Last night, I had a choice between two social gatherings (!!), and went with a skeptics group run by (and I do mean to state it so strongly) a local philosopher. It was a lively discussion on celebrity endorsement of scientific, anti-scientific, and semi-scientific positions. I loved the sharpness of the people there and the variety in opinions. It was a bit unwieldy in size, but was a delight. There is a point of slight awkwardness in that one of the people who attends the meeting is a former would-be employer, but that can be navigated.
There's a skeptical conference coming up that I am thinking about attending; it's a bit expensive and I'm trying not to spend a lot of money (spectacularly failed at that yesterday, when I bought a Playstation Vita and a lot of oranges, haha) until I'm more employed. I probably will go, but there's another bit of potential awkwardness in that there's someone I asked out on a dating site who's going to be prominent there.
I do kinda regret not being able to attend both meetings last night; the other one was about cross-domain reasoning, which is a topic I'd like to study in grad school, but it was also hosted in the home of someone who leads a group I'm generally wary of (hive of people of the libertarian flavour of transhumanism).
I do feel that being here is good for me; my natural reclusive tendencies might not win out in the end if I can keep attending enough social events to meet folk before I feel the need to go hide. ]]>
From this, I also strongly oppose the efforts of libertarians who dream of floating nations, or nations in space, to escape conventional morality; it is not enough to eliminate slavery, institutional racism/sexism, and the threats to labour where we are, we should seek to eliminate them everywhere and to prevent new bubbles of humanity from emerging that recreate past evils.
As implied by my metaphilosophy of values, I don't think that all value conclusions must/should be universal, nor that we should defend them all with the same tools or vigour. Whether and to what extent our value-conclusions are universal is something we should keep in mind when we're reflecting on our values.]]>
I support those who killed Qaddafi rather than have him stand trial, and support those who erased the Romanovs from the earth and in doing so cemented the end of the Tsars in Russia). Still, these are for exceptional circumstances, and we want these events to be very rare and carefully thought-out.
Regarding spies, I would expect them to be executed without much of a tear; they knew what they were doing when they undertook that activity. If I ran a country and caught a spy, I would probably execute them either through the law or extrajudicially. If I were on the other side, I would probably not be thrilled but I would entirely accept it. Same as with soldiers dying on a battlefield.
On that front, I had a more interesting subway ride home than expected; I ended up helping someone figure out what train to take, and after she said "thanks for your cogitation", I thought she's probably pretty awesome. She ended up being on the Q for a subset of my trip on it, and she's in grad school for something between public policy and psychology. Nice conversation; I doubt I'll ever see her again, but it was cool. I realised partway through the conversation that I was getting nervous and reclusive and probably sending really weird body language, and managed to mostly stop it. I need to keep an eye on that; I might not ever fully conquer the self-hatred and panic in my head (or perhaps I shall?), but if I'm careful I can keep it from ruining my life entirely. Or at least mask it long enough to build social ties that will get past the opening of social ties. I have been dealing with little fits of despair recently, but I am also having good moments of contentment as the things that stressed me out in my past life slowly snap.
Today I left the apartment with a topic to chew on; occasionally I've had to deal with, in debates of various kinds, people trying to deconstruct and then discard the public good.
My traditional answer to this is that there are no people, there are only cells. It's not a perfect answer, but it hints in the right direction; that society can be real despite being made of individuals. However, I've had a yearning for a more solid construction of some notion of the public good; how do we trace individual goods up into the good of a public, or if we don't do it that way, how do we construct it? In the ideal case, if we have a strong enough construction, a deconstructed term is intuitively reconstructed right back into itself, but that takes some philosophical legwork.
Let us first assert that humans are creatures of narratives and identities; people don't just identify with their physical body. They identify with their lover, their family, their ethnicity, their faith, and the like. They live in stories of their own construction; many stories at the same time where they play a variety of roles, all set in reality but with complicated relationships to it. Mozi notes that the less hierarchial our identity/care, the more just our society can be, but this is a difficult recipe to put into practice. When we identify with society, we do it in the context of notions of justice, notions of the values people in society hold and where society has been and where it's going. These tend to be built by cherry-picking of history (whether liberal or conservative or something else). These naunces I provide are not meant as criticism of the idea we're working towards; they are meant to be sobering but not discouraging, as without identity and values, our lives are meaningless (without any potential meaning).
