"All right action flows from the breath"
- Hajakujo

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

12 Modern Delusions that must be challenged. #1

Numero Uno. The world's population problems, and the spread of Aids, can be solved without the use of condoms.

This is not only the most dangerous, but also the most criminal error of the modern world. Millions of people will suffer, and die premature and humiliating deaths, as a result of the policies pursued in this regard through the UN and related aid and public health programmes. Indeed, there is no need to ask where the first mass murderers of the 21st century are; we already know, and their addresses besides: the Lateran Palace, Vatican City, Rome, and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC. Timely arrest and indictment would save many lives.

My Reply:

See reply to last delusion! Ok, I do have something to say on both of these topics. I'm still going to beg off for the moment, and try to rewrite a paper, develop a player typological experiment, write a book chapter on in-game adaptivity and continue to incrementally improve my decision theoretic player modelling method for Pacman. Phew!

All seems kinda insignificant when you look at these delusions...

Monday, March 26, 2007

12 Modern Delusions that must be challenged. #2

No 2. The only thing 'they' understand is force.

This has been the guiding illusion of hegemonic and colonial thinking for several centuries. Oppressed peoples do not accept the imposition of solutions by force; they revolt. It is the oppressors who, in the end, have to accept the verdict of force, as European empires did in Latin America, Africa, Asia and as the United States is doing in Iraq today. The hubris of mission accomplished in May 2003 has been followed by ignominy.

My Reply:

Ok, oddly enough (given the topic) nothing quick and inspired is coming to mind for me here. So I am going to switch tactics, hope that some others have caught onto the presence of these posts, and leave the answering to others. Maybe I'll get something up in time. Right now, I'm settling into that slightly panicked mode of feeling like I haven't worked enough lately, which is my main source of short-term motivation. So...nose to the grindstone!

Sometime later...
Tansy emailed around a very interesting article on the aestheticisation of violence, which I have posted below. This was in the context of another discussion, but I thought it very appropriate here as it speaks directly to our own role in the whole topic expressed above. We permit our leaders to pursue these imperialist policies - they are not dictators, they must have a mandate from the people, however far removed their day-to-day activities may feel from our own powers and influence. I have raised the point in delusion #8, that people need the sense of emancipation of belief in the efficacy of their own free will. Free will may or may not exist in fact, but in attitude it is all important. So certainly oppressed people will revolt, inevitably they will throw off the shackles of oppression or be destroyed in the attempt (whether through annihilation or assimilation); yet the shackles are imposed time and again, as though history was a blank slate, lessons unlearned. So in addressing this delusion, let us accept these inevitabilities and look instead to ourselves, and how it all becomes possible starting at home.

hey folks...

this is something i found while researching a college project but thought that it was worth emailing around. concerning bush and his Shock and Awe-some War on Terror...


The aestheticization of violence for political purposes

Though many tools are available for political purposes, the threat or use of violence attracts those of a more proactive disposition as the simplest way to resolve any conflict or achieve any ends, because its strategies are well-known and weapons easily obtained. When asked to identify alternative nonviolent techniques, people find it difficult to visualise effective methods; moreover, sceptics can quickly raise moral and practical dilemmas to complicate any set of choices until violence appears the easiest option.

Thus, this topic is relevant across a spectrum of causes from those disagree about social or commercial practices within their local community, to those unhappy with the political regime in their own country, to those who believe that another country is a threat.

Nevertheless, a person or group wishing to use violence as a strategy must overcome objections from both prospective supporters and the other interested parties. No cause will prosper until the majority agrees with the justifications offered for the decision to use force, because all who adopt aggressive strategies require emotional and logistical support from the local community for success.

Hence, the aestheticization process is used to direct the audience's interpretation of events by shifting the values of the lexical words used to minimise consideration of the moral, ethical or other costs. In Nineteen Eighty-Four , George Orwell proposed that the means to achieve complete control of people's minds or their ability to think rationally about the issues at stake is to invent a new language, more primitive and less articulate than current "oldspeak". That is the intention of aestheticization. It seeks to subvert the rationality of the current paradigms through doublespeak and goodthink , and to persuade the majority that the use of violence in the particular context is not merely necessary or expedient, but just and glorious in the prosecution of higher ideals.

Whether the use of violence is or is not justifiable is irrelevant for these purposes. The sole interest lies in the mechanism for the transfer of the particular use from the paradigm of unacceptable into the paradigm of acceptable. In contemporary terms, this brings semiotics into a position of prominence both to set the frame and to deconstruct it.

[ edit] An example of semiotic analysis

In January, 2003, the U.S. implemented a battle plan based on a concept developed at the National Defense University. Called " Shock and Awe " (see Americanism ), its stated purpose was the psychological destruction of the enemy's will to fight rather than the physical destruction of his military forces. The choice of name is revealing, even at a denotative level.

