Blaming technology is a comfort blanket for the clueless and terrified

The bodies in the Bataclan Theatre had barely stopped twitching before the authoritarians started their predictable chorus. “It’s Edward Snowden’s fault!”, they thundered. “If that treasonous wretch hadn’t spilled the beans on government snooping, the Paris attackers would have been rotting in jail rather than murdering 130 people!”. It’s a brilliant argument, of course—in a parallel universe where there were no terrorist attacks before June 2013, and the governments of Europe hadn’t already spent over a decade publicly announcing their surveillance powers via an endless stream of legislation. It has since emerged that the French jihadis communicated via unencrypted SMS messages. To say that the Big Brother worshippers are barking up the wrong tree is an insult to the intelligence of dogs.

But even this logic-defying response was no match for the hyperventilation that ensued once it was revealed that one of the attackers had a PlayStation in his home, and might have, perhaps, at some point, possibly used it to communicate with someone, maybe, about the attacks. Or maybe not. Who knows. But he could have done, and that’s more than enough to set off an outbreak of collective panic amongst the technophobic blue-rinse brigade who simply cannot stomach the thought of people being able to interact without the benevolent State watching over them, like an eighteenth-century chaperone, to ensure that their communications are all above board.

This instinctive rush to blame technology for the behaviour of a few deranged individuals has been gaining significant purchase amongst the commentariat in recent years. Almost any device or website that was used by the perpetrator of a serious crime is instantly suspected of aiding and abetting—if not outright causing—the act itself. Curiously this fallacy doesn’t seem to apply to everyday objects such as cars or microwave ovens, perhaps because such inventions have been around long enough that they no longer seem threatening. But God help you if you ever write a smartphone app that the next Jihadi John finds useful, even if just to remember his shopping list. In the eyes of the technology inquisitors, you might as well have carried out the beheadings yourself.

Science-fiction author Arthur C Clarke once remarked that sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and it seems that where politicians are concerned, “sufficiently advanced” includes anything invented in the last thirty years. Their continued demands for a form of encryption that is secure against hackers and thieves, but magically unlocks in the presence of intelligence services, implies an almost religious view of technology—as if an electronic device crunching numbers can somehow assume the role of Saint Peter, opening the pearly gates to the noble and pure while rejecting the corrupt and sinful. A security system that can divine the moral intentions of its user makes an interesting plot device in Harry Potter, but sadly it cannot exist in reality.

So it is clear that the political elite has almost no understanding of modern technology, and if there is one aspect of society that has remained constant throughout history, it is the tendency for authority figures to fear and loathe what they don’t understand. It happened in the 17th century with Galileo’s dogma-defying model of the Earth’s orbit; it happened in the 1980s with the supposedly “satanic” Dungeons and Dragons; and we see the same thing today as politicians of every colour unite in their dogged belief that censoring the internet is the solution to every problem imaginable. The precise nature of the rhetoric may have changed—overt religiosity is out, vague waffle about security and “hate speech” is in—but the fundamental motivations are the same. If it’s newfangled and complex, it’s probably dangerous and should be monitored, restricted or even banned altogether.

But perhaps this obsession with the tools used by terrorists conceals something even more insidious than simple neophobia. We live in an age when standing up for liberal Enlightenment values is rather unfashionable; instead, guilt-ridden cultural relativism is the norm. Much of the narrative that follows an atrocity is focused on what we—the belligerent, exploitative, racist West—might have done to deserve it. Is it any wonder that in this stifling climate, public figures hardly dare discuss the warped ideologies that turn people into nihilistic murderers? Far safer to retreat into trivial hand-wringing over the web-sites they visit or the words they use, and perhaps pass a bit of symbolic thought-crime legislation just to express our disapproval. It won’t solve anything, of course, but at least it won’t trigger anyone.

It is often said that madness means doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results, and nowhere is this more evident than in the government’s response to emotive issues. Ham-fisted attempts to control and censor the internet have had no demonstrable impact on child abuse, racism or even copyright infringement, and yet—like a nervous child who refuses to let go of a tattered, saliva-stained stuffed animal—politicians desperately cling to their favourite golden hammer irrespective of its uselessness. If our leaders cannot grow a collective spine and start addressing the root causes of terrorism rather than sacrificing yet more vital freedoms on the altar of blind optimism and magical thinking, then not only will we continue to suffer at the hands of violent extremists, but we won’t even have a society worth defending from them in the first place.


The sex bot panic is finally here

It seems I was right. Back in 2011 I predicted that the next moral panic would be over sex bots or virtual reality porn, and a mere four years later we see the start of a new campaign to ban “robots designed as sex toys”, which is supposedly an “unnecessary and undesirable” technology.

