William M. Briggs

Statistician to the Stars!

Page 148 of 559

Same-Sex Marriage For And Against: Part I

Our rights are your wrongs.

Sylvain Allard, a history student at the Université de Montréal specializing in US history and individuals rights and freedoms, graciously took up the challenge of constructing an argument in favor of same-sex marriage. It is structured in answer to each of my original five Questions. For his response, each Question will form the top part of a separate post. I’ll use the bottom part to show why he is wrong.


A few months ago, Mr. Briggs proposed a four part, five question series of arguments against same sex marriage. In this short essay I will demonstrate that many of Mr. Briggs arguments can be seen either as wrong or as belief which are different from being fact.

First, a few comment about his intro:

It is somewhat presumptuous from your part to say that people who support gay marriage haven’t considered their belief seriously. It is not because someone reaches a different conclusion that they did not think hard before reaching that conclusion.

Gay marriage is an example of civil rights, because this is about the freedom and liberty of an individual. On one hand, rights that belong to each individual are universal. To prove my point, I will use the Canadian Charts of Rights and Freedoms:

Fundamental Freedoms

2. Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

   *(a) freedom of conscience and religion;

   *(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;

   *(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and

   *(d) freedom of association.

On the other hand, collective rights are not universal and they apply only to certain group of people. In Canada, there are very few examples of collective rights other than collective bargaining and laws about first nations. In the US, affirmative action, the GI bill is another example.

The UN declaration of human rights was the answer to the horror of the Second World War where the Nazis killed people based on religion/races (Jews and Slaves), sexual orientation, handicaps, disabilities and retardation.

There are no natural rights; rights are the result of evolution of thought and society. The right to freedom and liberty are very recent and started in part with the English and US Bill of Rights in the 1700s, closely followed by the French revolution. Until the mid-19th century slavery was a worldwide phenomenon. A phenomenon that is still present today though not as much as it once was and not as much in the open as it once was. Women have only recently obtained the right to be included as a person by the law. Before the middle of the 1800s, women were not considered like people by the law, and if a woman was raped, it was either the father or the husband that received compensation for the loss of value of their daughter or wives. It is only in the last 300 years that mankind has been able to evolve and recognize people as individual, instead of disposable commodities to the powerful.

Question 1:

The main argument of Mr. Briggs in the first question is that male-female mating is so natural that the institution of marriage preceded the institution of the state, thus the state cannot change the meaning of marriage.

There are several mistakes with this interpretation. First, mating does not equal marriage. There is no reason to believe that the first human mated in an exclusive manner which would imply marriage. Homosexual mating is observed in many species so this is not as unnatural as some might believe. Another main problem is that there is no reason or need to get married if there is no state.

Second, the definition of states used by Mr. Briggs is the modern one. It doesn’t take into account that anytime a group of people unite together, would it be to form a tribe, there is some form of state that will be created. Tribe have social order. They create rule that will be adopted by the governing body and are followed by the member of the tribe. Even though the state developed by those people doesn’t correspond to our recent definition, it doesn’t mean it was not there. To belong to a tribe required the member to abide by a code of conduct. In short, any form of society becomes a state, even militias.

Also, marriage has long been used as an economic and politic tool to create alliances between tribes and later kingdoms. Marriage was rarely used for the stricter role to procreate (the first ones were the Jewish people). Anyways someone could try to present it; marriage was never present before some basic kind of state was formed. Marriage is the creation of a basic state.

If marriage was as natural and as respected an institution, then there would be no need to have a specific commandment to protect it. What this means is that at some point the Jewish state decided to condemn something that was common practices. It means that the Jewish State define what marriage was. Any State can define marriage as it wants since it created the institution of marriage.


O! Canada! Why hast thou persecuted those who wouldst not submit to the new enlightenment! Why have your Human “Rights” Commissions sought for their prey amongst the religious? Poor Stephen Boissoin! Cast from the city for quoting the Bible on the subject of homosexuality. Pity Bill Whatcott! Made to grovel before judges for using the words “detestation” and “vilification”. Speaking opinions can now be a crime of “hate” in the semi-frozen North.

