Saturday, February 23, 2013

Star Trek TNG: Rascals

I love Star Trek: The Next Generation.  I can and have spent hours discussing my favorite episodes and interesting aspects of the setting with friends and family.  And like everything we love, there are some things about it that drive me absolutely crazy. 

Star Trek as a whole has developed a reputation, deservedly or no, for being willing to tackle issues other programs won't touch.  I'm not going to get too deep into the behind the scenes aspects and decision making process, because my approach to fiction is very much in the Death of the Author camp.  I am far more interested in the in-universe claims of utopia and having gotten beyond primitive ideas like prejudice than I am in the real world conflicts between writers, show runners, and network censors. 

And it is through that lens that I see the episode Rascals, which shows quite plainly that even in the utopian 24th century, ageism is apparently alive and well. 

The premise of this episode is that through a transporter mishap, Captain Picard, Ro Laren, Guinan and Keiko O'Brien are physically transformed into children while retaining their adult minds. 

One of the first things that happens after the transformation is that Picard faces prejudice from his crew.  Despite the medical staff confirming that he is the same person, and that his mind was unaffected, his crew is hesitant to follow the orders of a man who looks like he's twelve. 

While initially confident he can get through the initial discomfort his subordinates feel, his friends and confidants manage to convince him that his career is, if not over, absolutely going to need to be put on hold until he looks the right age again.  He could possibly retain his rank in an honorary fassion so long as he goes and sequesters himself away back in school, but he won't be able to command a ship. 

By the episode's end, Picard agrees to a risky procedure with a not insignificant chance of scattering his molecules across three lightyears for the chance to return to normal.  Let's go over what that means, because it isn't immediately obvious.  Not only was the procedure itself risky, but even if it worked perfectly we need to remember what the intended outcome was. 

The medical staff had confirmed early on that if they did nothing, everyone who had been transformed would age normally from that point and would be perfectly healthy if they went that route.  The procedure to return them to their normal ages by design takes years off their potential lifespans.  Picard's case in particular is significant because he actually has a physical disability in his older form.  A finicky artificial heart that nearly kills him twice in the series. 

So, to reiterate, the man would rather lose decades of life, reacquire a preventable physical disability, and risk dying in an experimental medical procedure to bring all this about, rather than continue to live under the restrictions and prejudices he would face as a result of looking like he was a child. 

Keiko O'Brien's struggles during this were more personal, but no less telling.  Her husband Miles is deeply uncomfortable at the transformation, and pulls away both physically and emotionally when Keiko needs support.  By the end of the one scene this conflict is allowed, the characters are already mourning the loss of their marriage. 

For context, the marriage of the O'Briens has survived multiple instances of demonic possession, losing their daughter in a timewarp, two decades of false imprisonment and a subsequent suicide attempt, the entire Dominion War, and the most severe demotion in observed Starfleet history.  They survive all that, but Miles can't bring himself to stand by his perfectly rational, mentally adult partner just because she's currently inhabiting a prepubescent body. 

This all needs to be looked at in context.  The Enterprise is an interstellar starship with a mandate to seek out new life and new civilizations, dispatched from a government encompassing a diverse array of species with radically differing biology and social customs.  This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, the weirdest thing that has happened to these people.  None of this can really be put down to shock when they've reacted with professionalism in the face of godlike beings summoning Mariachi bands, crew members mutating into spiders, and the entire concept of cause and effect breaking down before their eyes. 

Now, so there are no misunderstandings, these two scenes are my favorite part of the episode.  I adore the emotional impact of those scenes and the way this utterly-insignificant-in-the-grand-scheme transformation threatens to destroy Picard and Keiko's lives in ways they couldn't have imagined previously. 

What bothers me about this episode is that those two scenes were all we got addressing these issues, and so much about the context of the situation that I discussed up above was nowhere to be seen in the episode itself.  The episode wastes time on wacky hijinks while ignoring both the emotional core of the story and social commentary it was right on the edge of. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Lying About Sexual History

As I mentioned in one of my earliest posts on this blog, I have strong feelings on the importance of informed consent.

