Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas On The Couch

By which I mean the psychologist's couch, not a particularly laid back Christmas which sounds wonderful.

I'm one of those people in the 'Christmas is a day to be survived camp.' Even though my family of origin are good and nice people that I would be happy to spend a day with even in the absence of any relation.

I don't have fond memories of Christmas day from childhood, Christmas day was a good 30 minutes - 1 hour in Childhood where myself and my two siblings would coordinate ourselves to come down stairs and open our presents together. It was exciting and fun and Mum and Dad would look on and perhaps exchange gifts with each other. (I've never thought about it before, but the lie of Santa does help facilitate kids feeling no reciprocity to their parents for all the gifts they can't buy them, and God knows how many kids feel indebted to parents all their lives even with Santa.)

Even though it may sound materialistic, after opening all the presents we would be given our marching orders, having to dress and pile into a car to endure a long and boring car ride from the Rat to Melbourne, where we would have to have Christmas lunch with my mum's side of the family, the semi-standard winter fare roast up that was not a novelty for children of the 80's whose parents could afford protein every day, and hours upon hours of idling and waiting and then a crappy present exchange with the extended family that mostly involved watching for children - and that parts key - my (and dare I say, our) childhood Christmas' were spectator sports, we mostly got to watch my mum's family have their Christmas.

And as if that wasn't enough, relief came in the form of being bundled back into the car and driven to Gippsland for Dad's side of the family. This was inarguably much more fun. My cousin had a better computer than we did and more games we didn't have. My paternal relatives are much more chill and keep it casual, the only real problem was that taking a leisurely stroll is not very pleasant after running a marathon. We were also faced with two unappealling options, not that we were given a choice - stay in Gippsland at Nana's house - which would keep us from getting to play with any of the gifts we'd learned we had. Or drive hours back to Ballarat (I'm not sure if that ever happened). Quite often we'd have a camper in tow, and Christmas day was actually the unrelaxed start to our annual vacation - which was great, and through adulthood has anchored my geographically when the family home was sold and everyone relocated - but nevertheless facilitated depriving us of any lasting joy in Christmas day.

Now there are certainly worse things that can and do happen to people on Christmas, although I can't claim to feel it's truth, I believe isolation would be much worse than an excess of family for company on the day. But upon reflection, Christmas as a child was an emotionally isolating experience, I know to some extent my siblings shared this experience, as we wandered aimlessly through the three open rooms of my Aunt's house, bored out of our fucking minds and cowed by my maternal relations lack of conversation skill in being unable to talk to eachother, that and the fact that the most desirable thing to discuss with my siblings would have been complaints about our immediate circumstances.

It walked that fine line between unpleasant enough to be torture, and so trivial you couldn't address it. There were kids of divorce, kids of abusive parents, kids raised in abject poverty to think about - we were 'the Turkey's a little dry' kids, nobody need get a violin out for us.

I have a pet theory though, that I can't really prove and have an unscientific sample size for. It's this though - the more dysfunctional a family the more in to Christmas the family is. I can furnish a story for why a believe this to be the case. If you have a dysfunctional unhappy home, the social expectations and rituals of Christmas finally unite the family into performing the role of people who care about each other. If father is a resentful callous abuser, it's going to be a huge relief to see him acting the role of great provider, and if mother is a resentful stressed out mess most of the time, then seeing her stress over decorating and preparing a Christmas table is going to be a welcome preoccupation for her.

If your family are chill people who get along with eachother every other day of the year, the stress of Christmas ritual is a deficit to the standard operation, not a relief. Hence I'm happy to say that Christmas is a day I simply hope to survive, because it indicates that the status quo is way better than Christmas itself. In fact, I've had a few 'orphan Christmas' and these are much better than the family gathering, not because of any character flaws of my family of origin, but because Christmas feasting actually can facilitate bringing me closer to people I care about when it's a bbq on a public holiday in a public space with a group of geographically displaced friends who care about each other.

So the dreaded commute has dropped off in adulthood, presents flow in every direction not just from Santa filling a pillowsack with shit I wrote on a list for him. The lunch is at my parents house, and the number of maternal relatives involved has more than halved.

So what has to be endured? Survived? My mother, in my case, and sadly what has washed out in recent years is a paradox that I believe a lot of people find themselves in at this time in this culture, if the comically stressed vibes surrounding my visits to the supermarkets in recent days are anything to go by, I cannot be alone.

The paradox is this, the rituals of the feast-day are all with the intention of showing people you care about them. These rituals have become so costly and stressful that a bunch of families have turned the day into demonstrating how much they care about the ritual.

To put it another way, because I find it helps, imagine if a relative (the one who cares the most) came to you for each of the 5 days leading up to Christmas and said 'yo, I need $20 contribution for your Christmas fund.' and dutifully you hand them $20, each day for 5 days until you've paid up your $100 dues. Then the next day you receive approximately $20 worth of food and gifts.

If you are someone like me, you are not going to be able to ignore that it's fucking stupid for a celebration to cost you more than you get to celebrate. Today as I'm writing this it is not Christmas day, but it like the past 5 days and the next 2 days have been stressful as my mother transforms into a Yuletide version of the Bridezilla phenomena. And while the worst Bridezilla is only going to have 3-4 weddings in a lifetime, Christmas happens every year.

In my personal case, Christmas is and always has been about my mother, and probably to dig a little deeper about her childhood traumas. She's been safe for decades now, but can't realize it in the way most trauma can't recognize safety. Worst of all, I lack the imagination to devise a solution.

She simply cares more, looking back on my childhood Christmasses, why would I care? How could I care? I don't think my mother realizes, but whatever she finds so special about Christmas, I've been left out of all my life. She is somewhat cognizant of this fact, long before we ever brought it up (excluding the honest insightful grizzling and whingeing of children) my parents have expressed regret at how they handled Christmas through our childhood.

But we are not that household that cooks seafood for Christmas, or has a picnic in a public park where kids can play and climb trees, we aren't that family that goes to a restaurant to take the stress out of Christmas and help some backpackers make bank serving tables. We are the classic Australian family that cooks climate inappropriate anglophiliac foods in excessive quantities in a decorated house because it reminds the grandparents of their grandparents nostalgia for the old-country.

Past attempts to wrest Christmas away from my mother's control - like taking over the cooking and minimizing the decorating have received the damning review 'It didn't feel like Christmas' and there is the sticking point for my imagination, 'it didn't feel like Christmas' is a glowing review for someone like me who doesn't enjoy Christmas much, but my mum cares about it a lot.

Leaving one with the only option one ever really has: acceptance. My best recourse is simply to accept that Christmas is always so long as she (or I live) going to be about her, and her childhood. By accepting that you can begin to reject the societal messages of what Christmas claims to be about and experience and expectation can harmonize.

There are people that judge those in the 'Christmas must be survived camp' as Grinches, but to me and in my experience it's generally indicative of quite positive psychology, people that have accepted that Christmas is how the feel about Christmas and not how Christmas is marketed to everyone. Because people fuck it up constantly by caring about the rituals, the decorations and it isn't fare to say they don't care about the participants, they just forget how to care about the participants.

Have a safe Christmas everyone.

Thursday, December 07, 2017


Increasingly my experience confirms that you cannot simply tell people information and it will be heard, let alone understood.

This wasn't my own revelation, not a lesson I learned the hard way. I studied marketing, it was handed to me on a platter by Al Ries and Jack Trout, who's book 'Positioning: The Battle For Your Mind' I would still say is better than actually doing a marketing degree, because that's the signal, and the rest of a marketing degree is noise.

But just as the Titans gave birth to the Gods of Olympus and were overtaken by them, it seems Marketing's struggling progenator - Psychology has also caught up, in the form of cognitive distortion and nueroscience even suggests that when confronted with information we don't want to believe blood drains from the parts of our brain necessary to comprehend it.

There's also the question of competence - communication as a process starts with the sender having some meaning in their mind, that they encode into a message (which requires competence) the message is sent to a recipient who has to decode the message into meaning in their own mind, and communication is successful only when there's a shared understanding of meaning.

If you think apple and you say 'shiny fruit that fits that can be carried in one hand' and the person hears this and thinks orange, then the communication has failed. There are fairly boring board games built around this concept.

But yes, there are mundane challenges in the way of anyone being understood ever, like how much knowledge to presume and so forth.

How to be understood is a skill, a process that few people learn and fewer apply. Partly because empiricism is rare, many of us walk around not really confirming whether people understand us, simply that they say what we need them to say.

Consider how many people believe that money doesn't buy happiness, and better yet, have come to understand that money can't buy them happiness?

More than zero, even though its pretty easy to recall a sad story involving a rich person - the current President of the United States is one very public example that disproves the rule.

There's a lot of people that don't want to believe that winning the lottery will in the long run leave them no happier (and probably no richer) than they are now. They don't want to believe it.

Less extremely, how many people want to hear that they are not good at their job?

Now consider the plight of a CEO, no need to break out the sarcastic violin just yet, this plight doesn't involve getting fired for exposing his penis. In fact there's no need to assume she has a penis.

She just wants to not only communicate, but disseminate a message about organisational values to the entire organisation.

In one relative sense, her task is easy as the CEO much easier than trying to disseminate a message through the organisation from the bottom of the hierarchy. She has the current of the river flowing for her.

But consider first that she needs to encode her message so it will be as meaningful to her CFO and to the receptionist on the front desk that greets members of the public.

So the message needs to be meaningful regardless of the spot an individual holds within the organization. So a lot of exposition, clarifying is gone, it is delegated to the decoding process. So she is railroaded into speaking generally.

This CEO has been sitting around thinking about the whole value chain, and reconciling it with the fact that they have 10,000 daily interactions with customers. She's thinking that consumers are far more likely to tell their friends about a negative experience with the company than they are to talk about a positive experience with the organisation and how if just 5% of customer interactions are handled poorly, it could be enough to seriously damage the business.

So she wants to give everyone the message to 'be fucking professional and courteous to customers, even if they are difficult.' but she can't encode the message that way - because she has to be consistent with the very professionalism she is trying to communicate.

So she might say something like 'Here at WidgetCorp we value professionalism, it's important to be professional at all times in every interaction with a customer. Not only the customers we engage with outside our organization but the internal customers between departments. Ultimately it's the customers that provide the money that constitutes our paychecks, and the impression we give them will determine how long we all will stay employed. So think about how you can apply professionalism in your role and especially in your interactions.'

