To anyone who reads this: I'm going to keep this site up, but I don't expect to me using it in the future: I'll be posting quotes at my personal blog:


Trying to consolidate my life.
housekeeping  from notes
9 weeks ago
Jenny Diski reviews ‘I May Be Some Time’ by Francis Spufford · LRB 18 July 1996
Scott – who incomprehensibly had taken an extra fifth man to share a four-man tent and rations – had been complaining to Wilson for days that it was time Oates made the final gesture. Oates, apparently not feeling all that Edwardian about it, was by no means keen to give up his life while there was even the remotest possibility that he might survive. By the time he took a walk, he was pretty sure that none of the others would try very vigorously to stop him. Somehow, once you know this, ‘I am just going outside and may be some time,’ begins to take on an ironic note. You can hear in your mind’s ear more than one tone of voice in which the resonating phrase might be said. Oates was a man of his times, but also of ours, it seems – inevitably since the changes the times have undergone do not account for everything.

Equally, it is not impossible, even with Scott thoroughly debunked in the way we do best, to find something in his thinking that accords with our own. The first men walking on the moon was still an event the most cynical paid attention to. Had the South Pole never been reached, we would not find it odd that someone should attempt it. Yet it is very hard to get excited about Ranulph Fiennes crossing the great white continent with atomic sledges, Internet and satellite communications and a computerised mobile igloo with facilities. The idea of testing the physical and mental boundaries of endurance in very difficult circumstances has not gone away. People still wonder how they would cope with adversity. There is a moral, interior component to exploration. And even without the Romantics flinging themselves about, there are still people who imagine themselves as rocks in the Arctic Sea. At least, I hope there are.
10 weeks ago
I May Be Some Time
A history of this second kind -- an imaginative history of polar exploration -- would have to explain where Scott's feelings came from, how they got there and how they got to be too obvious to require comment or to elicit surprise. It would need a genealogy different from the simple chronological chain of events recorded by the first sort. It would require demonstrating, not that knowledge grew, or that one impression was succeeded by another, but that the means existed to make of the data of polar discovery a stuff of conventional imagination. While it is easy to uncover particular nineteenth-century manifestations of imaginative interest in polar matters -- like, for example, the huge Arctic diorama created in the Vauxhall pleasure gardens in the summer of 1852, to give the public a topical thrill at the height of the search for the missing explorer Sir John Franklin -- it is far harder to trace a line of influence on from them. 'Influence' is necessarily impalpable. But by the same token, it does not have to be proved that (for example) Scott was himself aware of particular books, plays, or fashionable enthusiasms, so long as the styles of feeling they gave currency to survived, and flourished, without marks of origin, in the repertoire of the obvious.

This book is an attempt to construct an outline of such a history. Implicit in it is the assumption that ideas lose their form when they decay, yet do not necessarily lose their place in the mentality of an age. They turn to imaginative compost. Complex reasoning lives on, perhaps, as a couple of self-evident maxims. A taste it took a book to establish, and many more to justify, becomes the single word 'attractive' in a tourist guide. Schools of thought, life's-works, artistic endeavours, all find their ultimate destination in a habit of vision scarcely worth discussion. So each chapter is intended to correspond to a particular area of unattributed, unexamined thought in the minds of those who, like Oates in Delhi, could perhaps scarcely say why exploration 'is most suitable to my tastes'. Each chapter is an archaeology of one aspect of the hazy love affair between the ice and the English. As Apsley Cherry-Garrard said of a book by a fellow veteran about the life of penguins, 'It is all quite true': except that in the next-to-last section of the final chapter, which pieces back together the story of Scott, I had to describe events for which there can be by definition no written evidence. That section is pure invention.
10 weeks ago
Gun Culture Is My Culture. And I Fear for What It Has Become. - The New York Times
I don’t like being in places where I can’t find the exits. I don’t like crowds and being surrounded by more people than I can keep my eyes on. For the most part nowadays, I stay at the house. When I have to leave, I slide my holster into my waistband before I put on my boots. When a book tour sends me out of North Carolina, 36 states honor the concealed-carry license in my wallet. Unlike a lot of those who carry, I don’t buy into that only-way-to-stop-a-bad-guy-with-a-gun-is-a-good-guy-with-a-gun bravado. I have no visions of being a hero. Instead, I find myself looking for where I’d run, asking myself what I would get behind. The gun is the last resort. It’s the final option when all else is exhausted.

When Ashley and I left the store, we headed toward the Levi’s outlet, where she planned to buy a new pair of jeans. The walkway narrowed, and the sidewalks were filled with people and noise. Even though I knew the risk was remote, my mind raced with all those questions of what I’d do if someone suddenly opened fire. As we walked, I could feel the pistol holstered on my side, the weight of my gun tugging at my belt. The fear was lessened by knowing that there was a round chambered, that all it would take is the downward push of a safety and the short pull of a trigger for that bullet to breathe. I felt safer knowing that gun was there.
[What if always having a gun is not what eases the anxiety but what creates it? What if carrying a pistol everywhere you go keeps you constantly in mind of circumstances in which it might be used?]
10 weeks ago
The Dead End of the Left? | Commonweal Magazine
Indeed, Del Noce said, if a society’s only ideal is the expansion of individual “well-being,” the left faces two equally bad options. One is to embrace what he calls the “reality principle,” and to compromise with the realities of late capitalism. Then the left must necessarily become the party of the technocratic elites, and end up pursuing power for power’s sake, because in the vacuum of ideals left behind by Marxism there is no common ground between the elites and the masses. This “realistic left” can only organize itself around two principles: trust in science and technology, and what Del Noce calls “vitalism,” sexual liberation, which provides a “mystified,” bourgeois replacement of the revolution. The second option is what Del Noce calls “unrealism”: dreaming the impossible, rejecting existing reality altogether, and embracing political extremism in various forms, all of which are destined for defeat. Unrealism “becomes an accomplice of the first attitude in the global rejection of all values.” [...]

Molnar put it quite bluntly: the left is doomed to oscillate between utopian anarchism and extreme political realism because of a philosophical mistake. He quoted Jacques Maritain in The Peasant of the Garonne: “The pure man of the left detests being, always preferring, in principle, in the words of Rousseau, what is not to what is.” But while Maritain viewed this as a mere temperamental inclination, Molnar believed that in the modern age “ontological restlessness” had evolved into a systematic and militant attitude, a habit of denying reality and “chasing the imaginary.” Molnar probably had in mind the counter-culture of the late ’60s, such as radical pacifism, absolute sexual freedom, the hippie movement, etc. However, he also cites some famous French left-wing intellectuals of his time, whose work is still very influential in American academia: Lévi-Strauss, Lacan, Althusser, Foucault.
liberalism  left  from instapaper
10 weeks ago
Antonio Damasio, Feeling, and the Evolution of Consciousness: Siri Hustvedt on “The Strange Order of Things” - Los Angeles Review of Books
Single-cell organisms do not have nervous systems. Insects, worms, fish, dogs, and human beings do. They all feel, and it is only with the entrance of feeling in the evolutionary picture that subjectivity and consciousness develop. Feeling, in Damasio’s hypothesis, is the mental expression of homeostasis, which allows the animal a significant advantage in monitoring its own state as well as avoiding danger and seeking the pleasures afforded by its environment. Importantly, Damasio does not view consciousness and culture as resulting from some additive ingredient unique to human beings: reason, logic, or language. In this story, a form of awareness appears in all animals equipped with nervous systems. Differences in animal mental life emerge with increasing anatomical complexity. Human beings are sophisticated, feeling, affective, social body-subjects who may speak, write, make art, and build technologies, but we share the homeostatic impulse with all other living things.
neuroscience  biology  psychology  from instapaper
10 weeks ago
A Tale of Complexity – Structural Layers in Note Taking • Zettelkasten Method
There are emergent structures that underly every self-organizing body of knowledge. Software that helps you deal with these structures needs to fulfill a couple of criteria for its ability to handle complex structures. One criterion is: Does the software provide access to those different structural layers? If it doesn’t offer the means to deal with those structures, it won’t help you in your work once your archive becomes more complex.
notetaking  from instapaper
10 weeks ago
Marilynne Robinson at Wheaton | Civitas Peregrina
That points to the more interesting disjunction. (Liberal Protestants complaining about evangelical line-drawing is hardly new, just as is their penchant for doing their own line-drawing at the same time.) The first half of her talk was an extended defense of the idea of conscience and the ways in which that was an important spur for the Reformation. But in the second half, she trotted out what feels like now a kind of almost pro forma critique of individualism (though there were some interesting intimations from her that suggested a kind of defense of individualism). What struck me, though, was how the two sides of the critique don’t fit together. Conscience is important but when you cite Emerson, as she did, you are almost inevitably headed toward the sort of disconnected, romantic individualism that she (rightly, in my view) finds so troublesome. Here, the Catholic tradition seems helpful, for it talks (so far as I understand it) in terms of *rightly ordered* conscience, not just conscience per se. Our contemporary cult of authenticity contains within it a view of conscience that merely demands a kind of coherence to your views. In practice everyone imposes limits (that is, draws lines on what counts as *proper* conscience) but the impulse is toward a solipsistic conscience, not a rightly formed one. What’s lacking here—and this is a problem in both liberal and conservative Protestantism alike—is a sense of rightful authority, things to which we owe obedience even when, maybe especially when, we do not find it easy to consent. I don’t know that I have an especially good answer to this dilemma—I’m just as American in that sense as the next—but it does seem to me an enduring dilemma, one that even as astute a person as Marilynne Robinson seems flummoxed by.
christian  ethics  conscience 
11 weeks ago
Christians & the Death Penalty | Commonweal Magazine
Let us grant, for argument’s sake, that the death penalty is indeed a just and proportionate response to willful murder. So what? That has never been the issue for Christians, for the simple reason that the Gospel does not admit the authority of proportional justice, as either a private or a public good. The whole of the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, is a shocking subversion of the entire idea. Christ repeatedly and explicitly forbids the application of such punishment, even when (as in the case of the adulterous woman) this means contradicting the explicit commands of the Law of Moses regarding public order and divinely ordained retribution. According to Paul, all who sin stand under a just sentence of death, but that sentence has been rescinded purely out of the unmerited grace of divine mercy. This is because the full wrath of the Law has been exhausted by Christ’s loving surrender to the Cross. Again and again, the New Testament demands of Christians that they exercise limitless forgiveness, no matter how grievous the wrong, even in legal and public settings. And it insists that, for the Christian, mercy always triumphs over judgment. In a very real sense, Christian morality is nothing but the conquest of proportional justice by the disproportion of divine love.
theology  politics  from instapaper
11 weeks ago
1968 and the summer of our discontent
The British ’68 took a somewhat different form. There was a fundamental division between the working forces and the educational establishment, nicely illustrated by Vinen: at the end of the 1970s, the quarter of a million members of the National Union of Mineworkers contained 15 members of Militant Tendency, nine members of the Socialist Workers Party, and five members of the International Marxist Group. ‘There were fewer Trotskyists in the most important of British trade unions than there were among the staff at North London Polytechnic.’

