Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Internal consistency in works of fiction

This is a minor thing that bugs me: When people point out some inconsistencies or other kind of unrealistic details or events in a work of fiction, sometimes someone will say something along the lines of "this is a movie about magical unicorns and wizards and magic, and you complain that the main character can fly?" Extremely rarely, if ever, is this argument valid.

If we take that arbitrary example, it's not a question of the main character being able to fly. It's about the internal consistency of the universe set up by the work of fiction, and willing suspension of disbelief.

A work of fiction, no matter how fantastical, is well-written when it describes and depicts a world with consistent and plausible rules, which the work follows. It doesn't really matter if some of these rules do not follow the real world, as long as they are well-established, consistent, plausible and not changed or broken at a whim.

It's a sign of bad writing when such internal rules are changed or broken arbitrarily, especially if it's done to suddenly resolve some otherwise unsolvable situation. (In other words, this is especially bad if it's used as a deus ex machina.) For instance, if the work of fiction depicts the protagonist as a human, has not established in any way that humans can fly, or that the protagonist can do so, and flying humans do not even otherwise make any sense even within this fictional universe, and then in the third act the protagonist, out of nowhere, just can fly to save the day, for no apparent reason other than the author suddenly deciding so, this breaks willing suspension of disbelief and is unrealistic within this context (even if there were otherwise fantastical elements to the story.)

This is often a sign of lazy writing. Either the author couldn't bother to come up with a more realistic solution, or couldn't bother to go back and change previous parts of the work to establish this in a plausible manner. (In some cases it can be clearly seen that the author did go back to previous parts and inserted this fact here and there, but it was clearly an afterthought, artificially tacked onto the story just so that it could be used later. If this is obvious, it isn't much better.)

Monday, November 18, 2013

The actual "rape culture"

"Rape culture" is the concept that some people claim to exist in modern society (usually they are talking about western cultures only) where, they say, rape is not taken seriously enough, if not even excused in many cases, victims are often blamed or too heavily scrutinized, perpetrators may sometimes be protected eg. because of their status, rape apology in general, and so on.

Some of this is true to some degree. However, it's only talking about rapes where a woman is the victim and a man is the perpetrator. There is another form of "rape culture" that's astronomically more prevalent, and which most people ignore completely (which, in itself, is part of the rape culture, of course.)

Sure, it's significantly rarer, but it does happen: Sexual harassment where the perpetrator is a woman and the victim is male.

Yes, a man can be the target of sexual harassment by a woman. The man can find the woman unattractive, unpleasant, or otherwise have zero interest in her, and not appreciate her advances at all. Not all women are meek and shy, and can be very forthcoming and intrusive, and the harassment can range all the way from words to violating personal space to improper touching and grabbing. A man can perfectly well be uncomfortable, annoyed and even feel molested by this, especially if they find the woman unpleasant and repulsive. Not all men have the strength of will nor personality to defend themselves in these situations.

This kind of sexual harassment is almost universally ignored, belittled and laughed off. People's attitude is generally dismissive and even mocking. This is basically never taken seriously by friends, peers, co-workers, employers, or even by authorities (and even if it's formally taken seriously, it's often considered of much lesser importance and urgency than if the genders had been reversed.) In fact, many people outright deny this ever happening, or having any kind of significance or relevance. If it does happen, the victim is laughed at, dismissed, belittled and called names. The perpetrator is never blamed of anything. Even people who do acknowledge that it can happen, especially the relatively rare feminist who does so, nevertheless often dismiss it as "less important" than the male-on-female harassment cases, and spend little to no effort in raising awareness of this problem.

This shaming culture is the reason why by far the vast majority of cases get unreported. Victims keep silent because they fear being ridiculed and laughed at.

If this is not the very definition of rape culture, I don't know what is.

It even goes beyond that, to a whole new level: People who bring this problem up are themselves often belittled, dismissed, called names and often accused of all kinds of things. (The mentality seems to be, for some reason, that if you bring up the problem of female-on-male sexual harassment, and especially if you are not a vocal feminist, then you somehow automatically think that the other way around is ok, ie. you are a misogynist rape apologist. I don't even understand how this logic works...)