This message is disseminated. Most won't even see it. It'll shoot right over the top of their heads. Some will look at it and perceive no real content. But the CEO makes the reception of this message her hobby horse, she makes sure that the managers that report to her pay attention and draw attention to the message in the weekly team briefings etc.

So let's say she gets 30% of the organization to eventually through around 6 repetitions to hear the message. Now what? Now the message has to contend against other pressures. What if an employees incentives are not aligned with this organizational value of professional conduct.

Firstly, they may be front line staff - they may, have a shitty job. They are not likely to think big picture and thus interpret how they interact with a customer as being something personal to them, rather than of consequence to the organization at large through the aggregate.

So this front line staff may consider their emotional states as roughly equal in consequence to the customers they deal with on a daily basis. It might be hard to understand that the last interaction with a customer should not predispose them towards the next customer (positively or negatively) but should instead have a standard professional disposition because they are performing for the company that employs them.

Higher up, the Manager of the IT department may not want to believe that the people from the sales and the accounts departments are in fact their customers rather than their equal, given that they hold equivalent titles, earn equivalent salaries etc. just the value chain doesn't go that way. IT is there to serve the needs of the other departments. Logistics is there to serve the sales department etc. This may come up against people's egos. They don't want to see themselves as servants but equals.

Throughout the organisation there will be people who don't think of themselves as individuals that have sold their time to the organisation in exchange for an income, but see the organisation as a means to achieving their personal ambitions. They will act in a self serving manner and disregard the performance they actually owe in exchange for their salary, for better or worse.

And some people will just be straight up too stupid to supply the necessary imagination to decode the message into their own conduct.

Others will resent the implication that they are anything less than professional currently and see the message as redundant even though they could improve with applied thought and effort.

In this regard disseminating a message from one to many, is a bit like using a pool cue to hit a pool cue to hit a pool cue to hit a pool cue to sink a ball in a designated pocket. A plausible but improbable undertaking, and at the very least hugely inefficient. I don't hold high hopes that the solution is technological because the hardware we are dealing with is the human brain and the human brain comes with a bunch of built in defense measures for preserving existing beliefs.

This is of course bad news if your belief is that problems can be solved by simply educating people with the facts through a speech or art-piece that goes viral.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

On Progressives

This has proved incredibly hard to write. The most accurate word I can muster to describe the emotional state of writing this - is vexing. I'm vexed.

It comes largely from the nebulous term of 'Progressive' and ultimately I have to conclude that as far as subject is concerned - I quite literally do not know what I'm talking about. I'm also confident, that neither do you.

In writing this, my first stop was wikipedia to just grab a definition of 'Progressive' where I discovered that 'progressivism' isn't a thing, or more accurately, it isn't the thing I'm talking about. And to be honest, despite their being characters like David Pakman and Sam Seder that identify themselves, or their content as 'progressive' I would be hesitant to suggest that 'progressive' is not a pejorative (especially since I first came across the term on 'The Rubin Report') and the urban dictionary definition is clearly pejorative.

At best, perhaps it is simply 'least pejorative' when referring to the same people that are labelled 'Social Justice Warriors' (SJWs) or 'regressive-left' and I'd be completely open to an explanation that all this terminology is part of a liberal identity crisis.

It's possible that anybody who is more, shall we say, exuberantly left of you becomes 'one of those people' and anyone less exuberant or more skeptical than you becomes a 'closet right-winger' or something.

Anyway, I wanted to write this because I'm fucking curious. And I'm specifically curious as to what is going on emotionally with the kind of people, that behave in the kind of way, that might have them, or me, describe them as progressive.

So I could fuck around all day with exposition and attempting to define something with no authority but personal opinion. What I discovered upon digging though, is that 'Progressives' are really just people, reactive people rather than people in possession of a specific or explicit ideology.

But let's dig.


The first important emotion to consider is 'confidence' and the linked wikipedia page gives a pretty good definition of how we tend to employ confidence in everyday speech and how we think about the emotion. The etymology of 'confidence' is a derivation of 'confidere' the latin verb 'to trust' and from that we can understand confidence in other contexts like 'I told you that in confidence' or 'I was scammed by a con-man' (even though you may not realize that 'con' is an abreviation of confidence).

The important thing about trust is that something or someone is being trusted. I don't want to go down the rabbit-hole of trusting something whether it be a rope ladder or a bridge, or whether it is a process whereby we obtain knowledge like empiricism, skepticism, the socratic method etc. I'm not qualified or motivated enough to look at the nuances of epistemology.

When we are confident because we are trusting someone it's a different matter though, and this is a very human characteristic. As a simple example where you and I probably agree is that climate change is a real phenomena caused by human activity. Something else we probably have in common is that left with no devices to refer to, there's only so far we could explain the phenomena of climate change to a stranger. For me that threshold is reached by the time I'd have to explain why carbon particles being more massive and retaining more heat would remain in the atmosphere instead of filtering down through the less massive gases back to the surface, and also the properties of methane emitted by cattle that make it a concerning greenhouse gas.

Hitting that threshold though, I could pull on a thread and find someone trustworthy that is the basis for my confidence that climate change is real. Figures like Al Gore, Bill Nye, Noam Chomsky none of whom are themselves climate scientists, but even so you can pull that thread and with internet access you can find institutions, papers, government agencies, private research firms etc. to trust in. You can find whole disciplines of science to defer to - experts. Meteorologists, chemists, physicists, actuaries, statisticians etc. You can defer to.

So here was my question. Who are the progressive public intellectuals? Who do progressives trust? What institutions are driving progressive thought?

When I got curious as to these questions, I assumed, I guess you'd say stereotyped it into being an easy ask. I made two assumptions 1) I was ignorant of the progressive thought leaders. 2) tertiary education correlates with liberal preferences and therefore liberals tend to recognize experts aka defer.

By comparison who are the 'alt-right' deferring to? It's easy - Alex Jones, Steve Bannon, Milo Yiannopolos, Ben Shapiro etc. It's real fucking easy to point to where the Alt-right are getting their fucking crazy ideas from.

Now I presumed that progressives would also require a greater standard of expertise, dignity and decorum for their trustees than the alt-right do. I presumed that I would not need much search skills to find out where progressive ideas are coming from.

It's almost impossible to find someone reputable, working for a reputable institution or organisation speaking for a publication with any shred or modicum of quality control in place to advocate an idea like race is a social construction. Or someone to coherently walk an audience through why trigger warnings and safe spaces are appropriate ways to address mental health issues like chronic anxiety or trauma.

And mental health issues/advocacy is low hanging fruit to demonstrate how conspicuously absent the trusted experts are behind progressive behavior. Because mental health is a serious issue and should be dignified with serious treatment. 'Trauma' means something, it requires clinical diagnosis, because it has serious treatment outcomes.

As somebody who holds a degree in economics and finance aka 'a certified fool' I know it is okay to hold opinions that run against the consensus of a social science. It's okay to be critical of an orthodoxy. But the thing is, if I hit my explanatory threshold as to why I reject Neo-classical economic dogma, it's easy for me to point to economics professors who have substantiated their criticisms: Mark Blyth, Robert Schiller, Yanis Varoufakis, Richard Thaler. I can point to finance critics like Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Warren Buffet, Peter Schiff or outsider critics like Noam Chomsky a linguist and David Graeber an anthropologist.

These public intellectuals not only have expertise but they get to speak on platforms such as TED, Big Think, Talks @ Google etc. They do keynote speeches at universities and so forth. They leave big obvious foodprints for me to follow and thus derive my confidence.

If you are going to adopt tactics that go against psychology, that's fine. But I would expect you to be able to point to charismatic, coherant, articulate public intellectuals that can walk out on the stage at TED and advocate why people are blank slates formed purely by their social environment that is constructed by conscious agents and society is as it is for non-arbitrary reasons.

I can't. It's exceedingly difficult, with some exceptions. If you take a basic transferable skill known in the business as 'search skills' I should be able to find someone who can justify a concept like campus safe-spaces, trigger warnings, microaggressions, privilege (in any of it's variants), male-fragility, the patriarchy, intersectionality etc.

The few exceptions are Kimberle Crenshaw who appears to have originated 'Intersectionality' as a concept, and Ta-Nahesi Coates who speaks eloquently on race as a social construct. There's also plenty of Feminist public intellectuals running a large gamut, from Camille Paglia through to Andrea Dworkin.

Which is the second aspect of confidence, which is the assumption that the confident people know who they have confidence in. So Crenshaw articulates in a TED talk a quite compelling argument about intersectionality that addresses almost a difficult logic puzzle of acknowledging discrimination that happens at the intersection of two discriminated groups. But even so, this is limited in terms of Crenshaw's ability to provide a rationale for disregarding psychology - marketing even...

It's difficult to not dig into the side tracks to try and illustrate the lack of deference, but at best I've found a few people, far less than you'd think who are very good at describing problems that progressives and broader liberals alike are concerned with. It has thus far been impossible to find someone who can justify the solutions that are adopted and thus characterize progressives in terms of attacking feminist initiatives for not being intersectional, utilizing trigger warnings, diagnosing psychiatric conditions, advocating safe spaces, vandalizing confederate statues or punching nazis.

Thus the conclusion I came to was via what I feel is the most useful analogy. People by and large are economically illiterate. Thus we tend to defer when it comes to investment decisions. But what you can freely observe anywhere is that people from all walks of life can defer vast sums of money - the majority of their personal net worth to investment in property. And who do they defer to?

Their parents, their friends, mortgage broker ads, reality shows about renovation and property flipping, bank aps, real-estate industry funded advertorials, real estate agents, gossip and hearsay. Even though we have, and have never had more access to accountants, financial planners, economists, fund managers, professional investors etc. Experts exist and have legal obligations to provide best-advice to people, but they don't they simply trust in often the people who are immediately around them. I am confident in saying that the majority of investment behavior is just herd mentality.

Another way of saying it is, that people have confidence not in people that have a superior understanding or superior reason for being confident than them, but they have confidence in people who are just like them. They look across not up.

The worrying thing is though, articulated by Nietzsche 'The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think different.'

