Sex, Pronouns and Language - Male/Female Robots Re-visited

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Sex, Pronouns and Language - Male/Female Robots Re-visited

Postby Tab » Sun Jan 05, 2020 12:40 pm

Carleas wrote:

The use of sex in fiction, and in relation to clearly non-biological person-like entities, suggests that the position that sex is entirely dictated by biology must be false. In fact, there is a meaningful use of sex that is abiological, that is related to social roles rather than genetic facts. There is an accepted sense in which Alexa is a woman, and Data and Han Solo are men. This is a common and non-controversial use of the concept of sex, and it has nothing to do with biology.


In a thread he started a couple of months ago, and rather than resurrect an obviously dead discussion to add my ideas, thought I might as well begin with a fresh thread.

Gender and pronouns and sexual identification seem to be important topics. Biological would seem to be the final baseline to judge from, though a decent case can also be made for neurology.

To me I guess, perhaps neurological has to win the day. Why..? If you look at it from this perspective: how much of something can be changed, before it becomes something else entirely..? Amputees do not become something else because of losing a limb, nor when they put on a prothesis. Castratees do not become something else similarly due to the loss of their genitalia or procreative function. Nor would someone who exchanges one set of genetalia for another, any more than an amputee exchanging a false hand for a hook. Their essential "you-ness" remains.

But if someone lost their memory entirely, or was so damaged neurophysiologcally that relating to them in any way correseponding their previous identity was meaningless... then that "you-ness" is gone.

I suppose it's ultimately dependent on which side of the form/function divide you fall upon. Is Jack a biological woman identifying as a man a man who due to a congential gentetic disorder can only function procreatively as a female, or is the female biological construct whose emergent consciousness identifies itself as 'Jack' simply a biologic procreative vessel plagued with a defective brain..?

Anyway, that wasn't the main area of discussion.

As was discussed in the thread people and media present an abiological, social aspect of their sexuality and sexual identification to society. The question I think was how much reality was based in the distinction between the two - the genital he/she and the linguistic he/she.

Forgive me if I rehash something that was mentioned in the prior thread but from my quick dash through the pages I didn't see a discussion about the medium involved - language itself.

Firstly, to an English monolinguist the concept of he/she, and people needing a 'he' or a 'she' involved with them in conversation is natural and instinctive. He is a he and she is a she and that table over there is an it. However in Turkish, all of them are the same. He is an O, she is an O, and the table over there is also an O.

He is a man = o bir adam.
She is a woman = o bir kadin
It is a table = o bir masa.

There is also no distinction between the sex of siblings, if I have a brother and a sister Turks would say they had two kardes.

The current debate on pronouns is reserved to languages that make it an issue, not intrinsic to the concept of sexual identity itself.

Secondly, we must remember that the words we use to denote something, were never intended to describe in any absolute terms the thing itself. I think we have become so used to absolute measurement in our digital and quantum age - this pencil is 15.6cm long, the intensity of that light is 350lumens, it's 5 minutes past 2 - that we expect language, which predates all of these instruments of exactitude, to conform to the same specificity. It doesn't it never did.

"Hey, look out, there's a tiger in that bush."

"Hey, move the bony spherical appendage above your shoulders 40 degrees clockwise so as to bring fully into your field of vision that low lying herbacious outgrowth, not the colloquialism for pubic hair, and become aware of the likelyhood of a large, carnivorous, stripe-pelted predator residing within it's area of cover."

So, which hunter's friend got eaten..?

Language is a verbal/audiable medium evolved to convey information likely to impact on the well-being of those involved in its transfer. Its key pillars are speed, and accuracy, which combine to form overall 'usefulness' - and this 'usefulness' is heavily context based. In the lecture theatre, you sacrifice speed for accuracy of description, in combat you use only the absolute minimum of accuracy for maximum speed.

To me, much of the politically correct debate is concerned with not language so much as acknowledgement of importance. This overlaps with terms like black and cripple etc. not simply he and she.

We naturally spend more time, precision and words describing things we attach importance to, social or personal. For example, I could spend a good 5 minutes describing my wife, whom to you, if you passed her in the street, would just be another woman. A random 'she'. There's no right or wrong to my perspective, or yours, it's simply the degree of importance attached. Like when friends show you pictures of their kids. To you, snot-nosed diminutive human, to them, the absolute meaning of their lives.

So when general society writes off a transgender as a 'he' or a 'she' in commentry, or someone as black or crippled, to the writer or speaker it's simply a speedy, accurate-enough-to-convey-meaning, way of describing an event. The weight of importance is on the event more than that of the actors involved.

"Jack's traditional bespoke men's clothing store robbed by black man."

