Archive for the ‘ideology’ Category

The Present Is Another Country

Saturday, 31 December 2016

To-day in the bistro, an unfamiliar girl perhaps six years old sat near me on the same bench. She was joined after a few minutes by a woman, probably her mother, who sat on the other side of their table. The little girl was interested in me and in my attention. Years ago, the drill for me would have been to engage her in brief conversation, asking her name and so forth, and probably answering questions about what I were doing. To-day, it was to turn briefly to give a friendly smile to her, and then turn quickly back to my business, all without pause.

Our notions of proper behavior have changed because Americans are generally far more concerned and otherwise anxious about threats to children, especially sexual threats from adult men. I share that concern and anxiety. I don't know whether things have become more or less dangerous than once they were, but honestly I think that question is secondary. Even if our world is less dangerous for children than in the past, I want us to be concerned; if it was once less perilous, none-the-less I wish that we'd even then been more vigilant.

(The Economist used to make a practice of mocking Americans for our fear for children. Perhaps they still do. I don't expect that it has occurred to them, in the wake of the various scandals concerning the sexual exploitation of children in the UK, that perhaps they have once again been mistaken in their presumptions of superiority.)

Yes, I'm saddened that I couldn't have had that short conversation. But I don't live in the world that ought to be, and in this case I cannot make ours a better world by acting as I would if it were. Had I interacted with the child in a more inviting way, I would have helped to foster norms and expectations that are exploited by predators. She didn't much need to talk to me. She does need to be spared some of the awful possible outcomes of the world in which we live.

Delusions of Scientific Literacy

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Science is reasoned analysis of — and theorizing about — empirical data. A scientific conclusion cannot be recognized as such unless one understands the science.

It might be imagined that one can recognize a conclusion as scientific without understanding the science, by recognizing the scientists as such. But the popular formula that science is what scientists do is vacuous when taken literally, and wrong in its usual interpretation. Someone can can have an institutional certification as having been trained to be a scientist, and have a paid position ostensibly as a scientist, and yet not be a scientist; for those who actually understand some scientific area, it is fairly easy to find historical examples or perhaps present cases.[1] To recognize a scientist as such one must recognize what he or she does as science, not the other way around.

Even if it is in some contexts reasonable to accept conclusions from such persons on the basis of their social standing, it is not scientific literacy to accept conclusions on that basis; it is simply trust in the social order.

The full understanding of a scientific expert isn't always necessary to have a scientific understanding of the reasoning behind some of the broad conclusions of a scientific discipline. But in some cases of present controversy with significant policy implications, the dispute over the relevant conclusions turns upon issues of applied mathematics, and perhaps other things such as thermodynamics. No one can be scientifically literate in the areas of controversy without understanding that mathematics and so forth.

In many of the disputations amongst lay-persons over these issues, I observe people in at least one group who assert themselves to be scientifically literate, when they are no such thing, and to accept science, when they are not positioned to know whether what they are accepting is science. These are actually people who simply trust some part of the social order — typically, those state-funded institutions that declare themselves to engage in scientific research.

[1] It is certainly easy to find what lay-persons will acknowledge as examples. However, some of these ostensible examples are actually spurious.


Monday, 14 November 2016

A few years ago, in the title of an entry discussing the implications for the world of the failing health of Hugo Chávez, I alluded to a motto that ends leave a beautiful corpse[1]. That entry considered an observed practice:

When a charismatic leader dies aburptly while still in power, his or her supporters quickly begin building a mythology of what would have been accomplished had he or she lived.

I drew attention to how this mythologizing bears upon social policy:

The mythological episode of such leadership is treated as having the same standing for purposes of comparison as does historical fact. When an opponent tries to construct an argument founded on logic and general fact against policies associated with that leader, supporters treat the mythology as if it is a disproof by counter-example. What’s really happening then is that Faith is being mistaken for empirical data.

While death significantly amplifies the power of the mythologizing of a leader who was not given full opportunity to effect the programmes that he or she chose, death isn't essential for there to be some mythologizing; I noted that there was a developing narrative of what President Obama would have done had his party retained a majority in both chambers of Congress for the whole of his terms.

