You see, got my brother down cause it’s nothing to me

16 07 2019

I have nothing to say about the racist bag of maggots currently befouling the White House—nothing beyond curses and sputtering, that is.

He’s a terrible man and a terrible president with terrible policies enabling the worst of us. And that he has a good shot at re-upping his tenure is really more than I can handle right now.

I don’t follow any pro-Trumpers on Twitter—Twitter is my junk food, and I prefer my snacks in salty left-wing, artistic, academic, or animal form—but I do run across them online, and, honestly, . . . huh.

The outright racists who love him, okay, that makes sense. While I only understand racism on an intellectual level—I don’t get on the gut-level why anyone would want to be supremacist—I can identify it as an interest that the maggoty misogynist meets. And the cynics, like Mitch McConnell, who’ll excuse anything to get what they want (tax cuts, 19th-century judges): again, the interests intersect.

But the people who consider themselves principled, moral, who support him? Are they just lying to themselves about their morality? Are they in denial about the awfulness of The Donald?

There’s a fair amount of anger I hear from them, and fear about coming breakdown/SJW totalitarian takeover, and it’s not hard to read that anger-fear as its own justification. It’s also a handy way to deflect responsibility from one’s own actions: Look what you made me do!

That doesn’t seem enough, though, to explain how we could look at the same Tweets or hear the same speech or at fucking children in cages and reach such radically different conclusions about them. It’s ideological, yeah, but that’s hardly a sufficient explanation.

This might be where political psychology comes in, which is extremely not my bag. I don’t have anything against it in general, but it’s always seemed to me that the ‘political’ piece loses out to the ‘psychological’; since I want to understand political phenomenon as political, I’ve been leery of anything (incl economics or orthodox Marxism) which reduces the political to mere epiphenomenon.

Still, since I take politics as necessarily a scavenger field, dragging in economics and culture and religion and passion and psychology, etc, perhaps I simply need to get to diggin’ in other areas of this messy yard. I might never get it, but at least I’d have a better sense of the disconnect itself.





Hush, hush, keep it down now

10 04 2019

Over 8 years ago the economist Robin Hanson wrote a  post on “gentle silent rape.”

It was a thought experiment, an attempt to understand why rape is punished more often and severely than cuckoldry, something he found “puzzling,” given that, as he had argued in a previous post

Biologically, cuckoldry is a bigger reproductive harm than rape, so we should expect a similar intensity of inherited emotions about it.

Men would rather be raped than cuckholded, he’d said—no mention is made of what women prefer—but in trying to figure out what, besides sexism, could account for the discrepancy in the social response to rape and cuckholdry, he wrote that

It occurred to me recently that we can more clearly compare cuckoldry to gentle silent rape. Imagine a woman was drugged into unconsciousness and then gently raped, so that she suffered no noticeable physical harm nor any memory of the event, and the rapist tried to keep the event secret. Now drugging someone against their will is a crime, but . . . .

Now compare the two cases, cuckoldry and gentle silent rape. . . . Consider also that it tends to be easier to prove cuckoldry than rape, so if we avoid applying the law to hard-to-prove harms, that should favor punishing cuckoldry more than rape.

I cut out all sorts of nonsense—by all means, go read the entire, short, post for yourself—as it focuses on what should be the appropriate punishment for cuckholdry (fines? torture?), and I, like so, so many others before me, want to focus on the gentle silent rape.

Why now? Well, I heard a couple of interviews with Miriam Toews, a Canadian author who wrote a novel based on the real-life mass drugging and rape of Mennonite women by Mennonite men in a Bolivia, a years-long ordeal which was only exposed in 2009.

I’d never heard of this before, and I won’t go into the entire, horrifying and enraging tale here—again, click on the links to read what happened—but upon listening to an interview today I was reminded of that old Hanson post: Hey, didn’t some economist write about the relative non-harms of rape of which the women have no memory?

It was a bonkers post, one which Hanson continues to defend (while declaring that any mention of him as pro-rape is “bordering on slander“). Hey, he’s just, y’know, asking questions.

I’m all in favor of asking questions, and it’s important for scholars to turn conventions inside-out. To analyze a phenomenon fully, it makes sense to poke at it from every angle, to press even on the sore spots.

