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A Deftly Stilting Planet

Spent most of the last 2 days working on a poster for next week's conference. My poor design skills are confirmed, although maybe I'm learning to improve them. Inkscape: good enough to be frustrating that it's not better.

Té Café is closing at the end of the month. Just like when Insomnia (CowtownOhio) closed, it hurts - loss of the place, loss of the crowd that grew around it, another real place is relegated to collective memories of people who never see each other anymore. For the last few years, roughly half of the time I've spent a few hours here sketching, playing computer games, reading, joining other people whose names I don't know in watching Jeopardy. I guess given that I've decided it'll be time to lift anchor soon, it shouldn't bug me so much. I think when I'm gone from here, I'll have little reason to visit - when I can go for months without social interaction, any visits back here would just be for places, I think. Conversely - irritating how often people have come to town and ditched out on visiting. Probably all my fault for various reasons, but I am nontheless irritated at how often "keep your weekend free I'll call you" just leads me to waiting around at home for a weekend. Meh.

The real goal I think is to come to belong somewhere where that kind of rubbish doesn't happen. I'm not sure if I'm still capable of that or if moving will help, but I think we're all probably programmed to need a social fabric - a tribe, and this state of mind I'm in is probably natural for those that find themself without one for a prolonged period of time. It's probably old enough to predate humanity; to the extent that selective pressure can provide a "meant", we're not meant to be alone like this. As much as it's hard to believe that moving will fix things, it's one of the few knobs left I can turn, so it merits an unlikely trust. The real problem, I think, is that when I think about what I want, a lot of it involves changing things in the past and erasing these last few years. Can't be helped at this point, I guess.

I imagine I'll have to tell my bosses here once I manage to have vaguely solid-ish plans to leave - getting these two big projects done is a good goalpost, I think. I'm putting out feelers in Europe, although the different way Masters and PhDs relate there might be a stumbling block for me (just as much as not having a very good academic record would not be as big a stumbling block as it is in the states). I keep thinking as well that it'd be interesting to apply for philosophy too, although I wonder if I'd like it as much to think about things that are so fun as part of my daily life, or if I have as much to offer - I may just babble about elementary politics and philosophy here and have a lot more to say to the right audience, but I don't know if anything I have to say is particularly novel there. The idea of suitable nonprofits remains kind of appealing too. Meh. Life would feel too long to worry about this stuff if I didn't feel like my emotional stability is draining away and if I didn't feel like my sense of time is becoming warped. Some of this might be the isolation, some of it might be just aging.

Recently have been thinking of Chomsky's claims in 「Manufacturing Consent」 - I'm not as skeptical of traditional news media (read: 50s-mid-80s) as Chomsky is of modern news media - wondering how far back his claims go (I read a borrowed copy of the book years ago, and don't quite remember). Is having multiple news sources more of a guard against corruption, to allow different ideologies to drive people to investigate different things, or for other reasons? I believe plurality of reasonably independent news sources to be a good thing in any society (socialist, capitalist, other), but I'm not sure I have the full details of the "why"s down yet. I mistrust Chomsky as much as I do Orthodox Marxists, but he's still worth reading (as much as Žižek, Marx, Bakunin, Kerensky, and many others).

Also, I've been pondering the appropriate role for scientists in the public debates over certain truth claims. It's a complicated issue - I worry that getting involved in the largely unintelligent slugfests might polarise the debates by making the barrier to sensible positions involve a surrender (and the associated shame-barrier to that), as well as that it might easily drag the non-science-values of actual scientists into the same light as the truth claims that are reached through empirical methods - the role of the scientist hat in public discourse should be to lead/educate people towards the truth consensus they should accept on factual matters, not to lead them towards value-conclusions. That might suggest that treating this as a matter for education rather than debate, and not agreeing to regular two-sided debates is sensible. I largely agree with the intuition behind this - value disagreements are reasonable, but truth disagrement with the scientific consensi usually is not. However, it is vital that that job be done well, and might be very important that we pull people who have been failed by the educational system back towards that consensus as an emergency measure rather than consider it a generational problem and hope to educate the next generation better (in any case, our educational system is both very poor in many places thanks to fundamentalist revivals, and some people are bypassing even that with home schooling). It may be an idealism we can't afford that scientists shouldn't have to debate to reach nonscientists and we trust science as an institution - homeschooled and lousy-schooled people limit our ability to deal with societal problems of today and tomorrow, and until we can both limit the damage they're already doing and restructure education (mandatory, secular, modern education, less state and schoolboard involvement, more resources and better support for teachers), this kind of direct involvement may be necessary. That said, it may yet be self-defeating for the reasons above. It's hard not to be pessimistic about the US.

At some point, I'm looking forward to playing with OpenSimulator, an opensource server for SecondLife.