Confidence II

Which won't be as long. In fact it's really just two quotes. Something I am extremely confident in is that the more secure your belief is, the more willing you should be to have to defend it. Which is to say, a willingness to engage with dissenting views. If you have any confidence in your beliefs, then the concept of a 'dangerous viewpoint' shouldn't exist. If you can defend your beliefs against it, then what of it? If you can't then you have an obligation to adopt the superior belief until you can defend the previously held one.

So I'm reminded of Mark Twain's 'The easy confidence with which I know another man's religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.' is something to endeavor to keep in mind, I find progressives dismissive - quick to label a dissenter as a member of the outgroup, or even to dismiss whole areas of science - like biology or evolutionary psychology. But if you can, be like Twain and suspect yourself whenever you feel the compulsion to dismiss someone.

It also alludes to something greater as regards the easy confidence with which a progressive may act - they have an onus to refute psychology if they want to advocate trigger warnings, or call people out for microaggressions, or ask for service workers to train themselves into gender neutral speech. You have an onus to justify moving the limits of individual rights from where one person's end where another person's begin etc.

This is the big question as to the confidence of progressives - as hard as it is to find reputable experts to articulate the rationale of any specific progressive meme, it is quite easy to find reputable articulate experts that provide compelling and coherent critiques of much of what progressives advocate. Ben Franklin expressed a similar phenomena that reminds me of my experience researching progressive ideas "Some Books against Deism fell into my Hands; they were said to be the Substance of Sermons preached at Boyle's Lectures. It happened that they wrought an Effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them: For the Arguments of the Deists which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to me much Stronger than the Refutations. In short I soon became a thorough Deist."

This interview for example, is a pretty comprehensive coherent explanation of the phenomena of progressivism although they use the language of 'Campus Culture' mostly as Jonathon Haidt was one of the earliest critics. However if you aren't suspect that your own religion isn't folly, then you should be able to sit through it and easily dismiss what they discuss and the sources they sight.


Not so much an emotion but an intuition, but dualism is an intuition we can get emotionally invested in. It's basically the mind-body dichotomy. For the record, I do not believe in dualism.

And for me, it isn't even that I defer to philosophers or nueroscientists. I can do the necessary experimentation myself to determine that my mind and body are very interlinked. I get a filling in my tooth at the dentist then ride through traffic home as the anesthetic wears off and I notice I am far more acrimonious towards the drivers than I normally am.

I try to cut pizza out of my diet and find myself caving after 1 day and rationalizing why it's a bad time to cut my diet and tomorrow would be better. I find someone attractive and discover I am suddenly tolerating different viewpoints that I have previously been scathingly critical of. (One of the best aspects of falling in love.)

My physiology has a huge impact on the shape of my thoughts. Thus as regards addictions and what not, it is by now virtually impossible for me to cede that we can simply think ourselves into new ways of being.

Thus as nebulous and unofficial as it is, I feel the handle 'progressive' is non-arbitrary and quite descriptive. It describes people that possess the intuition that you present them with an updated belief - for example, a new attitude towards transgender individuals, and they will simply become open tolerant people because that is how the mind works.

Unfortunately, it isn't how the mind works. The mind works through 'belief perseverance' and 'confirmation bias'.

And this is purely speculation but in my experience progressives really want to believe that we are who we think we are. And therein I can go no further because it gets into postmodernist philosophy which I - like most progressives do not understand, but like Ben Franklin, I find the critics of postmodernism far more compelling than the arguments of postmodernism. Whether it be someone as distasteful to progressives as Jordan Peterson, or Camille Paglia or an activist as beloved as Noam Chomsky you should be able to substantiate rebuttals not just to these people, but what psychologists and nueroscientists can demonstrate repeatedly in the lab, whether it be experiments in embodied cognition, enclothed cognition etc.


Feeding straight out of dualism, we come across egalitarianism. And this seems to be the thing that divides people within the spectrum of being liberal or left. It seems to be where one stands between notions of equality like 'equal opportunity' and notions of equality like 'everyone is equal'.

I believe progressives are much closer to the latter notion of equality. And this is problematic, particularly for progressives, because without distinctions between individuals, particularly in concepts like merit - you cannot have quality control.

So in part that explains the issues of confidence, there's no deference to authority because everyone is equally an authority. It also explains the complete absence of delegation among progressives and within progressive campaigns.

Emotionally there seems to be a great investment in the notion of a 'popular movement'. People power etc. I suspect that may be where critics of progressives infer the influence of Marx - because the lack of delegation isn't democratic. Democracy is a system whereby the people delegate somebody to serve as their leader - thus ideally we are meant to elect people more capable than ourselves of representing our interests, in the same way as you might employ a defense attorney to represent you in court. If you are a progressive, confronted with a alt-right troll, and you had the option of tagging-in Barack Obama to argue with them on your behalf, would you tag him in? If yes, that's democracy at work. If 'no' you believe in popular movements.

Popular movements are to me problematic though, for example I found upon first exposure this video to be actually distressing to watch. It's been criticized enough, trolled more than enough, that I would find anyone hard pressed to suggest that it helped the cause more than it set it backwards.

And the trouble is, when you have campaigns for social justice that are completely decentralized and anyone on their own initiative has equal opportunity to represent your cause, I tend to observe quite visceral human behavior one that doesn't promise a brighter tomorrow filled with 'due process' and 'rule of law' and that respects 'onus of proof' and has protections against 'the tyranny of the majority'.

This short video of toppling a confederate statue by protesters captures what I'm talking about. It's obviously nothing compared to a neo-nazi driving a car into protesters and murdering a person, but all the spitting and kicking of the statue when it's down is a far cry from Ulysses S Grant's shushing of the Union army band and remarking "The war is over, the rebels are our countrymen again."

For me, emotionally it is hard to believe I'm on the winning side when my allies show no decorum and do not extend the concept of human dignity even to themselves. This is the general pitfall of popular movements and looking at history it's hard to find examples of egalitarian movements overcoming opponents that exert some level of quality control as to who gets to be in the front lines.

Another piece of Nietzsche that is worth baring in mind is "The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments." you take out the 'deliberately' and you essentially have egalitarian popular movements, where the only qualification to represent the cause, to speak for the cause is that you are on it's side - loyalty to the ingroup. After that it doesn't matter as to questions of your temperament, your verbal abilities, your intelligence, your comprehension of your own avowed ideology. It is simply enough that you are a member of the same team.

Much as we don't want to believe it, xenophobia, fear of 'outsiders' or 'outgroups' is a very human intuition, it takes personal discipline to compensate for that, and egalitarianism is no exception. Which brings me too...

Double Standards

Ta-Nehisi Coates articulated this really good point talking about 'We Were 8 Years In Power' that upon hearing it seems self-evident. Which is to say, the current Republican party obsession, and President's obsession with reversing every decision of Barrack Obama's administration is driven not by a belief that he was a bad president, but by a fear that he is a good one.

I basically agree with Coates, and I view him through the context of being one of the racists he criticizes. But I also agree with commentaries like Yanis Varoufakis about Obama's missed opportunity to penalize wall street rather than bailing them out that helped Trump's campaign. But even then, Coates concedes that not all Trump voters are necessarily racists, but the fact of Trump being a racist and white supremacist was not disqualifying does need answering for.

But most relevantly is the observation that a black President has to basically be perfect, where a white president can be pretty much as flawed and reprehensible a human being imaginable has an interesting implication. Which is to say, if you want the best candidate - vote for the one who is held to the highest standard.

It's almost a stoic philosophy, of utilizing hardship to temper yourself into a stronger person. But do progressives embrace stoic philosophy?

No. Advocating trigger warnings, campaigning against microaggressions (or punishing them), advocating or demanding safe-spaces flies in the face of stoicism, not just psychology.

But even then, there's another abandoning of the double standards, which is that there are no 'rules of engagement' progressives engage in, for those that identify as 'progressive' they do not appear to hold themselves to higher standards than their sworn enemies the alt-right.

Take for example two of the few people that actually identify themselves and their content as 'progressive' David Pakman and Sam Sedar. When first introduced to David Pakman I commented on how similar he was to Alex Jones. Of course the similarities I see are there, but obviously not in the content of their ideologies.

But both basically are white men, that sit behind the affectations of a professional news studio, both wear suits and watches and both promote sponsors while neither are held to any kind of journalistic standards.

Credit where credit is due, David Pakman obviously possesses a lot more dignity than Alex Jones, and as a host he has some impressive qualities - for example he tends to demonstrate as an interviewer a quite hospitable and dignified demeanor. He also extends the principle of charity, where he tries to summarise the views of his guests and obtain their confirmation that their views are fairly represented.

That's nice. But then he posts videos like this that he himself is for some reason personally proud of, when he does a lead in. To me it is a weak interview, where instead of questioning the validity of the strategy of burning Korans to achieve his avowed aims. Instead he drives at trying to get the guy to expose himself as a racist red neck, and the interview subject winds up coming across as someone who believes the dogma of his own religion. Thus unbelievably, Pakman somehow manages to take a person burning Koran's to send a message to Islam and conduct an interview that makes him look like a man with the courage of his convictions. A feat in and of itself.

Furthermore, the video is titled 'Koran Burner interview goes bad quickly.' which would be accurate insofar as describing Pakman missing the window to truly reveal something reprehensible about his subject, but promotes it as far more dramatic than it is. This is a theme with Pakman videos in terms of his marketing strategy - video titles like '#GamerGate: Brianna Wu Accuses Interviewer of 'Hit Piece' Attack' and 'Pastor David Manning Admits to Gay Impulses, Claims Gay Semen in Starbucks Coffee' that not only sensationalize the content of the actual interviews to the point of being misleading, but are straight out of the propaganda play book.

And if you take the David Pakman Show and lower the journalistic standards a 1000% you get the Majority Report with Sam Sedar. I would trust most people to have an immediate visceral response to the Majority Report that tells them they are watching something bad, try it, if you dare. The smarm, the condescension, the clique laughing in the background. Even when fundamentally I agree with the ostensible stance of the segment, I'm not sure how someone could be so dedicated to being so unlikeable.

The quality control is so low that the channel has segments like this that it releases for general consumption. Billed as 'Trump Forces Japanese Prime Minister To Hold His Stupid Hats.' it's propaganda that wouldn't even get by the Ministry of Truth in George Orwell's 1984. The emotive language, the innacuracy ... it's just irredeemably bad content given that the hats were provided by Japan, whom are most concerned about getting rid of North Korea, are brazenly pandering to president Trump and if anything is true, it's that Japanese prime minister forces Trump to hold stupid hats through excessive pandering.

