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Seeking Bigger Styx

Yesterday was a completely awful day on pretty much all counts ending in a long, lonely freaking out at home.

Today is a bit better. Was nudged to finish an almost-done project at work to help someone with dire needs, and did so. Visited a troublesome server in another job expecting horrible disk failure during boot, and it turns out they just didn't know how to turn it on, before all that decided to take one of the more pretty walks through the woods to reach campus. Still have some things to worry about at work but they're not dire. The giant Wacom drawing tablet has arrived. Only major things to be unhappy about are that I mistakenly had a meat soup earlier today and my stomach seems to be very angry at me, and the longstanding difficulties with lonliness. At least I have a new toy to distract me for awhile.

Random chewings on points political, historical, and perhaps philosophical, depending on what the off-the-top-of-my-head department strikes me with today:

  • Recently a lot of the rabble have been stepping up their criticism of Islam recently. I wouldn't mind this so much if the criticisms were intelligent ones, but this is more of a particular subculture well-described as anti-intellectual, vaguely christian sort who take discussion and ideas about as seriously as a sports-watching fanatic takes fairness. They're all getting their barbs from the same place (I presume, because often they use almost the same words and the exact same attacks, all at once). One that bugs me is their attack on Mohammad as a pedophile. This is not entirely false, from some angles, but it's more of a half-truth with very serious missing context and a certain amount of hypocracy when they're the origin.
First, we'll address modern practice. Islam is a big faith, covering many parts of the globe, many nations, and in many forms. There are some areas where clerics argue that laws prohibiting minimum age for marriage are unislamic because Mohammad had young wives (hence it is not haram), and it is not acceptable for governments to prohibit what is permitted by Sharia. However, there are also many Islamic countries that prohibit young marriage, either because they interpret the Quran differently, they have no issues layering prohibitions on top of things that are religiously halal, or they find it reprehensible given modern sensibilities and situations. In modern times, many countries have decided on 18 as a marriable age; many Islamic countries have that, some have younger, some have older(!). Depending on the courts, there are instances where a couple can be married but cannot have intercourse (or some types of activity along these lines) in the laws of some countries.

Second, we'll address History. Mohammad had a number of wives - the one usually referenced is his third, Aisha, whom he married at the age of 6 (believed to have been consumated at age 10). By modern standards, this would be pedophilia and forbidden by western societies. The problem with making this judgement of something that happened in the early 600s is that it was a common cultural practice at the time, not unique to Muslims, not unusual under Judaism (until later), and not alien in all European societies.

(Islam changed the role of children in families considerably from what was broad practice in the Arabian penninsula, mostly for the better - that's a big topic and not entirely relevant anymore so I won't go into it)

Third, we'll address Sharia. Under (strong forms of) sharia, puberty is considered a requirement before marriage may be consumated, and consent is considered a requirement for marriage. To whatever extent the status of adulthood/age of consent is a formalisation of puberty, this is not an odd place to set the bar. Coming of age rituals in traditional societies typically occur around that age, after which people were considered broadly competent in society and no longer wards of their parents.

The notion that societies have changed have led these age bars to usually move a bit, particularly as societies and societal mores have become tied across the world. We live considerably longer (extending our perception of neoteny), men and women often pursue education and careers that inspire us to have children later, and we are more likely to marry for love than to tie families together, for financial support, or out of a duty to have children. Most societies have adapted since then.

With this context, we can understand that Mohammad's practice is both no longer normative for many parts of the Muslim world, that it was a practice not unique to Islam nor alien to many other traditional/cultural systems we're familiar with, and that singling it out is inappropriate except to the extent that it would lead people to apply reasoning appropriate to those times to our changed society. Those muslims who either are willing to accept another set of norms to layer into their worldview as a modern sensibility or who are willing to consider that the changed circumstances of the world have made what was once situationally appropriate now no longer appropriate should find that we have no special quarrel with them on this issue.

I've been chewing on how statelessness, the type of "sponsorship/protection" that passports formally request, and handling of modern nontraditional wars might interact with our notions of justice. I remain convinced that torture of those from non-state militias who have been captured is entirely inappropriate and believe some minimum standard of care is warranted, but it would be interesting to see them treated as stateless persons (or to consider consequences for states that still claim them and request their treatment above that minimum). I'm not sure about this though.

As always I kind of wish these were conversations, but so goes life.

Playing with OkCupid's chart thingy - I am amused that the charts it makes seem to try seriously to always have first and second-tier lines of answers, giving some questions as penalties to make it easier for people to fall off into "No way" and assigning anyone who remains on the second tier at the end of the chart as a "Only if you're paying". This is quite different than I'd arrange it if I were going by hand, but then I have the human ability to draw abstractions from the questions to make a version of that chart much more purpose-driven, to-the-point, and succinct. I don't really think the "Only if you're paying" category is very appropriate anyhow, at least for me. I'd probably split the bill if I invited anyone out for Indian food or tea unless I knew their means were very different than my own, and if so I might pay even if the date were not going very well. I suspect my laundry list might look anyhow like:

  • Are you brilliant?
  • Are you an Atheist or Agnostic?
  • Are you Liberal or Apolitical?
  • Do you think science is the best way to understand the natural world?
  • Do you think philosophy is interesting?
  • Do you read a lot?
  • Do you like Nature?
  • Do you like going to cultural things?
  • Do you use deodorant, not have a fat body, have no noticable deformities, and take reasonable care of yourself?
Beyond that, if there's attraction and no showstoppers, I'd probably want to meet. I guess the flowchart vaguely gets at some of that though, and we're talking interesting-levels-of-semantic-parsing to try to distill that from the questions. Maybe this is some of the stuff that human-mediated matchmaking involves - the human-simple task of deriving abstractions from gobs of data and matching up people who match (or nearly match). It might go beyond this (into what I'd consider the realm of the often-negotiable) - notions of what a relationship is, life plans, etc. Maybe that'd be an interesting problem towards which people might devote their life (in the abstract, I mean). I imagine if most of the questions on the site were not human-submitted, they might structure them in a way as to pre-lean towards these abstractions - maybe they already do with the (also kind of fun) personality-aspect leanings things they have. I suppose if I wern't embarassed to be geeking out over people I already know and make them wander WTF, I'd more frequently compare my bars with the people I know on there - there are people I know IRL that I'm either definitely attracted to, definitely not attracted to, and a few where I'm just not sure. Alas, OkC always shows those visits and I'm sure they don't help awkwardness. It's already bad enough when I click on some random person who's either taken a picture of a squirrel as their profile pic (to flag it) or who's horribly fat/ugly (to tell OkC to remove their face from the random picture rotation).

Played a bit with the boss's iPad - while I still think it's horrible from the perspective of where-the-industry-is-going-in-terms-of-closedness, it's quite slick. I wonder if google is being outmaneuvered in not yet having anything equivalent available to the general public. Steve Jobs' response to Adobe on the front was both incomplete and talking out of both sides of his mouth, but I've come to expect as much. Still, the polish is pretty amazing.