John Walker's Electronic House

Rum Doings Episode 119: The Poo Slave

by on Oct.10, 2012, under Rum Doings

Rum Doings in the flesh! At last, at long long last, we’re in the same room, for episode 119. Not discussing Skype, we celebrate our corporeal companionship by drinking some actual, proper rum. It’s like the good old days.

What the hell is John’s problem with booth babes? Why does John deserve all the thanks? And then Nick decides to once more wander into the topic of trans matters.

Of course we stumble briefly into the story about Jimmy Saville, but then quickly move on to John’s holiday to Nazi Austria. This takes us to a comparison of the London and Vienna natural history museums, and naturally onto the most efficient way to buy a Starbucks. Things take a slightly odder tone, and then everything comes to an abrupt end when Nick refuses to carry on with Victoria in the room. And thank goodness, after what Nick said.

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16 Comments for this entry

  • Ed Pemberton

    With respects to the discussion on Transgender issues, I think that the argument for essentialism is problematic if you concede that biological sex is not strictly dichotomous, whilst the traditional social construct of gender is. People can be born not entirely male or female, sometimes with genital deformities that make this apparent but sometimes without. A recent example in the news would be Caster Semenya, the South African runner who fell foul of the IOC committee who questioned her gender and her suitability to compete in women’s running events – this fell in to the trap of assuming everyone is either male or female to precisely the same degree and that there is no cross over.

    I do think that a truly enlightened society would be one that could accept the entire range of gender roles people would wish to ascribe to themselves (or be rid of them altogether) and people wouldn’t feel the need to resort to drastic surgical correction to align themselves physically to what society supposes for their gender. This is why the distinction arises between someone who wishes to reject and transform themselves from their current race – society has now awoken to the hogwash of racial exceptionalism and we understand that everyone is essentially equal regardless of skin tone. A better (although admittedly still flawed) comparison, would be a native of 19th century Africa wishing to lighten their skin tone to pass off as a European colonizer as only then would they be granted the privilege to be treated as a true and equal human. This would then not be seen as a desire to augment yourself through a deluded belief in an imagined dismorphia, but a desire to change yourself to fit into one of the few templates that society deems acceptable.

  • Matthew

    In the 1960s and 70s it was common for male babies born with micropenis to have sex reassignment surgery (which affects about 0.6% of males). The most famous case of this was David Reimer (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Reimer), who was born healthy but had sex reassignment surgery after a botched circumcision (ouch). Raised as a girl, he rejected his new gender and began living as a male around 15 years old, without knowing his birth gender. It’s not possible to determine how many similar stories there are, given that nature of the condition, so this may be an outlying example.

    Theories of brain structure were popular about a decade ago (largely due to this: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7477289 and this: http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/85/5/2034.full), but it’s now clear that hormone therapy caused structural changes in the brain, as opposed to transexuals being born with a male brain in a female body (or vice versa). Brain function differences between pre-hormone treatment are currently being explored.

    (I should point out that while I am a scientist, I’m not a biologist; I just read the Zhou and Kruijver papers a few years ago on pondering similar questions.)

  • Alex

    I don’t have anything worthwhile to contribute to the gender/race bending debate, but I’d like to know Nick’s thoughts on stuff like WebRTC and Opus. You guys have ragged on Skype a lot, but are the issues caused by the application and the codecs it uses, or just the state of the Internet in general?

  • Nick Mailer

    Skype seems particularly bad. But it isn’t a problem with Skype per se: even if we talked to each other on the phone, it’d the problem of alienation: the fact that we’re not in the same room as one another stilts the conversation.

  • Steve Eustice

    Terrific stuff. Best episode in fair old while. Is it purely a coincidence that Skype was removed from the equation? I know better than to infer causation from correlation round these parts.

  • mister k

    Yeah, I think John is broadly right in that essentialism is hard to argue for, even if his individual anecdotes are a bit silly. Its hard to point at one thing and say all men will be like that and women won’t, but it is possible to look at trends and behaviours.