Shock refers to the surprise and distress caused by events and, when associated with battles, means the violent interaction of individuals or groups as they join in combat. Meanwhile, awe is an overwhelming sense of wonder or admiration that may, to a greater or lesser extent, be associated with fear. But, at a connotative level, the use of the words is intended to fulfil several distinct aims:

In reality, the army may be going to kill large numbers of people, both combatant and non-combatant. These words are not the actions but they represent them at a symbolic level. Analysis shows that the words fall within the paradigm of lexical words signifying the emotional responses to external stimuli: responses that can only be experienced by those who are alive. The intended implication is that enemy soldiers and civilians will be so disoriented by the display of power that they will simply surrender rather than face the threatened injury or death. Hence, the enemy casualty count will be low and the immediate gains will significantly outweigh the moral, ethical or other costs of the enterprise.

All warfare involves death and destruction on a scale that may be shocking to the sensibilities of the ordinary person, so what is the value of these words? Applying the commutation test, substitutes for "shock" might be: excitement, impact, and surprise, as opposed to: scare, trauma, and upset.

The substitutes for "awe" might be: admiration, reverence and wonder, as opposed to fear, horror, and terror. Both words are capable of signifying less appealing qualities but, by setting them in a conjoined relationship, the expectation is that they will both be given the same value. The sui generis rule applies so that second and subsequent words in a conjoined sequence define the class. Evaluating the substitutes for "shock", the degree of match as synonyms seems reasonably adjacent and the balance of connotation can be considered balanced.

This would give the word "shock" a relatively neutral value. Since the preponderance of connotation to "awe" is positive (the negative substitutes are less directly synonymous), the relationship in the phrase is intended to invoke values suggesting a certain degree of magnificence in the technology and the manner of its delivery. Not only those on the receiving end are expected to experience awe: all external observers may be impressed by this display of power, and, perhaps, feel not a little afraid — a useful general propaganda gain.

The connotation of the word awe tends to refer to unequal power relationships, e.g. a beginner may be in awe of the skills of a professional, an ordinary mortal is in awe of a deity, etc. The implication is that this war is such an asymmetrical contest that the enemy might just as well give up before the battle is joined with such an overwhelmingly superior force.

Figurative usages provide what the semiotician Roland Barthes called a "pleasure of the text" (1970), i.e. the pleasurable reaction produced by a clever arrangement of signs. So figurative words are more memorable than literal words, particularly when used in unexpected contexts. Using this phrase in the otherwise literal context of declaring the opening of violent hostilities is incongruous and that contextualisation has made the phrase memorable, effectively displacing all the imagery of imminent death and destruction that might otherwise have dominated.

Monosyllabic words wield considerable rhetorical might: they are short, punchy, and memorable. Through the careful mixing of short and long words, the impact provided by the short words stands out against the rhythmic flow provided by long words. Rhetorical theory maintains that any proposition can be expressed in a variety of ways.

Hence, when persuasion is the overriding goal, the rhetorical perspective suggests that the manner in which a statement is expressed may be more important than its propositional content. In this instance, the repetition of two sounds, a binary pair of semi-onomatopoeic words, produces hyperbole. Whether written or spoken with an appropriate intonation and body language, the phrase is memorable and serves its aestheticization function.

Friday, March 23, 2007

12 Modern Delusions that must be challenged. #3

No 3. Diasporas have a legitimate role to play in national and international politics.

This is for Ultan (who does not have the head space to join us at present, please do Ultan, you are the Man here). The notion that emigrant or diaspora communities have a special insight into the problems of their homeland, or a special moral or political status in regard to them, is wholly unfounded. Emigrant ethnic communities play almost always a negative, backward, at once hysterical and obstructive, role in resolving the conflicts of their countries of origin; Armenians and Turks, Jews and Arabs, various strands of Irish, are prime examples on the interethnic front, as are exiles in the US in regard to resolving the problems of Cuba, or policy-making in Iran. English emigrants are less noted for any such political role, though their spasms of collective inebriation and conformist ghettoised lifestyles abroad do little to enhance the reputation of their home country.

My Reply:

Well now this is one for which I truly have little to say. Even though some might term me an emigrant, at the moment. I never have credited the idea that a person who is born (or has lived from an early age) elsewhere to his ethnic homeland can claim true nationality of that homeland. You are a product of your genes and your environment, and when an emigrant minority settles abroad and attempts to hold on to the type of culture from which they came, this is categorically not the same environment as that of the culture's origin. For one thing, it usually has more jobs.

Whether that should disenfranchise emigrants from their homeland's political process is another thing. They may not have the same understanding of local issues, they may have old-fashioned or even backward and bigoted views on the neighbours of their homeland. But they have an indisputable link to that land that should be protected in some way so that the baby is not thrown out with the bathwater. What form that protection should take is more difficult.