History is our subject today, and our guide. What has happened in Canada is likely to happen here (and is). Yet Allard is correct to suggest that because no culture has ever before labeled (say) two, three, four, even five or more men “married” that therefore this act is immoral. Whether or not any culture performs a certain act or ritual, or neglects another, is never absolute proof that these acts or rituals are immoral or moral.

A vote cannot make an act moral. If it could, we cannot complain about the acts Germany in the 1930s-40s, or those of China in the 20th Century, or those of North Carolina today (that state adopted a constitutional amendment defining marriage man-woman; if you are an SSM advocate you must show why this is wrong; if you ignore the question, we will be right in assuming you cannot). Therefore we must look outside mere opinion and beyond history to discover whether any act or ritual is right or wrong. In short, we must argue philosophically.

But we can augment our arguments with history. It is clear that marriage, on the whole and, with small and rare exceptions, everywhere at all times, was man-woman. It was never man-man, nor man-man-man, nor man-goat-man, etc. (And don’t let’s complain of a straw man: plenty of folks out there who want to “marry” animals, just as there are currently countries where bestiality is legal.)

SSM advocates say marriage should be a pair. On what basis? History? But history says no same-sex unions, so history is no guide and no grounds for argument. If SSM supporters want to prove pairings, they must use evidence outside history. Biology? Because, for instance, those unions which produce and care for children are pairings? Surely not: biology (science) adamantly argues against “gene-killing” SSM (yes, there are rare exceptions in, say, medically augmented woman-woman unions, but the notion is largely true). There never has been a coherent argument for non-man-woman pairings except “I want it!”

It used to be said (more history), and all evidence suggested, that children raised jointly by their married biological parents were better off (in any dimension) than those raised otherwise. Recent history shows us this fact will no longer be allowed to be held. Children, it will be insisted, will thrive just as well—better, even—were they to be raised by the gentleman I saw at yesterday’s “Pride” parade, who was wearing naught but a thong and a small sign which read “HIV positive”.

As an aside, I wonder if I should strip off and march down Times Square with a placard reading “Gallstone bearer.” Would the press write of me supportively? Would Anthony Kennedy “friend” me on Facebook?

How about the kids raised by those who mainly have physical pleasure on their minds, as is evidently the case in “Pride” attendees? Think they don’t? Then why must float-riders prance about nearly or even wholly naked while simulating (that’s an assumption) sex acts? How often have you seen heterosexual “pride” parades similarly accoutered?

But never mind. Let’s accept that the people in these parades are an aberration or a small minority. Accept, even, for the sake of argument that kids would prosper under their care. Does that prove that SSM is right? Of course not. It doesn’t prove it wrong, either. But we have four more Questions in front of us.

Whoever does not act like a lady or gentleman in responding will be banned.

Read Part II


Objective Bayes Vs. Logical Probability (Vs. Frequentism)

Wait…a Reverend?

Reader and colleague JH has rightly taken me to task (via email) for incorrectly calling, or rather misleadingly labeling, logical probability “objective Bayes.”

She pointed to this set of lecture slides (pdf) as examples of what most people think of when they hear “objective Bayes.” Its basic idea is to use (these are a technical terms) “non-informative”, “references, or “ignorance” “priors” on unobservable parameters to get the math to work out in Bayes’s theorem.

I accept this.

For somebody (me) who’s always carping about precision in technical language, I also admit I earned my spanking for any confusion I have caused by this mix-up.

There is overlap between objective Bayes and logical probability. Both use Bayes’s theorem. But then so do frequentists use it when the mood strikes. Still, I can see now that it is improper (there’s a joke in that word) to call logical probability “LP Bayes” as I have been doing.

Saying “Objective Bayes” puts one in mind of Jeffrey’s priors, sequences of priors, improper, proper, and conjugate priors; information matrices, Markov Chain Monte Carlo and “drawing” observations; invariant measures, Radon Nikodym derivatives, with probability 1s, lemmas, theorems, proofs; unobservable parameters; parameters, parameters, and more parameters, parameters galore; a deeply mathematical subject which sometimes is and sometimes isn’t interpretable.

