Monday, March 23, 2015

Links and quotes, February 2015

Yes, “February”. Shh.

Chana Messinger considers the dichotomy of moderate versus radical strains of ideologies in terms of diverse versus hyperfocused worldviews.
Radicals care very very much about their given causes. And at least part of the reason why, I think, is that their deep stories, their overarching narratives, are not and cannot be value neutral. A non-radical may consider Larry Summers’s comments about women sexist, but not feel compelled to take action as a result. A radical cannot. Seeing sexism in every part of society: law, politics, employment, family, and more, and acknowledging its virulent harm demands a fight to end it. Same with racism, and presumably, the same with sin.

Empiricism versus deontology, if you will. (Ever notice how pure deontology always ends up at odds with other philosophical approaches? Almost as if it has some kind of zero-tolerance rule going on.)

The Mohists preached Universal Love and the end of war. And in practice? They sought to make war impossible: developing sophisticated military strategy and defensive siege warfare tactics and deploying it against the aggressors in any battle to even out the odds. Truth mightn’t be stranger than fiction, but it sure gets away with more suspension of disbelief.

Robert Kolenik’s design for a kitchen countertop automatically lifts up to give easy access to the aquarium underneath. “Aquarium?” Aquarium.

Within a couple of days of one another,  Cory Doctorow and Scott Alexander both deconstruct-by-analogy the “individual decision” vs. “herd immunity” aspect of anti-vax arguments, in strikingly different ways. Doctorow’s piece plays it straight, running a reductio ad absurdum (“The government wants to force you to have brakes [on your car], but brakes or no brakes is a personal decision”).

Alexander’s piece is a little weirder, reapplying the same moral argument in a way that bends intuition (“Super-enhancing your kids isn’t a “personal choice”. It’s your basic duty as a parent and a responsible human being”). The question, of course, is what does the perceived contradiction tell us? Is it an eye-opening modus ponens, an anti-vax modus tollens... or is there a subtlety to the inner workings of the “herd immunity” concept that’s being drawn out here?

A couple of fandom-specific analyses from Storming the Ivory Tower:

Homestuck [is] a successful tech demo: it shows not just what you can do but why the new tech is useful and powerful. It's not just showing off a bunch of disconnected mechanisms, it's showing why we, as creators, might be interested in utilizing similar techniques, and why we, as consumers, should get excited about where the comic is headed.”
“Ward as the Lone White Male Antihero would, in many stories, get a free pass to determine his own morality. The narrative and theme would warp around him to make his actions and judgements correct, often at the cost of the actions and judgements of female characters. In Agents of SHIELD that logic is turned on its head, and the whole dynamic is revealed to be chauvinistic, patronizing, and ultimately subtly fascistic.”

“My sexuality was dead, because I had killed it.”

Libby Anne talks about her experience with The Purity Culture and Sexual Dysfunction, and the story of her long process of deprogramming herself from a lifetime of carefully trained distaste for sex. The picture it paints isn’t pleasant, and points to a broader theme of how cultural norms (in any subculture, not just “the mainstream”) can be powerful enough to override individual agency and people’s ability to express/experience who they are.

Want to play a game of Global Thermonuclear War? The National Post illustrates the arsenals the governments of the world have on a hair trigger.

Nick Szabo’s A Measure of Sacrifice is an amazing tour de force on the coeval development of timekeeping technology (especially big church clock towers and their bells), public common knowledge, and economic sophistication. (To whet your taste: the hourly wage can only be implemented in the presence of clocks employees trust not to have been tampered with. It shields employees from market fluctuations, in return for a fixed sacrifice of their time to their employers.)

I absolutely cannot do this piece justice in a one paragraph summary. Read it; you won’t regret it.

Meredith Patterson talks activism, the IO monad, and why sometimes you have to poke things with sticks:
I’m in favour of not being shot. But I’m also in favour of change I can see, not merely change I can believe in. If that means poking the status quo with a stick to see what it does, I’m more inclined to do that than not. And if it responds, I’m just as inclined to do it again, like that XKCD comic with the electric shock button. Maybe I find out a little more about how it works. Maybe I find out a way it breaks. Either way, I’ve learned more about it than I knew before. And, crucially, I never would have found out if I hadn’t picked up that stick.

Russia’s growing authoritarianism should not distract from the remarkable progress in the postcommunist region as a whole. Twenty-five years ago, the countries of the Eastern bloc represented an alternative civilization. To imagine them quickly converging with the global mainstream required a certain chutzpah. Yet that is exactly what they have done.

Anthropologists of note have demonstrated that the evidence points to another evolutionary process that yielded money. One that was based not on money’s utility as a lubricant of trade but, rather, as a unit of accounting for debt!... Indeed, everyday use of coins as a means of exchange was not witnessed for several thousands of years after it was used to record debt obligations.
Yanis Varoufakis, (link)

“Most of the valuable things you interact with every day are not money.” Meredith Patterson talks about tabloid/clickbait journalism and the “Internet outrage machine” from a game theoretic (and/or: economic) perspective.

The Guardian has a lot of strong content, much of it having to do with surveillance and geopolitics. Unfortunately, there's yellow journalism to be found in that domain on their pages as well, and distinguishing one from the other is still an exercise for the reader. [Call] the options above… Cooperate and Defect.

If you’re a socially aware producer, there’s always this tension between “What do I want to sell?” and “What will the audience buy?”...

Is it better to have a noble vision that no one but you gets to see?  Or is it better to have a slightly-massaged version of that vision that’s still going to push the envelope, but also appeal to enough folks that you can make buck?  Choose carefully, because there’s not actually a correct answer here.

Ferrett Steinmetz, (link)

And to cap, two quotes from Ozy Frantz. Firstly, an analogy regarding feminism, nerd stigma, and “outside advice” in activism:

Imagine an anti-feminist going on about toxicity and bullying within social justice culture. You may agree with them that social justice culture is often toxic and bullying; you may agree with every example they choose and criticism they make. However, you probably have the sneaking suspicion that the anti-feminist is not actually motivated by a pure and selfless desire to help the feminist movement be the best that it can be...

Similarly, in my experience, non-nerd feminists often seem to be have values that I, personally, find repugnant, such as “omg isn’t it creepy when an ugly person dares to express sexual desire? Ew! Gross!”, and that their critiques of nerd culture– even the critiques I think are accurate– are a tool to advance said values. And, in practice, non-nerd feminists have this disturbing tendency to go on about fat ugly autistic neckbeards who have mental health issues and live in their parents’ basement and act like Sheldon Cooper.

Secondly, a thought on the epistemic/instrumental dangers of unified activist language:

The “privilege” concept... creates the unstated assumption that all social justice problems are, on a fundamental level, the same problem. Which is stupid. Racism is probably the result of our brains’ natural tendency to see people who don’t look like us as The Other; classism is probably a side effect of a capitalist economy; homophobia is basically a vast cultural squick with a religious patina. (Yes, these are vastly oversimplified.) Why would you assume that you can use the same tactics to get rid of things with different causes?