A fully enfranchised diaspora would seem to me to have an undue influence on a geographically remote region that has its local population to worry about. But then those who stay are unlikely to make very much of the plight of those who leave, whether it be good or bad. After all the grass is always greener...

So in summary, I have no good idea how this issue could be addressed...case by case? Set up a franchise-by-application system, that would enable the interested and invested to vote-by-remote? Or maybe a proportional system, where only a statistically insignificant number of the diaspora could be directly involved in the homeland's political process.

Pie in the sky!

Thursday, March 22, 2007

12 Modern Delusions that must be challenged. #4

No.4. The world is divided into incomparable moral blocs, or civilisations.

This view has been aptly termed (by Ernest Gellner) as 'liberalism for the liberals, cannibalism for the cannibals' But a set of common values is indeed shared across the world from democracy and human rights to the defence of national sovereignty and belief in the benefits of economic development. The implantation of these values is disputed in all countries, but not the values themselves. Most states in the world whatever their cultural or religious character, have the signed the universal United Nations declarations on human rights, starting with the 1948 universal declaration.

My Reply:
This one goes quite deep. Because the fact is, the universal commonalities/sympathies of humankind can mainly be traced to our shared biological heritage and the formative effect that this has on our cultural and technological evolution. Every person needs to squat to shit. Unexpectedly familiar patterns often occur as artificial systems evolve (which are the only ones we can observe evolving, hence the confusion that leads many to accept the Creationist argument). So the fact that there are similarities between disparate cultural groups could have as much to do with quirks of random socio-economic & cultural evolution as with universality.

If you strip away similitude of need and the form of living, the wants and functions of living seem to diverge quite sharply. Who wants to live in peace? Not everyone. Who wants power? Not everyone. Who wants assurance of a (better) afterlife? Not everyone. Who wants everyone to subscribe to their beliefs? Not everyone.

We could start to look at this delusion in terms of teleonomies*. A genus or species operates on a genetic teleonomy, so that each individual member is driven by the actualisation of the gene. This gives us reproductive imperatives, the drive to survive, and is essentially the same for all members of a species. At the other end of the scale, there is the " teleonomy of the self" which describes the self-organising principle that we get from having a conciousness. This allows thinking beings to diverge from their genetic teleonomy by saying that "Yes I am hungry now, but I won't eat because: that magazine tells me not to/that poor person needs the food more/I can't afford food beer". Teleonomy of the self is a pretty interesting area of study cos it leads into the question of why we think, and why we think in terms of quality and aesthetics.
In the middle, there is culture. The individual is born into an environment (in terms of subjective experience) that is shaped in large part by a cultural teleonomy - how we behave toward each other in order to prolong co-existance. This teleonomy is an emergent phenomenon and most of what we know about its development is that form of educated guesswork that we call evolutionary psychology.

*All these teleonomic categories are also the categories of information transmission (some would even say storage) and learning in biological organisms.

What's the point of all this talk of teleonomies? I suppose it's just to point out how little of our inbuilt 'control software' is actually shared among people of seperate cultures and backgrounds. In his Leviathan, Hobbes posited that tyranny of the state was the only logical large-scale social contract that would be stable - if people didn't have the threat of repercussions that is inherent in law, there would be only chaos: "the war of all against all".

Monday, March 19, 2007

12 Modern Delusions that must be challenged. #5

No. 5. We should welcome the spread of English as a world language.

It is obviously of practical benefit that there is one common, functional language of trade, air traffic control etc. but the actual domination of English in today's world has been accompanied by a tide of cultural arrogance that is itself debasing: a downgrading and neglect of other languages and cultures across the world, the general compounding of Anglo-Saxon political and social arrogance, and the introverted collapse of interest within the English speaking countries themselves in other peoples and languages; in sum a triumph of
banality over diversity. One small but universal example: the imposition on hotel staff across the world, with all its wonderful nomenclature, of name tags denoting the wearer as 'Mike' 'Johnny' and 'Steve'...

My Reply:

Ahhh, Engrish! It's hard to take the Anglo cultural hegemony so seriously when you come across the comedic malapropisms of the second language speakers and the Chinese-whispers malfunctioning of grammar coming from linguistic propagation through the undereducated and uninterested. Slang is only slang while it's in the minority - Ebonics, Australian, (sometimes even) the brogue of the emerald isle would be hard to call Queen's English, especially to the face of the speaker!

But then, the argument here isn't really that speaking English itself is a bad thing, more that its spread creates the potential for other languages to stultify and lose their vitality through preservation as opposed to use. It's hardly as though they will be lost, after all - the capacity of humanity to record itself is becoming so great that it may forestall the need for an archaeology of this or any future period. But language is a living thing, its meaning relative to its user, and to provide a more utile ( i.e. widespread) and easier method of expressing new ideas and new meanings is to spell the end of a language's growth. Latin is dead not because no one speaks it, but because not enough people speak it to be able to grow it. Irish suffers a similar malaise, on a less severe scale. But it's still in trouble - being preserved by the state and abandoned by the people. Preservation is for the dead...