But if, as Hanson claims, you’re simply “trying to understand the world and work out puzzles and theories,” then you’ve got to bring those puzzles and theories back to the world you’re trying to understand.

He says he’s a “nerdy intellectual type” who’s “probably personally less able to and inclined to think those things through,” which is a helluva statement from someone who’s trying to understand the world.

It’s also irresponsible as hell.

By all means, apply your “simple evolutionary heuristic to ask roughly what would we guess the overall level of concerns about these things to be”, but then you need to, as the economistically-minded are so fond of saying, “mark to market”, to see if that heuristic or puzzle or theory actually does tell you anything about the phenomenon you’re prodding.

Had he done so, Hanson might have come across the story of the Mennonite women in Bolivia, might have considered whether gentle silent rape was even a thing worth conjuring, and whether he had any understanding of harm, much less the world, at all.





Nevermind

2 09 2014

What a dick:

roddreherquote

It should be noted that Dreher is adding this comment to a long post criticizing both Ta-Nehisi’s recent essay on learning French and on his “Blue Period” generally.

I think Dreher misreads TNC, badly, but in the post itself he at least tries to make some sense of TNC’s argument.

But this, this in effect repudiates that attempt wholly, dismissing any need for understanding, and effacing what Dreher wrote before.

Which, fine, he’s free to do.

It’s still a dick move.

 





O the dragons are gonna fly tonight

17 07 2014

I.

I understand the difference between unintentionally and intentionally killing someone, I do.

I understand that Hamas fires off rockets with the intention of killing Israelis, military & civilian alike, and I understand that the Israeli Defense Force fires missiles into Gaza with the intention of killing Hamas fighters, and in so doing, unintentionally kills civilians.

I get it: the purposes are not the same.

But.

When you are aware that your intentional actions will lead to large numbers of unintentional deaths, well, then it’s hard to see how much that lack of intention matters to the unintentionally dead, or to the families of the unintentionally dead.

Or to those of us witnessing the bodies of the unintentionally dead.

II.

If the Malaysian airliner was shot down unintentionally, accidentally, does that make it okay?

III.

I understand, really I do, the thinking behind the statement that Hamas are responsible for the civilian dead in Gaza: were they not to insist upon firing rockets into Israel, it would not be necessary for Israel to fire missiles into Gaza.

But the fact remains: Israel fires missiles into Gaza.

The fact remains: Israelis missiles killed those boys on the beach.

IV.

You may argue, if you wish, both that Israel is morally responsible in its attempts to limit civilian casualties and that Hamas is completely responsible for civilian casualties.

You may argue that, if you wish.

But if Israel is not responsible, then how is it responsible?

V.

I don’t know what I would do, how I would think, if I lived in Tel Aviv, Gaza, Hebron, or Jerusalem, if it were me, transplanted from my junior one-bedroom in Brooklyn to an apartment in Israel or the Occupied Territories.

If it were me, would I call those territories occupied, which they are, or would I call them Palestine, which is what some want them to become?

(Judea & Samaria? No: it is still me.)

How would I understand Israelis, Palestinians? the soldiers, the militants, the terrorists? the politicians? the underpaid academics, the cafe-goers and olive farmers and scientists and tour guides and those for whom the land is their home, their everything?

The kids, the families, anyone at a beach in July: that I understand.

VI.

From where I sit, in my junior one-bedroom in Brooklyn, it is clear: this must stop!

But of course. How obvious is that observation. How useless it is.

How many people disagree, by agreeing to its extremes; who seek for it to continue, without end, until it all can be finally ended.

Who don’t care what it takes to get to that final end, how much and how many will be destroyed.





I turn to my computer like a friend

24 02 2014

This isn’t creepy at all:

Language, [Ray Kurzweil] believes, is the key to everything. “And my project is ultimately to base search on really understanding what the language means. When you write an article you’re not creating an interesting collection of words. You have something to say and Google is devoted to intelligently organising and processing the world’s information. The message in your article is information, and the computers are not picking up on that. So we would like to actually have the computers read. We want them to read everything on the web and every page of every book, then be able to engage an intelligent dialogue with the user to be able to answer their questions.”