By contrast, only 2 per cent of students matriculating at Essex in 1968 described themselves as Labour supporters rather than ‘non-party extreme/moderate left’. The occasional Maoist sociology student who tried to reach out to the labouring classes met with, it is fair to say, a ribald or bemused reception. Perhaps the single most effective limit on student protest was the curious English habit that meant that students lived on campus during term time, and went home to mum and dad during the vacation. A Sussex sociologist — not always, despite the impression, the most radical members of staff — observed that ‘the one redeeming feature of all the unrest is that revolutions always go on holiday’.
history  politics  England 
11 weeks ago
A Plea To Trans Activists: We Can Protect Trans Rights Without Denying Biology - Quillette
Science is clear. Our biological sex indicates our role in the reproduction of our species. We are like other mammals. Some of us have male sex organs and others have female sex organs. I have three children and unless there were repeat visits from the Angel Gabriel that neither my partner nor I knew about, I was responsible for the male gametes that produced them. Arguments over labels do not change the underlying facts. I know that I am not biologically female.

Society is also real. Boys and girls are socialised differently. Boys never face the prospect of becoming pregnant, nor are they expected to take on more than their fair share of caring responsibilities or make sacrifices for their future spouse’s career. They are stronger, taller, and are generally given more freedoms, and their bodies are not subject to the same scrutiny that girls’ are.

To say that trans women are the same as women, therefore requires denial of some rather huge concrete truths. I can’t do that with any integrity and, rather than identify as a woman, – a rather meaningless concept – I identify with women.
11 weeks ago
This is the single most alarming thing Trump has done
Under Trump, Fox News has evolved into something like a state-media outlet, marching in rigid lock-step with a Trumpified Republican Party. And now this model is metastasizing, as Sinclair's right-wing management enforces a rigid political line on hundreds of local news broadcasts while threatening with severe monetary penalties employees who might be inclined to resist the policy.

What's even worse is that Trump is actively urging his FCC to approve Sinclair's purchase of a network of Tribune stations that will increase the company's reach to three quarters of American households. This can only be described as an effort to establish a nationwide propaganda network that seeks to advance the agenda and political prospects of the president and the Republican Party.

If the effort succeeds, it will stand as one of the most blatant efforts yet on the part of the president to actively manipulate public opinion by uniting the formidable powers of the executive branch and the Twitter-based bully pulpit with the crucial support of wealthy allies in business and media.
11 weeks ago
Death’s Best Friend
Medical students were invited to attend the seminars, but for a long time, none did. “The physicians have been the most reluctant in joining us in this work,” Kübler-Ross noted in On Death and Dying. “It may take both courage and humility to sit in a seminar which is attended not only by the nurses, students, and social workers with whom they usually work, but in which they are also exposed to the possibility of hearing a frank opinion about the role they play in the reality or fantasy of their patients.”

American doctors were so preoccupied with avoiding death that they avoided any discussion of it. “I observed the desperate need of the hospital staff to deny the existence of terminally ill patients on their ward.” This was typical for the medical profession at the time. In the early 1970s, years after Kübler-Ross began her research, only about 10 percent of doctors told their patients when they had a terminal condition; until 1980, the American Medical Association considered it a doctor’s right not to tell their patients if they had an incurable disease. At Kübler-Ross’s hospital, most doctors would inform the patient’s family of a fatal diagnosis and allow them to decide what to share with the patient.
health  medicine 
11 weeks ago
Ways of getting along - Varieties of atheism
If the clash between theism and atheism were merely about metaphysical ideas, personal choices, or even quests made by consenting adults, then it should indeed be a negotiable difference in societies which allow for many other kinds of diversity. Thinkers like Mr Gray or even Bishop Jenkins may help us negotiate. But they do not entirely solve the problem. It is striking that the most intractable disputes between believers and non-believers concern the treatment of children: how and by whom they should be raised; what they should be taught about the origin of the world; whether, in the name of religious custom, their bodies should be mutilated; whether the education of boys and girls should be separate and in some way differentiated, as conservative Islam mandates; and at what point in their biological development one can speak of a life which cannot morally be terminated. With or without the guidance of brainy public intellectuals, these are hard arguments which lead to hard choices.
atheism  conflict 
11 weeks ago
Waiting for the Light
The liturgical theologian Aidan Kavanagh, drawing on a remark of Urban T. Holmes, speaks of the crucial theological impact of a worshiping assembly’s “being brought regularly to the brink of chaos in the presence of the living God.” Perhaps the Vigil I attended all those years ago is still so vivid in my mind because it had the courage to invite us, in a thoroughly Christian ritual environment, to the brink of chaos, where both dark absence and wild rejoicing live. A small minority of worshiping communities will be blessed with the ample resources on which that parish drew, but anyone can turn out all the lights or set a real fire ablaze. Simple intentionality about worship’s artistic, dramatic, and nonliteral communication can work wonders, and inexpensively. If this all seems too foreign, gather some artists and give them the job.
Anglican  worship  liturgy 
11 weeks ago
How to Talk About ‘Race’ and Genetics - The New York Times
From my point of view, it should be possible for everyone to hold in their heads the following six truths:

1. “Race” is fundamentally a social category — not a biological one — as anthropologists have shown.

2. There are clear genetic contributors to many traits, including behavior.

3. Present-day human populations, which often but not always are correlated to today’s “race” categories, have in a number of instances been largely isolated from one another for tens of thousands of years. These long separations have provided adequate opportunity for the frequencies of genetic variations to change.

4. Genetic variations are likely to affect behavior and cognition just as they affect other traits, even though we know that the average genetic influences on behavior and cognition are strongly affected by upbringing and are likely to be more modest than genetic influences on bodily traits or disease.

5. The genetic variations that influence behavior in one population will almost certainly have an effect on behavior in others populations, even if the ways those genetic variations manifest in each population may be very different. Given that all genetically determined traits differ somewhat among populations, we should expect that there will be differences in the average effects, including in traits like behavior.

6. To insist that no meaningful average differences among human populations are possible is harmful. It is perceived as misleading, even patronizing, by the general public. And it encourages people not to trust the honesty of scholars and instead to embrace theories that are not scientifically grounded and often racist.
race  intelligence 
11 weeks ago
Opinion | Evangelicals’ support for Trump will cost them — spiritually
"Bonhoeffer’s cheap grace is a helpful concept because it illuminates a particular risk evangelicals are taking in their ongoing courtship with Trump: neither a risk to their political aspirations nor to the Christian religion itself, which has endured worse company in any case, but to their own souls. French novelist Paul Bourget observed that “one must live the way one thinks, or end up thinking the way one has lived.” It’s difficult for people to hold to contrary standards on those two counts. One either takes the Christian notion of forgiveness seriously — with all its accompanying expectations of repentance, contrition and accountability — or one doesn’t. Evangelicals who aren’t willing to hold Trump accountable for the way he has lived are themselves choosing a particular way of living, one which, with time, may dissolve whatever misgivings they may still maintain, somewhere deep inside."
from instapaper
11 weeks ago
Striking, social media, and building a better university
The other thing we need, if we are successfully to resist the managerialists and avoid a drift back to “normality” is organization. The impressive growth of the union during the strike can be the foundation for that and may be, so long as people don’t drift off, dispirited, afterwards. But we also need to continue to meet at the level of our departments, schools and faculties in order to contest the metric-chasing, the performance targets, the rage-producing diktats and the consequent quotidian degradation of academic life. We need to stick up for one another when managers turn nasty and threaten us, or others, with disciplinary action or carefully crafted redundancy criteria. We need to discuss how we can teach well and what education is for rather than how to boost those “student satisfaction” scores. We need to think, together, and together with our students about the essentials of the university so that they remain communities of education rather than turning into Potemkin villages behind whose shiny facades hourly-paid drones struggle to “deliver learning objectives”.
11 weeks ago
The Bard of Auburn: Getting Weird in the Long Valley - Los Angeles Review of Books
"After a series of escalating “rediscoveries” since his death in 1961, Smith’s reputation has grown among genre readers and writers, even though he has yet to enjoy the wider reputation he deserves as one of the great anti-modernist writers and poets of the ’20s and ’30s. While Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Joyce, Stein, H. D., and Stevens explored new ways to map human experience and interior-reflection, Smith abandoned any belief that human dreams, history, and character concealed any deep meaning at all. Instead he boldly marched off into his fantastic, improbable visions of a far-future earth populated by dueling necromancers, kings crowned with the feathers of exotic birds, islands of party-hearty torturers, invisible cities populated by invisible monsters, and remote civilizations crumbling into golden dust, presided over by immortal demons, monsters, and errant space-explorers."
from instapaper
12 weeks ago
British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s praise for dictators and extremists should be disqualifying.
Whereas Trump has merely expressed warm feelings for authoritarian leaders, Corbyn actually spent decades promoting, organizing alongside, and “normalizing” all manner of illiberal regimes and terrorist organizations. During the worst years of Northern Ireland’s “Troubles,” Corbyn was a vocal champion of the Irish Republican Army, inviting several of its leaders to Parliament just weeks after one of its bombs nearly killed then–Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. For the four years prior to his becoming Labour leader, Corbyn was chair of the Stop the War Coalition, essentially a communist front organization whose rote opposition to any and all Western military intervention bleeds into shilling for a variety of terrorist movements and dictators, from the Iraqi insurgency to Syria’s mass-murdering Bashar al-Assad. Not only did Corbyn accept up to 20,000 pounds (about $25,600) for appearances on the Iranian state-sponsored propaganda network Press TV, he once praised the Iranian regime’s “inclusivity and tolerance.”