There has always, as far as I know, been a dominant functional international language used as a de facto standard to enable widespread communication. Greek, then Latin, then French, then English, would be my guess. Why then is it just becoming an especially thorny issue now?
Perhaps it is because formerly, the international language was in a similar position to those problem languages outlined above - their use in an international context was limited in such a way that they could never usurp native tongues as a preferred method of expressing new ideas. They were spoken between foreigners the way communication networks use standard algorithms - as a way to make sure the broad outlines of communication are understood by each side. The main organ for expression was still the native tongue, and this be followed by translation to the international language.

Nowadays, the backbone of computer technology is English, and so many former English colonies are such vital international players, and then there is the mighty American media machine, churning out the beat and the dreams of the world. Or at least having the biggest budgets (and a big head start) in film and music production.
Yet that which interacts the most, changes the most. Without bothering to learn fluently another person's language, the casual speaker of English manages to communicate their approximate message and can fill in (perhaps with reference) using bits of their own and the other's language. So Engrish (the Japanese pronunciation, as they have no 'L' sound in their natural language), becomes the medium behind the medium, that means by which the native tongues are made to fit together up until communication becomes so complex that only the native tongue would do anyway. This complex area might be thought to cover any 'expression of new ideas' already, thus forestalling any danger to the native tongue.

The major problem for this vision is that for all those people who are native English speakers, there is absolutely no need to learn another language. For 99% of humanity, necessity is the only thing that can teach a language, in my opinion. So where does that leave us? I would say it leaves the native English speakers as the cultural paupers, and that if you come from somewhere non-Anglo, you only have historical economic disadvantage to blame if your culture suffers under the weight of Anglo-imports. In other words, those places that can afford their own culture seem to have it, and have the luxury of choice as well.

Friday, March 16, 2007

12 Modern Delusions that must be challenged. #6

No 6 : In the modern world we do not need utopias.
Dreaming, the aspiration to a better world and the imagination thereof, is a necessary part of the human condition. There is nothing better than dreaming - this is my area. Dreaming, literally being a visionary - the Bible is littered with them, from Joseph in the Pharoah's prison to Daniel in the lion's den, Jacob with his dream of the ladder up to heaven and angels ascending and descending on it. This is not religion by the way, this is visions, this is revelations, hated by religious authorities because visions, dreams subvert the orthodox and inspire us mortals to great happiness.

My Reply:

Utopian idealism is indeed in my view one of the prime motivators of a great many of the most important works of an individual. In the day to day, we might not ascribe our actions to any kind of "make-the-world-better" ideal, but we can still derive a great sense of purpose from the notion of a potential for the ideal in our actions. I think this ties in with the concept of the fall from grace, and the perfect and harmonious afterlife. Nothing can be made perfect in this non-Platonic world, but in striving to do so we express a desire, even a need to shape what we do in the image of an ideal of what we do (and perhaps we reflexively express this ideal of doing in the concept of heavenly paradise). In other words there is the thing done, and the idea of the thing done which supplies the conceptual mould, if you like.
Where does the idea of the thing done come from?

Some posit the existence of multiple realities [note this is not multiversism] - the reality we live in, that of classical physics and comprehensively measurable macroid entities; the reality of matter, quantum physics and uncertainty of measurement; and the reality of perfect concepts, with no need for measurement. This latter reality is simply that of mathematical entities, that by their descriptions give us the tools to explore them with infinite precision, without need for measurement, modelling or translation. This 'world of ideas' as an actual, self-contained reality is a view for the ardent logical anti-positivist (if such a thing is possible), and is not really necessary for this argument. The point is that the world of ideas exists, even if only as a metaphor, and it is here we must look to begin to understand how closely idealism entwines with cognition and the human condition.

I believe the active aesthetic/discriminatory faculty is a key part of human cognition and memory, which together serve as the developmental basis for the emotional faculty that eventually becomes something of an autonomous control function. This aesthetic faculty is sitting somewhere behind the raw data input from the senses, helping to process our impressions of the world around us so that for each person, the exact working of their aesthetics ends up being a factor in shaping their very reality. A powerful stanchion under my reasoning comes from here - a hypothesis on the working of the human eye and brain.

