I found this interesting: John Gray: Steven Pinker is wrong about violence and war
Stevie and I started a tidying project after I bought her The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. We’re through clothes, books, papers, cds/dvds, and skin care products / make-up. There’s still so much more to do.
I loved this talk on Video Games and the Spirit of Capitalism. Watch the whole video. I much preferred it to the text; the text spends more times talking about games than capitalism.
I think people’s personal experience in those roles backs this up. I know someone who enjoys resource management games because it’s practice for managing the time and abilities of different people in real life. Even before I watched this talk, I was finding similarities between project management and Farmville. That is, in Farmville, you set things going and then you have to wait. You’re not actually making plants grow. In project management, you are probably not the one designing, coding, building, etc. That means waiting, and then collecting the resources. Granted, project management is more than just clicking to plant — and there’s no QA or politics. Farmville requires zero skill. Still, this kind of work can be fundamentally more alienating than a task like coding.
I mean this as a structural critique of society, not as an individual indictment. Modernity is alienating, and all wage-slavery, so to speak, is alienating. But people gotta make a living and they even can find enjoyment in their individual day-to-day job experiences.
Politics is another realm where logic can often fall short — even more than in the moral realm. Humans are complex and politics is messy.
I’m skeptical of arguments from first principles and even more so when talking about politics.
One thing I find fascinating about Machiavelli’s The Prince is the way he classifies principalities. He takes into account their histories. A hereditary principality is different from a new one. Then, there are further subdivisions. The people who are in a new principality could be used to being free or used to living under a prince. Each type should be governed differently.
When it comes to government, we have to start with the people and history, not with first principles. We have to start with what’s there, not with ideology. Take ideas like fairness and equality. If you start with first principles, you have an abstract representation of what government might be like if its fair. People should be treated exactly as equals. You have an idea of what laws should look like in that case. If you get treated better than me, then that’s unfair. However, there are multiple flaws with this approach. The first flaw is that it misses historical (and current) iniquities. We don’t live in an abstract realm. We live in this human realm. Truths about government aren’t actually self-evident; they’re contingent on what’s happened already. (Which reminds me, I really should try reading Oakeshott some time.) If you start with the fact that people have been treated unequally in the past, then fairness includes rectifying this history rather than just trying to treat everyone exactly the same now. Affirmative action is unfair if you start from first principles instead of historical understanding.
The other flaw is the creation of Procrustean beds. In the more violent versions of the myth, Procrustes has two beds — one long and one short. Tall people go on the short bed and he lops their heads off. Short people go on the long bed and he stretches them. He fits the people to the bed. Those who argue from first principles do the same, fitting people to their ideology, rather than the other way around. They even tend to be more violent than Procrustes. (My thoughts on this would definitely be strengthened by more specific examples, but I’m just kind of scaffolding my own thoughts for myself right now.)
That’s it for now. I’ve got more posts in me on this topic, including how knowledge can be encoded in tradition.
I really need to re-read Hume because it’s the basis of my thoughts on why using logic is problematic when discussing morals. Here’s a link to Wikipedia on the is-ought problem. I’m fine linking to wikipedia as a summary because I fucking read Hume many times and wrote essays in college. Anyway, is and ought are two different things and there’s no way to derive ought from is. And here’s the wikipedia article on Hume’s Fork:
The apparent gap between “is” statements and “ought” statements, when combined with Hume’s fork, renders “ought” statements of dubious validity. Hume’s fork is the idea that all items of knowledge are either based on logic and definitions, or else on observation. If the is–ought problem holds, then “ought” statements do not seem to be known in either of these two ways, and it would seem that there can be no moral knowledge.
It’s only a problem if you accept the way Hume structures knowledge. And I don’t, of course. If you believe in the supremacy of logic and an epistemology of true-false, then Hume’s fork is a problem. You can’t derive moral knowledge.
That’s why I think those who insist on the primacy of logic during moral arguments are silly. They think they’re being logical, but if you follow the logic all the way though, they’re standing on nothing. They’re like the Coyote chasing the Road Runner off a cliff. Meep meep.