    I think Nick has sort of a point, but I’m not sure it matters so much; to wit, are there actually black women/men who engage in such behaviours to that extreme? Additionally, are they engaging in such behaviours because they claim to genuinely feel more comfortable as that “race”? I would feel less comfortable about their choices, but then there are physical difference between men and women. If a man wanted to have sex like a woman, and is willing to undergo surgery to simulate that, thats an actual physical difference that isn’t quite possible without said intervention.

    I dunno, its complicated. That said, I think Nick worrying about going back on liberal though is a bit of a red herring. These cases are rare, and I think we can deal with them on an individual basis. There are sensible and sane reasons to deal with individuals in a manner which does not emphasise gender, but also allow for individuals to wish to express their own gender. This is similar to feminists being anti a degrading sex industry, but pro an individual woman getting to be a booth babe.

    I don’t think waiters should be hired for attractiveness, although a certain standard is obviously required for public service. Booth babes are clearly a bit depressing, because they appeal to a very basic cultural level which it would be nice to leave behind.

  • Hidden_7

    The trans issue is an interesting one when you see to what lengths it’s pushed in some corners of the internet.

    The example Nick gave of the black woman wishing to bleach her skin is referred to as trans-ethnicity, and there are people who very seriously claim to be trans-ethnic, using the explicit terms of having been born the wrong ethnicity.

    Are we prepared to accept this? I think the issue brought on by the accepting of it is that we are implicitly accepting that there is an inherent difference between different races/ethnicities, i.e. that there is racial essentialism, which is of course is the core underpinning to all racism. It IS in fact, racism.

    This is I think, the disanalogy that Nick is searching for and almost strikes upon. He notes that to accept trans-sexualism is to tacitly accept sexual essentialism. Which, though problematic for the liberal narrative, is perhaps a more recently won battle, and thus one we’re a little more willing to concede.

    To accept the idea of trans-ethnicity/race requires a tacit acceptance of racism, which understandably it ought to be.

    There’s a second issue, the one John alluded to, which is one of a disbelief brought on by ignorance. As in, there’s a sense where, if you haven’t experienced what it’s like, you feel like it can’t possibly be “real.” That it’s just a psychological problem that needs to get fixed up with some quick therapy.

    This isn’t the case, clearly, however, our ability to accept the line of “you don’t know what it’s like” gets pushed, I think, when you go to those far corners of the internet I mentioned earlier and see what some people are claiming.

    If you want to go down a particularly deep rabbit hole, google “otherkin.” The basic premise is a sort of trans-speciesism, where people believe they were born the wrong animal. Like they are a dog or a crow or a elephant trapped in the body of a human. It sounds like a ridiculous reductio for the whole trans-anything, but there are large communities of people who honestly claim this.

    This is a group that seems to draw almost no sympathy, only ridicule and derision, from even the most liberal people, even those most committed to social justice. It seems to be the line in the sand, the breaking point for what most people will accept.

    However, all the same arguments against dismissing trans-sexuals out of hand get brought up, and seem at least, equally valid. We DON’T know what it’s like to be these people, and if steps to more closely resemble physically what they feel inside make them happier without hurting anyone, who are we to say they are mistaken to do them?

    However, that seems instinctively wrong to me. Keeping in mind that some people claim to be fictional creatures trapped in the body of a human, or inanimate things, people claim to feel deep down like something that has no capacity for feeling, and it seems like, no these same arguments should not hold. I may not know how you feel, but I feel safe it telling you that you are wrong.

    Like Nick, I’m not quite sure where the disanalogy comes from, especially because in this case, what I’m being asked to tacitly accept is a species essentialism, which I whole-heartedly endorse because it’s objectively true. So I’m not even being asked to surrender a liberal principle.

    I think, with me at least, it comes from a rather core level belief that one ought to accept, with dignity, facets of life that are beyond your control. This includes elements of your own identity. Not all of your identity is your choice, you will be born into all sorts of different embeddings, social, cultural, racial, sexual, familial, that are beyond your control but that will nevertheless come to define you in certain ways, and accepting that and moving forward seems like an inherently noble attitude.