This is again leading to an under-developed idea of mine, so working step by step toward the ultimate implication could be doomed. Instead, I will go straight to the point with what I have laid out so far. If you take this occasionally expressed yearning for the ideal which permeates the human condition, and allow that it may be related to the aesthetic faculty inherent in the human cognitive processing pathway, it sets up the argument that utopianism is in fact a biological imperative rather than an unscientific expression of romanticism. Philosophically, it has been said that quality is the arbiter of a conscious reality - socially, as here, this translates into the maxim that the ideal must always prefigure the practise.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

12 Modern Delusions that must be challenged. #7

No 7. Religion should again be allowed, when not encouraged, to
play a role in political and social life.
From the evangelicals of the United States to the followers of popes
John Paul 11 and Benedict XV1, to the Islamists of the Middle East,
the claim about the benefits of religion is one of the great, and all
too little challenged impostures of our time. For centuries, those
aspiring to freedom and democracy, be it in Europe or the Middle East,
fought to push back the influence of religion on public life.
Secularism cannot guarantee freedom, but, against the claims of
tradition and superstition, the uses to which religion is put in
modern political life, from California to Kuwait, it is an essential

My Reply:
It seems that in modern times, challenges to religion in general mostly take the form of challenges to the idea of divinity, in other words 'strong' atheism. I call it strong because in decrying all faith in the metaphysical, these proponents of godlessness do not seem to recognise that their own position is a metaphysical one, and thus is very much a faith in its own right. Much more has been said on this topic, with much greater clarity, on Chris Bateman's blog. Of especial interest here is Popper's milestone, which is a lemma about the boundary between science and metaphysics that says - he proposed that falsification be used as a boundary condition for science, and consequently that anything that could not be falsified belonged to the domain of metaphysics.

This milestone seems to offer a potential resolution to the issue of church-in-state. Religions are faith-based systems of belief which posit a theory of existence, and derive from their beliefs a set of ethics which are used to guide day-to-day behaviour in social interaction. The faith-based theories of existence are clearly metaphysics, by Popper's milestone, since we cannot falsify the claim of the existence of God/gods/Brahmin/Tao/etc (the last, personally, is my favourite divinity).
Sets of ethics, on the other hand, are theories of optimum social behaviour which apply absolute values to variable circumstances. It is written: Thou shalt not kill. It is not thereafter written in parentheses: unless your government tells you to. So ethical models derived from religious principles are clearly flawed in application to everyday life. But as models applied to everyday life, they do deal with finite, measurable data, and the quality of life derived from their application should stand as a measure of falsifiability of their claim to be optimal systems for living. So religiously-derived ethics can theoretically be placed in the realm of social science, and this means they are subject to the same checks and balances as all secular systems of government of social interaction must be.

The upshot is, if religions were capable or willing of having their ethical systems subjected to scientific analysis, I see no reason not to give them credence in the application to government of social interaction. The ethics may be derived from nonsense for all I care, if they can be proven to work, then why not? The trick to having this outlook comes uniquely from computer science, namely machine learning. For many given problems, if you know the variables, constraints and computational requirements, you can set up a process called a genetic algorithm that essentially goes from being a completely arbitrary, random set of numbers, to a complete and optimal solution. It will work as long as you set the right constraints and evolutionary process. So its not so insane to think of allowing religions (arbitrary, random) to set up and run societies, as long as you've got suitable
constraints and evolutionary process.

The image at top is the Palazzo in the Piazo di San Marco in Venice, the winged lion rampant.

Monday, March 12, 2007

12 modern delusions that must be challenged: #8

No 8: Markets are a 'natural' phenomenon that allows for
the efficient allocation of resources and preferences.

Markets are not natural but are the products of particular
societies, value systems and patterns of state relations to the
economy. They are not efficient allocators of goods, since they ignore
the large area of human activity and need that is not covered by
monetary values - from education and the provision of public works, to
human happiness and fulfilment. In any case the pure market is a
fantasy; the examples of the two most traded commodities in the
contemporary world, oil and drugs, show how political, social and
cartel factors override and distort the workings of supply and demand.

My Reply:

I am taking the stance that delusion # 8 is not just a delusion, it is (as with the consequences of delusion no.10) an active lie propagated by its beneficiaries and cloaked by them in esoteria and scientific mystery so as to prevent easy dissemination of understanding.
Of course it's not a case of active conspiracy (not much), but a powerful self-perpetuating mythic system. Like religion, or gender roles.

I read some powerful (though very briefly explained) ideas on markets in Charles Stross' Accelerando, so some credit due there. A market system, he explained, is a highly inefficient allocator and manager of resources, and does not usually reflect the good or the will of the majority. I might add that it is a system rife with chokepoints, strange attractors (these are like numerical whirlpools or black holes) and systemic instabilities, which are all natural self-regulatory mechanisms but would seem to be unnecessary in an unnatural system. His perfect alternative is typically 'geeky': Resource Allocator 1.0, software solutions to the calculation problems of relative worth and need. Think about it as a massive balance sheet, and you can see his point - we need and want certain things, and trade in them, and produce certain things, and trade in them. Sometimes need and desire are not the primary motivators of trade, but it all comes down to production and consumption in the end, and so we get a massively simultaneous system of linear equations that describes the relationship between each person, their produce and their consumption. This system of equations could be encoded and solved on a massively parallel computer (maybe a...quantum computer!) and then run forward in simulation to predict the needs and contributions of its base variables - people. Since the whole system of trade is not a natural one parts of it can be controlled to a degree, so by building in margins for error (like : it is permissible that x number of people starve each year), we can (theoretically, hopefully) avoid the catastrophic prediction failure that was discussed in delusion 12. This would be a perfectly fair, perfectly efficient system of economics for the world. It doesn't even have to be socialist - in fact it would be totally flexible, and all sorts of economic models could be accommodated, different ones in different geographical regions if so desired. Trade would be based on empirical, absolutes metrics of worth, so speculative inflation (just made that up - essentially, like the dot com bubble, meaning false measures of value) would be impossible. As long as an individual's production and consumption equation could be solved, they would be able to do what they wanted!

