Friday Notes

I should standardize my “notes/compilation” post titles. I’m annoying myself.

I think while I’m reading some unrelated stuff, I might spend some more time wrapping up some more UpWing/DownWing archiving before I lose that thread entirely, since I’ve already got the requisite notes for them hanging around anyway. I may get back to that next week.

People draw constellations out of a mess of stars, telling stories about them in order to remember them and locate themselves in space.

We also spatialize time, drawing lines of causation between “seminal events” to identify and locate ourselves in some social sense.

note: sloppy, wish I could synthesize it better but the words just sit there.


I. A History of the Future in 100 Objects

I enjoyed some of the short snippets available in “A History of the Future in 100 Objects“.

From “Object 96: Neuroethicist Identity Exam (2066, Sol System)”

This one was thought-provoking:

6. Enrique decides to undergo an experimental narrative injection therapy. The narrative that wove together and gave coherence to his experiences is modified with original insights in order to improve his view of his own life. After the therapy, he decides he is unhappy with the change. Will reversing the therapy restore him to his original self?

Some others, for fun:

2. Bob fissions, creating an identical clone (Bob2). Shortly afterwards, Bob is discovered to have committed a crime, pre-fission. Who should be held responsible for this crime? Both Bob-prime and Bob2, or just Bob-prime?

3. Cheung signs a contract. Some time later, she performs personality reconstruction. Is Cheung still bound to that contract? Does the nature of the contract, or the result of the contract, have any relevance?


9. Glory is a Rovane-type group mind that meets the conditions of ethical personhood and agency. Glory comprises 245 individuals, but that total may increase or decrease over time. Under what conditions should Glory be considered to have become a different person or to have ‘died’? How do these conditions differ from those applying to non-group minds?

10. Henry is a self-identified fictive otherkin. He wants to permanently remap his personality and senses onto a My Daring Dragon gaming character. What criteria would you use to assess the seriousness of his request?


II. An Atheist View of History

…Which is “atheist” in regards to civil religion, ideas of progress, in praise of the Western Way etc. Everyone should read Ta-Nehisi Coates, forever. In the excellent “Mandela and the Question of Violence“.

Judt’s gaze is relentless. He rejects all grand narratives, skewers Utopianism (mostly in the form of Communism), and eschews the notion that history has definite shape and form. States are mostly amoral. In one breath he will write admiringly of the Nordic countries. In the next he will detail their descent into eugenics in the mid-20th century.

This is what I mean when I say that Judt has an atheist view of history. God does not care about history, and history does not care about humans. There is no triumphalism, in Postwar, about Western values and democracy. What you see is a continent at war with itself. The upholding of democratic values is a constant struggle, often lost—in the colonies, in the Eastern bloc, in Greece, in Portugal, in Spain. Even among the great Western powers there is the sense that no one is immune to the virus of authoritarianism.

Just like with the “narrative injection therapy” from Part I above, the “atheist view of history” is a tidy little phrase that I wish I made up.


III. Opinion Indeterminism

Multiple opinions- sometimes unrelated or even contradictory ones- being held in the same person at the same time. The person may collapse down onto one opinion as they are forced to contemplate it. Maybe “opinion uncertainty” gets at what I’m trying to describe a little better.

Two confused ideas that I’m going to let go here, today. This is my blog and I’ll do what I want:

A. Fuzzy Labeling

Maybe insultingly obvious: Tribal labels can obscure actual belief structures.

For example: In American politics there’s an understandable desire to step away from political and other identity pigeonholes. Many American voters call themselves “independents” now, which signals a dissatisfaction with the two-party system. But this label change isn’t terribly likely to change their voting behavior or political beliefs. Further, it creates a new conscious voting bloc, a new group to belong to, with all of its connotations and social burdens. The “independent” voter.

Is an atheist really the same as not-a-theist? It should basically be, by definition, but the name atheist creates a group of “atheists”, and that group may be associated with other things than the single disbelief that groups them. Honestly, between the last year that I called myself a Christian and the first year that I called myself an atheist, none of my foundational beliefs changed all that much other than the realization that one designation didn’t interest me as much as another designation. Once upon a time, when state politics were not national business, a republican could be elected in some states that would be considered far more liberal than a democrat elected in other states.

I could point out the same phenomenon elsewhere in my life and around me: I identified myself as a rational skeptic for a couple of years, and then eased out of that label- because rational skepticism seemed to be about more things than the one-sentence belief statement of the rational skeptic. Like the Catholic Church between Benedict XVI and Francis, my actual beliefs didn’t change so much as some vague idea of priority and presentation. Now, I did actually change beliefs as I dropped “Libertarianism”, but I held onto the label for a while after the foundations became shaky to me.

Although… when I attack a person who has adopted a label (or had one affixed to them), it’s supposed to be easy to find out what that label espouses and attribute all of the arguments and connotations of that argument to the labeled person. It wasn’t true for me but of course other people are simpler than me, aren’t they? This is the Fundamental Attribution Error at work- When I trip, the environment caused it; when others trip, they’re probably clumsy.

B. Fuzzy Conflict

In negotiation or conflict resolution curricula, we are taught thatinterests (the “why”)inform positions (the “what” that a party might claim to want). Hopefully, steadfast facts and values inform interests. It’s taught that when one hears a position, one should explore the parties’ interests and determine whether there are better agreements available than whatever explicit and conflicting positions appear to be on the table.

This is a very useful idea, especially in deliberative business conflicts. However, in social/political situations this doesn’t really seem to be true. This seems to be obvious- politics is tribal and in some respect is a matter of survival (or, if you don’t buy that, at least of evident human importance). Consider a modern politician, who might be in representing a particular known, simple position to appear strong to his constituency or to an interest group. These are “principles” he is expected not to give up on; there are non-negotiable lists and pledges and ratings systems to track his voting record and partisan media to keep watch over his words. His interest is in his standing much more than it is in a particular policy. The arguments and details are not as important as some sense of a power dynamic.

The same idea holds in personal social conflicts: oftentimes the egos involved wrangle with each other much more than they do with the situation at hand. Consider two parties engaging in vulgar political debate: Both sides may, if they’ve played this game often enough, create for themselves a whole wall of arguments that point to their same preferred policy (or away from the Other Policy). Even if an arguer discredits a particular argument (and good luck with that by the way, with your obviously discredited authorities and your politicized analysis), our politically conscious defender can readily spring two more arguments in its place, like some kind of hydra. Did he memorize these attacks from talking points somewhere? Probably not- at least, not deliberately. More likely, like most people he doesn’t like to lose arguments- or social engagements of any kind- and he has been rationalizing his own position since he staked it out earlier in the discussion (or before then, in a kinder world).

It can be very difficult to pin down positions into solid, clean, (fragile) lines of argument. It’s much easier for both parties, most of the time, to engage each other as two intimidating clouds of pseudo-related arguments, buzzing past each other entirely, speaking different languages and eliciting different authorities and histories and rallying their distinct troops. Generally, this is a dance that can agitate both parties but isn’t really meant to kill anyone. Meh, I’m sure that sometimes it can.

People often have to be coerced to narrow themselves down into singular lines of thought, because it costs a lot of energy and (maybe more importantly), it renders their argument mortal, perhaps causing a social threat to the person. You have to talk them down, carefully, you have to lower your voice and open your palms a bit and show that you aren’t looking to hurt them before you can get that buzzing cloud to slow and condense. Then maybe you can look at their arguments and be convinced or maybe even do some convincing of your own.