    I’m prepared to fight against this prejudice in the case of trans-sexuals, but eventually it reaches a point where I snap and go “No, you are X. You did not choose to be X, but it’s what you are, and you can either learn to live with it, or not, but you cannot be ¬X.”

  • Jambe

    @Hidden_7: neat comment. Trans-species issues can’t be analogous to issues of gender and ethnicity because changing species is physically and logically impossible. Gender and ethnicity arguments implicitly require that changing one’s gender or race (to whatever degree) are meaningful possibilities. Indeed, one can now add or remove bits of gendered flesh and changing one’s apparent ethnicity (or even one’s genes) is possible. Moving from species to species, by contrast, is not meaningfully possible. A human being could not survive such a journey.

    Suppose we had the technology to transfer the consciousness of a fleshy human into e.g. a fox’s unmodified body. The transferred consciousness would suddenly have different physical faculties (i.e. its perspectives, thoughts, motivations, etc would be changed). Thus, the product of that procedure would not be meaningfully “human” and would be more logically described as “some remnants of a human’s thinking-bits that are now a fox”.

    If this laughable notion were to be made even remotely plausible you’d need to assume the “fox” had a cybernetic brain (or interconnect) in which case the resultant critter wouldn’t be a fox but rather a human mind controlling a fox’s body.

    One could parse out the gray area between those extremes of hypothetical “foxification” in infinitely many fine-grained Theseus’ Ship-style trivialities but the underlying point would remain true in all cases: changing gender/ethnicity implies physical possibility and retention of humanity whereas changing species necessarily dispenses with both.

    Just to round this DA’ing up: one could suggest moving a human mind into a more human-like body (say an orangutan’s) but the same caveat would apply — you’d just (presumably) lose less of your “humanity” in the transfer. You still wouldn’t be human —you’d be an orangutan— but you’d be more human than a fox…

  • Steve

    Jambe

    Sorry if I’m missing the point here but your rationale for distinction between trans-gender/race issues and trans-species ones doesn’t seem to hold water. Using a justification that one is physically impossible while the other is not ignores the fact that there was a time, not so long ago, when changing gender was also impossible and precludes the possibility of being able to change species at some point in the distant future.

    Similarly your second paragraph would no doubt be argued by some people as holding true if you substituted human/fox for male/female. Such an argument would appear to be hugely simplistic and somewhat objectionable.

    Of course I’ve no doubt there is a robust philosophical argument as to why truly changing species is not possible while changing gender is but I’m pretty sure you haven’t made it and I’m not smart enough to know what it is. I certainly don’t believe the two are analogous and would hate anyone to think that I’m implying that they are. I just like to be convinced by a strong argument.

  • Jambe

    To be clear, I’m not (on principle) against voluntary suicide or the hypothetical foxification to which it is tantamount, and I think we may differ here. I don’t think trans-speciesism should be proscribed. I’ve no concrete principle about compelling others not to do things to their bodies if they’re lucid, healthy, not under duress, etc.

    “… there was a time, not so long ago, when changing gender was also impossible and precludes the possibility of being able to change species at some point in the distant future.”

    If by “human” one means “possesses the capacities for thought, reason, abstraction, etc characteristic of homo sapiens”, then one cannot be “human” from inside in the body of another species (unless said body can exactly replicate the consciousness-supporting bits of a human body). If “you” were injected into a fox, you would no longer be “you”; you would be whatever bits of “you” a fox could sustain plus some new fox-capacities.

    This is straightforward, logically consistent and analogous to changing gender or ethnicity (one loses the bits of them that were the previous gender or ethnicity and gains the bits of the new gender or ethnicity, to whatever degree).

    “Of course I’ve no doubt there is a robust philosophical argument as to why truly changing species is not possible while changing gender is but I’m pretty sure you haven’t made it and I’m not smart enough to know what it is.

    Well, I do doubt that such a robust argument exists given the subjectivity of the topics. There is no absolute or “true” essentialism wrt gender, ethnicity or species.

