June 21st, 2006


Boss-town Boston

From 4 August to 7 August, I will be in Boston, attending Wikimania. I will Amtrak myself there. The 7th being a monday, anyone who is vaguely in the area who has some free time and wants to hang out, let me know. If you want to offer me lodging, I'm willing to extend my trip. I am also willing and possibly interested in traveling to nearby cities to see things (understand that anyplace I go will need to have an Amtrak station so I can get back to Pgh when my adventures are finally over). Failing any other ideas, I may rent a car to go attempt to find a large boulder near where my family briefly lived in Connecticut, but perhaps someone can suggest something more interesting.

(Update:I will probably fly instead. For some reason, it is cheaper to fly to Boston than to take the train. Please let me know ASAP if anyone wants to hang out for part of that week -- I want to buy tickets soon, ideally by saturday)

As a kind of out-there idea, I might take advantage of already being fairly far east to greyhound all the way to Halifax and do my Nova Scotia vacation back-to-back with wikimania. It would be 30 hours by bus though.. perhaps it would be better to do that some other time and go by air.


The Mark of the Bearer

I have refreshed my photo collection. Included are the following new collections:

The memory boxen are probably of most interest.

At work today, I ordered a Macbook Pro for a coworker, and it arrived (CMU's Computer Store is pretty quick) in my office around 2 hours later. While booting it up to get some basic software installed on it, I discovered that the power adapter suffers the misfeature of connecting to the system via a magnet. This is incredibly stupid. While talking to a friend, he provided a wonderful quote from the manual: The MacBook Pro power adapter port contains a magnet that can erase data on a credit card, iPod, or other device. To preserve your data, keep these and other magnetic media away from the power adapter port. .. He then recalled how a friend of his lost data on a thumbdrive and wiped their credit card because they got too close to the corner of their MacBook. Nice one there, Apple! He said that the regular MacBooks suffer Apple's love of magnets even worse, also having powerful magnets on the front of the case to keep the lid shut. Apple is like your typical teenage girl -- it does some very stupid things in the name of fashion. Sure, magnets are cool -- I remember playing with them a lot when I was younger, but as soon as I got any sense, I began to follow my dad's warning to always keep them very distant from the computers. This makes sense. It is a very bad idea to make computer products that might easily damage other computer products in normal, expected use, regardless of what the manual says. Apple should know better.

All that said, the MacBook Pro's built-in camera is fun to play with, and Apple provides some neat software that screams "play with me!". The camera was also used to set up my usericon, which somehow makes me irrationally happy. I played around with the included software, and found this theme continued. Apple is great at bundling software that looks and feels fun to use, and because their development environment is so nice, people don't need to get entirely into the programming mindset to make some rather nice software. There was a lot of software that I wanted to play with (like a webcomic-making software bundled with the system) that I had never heard of before. OSX's main interface doesn't give the raw power of traditional Unix, but it does an incredible job at providing a very personal and fun computer interface.

I am enthused about Wikimania. I hope that there arn't too many irritating people there. In the past I have, out of politeness, allowed Asperger's, stinky, and otherwise irritating-oh-god-I-wish-I-hadn't-come people to sit near me and ruin social things. I resolve to now join the type of person who will simply get up and sit near the people I want to talk to, no matter how rude I must be in telling people to STFU and stop talking to me when they can't get the loud visual cues that I would sooner pull out my toenails with pliers than talk to them. (Yes, maybe I'm getting overly ranty about this recently.. if so, hopefully I'm at least amusing too)

Some amusements:


Revolution versus Evolution: Communism, Democratic Socialism, and Stories versus Values

First draft of a new essay...

Pat Gunn
21 June 2006
Distribution and/or modification of this document is unlimited

One of the problems facing us as a movement is our relation to other movements and. In particular, the maintenance of our values and goals in the face of those who would do differently. The Anarchists, our sometimes brothers, along with social democrats are alternate movements which we ignore at our peril, just as the Stalinists, Maoists, and other flavours within our movement paint alternatives. There is a difficulty in ignoring these other movements, as divided from those who fall elsewhere from the tree, we lose strength, yet in unity with them, we worry that we comprimise who we are. While this tension will never dissipate completely, there is a path to further understanding when we may and may not collaborate with them.