It's a fact that people lie to one another about their sexual history.  Men stereotypically inflate their numbers, while women stereotypically deflate theirs.  This is, of course, a response to the shaming responses both genders get as a part of gender policing, and most of the time the worst harm it does is in the form of failing to challenge that gender policing.  I'm in no position to condemn anyone for the choice to avoid confrontations and difficult arguments in their day to day lives given everything I hold back, after all. 

That said, a part of being in a relationship is establishing mutual trust, and within any relationship founded on a lie, informed consent is not a possibility.  Those convenient lies that make our day to day lives easier need to be put aside, little by little or all at once if the resulting relationship can be said to be legitimate. 

This is doubly the case when discussing a marriage.  The "I do"s of a wedding vow can be rightly thought of as conditional on everything the couple has told one another up to that point being the truth. 

Ah, but what of the situation where you know the other party will judge you for your past?  When you're in love and absolutely sure that you were meant to be together?  When you're sure that the truth will ruin everything and cause you both to miss out on a wonderful relationship and life together? 

In that case, I ask:  Why do you want to be in a relationship with someone who's only there because you lied? 

First off, that certainty that your partner will judge you, that's you being unfair to the partner by not giving him/her the chance to show what the real reaction will be.  You are so afraid of the worst case scenario that you've already assigned that reaction to your partner in your head, and you'll be blaming and resenting him/her for that reaction.  That's poison to the relationship. 

Second, if your partner rejects you because of your sexual history, that's his/her choice and you have to just accept that.  Your partner is a human being with his/her own standards and expectations from the relationship, and just as much right to say "no" as you have.  Whatever happily ever after you think you can build on a foundation of lies, that inkling that "what he/she knows can't hurt him/her" is you denying your partner's agency, violating his/her trust, and by far the more abhorrent act than his/her deciding that you shouldn't be together. 

When spouses discover things about one another's sexual history years or even decades after the fact that had been deliberately concealed, it doesn't just mean that the long delayed confrontation is now at hand.  It means that, but it also means that they have to deal with the fact that their partners lied to them every day of those years or decades they've been together. 

This is exactly the same sort of betrayal that one experiences when their spouse has an affair.  Trust going forward becomes impossible in light of the extended deception.  The vows are every bit as broken as they would be in the case of the affair, because the person they said "I do" about didn't have that incident in their past.

The fact of the matter is that you aren't entitled to either sexual partners nor life partners.  You have to have the fully informed consent of another human being for that, and if you can't get it without deception, you go without.  Anything else is just another kind of rape.  

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

On Child Pornography

I must ask what exactly you think goes through the minds of these child pornographers? Are you implying that without this so called "market" that they would be otherwise productive members of society? Safe, normal people don't rape children for the money.

And let's get back to the subject of the so called money. How does that black market economy in illegal information work? Information (including naked pictures of kids) isn't like a bag of crack. It's not a physical object, and can be replicated infinitely from a single artifact. A person so inclined could make available every piece of information he/she had at no charge, underwriting the entire illegal "economy". Image trading sites could decimate any sort of pay site on earth, and smart buyers with similar interests could pool resources, pay only once, and supply the material to hundreds of like minded contributors.

Now, what does that tell you about this business model? It tells me that it doesn't work.

That ignores the issue of trust, which I think is a significant one. Any financial transaction must take place amid an environment of trust. I pay you five dollars, and you provide me a burger and fries. If you don't I can inform the police about this incident and they will retrieve my money. What does a person do when they deal with a child pornographer? Do they also go to the police and say "I sent this guy a hundred bucks and he never sent me any child porn"? Or is the customer to trust in the reputations of these fine, upstanding citizens to keep their words?

Now, with the practical matters out of the way, I'd like to spent a bit discussing the moral matter a bit further. Explain something to me. What difference will the viewing of child porn make to the child depicted therein? Let us assume (as per the business model I've discussed above) that no backing is given to the criminals who created it. What difference will it make to the child? Will the destroying of all the evidence cause the child to be unraped? And how are they to know when the last photo is destroyed? Answer is they won't. From an objective prospective, there will be no difference to the child one way or the other. Either way they've been through a traumatic event (and for the sake of argument I'm assuming that we're discussing a rape rather than a fully consensual act which was simply unrecognized as such by the law), and either way they'll have to deal with that and the fact that it's possible their image is "out there".

