Nation of Beancounters

Diversity is the opposite of equality

Posted in Explained from Scratch by Navin Kumar on June 27, 2014

There are two popular arguments for affirmative action. These are the Argument from Equality and the Argument from Diversity.

The Argument from Equality says that people from different genders, races, castes etc are the same. Members of these groups are equally hardworking, intelligent, enterprising etc. If one group is underrepresented in a field, it isn’t because of the personal characteristics of that group. Blame typically falls on “discrimination” – people treating individuals differently on account of prejudiced beliefs about their race, caste, gender etc. Affirmative action is required to fight such harmful prejudice.

The Argument from Diversity says that people from different social groups aren’t the same. They have different experiences, ideas, strengths etc.  Members of a minority group have insights that members of the majority group don’t. Decision making, learning etc is better when there are a variety of perspectives at the table. Thus, preferential treatment for underrepresented minorities is desirable.

Both arguments conclude that institutions should provide favorable treatment to underrepresented social groups. However, they have opposing premises. The Argument from Equality assumes that all people are the same.  Thus, under-representation is an injustice. The Argument from Diversity assumes that people from different social groups are different. Thus, some people to have insights that others lack.

A priori, there is nothing fallacious about either argument. However, a person must choose which of the two opposing premises he or she agrees with. If women are different from men, then perhaps it is these differences, rather than workplace discrimination, that causes women to earn less than men. The Argument from Equality fails. If women are the same as men, there is no valuable insight that they bring that men lack. The Argument from Diversity fails. You can either argue from equality, or from diversity, but not both.

Is “affirmative consent” anti-feminist?

Posted in Gender by Navin Kumar on June 23, 2014

Cathy Young thinks so:

The feminism of “affirmative consent” is … dubious. Indeed, this standard arguably strips women of agency in a way that traditional sexual norms never did. In the traditional script, the man initiates while the woman decides where (or whether) to set the limits. Under explicit consent rules, the person taking the lead must also assume much of the responsibility for setting the limits by making sure his partner wants to proceed—while the more passive party cannot be responsible even for making her wishes known without being asked.

More here. Interesting throughout. My opinion of affirmative consent can be found here.

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Posted in Uncategorized by Navin Kumar on June 21, 2014

“Economics is detested because it doesn’t just study vice it shows that some vices have good consequences”

Posted in Quotable by Navin Kumar on June 13, 2014

Alex Tabarrok.

A good paragraph:

Consequentialist philosophers also look at consequences but economists have the tools to trace interactions as they sort themselves into an equilibrium. Equilibrium outcomes may be very far from intentions. As a result, we find that economists often places themselves and their discipline in opposition to standard morality.

Why is Elon Musk freeing his patents?

Posted in New Ideas, Vapor Mill by Navin Kumar on June 13, 2014

There is no doubt
that his actions are idealistic. But in the grand tradition of The Economist as Suspicious Bastard, one must at least look for a way that his actions benefit Tesla Motors. Here is a bare-bones theory:

1. Electric cars have large spillover effects – the more people own them, the cheaper and more convenient it will be to own one. For example, the more people own them, the larger the number of charging stations on highways. The larger the number of charging stations, the more convenient it will be for you to travel long distances in your car, and the more likely you are to buy one. There will come a tipping point where the facilities to service electric cars rivals the facilities enjoyed by fuel-driven cars.

2. Musk realizes that electric cars will not take off if Tesla is the only company producing them. And, as he notes

 electric car programs (or programs for any vehicle that doesn’t burn hydrocarbons) at the major manufacturers are small to non-existent, constituting an average of far less than 1% of their total vehicle sales. At best, the large automakers are producing electric cars with limited range in limited volume. Some produce no zero emission cars at all.

3. Musk needs other producers to create cars, especially shitty cars in the lower end of the market he doesn’t want his company associated with. So he’s released all of his patents in an effort to stimulate competition.

4. He’s banking on Tesla’s brand (which will no doubt be enhanced by this move) and design/engineering talent to maintain profits even after this competition arises:

Technology leadership is not defined by patents, which history has repeatedly shown to be small protection indeed against a determined competitor, but rather by the ability of a company to attract and motivate the world’s most talented engineers.