Stross then points out why markets are dominant, if not necessary - they promote the idea that we have free will. People need to believe that they are masters of their own destiny. If there was a giant computer controlling the economics system of the world, even if it was totally flexible it would be seen as an usurper of our self-realised destinies. The 'workings of supply and demand' would be met with absolute efficacy, but the human condition would reject its own salvation.

What then, can be done instead? I'm in favour of a global politic system where, instaed of nation states, we have socio-economically/ethnically self-cohesive minimalist political entites, joined by standardised trading and diplomatic functions. This kind of implies an economics like that of Stross, but without the super-computer. Unfortunately, it could never be brought into being because if you understand what I mean by these political entities, you can see that the balance of military security in a modern world could never be guaranteed. Essentially a small number of these political entities would resemble military-industrial R&D outfits like Lockheed etc. Any new superweapon would enable instant empire building, and screw up the trust-based economics.

This last idea has been ping-ponging around in my head for a while, but I've never done the research to put it into a sensible form. Offer it up here on a purely caveat emptor basis...these delusions are getting harder and harder to reply to and make sense! :D

Saturday, March 10, 2007

12 modern delusions that must be challenged: #9

No 9: We live in a 'post feminist' epoch.

The implication of this claim, supposedly analogous to such terms as
'post industrial', is that we have no more need for feminism - in
politics, law, everyday life - because the major goals of that
movement, articulated in the '70's and '80's, have been achieved. On
all counts, this is a false claim; the 'post feminist' label serves
not to register achievement of reforming goals, but the delegitimation
of those goals themselves.

My reply:

Delusion no.9 is even further from my area of expertise. I will be tempted to look at both sides of the gender divide and the 'battle of the sexes', but will attempt to restrain going too much into the male condition, staying on the topic raised.

In large part, I see this as a true 'challenge' to the delusion posited, but my reasons for thinking so have nothing to do with the unequal female condition. It doesn't affect me, and has seeming little effect on the women I know well, (other than to make them stronger people, perhaps, which I count as no bad thing). Rather, to me this is another symptom of the ever-growing capacity of a certain kind of super-system to adapt, assimilate and eventually neutralise alternative systems of thought/politics/social behaviour. Ironically, the growth of academia provides this super-system with a powerful tool to assimilate such alternative propositions, as departments of specialist study are set up, entrained to funding sources and constrained to a model of production initiated by the Royal Society hundreds of years ago. In other words, observation separates the observer from the observed, and this can cut the heart out of an alternative proposition as all those who had the wit and the personality to broker their 'movement' to the masses find themselves 'legitimised' by default. "Turn on, tune in and drop out" became a radio station catchphrase. Consciousness expansion became a recreation from the 9 to 5.

Feminism became legitimised, not because it worked, but because it settled for being listened to. Its proponents should have remembered whoever it was (Greer?) that said "if you're looking for equality, you're not thinking big enough" (paraphrase), because as I see it, men and women are not equal. There is ascendancy and subjugation at every level of each person's condition, all across the board. Men treat women like shit across the world, and men humiliate themselves for the amusement of women in their turn. Nowhere is it truly equal, and the greater trends of inequality that feminism addressed could only be affected if it was recognised that this chaotic game of swings and roundabouts will perpetuate itself regardless. Thus you do not try for equality - instead you must try to hold your system outside of that greater one you wish to change, using its self-cohesive identity as a spur for change within the greater system until eventually that system settles to a new form around your one. That which you try to change, changes you. Don't try to change anything - just exist as you wish to and watch everything else change to meet you.

The reason this may not make any sense is that I haven't really tried to articulate it before. Interpret as you wish.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

12 modern delusions that must be challenged: Reply

Reply (to the replies) by the progenitor of this little discussion, my mother Patricia Howard:

Guys this is really exciting for me, thank you for your terrific
replies so far, much to ponder, I will reply tomorrow, I have a little
point on Ben's chaos theory which might be worth mentioning. Kris
Suskind raises a scary vista, a society without laws, boundaries
principles or just at a very basic level common decency where true to
Nietzschean philosophy the law of the jungle applies. What is new? It
seems to me that Bush and his kind have met their own realities face
to face in 9/11 and the Muslim Fundamentalists, they are mirror images
of each other.