When Venezuelan strongman Chávez died in 2013, Corbyn declared that the strongman was an “inspiration to all of us fighting back against neoliberalism and austerity in Europe and showing us there is a better way of doing things. It’s called socialism, it’s called social justice, and it’s something that Venezuela has made a big step towards.” (Asked recently by the BBC if his politics were closer to that of former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair or the Venezuelan regime, a Corbynite MP refused to answer). Corbyn similarly described Fidel Castro as a “champion of social justice.” And although Corbyn has demanded that Blair be brought to The Hague on war crimes charges, he denies that the ex-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic was a war criminal. In 2005, Corbyn sponsored a parliamentary motion referring to “a ‘genocide’ that never really existed in Kosovo.”
politics  England 
12 weeks ago
The Catholic Fracture | National Review
"The Church wants to welcome families that are broken. Its pastors tire of the cold language of “irregularity” that greets them as they seek their way back to religion. But Douthat’s book, which begins on a personal note, speaks for all those who — like him, and like me — come from complicated family situations, and who found, in the unchanging doctrine of marriage, a credible witness of God’s mercy in our age. We want a Church that adopts into itself the children and parents of broken families, but what we fear is a Church that in its haste to make us feel “welcome” would ultimately bless the sins that estrange us from our siblings and parents. And if it can tolerate and bless these sins, whom will we call upon when faced with our own family difficulties?"
from instapaper
12 weeks ago
Toward Micro-Likes
Imagine you had a wall-sized screen, full of social media items, and that while you browsed this wall the direction of your gaze was tracked continuously to see which items your gaze was on or near. From that info, one could give the authors or subjects of those items far more granular info on who is paying how much attention to them. Not only on how often and much your stuff is watched, but also on the mood and mental state of those watchers. If some of those items were continuous video feeds from other people, then those others could be producing many more social media items to which others could attend.
[what a horrific nightmare]
12 weeks ago
How Christianity saw off its rivals and became the universal church | The Spectator
"Where Hurtado differs from Ehrman, however, is by emphasising what the early Christians aspired to destroy alongside the worship of the gods. Ancient paganism, as both scholars are at pains to point out, focused on cultic practices: sacrifices, festivals, divinations. ‘Such activities,’ Ehrman writes, ‘lay at the heart of pagan religions. Doctrines and ethics did not.’ It is left to Hurtado, though, to tease out what the implications of this might be for anyone looking to explain the appeal of Christianity to potential converts. That the poor should be as worthy of respect as the rich; that the starving should have a claim on those with the reserves to feed them; that the vulnerable — children, prostitutes, slaves — should not be used by the powerful as mere sexual objects: all of these novel Christian doctrines must surely have had some influence on ‘the triumph of Christianity’ among the teeming masses of Roman cities."
from instapaper
12 weeks ago
God Help Us, Let’s Try To Understand Friston On Free Energy
The discovery that the only human motive is uncertainty-reduction might come as a surprise to humans who feel motivated by things like money, power, sex, friendship, or altruism. But the neuroscientist I talked to about this says I am not misinterpreting the interview. The claim really is that uncertainty-reduction is the only game in town.

In a sense, it must be true that there is only one human motivation. After all, if you’re Paris of Troy, getting offered the choice between power, fame, and sex – then some mental module must convert these to a common currency so it can decide which is most attractive. If that currency is, I dunno, dopamine in the striatum, then in some reductive sense, the only human motivation is increasing striatal dopamine (don’t philosophize at me, I know this is a stupid way of framing things, but you know what I mean). Then the only weird thing about the free energy formulation is identifying the common currency with uncertainty-minimization, which is some specific thing that already has another meaning. [...]

As best I can understand (and I’m drawing from here and here again), this is an ultimate meaning of “free energy” which is sort of like a formalization of homeostasis. It goes like this: consider a probability distribution of all the states an organism can be in. For example, your body can be at (90 degrees F, heart rate 10), (90 degrees F, heart rate 70), (98 degrees F, heart rate 10), (98 degrees F, heart rate 70), or any of a trillion other different combinations of possible parameters. But in fact, living systems successfully restrict themselves to tiny fractions of this space – if you go too far away from (98 degrees F, heart rate 70), you die. So you have two probability distributions – the maximum-entropy one where you could have any combination of heart rate and body temperature, and the one your body is aiming for with a life-compatible combination of heart rate and body temperature. Whenever you have a system trying to convert one probability distribution into another probability distribution, you can think of it as doing Bayesian work and following free energy principles. So free energy seems to be something like just a formal explanation of how certain systems display goal-directed behavior, without having to bring in an anthropomorphic or teleological concept of “goal-directedness”.
probability  intelligence  neuroscience  from instapaper
12 weeks ago
Hurrah for the First Amendment, but...
Last year, the pollster Karlyn Bowman and her team at the American Enterprise Institute looked into the history of our support for the right to free speech. They found a Gallup poll dating back to 1938, the very dawn of scientific polling. It showed that 96 percent of those responding—pretty much everybody—said they believed in freedom of speech. Meanwhile, more than half of them insisted that Communists shouldn’t be allowed to “express their views in [their] community.” Another survey 16 years later showed the same overwhelming declarations of devotion to the First Amendment. Even so, 89 percent of respondents thought a Communist caught teaching in a college should be fired, and a majority thought books by Communists should be removed from the public library. [...]

It should be obvious that no multicultural paradise would be possible at all if its citizens weren’t free to peaceably express their diverse views. Free speech is prior to diversity, as the philosophers say. It is a necessary condition of diversity, and probably diversity’s greatest guarantor. To extol inclusion at the expense of speech is incoherent and unserious—a mere reflex of campus ideology in our era of discontent.
freespeech  politics  from instapaper
12 weeks ago
Enough With the Secular Saints | commentary
Ian n online essay Monday, the New Yorker’s Rebecca Mead compared Emma González, the Stoneman Douglas senior-turned-March for Our Lives leader, to Joan of Arc—a literal saint of the Roman Catholic Church. Mead reflected on the facial similarities between Gonzalez and Renée Maria Falconetti, the actress who played the French saint in Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 silent-film masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc. Dreyer’s Saint Joan, Mead argued,
has the privileged knowledge of the inspired, not the earned knowledge of the experienced. The young people of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have already experienced more than their elders would wish upon them; their innocence is lost. Yet, like all young people, they’ve retained faith in their generation’s unique ability to challenge and rectify the failures of their elders. . . . Our urgent need for the illumination that [such youth] seem to offer—for the blunt, righteous conviction they uphold—is another indication, were it needed, that a new kind of medievalism is upon us. Our potential saviors gleam all the more brightly against the pervasive political and civic darkness of the moment.

Mead’s was only the most extreme (and wild-eyed) example of such beatification. Most mainstream outlets didn’t go nearly as far. Nevertheless, the overall tone of the coverage was reverent, full of awe and piety and sacred devotion—the kinds of emotions that used to be reserved for, well, religious subjects.
12 weeks ago
Offscreen Magazine Interview: Craig Mod
That’s why I try to subvert my weaknesses, to subvert that persona. The easiest way is to turn off the internet. When I go to bed at night, the internet goes off. Phone into airplane mode. It doesn’t come back on until after lunch the next day (at the earliest). The difference in the quality of the day ahead between starting my morning with the internet on versus off is enormous.

If I wake up and touch my phone, I’ve already lost hours. Not because I’m browsing social media for hours, but because the mind has already been agitated, made unquiet, and the context switch back into thoughtfulness can take the whole morning. In other words, the addict part of my brain takes over and contaminates my ability to be contemplative. I lose the grace to dive into other worlds, the worlds of writing or programming or images.
In one of your essays you describe going offline for such a long period as a privilege. Does that mean that in the future going offline will be a luxury that only rich people can afford?

The default expectation today is “always available.” The systems we created are so frictionless that we haven’t noticed how insidiously over-engaged we are. Step by step we’re optimizing ourselves to “maximum” productivity without defining or thinking about “productivity” on a human scale. The digital world abstracts. One could argue most problems contemporary society faces are problems of over-abstraction. As an employer with a global workforce, you have no idea where your employees might be or what they might be doing, so you expect them to answer immediately. The concept of downtime is elusive.

So yes, it’s already a great privilege to be able to say ‘no’ to that system.
tech  socialmedia  from instapaper
march 2018
Beyond Sexual Identity: Not Whether But How
So if we want to move “beyond sexual identity,” here are three things we need to do:
First, give people safety and shelter from anti-gay attitudes. Remove the brutal pressure under which gay identity in our culture is formed.

Second, turn down the heat. Make this question of identity as uninflamed, as non-fraught, as possible. We should all care less about how other people identify, y’all. The less of a big deal it is, the easier it will be to move past.

And third, try out alternative frameworks for understanding the longings which we currently organize as “homosexuality” or “being gay” and “heterosexuality.”
sexuality  from instapaper
march 2018
The Ignoble Lie | Patrick J. Deneen
Our ruling class is more blinkered than that of the ancien régime. Unlike the aristocrats of old, they insist that there are only egalitarians at their exclusive institutions. They loudly proclaim their virtue and redouble their commitment to diversity and inclusion. They cast bigoted rednecks as the great impediment to perfect ­equality—not the elite institutions from which they benefit. The institutions responsible for winnowing the social and economic winners from the losers are largely immune from questioning, and busy themselves with extensive public displays of their unceasing commitment to equality. Meritocratic ideology disguises the ruling class’s own role in perpetuating inequality from itself, and even fosters a broader social ecology in which those who are not among the ruling class suffer an array of social and economic pathologies that are increasingly the defining feature of ­America’s underclass. Facing up to reality would require hard questions about the agenda underlying commitments to “diversity and inclusion.” Our ­stated commitment to “critical thinking” demands no less, but such questions are likely to be put down—at times violently—on contemporary campuses.