Another important component of morality is skin in the game. It’s an elegant solution to principal-agent problems — usually much better than inventing regulations and bureaucracies, which can be gamed and captured. In Roman times, if a guy built a bridge, he had to sleep under it before people used it. That’s skin in the game. If a money manager tells you a stock is great, but never buys the stock herself, then she has no skin in the game. You should feel comfortable telling her to fuck off.
That’s the problem with logic and being dispassionate when arguing morals. It usually means you have no skin in the game. Dispassion indicates disconnection; it’s a moral thought experiment where you remove yourself from the equation. It’s even easier if it’s not a thought experiment and the moral matter doesn’t affect you at all. If an obvious injustice isn’t stirring righteous anger within you, then perhaps you shouldn’t have a say.
You have to go even further than saying that these people have no skin in the game. They do have skin in the game, but because they benefit from the existing power structures. These lived realities of existing structures matter more than moral arguments from first principals, which is another case where logic comes up short. To explain this, I have to transition from moral epistemology to political epistemology. This will have to come in future post(s).
Alex posted this on pslack: The Myth of “Emotion vs. Logic” and The Reality of Oppression. I found it interesting, but I’m not going to respond to it directly for now. What I did want to talk about is why I devalue logic, so I guess I’ll talk about how I arrived at similar conclusions from a different angle. This, of course, is an incomplete account, but I gotta start somewhere.
My epistemology is mostly formed as a response to thinkers like Plato and Descartes. I disagree with their ideas about the structure of knowledge. I think Forms are nonsensical. Things are good, but there is no “The Good.” I also don’t think you can say, “Alright, I know this one thing is true” and then have that one thing be enough to build all of human knowledge on top of it. I don’t think it works.
When it comes to moral epistemology, I’m heavily influenced by the is-ought problem, or Hume’s Guillotine. One of the reasons I don’t think knowledge can be structured the way Descartes thinks is because you can never build morality off of it. (Some would say God is a way around these limitations, but I think God is basically just a Form.) You can’t get from logic to ought. Logic mostly just gets you consistency.
People who value logic also tend to value that which can be neatly expressed. Logic requires a chain of reasoning. If you don’t have good reasons for something, then you’re stupid and illogical. I don’t think that the ability to verbally express yourself clearly (and optionally, extemporaneously) is equivalent to knowledge. (However, at the same time, I do think that writing can help you learn and gain knowledge.) There are plenty of charlatans and sophists who are very logical and very persuasive. You can play Werewolf as a werewolf and win without ever telling a lie. Plenty of people talk good on TV but are full of shit. Conversely, you can express plenty of knowledge without ever saying a word.
I really like Taleb’s Green Lumber Fallacy, where the most successful trader in green lumber thought it was literally lumber painted green. People who talk smart on TV and go bankrupt can have less knowledge than those who sound stupid. Logic is about what’s true and what’s false. However, not all information is equally important. That’s why true-false isn’t always as helpful in a world where you’re acting with incomplete information.
I also really like this aphorism from Taleb’s The Bed of Procrustes: “Since Plato, Western thought and the theory of knowledge have focused on the notions of True-False; as commendable as it was, it is high time to shift the concern to Robust-Fragile, and social epistemology to the more serious problem of Sucker-Nonsucker.” These epistemologies are more useful for when you’re trying to navigate the world.
If you really push me on true-false epistemology, I become a skeptic. I’m not sure that’s there’s any way to know anything. First, you can’t get morality. Second, there are issues with induction (which I’m not going to explain now). Finally, even deductive reasoning requires postulates. In the end, I don’t think logic can dictate whether you should even jump out a window or not, but robust-fragile and sucker-nonsucker can.
As an aside, another issue with talk is that it often involves narrative, and as a sometimes-artist, I’m keenly aware that to some extent, narratives are always lies.
P.S. I’m going to add a note here that the part where I really agree with the article is the primacy of lived experiences over logic.
Torture is wrong. Those who tortured and those who authorized torture should be prosecuted as war criminals. That America allowed this is a stain we can never erase.
I believed this when we began the torture, and I still believe it now, after the release of the Senate report on CIA torture. The release of the report made me feel the same anger I felt back then.