Excellent.

Google will know the answer to your question before you have asked it, he says. It will have read every email you’ve ever written, every document, every idle thought you’ve ever tapped into a search-engine box. It will know you better than your intimate partner does. Better, perhaps, than even yourself.

Nope, not the least bit creepy.

Or it would be if it weren’t horseshit.

Yeah, yeah— “Computers are on the threshold of reading and understanding the semantic content of a language, but not quite at human levels. But since they can read a million times more material than humans they can make up for that with quantity.”—but brute force isn’t always for the win. And a bit of code which allows a computer to understand the documents it scans doesn’t mean that computer will have attained human understanding.

It’s not that I doubt computers can learn in some sense of the word, that it can incorporate algorithms and heuristics which will allow it to attain some kind of understanding of what it learns; I don’t doubt that computer understanding is possible.

It’s just not clear that computer understanding is comparable to human understanding, not least because it’s unclear what human understanding is, and across time and space, becomes.

Human understanding may also incorporate algorithms and heuristics, but I don’t know that it can be reduced to that. It is fragile and unstable and prone to break down, and even when we think we understand, well, maybe we don’t.

And can I mention disagreement in understanding?

Ray Kurzweil is, as the Observer writer Carole Cadwalladr, notes, a “techno-optimist”, someone who believes tech can make turn us all into bionic women and six million dollar men (Better. Stronger. Faster.).

As someone who wears glasses, uses the elevator to trundle my overstuffed laundry bag down a couple of floors, and likes to sit back and watch Leverage on my computer, I ain’t anti-tech, far from it.

But I am a skeptic. Especially of the idea that tech will allow us to escape the human condition.

Maybe someday we will no longer be human, we will be immortal or transformed or perhaps we will truly have figured out some way to transcend the immanent. Perhaps someday we will escape being—we will no longer be.

Actually, we already can achieve that: it’s called dying. But I don’t think that’s what Kurzweil has in mind.

~~~

h/t HuffPo

 





Just sitting on your porch

9 09 2012

So I had this post in my head about understanding and not understanding and agnosticism and religion and politics and empathic imagination. . . .

It’s still there, and there it remains, at least for another day.





Mayan campaign mashup 2012: We belong together

6 09 2012

Yeah, he’s pretty good, isn’t he?

President Obama lacked the jocular wit of Clinton—who, despite some meanderings, pretty much killed it last night—but Obama’s got that (forgive the cliche) steely gaze that says We are on.

He’s not warm, not cuddly, not gather-y’all-in-my-arms like Clinton, but when he says “no one gets left behind,” you—well, I—get the sense that he will make goddamned sure that everyone is all aboard.

And Biden? Well, y’know, Joe. . . . If nothing else, he offered up a nice contrast for the supremely focused Obama.

My favorite part? The focus on citizenship, of course, the mention of obligation and responsibility, the notion that we really are a people.

So, yeah, I liked the speech—even more, frankly, than I liked Clinton’s (although I did enjoy Bill’s riffs more). And as a variation on what I said yesterday, even if this wasn’t particularly for me, it did include me, which, again, is nice.

How will others’ respond? I’d guess that most Dems will like it, most Repubs will dislike it, and the undecideds. . . well, I don’t understand undecideds, don’t understand what, at this point, what undecideds are undecided about.

In fact, I’d probably find it easier to crawl into the head of someone on the opposite side of the political spectrum than someone wandering about muttering I just don’t know. At least that rightist will share the sense that this shit matters.

No, that’s not a slap at the swings (although, to be honest, it started as one): I truly do not get those who care enough to vote, but who don’t care enough to form an opinion about that vote.

Eh, maybe they do, maybe I’m mistaking indecision for deliberation, maybe—probably—I fundamentally misunderstand the conditions under which the swings, well, swing.

And yeah, I could probably read survey results or transcripts of interviews with undecideds, and by perusing the literature could get a handle on the mechanics of indecision and the trajectories of swingers, and offer a half-decent analysis of the dance of the undecideds.

But in my bones, I probably still wouldn’t get it.