As it happens, charisma is also inessential, though it very much helps. And an odd substitute for direct charisma has been demonstrated. Barack Obama inflamed so much inverted narcissism on the part of his followers that a great many of them chose to treat his successor, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as if she were magnificent though she is signally lacking in charisma.

At the same time, her health is failing her, and had she been elected to the Presidency, she would not likely have served through a full term. There would have been an odd sort of race between how rapidly she did things that repelled those who had been her supporters, and when she left office. Depending upon the outcome of that race, she might have left a beautiful corpse.

But Ms Clinton has lost the race for Presidential Electors. Although a few of her supporters cling to an implausible hope that the Electoral College will not merely turn its back on the detestable Donald John Trump but will elect Clinton (as opposed to some Republican other than Trump), she will not be President. And the mythologizing is already under-way, even to the level of having Ms Clinton imagined as rather prettier than she is. [image of Kathryn McKinnon Berthold in the rôle of Hillary Rodham Clinton, singing 'Hallelujah']

One does not have to regard Mr Trump as even tolerable to resist the mythologizing and to see Ms Clinton for what she has been. She has repeatedly been one of the people causing the United States military to engage in the slaughter of innocent people, for stated goals that haven't been obtained because they haven't been obtainable. She has engaged in calculated support of domestic policies such as the War of Drugs and aggressive incarceration policies that have literally led to many thousands of deaths and to the ruin of many thousands of other lives. She and her husband have got rich exactly as brokers of political influence. She has privately spoken against some policies as corrosive while publicly supporting them — or vice versa — depending upon the expected flow of dollars and of votes. She has casually disregarded laws, in the expectation (thus far vindicated) that her connections will insulate her from being charged, let alone convicted.

If Ms Clinton is to be made into a beautiful corpse, it is rather fitting that this transformation be effected while she is undead.

[1] In full, the motto is Live fast; die young; leave a beautiful corpse. It is an elaboration of an earlier motto of live fast and die young. A popular variant is Live fast; die young; leave a good-looking corpse.

On the Meaning of Racism

Monday, 3 October 2016

The original definition of racism, and the one still found in standard dictionaries, is a theory or an adherence to a theory that merit is in part intrinsically a function of race

However, a few decades ago, some social theorists began insisting upon a new definition of racism, under which one could not be called a racist unless one not only were prejudiced against some racial group, but had social power. Devotees of this new definition variously baldly restate it, as if the restatement makes it so, or cite the theorists, as if such citation makes it so.

Those who make a special study of a subject sometimes take a term in popular use, and give it a peculiar, somewhat new definition. (For examp!e, we see that in physics, with the uses of energy, force, and work; and we see that in economics, with the definition of unemployment.) But what usually characterizes these redefinitions is that somewhat loose notions are replaced with more explicit, more precise, and otherwise more workable definitions. (For example, when an economist uses unemployment, she usually excludes people who have quit one job for another, but have not yet started that next job, because joblessness of this transitory sort is not typically considered to be a social ill.)

Alarms really ought to go-off about the redefinition of racism. The original concept was quite coherent and useful; if it were not coherent, then the redefinition (which essentially adds a condition) would inherit the incoherence. Racism on the part of people with little social power still has significant social consequences; any legitimate use of the new concept is far more sharply limited than that of the original concept.

Let's imagine that someone prejudiced against those outside his own major racial group makes a solo walking tour of Los Angeles. As he travels from one neighborhood to another, he gains or loses social power as the ethnic compositions of those neighborhoods vary. His beliefs about the relation between race and merit needn't change (and should not be expected to do so much if at all). Yet by the mere act of travel through a large city in which ethnic groups are not uniformly distributed, under the redefinition he would repeatedly go from being a racist, to not being a racist, to again being a racist. It would be extraordinary and dangerous to make a solo walking tour of all of Los Angeles, but a great many people regularly move across communities of different ethnic composition. Application of the proposed redefinition of racism would routinely become unworkable, under circumstance in which the standard definition remains quite workable.

