, well, others are better than me. And my cowardice is probably a result of past experiences. Doesn’t make me any less ashamed of it, though.

    • I understand that! My lack of belief in free will is much deeper than the things you are discussing here. But I still operate as though free will exists. And I am still ashamed of myself constantly.

      To be clear, I think there are two parts of free will: personal and environmental. (When you get down to it, there is just one: cosmological.) You have absolutely no control of either. You were born as you were born. The environment affected you. So at one hour after birth, you may have changed based upon your environment, but you are no more to blame (or credit) for what you do than you were an hour earlier.

      • Yeah, it was a shallow response to a very deep post. I lack the philosophical language to address it properly.

        I am interested in the behavior of people I’ve known. Why are some heroes, and why are some really awful jerks? If you get their backstories enough, you can partially attribute these things to character-shaping experiences they had no control over, those things just happened. Not always and not completely, that’s too simplistic, but a lot of the time, yes, that’s a huge portion of why they are whom they are.

        I’m fairly aware of why and what I am. And I can wrap my brain around fellow middle-ground folks, not good, not evil. The extremes, the wonderfully great or hugely mean people, that’s where I get a little lost. And I can’t help but wonder — to what degree do my choices, my free will, if it exists, prevent me from being one or the other? Why am I not a total jerk? Why am I not a person who does good in this world?

        As usual, Aimee Mann has something to say about this: “That’s Just What You Are.”

        • There was nothing wrong with what you wrote. It’s just for me, the lack of free will is like a straitjacket. I suppose the reason it is so confining for me is that I see just how chaotic (in a mathematical sense) reality is. So if you had exactly the same person and exactly the same event, but the event came one second later, it would result in a totally different person. That’s assuming we are talking early on in the person’s development. For people like us, not much in the environment is going to change who we are.

          I particularly bristle at the common conservative claim that two brothers with very different life-paths indicate anything. In my experience, if one is a felon and the other a successful businessman, they both turn out to be messed up. They just deal with it differently.

          Personally, I’d like to believe in free will. But from a social standpoint, we need to get rid of it. Most of our social policy is based on people having choices they clearly don’t. The very bedrock of conservatism is the idea that people deserve what they get. I don’t know anyone who deserves what they’ve gotten. We should treat all humans as we do terminal patients: keep them comfortable until they die.

          • One of my brothers (in fact, the only one I’m on friendly email terms with) has actually typed “yes, I’m wealthy, and I don’t apologize for this. I worked really hard to get where I am.”

            I don’t doubt it! Plutocracy aside, most people in America who have money did work hard to get it.

            The thing is, for every hour you worked — building your applications to the best schools, padding your resume, and so on, tricky stuff, those — I can easily describe five other people who worked just as hard and have nothing. Hard work doesn’t mean shit. Virtually nobody in America works as hard as people do just to survive in war-torn countries. Do they deserve suffering? By any decent accounting, no. So nobody particularly deserves wealth, either.

            I basically can e-mail this brother because he also loves “Deadwood.” That covers a lot of disagreements.

            • I think you can tell a lot about a person by which Deadwood characters they like. My favorites were Doc, Sol Star (and Trixie), and Calamity Jane. Most of the heart is in those characters. Most of the other characters are horrible. Swearengen and Bullock have their moments of humanity but are mostly vile. Oh, I also really like Ellsworth (the mining guy who ends up marrying Alma). I’m excited that there is a movie. I was devastated when the series was canceled. There were supposed to be two films to finish it off and then that got canned. But I haven’t had the time to learn anything about the film.

              Yeah, I get tired of the “I worked really hard!” I have a pretty cushy life. I could certainly say that I work really hard. But it’s nonsense. It’s no trick to work hard when it is rewarding — leading somewhere. It wouldn’t be hard to kill yourself digging ditches if you knew after a couple of years you’d be doing something better and so on. But most bad jobs are dead ends. I wonder if your brother thinks he worked harder than you did all those years you were breaking your back (semi-literally) helping people? But I know where conversations like this go. The goal-posts will change and they will start talking about how they were smart to work hard at something that led to wealth. But it has nothing to do with being smart. (I personally feel people should get no reward for being smart because being smart is rewarding in itself.) As Ha-Joon Chang has noted, people in poor countries are far more entrepreneurial than they are in the US. All this meritocracy stuff is bullshit.

              • You’ll be happy to know that all your favorite Deadwood characters have prominent roles in the movie. Except Ellsworth, because Hearst had him killed, and Trixie’s still pissed about it. That’s the plot, in fact!

                I always had a soft spot for the well-meaning fatuous reverend with a brain tumor.

                As for my brother, it’s pretty much as you describe. Not a bad man by any lights, a good husband & father. Absolutely convinced he deserves to be wealthy, since he made the Right Choices.

                If I pinned him down on it, he’d probably say me & Peggy deserve money struggles. The Wrong Choices. I don’t pin him down on it, because that’s a speech I never need to hear again. Best to stick with TV show conversations.

                Incidentally, if you have the Netflix, there’s an interesting show you might enjoy: it’s called “Russian Doll.” Nothing to do with Russia. It’s about a woman who gets wasted on her birthday, has a freak accident, and dies. But then wakes up at the same birthday party. Tries not to die again, dies again. Back to birthday party. Etc.

                So far, so “Groundhog Day.” Yet it goes in a different direction. That movie was about a jerk who becomes less jerk-y. In “Russian Doll,” the main character is already likable from the start. So her progress isn’t about becoming a nicer person; it’s about realizing how she doesn’t have as much free will as she always thought. Each of us have layers upon layers of experiences which shape what we are; hence the show’s title.

                Per Wiki, the writer (Natasha Lyonne, who plays the main character) picked Harry Nilsson’s “Gotta Get Up” for the reboot song, and using it a zillion times cost Netflix a bit of cash in music rights. That’s OK! Because A) it’s a great song and B) Nilsson was by most accounts a pretty decent guy, substance abuse issues aside. I have no problem with his family getting that Netflix money.

                • Someone else mentioned the show. It sounds interesting. I do have The Netflix. But I’m going to give it up. And I think I’ve decided to give up Amazon Prime. There is very little video content on it. It is one big up-sell scam. “This movie is free with Starz! (Only $8.99 per month.)” You can get Shudder via prime but it’s actually more expensive than just getting Shudder. Amazing.

                  I would doubt that Nilsson’s family still has the rights to those songs. Somehow it seems to always be some corporation. But I could be wrong.

                  Yeah, I liked the preacher too. But didn’t he die early on? Maybe with Jane caring for him? I’ll miss Ellsworth. Also, I love the actor, Jim Beaver. He was hilarious in Dark and Stormy Night (2009).

          • A “scientist” defending the transgender fad. In 30s Russia, you would’ve been a believer in Lysenkoism.

            • Strange that people like you never actually look at the science. You just know transgender people are part of a fad, right? Do you have any science to back that up?

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