  • Jambe

    I don’t think you’re entirely incorrect, mind. I’m arguing for a fairly narrow construal of “humanity” so I support at least part of your argument (that essentialisms exist). I just don’t think the essentialisms of gender, ethnicity and species can be objectively defined. A question like “what is love?” is vague in a similar way to “what is humanity?” or “what is femininity?” (that is to say, they are fraught with subjective bias).

    Again, I agree that these radical changes in self point to the existence of essentialisms, but I further hold that these essentialisms are so vaguely delimited that comparing them can’t lead to the sort of clear, meaningful distinction you apparently seek (the sort from which important moral principles might be drawn).

    The trans-species issue works (or would work) in a different direction, too, and John and Nick have discussed it a bit: is a modified “superhuman” a different species? Would it ever be proper to classify an advanced cyborg or bio-engineered superwoman as a new species? Would a body that allows one to live indefinitely, devote active mental focus to multiple issues simultaneously, leap over buildings in a single bound, etc, be a “human” body? Obviously it wouldn’t be homo sapiens…

    *shrug*

  • Steve

    Well I’m glad we cleared that one up ;o)

  • Jambe

    I’m a rambling stooge, yes. I’ll try to tighten this up…

    This sentence highlights my qualms:

    “[Nick] notes that to accept trans-sexualism is to tacitly accept sexual essentialism.”

    I believe it is wrong (both factually and morally) to suggest that “hard” sexual essentialism exists — that a discrete set of characteristics can delineate genders. Ditto for race and species essentialisms.

    Could we agree about that?

    If so, could we further agree that “soft” essentialisms seem a patent reality and that recognizing them is morally acceptable? It is obvious to me that gender and ethnicity can be generalized about strongly and meaningfully but it’s also obvious to me that such notions are nonetheless amorphous and ultimately undefinable, both objectively and subjectively.

    If we can agree about that, then perhaps we could agree that one cannot expect to arrive at neat truths of formal logic by comparing essentialisms.

    Put another way, the hard logical disanalogy you’re looking for seemingly depends on hard essentialisms being meaningful, communicable truths. They are not; essentialisms are soft and impossible to universally define. The disanalogy you seek is somewhere down a rabbit hole infinitely muddied by the subjective bias and objective blurriness of the notions being compared.

  • Nick Mailer

    Jambe: you’ve caught yourself in a bind of liberal hand waving, scrambling for your cake after you’ve eaten it. Like strong pro choicers who won’t admit they tacitly endorse eugenics.

    I’m sufficiently nihilistic not to care particularly. I just revel in the hypocrisies ;-)

  • Jambe

    I’m an error theorist; I feel all moral propositions are ultimately false. I nonetheless feel they can be useful and worthy of discussion.

    Do you believe one can universally delineate genders, ethnicities, or species? That some unique, communicable set or spectrum of characteristics can separate Nigerians from Cherokees, males from females, etc?

    If you don’t believe such topics are perfectly black and white then your accusation of equivocation applies as much to you as to me. It also suggests self-deception on your part given your continual use of hard b&w premises.

    If your apparent position is to make any sense, there must exist some meaningful realm wherein “Britishness” or “femininity” are not nebulous and subjective. Alas, reality isn’t so neatly reducible.

  • Jambe

    wrt that last sentence again: given past Doingses in which you passionately discussed political affairs I don’t think you’re sufficiently nihilistic to not care about all moralistic claims. I think you’re just being noncommittal on this particular topic because 1) you brought it up merely for teh lulz, as the winking smiley would indicate and/or 2) you realize “hard” essentialism is necessary for your logical comparisons to be valid but you don’t want to advance hard essentialism because it’s laughably simplistic and patently discordant with reality.

    ——

    The strong pro-choicer = eugenicist angle is a cliched cheap-shot. I wouldn’t consider myself a strong essentialist or a strong pro-choicer (and no fair reading of what I’ve said would indicate that I am) so the analogy is broken on its face.

    For goodness’ sake, I’ve been explicitly arguing that vagueness itself is the source of the disanalogy you can’t place. I’m a paradoxical strong vagueness-ist, me.