The public good is not a unitary subject; like justice, it is a concept meant to be a focus of discussion more than a term of ready consensus. I suggest that a concept of the public good is one we should have, and that keeping our eyes on it helps us serve both our universalising values and our personal values well. Such a concept is as follows:
The public good is the amalgamated cause in a worldview, consisting of value-conclusions that seek to shape the narrative and facts of present and future people living in that society. Inherent in the public good is resolution of most of the conflicts between the individual interests in society, carried out through the mediation mechanisms in whatever philosophy's public good is being considered. The public good only directly relates to the stated interests of members of society to the extent that the philosophy speaking about the public good makes allowance for those specific interests.
It follows that the public good is a deeply perspective-laden concept; when people speak about the public good, they're not talking about an easily-understood, concrete term; they're talking about something similar in nature to "the good", and frequently they'll be arguing about it in terms that gloss over how divergent it is.
Like many terms of philosophy, despite being very troublesome, we can't divest of it without making very burdensome sacrifices and commonality with our fellow man; we can't say "there is no public good" any more than we can say "there is no such thing as things that are good or bad for people".
I'm not sure I've said what I wanted to on this topic though; it's been too many hours since I finished that topic.
Today's lunch was pretty interesting; I had to go to a post office to mail a check, and this took me on a walk a good ways south of where I live in Flatbush; after mailing it, I wanted to get some indian food, my phone brought up a Pakistani restaurant instead, so I took another reasonable hike southwards, into what seemed to be a Afghan/Pakistani/Jewish neighbourhood; there were plenty of people who looked like they were right out of pictures I've seen of Pashtun areas of Afghanistan (and there were Afghan restaurants too; might go back to give them a go sometime). Anyhow, lunch was at Bukhari, on Coney Island Avenue. The atmosphere wasn't that great, but the food was pretty good, quite healthy, and my meal came out to be $4. The food reminded me a bit of Srees.]]>
Recently I've been spending a reasonable percentage of my travel time (subway) playing Disgaea 2 on my new PS Vita (handheld gaming system). The device is pretty capable and rather cute, and it's a neat distribution mechanism to download the games rather than slide physical media into the system. I'm a bit bothered that I'm defying convergence of devices; in theory I should be able to do everything I do on a gaming device on my Android instead, or at least some suitable imagined merged device, but I guess we're not there yet (whether for technical reasons or because the companies involved have business arrangements that make it unlikely. It's also nice just vegging out; I've never been very good at calming my mind unless I'm taking it all the way to meditation, and the continual stream of things to think about eventually exhausts me (to the extent that sometimes I go to sleep when I'm not particularly tired because I just finished with a really big, nuanced idea and I don't want to be automatically swept into whatever's coming next. Alcohol in theory could help, but I'd need to drink enough to risk a migraine to get the needed slowing effect.
Today I went for another run in Prospect Park; my feet are not tough enough for barefoot runs of any length yet though; blisters stopped the run a lot earlier than I would've liked. I do have some of the post-run good-feeling, but none of the soreness I crave. There was potato/leek soup at the coffeeshop just around the corner from my place today, which was great.
I've been hoping for rain for awhile; I don't think I've experienced rain in NYC yet, and rain (like other parts of nature) is part of my formula for sanity.
Semi-recently I went to a meetup of an anti-superstition society, and after the main meeting we went to a bar (Where I had a very long conversation on methods of neuroscience, and another very long conversation on changes in the academic publishing ecosystem. After that a few of us went dancing in a really crowded place in Soho (I think); my dancing got me some unwanted flirting from the wrong people, and little interest from someone who might be potentially one of the right people from our group. Oh well. Awkward times. Also semi-recently replaced my ragged old shoes with new ones; I am hoping they get broken-in soon, as the last time I did this I was getting frequent blisters for a few weeks (definitely worth it in the long run though; these are really comfortable shoes).