Our dependence on oil is no longer subconscious we know that we are
to blame because of our dependence on oil for the rapidly advancing
global warming. Oil has peaked, Bush is the dying scream of an
obsolete way of life. The radical Muslims are his hateful and hating
shadow world.
Have to be quick tonight as I must meet with the salt of the earth
tomorrow, those who are trying to save the planet in their local way.
Saving food miles and much much more, the brown earth people of
Wexford. I am privileged.

To pick up a point in 'Ben's Chaos Theory' - quote 'that very small
changes can result in very large changes to the state of the system
over time' It is very interesting to note the weather - a beautiful
calm day not a puff of wind, about mid afternoon a tiny puff caresses
the face, by nightfall a full blown storm has gathered force. The
weather can be predicted, but only accurately to about one week hence.

12 modern delusions that must be challenged: #10

Number 10: We have no need for History

In recent decades large areas of intellectual and academic life-political thought and analysis, economics, philosophy - have jettisoned a concern with history. Yet it remains true that those who ignore history repeat it;as the recycling of unacknowledged cold war premises by the Bush administration in Iraq has devastatingly shown.

My Reply:

This is less my area, so there'll be less of a point to my ramblings.

It is interesting to look at the actions of the Bush administration under the assumption of their ignorance of history, but its probably truer to say that the people who elected him are the ones ignorant of history. Take this little nugget, gleaned from a progressive blog site at http://www.inthesetimes.com

In the autumn of 2004, shortly before the U.S. presidential election and in the middle of a typically bloody month in Iraq, the New York Times Magazine ran a feature article on the casualty of truth in the Bush administration. In a soon-to-be-infamous passage, the writer, Ron Suskind, recounted a conversation between himself and an unnamed senior adviser to the president:

The aide said that guys like me were 'in what we call the reality-based community,' which he defined as people who 'believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.' I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. 'That's not the way the world really works anymore,' he continued. 'We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you are studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we'll act again creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.'
History is not their enemy, it is their target. To be the writers of history, means to be the winners. This is the Plan for the New American Century - they want to take over the world. Or keep taking it over. I think they stand a good chance too, because we all depend on 300 million under-educated, overfed sheep to reign in their worst excesses.

History as a warning, serves only those who have a discerning eye for detail and the truth so that they can pick out the propaganda from the reportage. History as a tool, served only the winners. But now there is the internet, and everyone can write their own history. The problem then becomes, no one can read all that history to decide the ultimate truth, no more than one can talk to everyone in the world to get the popular opinion. So the history being written remains the preserve of those who have the biggest broadcast bandwidth.

I did warn that there wouldn't be much of an overall point to this!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

12 modern delusions that must be challenged: #11

No 11. The World is Speeding Up.

This, a favourite trope of globalisation theorists, confuses acceleration in some areas, such as the transmission of knowledge, with the fact that large areas of human life continue to demand the same time as before; to conceive and bear a child, to learn a language, to grow up, to digest a meal, to enjoy a joke, to read a poem, to make a pot. It takes the same time to fly from London to New York as it did 40 years ago, ditto to boil an egg or publish a book. Some activities - such as driving around major Western cities (Dublin!), getting through an airport or dying - may take much longer.

My Reply:

Number 11 could stray very much into the territory of subjectivity of existence. If we are not part of a True external reality, then we are merely experiencing a construct of our own senses and beliefs, which are quite malleable. The acceleration of knowledge acquisition forces the mind to view its own beliefs, and thus its own state, as less permanent all the time. Thus the 'world' of experience is literally speeding up, since no one part of it features as a fixture or landmark for quite as long as it used to. However, this is easy to say for someone who has never borne a child, which is an easy state alteration to achieve (many a slip twixt...) but much harder to move out of again short of the natural 9 month term. Other examples abound, as shown below.

The question that still holds for the accelerationista's after this argument is made, is that if experience is in fact subjective, and reality is in some way a construct of our self-consciousness (we think, therefore everything is) - well then, why is there an accelerating wave of biological science along with knowledge-based science, that could alter even such things as pregnancy terms, unless we are imagining for ourselves a future where thought and the external effect that it creates come closer and closer together, until cognitive causality is almost instantaneous.

It is the implication of the unfettered potential of human science, that in order to 'keep up' with it, we would not be able to remain human ourselves. The essential characteristics of human consciouness, never mind physiology, wouldn't hack it when things really start speeding up. The keywords as to why this is, for those who don't really get what I'm driving at, are massively parallel and non-selfhood.

Other replies (from Kris McGlinn):

Reminds me a little of Icarus.