What's obviously more important to the speaker..? The store or the guy..? The store is individualized, the black man not. It's the same for he and she. To me, bog-standard, never been confused over my sexual identity, race or religion, white guy... 'He' or 'she' has little to none importance attached to it whatsoever, it's a simple grammatic convention. But to a trans, the flip from being a he to a she or vice versa is pivotal to their existence. My casual conversational short cut is a complete negation of something utterly crucial to their person.

In short, I think the debate over pronouns or descriptives in general is a cry from an undervalued minority to an ambivalent majority to simply be acknowledged as a) present and b) important.

Thirdly. With regard to giving objects sexual referrents. Girl robots and boy robots.

Language as I said is not an absolute. It is, as we are, comparative in nature. Language reflects our way of sensing the world.

There is a tree. I rip a branch off the tree, and stand the branch up next to the tree in such a way that it resembles the form, if not the stature, of its parent. I take a picture and show it to a friend.

"Hey, look at this cool tree in the picture." (I forgot to mention the tree was cool).

My friend never says "uh, which tree are you talking about..?" Because though both resemble each other, the actual tree possesses more 'treeness'.

I'm a teacher, I once read something in a cog-sci book that scared me. It said that students form an opinion about the capabilities of a teacher they meet for the first time in a classroom within 30 seconds. And that the opinion they form tends to persist for a very long time, regardless of the actual competancy displayed by the teacher subsequently.

What students measure is not the absolute nature of the person standing behind the teacher's desk as an individual, but the degree to which that person conforms to the internal archetype of 'a teacher'. ie. as long as on first impression you hit enough of the sartorial, social and behavioural cues associated with the role of 'teacher', you're a teacher. Imposter syndrome - less important than you'd think.

So, as long as a fictional character, robot, internet device or person, hits more cues associated with 'He-ness' than she-ness or it-ness, then it becomes a He. And for the purposes of linguistic usefulness, depending on the context of a given commentary, is authentically represented as such.

True racism, sexism, or any-ism, is exemplified in my mind only when the context of the commentary in question would normally require that importance, and thus linguistic precision, be applied to the subject discussed and is not, or is used specifically to diminish the importance of that subject's being.

ie. "Which one's the surgeon in charge..? I need to show him the x-ray fast, he's about to cut off the wrong leg !!!"
"There look, the black guy through the window. Run !"

Is not racist, but expedient.

But.

"They gave that black my position as chief surgeon just because he sucked up to the management."

Is.

Same goes for intentionally dismissing a person's choice of pronoun in a context where acurracy is more important than speed. ie. All media platforms where there is no immediate chance of tiger -attack.
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Re: Sex, Pronouns and Language - Male/Female Robots Re-visit

Postby PavlovianModel146 » Sun Jan 05, 2020 5:17 pm

Tab wrote:"Hey, look out, there's a tiger in that bush."

"Hey, move the bony spherical appendage above your shoulders 40 degrees clockwise so as to bring fully into your field of vision that low lying herbacious outgrowth, not the colloquialism for pubic hair, and become aware of the likelyhood of a large, carnivorous, stripe-pelted predator residing within it's area of cover."

So, which hunter's friend got eaten..?


You're just one of the best.

To the rest, I agree with everything said and have very little to add. You've already hit on it being a sign of acknowledgment and respect, which would be my main (rather than secondary) talking point. My secondary talking point would be a long-winded diatribe that basically amounts to, "Why should anyone not directly involved even really care what other people do or how they choose (or don't choose, depending on perspective) to identify?"
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Re: Sex, Pronouns and Language - Male/Female Robots Re-visit

Postby Tab » Sun Jan 05, 2020 6:09 pm

My secondary talking point would be a long-winded diatribe that basically amounts to, "Why should anyone not directly involved even really care what other people do or how they choose (or don't choose, depending on perspective) to identify?"


Hey Pav, nice to see a recognizable face after 5 years I guess. Ouch, time etc. Hope you and yours are well.

And yeah, I agree about the whole 'what's it to me' thing. It does seem that the equivalent of the one weirdo in the room shouting his/her/their/non-binary/underline as applicable head off is dictating the narrative for everyone else.

In a way it is kinda offensive, there are not many pleases and thank yous going round, or sensible bright limes drawn with these things. I dunno, some babies getting thrown out with a lot of bathwater.

I watch a lot of stand-up comedy on netflix, one thing I've noticed is that comedians in the past were completely blasé about their more offensive material, now they sometimes spend 5 minutes carefully distancing themselves from the jokes they are about to make, especially around trans/feminist topics. Not sure how I feel about that, I always like to call a spade a spade and devil take the hindmost. Though I live in a bubble tbh. I don't have a mobile phone, don't tweet, insta or face. Which is probably why I'm always so calm lol. Someone who wants to vent all over me would have to get a visa, hop on a plane and paintbomb my house.