Take a wild guess as to the gender of the particular idiot spear-heading this pointless moral crusade. Or don’t bother, because the answer is blindingly obvious.

Dr Kathleen Richardson — a “robot ethicist”, whatever that means — claims that such robots will “contribute to detrimental relationships between men and women, adults and children, men and men and women and women” (which seems a peculiarly verbose way of saying “everybody”). But this arrogant and condescending attempt to micro-manage other people’s emotional lives, repulsive as it is, actually conceals a far more insidious motive.

In western societies, women are the gatekeepers of sex, and they will fight tooth and manicured nail to retain this position of power. Banning technologies, criminalising entire industries and censoring the internet are all strategies that they will gladly deploy in order to ensure that men (who, let’s face it, will comprise pretty much 100% of the market for sex bots) are not able to escape from the traditional need to grovel and plead with the fairer sex in order to get their rocks off. What these moralising maternalists call “detrimental relationships” are simply those in which the man doesn’t have to beg.

There is absolutely no justification for attempting to restrict technological innovation unless the technology presents a direct threat to the safety or welfare of others. We are not talking about a nuclear missile launch system here. If somebody wants to pay through the nose for what is basically a hi-tech form of masturbation, that’s their decision and nobody else’s business. The law is not a tool for egotistical femiloons to safeguard their own desirability.

UPDATE 2015/09/17: Milo Yiannopoulos has now written about the issue and reached much the same conclusion.

The fabricated gender agenda

One of the common unquestioned answers encountered by anyone working in a male-dominated profession such as science, engineering or (especially) IT, is that the lack of female participation in such industries is a “problem” which needs to be solved. Curiously one does not tend to hear such angst over the scarcity of female train drivers, mechanics or dustmen, presumably because over-representation of males in such mundane occupations is not considered prima facie evidence of discrimination like it is in more lucrative career segments. But in the world of technology, just like with executive management and politics, an employer’s inability to recruit at least one woman for every man is treated as a symptom of a grave social injustice.

When attempting to solve a problem it is always important to have a good grasp of precisely what the problem is — and in particular why it is a problem — only after which does it make sense to discuss the cause and potential solutions. Unfortunately any desire for rational analysis tends to fall by the wayside in the case of politically charged or controversial issues, which, aside from the “women into technology” dogma, is also what drives the ever-turning treadmill of thought crimes and knee-jerk legislation. No matter if it’s gender imbalances, video games or people being offended on the internet, the attitude is the same: it is Just Obvious that this is a Bad Thing, no justification is required, and we must progress immediately to solving this problem by whatever means necessary (which will probably involve banning stuff).

It seems that in this particular case the reasoning (to use a term very loosely) goes as follows:

What is the problem? Duh, look at the numbers! Females make up half the population but less than five per cent of computer programmers. This is a Problem.

Why is this a problem? It just is, OK? What are you, stupid? Why do you hate women so much?

What is the cause of the problem? Obviously it’s the evil oppressive misogynistic men. You can hardly walk down the street without bumping into girls who would be technological geniuses if they weren’t put off by smelly bearded geeks in unwashed T-shirts leering at them and grabbing their asses at every opportunity.

What is the solution? Er…can I get back to you on that? Quotas, maybe? Positive discrimination? Maybe we’ll just paint all of the computers pink, it works for cellphones and useless plastic crap in accessory stores after all.

A slight exaggeration of course, but the actual arguments used are hardly any better. A study at the University of Edinburgh, for example, asserts up front that a gender imbalance is “unfortunate” and that there is a “need” to recruit more women into computer science and engineering. It presents an argument based on resources, relying on the politically-correct but unproven assumption that aptitude for scientific work is equally common in both genders and therefore the abilities of women are being wasted — ignoring entirely the possibility that such skills are naturally more prevalent in men and that this is a cause, not a victim, of the imbalance. The author then goes on to advocate allocation quotas (surprise!) and attempting to fashion-ise the industry in order to appeal to young women (so… pink, then?).

To its credit though, the Edinburgh study does suggest avoiding stereotypical approaches based on conventional images of femininity, and at least pays lip service to the need for an actual argument to support the desired conclusion, even if the examples it offers are rather weak. This is more than can be said for the women’s “support groups” found in universities, workplaces and even open-source projects, which are defended with little more than the feeble mantra of “minority… minority… minority…”. Lacking any clearly defined objectives or strategy, such organisations devolve into echo-chambers of self-pity and whining that only perpetuate the belief that women are incapable of functioning in the real world without a chorus of angry sisters to cheer from the sidelines.