There are certainly legitimate applications of the concept of socially empowered racism, but in those applications we can call it socially empowered racism or something similar.

When a concept loses its associated symbol, it becomes harder to discuss or even to think about that concept. Further, the response to symbols is largely emotive. Whether people learn by reason that something is good or that it is bad, or they are simply led to accept some valuation by imitation of those in their society, people come to associate positive or negative feelings with the words used for those things. Old concepts given new words don't provoke the same response; old symbols given new meanings carry with them some or all of the old feelings. Those who have adopted a new redefinition of racism can thus escape the recognition of racism, and the felt need to condemn some instances of racism, by allowing themselves to believe that some people simply cannot be racists, by virtue of their social standing.

We are simply dealing with an attempted hijacking of language, for purposes of subverting clear thought and discussion. That is most plain when the word racism has been introduced into some discourse with its standard definition, and in response it is insisted that something conforming to that original definition is not racism because it does not conform to the proposed redefinition. But any non-standard use that is not flagged as such is still a subversion of rationality. Those who have participated in the attempted hijacking are knaves or fools or both.

With It

Thursday, 28 July 2016

I'm not a great fan of Star Trek, for reasons that I won't labor here; but at times it provides useful cultural references.

Various people have drawn a comparison between the Clinton campaign and the Borg, prompting me to put together this logo [image combining modified Hillary Clinton logo with Borg announcement] And then to make stickers and magnets with it available at CafePress. Presumably anyone voluntarily displaying one of these magnets or stickers would be doing so ironically.

(For what little it's worth, I endorse no candidate, and still will not be voting for the least of the n evils.)

Up-Date (2016:07/29): Resistance is difficult. Yester-day after-noon, I received notice from CafePress that my graphic was being investigated as a possible violation of intellectual property. This charge is absurd, in that the Clinton logo and slogan are too simple to be copyrighted and no trademark protection has been attempted; likewise for the Borg reference. And, even if the Clinton logo and slogan were intellectual property, none-the-less my use of these elements would constitute fair use. (Though it must be admitted that, since I am not satirizing the Borg, if there were intellectual property there then my use would be more questionable.)

While the image is under investigation, the items on which it was to be placed are unavailable. A decision is supposed to come within 48 hours of the announcement. Of course, someone at CafePress may make a partisan call; such actions have become commonplace. In that case, I will look for a different service through which to get things produced.

Up-Date (2016:07/29): Resistance continues. CafePress simply chose to misrepresent the design as in violation of their stated content policy. So, as I said that I would, I've begun migrating to alternative vendors. I will also be billing CafePress for my labor.

Toxic Taxonomy

Friday, 17 June 2016

Most of the time, the inability or unwillingness of people to understand the difference between sex and gender is simply a low-level annoyance for me.[1] But, over the past few days, I have been increasingly irritated by the bigotry that this confusion is facilitating.

Unfortunately, many cultures, including our own, put pressure on people of a particular sex to adopt a particular gender; this is bigotry of one sort. Unfortunately, people of a sex who don't want to be of the socially prescribed gender often develop an active hostility towards those of that sex-gender combination; that is bigotry of another sort.

People who want to be of a given gender but who are not do not represent a toxic expression of that gender, because they are not of that gender. Claiming that a non-masculine person were toxically masculine or that a non-feminine person were toxically feminine entails a logical contradiction, regardless of whether the person were a male wanting to be masculine or a female wanting to be feminine.[2] And when toxicity results exactly from the fact that a person is not of a gender that the person feels that he or she ought to be, the illogic is especially acute.

Omar Mir Seddique Mateen was certainly toxic, but he lacked at least one of the core attributes of masculinity. His desire as a non-masculine male to be masculine contributed greatly to his toxicity.

Whether intentionally or merely thoughtlessly, to use toxic masculinity in describing Mateen is a slur against masculinity.[3] And that slur will come most naturally to those who are implicitly or explicitly hostile to masculinity.