It's just fucking juvenile and emotionally indistinguishable from the worst of the alt-right commentators. An In-group circle jerk of a program that appears to be dedicated to reassuring themselves that they are right and everyone else are idiots.

The thing is, there's no progressive leaders or authorities that could ever say 'you guys (you white college educated guys) are harming more than you are helping, we need you to lift your game and quit this sensational smarmy bullshit.' because there is no deference to any authorities. The internet isn't regulated like television media.

Australia has a publicly funded broadcast channel that has a program called 'Mediawatch' that is tasked with holding journalists to journalistic standards. And yes, newsprint, radio and free-to-air television is still more influential in Australian politics than Youtube amatuers, but Mediawatch wouldn't know where to begin with Pakman or Seder, and they pump out more content than can be scrutinized to any degree.

If the self-identified 'progressive' podcasts aren't open to reasonable debate, don't fairly represent their own content we can at least conclude there is no double standard in terms of Alex Jones and Sam Seder. They are just two white men who disagree about which side they are on.

If you do want to hear progressive content from a white male behind a desk, there's Jon Oliver, Steven Colbert and Seth Myers who don't pretend to be legitimate news anchors, have research teams, are scrutinized and held to standards and don't resort to brazen marketing propaganda.

There's no deference to Ghandi in terms of 'be the change' it appears that living up to a higher standard than your oppressors, or the patriarchy, or right wingers is not necessary and there's no market forces in operation to make these guys lift their game.

These two guys may be poor examples of journalists, and prominent examples of progressives, but even so without busting out the Machiavelli pamphlet 'The Prince' there's kind of a thing where by the time you are denouncing your friends for committing 'thought crimes' like questioning whether gender is independent of biological sex, or preventing conservative speakers from setting foot on a campus, or circumventing local government to demolish statues on your own authority you've ceded any chance to claim moral superiority.

You've probably only made it this far because it never occurs to right-wing thinkers to imitate Gandhi's successful civil disobedience campaign, or Martin Luther King Jr's civil rights campaign.

Malcolm Gladwell outlines a quite beguiling theory as to why the discipline and standards aren't being enforced by anyone in this talk (the full version must exist somewhere).

The Narcissism of Small Differences

Did you know that your political leaning can be determined using psychometrics? Below is mine, the green bars representing how I value each of the 'moral value circuits' and from it you can see that I am more right than most left people, but much more left than I am most right people, and I'm off the chart left when it comes to how little I care about purity.

The narcissism of small differences is a Freudian idea, and therefore probably contentious. But I observe it enough in all kinds of domains the most obvious being that sport fans will dislike supporters of another team more than they dislike people who are not a fan of the sport at all. I am told but can't validate that Vegans will argue more aggressively with Vegetarians than they do with omnivores, and that Bisexuals get a harder time from the gay community than straight people like me would assume.

But what I notice is that much of the criticism of the progressives actually comes from liberal people. This point though is lost on most progressives, particularly since it seems to be characterized by a fierce need to conform to orthodoxy. (But that stuff is addressed in the Peterson-Haidt interview).

It puts me in mind of a George Carlin bit which wound up describing a kind of psychological truism. 'Have you ever noticed when you're driving that anybody going faster than you is a maniac and anybody going slower than you doesn't know what they are doing.' And when you think about that we have to believe it's the case to arrive at our subjective equilibrium.

Thus the proliferation of undefined terminology - including progressives and feminists, where the definition is highly subjective over a large segmentation means that people who actually identify as being for the same noble ideals are perfectly capable of being identified by others as having the complete opposite ideals. There's a corresponding decay of language into near meaninglessness - eg. calling someone who asks a person of Asian ethnicity 'where are you from?' a racist takes the teeth out of being labelled a racist if a middle aged white woman driving an airport-hotel shuttle bus is labelled with the exact same label as a tiki-torch brandishing white man marching in Charlottsville chanting that the Jews will not take over.

It's concerning to me that a false dichotomy might emerge between people who believe that identity politics are the most pressing and immediate concern of our times believe that other people who are concerned about preserving the social safety net, addressing environmental issues and regulating markets are right-wing. There's a lot of space between using another person's non-preferred personal pro-noun as a hate crime and believing in a white-nativist movement that should deport all immigrants.

Scared of Own Shadow

I originally forgot to actually write this in, but I feel it is for me the most compelling piece of speculation I have done.

There's this concept originating from Carl Jung called 'Integration' which loosely describes the process whereby we accept our own 'shadow' which he described roughly as the 'suppressed or disowned qualities of the conscious self.' Another psychologist Carl Rogers had a much nicer way of putting a similar concept that he called 'Incongruity' which is the gap between our ideal-self and our perceived self.

Carl Roger's humanist psychology is much softer and nicer and the ideal of achieving greater levels of congruence kind of has an appealing feel to it. But incongruity can turn ugly when the gap isn't so much between someone's ideal-self and perceived-self, as it is between the self-perception and other people's perception. That kind of disparity produces the reality show auditions where a talentless individual turns hostile upon being told they have no talent.

I suspect though, that Jung's shadow archetype and options of denial, projection, integration and/or transmutation as unscientific as that sounds are more descriptive of the political climate particularly online.

People are really reluctant to identify themselves as racist, or sexist, or parochial. There's a big aspect of social desirability at play. And in Jung's model, what happens is in denying your own shadow side you can wind up projecting it onto others - which explains the dilution of terms like racist, and rape and so fourth. And perhaps more disconcertingly, blinding yourself to your own behavior, so that you don't notice when you've given the word 'mob' a bad name or that you and your friends have started acting like totalitarians, or that you are holding unsanctioned kangaroo court trials of members of your social group and inflicting economic damages on them.

It's probably all to psychoanalytical for most to swallow, but it isn't unprecedented. Like the high correlation between anti-gay activists that are eventually exposed as having same sex-extra marital affairs, or the studies of campus drinking cultures that find that the majority actually doesn't approve of the binge drinking culture and that some of the least enthusiastic wind up being the biggest enforces.

It also helps to explain why so many progressives engage in so little critical thinking, and do not engage or quickly disparage it's critics. Even the more reputable and coherent ones.

There is very similar behavior to the philosopher's Galileo wrote to Kepler about in 1610, whom refused to even look through his telescope to observe the planets for themselves. It was not out of concern for their ocular health, but a fear that their notions of the world might be disproved.

I have in my time come across people who are very emotionally opposed to permitting 'The Stanford Experiment' any of its conclusions. As near as I could discern, to suggest that environments could shape people into immoral agents is too confronting to their world view.

So too is an idea, very much akin to a belief in the mind as being this infinitely changeable entity distinct from the body, that someone can somehow both have an identity but no in-group preference. Such that only patriarchs choose to oppress other people, and everyone else is free to choose to make no distinction between themselves and anyone else on any grounds.

These are hard things to face, and I can only testify as to my own opinions, that processes like integration or achieving congruity either require a strong sense of self, or provide a strong sense of self. My own journey was accidental, I got obsessed with being honest in line with my obsession with Abe Lincoln. Thus I had to start identifying as a non-feminist, and a racist and so forth. I can report that indeed these concepts are so devalued that the bear no social cost that I've been able to perceive.

But there is a definite cost to fleeing your own personal shortcomings. No Villian ever believes themselves to be the bad guy. So perhaps exercising a little skepticism into your own virtuous character is a good place to start.


Because I'm so fucking tired. Here it is. Liberals are generally characterised by certain axiomatic assumptions that are simple and straight-forward: racism is bad, tolerance is good, equality for all, justice for all etc.

The details of 'how' are lacking, and then we get this generation of young people who are peer-oriented rather than adult-oriented and have grown up with smart phones and social media.

So some of them grew up to study contentious social sciences and for some it may have been economics courses that never made clear they were neo-classical economics and thus of a specific ideology (which was my experience) and for others they studied gender studies or the arts and were never informed of the postmodern influence and nothing in their upbringing or media consumption had them in the habit of questioning the information they were given to see if it was even contentious.

So progressives really are just members of the demographics that tend to take their information and social cues from social media that are not regulated like regular media and they are just a bunch of people with no real ideology that adopted a bunch of memes whether it's trigger warnings or micro-aggressions, or intersectionality, or rape culture, or universal basic income, or the AI singularity or whatever. The only thing it had to get past in terms of a filter were those broad liberal principles so so long as they kind of fit with not being racist and being more equal then they are adopted because everyone else is doing it.

And you wind up meeting people that believe a bunch of things as if they walked with a plate past an idea buffet and just loaded it up, and others look at it and say things like 'how do you square being feminist with denouncing critics of Islam as Islamaphobic?' and if you have no coherent ideology you can point to or defer to you simply denounce them as well, because that's what goes down on social media.

Which is a highly speculative and fairly inconclusive conclusion.

Real Conclusion

If you want to change this world for the better, do some fucking research and make sure you understand what you are doing before you do it, because researching a social phenomena that arises from people doing no research is fucking nightmare.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

You're Right May8

Aware that it is not May, and not Australia day let me assure you, this post has been on the back burner for quite some time. My general attitude to public holidays is: I'll take them, and if I don't actually take them off, I will take the penalty wages they afford me and take another day off, of my choosing.

In my opinion though, Australia has only 2 public holidays that mark causes worth celebrating. One is Labor day. The other is the Grand Final weekend. Being non-religious, the religious holiday's don't make sense to me in terms of celebrating something, but they are traditions worth keeping around. Especially given that even when our societies were unquestionably religious most of these feasts were actually about end of harvest and changing of the seasons - they made sense in agrarian communities.

But if you say that Labor day is a celebration of labor, Christmas is of course, a celebration of Capital and hence the biggest holiday and the Queen's Birthday public holiday is a celebration of land holding and economic rents - then you'll see why I elevate Labor day in my preferences.

But there's a public holiday that is contentious in Australia and that is Australia day. Earlier this year a media company called Junkee released a video designed to 'go viral' and appeal to an audience that is a mere fraction of the people you'd need to convince to get something done.

Here it is.