In economic parlance, the electric car market has external economies of scale that Musk is trying to stimulate.


Posted in Uncategorized by Navin Kumar on June 9, 2014

And so it begins

Posted in Indian Politics by Navin Kumar on June 3, 2014

BJP activists vandalized a mosque in Karnataka, the police are arresting a youths posting anti-Modi messages in  Goa and Bangalore, and the BJP is committing itself to promote movies that are “rich in Indian cultural values.”

ETA: Hindu radicals are going mad in Pune, vandalizing Muslim homes, shops, mosques, and madrassas, and beating a Muslim to death.

ETA: The Maharashtra police are cracking down on those who like “offensive” Facebook posts.

Perhaps the “Modi marks the rise of fascism” crowd had a point?

Tumblr spotlight: Feminism and donuts

Posted in Entertainment, Gender by Navin Kumar on June 2, 2014

Tumblr is a blogging platform meant to share artwork. At some point, it became a popular platform for people in 15-25 age bracket who saw themselves as fighting for social justice. While this is an admirable cause, the intellectual content generated has been… odd.

Warning: Do not, at any point, try to engage in a argument, even mentally, with this person. Hatred is toxic. Laughter are cleansing. This selection is for entertainment purposes only.

Without further ado, I present a selection of thoughts from user Feminism and Donuts.

She doesn’t like compliments:

When a man tells me “you’re beautiful” all I hear is “Your only purpose in life is to decorate my world.” (Link)

“It’s a compliment” is something men say when they’ve been found verbally assaulting you. Don’t buy into it ladies. (Link)

Or criminals rights for those accused of rape:

Why do rapists get a “fair trial” when victims of rape didn’t have their attack decided by a group after a long fair trial[?](Link)

Male privilege is people saying “accused rapist” until he is “proven” guilty. Male privilege is having a woman’s word subject to the judgment of others. (Link)

Indeed, she has some odd ideas about male privilege:

Male privilege is being able to get sex from any woman, any time with little to no difficulty or judgment. (Link)

And interior decoration:

It’s not that I hate white cis men, it’s just that I want to use them as rugs. And they say chivalry is gone. (Link)

I’m not sure what to make of this:

No means No. Yes does not necessarily mean yes. (Link)

She, and her followers, need feminism:

Anonymous follower. Text reads “I need feminism because the last time I submitted an essay I got a D despite being smarter than the other students.” (Link)

But she knows how to have fun:

lol I am going to show up to class tomorrow in a see-through shirt with nipple pasties, a G-string and a pair of see-through pants made out of a shower curtain and a nerf gun. and anyone who stares at me because the outfit “provoked” them is going to be squirted in the face with nerf water. (Link)

Disclaimer:  Do not generalize from this person to anyone else. No individual who shares a label (e.g. “feminist”) with this person deserves to be tarnished by association with him/her. Every movement has its nutjobs.

Bonus: Assorted Tumblr here. If any of this has gotten you heated up, cool down with some watermelon.

Who are The Elite?

Posted in Uncategorized by Navin Kumar on June 1, 2014

I should have written this much earlier, but better late than never.

Businessmen in Russia suffered from Putin’s entry into Crimea:

Russian companies are suffering as investors flee the country. Canceled IPOs, suspended loan negotiations, plummeting share prices—all are part of an estimated $50 billion in private investment that has left Russia since Jan. 1…

At the same time, these companies’ stocks are getting hammered…. According to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, Russia’s 19 richest people have lost $18.3 billion since the Crimea incursion began on Feb. 28.

Putin on the other, made out like a bandit in the currency of politicians – popularity*:

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating has risen 5 percent in the past week amid the ongoing crisis over the Crimean parliament’s plan to secede from Ukraine and join Russia.

In other words, the economic elite did poorly but the political elite did quite well. Perhaps people should exercise more caution when they speak of “The Elite” as if they were a cohesive bloc whose interests are inextricably entangled with each other. Note, also, that rich Russians opposed Putin’s plan to spend $48 billion on the Olympics.

* Note that this is a state-run poll. So the results have to be accepted somewhat… cautiously.

Is sexual objectification bad?