I think I've hit the 1-month point of living in NYC; my monthly transit pass expired and needed a recharge. I'm still really lonely, and don't have any prospects for a significant other, nor much in the way of new friends, but I've had one-off meetings of some interesting people in subways, and I've been to some good (and bad) meetups, had some good conversations, got my bike working again, and have explored some cool places. My diet has improved quite a lot with easy access to oranges and apples basically everywhere in the city, and it's pretty cool to be living so near a huge variety of little shops.
I am still trying to figure out the more-job-than-I-have thing; benefits, how much work, how can I help humanity, how can I best mix my skills and attributes to do something worthwhile that pays reasonably.
Living here is helping me discover new sides to myself; while I still have those hangups that make it very hard for me to make meaningful new social ties, I seem to manage a lot more one-off conversations in the city; people seem to be more socially aggressive and just start talking with me, which is pretty nice; it helps push back against some of the deeper edges of my paranoia of being entirely socially invisible, with no conversations that arn't strictly functional. These random conversations are helping me heal from years of what's mostly been solitude.
Two concepts that are tricky to resolve: the concept of the genetic fallacy, and conversational calls of privilege.
The genetic fallacy is, I think, most appropriate for topics where technical expertise is not required; technical fields produce experts that are few in number, and requiring those few to handle debate with unqualified people with equal weight as debate within their community would be an undue burden. Even this isn't unlimited though; the existence of experts on a topic doesn't suggest others must value that expert community, as the community could be entirely fucked. Schools of divinity or astrological experts are a prime example of thise. I would suggest that people generally trust academia as a default in modern times though; even though we're seeing new kinds of corruption through private finance of academic departments and private research, the system remains as a whole the best shot we have at understanding. The genetic fallacy also has limits, I think, where those who have malign political views might not have their arguments given serious weight because one knows they're acting as an adversary, although this would likely take the form of not entering into debate with them at all rather than trying to disqualify their moves within one. In general, we should understand the idea of the genetic fallacy as a reluctance to disqualify people based on their identity.
The conversational call of privilege is most appropriate for where the participants in a discussion know each other well enough to have an adequate theory of mind grasp on each other. It is naturally moderately rude in most of its phrasings, as it requires speculation as to the deeper reasoning behind another's arguments and suggests something ugly (which may yet be true) about that reasoning. That said, it's a worthwhile thing to think about during a debate. As constraints on this conversational call of privilege, I suggest:
With this analysis, how do we resolve calls of privilege and the genetic fallacy? First, we don't use a call of privilege as a conversation-closer. It too often is used as such, and by ceasing to disqualify people or arguments through it, we turn it into attention to the effects and reasoning behind a claim. I accept that this is taking a tool away from activist communities fighting what (usually) are good causes, but it's needed for good discourse, and (general point here) good discourse is more important than providing seemingly strong and cathartic arguments to the activist that will never convince anyone but the weak-willed. We also should not hold the genetic fallacy so strongly that we refuse, in a debate, to consider the mental state of our conversation partner. We generally will keep such suppositions and analyses in our heads rather than making them a conversation topic though; they shape what arguments (and meta-arguments, possibly) we make.
This weekend will largely be swallowed by Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism. Hoping I'll meet yet more members of the secular community here.