I suppose, big picture wise, it costs me very little to oblige someone's choice of he or she, to a return of much greater happiness on the part of the chooser, so utilitarianistically it's a win. Though I worry that after all the furore has died down and he/she is no longer a thing, how much of trans identity is based around provoking/expressing outrage and instigating social conflict, and whether being finally accepted to the point of no-one blinking in the street, they won't suddenly find the need to manufacture another social media phenomenon just to justify their own feelings of self-worth. It all seems very self-absorbed, and dangerous to use something outside of yourself to define yourself. "I'm not you" is very vague place to begin when it comes to personal value.

I may ofc. just be old. Looking at the current state of the world, there aren't many of the old foundations left to build a self around. Job..? Errr, there aren't any. Possessions..? Errr, don't have many. Race..? Errr, not allowed to have one. Religion..? Errr, most of them think I'm an aberration. Community..? Errr, all my neighbors are strangers...

Perhaps body choices are the only constants left..?
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Re: Sex, Pronouns and Language - Male/Female Robots Re-visit

Postby PavlovianModel146 » Sun Jan 05, 2020 7:09 pm

Tab wrote:
My secondary talking point would be a long-winded diatribe that basically amounts to, "Why should anyone not directly involved even really care what other people do or how they choose (or don't choose, depending on perspective) to identify?"


Hey Pav, nice to see a recognizable face after 5 years I guess. Ouch, time etc. Hope you and yours are well.

And yeah, I agree about the whole 'what's it to me' thing. It does seem that the equivalent of the one weirdo in the room shouting his/her/their/non-binary/underline as applicable head off is dictating the narrative for everyone else.

In a way it is kinda offensive, there are not many pleases and thank yous going round, or sensible bright limes drawn with these things. I dunno, some babies getting thrown out with a lot of bathwater.

I watch a lot of stand-up comedy on netflix, one thing I've noticed is that comedians in the past were completely blasé about their more offensive material, now they sometimes spend 5 minutes carefully distancing themselves from the jokes they are about to make, especially around trans/feminist topics. Not sure how I feel about that, I always like to call a spade a spade and devil take the hindmost. Though I live in a bubble tbh. I don't have a mobile phone, don't tweet, insta or face. Which is probably why I'm always so calm lol. Someone who wants to vent all over me would have to get a visa, hop on a plane and paintbomb my house.

I suppose, big picture wise, it costs me very little to oblige someone's choice of he or she, to a return of much greater happiness on the part of the chooser, so utilitarianistically it's a win. Though I worry that after all the furore has died down and he/she is no longer a thing, how much of trans identity is based around provoking/expressing outrage and instigating social conflict, and whether being finally accepted to the point of no-one blinking in the street, they won't suddenly find the need to manufacture another social media phenomenon just to justify their own feelings of self-worth. It all seems very self-absorbed, and dangerous to use something outside of yourself to define yourself. "I'm not you" is very vague place to begin when it comes to personal value.

I may ofc. just be old. Looking at the current state of the world, there aren't many of the old foundations left to build a self around. Job..? Errr, there aren't any. Possessions..? Errr, don't have many. Race..? Errr, not allowed to have one. Religion..? Errr, most of them think I'm an aberration. Community..? Errr, all my neighbors are strangers...

Perhaps body choices are the only constants left..?


Likewise, and serendipitously so, I might add. It looks like we both popped in at the same time. Everything goes well enough and I hope the same for you.

With respect to the comedy, I notice the same thing and agree completely. Welcome to the era where words DO kill people, at least, you would think judging from the reactions. I hate to speak for you, but I think the two of us have always held to a few simple concepts:

1.) Do what you want, as long as it doesn't interfere with anything I want to do and is legal.

2.) Freedom of speech in as unrestricted a way as reasonably possible.

Unfortunately, 'Cancel culture,' is such that speech is now de facto unduly restricted. If you're going to say it at all, which you would be safer not to, only say it after a litany of trigger warnings, disclaimers and qualifiers. Kind of fucks up the punchline though, wouldn't you say? I've always thought a central tenet of humor was that the humorist would have to go out of his/her way to point out that the humorous matter SHOULD be taken seriously, not that it SHOULD NOT be. Always thought, "Should not," was the default assumption.

I guess we should all probably just accept them and see what happens after that, if anything. I definitely would be willing to stipulate that social acceptance can't be the primary motivator for ALL of the individuals in question, much less their most vocal supporters. Kind of like old Pocahontas over there talking about black reparations. Why should any of us care about slavery as anything other than a historical lesson that we should probably not do that again? I think we're all willing to agree that nobody currently living was a slave or a slavemaster...so what precisely in the hell does it have to do with me?