You see, I haven’t been angry for a while. Anger was replaced by pessimism. I believed in Obama, but he betrayed us. Before he was elected, he betrayed us on FISA. He said he’d close Guantanamo within a year, and it’s still open. The war criminals still walk free. Years passed and nothing happened. What could I do?
Plus, there were even bigger problems. Global warming is an existential threat to humanity. Nothing I read makes me feel like the problem can be solved. In fact, it always makes me more pessimistic. Shit, things are warming faster than we thought. Shit, we can’t even prevent some amount of the warming now. Shit, shit, shit. Hope? I’m far away from that. Philosophically I’ve even begun to entertain the thought that we, as a species, don’t deserve to survive because of our crimes against the planet.
The market crashed and the market recovered. But we never put the bankers in jail. We never fixed the systemic issues that allowed this type of crash in the first place. The Occupy movement was a failure — so far, at least. It was crushed by the state. The state literally beat the people down.
The trends are frightening. We used drones to assassinate an American citizen without a trial. We have a prison, that’s still open, where we tortured people — some of whom were innocent. The police have become increasingly militarized — they literally have military equipment. The police use excessive force against citizens protesting. Journalists get thrown in jail. (Then the police get embarrassed and they let them out.) Remember “free speech zones”?
Can’t anyone else see the connections between what happened in the war on terror, what happened during Occupy, and what can happen now? In some ways, democracy is such a fragile thing. We’re only a few steps away from a police massacre of citizens and a few more steps from people shrugging at such a thing. We’re only a few steps away from protesting citizens getting locked up in secret jails, along with the journalists covering them. It really doesn’t take a large leap of logic.
We’re seeing a systematic erosion of free speech rights. The people have a right to peaceful assembly. However, every protest is being categorized as a riot. Disrupting people’s normal life by blocking the road, or really, any pause in the status quo, is seen as an assault. (I even saw someone on facebook categorize it as an economic cost.) Then, that is used as a pretext for the state to use force against its citizens. We’re already seeing them lob teargas, shoot rubber bullets, and beat people with batons. They shoot unarmed people with real bullets. Do you really think it takes a large leap of logic for them to turn those real bullets on a protest?
I know we like to think that good always wins, that the arc of the moral universe bends towards justice, but we can lose. And we can lose badly. Many attempted revolutions have failed before. Cicero never saved the Republic.
Getting your head chopped off, like Cicero, is pretty bad. I’m curious, though, if we have it worse. As generations pass, death becomes more mechanized. The state can kill a lot more people. Plus, it was pretty hard to find Cicero. With the trends in state surveillance, it’s much easier to find Ciceros (and Snowdens).
[... more thoughts in future blog posts ... there's a lot more to unpack ...]
[... and thanks Stevie for making me start to think about this ...]
Based on the police brutality we’ve already seen and the increasing militarization of the police, it’s only a matter of time before a full-blown police massacre of citizens.
Happy Thanksgiving! 3 down… 2 to go… I’ve gained a lot more family.
I beat Limbo. It came out for iPad and the game was pretty heavily hyped when it first came out, so I figured it was worth purchasing. I’m not sure how to evaluate it. The game has its strengths: the art, the atmosphere, the puzzles. The story gives me more pause. I guess it’s supposed to be open-ended, but I don’t think there is enough to adequately support any interpretation. I find in some games, even when the story is supposed to be great, it’s more like the backstory and world-building are good. (Like Legend of Korra, the world is awesome, but the story sucks.) Meanwhile, character development is non-existent. Not all games need that, though. Some get by on exploring a theme. Some games have no theme and just need awesome mechanics. I don’t know if Limbo actually has a theme, or a lesson learned.
I’m going to play the new Smash today for Wii U. Pretty excited. I’ve only gotten one taste of it on 3DS (I don’t own one).
I’m especially interested in figuring out what characters will fit my style best. I’ll have to do a lot of un-learning and re-learning.
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to play with the GameCube controller yet, so that’ll handicap me. I suck without the c-stick. I may have to get a new controller. Other people were playing with mine and said it sucked. Part of it is because the joystick has different resistance and part of it is because my controller is hella old and dirty and literally has aluminum foil in it.