Things to notice are that Junkee media's site is plastered with advertisers, that Junkee is a media company, not an NGO, the video itself contains every minority but Aboriginals, doesn't actually use the words 'Aboriginal' or 'Indigenous' and more than anything else is proposing a shift in the public holiday to May 8th just four days after May the 4th or 'Star Wars' day.

If there's anything more egregious than having a national public holiday that commemorates the arrival of a colonial power that is willing to commit mass genocide to seize lands and has to this day not signed a treaty nor paid reparations to the pre-existing occupants decendants, it is having a national public holiday to commemorate a meme.

Worse than that though, is a holiday to commemorate 'Mateship'.

Allow me to establish myself, perhaps, as a cultural elitist - but occasionally my regular paycheck job requires me to speak to men in Queensland between the ages of 17-50, and thus I'm exposed to the phrase 'You're right mate.'

This is a phrase I use myself, most typically when I am running or riding and a ped gets startled to discover they wandered into my path and I had to evade them and they apologise. I say 'You're right' or the full 3 syllable 'You're right mate' to indicate 'no need to apologise, I was aware of your presence and trajectory, no harm done etc.'

Or alternatively as a casual and abbreviated way to say 'please, you're clear to proceed.'

So as a cultural elitist, it took me some time to learn that the men I was speaking to in (but not limited to) Queensland were actually saying 'no.' or 'fuck off' in a passive aggressive manner.

Part of what made it confusing were exchanges that went something like:

me: 'can you help us out?'
man: 'you're right mate.'
me: 'thanks for that so...'
man: 'I said you're right mate.'
me: 'sorry, does that mean yes or no?'
man; 'you're right mate.'
(call disconnects).

So it turns out, 'Mate' while being unquestionably a source of Australiana cultural cringe, is also sufficiently flexible as to be a term of affection and derogation.

Much like the proposal to move Australia Day from Australia Day.

Some of you may remember as far back as 1999 when Australia had a constitutional referendum part of which was to append a preamble that included the word 'Mateship'.

Australians are free to be proud of their country and heritage, free to realise themselves as individuals, and free to pursue their hopes and ideals. We value excellence as well as fairness, independence as dearly as mateship.
That was the proposed wording that was eventually dropped when the Democrats in the upper house blocked it. But John Howard was pretty insistent on the word being included which should be a red flag - to Junkee Media's target demographic at least.

Because mateship by any other name starts stinking pretty quickly. Like 'cronyism' the generally corrupt practice of favoring your mates. It stinks of unquestioning in-group loyalty, more so than say... the Greek concept of Xenos - being a friend to the stranger.

You could argue that 'mateship' is about treating anyone like they are your mate - but there are less ambiguous terms to use than this, and certainly used in practice - like Good Samaritan, Charity or Kindness.

Mateship points more truly toward Australia's casual racism, it is very much a you are okay because you are a mate, but I don't know your fucking friend so he can fuck off. I imagine bouncers use the term 'mate' a lot, and I notice in my limited experience of indigenous communities in Melbourne that Aboriginals tend to use familial terms of affection - even for outsiders like me - like 'brother', 'sister', 'uncle', 'aunty' and 'bub'.

And here by comparison, language tends to fail, because I'm reporting emotional states. Sure, at worst one could object to a complete stranger calling me 'brother' for example, and then immediately asking me if I've got any coins to give them - as manipulative. I've just never felt that way, I've also had the experience of being greeted, introduced and then further introduced to the community elder in a way that made me feel safe, valued, and included which is extra impressive given that I was literally just walking along smith st.

By comparison I have plenty of experience with white people, and particularly, big white men, calling me 'mate' in a way where I could feel the intent was to try and establish me as the inferior in the dynamic. I have no real experience of any idealized shared ordeal moments when anyone has said 'thank's tohm, you're a real mate.' or even some toothy surly old bastard in a pub giving me the nod of approval and saying 'you're alright mate!'

It just doesn't happen. Which doesn't mean there's anything wrong with simple pleasantries like 'G'day mate' or what not. But pleasantries don't mean much and aren't really worth celebrating, even in international tourism campaigns. When you think of taking a holiday in Indonesia, is the big selling point that locals say 'Selamat datang' a lot? Probably not. It's probably some combination of cheap booze, surf and beaches, cuizine, pancakes, temples, culture etc.

And how about the 'mateship' between Liberal party members and Gina Rinehart? Or the mateship between Rinehart and Andrew Bolt? Or Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg and Coal? Even the Labor MPs' and Trade Union bodies and treasurer positions?

'Mate' is a terrible concept to be celebrating - cronyism, collusion, rigging, favoritism, anti-competitive, anti-trust.

The only way to make it worse is arbitrarily deciding May 8 embodies this crappy concept because it's a crappy wordplay like Sk8r Boi.

And that's just half the equation. The second half is much more interesting:

I was in Columbus' hometown, and while his hometown's claims to fame are probably daily realities for you - it cannot claim many famous renaissance figures. So naturally Columbus gets some statues and permanent exhibitions in it's maritime museum and aquarium and so forth.

And I was perusing one of these exhibits when it occured to me: of course.

Of course they fucked it up. Columbus, the Spanish Empire all those fools. The knew the world was round sure, they didn't know there was a massive continental landmass between them and the east coast of the Indies.

I do not deny that Columbus was a particularly bad governor, and human being. His incarceration indicates that he was bad even by the standards of his time. His release though testifies to his economic value to the Spanish Crown.

But consider that Columbus' fleet sighted an island now known as the Bahamas on October 12th 1492. Another Italian, Lazzaro Spallanzani discovered that fertilization required the fusion of a sperm with an ovum to create a zygote in 1784 - almost 200 years after the discovery of the New World.

English Physician John Snow displaced the Miasma theory of disease with the germ theory of disease in 1855 after the 1854 London Cholera outbreak. The point being that western civilization figured out how to make Trans-Atlantic voyages almost 200 years before they figured out how babies were made (even though they made a lot of babies before the discovery) and almost 300 years before they discovered that pathogens caused disease.

Columbus' voyage among others made Darwin's voyage on The Beagle possible, but there was no chance Columbus or King Ferdinand or any other decision maker in 1492 to know they were the same species as the people of the New World.

Consider how racist your Grandma is, and then go back about 20-30 generations. It was never going to work out well for the people who had Europeans land on their shore.

It's not an apology for the crimes of Columbus, that include slavery, mutilation, cruel and unusual punishements, larceny... he was a bad dude, but even if he was nice he more than likely would have wiped out the indigenous people of the Bahamas through disease alone.

The observation simply is that it happened, and it was bound to happen. It turns out that we can sail off into the unknown much faster than we can figure out how to deal with the unknown.

There's a psychologist I'm a fan of, Dr. Gordon Livingstone who had a chapter of one of his books titled 'the trouble with being a parent is that once you are qualified, you are unemployed.' Which is to say most people learn (and have to learn) all the skills requisite to be a good parent through trial and era in the experience of raising a child.

I feel this same unfortunate paradox also deals with exploration and colonization - we become capable of exploring and colonizing far quicker than we can learn the lessons of colonization. By necessity.

Run this thought experiment in your head - is humanity ready for faster-than-light-travel? Now imagine that we figure out faster-than-light travel. Perhaps a warp drive, a gravity engine or wormhole travel. Maybe even an energy efficient cryo-stasis process... do you feel the technical discoveries necessary will take more or less time on the time line than it would take for humanity to figure out how to peacefully and prosperously interact with an alien culture?

Personally, I can imagine interstellar journeys beginning while there are still wars on earth, and poverty, and disease. And sure, you may think we've learned about disease by now, but what about diseases of the mind? aka dumb ideas.

It could be catastrophically harmful to meet an alien culture and mention an idea as destructive as 'private property' to a culture that lived without it. But should we make it across the vast vacuum of space to another cradle of life - I would predict it will be a messy learning experience. A painful one, and an unequally painful one.

And just as with Columbus, how much greater really is the expectation that the fucking British Empire had the choice to do much better than they did with their annexation of the Australian land mass?

It was certainly not good, especially if you are Indigenous, but it fucking happened. And it happened on January 24th 1788. Still no germ theory, Darwin wouldn't publish until November 25th, 1859 and so the crown had a good 71 years to class Aboriginals as Australian fauna and not a single lay member of the colonies being able to articulate a counter theory.

I'm not a nationalist, and generally am of the opinion that if there's no choice there's no pride nor shame to be born in one particular country or another. A migrant might have cause to celebrate Australia day with a sense of pride - but that is in themselves for making their migration. In fact the best thing to do on Australia day is go to a citizenship ceremony. I've been once and it's really great and really moving.

The other people who exert sufficient choice to be proud on Australia day, are the indigenous of Australia - for choosing to bare the continued indignity of the Australian nation put upon them. Australia has not made it easy, or pleasant for the world's oldest living culture to live on. And yet it does, that is a fucking achievement.

What's cowardly and reprehensible about 'celebrating' Australia day, is pretending that Australia's history didn't happen. That it isn't the day a bunch of British soldiers and prison overflow didn't just unilaterally move in and take over. Not to mention the wars and genocide that followed. Some juvenile need to pretend that we aren't descendant or beneficiaries of less-than-perfect and often horrible people. Hunter-gatherer nomadic cultures often lack the complexity of structure necessary to support truly horrible people and institutions, and the libraries and written accounts to document their ne'er-do-wells, but I'm sure everyone's descended from a perpetrator of fratricide, a rapist etc. most likely a bunch of them, and you don't have to believe in Cain and Abel to figure the odds are pretty high.

But moving Australia day to 'Shitty meme day' is exactly that juvenile exercise. You'll still live in Australia, be represented by the government of Australia, member of the commonwealth nations, you'll travel on your Australian passport, function somewhere in an economy that is dependent on cattle and sheep grazing, irrigation, mineral and fossil extraction. There'll still be no treaty, no reparations for the Indigenous people's of Australia. You'll just be able to celebrate a public holiday on a day that you don't have to feel conflicted about - unless you like me are disheartened by the word 'mate' and also how a slice of the population could throw in for a joke that is going to stop being funny by the time the date rolls around.