Campaigns for equality that focus on the inclusion of identity groups rather than examinations of the class divide permit an extraordinary lack of curiosity about complicity in a system that secures elite status across generations. Concern for diversity and inclusion on the basis of “ascriptive” features—race, gender, disability, or sexual orientation—allows the ruling class to overlook class while focusing on unchosen forms of identity. Diversity and inclusion fit neatly into the meritocratic structure, leaving the structure of the new aristocratic order firmly in place.
academentia  from instapaper
march 2018
The Real Scandal Isn’t Cambridge Analytica. It’s Facebook’s Whole Business Model.
TechCrunch’s Josh Constine has followed Facebook as closely as anyone in the media over the past five years, and he’s been known to defend the company when it seems just about everyone else is attacking it. Not this time. In a piece headlined, “Facebook and the Endless String of Worst-Case Scenarios,” he catalogues nearly a dozen instances over the years in which the company has launched products without the safeguards needed to prevent abuse, then ignored or downplayed the consequences.

That habit may be catching up to it at last: Facebook is not getting the benefit of many doubts when it comes to Cambridge Analytica, and it’s hard to feel much sympathy for it. The time for Facebook to self-regulate its way out of the hot seat has probably passed. Now it’s up to the public, legislators, and regulators to rework the terms of that agreement by which people sign away their personal data—and one another’s—for the benefit of tech platforms, their advertising clients, and whoever else might be sneaky enough to get their hands on it.
socialmedia  from instapaper
march 2018
Trusting Others to ‘Do the Math’
One could even argue that the organization of pages and URLs within websites are based on the same hierarchy of the file system that resulted in the folders and files of the desktop GUI. Perhaps the notion of content as sequential, filterable streams might have inspired different conceptual models.4 Many of the major players in the Web 2.0, such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, and even blogs and RSS feeds to some extent, now provide streams of content ordered by date rather than hierarchical web pages often seen in more traditional websites, but I would argue this is a newer development and not yet as pervasive and influential as the desktop metaphor and associated hierarchical file systems.

Given the layers of complexity in the world of software and the hardware it runs on, it seems inevitable that we must trust others to do to the math at some point, but perhaps we should be more cognizant of that fact. What checks are in place, and what credit should be given for software development that is done as part of or alongside scholarship? How is the software associated with scholarly work reviewed and assessed, and who is doing that work?
DH  from instapaper
march 2018
We Fear What We Can't Control About Uber and Facebook
When I see a new story or criticism about the tech world, I no longer ask whether the tech companies poll as being popular (they do). I instead wonder whether voters feel in control in a world with North Korean nuclear weapons, an erratic American president and algorithms everywhere. They don’t. Haven’t you wondered why articles about robots putting us all out of work are so popular during a time of full employment?

We are about to enter a new meta-narrative for American society, which I call “re-establishing the feeling of control.” Unfortunately, when you pursue the feeling rather than the actual control, you often end up with neither.
tech  socialmedia  from instapaper
march 2018
Facebook Was Letting Down Users Years Before Cambridge Analytica
"This is the main reason why we should stay steady at the rim of the Cambridge Analytica rabbit hole. Cambridge Analytica sells snake oil. Its “psychometric” voter targeting systems don’t work. No campaign has embraced them as effective. And Cambridge Analytica CEO Alexander Nix even admitted that the Trump campaign did not deploy psychometric profiling. Why would it? It had Facebook to do the dirty work for it. Cambridge Analytica tries to come off as a band of data wizards. But they are simple street magicians hoping to fool another mark and cash another check.

So now, to hear Facebook officials complain that they were tricked or victimized by Cambridge Analytica is rich. It was Facebook’s responsibility—by law—to prevent application developers from doing just what Kogan and Cambridge Analytica did. Facebook failed us, and not for the first time."
socialmedia  from instapaper
march 2018
Silicon Valley Has Failed to Protect Our Data. Here’s How to Fix It
So are we doomed to let them take our data or that of our loved ones and then to watch as that same data is used against us or shared by hackers? Yes, frankly. We’re doomed. Equifax Inc. sure won’t save us. Do we trust Congress to bring change? Do we trust Congress to plug in a phone charger? I’ll be overjoyed to find out I’m wrong. In the meantime, turn on two-factor authentication everywhere (ideally using a hardware dongle like a YubiKey), invest in a password manager, and hold on tight.

The word “leak” is right. Our sense of control over our own destinies is being challenged by these leaks. Giant internet platforms are poisoning the commons. They’ve automated it. Take a non-Facebook case: YouTube. It has users who love conspiracy videos, and YouTube takes that love as a sign that more and more people would love those videos, too. Love all around! In February an ex-employee tweeted: “The algorithm I worked on at Google recommended [InfoWars personality and lunatic conspiracy-theory purveyor] Alex Jones’ videos more than 15,000,000,000 times, to some of the most vulnerable people in the nation.”
socialmedia  from instapaper
march 2018
It’s Time to Regulate the Internet
The time has arrived for the United States to create its own regulatory infrastructure, designed to accord with our own values and traditions—a Data Protection Authority. That moniker, as I wrote in my book World Without Mind, contains an intentional echo of the governmental bureau that enforces environmental safeguards. There’s a parallel between the environment and privacy. Both are goods that the unimpeded market would ruin. Indeed, we let business degrade the air, waters, and forests. Yet we also impose crucial constraints on environmental exploitation for commercial gain, and we need the same for privacy. As in Europe, citizens should have the right to purge data that sits on pack-rat servers. Companies should be required to set default options so that citizens have to affirmatively opt for surveillance rather than passively accept the loss of privacy.
internet  politics  from instapaper
march 2018
The True Sin of American Evangelicals in the Age of Trump | National Review
This is Gerson’s key insight, but it matters exactly how Evangelicals arrived where they are today. It wasn’t the hysterical reaction of a self-pitying people. For most it was the sad result of a series of tough choices — made in response to difficult and unreasonable challenges. Even today there are millions of Evangelicals — people who still count themselves reluctant Trump supporters — who are deeply uneasy with the president and the state of their own religious movement. It serves no one’s interests to minimize the legitimacy of their deep political concerns.

Gerson has written a powerful essay, but it understates the justification for Evangelical support for Trump and exaggerates rank-and-file Evangelical perfidy. Evangelicals aren’t worse than other American political tribes. Instead, we’re proving that in politics we’re just like everyone else. In other words, the true sin of white American Evangelicalism isn’t that we’re exceptionally bad, it’s that we’re not exceptional at all.
evangelical  from instapaper
march 2018
Human Rights Are Not Enough
From Karl Marx on, some on the left have claimed that either the idea of individual rights or the contemporary human-rights movement (or both) works in the service of capitalism. Yet human rights did not bring about the neoliberal age, despite sharing a moral individualism and often the same suspicion of collectivist projects like nationalism and socialism. It was also not the job of human-rights activists struggling to invent a new brand of global concern to save the left from its failures and mistakes. It is hardly fair to treat human rights as a scapegoat for the reversals of progressive politics. Indeed, there is no reason to think that a human rights that stigmatizes “superficial” abuses could not coexist with a more “structural” politics.

Furthermore, the human-rights movement has brought scrutiny not merely to state violence around the world but to the profound failures of states to treat their citizens equally no matter their gender, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Activists have also started to prioritize economic and social rights, from employment to housing to food. And, in fact, for all their sins, neoliberal policies have helped to fulfill some of the wildest dreams of human-rights advocates: China’s marketization, for instance, has brought more human beings out of poverty than any other force in history. But without reflecting on why human-rights movements have been able to coexist so comfortably with neoliberal regimes, there is no way to redirect our politics toward a new agenda of economic fairness.
politics  rights  from instapaper
march 2018
A Church in Doubt | Richard Rex
Conservative Catholics, however, likewise need to be careful. They may fear that the pope might undermine fundamental doctrine on marriage. But some seem almost to relish the prospect. Contrary to widespread belief, the Church is not infallible in all matters. The Church enjoys, in a very restricted context, a privilege of guidance by the Holy Spirit that protects it against defining what is false in Christian doctrine or morality as a truth to be held by all Christians. It cannot require Catholics to believe what is false, but that does not prevent it from committing countless other kinds of errors. The dreadful revelations of the abuse crisis put that beyond doubt. The definition (and hence limitation) of infallibility is most helpfully seen as a providential dispensation that has allowed the Church to admit its numerous mistakes and crimes in the vast areas of human endeavor not guaranteed by infallibility. The pope may well get what he wants. It may well be that traditional teaching on marriage will be compromised in practice by pastoral concessions that some will see as mere laxism—as was once the case with dueling among old Europe’s bloated nobility. The Church inevitably bends to some degree before the winds of change. But one must not rush to judgment or to despair. [...]

If, after all, marriage is not a divine union of male and female in one flesh, dissolved only by the inevitable dissolution of that flesh in death, then the Catholic Church has, in the name of Christ, needlessly tormented the consciences of untold numbers of the faithful for twenty centuries. If this teaching were to be modified in the name of mercy, then the Church would already have been outdone in mercy not only by most other religions but even by the institutions and impulses of the modern secular state. Such a conclusion would definitively explode any pretension to moral authority on the part of the Church. A church which could be so wrong, for so long, on a matter so fundamental to human welfare and happiness could hardly lay claim to decency, let alone infallibility.
Catholic  church  sexuality  marriage  from instapaper
march 2018
The Anti-Free Trade Populists Must Be Defeated, Not Contained
Populist attacks on the Western-led international order don’t begin and end with free trade; they are aimed at the fundamental assumptions upon which the classically liberal democratic ideal is based. As Mounk concluded, it is, thus, necessary to contain this ideological impulse’s most dangerous excesses. He recommended subversion and assimilation, but there is another approach that is based on a rational hard-power calculation. Classical liberalism’s winners vastly outnumber its losers, and it is the populist nationalist alternative that cannot be accommodated. But it can, and therefore should, be defeated.

Humility and passivity do not well serve those who truly believe the liberal capitalist order hammered out after the Second World War is of the greatest benefit to the greatest number. Concessions to illiberal populists or chauvinistic nationalists should not be the product of charity or self-doubt. They should be hard-won, and only after a bitterly contested ordeal.
politics  election2016  from instapaper
march 2018
Why does journalism need blockchain technology? – Maria Bustillos – Medium
By creating an ad-free publishing economy on Civil’s Ethereum-based platform, instead of on the traditional web, Popula is putting up a wall against tampering. Popula is accountable to its readers alone, and is impervious to the interests and agendas of advertisers or other intermediaries or “influencers” of any kind. Readers, and readers alone, provide our community, our platform, and the funding for our journalism.