I think in a work environment productivity is clearly better than presence. That is, 4 hours of productive time is better than 8 hours of unproductive butt-sitting. However, productivity can be sometimes hard to measure. So, a lot of places will use presence as a proxy. Plus, when employers can’t trust employees (or choose not to) then presence is automatically valued over not being present. For those employees, all the emails and tasks done outside of work add stress but don’t count in the employer’s eyes. I’m lucky enough to have avoided such situations.
“Tom brings home Random Access Memories and they listen to it together, as father and son. A tear runs down Stu’s cheek. He thinks, ‘On this day, both my son and disco have returned. This truly is the greatest day.’” – from my Rugrats fanfiction. Like if you want more!!!
I posted that on facebook. I’m not sure that there are any other appropriate places for that joke. Even reposting it here is weird.
I was thinking about A Dark Room (Spoiler Alert!) vs Boom Beach and why one game is good and one game is terrible. Both involve resource gathering and waiting, right? The difference is that A Dark Room involves building an economy. You use some resources to produce other resources and you have to make choices about which resources are more important. You can run a deficit to get more bullets. It’s more complex and you have to make choices; it’s not merely mindless clicking. The other difference is the theme. Your villagers become slaves. It’s funny juxtaposed with Boom Beach, where you’re “freeing” villages from people who make them work, but then they’re giving X amount of gold to you every hour. With A Dark Room, there are more layers with both the gameplay and the theme.
Greed sucks. The more material goods you have, the more you want, and it’s impossible to be satisfied.
I want a new iPad, even though mine is perfectly fine. Well, I want more hard drive space. Is that enough to justify a new expensive toy? Why don’t I finish the games I have first instead of coveting more?
I think it takes effort to appreciate what one has, and I should put more effort into that. I should be very grateful for financial stability and shouldn’t blow it on unnecessary expenses.
is a very funny show. I’ve only been watching the first season, but the characters make me laugh. It’s not yet in great sitcom territory where I care about the characters and they’re real people, and I don’t know if it’ll ever get there. However, I don’t think that it necessarily needs to be like that to become one of my favorites. I mean, I don’t need the characters in Always Sunny to be 3-dimensional.
I briefly played Two Dots. The game is beautiful, within each level and in the world map. But the gameplay is kind of garbage. It got frustrating because once you get to higher stages, you just needed increasing levels of luck to clear them. Before I got tired of the game, my friend who was also playing asked me for some recommendations for puzzle-like games. I was surprised to notice that almost all the games I recommended weren’t free. Most of the games on my iPad and iPhone are paid.
My niece recently downloaded Boom Beach on my phone. I’ve been playing it a bit so that I could join her strike force or whatever. I haven’t leveled up my base enough to join yet. The game is not very rewarding so far. It feels like fucking Farmville, but I don’t even get any ribbons. You just wait and wait around. Tap a few things when you get some resources, and then build. Sure, there’s some raiding/fighting, but there’s barely any strategy involved.
South Park recently parodied freemium games. While I didn’t get a chance to watch the entire episode, I saw a clip where they explained the freemium model. It was dead-on and described the game perfectly.
Here’s a heuristic: If a mobile game is free, it’s probably not good.
Corollary: Pay for your games if you want good games.
Recently, Monument Valley released an update with more levels. I have yet to play the new levels. However, I have played through the original levels and I loved them so much. Earlier, I said Two Dots was beautiful. Well, Monument Valley is amazingly gorgeous. It’s a puzzle game inspired by MC Escher. Anyway, the new levels are only available through in-app purchase. This led to a flood of one-star reviews by entitled idiots. Fuck you. Fuck all of you. I left a 5-star review to help combat it.
If we don’t want games to be shit, then we need to start paying for them. It’s especially not hard to pony up some cold hard cash when a beautiful game that gives you hours of entertainment costs way less than a movie and a little less than a few candy bars.
… Too many cooks! Too many cooks. Too ma-ny cooks!
I missed blogging yesterday. I essentially went straight from work to my friend’s place, and then I was driving home when midnight passed.