It's a gesture of hand-washing, not reconciliation. Columbus sailed off into the unknown, and discovered lands beyond the Atlantic. It's a huge achievement, just as the land-based discovery of America by the 12 families that crossed the land bridge and went on to populate the American continent also achieved something huge. Alas, one was a historical achievement, the other pre-historical. But those 12 families genes won big, and Columbus was perhaps not duly, but certainly punished for his crimes. Not only with his brief incarceration but for the diseases he contracted on his voyages that ruined his health, the stripping of his title and removal from his office. Columbus has blood on his hands, but he suffered too, the kind of pain one suffered in the 15th century because doctor's weren't worth shit.

So shifting Australia day is not the solution. I find it an odious idea. A fatuous idea. Better to do nothing, as Australia day for many young people is a good introduction into the actual history of Australia, which to the credit of my educators at least, is told pretty much how it was. Not some sugar-coated piece of propaganda. By secondary school my teachers didn't even claim Cook 'discovered' Australia, and that he probably used a Portuguese rutter.

Let's bring it back to 'Grand Final Day' the most recent public holiday in Australia. It's interesting to note that indigenous players make up almost 10% of the AFL lists, whereas they are 3.3% of the population at large. I haven't dug into pay-parity figures, but the AFL has not only been over the past few decades an important vehicle for reconciliation, it's been much more successful at reconciliation than Australian politics. Consider that the average white-afl player has more indigenous friends than the average white-Australian marriage equality activist attendee.

I am prejudiced, I feel that sport is important. But the AFL Grand Final is certainly worth celebrating - it gives us a long weekend for one, which Australia day does not guarantee. But sport also represents community - true community where all one has to do for membership is love one's team. It facilitates sharing both joy and grief with strangers, it's a vehicle for reconciliation and perhaps most importantly for progressives - it gives decisive objective outcomes in a world increasingly characterized by subjective relativism.

I mean, that Junkee video literally states as the rationale - let's change the date so we can have an unfettered good time without having to worry about our housemates feelings.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Unwieldy, Cumbersome

Take a peak at this image I have linked to from the Final Fantasy Fan wiki:
I only chose Cloud as a ready-to-hand example of the Japanese trope of giant swords. I myself am not a fan of Final Fantasy, but largely because life is short, I didn't grow up with consoles and somehow, like literature, there are more classics in existence than I could ever get round to playing.

The thing is though, that this is a drawing. And a giant sword slung across your back might look cool, but if you were to put on an oven mitt and grab even just the hotplate off your bbq, or presuming some countries and cultures and rental arrangements don't put a bbq readily at hand - even a bicycle, a standard hot plate or road bike slung across your back is not going to be fun to carry.

You might even say it was cumbersome. Try and swing that thing and you might say that a bbq hot plate or a road bike is an unwieldy melee weapon. History never generated massive, gigantic swords even when the greatest scientific minds were all metallurgists and nobody could come up with better ideas than steel outerwear and steel weapons.

The Japanese Odachi, or Nodachi was as big as they ever made swords when they were all about swords at around 90cm in length, the Scottish Claymore is about as large as Swords ever got that were used or useful for anything at 120cm.

But once you're talking 150cm, and wider than your head and presumably heavier than your torso, a massive sword becomes an easy way to illustrate a concept like superhuman strength, but ultimately just an illustration.

And that's the crux, that's the juice of the example. You have something that looks cool but in practical application is so cumbersome and unwieldy that any brief existence such a thing would have history would judge to be a mistake.

Now the game of prediction is a hard one. You know, investing in the share market with it's bajillion variables, and even a game of basketball, completely beholden to the laws of physics is impossible to pack into a box so tight it becomes predictable.

And yet, predict we might, in a few limited domains. Provided we try to hit the side of a barn and not a bulls eye as such.

Change of pace, I was running the other day. Long distance, low stakes practice run, but a long run. Most of the time there are only two sources of information I measure my performance by on a practice run - how my body feels and also who passes me.

That last run was a long one, and I got passed twice. The first time was what I refer to in my head as a 'cautionary tale' one of those serious runners who gets so lean as to be some kind of skelington sent back from the future to run marathons. This doesn't bother me when a skeleton with only the essential muscle mass to move their frame forward passes me - I never want to get this good and this efficient at running myself. The aesthetic cost is too high. The fact is that in a city of millions, thousands of men and women both older and younger are going to be better runners than I am, even when I am in form.

The second person to pass me was a gorilla, a big beefy dude who looked good and would look good naked. Someone whose domain was free weights in the gym, possibly cross-fit competitions, out for a Sunday run with headphones in (which I consider cheating). This did bother me, because as a general rule big beefy dudes are not efficient runners, not unless they are sprinters doing sprints, and this guy was kicking his heels up when he ran so high that he was almost kicking his own arse.

He was really pushing himself, breathing hard, sweating. He was determined. I took it as a prompt to apply myself more, as without any competition or running companion to pace me I generally just relax into a comfortable day dream while training. So over the next 100m or so I just gradually and calmly reeled him in and overtook him again. Gradually hearing his panting breath drop off into the background.

He must have the same performance criteria as me though, because he never dropped out of my hearing all together. He sort of dropped 30m behind and then managed to keep pace, maybe I did that infuriating thing where once he was no longer on my heels dropped off my pace to match his. Hard to say.

But the next 4km or so, I listened to his heavy breathing and the jangling of his keys or something. And hear prediction comes in. This guys' running style was so inefficient I naturally began speculating as to what distance I'd have to run before he would simply have to stop and crash out of the race. Over what distance could this guy's inefficient kicking back render him no-contest to me. Because in a 100m sprint I'd probably lose. I'd guess up over 3km I might become competitive and then the simple amount of energy he'd have to exert to move his mass the same distance as my mass would compound and compound over time to the point where he'd either have to keep the soles of his feet facing away from the sun and run efficiently or just give up and go home.

In a similar vein, Penn & Teller's Bullshit did an episode about fat guys, or something where they actually raced a bunch of fat people against slender people to demonstrate that stereotypes about fat people's physical strength, stamina, athleticism etc. are perhaps mythical ones. There are indeed a number of athletic specialties that may require both a rotund frame and physical fitness, as shows up in many contact sports, American football, occasionally in boxing, basketball etc.

But Penn & Teller didn't run a marathon between overweight people, normal BMI and underweight people in that domain you'd probably wash out a pretty solid rule that the more weight you carry the less competitive you are at long distance running.

And so enters a predictive rule that is pretty bankable, in my opinion. If something is cumbersome or unwieldy, as time progresses it's chances of failure approach 1. I believe this is also the theory of evolution by natural selection.

Why is it worth writing about? Because we live in cumbersome and unwieldy times. Or perhaps I am simply living in a cumbersome and unwieldy scene.

I care. I care, is the real answer to that question. Not about running form per se. But good people, with good intentions are defeating themselves all around me by devising cumbersome and unwieldy solutions to serious and relatively unserious problems.

Fighting power can be empowering, but it is not the same as being powerful. People fight power and lose quite regularly, that's the nature of power after all. And a good way to predict your loss to power is if you grab up a gigantic unwieldy sword that impresses your friends by virtue of how unwieldy it looks and run off with such gusto that your heels are kicking your arse.

A friend of mine (note: I am not always or perhaps ever, necessarily a good friend) whose husband was hanging out with a lot of prostitutes informed me a few years back that prostitutes now preferred to be called 'full service sex workers' this gained no traction with me and my friend for reasons I can't quite perceive to a specific one, started to get upset that I still referred to prostitutes as prostitutes.

In  my case though my marketing training and probably my rational instincts kicked in, screaming to me that such a tactic, or stratagem was pseudo-intellectual hokum. Long before Youtube algorithms spewed up Steven Pinker's rationale for why such tactics keep getting adopted.

Al Ries and Jack Trout would simply have pointed out that 'Full Service Sex Worker' is an incredibly cumbersome 6 syllable alternative to 'prostitute' the common tongue term. Al Ries and Jack Trout wrote the best marketing book I've ever read, and much of it was poo-pooing bad ideas.

The term is cumbersome, it doesn't mean the objective of the campaign as such, is itself wrong, and that's probably the most important point. Someone generous enough to have sex with someone in exchange for money does not deserve to be degraded, abused, objectified, slandered, abducted, tortured, murdered, raped, stigmatized or excluded. All the issues surrounding the sex industry are legitimately concerning.

But rebranding your profession with a cumbersome unwieldy name is likely to result in sweet fuck all. At best, it gets adopted through voguery by a critical mass that prolongs the term. But it's a matter of time before the people that load the term 'prostitute' with all it's negative connotations are abbreviating the new name to 'fizzles' (because 6 syllables is cumbersome) and employing the exact same negative connotations.

It shouldn't be hard to trouble shoot in the pitch meeting. A simple roleplay 'Hey Jimmy, would you ever have sex with a full service sex worker?' (the social stigma is back already) 'Do full service sex workers work at a 'brothel'? Or should I be calling it a full service sex workplace?'. 'Excuse me are you a sex worker?' 'Yes.' 'Full service?' 'Yes.' 'How much for anal?' 'I don't do anal.' 'So what does full service mean then?'

I'm told, but haven't tried, that one of the great negotiation tools there is, is the question 'Now how am I supposed to do that?' because it creates forced empathy. And well intentioned people that devise rebranding strategies to try and elevate persecuted peoples standing in society may well never actually role-play how that rebranding is going to work. 

I would have been a better friend to my friend if at the time I'd known to force some empathy on her, even though she was not an advocate per se, but someone who had bought into the status and the prestige of fighting power.

And sex workers are beat up on enough, so I'm going to stop beating that dead horse. If you missed the point of the beating, it was simply that in the campaign headquarters when the strategy was devised it should have been predicted as a non-starter strategy based on how cumbersome and unwieldy the proposed terminology was.

I've also watched friends struggle with the modern 'cambrian explosion' of terminology and lingo necessary to talk about identity politics, which is in itself necessary to perceive oneself as part of the zeitgeist, which in itself is a basic human motivation for acceptance/belonging.

My marketing sense tingles again, and I've placed my bets that identity politics current success is based more on what made Nu-metal successful in the late 90s and that it has about the same longevity prospects.

That in itself is a tragedy, that most people are flailing about cumbersome terminology like 'cisgendered male' and 'non-binary femme' and 'gender non-conformist'. They sound, or perhaps look as if they contain more information than the old terminology they supplanted in some cases or appended in others. Let's dig.