In addition to this, Popula’s readers and their interactions with the publication will be part of a larger, novel experiment in cryptoeconomics. This sounds scary, but I promise you, it’s not. It’s useful and fun.
journalism  from instapaper
march 2018
Amartya Sen on 'Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny'
Any classification according to a singular identity polarizes people in a particular way, but if we take note of the fact that we havc many different identities - related not just to religion but also to language, occupation and business, politics, class and poverty, and many others - we can see that the polarization of one can be resisted by a fuller picture. So knowledge and understanding are extremely important to fight against singular polarization.

I remember being struck as a child in undivided India during the Hindu-Muslim riots of the 1940s (which I witnessed in Bengal) that the victims very often shared a class identity - the killed people were typically the Muslim poor and the Hindu poor. They also shared a non-religious cultural identity - particularly the Bengali language. Not surprisingly, therefore, as language and culture became more important in Bagladesh (its separation from Pakistan was not linked with religion but with language, literature and politics) and as the Indian part of Bengal pursued politics in which class and poverty became the dominant concerns, the Hindu-Muslim divide became far less sharp (there has been no recurrence of such violence in either part of Bengal over the last half a century). Similarly, a shared business concern does a lot to reduce the force of religion-based divisions in, say, Singapore or Malaysia, despite fomentation by religious ideologues.
politics  culture  identity 
march 2018
Attention and distraction, prayer and poetry
I dwell on this poem because it demonstrates how the operation of imagination is itself, or at least can be, a mark of attention. My worry is that Marno’s emphasis on what he often calls “pure attention,” drawing on the Evagrian tradition of pure prayer, posits the imagination as itself distracting. Yet a quick comparison of the Donne sermon and poem cited here shows that it is the attitude toward and end of the imagination that matters: distractions pull us constantly from one thing to another with no order and aim; holy attention focuses us and draws us in and up toward God. Poetry in the secular realm is unlikely to have the divine as its object—although it may; it might even dwell happily in distraction—but the focusing of attention does seem important to much modern poetry in English. In that, I think, we are heirs of the Christian tradition of meditative and prayerful engagement with the Psalms, as it runs through, repeats, re-crafts, reimagines, and unsays the images, relations, words, concepts, and things found within the Psalms, and other sacred songs and realities, in order to transform the speaker and the reader so that they might better understand themselves, their worlds, and the relationships that hold them together and tear them apart.
attention  prayer  criticism  from instapaper
march 2018
Prayer to no end
Sightings of a bridge between philosophy and religion by way of cognitive technē are among this book’s most exciting contributions. At the same time, in the context of Donne’s work in particular, this emphasis on cognitive technē may too starkly delimit the boundaries between feeling and thinking, and between process and end, ultimately prioritizing the latter. To be sure, Marno qualifies his use of technē as unusual in the way it approaches devotion’s uncontrollable variables. Unlike a technology with a strictly defined, concrete end and means, prayer’s “end” can be obscure because it is numinous and shrouded in divinity. The means to secure it are intractable. (Perhaps for this reason, Marno also helpfully proposes we read prayer/poetry as “thought experiments,” which attempt to hit upon the means for their devotional end without always succeeding.)

Nonetheless, the unique nature of devotional technē is still defined in terms of the rift between cognitive ends and emotional means. This stands in some tension with Donne’s reputation as a consummate unifier of thinking and feeling. Indeed, arguing that “the affect [Donne’s] poems seek to produce has less to do with emotion and more with intellection,” strains against the ethos of the poet-preacher’s work at large; one that tends toward an intermixing of body, thought, and feeling, just as it intermingles life’s ongoing endings, middles, and beginnings.
attention  prayer  criticism  religion  from instapaper
march 2018
Devout death
This is a book, as Marno says at the outset, that “reads poetry to make an argument about devotion as a way of thinking.” And it is an important book precisely because it persuasively demonstrates exactly this: that devotion is a way of thinking. All the more reason to be impressed by what both Augustine and Donne make clear: that the use of personification, direct address, and dialogue affirms that humans are interactive thinkers. And, when humans cultivate receptivity through acts of invention or imaginative, this poetic creativity is all the more powerfully enacted as an interactive process. There is a long and proud tradition of privileging abstraction over interaction, cognition over affect, and apophatic over cataphatic theology. But just as today theories of social cognition seek to demonstrate that brain development is a social process and thinking itself a social endeavor, the devotional tradition that shaped Donne and to which he himself contributed seems most psychologically and cognitively insightful in refusing to make purity a necessary precondition for transformation.
attention  prayer  criticism  from instapaper
march 2018
Why You Hate Contemporary Architecture | Current Affairs
2. THE FEAR OF ORNAMENT — Ornament is not an indulgence; it’s an essential part of the practice of building. In fact, “ornament” really just means attention to the micro-level aesthetic experience. It’s the small things, and small things matter. The idea of decoration as decadent is particularly ludicrous in the age of monumental design projects. How many more resources are wasted trying to make Frank Gehry’s latest pretzel stay standing up than it would take to install some attractive stonework on a far simpler structure? When we sacrifice the possibility of decoration we forfeit a slew of extraordinary aesthetic tools and forgo the possibility of incredible visual experiences. An allergy to ornament sentences humanity to eternal tedium, with nothing interesting to look at, nothing that we will notice on a building the second time that we did not see the first time.
architecture  from instapaper
march 2018
The Undeath of Cinema - The New Atlantis
Peter Cushing’s spare frame, sharp cheekbones, and long limbs are part of what made him him; they are essential to his Cushing-ness. Creating a convincing facsimile of his living, breathing, moving form after his death should not be undertaken lightly, any more than exhuming his corpse should be. The grave-robbing version is surely more egregious. Yet if it would be wrong to make a puppet of a dead man’s mortal remains, then it is also wrong to make a puppet of a dead man’s imitated form. A simulacrum is fraught with the dignity of the individual it represents.

Dishonoring the remains of the dead is a near-universal, but poorly articulated, taboo. Many people agree that it is wrong without having a metaphysical framework that justifies their belief in the dignity of the human body. But the widespread unease at the CGI Cushing testifies to the power and wisdom of this taboo, however inchoate.

The technology of digitally bringing deceased actors back to the screen runs counter to this humane impulse, this feeling that it is proper to allow the dead to remain buried. Perhaps it is not only technological advances but also the normalization of destructive means of disposing of dead bodies (like cremation) that allowed Industrial Light & Magic to contemplate Frankensteining Peter Cushing. The central violation of at-will digital resurrection is that it wrongs the dead subject by making him into a puppet.
film  tech  from instapaper
march 2018
Impossible Pluralism by Paul J. Griffiths | Articles | First Things
The cosmos—everything there is, save the Lord God, who is not a thing, or, if the term must be used, is una summa quaedam res—comes into being cum tempore et cum spatiis, i.e., with space-time as a central feature. This occurs by the free creative act of the Lord. It is not an event that can be dated or placed. The before-and-after of dating, and the here-and-there of placing, belong only to the cosmos, and to all of it without remainder; the cosmos therefore has no before and no outside. Every particular being in the cosmos is created ex nihilo by the Lord (all particular beings, therefore, are creatures) and has whatever being it has by way of participation in him.

Among these creatures are angels; (almost) simultaneously with creation (in ictu), some among these rebel against their creator and introduce thereby deep damage into the otherwise harmoniously beautiful space-time fabric of the cosmos. All creatures, material and immaterial, living and nonliving, are damaged by this fall. The Lord’s response, indexed to time but not itself temporal, is to bring human beings, among many other kinds of creatures, into existence. (The evolutionary story that Bellah tells belongs here; its particulars occupy this place in the frame; and those particulars, as the framing narrative suggests, involve, without exception, death on a massive scale.)

Some among these creatures replicate the angelic fall, introducing new and worse damage into the fabric of the cosmos. The Lord’s response (again, time-indexed but not itself temporal), a response whose finis is the transfiguring of the cosmos’ chaotic deadly violence into an order more beautiful than the original, is to elect a person (Abraham) to special intimacy with himself, and to guarantee that same intimacy with his descendants. That response is intensified, eventually, by the Lord himself taking flesh, joining his substance with that of the man Jesus to become a single person, and in that flesh, as that person, dying and rising and ascending.

Human history then has the nexus of election and incarnation as its central thread; the fabric woven around this thread is of two colors, inextricably intertwined, one representing the love of the Lord, and the other the love of self, one peaceful and the other violent, one heavenly and the other hellish. (The particulars of Bellah’s stories about specific human cultures belong here: They all have the people of Israel and the Church as their vibrant center, whether proleptically or actually.)

Consequent upon the election and the Incarnation is the gradual healing of the cosmos, which progresses principally through the work of the body of Jesus Christ—the Church—here below, and culminates in an eschaton, an end whose particulars lie beyond the scope of this paragraph, and in which the two threads in the fabric are finally disentangled.

There’s a metanarrative for you. Its grammar is that of Christian theology. It enframes Bellah’s, fully accounting for it without rejecting any of its particulars that turn out to be true. This Christian metanarrative is of course not universally shared, understood, or offered, and in this it is just like Bellah’s account. If his metanarrative is true, this Christian one must be false—because his account, he thinks, requires Christians exactly not to offer this narrative as a metanarrative. And if this Christian metanarrative is true, his must be false—not in its particulars, necessarily, but certainly in its self-understanding as a metanarrative. Metanarratives don’t brook rivals.

I’ve learned a great deal from Robert Bellah’s magnificent book. But what I’ve learned is about particulars: the ideas of facilitated variation and conserved core processes, for instance, and their possible purchase on the evolutionary process; and the sociological analyses given of particular human cultural forms. These can stand. But the metanarrative Bellah uses to frame them cannot. And since it’s the metanarrative that gives the book its point, I’m left wondering what point remains when the metanarrative is seen for what it is.
theology  evolution  pluralism  from instapaper
march 2018
Undomesticated Love
In a beautiful paragraph near the end of the final chapter, Freeman, whom I found myself alternately agreeing and arguing with for most of his book, declares that the twenty-first-century Dissenters he is trying to awaken or call into existence
do not withdraw into sectarian enclaves of homogeneity or accommodate to institutional structures of secularity but seek a life together that participates in the new creation and exemplifies what God in Christ intends for all humanity. . . . They do not simply mirror the secular politics of left or right but seek to practice the politics of Jesus through forgiveness and friendship. They refuse to regard distinctions of race, class, gender, or sexuality as determinative of standing in society but see only one new humanity in Christ. They seek the peace of the earthly city, telling the truth about what they see and advocating for the healing of its brokenness, but they recognize that their citizenship is in heaven. They see themselves as pilgrims in the secular age, answerable to the law of another city toward which they journey by faith on the wings of the love of God and neighbor.