It’s crazy that we’re still getting together pretty much every Monday night. I can’t even properly count the number of years. I guess it was right out of college, so… 5 years? We started just watching House, the TV show starring Hugh Laurie. Eventually, we stopped watching House (the quality declined), but we still kept meeting together on “House Night.” It’s nice having the stability of a group of friends and a regular night to meet together no matter what.
My phone has made it so much easier to browse the internet in bed after waking up. I’ve never found reading stuff on the internet to be that effective a morning routine. (I’m using the term effective very loosely, since I’m not obsessed with productivity.) It may be even less so as my old usual blogs and comics have been phased out by social feeds.
“Let there be light,” said the industrialists. As the earth grew brighter, the heavens dimmed. The stars all died and no one bothered looking upwards anymore.
We like to think philosophy killed the gods, but I believe it was the lights.
Man, iOS development is not a breeze.
The last several times I played Avalon, the Merlin kept getting assassinated. Even adding Percival didn’t help. I knew there had to be a way to counteract this, so I began searching online for a remedy. Lo and behold, I found this discussion: http://boardgames.stackexchange.com/questions/14806/merlin-always-gets-stabbed
The main thing to keep in mind is that usually the other people make it super obvious that they’re not the Merlin. One trick to confuse evil is to be act super sure as a good person, even when you’re making guesses. Hopefully multiple people will be right, or the wrong ones will be seen by evil as Merlin attempting to throw them off. The other thing is that the game can be won even when Merlin does nothing, so Merlin doesn’t have to do a great job hinting and signaling to everyone.
The next two games didn’t see the Merlin assassinated. I think the advice helped.
On a semi-related note, we played Werewolf on Halloween. I’m not as big a fan of the game because there’s a lot more guess-work and a lot less deception. However, we played with a candle in front of every person. During the night, the moderator would blow out a candle. You’d awaken in slightly dimmer light, one candle extinguished representing the dead person. The atmosphere made the game way more fun. I really, really want to play with the Ghost role, where the Ghost communicates via Ouija board.
As a group, I feel like we sometimes get too stuck on a “right” way to play, when the game requires dynamic strategies to keep people guessing and to keep the game fresh.
I recently started watching Gotham. I’m not quite sure what to think of it yet. I liked the episode with the Balloon Man. I like it when shows deal with ideas of what constitutes justice and sticking to one’s principles even when it’s hard. I like the atmosphere of a corrupt town veering towards outright chaos. Penguin is fun. I’m always excited to see Don Falcone, but only because I still think of him as Rawls, haha. I’m not enjoying Jada Pinkett Smith’s character. I watched the “Arkham” episode and didn’t like it because it felt like the story was full of “and then,” instead of the plot being propelled by the characters.
I wish the show would be darker. Like, embrace the tragedy. Show that Gotham’s fate is sealed, no matter what people try to do. Those ancient Greeks knew how to do tragedy. We always want a hero. I guess that wouldn’t work on network TV.
I saw The Black Keys last night. It was pretty awesome.
I sometimes used poker as an exercise in keeping myself calm. I’d make my decision and then whatever happened happened. I could only control what I did, and I focused on that. I couldn’t control the cards, though, so I tried to be the same whether they were good or bad. A bad play with a good outcome was nothing to cheer about.
I do something similar with fantasy football. It’s insanely stressful to watch scores live and worry about how much you’re losing by or worry about how your lead could evaporate. So instead, I try to use it as an exercise to not worry about what I can’t control. I’m not perfect. But it helps a lot.
Fantasy football is one step closer to real life than poker. Poker has uncertainty but there are lots of times when math will give you the right move. Low-stakes poker is all math. Psychology matters more in no-limit, but less than you’d think. You can know the odds and expected payout. In fantasy football, you can have a sense that some things are more likely than others, but the actual statistics are more fuzzy. There’s more uncertainty. And in real life, there’s even less information and just as much randomness.
Even so, the exercise works well in poker, fantasy football, and real life.
I devote a lot of brainspace to football. I probably should re-allocate that brainspace to other things. Because I really have nothing interesting to say today. I caught up on a lot of chores; I didn’t do much deep thinking.