'Cisgendered male' does indeed contain more information than 'male', even excluding signalling that this individual is 'in the know' and 'one of us' in terms of lingo and group membership. It tells you that said individual was born with an identity that aligned with their biological sex. Their chromosomes, their appearance and how people treat them etc. Is 'cis' here to stay? Or will it be something that features in some future equivalent Bojack Horseman style flashback to the '2010s' to mark the short lived fads of the decade, like 'not' jokes in the early 90s? Is the teeny tiny little syllable 'cis' cumbersome and unwieldy?

My money is on yes. Though of all the things identity politics has hacked up, it's probably the most useful. Norm Macdonald so comically and eloquently described 'cisgender' as 'a way to make normal people feel marginalized.' the offensiveness of that statement to trans people and sympathisers being the joke itself. But like the 'Brown-eyes, Blue-eyes' experiment, that's precisely the value of terminology like cisgender, as far as I can perceive. A forced empathy exercise of employing an antonym to destroy a persons sense of normalcy...

Having said that, the studies on the wikipedia page of the efficacy of the brown-eyes, blue-eyes experiment concluded that it was not very effective in reducing racism, and may have made things worse or put individual participants and moderators at risk of elevated stress and anxiety... so. So it's a fine example of something sounding smarter than it is.

The fact is, Gender dysphoria is rare. That's what makes the prefix 'cis' unlikely to last. 98% of the population where there's reliable studies are applicably 'cis'. Even on the self-report estimates (not requiring diagnosis from a psychologist) in New Zealand it scraped 98.8% of the population are cis. And 'cismale' and 'cisfemale' do not role off the tongue as easily as 'male' and 'female'.

Moving into 'non-binary femme' and 'gender non-conformist' without fully leaving 'cis' behind, there's something to be said about minorities. The whole LGBTIQA+ community might at the upper limits be about 4% of the population. That can be an incredibly large number though in absolute terms, in a city like Melbourne 4% is about 120,000 people that's a city in itself, a whole economy, and LGBT (at least) tend not to be evenly distributed across the land but tend to gravitate geographically to places where they can be a city within a city, particulary between teens to mid-30s.

This in part was why, before looking it up, my guesstimate of the LGB% of the population was way high in around the 15-20% range when it turns out to be closer to the 2% range. So in a city like Melbourne if you frequent Fitzroy and Collingwood, you may feel it necessary to preface your perspective on an issue with 'as a cisgendered...' and use gender neutral pronouns at your barista job, but for how many train stations does that hold? Once you're out of the city limits or off social media, there's less than a 1/100 chance it's going to come up. A person living in the regional town of Sale, Victoria may not interact with a hundred new people in a year.

Outside these queer population centers, 'cis' is all cost no clarity. Now, where's the clarity in a 'non-binary femme?' I've seen this term used by someone, but not been in a situation like a party where somebody introduced themselves to me as a non-binary femme. I don't wish to cheat and look it up before hand, because for me a) that's already cumbersome and b) let's not bias an experiment in which to determine my biases.

Firstly, I notice that the two terms appear to cancel eachother out. Femme being a fancy franch word for woman and presumably has a fairly binary antonym if I know the franch. Non-binary appears to say to expect some mixture between man and woman. Does this refer to sex or gender though? As far as I know non-binary is not trans. It simply suggests they favor a spectrum of gender... It could refer to intersex - ambiguous genitalia. It may be suggesting who is generally attracted to her(?) meaning Bisexuals, heterosexual men, lesbians but proves too effete for gay men. However the same could be true of me, who is attracted to me is not really something I'd ever footnote to describe myself.

To me, non-binary femme is cumbersome precisely because it is so non-descriptive. It is in practice, less descriptive than 'Tomboy' which perhaps might overlap with 'non-binary' if it refers to conformity to gender roles. Non-binary though means nothing specific, allowing for someone to identify as non-binary femme but predicts the exact same behavior as what may have 10 years prior been referred to as 'a straight woman'. It could however also predict the exact same behavior as what 10 years prior was referred to as a 'drag queen'. That is where a convoluted 5 syllable footnote becomes unwieldy, so vague as to not be useful.

And thus this paragraph on 'Gender non-conforming' becomes in itself, cumbersome and redundant. Adopt a low enough bar for GNC behavior and I am Gender non-conforming, owing to my penchant for transvestite lifestyles. I've been known to wear women's clothing, albeit in an artless manner that people for the most part accept. With a broad enough definition, my own dad, an impossible ideal of masculinity for me to grow up in the shadow of, is also a transvestite. Is a guy crying sufficient to be GNC? Or a woman playing sport? Given the ever shifting norms of the gender roles, does one have to stay ahead of the gender role tide to continuously renew ones licence? GNC, NBF sound like they contain more information than we are used to, in a similar phenomena to the conflation bias in statistics, they actually provide less information.

At best these cumbersome and unwieldy terms invite us not to assume, presume or expect. Which I've argued before is a 'pro-anxiety' stance. But given these effects, some people may say 'mission accomplished'

Enter the most contentious predictor of lingo longevity - heuristics.

This is kind of the part where I just have to uneloquently say: tough. There is a wealth and abundance of scientific research out there from eye tracking studies, to years of art history, to biology, to psychology to fMRI scanning and so on and so forth, that shows all of us use unconscious heuristics to determine somebodies sex.

More contentious but still more scientific than those who would contend with them, is the evolutionary psychologists (and biologists) that wield great explanatory power in the phenomena of gender roles.

Heuristic = rule of thumb. Example - If a persons hips are wider than their ribcage, we percieve them as female. If their ribcage is the widest section of their torso, male. These are measurements are eyes, as part of our brain does unconsciously and prejudices us towards that person. It prepares us with expectations, predictions etc. and I expect and predict that trans people are no exception to these heuristics. To hark back to the numbers from earlier, if someone gave you a hundred photos of randomly selected different people and asked you to sort them by gender. Even if you intellectually acknowledge that you can't presume to know someone's gender identity just by looking at them, if you simply hunkered down and relied upon your heuristic mechanisms, by guessing on instinct alone you would anticipate that you would guess correctly 98-99 of the photos.

Consider also that the errors are more likely to be from androgynes rather than trans people, because you are probably discerning enough to recognise the gender role someone is attempting to conform to even if their biology is fighting them.

There are few things in our lives that require higher than 98% accuracy, if you are a surgeon maybe, or a military sniper (and I'm not sure that's the case. Certainly not if you're an air-force drone bomber pilot). But even in most professions most people specialize in, they don't achieve 98% accuracy, hence asking people to adopt and employ terminology to fight against snap decision heuristics that are 98% accurate is what is most cumbersome of all.

Gender dysphoria in all its forms is going to be debilitating. The brunt of that cost is going to be born by the individuals that experience directly subjectively. Some kind of insurance scheme that asks the wider part of society to bear a tiny portion of the cost the individual does might spread the risk and relieve the debilitating aspects some what - eg. to impose a cost of education on why not to violently police gender roles on everyone in a community - may over time remove debilitating stigma and also threats to personal safety etc.

But again, go back to that pitch meeting and try and sell 'ad prefix, or change the pronouns used for everyone you interact with to move from 98% accuracy to 100% ambiguous.' Which doesn't seem to even capture the unwieldy nature.

If I as a caring individual was perusing over the strategic options of identity politics and saw a strategy that said 'change the language everyone speaks, forever.' I'd keep looking down that list, because English maybe, but when it gets to the gendered pronouns of Romantic languages like Italian and Spanish... fuck that cumbersome shit.

In conclusion, this has nothing to do with the rightness or wrongness of any underlying motivations of cumbersom and unwieldy solutions. That gorilla that was chasing me for 3km or so, probably had more determination, more mental strength than me. He was certainly in a holistic sense fitter and in better shape than me, he just couldn't run me down once I'd been alerted to his presence because he kicked his feet too far up as he ran. He couldn't catch me simply because he was inefficient.

Fighting power is not the same thing as being powerful, even if you feel empowered.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

The Open Mind

An open mind is kind of like a triangle, a concept everyone is familiar with but there's a pretty solid question as to whether it exists in nature.

I'm riddled with bias and prejudice myself, and one of those areas in which I, and you, are going to be prejudicial is how we differ on what 'having an open mind' means.

For example there's probably a road all people follow along to some extent: not jumping to conclusions, hearing someone out, allowing somebody to say their piece etc.

But eventually it seems possible to part ways on the definition, I head off to my campfire one I might share with you, or you may branch off to sit around a different fire.

For example, there are parties that feel having an open mind translates behaviorally to suspending critical thinking. To receive arguments with no argument. A lack of filters to assess the quality of information received. Even so, this is a treatment of information that is often asked of an audience rather than practiced by the speaker.

A'sail fully unfurled to catch the slightest bit of bullshit in the breeze.'

The campfire I sit around is one where having an open mind does not require the suspension of critical faculty. It means to observe the actual evidence and make judgement upon that and that alone.

Which sounds like what a judge might have to do in a court of law... except there have been plenty of case studies and rigorous experiments to demonstrate that Judges are often prejudice, even by their blood sugar levels and mood. Most people are incapable of practicing the above definition. Including myself and my knowledge of my emotional competency.

I doubt two people could easily share the same understanding of a closed mind - there's again some low hanging fruit easily gathered like 'disregarding testimony based on skin colour.' and so forth, but what about 'not-deferring to an expert authority.' or 'disregarding something because it is part of mainstream medicine?' these are the basis of fun arguments being had constantly now, where one person's open mind is another person's closed one.

Perhaps the open mind exists only as an ideal. I have a core belief that reality wins, the truth will out. This is tempered somewhat “The market can stay irrational a lot longer than you can stay solvent!” by Maynard Keynes, which goes broader than financial examples of fictions versus reality. Consider someone with access to nothing but Nazi propaganda in the lead up and duration of World War 2, the truth of the Third Reich's superiority took a while to play out, in which many people managed to die before it was resolutely defeated by the cold hard reality.

With that in mind let's talk strategy. Why even talk about open minds? Shouldn't there just be an acknowledgement of our own prejudice and biases, that being extant in ourselves probably will also describe other's modes of thinking just as well as our own and respect that. So is asking for an audience to keep an 'open mind' a kind of pathetic plea to simply surrender to your argument and let it into their map of the universe?