A bit of news that might be interesting, perhaps:
Finally, I offer a (perhaps strange) reconsideration on the topic of military chaplains. After some reflection on some of the arguments for and against them, I am no longer of the opinion that they should not exist. My reasoning is based on the enclosed nature of life in the military; like only a few other jobs, there are few opportunities to reliably leave an active post of duty, and given that, a failure to provide adequate opportunities for self-expression of one's philosophy (religious or not) is excessively damaging to the effective practice of freedom of conscience that exists in outside life. This is not precedent-setting for the kinds of leeway we must/should give in general society so much as a recognition that unusual allowances can be made to equalise with self-actualisation opportunities present in broader-society, and that these allowances might override a general strong commitment to secularism in some instances and to some degree. I don't have any specific ideas as to what the acceptable bounds are of the field this opens up, I just am willing to accept it as a field. We would probably provide the same thing to astronauts on a long-term manned space mission, for the same reasons.]]>
Let's go over the schedule, for more detailed commentary:
Moving back to general impressions and thoughts:
It's finally raining in NYC, but unfortunately it's a very cold rain. I'm also still hobbling from the combined effect of a rough discipline in trying to get back into barefoot running and build foot pads rapidly, and my new shoes, both of which are rough on feet in different ways. My introvert-version social batteries are pretty drained, and I don't have the luxury of being entirely reclusive tomorrow to recharge, eep.
The conference has me regretting the low-profile I've kept over the years; I'm not interested in being a star, per-se, but being more known and taking part in philosophy panels would be nice, and maybe having a better-known blog would expose me to more members in the secular blogging community and lead to more conversations. I'd probably need to split my personal life into a separate blog to make that more possible, and maybe go over topics in a more systemic way rather than just blog on whatever's been on my mind recently. I've generally hoped that my blog is interesting and provocative and might fling a few ideas into the heads of people who read it regularly, but I've been pretty lazy about it, and I can do better if I give it more attention. Certainly better than Eliezer, haha. Still thinking about whether I should do this; my blog fills a pretty complex role in my mental life.]]>
What I have:
This isn't just about readers; having those blank spaces that I want to fill between LASTENTRY and now will pull me to write more about some topics and change how seriously I write about them. If nobody shows up to read the posts, that's a bit disappointing but still ok. I would like more of a podium from which to speak, and would like to get as involved with shaping the secular community as much as an introvert like me can manage (which is certainly less than most of the speakers I saw this weekend, but a lot more than I've done so far).
If I can swing this, maybe I can also get in the habit of teaching programming, unix, and similar; I've spent the last few months developing materials for that.
To whatever extent I can disclaim the normal social graces that might have you reading my blog out of some feeling of social obligation or being too polite to leave, I do. I might be curious if there were anything in particular I said that had you go, or if it's just not your cup of tea, but if you want out, just go. There are a few of you who've seen posts others haven't, either because I know you've read enough philosophy to know what I'm talking about, or because I need to vent emotions and only feel safe with a few ears, or some other content/reason; I've never been sure if that was welcome or not, I just did it. There won't be more of that on this blog, and I don't know if/how I'll have that in the future.
I probably won't purge old entries. The search engines know them and occasionally I've gotten emails about their content. I might try to split the personal out of the other stuff in them, perhaps, but each blogpost is a memory and there are quite a lot of them; changing them might feel wrong. I might try to postmirror this blog ("dachte") to a few more places; dachte has never been my handle (my online handle has generally been "Improv" for many years, named after the old Lotus Spreadsheet for NeXTStep), I've generally thought of it as a place. (Some of my use of it, as an AIM handle, has not been entirely consistent with this)
A few of the people I read seem to have separate semi-professional or professional blogs, and that's probably a good sign. My one hope with this is that I don't avoid posting about things that fall between the cracks between my personal life/mental state and philosophy; one of the big points I've hoped has come across in my years of blogging is that philosophy is a human endeavour, tied to almost every aspect of life. The practice of philosophy is not one that (should) alienate one from human nature (although excessive self-awareness might); it's one that illuminates it, drawing on values and ideas that come from life experiences. If, for example, I were to grab on the topic above and do an entry on names for virtual things (like "dachte" versus "Improv") and identities, their relationship to imaginary friends, and things of that sort, would that be philosophy or would it be personal? Rather, would it be better thought of as being more of one or more of the other? Providing food for thoughts and acting as a kind of philosophical Marja-i Taqlid (maybe more as a list of cool things to look up and potential thoughts to take), done mutually between a lot of thinkers, should be breathtakingly eye-opening for everyone involved (or watching). But that's just a concern, and I'll deal with it.]]>