This kind of makes me think about another question I have wondered about. At what point can we say we exist in the same world? For instance, I am aware of animals in the wild...does that mean that they must be aware of me in some sense? Or can I be aware of realities that other people I share this world with are unaware of, just like they may be aware of realities that I am not aware of...and at what point can we say we no longer exist in the same world?

I suppose what I am really getting at is, if there is some correlation between myself, the technology I use, my environment and the humanity I identify myself with (including its history and current technological advancements), then at what point do I become human? and how do we agree what it is to be human? and is there a point at which we can say we are no longer human? or is the entire concept of humanity as misguided as concepts of individual identity ( i.e. there is no division, we are all one)?


Here is another thought for those interested in Numerology with a little bit of mythology mixed in (to be taken with a pinch of salt). Number 11 has caused us to question our reality, and of course 9/11 is brought up which is inextricably tied to the collapse of the twin towers. The twin towers are similar to the pillars of heracles which were also seen as gateways from one world into the next (see also Dantes Inferno). The twin towers were the pillars that opened up into the new world of america, these have now fallen. In their place we have ground zero, a term normally associated with the aftermath of a detonation of an atomic bomb (I believe the germans also called the remnants of their burnt out cities ground zero at the end of world war 2).

What will be raised up from the ashes in the place of ground zero? Will it be a reflection of the collective state of consciousness if not of the whole world, at least of the western world (I wont go into the implications of the phallic patriarchal giant tower, maybe that is for the feminists)? But I suppose what interested me was the point that was made, in that Bush sees his own reflection in islamic fundamentalism. If this is so, and the dots we join around 911 reflect how we choose to interpret the events building whatever narrative we feel gives our lives meaning (the events may be completely random, unpredictable and chaotic)...then what part of us does Bush and islamic fundamentalism reflect? Possibly our subconscious realisation of a dependence on oil and the part this plays in the bolstering of the oil barons, along with the suffering it brings to the people of the middle east?


Monday, March 05, 2007

12 modern delusions that must be challenged: #12

Number 12: Human behaviour can be predicted.
In the name of a supposedly "scientific" criterion of knowledge,
scholars are berated for not predicting the end of the cold war, the
rise of Islam, 9/11 and much more besides. Yet many natural sciences -
seismology, evolutionary biology - cannot predict with accuracy
either. Human affairs themselves, even leaving aside the matter of
human intentions and will, allow of too many variables for such
calculation. We will never be able to predict with certainty the
outcome of a sports contest, the incidence of revolutions, the
duration of passion or how long an individual will live.

My reply:
Isaac Asimov is probably to blame here, for writing the 'Foundation' sci-fi novels, wherein a galactic utopian civilisation is built on the work of mathematician Hari Sheldon, who constructs a model of humanity that can predict large-scale trends with complete accuracy. But this was written before the widespread work began on chaos theory, which says that very small changes in beginning conditions can result in very large changes to the state of the system over time. This means that unless you can know with arbitrary precision, the state of the system now, you cannot predict its behaviour over time. Most complex systems are also chaotic. The problem is not one of modelling (which is what people expect the scientists to do), but of data gathering (which is what they *should* actually do, and build the models after to help confirm or disconfirm their hypotheses).
Even if you could have sensors placed around the earth's atmosphere and oceans in a grid with 1cm intervals, and even though the mathematical models for fluid dynamics are perfectly accurate , you cannot measure the current state of the weather with a fine enough precision to predict more than a weeks worth of weather with accuracy. You can't even predict the behaviour of liquid in a small pot with accuracy using fluid dynamics.

Thus the only way to gather enough data on our 'reality' that you could predict its behaviour, is to measure and store its quantum state. Now if you have a large enough quantum computer (say one with the same number of quantum states as the reality you're measuring), you could store this measured quantum state and run it in simulation to 'predict' the behaviour of the 'real' system. There are three problems with this. Firstly, the computer would run no faster than the reality so it wouldn't really be a prediction at all. Secondly, perhaps more importantly and for various reasons that I mostly forget, in order to replicate a quantum state you have to destroy the original - so there would be no reality left to observe the results of the prediction, except inside the prediction. Thirdly, the quantum computer that you built was originally part of the quantum state that you're trying to simulate, so in trying to measure it and simulate it, you need to replicate it inside itself, and then destroy it outside of itself.

Hopefully that's enough paradox to adjudge the whole idea of predicting human behaviour as pointless.

12 modern delusions that must be challenged

In a broadside at the accepted wisdom of the plutocracy, Fred Halliday posited 12 delusions of modern times. Attempting to engender discussion among family and friends, my mother broadcast this series over email and I took the forum floor with my ramblings.
Here, since mum has no blog of her own yet, that series will be reproduced along with any answers that were forthcoming from the family and friends she broadcast to. Counting down, we start with number 12.

Thanks to Fred Halliday for unpermitted reproduction of his 'delusions': Fred Halliday is professor of international relations at the LSE, and visiting professor at the Barcelona Institute of International Studies (IBEI).