Don't say the, 'O,' word, but I think yeah. Not only am I not a Leftist, I would probably never vote for one, at least, not at the national level. I just wanted people to be able to live how they choose to live, not to use that ability to prevent other people from living how they choose to live.

It's all groupthink, Tab. You have the religious furor of so many of those on the right and then you have the religious furor that the left is unto itself. At least they don't believe in God, I guess.
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Re: Sex, Pronouns and Language - Male/Female Robots Re-visit

Postby WendyDarling » Sun Jan 05, 2020 7:52 pm

It's fashionable to deny reality. Then laws are based on that denial penalizing people who live via reality and not delusions.
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Re: Sex, Pronouns and Language - Male/Female Robots Re-visit

Postby Tab » Sun Jan 05, 2020 8:19 pm

Bollocks, lost a post. Well it wasn't great lol.

In short, agreed with pav, asked wendy to be more specific.
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Re: Sex, Pronouns and Language - Male/Female Robots Re-visit

Postby PavlovianModel146 » Sun Jan 05, 2020 9:46 pm

Tab wrote:Bollocks, lost a post. Well it wasn't great lol.

In short, agreed with pav, asked wendy to be more specific.


You're capable of posts that aren't great? Please try that sometime when we actually disagree!

I wouldn't have replied just to say that. What I really want to say is, when you log in, there's a button that says, 'Always log in automatically,' or, 'Stay logged in,' something to that effect. Check that box and you shouldn't lose anymore posts.

Also CTRL+A + CTRL + C, just in case, but honestly, I don't think to do that most of the time.
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Re: Sex, Pronouns and Language - Male/Female Robots Re-visit

Postby Tab » Sun Jan 05, 2020 9:53 pm

Cheers, I'll try that but I'm posting from an android pad because erm, reasons. So there'll always be some risk involved lol, I just like to live on the wild side. Some people base-jump, I post internet philosophy from a slightly unreliable media platform. It's just the way I roll brah. :mrgreen:
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Re: Sex, Pronouns and Language - Male/Female Robots Re-visit

Postby Carleas » Thu Jan 23, 2020 7:36 pm

I'm a bit late to the party (or rather, left early and missed a late arriving distinguished guest!), but I'm glad to see this conversation continue, it was easily one of my best exchanges on ILP (which is saying a lot). I'll say that the conversation was a bit unexpected, because the audience I was writing for was not the one who engaged the most. I was writing for the crass strawman who cares only about cockandballs and insists that can be the only basis for calling someone a man or a woman. But it was more interesting to get into the nuance of how this works with people who care about the feelings of people asking to be called by their self-identified gender, and who agree that compassion will generally require calling those people what they want to be called.

We did get into language late in the thread, and my position by the end was that gendered language equivocates between at least two real categories, one of biology and one of social role. I did mentioned how other languages and cultures have more than two genders, but I don't think I knew that some have only one. I'm curious how gender works elsewhere in Turkish. Are there different words for e.g. male and female animals (cow vs. bull, cock vs. hen)? If so, are they linguistically connected, e.g. is there a 'female' ending? Are any inanimate objects similarly gendered? I've heard that Allah is sometimes referred to with female language, is that preserved in Turkish to your knowledge? How? Is 'kardes' for siblings related to 'kadim' for woman? (this is all a bit of an aside)

I take a lot of my philosophy of language from Douglas Hofstadter's book Surfaces and Essences, and some related talks, and it's similar to the comparative description of language you use, Tab. Words map to sets of things that are tied to them in peoples minds, and those sets aren't sharply defined. The question of correct language usage is about whether a noise or string of shapes evokes the right ideas in the mind of the audience. My argument became something like: there are multiple clusters of ideas under the word that aren't themselves tightly connected, and so which word is 'right' is whichever makes the listener's model of the world more accurate.

Re: comedy, I'll defend the overwrought prefaces in comedy routines. One major cultural change that makes this kind of thing both more common and reasonable is that the audience is less culturally homogeneous. Lack of cultural homogeneity means people have to take elaborate steps to demonstrate good faith, as a kind of costly signal that can't be faked. In comedy this looks like long prologues explaining how woke they are, which are costly because they aren't the funniest thing a comic could be saying, and in any set time is at a premium. Taking that time to reinforce a belief is an unfakeable sacrifice to demonstrate sincerity.

So it's not that people are more sensitive, it's that they're rightly more suspicious of the motives of people when cultural cues aren't there to assure them that they're One Of Us. The -isms depend in part on intent (falling face first into a pot of shoe polish != blackface), and reading intent across cultures is hard. But reading cost is easy, and so a costly signal of rejecting the -isms before dabbling in -ism-adjacent comedy assures people that it's all in fun.
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