To my ears that sounds not so much like dissent from something as assent to something, to Someone. And that makes all the difference.
christian  church  from instapaper
march 2018
The Privilege Predicament
A few years ago, I found myself embroiled in an argument at a symposium, where one speaker had referred to “white privilege” as a self-evident phenomenon. Was it really necessary, I asked, to point out that there is privilege and privilege, whiteness and whiteness? If my white colleague felt that she had a great deal to apologize for, and thought a public symposium a suitable occasion for a display of soul searching, that was well and good, so long as she did not also suggest that we must all follow her lead and all feel about our own so-called privilege exactly what she felt. Was it reasonable to suppose that whiteness confers, on everyone who claims it, comparable experiences and privileges? Was my own background as a working-class Jewish boy, growing up in a predominantly black community, remotely similar to the background or disposition of a white colleague who had never known privation, or had no contact at all with black children? Did it matter, thinking of ourselves simply as possessors of white privilege, that one of us had written extensively on race while the other had devoted herself to scholarly research on metaphysical poetry? Was it not the case, I asked, that what Claudia Rankine and Beth Loffreda call in The Racial Imaginary “the boundaries” of our “imaginative sympathy” had been drawn in drastically different ways? How could whiteness, or blackness, signify to us the same things?

To consider either of us primarily as white people, deliberately consigning to irrelevance everything that made us different from each other—and different from the kinds of white people who regard their whiteness as an endowment to be proud of—was to deny what was clearly most important about each of us. Rankine and Loffreda rightly challenge those who “argue that the imagination is or can be somehow free of race,” and they mock white writers “who make a prize of transcendence,” supposing that the imagination can be “ahistorical” or “postracial.” But to insist that elementary distinctions be made, as between one experience of race and another, would seem indispensable to a serious discussion of privilege. [...]

A good many of my students, white and black, are in thrall to the idea that they are required to portray themselves as beautiful souls. Even those with little feeling for polemic or posturing are ever at the ready to declare—like their academic instructors—their good conscience and their attachment to the indisputably correct virtues. Thus they find in the idea of privilege an ideal vehicle. It seems at least to provide, to anyone who climbs on board, an opportunity to arrive at a sort of moral high ground that costs nothing. The students at our table were at one in feeling superior to my old teacher. He had, they felt, been oblivious to his privilege, and they were secure in their conviction that they would never be as oblivious as that. Their comfort lay in their unambivalent commitment to a species of one-upmanship. Theirs was the empty affirmation of an ideal they had no need to articulate with any precision, but which amounted to the certainty that, above all things, we are required to be and to remain perfectly guiltless. Nor did they recognize—not so that I could tell—that their immurement in good conscience was itself a privilege that could only be secured by finding others guilty, in one degree or another, of privilege.
race  class  privilege  from instapaper
march 2018
Waiting for Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment
Pinker’s problems with history are compounded even further as he tries to defend the Enlightenment against the many scholarly critics who have pointed, over the centuries, to some of its possible baleful consequences. Did Enlightenment forms of reasoning and scientific inquiry lie behind modern biological racism and eugenics? Behind the insistence that women do not have the mental capacity for full citizenship? Not at all, Pinker assures us. That was just a matter of bad science.

Indeed, it was. But Pinker largely fails to deal with the inconvenient fact that, at the time, it was not so obviously bad science. The defenders of these repellent theories, used to justify manifold forms of oppression, were published in scientific journals and appealed to the same standards of reason and utility upheld by Pinker. “Science” did not by itself inevitably beget these theories, but it did provide a new language and new forms of reasoning to justify inequality and oppression and new ways of thinking about and categorizing natural phenomena that suggested to many an immutable hierarchy of human races, the sexes, and the able and disabled. The later disproving of these theories did not just come about because better science prevailed over worse science. It came about as well because of the moral and political activism that forced scientists to question data and conclusions they had largely taken for granted.
enlightenment  scientism  history  from instapaper
march 2018
Andrew Sullivan: The World Is Better Than Ever. Why Are We Miserable?
Pinker’s sole response to this argument — insofar as he even acknowledges it — is to cite data showing statistical evidence of rising levels of a sense of well-being in one’s life across the world. And this is a valid point. But Pinker seems immune to the idea of paradox, irony, or unintended consequences. He doesn’t have a way of explaining why, for example, there is so much profound discontent, depression, drug abuse, despair, addiction, and loneliness in the most advanced liberal societies. His response to the sixth great mass extinction of the Earth’s species at the hands of humans is to propose that better environmental technology will somehow solve it — just as pharmaceuticals will solve unhappiness. His general view is that life is simply a series of “problems” that reason can “solve” — and has solved. What he doesn’t fully grapple with is that this solution of problems definitionally never ends; that humans adjust to new standards of material well-being and need ever more and more to remain content; that none of this solves the existential reality of our mortality; and that none of it provides spiritual sustenance or meaning. In fact, it might make meaning much harder to attain, hence the trouble in modern souls. [...]

Which is to say that both Pinker and Deneen are right, but Deneen is deeper. Deneen sees paradox in human life, tragedy even; he respects the wisdom of the aeons that Pinker is simply relieved we have left behind; and he has a perspective that Pinker — despite his vast erudition and intelligence — doesn’t seem to grasp. Pinker, for example, has no way to understand our current collective rage — why aren’t we all ecstatic about such huge and continuing “progress”? — unless he blames our gloom and grief and discontent on … bad media. It’s all the journalists’ and intellectuals’ fault for persuading people they’re sad when, in fact, they’re super-happy! And he has a faltering grasp of politics, the cycle of regimes, the vicissitudes of history, the decadence of democracies, or the appeal of tyrants. His view of history is so relentlessly Whiggish it’s almost a self-parody. His understanding of the Enlightenment, as David Bell notes, surgically removes its most popular representative, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who saw from the very beginning the paradoxes of liberty and reason, and, for that matter, Edmond Burke, who instantly realized the terrifying emptiness of modernity, and the furies it might unleash upon us.
politics  scientism  liberalism  enlightenment  from instapaper
march 2018
A Tale of Two Moralities, Part One: Regional Inequality and Moral Polarization
Because “the establishment” (including the Republican political establishment) is relatively cosmopolitan and liberal (in the broad sense), an outpouring of populist anti-establishment sentiment is going to assume a nationalistic, illiberal form more or less by default. The good news is that anti-elite anybody-but-Hillary-ism doesn’t really imply serious public appetite for anything like alt-right authoritarianism. The bad news is that the liberal-democratic capitalist welfare state and the so-called “neoliberal” global order is far and away the best humanity has ever done, and we’ve taken it for granted. We could very well trash it in a fit of pique, and wind up a middle-income kleptocracy boiling with civil strife and/or destabilize the global order in a way that ends in utter horror.

It is very important to keep this from happening! And that means it’s important to understand the mechanisms underlying our cultural and moral polarization. That’s what I’m going to begin to do in this (long!) post, in a preliminary, speculative, exploratory spirit. I want to push a little deeper than the prevailing journalistic narratives have gone, and churn up some credible empirical hypotheses that I hope will help us eventually home in on the correct diagnosis. Then we can hazard some recommendations that may help reduce polarization and mitigate its bad effects. I’ll do that in a future post.
march 2018
The Good Liberal - The American Interest
Mounk’s policy chops are impressive—the section on housing policy has the virtue of being both interesting and plausible—but after an ambitious buildup, the recommendations seem anticlimactic, the sort of technocratic to-do list that would be well at home on the websites of well-studied Democratic politicians or, for that matter, the Center for American Progress. Like all anti-populists, Mounk is tempted by a narrow instrumentalism. Policy fixes serve no grander narrative and no greater cause; reform is primarily a means to keep populists at bay. To return to politics is to find new ways of ending it. There is little doubt that Mounk would prefer a world without populists. But without energetic challengers, one wonders why the parties of the center-Left and center-Right would so much as consider rethinking their aims.
politics  liberalism  from instapaper
march 2018
A Quiet Exodus: Why Blacks Are Leaving White Evangelical Churches - The New York Times
Then white evangelicals voted for Mr. Trump by a larger margin than they had voted for any presidential candidate. They cheered the outcome, reassuring uneasy fellow worshipers with talk of abortion and religious liberty, about how politics is the art of compromise rather than the ideal. Christians of color, even those who shared these policy preferences, looked at Mr. Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants, his open hostility to N.F.L. players protesting police brutality and his earlier “birther” crusade against President Obama, claiming falsely he was not a United States citizen. In this political deal, many concluded, they were the compromised.

“It said, to me, that something is profoundly wrong at the heart of the white church,” said Chanequa Walker-Barnes, a professor of practical theology at the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University in Atlanta.

Early last year, Professor Walker-Barnes left the white-majority church where she had been on staff. Like an untold number of black Christians around the country, many of whom had left behind black-majority churches, she is not sure where she belongs anymore.

“We were willing to give up our preferred worship style for the chance to really try to live this vision of beloved community with a diverse group of people,” she said. “That didn’t work.” [...]

“Everything we tried is not working,” said Michael Emerson, the author of “Divided by Faith,” a seminal work on race relations within the evangelical church. “The election itself was the single most harmful event to the whole movement of reconciliation in at least the past 30 years,” he said. “It’s about to completely break apart.”
[this is such a horrific tragedy]
christian  church  race  politics 
march 2018
The egregious overreach of transgender activism
A human being is not a disembodied self sitting behind a control panel in the mind, possessing some indubitable intuition about its true sex (which, incidentally, always just so happens to draw on culturally specific images and ideals of embodied masculinity and femininity). We are our bodies, and these bodies are (aside from those rare intersexual exceptions) male or female.

This bodily reality can no more be denied than we can deny our own mortality.