The notion that being part of a “minority” automatically justifies special support is nonsense. Redheads, amputees, diabetics, the left-handed and people over 6’4″ are all minorities in most situations, with their own particular needs and sometimes even suffering discrimination, but the suggestion that there should be a “Diabetics Into Astronomy” campaign would be considered ridiculous — having diabetes has no impact on a person’s ability to be an astronomer, and recruiting more diabetics has no impact on the field of astronomy. But somehow, by invoking the mythology of the perpetually disadvantaged weaker sex, the inventors of the gender agenda have managed to establish in the popular mind the idea that “doing XYZ as a woman” is in some way different from simply “doing XYZ”, and includes its own unique set of challenges that you primitive men just wouldn’t understand.Misogynist

So the requirement for the Women In XYZ society is manufactured out of whole cloth, enthusiastically promoted by the indignant white knights of political correctness and rubber-stamped by compliant bystanders so familiar with seeing special treatment for women that no question of its need ever enters their awareness. What issues does the campaign adopt?

  • The pay gap. This is the observation that women on average earn less than men on average, which is obviously evidence of sexual discrimination. Except that it isn’t. Sexual discrimination would be paying a woman less than a man for doing exactly the same job, which these days is very rare and almost certainly illegal. What the gender warriors are actually complaining about is the fact that women tend to pursue lower-paid careers, work fewer hours and take time off to have children — all of which are lifestyle choices freely entered into by the women concerned. If they want high salaries they should train as accountants and lawyers instead of social workers and special-needs teachers.
  • Sexist attitudes and behaviour. It used to be that “sexism” referred to the belief in certain stereotypical differences between the sexes, or that one sex was inferior to the other. Nowadays it has expanded to include almost any action which fails to treat women with the expected level of awe, reverence and submission. So when some self-important student feminist chooses to take offence to your Britney Spears poster or your refusal to leave a communal toilet seat in the female-prescribed position, you can expect to be declared a “sexist”, irrespective of what your actual views on gender roles might be.
  • Violence and abuse. A serious topic to be sure, but not one which is exclusive to women, however much they might like to claim it as their own. Not only do men comprise almost half of the victims of domestic abuse, but they also have the disadvantage of being ignored, ridiculed or treated as perpetrators-by-default by law enforcement. The fact that “violence against women” even exists as a separate concept, with the resulting implication that violence doesn’t matter if it is directed against men, is one of the more obnoxious examples of the gender agenda’s influence.
  • Random crap with no relation to gender. One university women’s society somehow managed to convince itself that energy generation is a women’s issue, and passed a resolution in favour of wind power. If the turbines could be made to run on worthless hot air they might be on to something.

As we can see, not all of the topics adopted by women’s societies are entirely without merit, but the ones that do have value are not specific to one gender. If there are concerns about supporting a family or avoiding harassment in the workplace, then create a group to address those particular issues, and if the audience isn’t perfectly gender-balanced then so be it. There is no logic in pointlessly restricting participation by gender, or labelling things as “women’s issues” when they don’t exclusively affect women — unless of course the intention was never to solve problems in the first place. There does exist a certain core of Julie Bindel-worshipping, chauvinistic female supremacists for whom social equality is the very last thing on the agenda, and while the majority may distance themselves from such extremists, it is clear that the moderates are not entirely immune from such delusions of superiority themselves.

It’s official: optimists are full of shit

Not that it should come as much of a surprise, but scientists have apparently confirmed that people with an optimistic outlook tend to selectively ignore evidence and under-estimate risk. More specifically, what the experiment showed was that people of an optimistic nature who originally over-estimated a risk would willingly downgrade their assessment in the face of contradictory evidence, whereas if they originally considered the unfortunate event to be less likely they would stick with their erroneous belief no matter what. In other words, they assume that bad things only happen to other people.

This fact has long been obvious to anyone who has been forced to sit in a school chapel service while several hundred supposedly-intelligent adults enthusiastically listen to fairy-tales about how they are not really going to die, or watched from afar as yet another doomed teenage romance held together by hormones and soppy twittering fizzles and evaporates like spit on a barbecue. Now the evidence seems to agree — not with the whooping, cheering extroverts who insist that everything is amazing and wonderful, but with the oft-criticised and frequently ostracised cynics who refuse to believe it.

So does this mean that all of the self-proclaimed “happy-go-lucky” / “laid-back” / “eternally optimistic” types will stop flaunting their idiocy like it’s some kind of badge? Will it become possible to visit a social networking site without being sand-blasted with nauseating bliss-ninny platitudes about only living once and enjoying every minute? Will the failure to present oneself as “happy” and “fun” cease to be viewed as a severe character flaw but instead recognised as a firmer grasp of facts and the real world?

It would be nice. But I’m not optimistic.