Time Heals All Wounds.. And Then Kills the Patient
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Mon Jan 25 18:42:55 2010
Welcome Past the Margins

Evening steeped in utter routine - work, teahouse, home. Perhaps something novel, perhaps something I've said before in another way.

I wonder, given our suceptability to branding, whether tribal humanity used tattoos to distinguish tribe from tribe. Identity and branding seem to be in our blood - perhaps we've forgotten it for a few thousand years, from the dawn of civilisation until semi-modern times (or perhaps I am ignorant of some important parts of history), but from the sin of marketing came eventually the idea of brand as lifestyle - the people who waste their scarce money on Nike shoes acquire what is essentially a tattoo, the person who finds themself oddly loyal to a particular brand of gas station and gets warm fuzzies when they see the BP logo, the people who love West Ham United enough to get into a fight when a rival team enters their pub, this is probably not a novel invention, it's a modern rediscovery of part of human nature. I suspect that trbes used these characteristics to keep people within the tribe. Is proto-humans with tattoos a hard thing to imagine? Could we imagine this stretching back further? A number of dolphin-anthropology studies have shown that dolphins and similar species have culture - the ability to learn things and teach them to other dolphins in the wold. Do they have these tendencies? Are their emergent characteristics very different than ours?

PZ points our attention at Irving Kristol on political truths. Kristol believes in the "hard" type of propoganda, where society has various narratives for people of various levels of political sophistication - these narratives are tailored for their audience, in the name of political stability. By contrast (or by similarity given the origin of Neoconservativism), I have often read works by Marxist authors, on the topic of class war and recruitment of other classes, that intellectuals should enter the party willing to give up what they have learned, that the "wisdom of the people" is superiour to that of the academe. There's a certain similarity here - I object to both positions on two fronts. First, they fail to be universalist, and second that they are based on vanity. On the first, in modern times, we have the benefit of a reasonably clear distinction between (or at least a structured framework of) truth and values. The complexities of the natural science are something that no socialist (or neoconservative, or other broad-value-driven) enterprise has an advantage over academia in production/understanding. As an institution, academia has survived in numerous forms under many economic and political systems, and as we temporally move towards its current form, it has proven better than any alternative for determining hard facts about the nature of things. To the extent that it is not abused for inappropriate ends (particularly prone in economics and a few other fields), the efforts at truth unearthed by academia are things that should (by my metaphilosophy, which stands outside my commitment to socialism) be adhered to by all people. However the truths are framed or applied, people of all political philosophies should accept academic efforts at truth as our best efforts as a society towards truth, and any political, religious, or other commitments we have in truth claims should be discarded or reworked to be compatible with the results of our strongest empiricist institution. This defines a soft pale - while science as an institution requires alternatives to the current consensus to exist, the actual current consensus should be *taught* and *considered true* by the institutions of society (law, medicine, etc) when strong enough.

Can we do away entirely with different narratives? Can we avoid lying in one layer for certain audiences? Probably no to both - Kristol is more wrong in his (implied here but confirmed in his other opinions) willingess for actual dishonesty in the dishonesty. It is the state of various disciplines that we have some approximations that are simple and useful and other approximations that are deep and powerful but complicated, for the same phonomena (from physics to economics). A standard pedagogical tool is to teach simple and useful frameworks first, and in later years (and higher levels of specialisation) teach the more complex formulæ - provided at some point either the philosophy of pedagogy or this simple fact is at some point discussed (I hold that it should be), this can be honest. Moving into realms that are more tenuous (particularly studies involving sociology), a similar adequate set of disclaimers (or broader perspective) can be devised (and reminded) throughout the disciplines (and when taught well, the disciplines often already have this in place).

Addressing both philosophies, any future society we should build should preserve academic attempts at natural sciences (and most social sciences), committing both to adopt academically derived truths rather than ideologically convenient truth ones, and to preserve them as institutions not proprietary to any political view. Their truth claims are public, and while we may offer simplified frameworks to understand the world, even frameworks infused with our values, we should be open about when we are doing so. Unlike Kristol, the only reason we should have different frameworks is to compensate for different levels of background or technological sophistication for the viewer - there are no truths we should withold from some people for reasons of political stability (we commit to this not for pragmatic reasons, but instead as central dogma based on our core values), even if we also provide them simpler frameworks/analysis if their level of understanding is not sufficient to understand the deeper framework/analysis (the distinction I imagine here is that for a given area, we'd have a kindergarten-level understanding, a sixth-grade-level understanding, a common citizen-level understanding, a gentleman-scholar-level understanding, and an expert-level understanding).

As a further commitment (best covered elsewhere in my writings), we should attempt to always move as many of the people as possible, through a good educational system and lifelong learning, towards ever-more-sophisticated-and-powerful frameworks of understanding. Regardless of what a person actually does in life (or employment), we regard it as a societal good to push forward their education and personal growth. (this is also marked as a central dogma).

A recent edition of the ISR had a refreshingly honest account of the (very tenuous) connection between Marxism and feminism. I am tempted to say that Marxism more can be "made compatible" with feminism (in the same way that Sarte in his later years made existentialism compatible with marxism, tinkering with suppositions of both to create an intellectual enterprise that coherently melded the traditions and values of both) than that they're naturally compatible. I'm comfortable maintaining my high score on the BS-filter for any social studies paper that references socialist theory in the context of gender/queer/feminist/$race studies.

Interesting task - reconstruction of Haitian infrastructure. I don't envy Préval, but he has a very interesting task ahead. Likewise for those trying to use reconciliation to pass the Health Care bill (frankly, I would rather a more aggressive, stronger bill that would just get 51%, and simply ram it through by letting Republicans filibuster for as long as they like (months, if needed), locking up congress and letting public pressure build on them until some small sacrifice can seal the deal). It's not pretty, but it's bloody stupid to let threat of a filibuster undermine a major initiative by a party in clear and large majority - extensive threat of this might reasonably lead to the end of our democracy, as parties might prove unwilling to ever let *anything* pass without a 60% majority.