Posted in Essays, Gender by Navin Kumar on May 31, 2014



There’s a lot of stuff that counts as sexual objectification: rape, molestation, prostitution, one-night stands, sexual fantasies, and scantily-clad models in advertisements are all examples of people treating others as a means to sexual gratification (and nothing more). If you’ve ever checked out someone of the opposite sex, no matter how discretely, you’ve indulged in a bit of sexual objectification. What do these things have in common that make sexual objectification so terrible?

Some claim that sexual objectification is bad because it’s non-consensual. This is tautologically true for things like rape and molestation, and arguably true for well as sexual fantasies and checking-people-out. On the other hand, one-night stands are consensual. Bikini clad models are consenting to have their bodies be used as a means to sell beer. Sex workers consent to have sex in exchange for money. Sexual objectification is not inherently non-consensual.

Another theory is that it harms those who are objectified. Once again, this is obviously true for rape and molestation. On the other hand, people we fantasize about, or check out, are often blissfully unaware of our actions, so it’s hard to see how they’re harmed. Meanwhile flings, models, and sex workers seem to benefit from being objectified, whether sexually or monetarily. Sexual objectification doesn’t necessarily harm someone.

A third theory is that it is indirectly harmful. Men, the theory goes, see women being treated as sex objects in porn films and billboards and start thinking of all women as mere sex objects. This leads to all kinds of negative consequences, like rape. This is an interesting theory, but the data doesn’t support it. Pornography is a fairly stark example of sexual objectification. If the theory is true as the amount of porn available increases, we should see an increase in rape. The availability of pornography has exploded since the advent of the internet, and yet rape rates have fallen. Studies closely tracking the spread of the internet show that porn leads to less rape, not more.  Similarly, researchers have found that legalizing prostitution reduces rape*.

Why doesn’t porn lead men to think of women as mere sex objects? Answer – men aren’t idiots. They’re smart enough to realize that some women are sex objects in some contexts. Examples: porn stars in movies, prostitutes on the clock, one night stands on the night in question. In other contexts, meaningless sex is off the table, for example when one is among colleagues, neighbors, or girlfriends. A man who fails to learn this will receive a sharp shock – rejection at best, jail at worst. A man who only thinks of women as sex objects will barely be able to function.



An interesting argument is that treating people as a means to an end is just wrong. Such an act dehumanizes the person by making him an object to be used. Such objectification is inherently degrading. Most people would agree that this makes total sense. Until it starts raining, at which point they call a cab.

When someone hires a cab, they’re using the driver as a means to an end – getting from point A to point B. The driver is also using them as a means to an end – making money. And yet neither the driver nor the passenger feel demeaned or diminished in status by being used. In their day to day lives, people constantly use strangers as a means to an end, without disrespecting their humanity in the process. Objectification is not inherently degrading or wrong.

But there’s a big difference between driving a taxi and having sex – no-one regards driving a taxi as shameful. A great many people seem to regard casual sex as somehow dirty. For these people, to have meaningless sex with someone is to disrespect them. I can totally understand such folks having a problem with sexual objectification.

But it’s not the prudish traditionals who write elaborate essays about the horrors of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. It’s the “sex positive” progressives. Is there some deep philosophical theory that enables them to see sex as alright and objectification as alright, but sexual objectification as inherently awful?

Nope – they just haven’t thought it through. The idea that sex is degrading is deeply ingrained, even inside people who see themselves as having escaped such ideas. If you take offense to the question “are you gay?” you’ve probably got a few homophobic ideas lying around. If you take offence to the question “wanna have sex?” you’ve probably got a few sex-negative ideas lying around. Far too many progressives think being sex positive merely means not calling sexually active women “sluts” or arguing for the legalization of prostitution; the more subtle weeds remain unpruned.

If you want proof that opposition to sexual objectification comes from the belief that sex is dirty, you just have to look at how often sex workers are dissed in these discussions. Look at io9 being outraged by a comic book publisher “putting beloved superheroines in positions reserved for porn stars.” Look at Pando getting angry about Uber posting an ad “treating women who may choose to drive cars to make extra money like hookers.” Look at the Feministing contributor who was “embarrassed and humiliated” by a joke that “marked [me] as a stripper.” These aren’t religious conservatives who think that prostitution is sinful, but their unstated (perhaps unconscious) beliefs are clear – sex workers are low-status and no respectable woman should be tainted by association with them.