Anderson is very good at analyzing the intellectual folly of this recent radical shift in thinking about what it means to be transgender. He's even better at showing how this thinking can encourage drastic acts of medical intervention to facilitate a hasty and ill-considered transition that the person who undergoes the procedure comes to regret, requiring "detransition." When this happens in the case of minor children, who in the vast majority of cases would outgrow their gender dysphoria without any hormonal or surgical intervention at all, the consequences are both alarming and infuriating.

Anderson is less helpful in his insistence on exclusively highlighting cases of unhappy transitions, as if no one had ever felt relief and a greater sense of personal wholeness and happiness from undergoing a sex change. The same overabundance of skepticism leads Anderson to adopt the rhetoric of pathology to describe gender dysphoria and transgender people, who are said to be in the grip of thoughts and feelings that are "utterly disconnected from reality, persistently false and unfounded," and even outright "delusional."
sexuality  gender 
march 2018
When the Jesus Movement Became the Christian Church
So prolific are the changes of this era, and so far-reaching, that it demands to be recognized as one of the most significant turning points in the formation of Christianity. It was at least equal in importance to the far better-known era of Nicea, when the range of possible historical outcomes was far narrower than in the earlier period. The period around 200 was a time of near-infinite possibilities, on matters far broader than something as specific as the date of Easter. Indeed, so much of what the Council of Nicea debated reflected issues that had arisen about 200.
christian  theology  church 
march 2018
Why I decline to sign ‘prophetic’ declarations | Religion News Service
Our public pedagogy requires a measure of empathy and reassurance toward those we want to influence — as well as a humble recognition that we ourselves are learners!

I find these characteristics often missing in those religious leaders who emphasize the need for “prophetic” statements on various topics.

If our goal is simply to say a lot of true things, then we can take comfort in the fact that we have performed our prophetic responsibilities when we issue straightforward public statements that come off as critical, say, of the concerns of many other religious folks.

But if our assignment is to teach the truth, then we have a more difficult — and more highly nuanced — task. Good teaching requires patience — a trait that we don’t often associate with prophets!
march 2018
When the congregation has gone, what’s to become of our city churches? | CityMetric
The important question, perhaps, is not what will happen to our city churches – we’ve seen that in action already – but what should happen to our city churches. Should we allow chain restaurants and bars the freedom to serve burgers and drinks in the old pews? Or should we be more selective?

I would hazard that this isn’t just a matter for fusty old priests and bishops to worry over either. Churches are a precious part of our heritage and history in the UK – and that’s something you don’t have to be religious to understand. When interviewed beneath the vaulted arches of O’Neills in Muswell Hill a few years back, a construction worker commented on the building that “It’s weird […] I feel I kind of have to respect it”.

It’s an instinct we all have any time we enter a religious building. Most of us fall silent without being prompted. Many light candles for the dead even if they’ve never prayed before. Survivors in post-apocalyptic dramatisations of the future frequently end up in churches, searching for meaning amongst the chaos.

To keep everyone happy and ensure the longevity of our churches, then, planning needs to strike a balance between renewed functionality and the church’s original spirit. When the Taylor Review last year called for churches to become “social hubs”, they hit upon a fitting solution.
London  England  church 
march 2018
The Limits of Viewpoint Diversity – Heterodox Academy
"HxA is confident that viewpoint diversity is necessary in the first place to determine if an issue is fully resolved – by itself, consensus is insufficient evidence of resolution, especially if only a select few have been allowed to speak on the question and if inquiry is freighted by moral taboo. But when does the switch get flipped? When does a wicked problem become a settled issue? After a long and quite bloody world-historical dispute, communists are generally the only ones who still believe that communism is up for debate – but there are rather more of them than you’d expect. Is it a resolved question or an open one? How do we tell?

This is a question we at Heterodox Academy wonder about and discuss. Implicit in the value of heterodoxy is the belief that the truth is not easily known, and people who are sympathetic to our mission will gravitate toward a worldview based on this fundamental uncertainty. But we are certain about some things – see slavery and genocide. Understanding where this certainty should stop is crucial to understanding the value of viewpoint diversity."
from instapaper
march 2018
Samuel Taylor Bloggeridge: Notebook Scatology
American critic Alan Jacobs has coined the phrase “excresacramental” for a particular sort of art, a Swiftian cacography that articulates not only the expressivity but actually the holiness of the abject-physical. From the point of view of the Incarnation, God becoming man is not God becoming the bizarrely soap-washed, clean-linen, dazzling-bleached-smile icon of modern cleanliness that many images of Jesus peddle to modern-day believers, complete with cleaner-than-clean halo shine, like the gleam of newly rinsed glasses in the dishwasher. It is, rather, the non-material taking on flesh and all that flesh is heir to. It is God becoming dust, wet and foul-smelling as well as dry and smoky. The point is, as Coleridge might say, that unless you can truly see that the hawk shitting its load into a sunbeam is as beautiful and holy an image as the white dove flying over blue waters beneath a new rainbow, then you haven't actually seen what the beauty in the world most fully means. The paraclete is un(para)clean. For Coleridge, an apprehension of that place where religious transcendence, pure love, sexual desire (for instance, desire for a well shaped set of buttocks) and the healthy bowel-movement all express one another is not a satirical denigration of love: there's nothing of Swift's ‘Celia Celia Celia shits’ horror in STC's writing. Rather it is a strangely, unusually, wonderfully expressive epitome of the central mystery of a genuinely religious writer: the spiritualisation of matter, the materialisation of spirit. It's Samuel Taylor Kaka-leridge.
march 2018
Unseen photos of East End London in glorious colour - BBC News
A recently discovered photo collection by the late photographer David Granick reveals London's East End in colour, including streets in Stepney, Whitechapel and Spitalfields.
february 2018
Wittgenstein as a Philosopher of Technology: Tool Use, Forms of Life, Technique, and a Transcendental Argument
The work of Ludwig Wittgenstein is seldom used by philosophers of technology, let alone in a systematic way, and in general there has been little discussion about the role of language in relation to technology. Conversely, Wittgenstein scholars have paid little attention to technology in the work of Wittgenstein. In this paper we read the Philosophical Investigations and On Cer- tainty in order to explore the relation between language use and technology use, and take some significant steps towards constructing a framework for a Wittgensteinian philosophy of technology. This framework takes on board, and is in line with, insights from postphenomenological and hermeneutic approaches, but moves beyond those approaches by benefiting from Wittgenstein’s insights into the use of tools, technique, and performance, and by offering a transcendental interpretation of games, forms of life, and grammar. Focusing on Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language in the Investigations, we first discuss the relation between language use and technology use, understood as tool use, by drawing on his analogy between language and tools. This suggests a more general theory of technology use, understood as performance. Then we turn to his epistemology and argue that Wittgenstein’s understanding of language use can be embedded within a more general theory about technology use understood as tool use and technique, since language-in-use is always already a skilled and embodied technological practice. Finally, we propose a transcendental interpretation of games, forms of life, and grammar, which also gives us a transcendental way of looking at technique, tech- nological practice, and performance.
philosophy  tech 
february 2018
NPR : Interview with Wade Davis, On the Edge of Timbuktu, Radio Expeditions
"I coined the term ethnosphere in a recent book, Light at the Edge of the World. The thought was to come up with a concept that would suggest to people that just as there is a biosphere, a biological web of life, so too there is a cultural fabric that envelops the Earth, a cultural web of life. You might think of the ethnosphere as being the sum total of all thoughts and dreams, myths, intuitions and inspirations brought into being by the human imagination since the dawn of consciousness. The ethnosphere is humanity's great legacy. It is the product of our dreams, the embodiment of our hopes, the symbol of all that we are and all that we have created as a wildly inquisitive and astonishingly adaptive species.

And just as the biosphere, the biological matrix of life, is today being severely compromised, so too is the ethnosphere. Only if anything at a far greater rate of loss. No biologist, for example, would dare suggest that 50 percent of all species of plant and animal are moribund or on the brink of extinction. Yet this, the most apocalyptic projection in the realm of biological diversity, scarcely approaches what we know to be the most optimistic scenario in the realm of cultural diversity. The key indicator is language loss. There are at present some 6,000 languages. But of these fully half are not being taught to children. Which means that effectively, unless something changes, these languages are already dead."
from instapaper
february 2018
Unenlightened thinking: Steven Pinker’s embarrassing new book is a feeble sermon for rattled liberals
Instead, there has been a shift in the mood of liberals. Less than a decade ago, they were confident that progress was ongoing. No doubt there would be periods of regression; we might be in one of those periods at the present time. Yet over the long haul of history, there could be no doubt that the forces of reason would continue to advance. Today, liberals have lost that always rather incredible faith. Faced with the political reversals of the past few years and the onward march of authoritarianism, they find their view of the world crumbling away. What they need at the present time, more than anything else, is some kind of intellectual anodyne that can soothe their nerves, still their doubts and stave off panic.

This is where Pinker comes in. Enlightenment Now is a rationalist sermon delivered to a congregation of wavering souls. To think of the book as any kind of scholarly exercise is a category mistake. [...]