There's another form of this kind of rape culture: Men being raped in prisons is nearly universally accepted. In fact, many people think of it as "proper punishment", especially for rapists, rather than acknowledging what it really would be as a form of punishment: A violation of human rights, which is usually (ie. in the vast majority of constitutional countries) egregiously unconstitutional.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

8-hour workday

At the beginning of the so-called industrial revolution, a bit over a hundred years ago, there was little to no governmental control over workers' rights, and there were no labor unions, which is why the working conditions in most factories were outright nightmarish. Even 14-hour shifts in horrible conditions weren't unheard of.

A big revolution happened that pushed for making a 8-hour work day the legal norm (ie. no employer could require any worker to do longer days than that.)

The 8-hour work day norm was so effective that it has persisted to this day, about a hundred years. However, as I see it, there are some problems with it.

The major problem is that it's the standard full-day work rate for all jobs, regardless of what they are.

Jobs are different, and have different requirements. And I'm not talking about skill and experience, but about low-level physical requirements.

Jobs can be, very roughly speaking, divided into two types: Routine physical work, and creative work. The main difference between is what they stress the most. Again, very roughly speaking, routine physical work stresses your muscles, while creative work stresses your brain. And I cannot emphasize this enough: The brain is not a muscle.

A normal person can very well get used to 8-hours-a-day of routine physical work, especially if it's kind of repetitive in nature and can be done with minimal thinking. Muscles get naturally fitter and physical skill improves rapidly. An experienced worker can do 8 hours of work (with sensible pauses in between) every day at a pretty good efficiency all the way through, because it stresses mostly the muscles, and they get quickly attuned to it.

(And no, I'm not trying to belittle physical labor or say it's always, or even often, easy and mundane. That's not my point at all! I'm just trying to be pragmatic here.)

Creative work, however, stresses mostly the brain. Some creative work stresses it more than others, of course (in the same way as some physical labor is more tiring than others), but it's nevertheless a completely different issue.

Again, the brain is not a muscle. For some reason people don't take it too seriously, but the brain does get tired when you have to do creative work all day long, every day. The brain does not attune itself to have more stamina.

Again, my point is in no way to belittle physical labor, but repetitive routine physical labor does not stress the brain even nearly as much as creative work, which is why routine physical labor can be done in large amounts a lot better than work that constantly stresses the brain.

The 8-hour day was designed for physical labor. It does not work well for creative work.

The problem is that a typical person cannot do creative work in an efficient manner for 8 hours a day, every single day. The brain gets tired. What happens in practice is that the person starts working in "power-saving mode". In other words, they work more slowly, take longer breaks (even without leaving their desk or wherever they are working) and so on, in order to compensate for the long work day.

I'm pretty certain that a person doing 8-hour days in a heavily creative work (such as computer programming) will on average not produce significantly more results than someone doing 4-hour days. There may be some increase in productivity, but not even near double. (I don't think it would be very far-fetched to estimate that the 8-hours/day guy would produce the equivalent of about 5 hours, compared to the 4-hours/day guy. The other 3 hours will be basically idling, with no productive work at all. It will of course be spread along the entire 8 hours, but still effectively this.)

The thing is, the guy working 8 hours a day will typically get twice as much salary than the guy working 4 hours a day, for approximately the same amount of results (which basically means that the latter is heavily underpaid.) What's worse, the former will much more likely get so stressed in the long run that it will cause losses for the employer (especially since people in creative jobs are usually harder to replace than people in physical labor jobs.)

I'm quite convinced that if people working in these fields had like 4 or 5-hour days, but get paid for full day work, productivity would either remain the same, or even increase. What's better, overall happiness and quality of life would increase (thanks to decreased stress and burnouts.)

But no... The 8-hour-day is the holy cow of the modern industrialized world. If you work less hours, you get paid less too. It doesn't really matter how productive you are. Only the hours count, no matter what you do.