Of course, some of this stuff is useful to LP. Some isn’t. None of it is wrong mathematically; but then nothing is wrong mathematically with frequentism, either. Logical probability is not a branch of mathematics, though math is useful to it. Objective Bayes, at least academically, is math twenty-four hours a day.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Why, some of my best friends are mathematicians. Please don’t sic Anthony Kennedy on me: I have not formed an “improper animus” toward our calculating friends. God undoubtedly made them that way, and who am I to judge?

But I do have plenty of animus toward the reification of the mathematics. Take for example “improper priors.” These are government-defined “probability distributions”, which means probability distributions which aren’t probability distributions but are called probability distributions by those anxious to get on with the math. If you don’t already know, I can tell you that they are needed when jumping the infinity shark. Frequentists are rightly suspicious of them and are the reason some frequentists have not yet come over from the Dark Side.

By a curious coincidence, which ought to make both OBs and Freqs (shorthand is easier, isn’t it?) nervous, use of improper “flat” priors often produces identical mathematical results in both theories. Normal-distribution linear regression is the most prominent example. The interpretations still differ of course—which proves that probability in any flavor is not a mathematical subject.

Advertised by its name, logical probability is a branch of epistemology just as classic logic itself is. The biggest difference between LP and all the others is admitting what everybody already knew to be true: that not all probability is quantifiable and that probability is always a measure of knowledge, even in it mathematical disguise (the “always” carries much weight).

There is an enormous literature in this field that lies undiscovered and unread by nearly all statisticians. The best and most well known work which bridges the gap between logical and mathematical probability is E.T. Jaynes’s Probability Theory: The Logic of Science. But this is not to say that Jaynes’s book is the best on logical probability.

Another classic is A Treatise on Probability by John Maynard Keynes (yes, that Keynes), which opens with this definition:

Part of our knowledge we obtain direct; and part by argument. The Theory of Probability is concerned with that part which we obtain by argument, and it treats of the different degrees in which the results so obtained are conclusive or inconclusive…

The terms certain and probable describe the various degrees of rational belief about a proposition which different amounts of knowledge authorise us to entertain. All propositions are true or false, but the knowledge we have of them depends on our circumstances; and while it is often convenient to speak of propositions as certain or probable, this expresses strictly a relationship in which they stand to a corpus of knowledge, actual or hypothetical, and not a characteristic of the propositions in themselves.

For years, I’ve been trying to get statisticians to read David Stove’s The Rationality of Induction (especially its second half), but so far I have convinced just one Named Person (a prominence who resides in a university and in the blogosphere) to scan it—and he immediately proceeded to misinterpret it (those few statisticians who think about it love the so-called problem of induction; like all pseudo philosophical problems, it’s a guarantor of papers written to be read only by the writers of these kinds of papers).

The shortest introduction in here, here, and here. When you read these posts, understand that I was using objective in the sense of deduced or true, even if you don’t want it to be and not its mathematical sense. I know I also have to clean these up and collect them under one heading. Coming soon!


New Theme Ideas?

If you have any, let me know.

I’m running an old version of Weaver now, and I dread updating it because it means sacrificing all the tweaks I made. But that is only a lazy man’s excuse. I suppose I’ll have to suck it up and do the work. What bothers me about Weaver are the too-round corners (see sidebar to the right). Somehow makes design seem amateurish.

What I’d really like is something more black and white, or muted colors. I tried Grayscales, which looked good-ish, except that color images jumped off the page as if they couldn’t wait to get out. Too disconcerting.

And then I don’t want to sacrifice my site’s banner picture, though I am happy to modify it or replace it with the current background. (I’ve been asked many times: I’m the guy on the right.)

So many WordPress themes are designed for pictures or posts with minimal words. But nobody comes to this site for the pictures.

