Dear Pittsburgh, I'm visiting from 21-24 of this month. I'll be staying in Oakland. If you want to hang out, let me know; the visit is purely a vacation and I have very little planned so far. As you may know, I live in Brooklyn now, and I haven't visited Pittsburgh since I moved away about 2 and a half years ago.
(Latest in a long series of efforts to communicate part of this cluster of ideas; if you're bored of my endless restatements on this, skip this)
Living in NYC, I've come to see the rivers as being more psychological barriers than physical ones, at least in the time of modern transit. It's not hard for anyone in the 4 main boroughs of NYC to get around, and provided one isn't in the outer bits of any of them (maybe Jamaica in Queens, or Coney Island in Brooklyn), the whole city is pretty accessible. The rivers provide a minor hassle and a line in the sand, and that's enough for us to use as a start for larger groupings of neighbourhoods. It perpetuates as people choose where to live or where to place businesses on these perceptions. Maybe sometimes a bit like race, but with sharper differences.
The fascinating thing is how much stronger the perceived and created differences are than is justified given the ease of communication; Manhattanites generally don't go into other Boroughs without a lot of arm-twisting, people don't generally like to move from Queens to Brooklyn or vice-versa despite similarities of many communities, and so on. There's little good reason not to build tech businesses in Brooklyn or Queens, but only recently have select parts of those Boroughs seen significant growth of those industries.
I've seen parallels of this in other cities I've lived in, although generally without the level of connectivity that NYC has. My constant thought experiment is to wonder, if the rivers were to be erased, how long would the current barriers exist? Would there remain a scar like the path of the Berlin Wall, years later?
I came across this tonight; it's a good partial explanation for the flaws I've found in the various movements I've been involved in (or opposed) over the years. It's part of that story where various good-intentioned people and movements end up with a cultural rot that hurts rather than helps their cause, where people judge claims not by their soundness but rather by their being on the "right" side of an issue, and how some people eventually convince themselves that "fuck you" is actually something reasonable people say in an argument.
I say it's a partial explanation because it doesn't deal with memes in discourse, and those are pretty important; movements develop little verbal tics that are easily confused with actual points, and it takes an unusually careful person to be able to notice those and challenge them in order to get discourse back into good shape.
(I've been posting here a bit less often; been more active on G+ recently, and I'm trying to save this space primarily for longer original content rather than commentary)
This is meant to address three ideas:
For those we care for, we desire them to be happy, to succeed, to grow as people, and various other things. To that end, we offer them our support in various realms of life. This is a great thing, even if we don't care for everyone equally and don't provide the same kinds of support to everyone. However, I think unless we establish some nuances, we run the risk of getting some things very wrong. Our support for others, if excessive in degree or scope, can be detrimental to us or even to them. I have previously written about reasonable degree of care ; helping people to the extent that we injure our own interests or dignity to an excessive degree. Here, we should begin to address scope of care.
I present a divide:
I argue that care-in-judgement is almost always harmful or inappropriate, and care-in-assistance is how we generally should care for people. People require criticism and constant exposure to other perspectives to remain sane; sterile groups of people who agree on philosophy or contested events offer a certain comfort, but it is a comfort that creates inappropriate certainty in life and diminishes the ability of the person to deal with mainstream society; this is the disvirtue of surrounding oneself with yes-men. Safe zones are particularly pernicious towards this end; they offer the unhealthy comfort of closer relationships with people who act as yes-men, curbing the ability of the mainstream to moderate excessive perspectives and offer correction. They diminish the ability of people so humoured to handle disagreement, and incubate unacceptable demands of fidelity-to-their-views that they may place on society.
Beyond these ties, they diminish the person who offers care-in-judgement; the person's judgement is hijacked by their social needs. If our judgement is to mean anything, it must be independent of the people we care for, both in topic and from need for their approval. We must be able to judge our family and our closest friends the same as the people we despise through the same lens, and even handle the nuances of when victims are not wholly innocent (or to a lesser degree, not wholly helpful) or when a victim turns into an abuser. Justice is impartial; in order for our judgement to be true, we must place these realms of life outside responsiveness to social reprecussion. This is very difficult, and many people cannot manage it, but for those that cannot do it much, we must write off entirely their thoughts on matters of justice. For others who can only do it somewhat, we must at least consider their conflicts-of-interest, and criticise or doubt them as necessary to help them grow as people). We also should ignore the politics of the situation when we're asked for (or when the situation calls for) an honest judgement; even if exposure to how we see things would be very unpleasant for the hearer, we owe it to ourselves not to be dishonest with our views; we either must explicitly note that we're withholding their expression, or to tell them, rather than pretend they are what they are not.
