April 1st, 2012

Semiformalishmaybe

In search of our footprints

Today, a bit after I woke up, I spotted a meetup of the Brights at the American Museum of Unnatural History; it's been awhile since I've been there, and the Brights tend to be decent company (despite that basically everyone in that atheist flavour has to wince a bit at the terribly vain name), so a quick shower and a few trains later I was over there. AMNH is one of the better museums in the country, and I've generally tried to visit it when visiting NYC. Its entryway was probably not a great place for a meetup beginning though; far too many people in various groups to find people one's never met before. Eventually, after grabbing lunch in the cafe downstairs, I spotted the two people from the meetup proper; we chatted for awhile, then two of us went to the current exhibit; a really well put-together presentation on bioluminescence; I had the pleasant experience of actually learning a few things I never knew rather than relearning facts I was exposed to once (the latter is most common for me at museums); the chemistry behind it is neat (luciferin? Really? Fits the roots of the term too), and the evolutionary history of fireflies is hellacool. By the time I reached the end of the exhibit the other guy (a cool old man) was nowhere to be seen, so I went to see other exhibits on ancient cultures of central and east asia and a few other things, then briefly walked around a bit of Central Park, and came down to Tea Lounge.

Tea Lounge is utterly packed, and for a place that is absolutely huge, that's impressive. In analogy to how apartments seem to work in NYC, one first takes whatever seat one can (or hovers near one that looks like it might be released soon), and continually tries to upgrade until one finds a place to settle down for awhile. All while getting food and doing other things. I am noticing for the first time that there are plenty of other coffeeshops nearby; not as big, but probably also comfortable and worth exploring.

I am doing research on the Park Slope food co-op. I tried visiting to check out their produce recently, but they apparently are a closed co-op (which is kinda cool, even if, as they expect a certain amount of work hours per month, it's initially a bit of a burden; the burden is how the community is built). The one thing I am unsure about is if my housemate and I qualify as a household or not by their terms; if we do, I would have to convince him to join if I am to be permitted to, and I don't want to bother him with that. I am not yet sure if we "share domestic responsibility" or not, and so far we haven't shared household items to any significant extent, but ...

Still pleasantly sore from the move; will probably have to work a run in tomorrow evening to keep myself at the right level of sore. Disappointing that most of the running groups around here seem to be Central-Park-centric.

Semiformalishmaybe

101s

This applies to most kinds of activism.

I think we need to avoid *ever* writing documents like "Our Cause 101" for the purpose of pointing people in an argument at it, even if their argument is (or seems to be) a standard one for which we have a well-written rebuttal.

The reasons are this:

  • In doing so we forget to talk to people, and lose touch with the fact that people mioght disagree with us, sometimes in surprising ways
  • We neglect that others might reasonably decide not to use our terminology; we usually will write such documents from our worlds-of-terms, and neglect that the world-of-terms on which an argument rests needs to come from negotiation between the people (even if not explicit)
  • On that world-of-terms thing, we easily accidentally will decide that our world-of-terms is as important as the foundations of our worldview, and get frustrated when people don't accept those terms (this is pretty much always invalid and stupid), if we don't stay in the habit of negotiating definitions and frameworks for sake of conversations
So, for any "Our Cause 101" that involves scripting of arguments, sure, that's fine, but it's for *us* in discussion, not for *them*. We can't just point people at that stuff because we're apalled at their "ignorance", telling them to sod off and read a mountain of text before we deign to talk to them and by the way if they disagree they're an enemy. That's lazy, that's too simple, that's not going to convince anyone, it just serves as a wedge by which we can pretend we're better than people who don't already understand our foundations.

We have an obligation to have those conversations. We have an obligation to figure out which parts of our philosophy are standards of decency we put on everyone, which are things we consider to be nice things to convince people of but it's okay if they disagree, and which things are high theory we're not going to insist on in any way. We also need to remember that no matter how clever or solid or moral we think our cause is, it is not necessarily a failing or a lack of education if people are exposed to our ideas and are not convinced.

Let us imagine how cumbersome it would be if, say, there were 4 very active sides to every issue, they all insisted that the others were wrong, and whenever discussions start, they each referred to an encyclopedia set sized group of standard arguments they have. Imagine further what that would do to people who might have somewhat unorthodox but equally decent (or perhaps better) frameworks than their elaborate theory. Not helpful for discourse!