Or maybe, instead, I could expand my brainspace. I don’t know. I really got nothing today.
In an earlier post, I expressed concern about blogging too honestly when the spiders are there to index everything and anyone can find what you write easily. I guess I must’ve internalized Orwell’s edicts on writing pretty well because something like esotericism never even crossed my mind. I’m a fan of very direct writing. Obfuscation is pretty much a sin to me, when it comes to writing. I once apologized to a professor for an essay title because I was worried that it didn’t actually mean anything. So it seemed like my only options were to write privately or not at all.
But maybe I should rethink that. I recently found this book review via the Dish. The book is about someone investigating Strauss:
Staying far away from questions of foreign (or any other kind of) policy, Melzer has chosen as his subject Strauss’ notorious assertion that virtually all philosophers up until the early 19th century wrote their books “esoterically” — that is, using a rhetoric of concealment, with a surface teaching meant for general readers and a hidden teaching for those who were intelligent, clever, and tenacious enough to uncover it. This contention has been dismissed by most non-Straussian scholars, who have tended to suggest that Strauss projected the phenomenon onto most of the canonical authors he discussed in his many learned books and essays.
I find the concept intriguing and it could be a solution to my current conundrum of public writing in a hostile world. Even though it offends my sensibilities, I’m actually not completely unfamiliar with esotericism. I once wrote about The Prince in this blog and incorrectly identified the book as subversive. I think esoteric is the more proper term. Well, I’m less sure that it’s proper for The Prince, but 100% sure that it can be properly assigned to The Art of War.
Now that I’ve mentioned my interest in this, I guess I’ve opened up a can of worms in interpreting all my future writing. Even if I denied that something had a hidden meaning, that’s what someone would say even if there was a hidden meaning.
I haven’t made a decision yet about what to do. I still find brutal honesty a very appealing quality in writing; it’s a common thread I’ve seen in work that I like the best (both other people’s and my own).
I want to write and it’s important to me, but I have other goals that are just as or more important that may conflict with writing. Esotericism may be a way to have my cake and eat it too.
I remember writing some of my old shorter posts and how I felt like the writing was terrible. But going back and reading them, I’m glad I have something rather than nothing from those moments in my life. It’s always nice looking back.
Epictetus told his students, when they’d quote some great philosopher, to picture themselves standing over the man having sex. Grunting, groaning and awkward; like the rest of us so completely detached from their ‘philosophical’ rhetoric. Marcus would deprive things of their euphemisms – roasted meat is a dead animal and vintage wine is old, fermented grapes. The aim was to see these things as they really are, to ‘strip away the legend that encrusts them.’ – Ryan Holiday
I sometimes think of cloud computing as your stuff on someone else’s computer. We like to think that our information is stored out in the aether, but it’s really just on a computer in a different physical location. When I worked at Hitachi, I was using servers all the time. They’re computers. It stripped away the magic.
(Yes, yes, I’m oversimplifying. There are storage devices, but that’s not the point of today’s exercise.)
We think so many of our services are powered by magic algorithms. But facebook is partly built on cheap labor, filtering out offensive material. And after reading Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here, I know to be weary of pretending algorithms are objective. They’re still built upon human choices.
Uber? There’s no cloud there. It’s a bunch of people driving in their fucking cars. It’s a taxi service built on smartphones and cheap labor.
It’s kind of like garbage. No, I’m not saying this stuff is garbage — I’m attempting to make an analogy. In modern life, we put our garbage in a nice can on our nice streets and it’s taken away in the morning before we wake up. It disappears, never to be thought of again. Except when we read a dreadful, upsetting article on facebook about where our garbage goes, and we think that we should do something about it, but all we do is click to the next article.
Similarly, we should be aware that the “cloud” often involves a lot of unseen infrastructure and cheap labor.
(Some days we must be gracious and in awe. We must remember the magic in everyday things and rejoice in the amazing things we build as human beings. Some days we must strip away the magic and see things as they are. Some days we must do both. Today, for me, is a day for reality. Remember that no matter the result, nothing is really done yet.)