Many of the divisions that split socialism are questions of judgement. In order to justify our existence as separate movements, we describe how our most threatening opponents (often those close to ours) have ideas that will never work. Communists frequently deride the possibility of real progress made by social democrats, suggesting that those in power will never betray their class interests, offering nothing but a series of tricks to satiate the workers without satisfying them. Likewise, social democrats point to the failure of the Soviet Union as evidence that radical and rapid top-driven movements towards communism must fail. Anarchists suggest that any society organised as a state will rapidly degenerate towards despotism, while Communists suggest that Anarchism will rapidly degenerate towards barbarism that paves way for those seeking power to assert themselves. All of these are matters of judgement, touching on human nature as it is now and might be, and examined closely, it is difficult to find a method to evaluate any of the assertions. One might say that attempts at systems provide such data, but given the wide variety of means one can use to set up such systems, the effect of changing time on these attempts, and an honest appraisal of the faults and benefits of any of these approaches reduces our ability to accept such arguments to areas where reasonable people might disagree widely. Temporary alliances with those who do not properly share our ends have already been discussed, but partial or full union with those who share our values, properly understood, should be possible once we learn to do so.

One of the difficulties in my value theory, as it has been stated in the past (for now, see here), is that we do not intuitively understand our values, and that considerable reflection is needed to enumerate and understand the interactions between them. I propose to modify my metaphysics of value to provide a deeper understanding and integration with the idea of placing ourselves in stories. Values remain as the atomic and aggregate unit of desire (as some values are compsed partly or wholly of other values, but the basic mental, as opposed to physical, unit is the simplest values). We add to this pantheon the story, which is an alternate aggregate unit of value. The story is a less clear unit, in that it is clumsier to work with, does not encourage philosophical investigation into itself (it in fact may claim not to be based on values, although value analysis can decompose it readily enough if applied honestly and carefully), and in may cases the lack of clarity it has causes people to unwittingly betray their values. Rather than provide a trivial example, we can come to a clear example of this by an analysis of our disagreements with Democratic Socialists. DS differ from our movement in their committment to peaceful, more gradual transition to a Communist society. Our traditional response, as noted above, is to applaud their ends but consider their methods to be naive and futile. This dismissal is a mistake to state as fact -- class loyalties are not always conscious, and just as Marx became socialist despite his family origins, others may come to socialism frolm a variety of class backgrounds. Classes can evolve, and with weak class identities, a potential for progress is present in humanity. Emergent dampers on human potential exist, but these may be flexible -- it is another question of judgement what means may be used, if any, to achieve communism without revolution. We may realise that our ends, and (except sometimes our tradeoffs on values for consensus and nonviolence) our values are the same as those of Social Democrats. The primary difference is our judgement, or rephrased, the story that we have committed ourselves to when we call ourselves Marxist Communist (whatever subflavour we may be, as I am Trotskyite and know some Maoists and Leninists) -- that we accept a revolution as necessary. The story or theme of revolution, asserted as dogma, blinds us from a simple understanding of our movement and its essential unity of values with the SD (just as their story of peaceful gradation may blind them). An honest Communist who has made their understanding more clear and post-story, might instead say that they believe that the most reliable (and perhaps fastest) path to Communism relies on the Revolution and a transitional nondemocratic society, but they may likewise note that other paths may be possible (and given the difficulty of the judgements involved, it is difficult to imagine that they would not). Understood and phrased as judgement differences, the essential unity of SD and Communism as parties and organisations may be more easy, and may make less likely the mutual excommunication that has marred relations in the past.

Giving up on stories leads to philosophical maturity. It is very easy to make emotional committments to the idea of an epic struggle to smash the Capitalists and ensure fairness, but this may cause us to lose sight of the possibility of other means to a task. We may further wonder if, caught up in the romance of a revolution, we will be ready when it is over and we face the far more difficult struggle of staring down human nature within ourselves and society to build something better. The means to the goal is not unimportant, because it affects the likelihood of the goal being achieved, but disagreement over tactical judgement on means where value-disagreements are not involved should not divide movements. As communists, and as philosophically-minded people who seek to grow as people, we should seek to discard our perception-as-stories and come to a more direct, value-based understanding of ourselves, inspiring others along the same path.
  • Current Music
    Arthur Godfrey - Too Fat Polka