Ideas? I’m all ears.


“Freedom Includes Total Diversity”

“Who are you to judge?”

Here’s the setup. That wise man Barack Obama nominated James “Wally” Brewster Jr. as Ambassador to the Dominican Republic. Brewster is a well known “bundler” to the administration, adept at using his contacts among the “orientations” crowd to raise large amounts of cash.

Cardinal Nicolas de Jesus Lopez Rodriguez, the Archbishop of Santo Domingo, “rebuked” the Obama administration over appointing a “gay rights activist”, while muttering “we can expect anything” from the USA (Rodriguez must read history).

As the Catholic Church is still respected in that part of the world, the administration was forced to respond to Rodriguez. Embassy chief of staff Daniel Foote said, “America’s freedom of thought, freedom of religion, expression and lifestyle, is one of the greatest values” and “that freedom includes total diversity, which is the strongest and most important source for Americans.”

Our subject is Foote’s proposition “freedom includes total diversity”. It is false. Wrong. Untrue. Not so. It is at variance with reality. It is absurdly self-contradictory. It is an outrageous, bizarre, insane, apocalyptically stupid thing to say.

Nobody, not a soul believes in diversity, “total” or otherwise, even though they claim to. Nobody should, either, because it is an appalling idea.

Just think. If Foote was right and “total diversity” was our goal, then, as Cole Porter sung to us, anything goes. Any behavior or expression is acceptable under the banner of “total diversity”. Any.

This includes a man saying and believing “Total diversity is asinine.” This includes a man slitting Dan Foote’s throat while singing Federally-recognized-holiday-of-December-25th-which-shall-remain-nameless carols. This includes a man naming that holy day at a school assembly. This includes forcing everybody else to say it. This includes a man joining in wedded bliss his goat—and then the sweater made from the creature after the goat passes. The “freedom” of “total diversity” includes locking up whoever you can overpower, removing their freedom, and torturing them by making Nancy Pelosi their cellmate.

J.S. Mill’s “experiments in living” aren’t in it. Why, even given all the money of the federal government, which loves us and wants our happiness, we could not explore every possible behavior to fulfill the stern requirements of “diversity.” For one, many diverse behaviors will end up killing off a good number of folks before they get to wander down their own avenues. For another, “diversity” requires we remove the government. People given the “freedom” of “diversity” cannot be ruled.

“Diversity” must be, in the whole history of philosophical ideas, the dumbest. Strain yourself—read Foucault, Dan Brown, even the op-ed page of the New York Times—but you will never discover anything stupider. “Diversity” cannot mean what it says. Except for the rankest, vilest, evilest anarchist, it is an impossibility that anybody can be “for” “diversity”.

Prove this to yourself. Let’s have a “Diversity Day” where, following ancient law and custom, those of unusual “orientations” are stoned to death. Let he who is without diversity withhold the first stone! Let’s put women “in their place” and require them to remain silent unless spoken to. Let’s expose those infants who hold a mother from her career and all the monetary possibilities that entails. Wait: I suppose we already do that one. So let’s instead, in the name of diversity and as used to be done, imprison these killers.

Again,”diversity” cannot mean diversity. It cannot mean “letting anybody do what they want.” It cannot even mean “letting anybody do what they want unless it hurts somebody else.” If that were so, all I have to do is claim that whatever you’re doing hurts me to stop you from doing it.

“Diversity” must be an Orwellian code-word to express a set of behaviors an individual finds acceptable and a set of behaviors the individual finds reprehensible. If you disagree with that, then you must, under pains of being against “diversity”, support those who are against (for example) same-sex marriage. You must also support those who are for it.

It is impossible to be simultaneously for and against the same thing: the best you can do is vacillate between extremes, now accepting a behavior, now condemning it. You must not, and can never, settle on any fixed opinion. To do so means abandoning “diversity.” Once you stake a position in anything, you have made yourself an enemy of “diversity.”

Thus “diversity” (as code word) can only mean “Believe this or else.” Cardinal Rodriguez is right to be worried.

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