With this, we achieve some integrity; a kind of integrity that should be a basis for a kind of self-respect (and, for those virtuous enough to admire this trait, respect of others). We must grow enough as people to offer the reciprocal though; to handle disagreements in perspective and judgements from those around us. That kind of tolerance is just as important as the expressiveness. We should finally avoid the idea of only offering the first in exchange for the second with a particular person; we should strive for both as much as possible with everyone, particularly those that lack one or both virtues.
One of the central questions in political philosophy, or perhaps one of the most intuitive initial framings, is "what do we owe each other?". I prefer to ask this question as a foundational one; one which we ask while the different ways we might structure society, property, and rights or legal norms are in place. We ask it that early because an answer to it might help us decide what specifics to offer. If we were, for example, to ask this question after a system of property or rights or similar are in place, we've already curtailed the number of answers to a question like this; we might not be able to consider oweing each other much of anything if we ask the question after having a well worked-out philosophy that excludes concerns like this. This isn't to suggest that this is the only worthwhile question, but rather that an answer to it would amount to a foundational concern that should, with other such concerns, should provide substantial structure.
The problem remains broad; I initially segment it into two bundles of questions:
I wonder if the prohibition on suicide is about those whose action would be prohibited so much as it is about disturbing a consensus; suicide as heresy. Heresy to the idea that the strength it takes to continue with life sometimes is a well-placed strength. Heresy to the idea that life is worthwhile and should continue until a natural end; illness or infirmity. I detect undertones of this idea of heresy in every discussion I see after someone suicides; people fear that suicide will come to be accepted, perhaps they fear that they will accept it; this taboo is something present in many societies as a guard against impulsivity, a fence that nontheless blocks deliberate and careful choice as much as whim. We may never forget forever that we have the ability to do it, and that knowledge may even help those of us who have broken the taboo avoid the urge to do it at time, but the taboo and ritual condemnation of the act as weak help make it complicated enough to delay it again.
Today was (probably) the end of my affiliation with CFI-NYC. I came to the tenative conclusion last night, but hoped to leave on a high note; today's philosophy gathering was quite a good one, and happened to touch on some of the reason I'm leaving (although I didn't mention the leavitude while there). Largely, I'm frustrated with the recent focus on intersectionality and how it's led to many events being qualified (need to be ex-Christian, or ex-Muslim, or non-straight (which I'm qualified for, but this is not a matter of personal inconvenience so much as a philosophical dislike of qualified groups), or under-30, or similar.
Broadly speaking, we talked about social justice and activism for the whole session, particularly the recent events at a CFI "Women in Secular" conference that've been controversial.
One idea visible from the conversation (but not an explicit topic): two kinds of activism
Many of my other criticisms and efforts to shape activism fit into this distinction; the idea that victims have a special (or defining) role in deciding on praxis comes naturally from type 1, and is equally repugnant from a type-2 perspective.
Recently, Boy Scouts has been in the news; they finally appeal to be removing their ban on gay youth in their organisation, although leaders still must be straight. I've been unhappy with BSA for quite some time; my experiences with the organisation were fairly mixed and I've come to dislike portions of their messages. Having 3 younger sisters and a mum who was involved in Girl Scouts, I had some experiences with them as well (some summers I went with my mum and sisters to a GSA camp). While they were occasionally a bit domestic, I think they generally have their heads on straighter than BSA, and their policies are in many aspects less objectionable.
I recently read this editorial by Erika Christakis: 「BSA has a lot to learn from GSA」 and I find myself entirely in agreement with it (which is fairly rare for me; I normally try to find at least a few things to criticise about any other position/article I cite, but I couldn't here). Kudos to her.
She links to an article by GSA titled 「What We Stand For」, and it's a good document too; the only thing I dislike in it is the emphasis on pushing patriotism; otherwise, it would make me comfortable sending a child of mine, were I ever to have one, to GS, in marked contrast to BS (where I have pledged not to do so unless BSA changes a lot).