He simply wasn't of my gender; no one should speak or write as if he were.

[1] Sex is a condition of the structures of the body, and associated with reproductive function. The term gender is sometimes used as a foolish mincing term for sex, but I mean here to refer to the set of behavioral characteristics (including rôles) that are associated with sex by expectations at the social, familial, and personal level. The term gender is taken by analogy from grammar, as are the terms masculine and feminine.

[2] There are sexes other than male and female and genders other than masculine and feminine, but traditional social expectations have included correspondences amongst such sexes and such genders. Instead, people who do not fit neatly as male or as female have been expected either to seek some sort of treatment to become one of those two sexes (with a masculine gender for males and a feminine gender for females) or to withdraw from society.

[3] It would be accurate, but misleading, to instead describe his condition as one of toxic non-masculinity.

On the Concept of Ownership

Monday, 23 May 2016

I have long and often encountered discussion that implicitly or explicitly involves notions of property or of ownership, which discussion is rendered incoherent from a failure to consider what it means for something to be property, what it means to own something.

Some confusion arises because we have come often to use the word property casually to mean an object (physical or more abstract) to which some sort of ownership may apply, without our considering whether the object is well conceptualized for purposes of considering property rights,[1] and without considering that actual ownership associated with that object might be distributed in some complicated ways amongst multiple parties.

One might, for some reason, associate a plot of land with an object imagined as beginning at the center of the Earth and extending to some sort of limits of the atmosphere (or beyond); from such an association, and then from a presumption that the whole object were property, farmers were once known to shoot at airplanes as trespassing vehicles. Yet other folk would assert that owning a plot of land as such only entitled one to control things to lesser depths and heights, in which case the rights could be associated with a smaller object, representing a sub-object as it were. One person might be thought to have the right to farm the aforementioned land, and another to extract its mineral resources so long as he didn't thereby interfere with the farming. Possibly others would claim peculiar easements, allowing them to travel through some or all of the object without thereby trespassing. There might be purported rights entitling still others to flows of resources such water, air, and electromagnetic radiation travelling through the object. In the case of sunlight (an electromagnetic radiation), the rights would typically be presumed to involve only some space above the soil, and the farmer might both have claims against her neighbors doing things that reduced her sunlight and be constrained by similar claims for her neighbors.

If we are thinking in terms of one object, and then change to thinking of an object within it, previously relevant rights of ownership may become irrelevant. If we instead think in terms of an object of which our original object is but a part, then new claims may become relevant. Two objects, neither of which is completely contained in the other, may share some third object as a part; so that any thorough consideration of ownership involving these two objects containing the third may involve rights that are literally identical and rights that are different. The minimal object relevant to describe some asserted set of property rights might not be sufficient to describe other rights none-the-less associated with that object. The minimal object in each of the previously mentioned cases (of farming, of easement, of mineral extraction, and of unobstructed resource flow) is somewhat different from the minimal object in the other cases.

A farmer who somehow forfeits her right not to have sunlight artificially obstructed may still be imagined to own the plot of land on which she grew her crops, yet she doesn't own what once she owned. Likewise, a house-holder who somehow surrenders his right to come and go from the plot on which the house sits doesn't own what once he owned. And, though it would perhaps seem very unsual, one might imagine these rights not transformed into claims for those who have prior rights to surrounding spaces, but instead coming into possession of third parties. For example, perhaps I speculate that I can buy whatever rights I need to build a skyscraper, on the assumption that I can buy a right to block the sunlight to a neighboring farm; I could purchase that latter right first, then discover that I am thwarted as to other purchases. This might work nicely for the farmer, but she no longer has a right that she once had; she no longer owns something that she once owned.