Judged as a contribution to thought, Enlightenment Now is embarrassingly feeble. With its primitive scientism and manga-style history of ideas, the book is a parody of Enlightenment thinking at its crudest. A more intellectually inquiring author would have conveyed something of the Enlightenment’s richness and diversity. Yet even if Pinker was capable of providing it, intellectual inquiry is not what his anxious flock demands. Only an anodyne, mythical Enlightenment can give them what they crave, which is relief from painful doubt.
enlightenment  scientism  from instapaper
february 2018
Philip Hensher on Sheffield: ‘The discovery of difference turned me into a writer’
Places were less alike in the 1970s than they are now. To a shy boy, the experience was almost overwhelming. People looked and dressed differently. Speech was quite different – I was quite unprepared for “castle” to rhyme with “cattle”, for the glottal stop that took the place of the definite article, for words that started around here and stopped around here. Gennel; mardy; nesh; gi’o’er. A sister was suddenly “our Mandy”. Food was different – there was something called haslet that you got not from butchers, but with weird specificity, from pork butchers. Most of all, the manners were different. They spoke to you briskly; adult women should not be expected to be shy and retiring; the joke was delivered with a straight face, and usually turned out to be on you. Pretty soon I was giving as good as I got.
England  language 
february 2018
Don’t knock kids for rereading books. Encourage them to read, full stop | Andrew McCallum
A new report seems to agree with me. It claims secondary pupils are falling behind in their reading because they are not moving on from writers they first met in primary school. It cites data showing the 10 most popular books in secondary were all written by Jeff Kinney and David Walliams. In corresponding data for primary pupils the books were all written by Kinney, Walliams and Roald Dahl. The report comes from Renaissance Learning, which runs the Accelerated Reader programme in schools. This directs pupils to choose books based on their assessed reading age. It has a vested interest in constructing reading as a linear process to be tracked and measured. Is reading development really this simple though? I would argue that it’s much more complicated, particularly in the early teenage years. Of course we want children to tackle more challenging material as they grow older. But there are good reasons not to worry if your 13-year-old is yet again reading Walliams’s Billionaire Boy, so long as they still enjoy reading, do it regularly, and have teachers who can gradually nudge them towards new material
february 2018
Seeking the Holy Spirit
I discovered something in my first year with the church’s liturgy that has remained true since. The liturgy is stable, but it is not safe. You never know which part of the church year, which part of the liturgy, which reading, which celebration of a saint will step out of history and grab you by the heart. The Spirit broods over our work. I also found that the Daily Office helped me listen to the Spirit. So many ideas and concerns assault me as I sit down to pray. I have found that the set prayers of the Daily Office settle my spirit, so that I can finally sit quietly and listen to God. My most powerful experiences of the Spirit have come during that waiting. The Spirit is in the liturgy.
february 2018
13 Ways Public Schools Incubate Mental Instability In Kids
"Back in 1929-30, there were about 248,000 public schools in the United States, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. How many today? Far less than half. By 2013-14, the number had shrunk to 98,000.

When you consider that the U.S. population nearly tripled in that timeframe, there’s no question this factory model of schooling has grown exponentially. The numbers speak to the intense bureaucratization of a public school system that is becoming more centralized with less local control, packing ever-larger numbers of students in one place.

The natural effect is an emotional malaise that fuels a sense of confusion and detachment. I believe the sociologist Emile Durkheim coined the term “anomie” to describe this sense of isolation. Even the physical architecture of public schools is getting more estranging. They tend to be larger and more looming, almost blade-runner-like in their effect of shrinking and sequestering individuals to irrelevance."
from instapaper
february 2018
The Crew want to move to Austin – but does Austin want the Crew? | Football | The Guardian
“There is one side of the tracks and the other. It’s a history, and it’s a constructed history of systemic racism all over the country. And here we have our own version in just the fact that we have an east Austin,” said Daniel Llanes, an artist and activist, after the council meeting.

Llanes noted that the Butler proposal was quickly abandoned but the Guerrero Park idea is being taken seriously. “I’m not against the soccer stadium and all of the economic benefits that it would bring. What I don’t want is to locate it in Guerrero Park and I especially don’t want it if they’re protecting west Austin and they’re not protecting east Austin,” he said.

“The stadium would be a blight to a park that everybody around it worked so hard to create,” he added. “I’m a Chicano so my heritage is Native American, it’s earth, you know? So I go: why is it that white people cannot leave a space alone? They cannot leave a big open space with wildlife and trees and water and nature. They can’t just leave it alone, they want to pave it over.”
texas  city 
february 2018
How technology is designed to bring out the worst in us
Technology feels disempowering because we haven’t built it around an honest view of human nature. The reason we called our new project the Center for Humane Technology is it starts with a view of ourselves.

Silicon Valley is reckoning with having had a bad philosophical operating system. People in tech will say, “You told me, when I asked you what you wanted, that you wanted to go to the gym. That’s what you said. But then I handed you a box of doughnuts and you went for the doughnuts, so that must be what you really wanted.” The Facebook folks, that’s literally what they think. We offer people this other stuff, but then they always go for the outrage, or the autoplaying video, and that must be people’s most true preference.

If you ask someone, “What’s your dream?” that’s not a meaningless signal. A psychotherapist going through an interview process with someone is accessing parts of them that screens never do. I think the [traffic] metrics have created this whole illusion that what people are doing is what people want, when it’s really just what works in the moment, in that situation.
tech  Technopoly  ethics  person  from instapaper
february 2018
Americans Invented Modern Life. Now We’re Using Opioids to Escape It.
"To see this epidemic as simply a pharmaceutical or chemically addictive problem is to miss something: the despair that currently makes so many want to fly away. Opioids are just one of the ways Americans are trying to cope with an inhuman new world where everything is flat, where communication is virtual, and where those core elements of human happiness — faith, family, community — seem to elude so many. Until we resolve these deeper social, cultural, and psychological problems, until we discover a new meaning or reimagine our old religion or reinvent our way of life, the poppy will flourish."
from instapaper
february 2018
Geek Trivia: The Oldest Company Logo In Continuous Use Belongs To?
Not only has the British tea company not changed their logo since the inception of the company in 1706, but their original tea house—the first tea house in Britain at that—has been in continuous operation on the same piece of land in central London ever since. In fact, the tea house has been there for so long that not only is Twinings the winner of the oldest continuously-used logo award, but they’re also the longest-standing property tax payer in the history of London.
february 2018
Physical, Electrical, Digital
This course will consider the centrality of media technologies in the experience of culture by assessing the impact of books, film, records, tapes, disks, and even architectural spaces such as cinemas, on cultural development. Along with readings, discussion, and presentations, students in the course will tell the story of cultural change in media and materiality by working together to construct a web publication using the digital humanities platform Omeka. As such, this course will be strongly project-based and students will play a role in the material studied and be responsible for designing and building the course’s publication. In the process of gathering materials and creating work for this publication, students will practice a wide range of methods including object analysis, visualization, and chronography, and consider theoretical works from a variety of disciplines including media studies, material culture studies, sociology of culture, political economics, and the history of technology. Readings will include work by Walter Benjamin, Marshall McLuhan, Bruno Latour, Lisa Gitelman, Pierre Bourdieu, etc.
february 2018
On Writing Software Well – Signal v. Noise
"Yet somehow arguments grounded in production code are rare. Few people seem willing to lift the curtain on such codebases, which is a damn shame. Because that’s where the real wisdom is buried. That’s where people have been forced to make actual trade-offs between competing patterns and practices. It’s those trade-offs and the circumstances around them that are valuable.

Programming arguments based in example code is most often stylized and idealized. It’s Platonic shadows on the cave wall. So easy to dig in and defend a technique when you don’t actually have to worry about guarding the flanks, setting up camp, and getting your supply lines in order. You know, like in real life."
from instapaper
february 2018
The guidebook that led me to a lost corner of England
"Davis was Kent's last working miner and he spent over 30 years working underground. We meet in the village of Aylesham, built specially in the 1930s to house Kent's mining community.

"People forget we had pits here at all," he says. There were four pits open in the county in 1939 and they employed hundreds of men from all over the country, including his own father who travelled from Wales.

"Kent became a melting pot," he says. "We ended up with our own dialect. Even today you can always tell a person from Aylesham because they have a nice soft accent that's a mixture of Geordie and Welsh.""
from instapaper
february 2018
Liberal Liberation - American Affairs Journal
This premodern Christian understanding of liberty involves limits, but directs those limits toward the higher love that they make possible. More fundamentally, however, the Christian account claims that we attain the fullness of our being only by giving ourselves over to participation in a higher, divine order of life and being that precedes us but draws us ever more deeply into it. It is the divine love that gives being to all things, and that inspires in us love for our neighbors, our family, the created world and especially our local bit of it.

The liberal disembedding mechanism, by contrast, detaches us from the local to deliver us over to loyalty to a state that grants and sustains our existence as individuals. It thus represents a perverse imitation of the Christian liberation. It seeks to substitute itself for Christianity’s communion and to replace this encompassing love with a foundation in distrust. Likewise it replaces communion with an emphasis on “respect” that takes the form of spheres of mutually exclusive rights, negotiated with the backing of the state’s threat of coercion. It resists acknowledging that Christianity might offer a higher principle of belonging, even while claiming to recognize Christianity’s right to exist within the liberal state.
politics  liberalism 
february 2018
Against the Deformations of Liberalism - American Affairs Journal
Perhaps Deneen’s idea of practicing classical and Christian virtues in small, local, communities will help. I do believe that Americans in general need to recover a richer understanding of liberty coupled with responsibility, self-restraint, and practices of virtue. One of the benefits of living in a free, if decadent, liberal society is that Deneen and his readers are at liberty to make such experiments. But by blaming all our ills on liberalism and insisting that its underlying political philosophy is uniformly bankrupt, I doubt that the members of these local communities will do much to improve our political lives. Liberalism is not dead. Rather, it is a set of ever-imperfect political beliefs and practices that hold together awkwardly at best, even when they are not being pushed to excess by ignorant ideologues. Can American liberalism be improved? I do not know. But if it can, it will require political philosophers and statesmen who can heighten Americans’ awareness of the contingency of the freedoms we cherish, of the genuine ingredients of human flourishing, and of the political practices required to make the most of equivocal goods like freedom.
politics  liberalism 
february 2018
Integration from Within - American Affairs Journal
Joseph, Mordecai, Esther, and Daniel, however, mainly attempt to ensure the survival of their faith communities in an interim age of exile and dispossession. They do not evangelize or preach with a view to bringing about the birth of an entirely new regime, from within the old. They mitigate the long defeat for those who become targets of the regime in liberalism’s twilight era, and this will surely have to be the main aim for some time to come. In the much longer run, it is permissible to dream, however fitfully, that other models may one day become relevant, in a postliberal future of uncertain shape. One such model is St. Cecilia, who, forced into marriage against her vows, converted her pagan husband; their joint martyrdom helped to spark the explosive growth of the early church. Another is of course St. Paul himself, who by the end of Acts of the Apostles preached the advent of a new order from within the very urban heart of the imperium.

Here too there is no hint of retreat into localism. There is instead a determination to co-opt and transform the decaying regime from within its own core. It may thus appear providential that liberalism, despite itself, has prepared a state capable of great tasks, as a legacy to bequeath to a new and doubtless very different future. The vast bureaucracy created by liberalism in pursuit of a mirage of depoliticized governance may, by the invisible hand of Providence, be turned to new ends, becoming the great instrument with which to restore a substantive politics of the good.
politics  liberalism 
february 2018
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