If you think there’s nothing wrong with hiring someone to drive a cab, and nothing wrong with casual sex, but something inherently wrong with hiring someone for casual sex, you’ve got a lot of explaining to do.



To be fair, some people have taken a sporty shot at explaining. They’re not against sex, nor against mundane objectification, nor against every single form of sexual objectification. What they’re against is people being treated as mere sexual objects and having other aspects of their humanity ignored or denied, especially in art and literature.

Taken literally, this claim is absurd. In a movie, a porn star may be a tool for sexual gratification. This doesn’t mean that she is merely a tool for sexual gratification. Porn stars have hobbies, write essays, attend college and socialize like everyone else. It is even less true that porn reduces women outside the film to the status of mere tools. Female CEOs, athletes, and doctors are not mere means to anyone’s sexual pleasure. They know it, and so do the men around them.

Of course, maybe it’s not a literal statement about the world, but rather criticism leveled against a film’s aesthetics. But why is being a sex object so much worse than being (say) a violence object, as so many thousands of henchmen are? Or bystander objects, as so many extras are? Might it be because sex is seen as dirty and low-status, while shooting poorly and sitting at a restaurant isn’t?

Furthermore, people aren’t reduced – and reduced is the important word here – to mere sex objects as often as critics claim. Take the recent controversy over this Spider-Woman cover. It’s highly unlikely that the main character of a comic series will spend her inaugural issue doing nothing but sticking her ass in the air, so it’s unlikely that Spider-Woman will be “reduced” to a sex object. And yet people lost their shit. Why? That’s kind of a hard question to answer without invoking the idea that sex is dirty and sex-objects are low-status.



Sexual objectification is a really really confusing topic on the internet.

Part of this is grammar. George Clooney doesn’t turn into a walking dildo when you fantasize about him. It can be confusing to hear that you’ve “sexually objectified” him, as if you’ve literally transformed him into a sex object.

Also, people don’t want to have sex with objects; they want to have sex with people. It can be confusing to hear a prostitute being referred to as a sex object, as if she were a rented Fleshlight™ [NSFW].

Information networks muddy waters further. Activists and intellectuals learn about “sexual objectification” through their friends, mentors, blogs, books, or classes. They then use the phrase casually and without explanation, bewildering listeners outside their circles.

When you ask what, exactly, objectification is, you’ll be told that it’s when you treat a person like an object. But there are a lot of ways to treat someone like a object. You could treat them like they were a means to an end rather than an end in themselves. (This is the definition I’ve been using in this essay.) You could treat them like they have no autonomy. You could treat them like they have no subjective point-of-view. You could treat them like they have no voice of their own. You could just be treating them disrespectfully. All of this makes discussing objectification hard, unless the people you’re talking to understand exactly what you mean by “objectification”.

How do you avoid this confusion? Clearly define objectification, and explicitly state why you think it’s a bad thing. Productive discussions can now begin.



If you don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with sex, should you feel free to proposition people willy-nilly? Of course not. Rightly or wrongly, most people do think there’s something inherently wrong about sex, if only at a subconscious level. The pain they feel at being objectified is real and, as a good human being, you should seek to minimize the suffering of your fellow men and women. Don’t objectify someone unless you know they’re okay with it†.

On the other hand, feel free to engage in all forms of sexual objectification that are consensual or harmless. Watch A Tale of Two Titties, hire that red-headed sex worker, fantasize about Brad Pitt, whatever. It doesn’t lead to rape nor a decrease in the status of women. It turns out that people vastly overstate how evil sexual desires are. Who saw that coming?


* There are those who believe that legalized sex work provides a cover for sex slavery and trafficking. This may or may not be true. But it has no bearing on whether availability of prostitutes lead men to think of non-prostitutes as sex objects.

† This can sometimes be tricky, because seeking permission to sexually objectify someone – by, for example, proposing a one-night stand – can itself cause offense. Having honest, open conversations about sex is an elusive goal.

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