We can still express what things are owned as if they are objects, but we must then select our objects to match our rights of use. And our discourse can become strained and unnatural if we insist on always treating the thing owned as a distinct object rather than as a right of use. For example, if Timo is exclusively entitled to inhabit a cabin in the Winter and james is likewise entitled to inhabit it in the Summer, and we must express them as owning distinct objects, then we must treat the cabin in Winter as one object and the cabin in Summer as another. Indeed, we will surely have to be far more contrived in our construction of objects to account for what the two jointly do not own of the cabin! On the other hand, we can say that each has a right to use the cabin in some way without necessarily specifying how other rights of use are distributed; the concept of the cabin is available without first settling questions of ownership.

I don't propose that we generally stop using the word property as in the ordinary sense of a piece of property, merely that we understand that this everyday use may be misleading. Nor would I suggest that we should somehow stop thinking in terms of objects when we carefully consider ownership. But we must be alert to the fact that our choice of objects with which to think is largely taxonomic and to some degree arbitrary, and we should not take results that are no more than artefacts of that taxonomy as anything more profound.

In fact, the right of use may be recognized as itself an object of an abstract sort, but the right to use a right of use is not distinct from simply that right of use, and thus cannot be dissociated from it.[1.5]

My laboring of the relationship of ownership to objects and their uses isn't quibbling nor pirouetting. People who imagine an object as such to be owned tend all too often to imagine it somehow being owned beyond any of its various possible uses. They thus imagine that it can remain the property of one person or group even as another party — most often those in control of the state — appropriate its use, and even as this second party seizes every right of use. It then also becomes absurdly thinkable that one person might retain every right of use that she had, associated with an object, yet transfer ownership to some other party. Ownership would be reduced to absolutely nothing more than something such as a formal title.

When the state regulates property, it is taking rights of use and hence ownership. This transfer is relevant to questions of compensation (as in the case of the guarantees of the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution[2]), and of whether state regulation of the means of production is a form of socialism.

[1] The word object comes from the Latin ob-iacere, meaning throw-before, and referred originally to that thrown before the mind. What we now call objects are, however, mental organizations of what is thrown before us. Thus, to use a classic example, we can talk about my hand as an object, and my fist as an object; they seem to be the same object, yet only sometimes. (We may still, in good conscience, use the word objective for perceptible external reality. And extending it to include unperceived and imperceptible external reality shouldn't cause more than mild discomfort; the rightful demands of etymology are not unlimited.)

[1.5] This paragraph was added on 24 May.

[2] That Amendment (with an underscore by me) reads

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

My 2½ Votes

Saturday, 27 February 2016

During the 2000 Presidential race, I was told by some Democrats that not voting for Al[bert Arnold] Gore [jr] were the same thing as voting for George W[alker] Bush. And I was told by some Republicans that not voting for Bush were the same thing as voting for Gore. Somehow it seemed that, by not voting for either man, I were casting a vote for each.

On Election Day or on the day after, one of those Republicans who'd claimed that I voted for Gore by not voting for Bush learned that I'd also refused to vote for Harry [Edson] Browne (the Libertarian candidate) and that Republican then declared That's even worse! For it to be worse would mean that I'd effectively done even more voting for Gore, though perhaps not a whole further vote. I didn't interact on that day with any Democrats, so I don't know whether they would have creditted me with still further support of Bush in my refusal to vote for Browne. But it seemed as if, by not voting for anyone, I had voted more than twice.

Well, enough of that nonsense. People who make such claims don't know much about the mathematics of voting, and either just lack mathematical sense in general, or allow their emotions to overwhelm their intellects.

My refusal to vote in Presidential elections, which predated that race and has continued since, doesn't stem from resignation, from laziness, from apathy, nor from ignorance.

It comes in part from my extreme reluctance to support one evil in an attempt to stop another. I won't vote for a candidate unless I think him or her truly fit to be President, and I've not seen such a candidate in decades. Browne, for example, represented a watering-down of classical liberalism, when a pure expression was needed (as remains the case).

Further, when it comes to the two major parties, I am acutely aware that, in most of these elections, one candidate doesn't win so much as the other loses; the winners aren't loved by the typical voter; rather, the principal opponent of each is detested. Yet the victor usually claims a mandate; even when he barely squeaks past the other creep and even when voters give the other party a Congressional majority.