Rather, the open mind is a strategic ideal - a higher ground to stand on emotionally where we are not cornering ourselves for an onslaught from reality. Because that's the thing, Youtube is littered with videos that bear titles 'x DESTROYS insert out-group's ideology' and spoiler alert - nothing ever gets destroyed in these videos - somebody talks for a bit generally. But reality will destroy people just as it crushed National Socialism in Germany, British Occupation in India, the civilian population of ancient Pompeii, the Vikings ... and you can bet that when the writing was on the wall there were people in all those situations that couldn't be convinced by anyone that it was. 'Vesuvias is just letting off a bit of steam' someone would have said of the plume of smoke that morning.

Any ideology can be pressed and cornered against reality. An open mind might be considered a form of recognizing the lay of the land, or a kind of intellectual spacial awareness. In matters of strategy I tend to defer to an expert practitioner like Musashi Miyamoto who writes:

"Discerning the order in which the opponents attack, deal with those whom press forward first; keeping an eye on the whole picture... Intent on herding opponents into a line, when they seem to be doubling up, sweep in powerfully, not allowing a moments gap... if you get a group of practitioners together from time to time and learn how to corner them, it is possible to take on one opponent, or ten, or even twenty opponents, with peace of mind."

And now imagine being in a room, perhaps a school hall/gymnasium, and having Musashi attacking you, hearding you and I feel in that experience I would learn that I know nothing about the concept of even standing in a room safely. Putting a weapon in my hand I have no confidence of preventing me from discovering that I'd been cornered, disarmed and dominated and possibly walked into the last room of my life.

So by the metaphor an open mind is being able to perceive the walls of your reality, so you can pivot around the center of a room rather than be driven into a corner owing to a closed mind. To me, that's why you want an open mind. You don't want prejudices that you can trip over.

Given most people's poor statistical intuitions for example, most of us (and I can testify that I myself) get the Monty Hall problem incorrect. It takes an open mind to accept that one should always switch, and this can be demonstrated and proved mathematically - and yet I'm told to this day many people who have had the Monty Hall problem explained to them still refuse to accept that a participant should always switch.

My mind was open enough when first exposed to the Monty Hall problem to be persuaded I'd made an error, and later when passing the meme on at a campfire to someone with a fractionally less open mind (and probably someone worse at explaining it - being me) I actually ran a simulation for the person that made it quickly clear that you should always switch.

That person in this domain though, by being willing to run a simulation of the Monty Hall problem - had an open mind, by my definition. This was not Galileo's prosecutors refusing to look through a telescope lest their faith by corrupted by evidence.

So moving into the realm of pure opinion, how do I think the ideal of an open mind be achieved?

1. Think of Yourself as a Dingus.

This requires the opposite of mindfulness, but time travel. Jump back ten years and you tend to think of your former self as a bumbling idiot, your present self as some kind of intellectual bad ass. But time travel forward - a feat of imagination rather than imaginative memory and you should be able to prospect that in ten years time some improved version of you is going to regret some of the stupid decisions you are making.

It may also help to study a little history, and appreciate that some of the former smartest people in the world believed some real garbage or did some really stupid things - like Isaac Newton blowing all his money on a financial market bubble, Pythagoras' crazy religion he ran, and Socrates annoying so many people he got sentenced to death for it.

Less personal but still related is to get an appreciation of the half life of knowledge and maybe also that true knowledge is obtained via subtraction rather than addition - it's easier to determine what isn't true than what is, so if you develop an appetite for finding out what beliefs you hold are incorrect, you can better perceive reality faster than someone who is constantly trying to add new ideas to their map of the world.

2. Avoid the Ad-hominem

So I have this prejudice against Youtube's algorithms. Not just youtube's but algorithm's in general that try to push content toward me based on what I appear to like. This is very annoying to someone who has the aforementioned appetite for knowledge based on subtraction. If the algorithm was any good, it would learn that if I've just watched a key note presentation on some topic, then the video I next most want to see is one that refutes all the claims that have been made in the video I just watched.

Sadly no, and increasingly of late, this means that if I watch video's of a certain nature, the Youtube landing page quickly transforms into something that suggests I'm a male-rights-activist who has nothing better to do than hate on Islam. And it's because of a stack of correlations and polarization such that if you watch a psychologist or economist talk about psychology or economics, very often they've weighed in on identity politics.

The correlation is not what you might think though, the correlation is actually that white men aged 40+ still dominate most of the sciences and academic professions and economic think tanks and perhaps even literary journalism.

And here is where I feel it is important to avoid an ad-hominem informal fallacy. Case in point - Jordan Peterson. He's a fairly cranky old academic recently guilty of committing a slippery slope fallacy against a Canadian Bill to have gender identity and gender expression added to the Canadian Human Rights legislation.

Lest you already be committing the 'fallacy fallacy' his argument, that forcing people to acknowledge other people's preferred pronouns is an infringement on freedom of speech and that to not respect someone's identity expression through use of their preferred pronouns was morally equivalent to using racial slurs - actually holds. It just wasn't any part of the legal realities of the bill that passed. Much the same that if someone said that should Australia potentially legislate for Marriage Equality people could start marrying their siblings is not a valid reason to vote 'No' but that also doesn't mean incest is a good thing.

But here's the thing, Peterson succinctly, though uncharitably, describes the character of much of modern feminist writing:

"It's so comical watching the feminist postmodernists in particular rattle on about the absence of gender reality and act out the archetypal devouring mother at exactly the same time. For them the world is divided into predators and infants. And the predators are evil and need to be stopped and the infants need to be cared for. Well, that's what the mother does, but adults are not infants, and all you do is destroy them when you treat them that way."

To me if you were a feminist or even just a progressive thinker, that's probably the most insightful piece of feedback as to what gap there is between your ideology and reality - the adult-infant gap.

But a progressive business owner who is instructing their baristas to use gender neutral language when interacting with customers is not the kind of person who will sit and open mindedly read or listen to Jordan Peterson, even when Peterson is speaking within his domain of expertise based on thousands of hours of clinical practice.

Thus never realizing that adults aren't infants and most can cope with the 'trauma' of 'microaggressions', that catering to the needs of a customer base that is hypothetically likely to organize a boycott of your business by their own interest group is a powder-keg customer base you probably don't want to be dealing with, and that if your area has a high concentration of Queer customers it is likely to be gentrifying and their scene will be driven out by increased rents soon even if your business isn't.

This ad-hominem one is probably the biggest obstacle to a closed mind out there. I'm sure it applies to me, and there's some widely yawning gap in my ideology that I fail to perceive largely because I am repelled for some other reason by the very people who tend to articulate that gap in my understanding well. It's very hard for me to describe my own blind spot though, becuase I can't see it, I just follow my first bit of advice though and presume it to definitely be there.

I generally don't have time for ufologists like Dr. Steve Greer, whose documentary 'Sirius' opens with a voice-over that explains what a 'dead man's trigger' is and why Greer need's one. The equivalent of watching a documentary featuring me opening with, 'few people are in possession of a tiger repelling rock, but tohm is so hated by tigers that he carries one all the time. See, even now he is still alive having not been killed by tigers.' I wouldn't be inclined to listen to me if that was the introduction to me as a speaker, which brings me to my final piece of advice.

3. Try being Empirical

Which is to say, test things, test your beliefs, run thought experiments, attempt to practice what you are preaching and in the many cases where it's impractical to run an experiment to convince yourself, try to defer to people who have run the experiments.

There's a few caveats to this. Economics is a wretched science, it's political import means it is almost inevitably bastardized in it's findings. In fact it is far more informative to find economists like Mark Blyth or Yanis or Richard Thaler or finance people like Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Peter Schiff, Robert Schiller ... criticizing economic theory than to ever defer to whoever writes the economics columns in the finance section of your newspaper. The economic status quo is unreliable at best.

To a lesser extent, I can also personally testify that Market Research is very often not empirical research. It faces the same conundrum as somebody employed by an addict to prevent their employer from entering an opium den.

That said, it's okay to defer generally to people who are peer reviewed and have generally invested much more time and energy into obtaining their knowledge than you are willing to. Though I generally don't respect academics, there is something to be said about the buffer their sheltered from practice lifestyle affords them in not being biased - it's why I feel an open mind can reject 'climate change skeptics' who are generally employed lobbyists, professional politicians and partisan newspaper columnists, and considering the 'vested interests' of climatologists trying to perpetuate their research funding is not the act of an open mind but a closed one - because the vested interests are so assymetrical, much like the facts are to the debate.

Perhaps there's a large and important caveat, a kind of ad-hominem but applied to fields of study, schools of thought. There's definitely a hierarchy of the sciences - the 'hard sciences' rank above the 'soft sciences' and even within these categories, physics reins over chemistry, chemistry over biology etc. in the soft sciences it gets more contentious, but as someone who holds an economics degree, imo psychology ranks far above economics, such that an economist trying to argue what a rational utility maximizing individual would do in a situation should shut the fuck up when a psychologist then describes what a person tends to do.

And having said that, even lowly, wretched economics I would probably rank above something like gender studies, for at least in economics you can find tenured professors of economics in universities that will criticize economics ability to describe reality, and economics at least is often tested (and disproved) in practice. Gender studies is just too young, too nebulous and basically not practiced out of tiny insular subcultures. Having said that, I've never studied it myself, nor even read a syllabus, so I don't really know what is going on there, but if an economist should defer to a psychologist over descriptions of human behavior, a gender studies major should definitely defer to a psychologist, anthropologist and biologist.

Most importantly, if you feel I'm singling out the recent phenomena of the popularity of Gender studies, it's because a distressed friend sitting on the pointy end of some closed minds described why so often progressives are not deferring to what psychology knows about people, and that's a form of perfect thinking - I'm paraphrasing but the rationale was 'psychology can be dismissed because it is part of colonialism, and therefore oppression.'

Perfect thinking is the best indicator of a closed mind: you have the perfect partner because whenever he turns abusive it's not him but the mental illness he struggles with. The rational is perfect but the reality you may get cornered against is potentially life-threatening. Doctors poo-poo alternative medicine because they are profit driven, therefore Western Medicine can't be trusted. It's perfect, but again the reality you are closed to is potentially life threatening. All knowledge generated by colonial powers is suspect as it is used to sustain oppression, is a perfect way to disregard virtually everything modern life is based upon, the only remedy I can suggest is watching the people's front of Judea debate what the Roman's have done for them again.