It seems to me that there is only one organization which is capable of making a profit in this enterprise. That would be law enforcement. No one questions why the FBI has the most massive database of child pornography on earth. Everyone's so happy when they run their website "stings" no one even questions what they gave away to entice people into ordering their "premium services". What they agreed to do. What they actually delivered in order to "maintain their cover a little bit longer". And who's really keeping track of the money paid to the FBI in the course of these so called stings?

I think there might be a reason why the government is having such a hard time shutting down these kiddie porn rings, and I think it has a great deal to do with the fact that the majority of their customers are within the jurisdiction of the FBI.

A helpful link:

Monday, February 4, 2013

Whispering In The Dark

Much of the material I've posted so far is not new.  I've been posting on the internet on various forums, discussion boards, blog comments, and the like for years, refining my arguments and discarding the old ideas that I once held that couldn't stand up to proper scrutiny.  Many of my blog posts are ones I've been refining for years in debates and discussions, slightly edited for the blog format. 

I've also been banned from a lot of places.  I don't post abusive content.  I don't troll.  I don't drag conversations off topic.  What I do is talk openly about pedophilia and acknowledge the fact that I'm attracted to prepubescent girls. 

Now, as a rule, I tend to avoid any messageboard where young girls in my age of attraction are allowed to post.  I do this for my own legal protection, and to remove from the arsenal of my opponents the ability to accuse me of being on the board for the purpose of picking up kids.  That doesn't actually stop them from using that tactic, mind you, but I do put in some effort to make that a non-issue regardless. 

People have the right to set whatever rules they like in their own spaces.  I can't deny them the right to throw me out any more than I can deny the KKK the right to ban civil rights activists from their forums.  The owners of a space can censor and restrict freedom of speech for any or no reason. 

This is not me acknowledging that they have some moral right to do so, mind you.  That is only me acknowledging their practical ability to do so.  The fact of the matter is that I actually value freedom of speech.  The free marketplace of ideas is something I value so greatly that I very much will defend, to the death, the right of those who want me raped and murdered to spout their bigotry as loud as they please in the public forum of their choosing. 

How could I not value the free marketplace of ideas when it is that very thing which has allowed me to grow and develop my moral and ethical philosophy to the extent that I've managed?  If my ideas had never been subject to the brutal scrutiny of my detractors, I might never have abandoned faulty ones I once held, and I might never have seen the contradictions between some of my old ideas.  If people had not been so free to try to publicly tear down my arguments, I never would have been pushed to build a case and defend them properly. 

But those who hate me will no doubt be heartened by the fact that I'm getting tired.  I can force myself into otherwise open messageboards which choose to censor my ideas, in the hope of a few days of argument and potential growth, but it's feeling less and less worth my time to invade these "public" spaces in the face of the draconian censorship efforts made to scrub their forum clean of any trace of my passing. 

So I'm left with the question of what to do now.  That's part of why this blog exists.  I've been getting sick of my virtual posters being torn down before anyone but the censors had a chance to see them.  At least if someone ever finds their way to this blog, it'll be here long enough for them to read and consider the arguments herein. 

But what good is this blog without people willing to engage with me?  What is the value of making arguments that I'll never be able to say have stood up to vigorous attempts to eviscerate? 

Whenever I'm banned from someplace, the same platitude is always handed out.  "There are plenty of other places on the internet for you to talk, so I don't have to be bothered by the implications of not letting you talk in mine."

In practice, what these people might as well have said is: "Freedom of speech is the freedom to whisper in the dark where no one can hear."

This blog has a strict no censorship policy.  Adbots and generic spam will be cleaned out for the sake of facilitating actual conversation, and porn links will be removed to protect the blog legally, but I will never censor anyone's view on the subject at hand, whatever it may be, and however that view is articulated. 

I want people who disagree with me here.  I want intelligent opposition who can point out the faults and flaws in my arguments.  I want overemotional idiots spouting profanities and death threats at me.  I want to hear from those who agree with me on a principle, but think I've got the details wrong.  And I want any other opinion, good or bad that you have.