We get these detestable candidates because the institutional structure is corrupt at a deep, infrastructural level. But those who vote, even for the loser, are demonstrating some hope, however faint, in the process, and from that demonstration legitimacy is persuasively claimed for that structure.

It is, of course, difficult to sort-out who fails to register to vote from dissatisfaction and who from lack of concern; likewise for those who register but do not go to the polls. But I am registered, and I do go to the polls. I take and submit a ballot. But I do not vote for a Presidential candidate. I vote on the issues that I feel that I properly understand, and I occasionally vote for a local candidate. It would be absurd to dismiss people like me as uninterested. Our numbers are presently tiny, but our message is far more clear than would be votes for whomever we thought the least objectionable candidate.

In the up-coming Presidential election, the major parties are going to offer the very worst candidates that they have in my lifetime. We didn't get here by virtue of people who didn't vote for nominees, but by virtue of those who did.

Dietary Restriction

Saturday, 20 February 2016

People who've known me for a while know that I don't eat mammal tissue. I used to say red meat instead of mammal tissue but I got tired of repeatedly dealing with my mother's thinking that, because the pork industry was calling pork the other white meat, it somehow was no longer red meat.

In fact, I especially don't want to eat pork, because my more general rule is Never eat anything that could have loved you. and I'm quite sure that a pig could have loved me. Indeed, I think that various non-mammals, such as crows and parrots, are capable of things such as love.

An Internet friend recently mistook my standard for a reciprocity rule, as if I would reward various creatures on the chance that they might love me. But it's really a capacity rule; I don't want to eat an animal who has enough psychological sophistication for love.

I am willing to eat other animals. I'm even willing to eat animals whose ancestors could have loved me, but who, as a result of how they have been bred over many generations, now seem to lack such capacities. (However, I am put uncomfortably in mind of Lovecraft's story, The Rats in the Walls, in which human beings had been bred by cannibals to a much diminished intellectual state.)

As a result of my desire to avoid consuming creatures that are somewhat conscious, and of my special concern for pigs, I find myself thwarted when it comes to foods that contain gelatin, including marshmallows. It is possible to derive gelatin from fish, or to substitute for gelatin various non-animal products (such as agar-agar) in the making of things such as marshmallows. But, for the most part, gelatin is derived from the skin of pigs and substitutes for gelatin are not used.

Kosher gelatin proves to be a trickier matter than one might imagine. Partly that's because gelatin can be made from bits of cow (still not on my diet). But, also, there's a Rabbi Dovid Cohen who argues, perhaps with sincerity, that bones and skin are considered inedible under Judaïc Law, and that therefore a manufacturer has a sort of clean slate when beginning with them. OU kosher certification doesn't entail a promise that pig tissue did not go into any gelatin that might be present.

Theatre of the Absurd

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

It is often asserted that the current President runs a continuous campaign; that, even now, when he can no longer be reëlected nor get a Congress more to his liking before his Administration ends, he campaigns.

Well, more generally, his Administration has been theatre. The apparent campaigning is a manifestation of that. And to-day I read that he has produced a trailer for his up-coming State of the Union Address. A trailer. It makes perfect sense, because the Address is theatre. It has long been theatre, but he does theatre as did no President before him.

He's been concerned to posture and to act in ways that he expects to be made to look good by to-day's mainstream media and by that bloc of historians who decided, even before he took office, that they would depict his Administration favorably almost without regard to whatever he ended-up doing.

The recent climate accord, for which there was so much build-up and from which nothing came but loose and unenforceable promises, was theatre. The negotiations with Iran, in which many meetings were held to agree that the United States would throw up its hands (something that it could more simply have done unilaterally) were theatre.

Even the Affordable Care Act has become theatre. As costs spiral out of control it approaches its implosion, but it will be portrayed as a Noble Effort, ruined by Republicans and by the inherent wickedness of market forces.

And it was theatre when the man who has killed so many children with his drone strikes wept for the murdered children of Sandy Hook.

Theatre. The cost of the ticket is very high.