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Semiformalishmaybe

Occupy and Authority

Today, I spent some time trying to figure out why my phone ignores the tags on about 2% of the music I put on there. I transcoded all the offending mp3s to oggs, curing many of them, but there are still a few files that inexplicably just show up as filenames in the Android music app. Also put some time into wrapping up the last CMU-CS coding project.

I swung by the protest twice today. In mid-afternoon I had a long conversation with a guy about the movement; he was skeptical of my academic ends, believing that academia was controlled by corporate interests. I am always willing to concede this partly, but I also believe that academia is our best shot at most kinds of truth, so I defended that heavily. I think a number of (less radical/non-crazy) people there were happy to see a spirited-but-polite defense of academia. The guy turned out to be a bit crazy, denying evolution and alternatively denying that global warming is a problem and declaring it to be a good thing. We did have reasonable common ground though, and the conversation was mostly reasonable (I am glad I managed not to be too distracted by his terrifyingly bad dental work).

The second time was kind of ugly. A bit before I got there, someone had their phone stolen, and someone thought a particular guy (let's call him A; I don't know his name and nobody here called him this, but it's useful to have a term) stole it. They asked him if he stole it, and out came the batshit-crazy. A puffed up and started shouting, the accuser left, and A became confused and started trying to intimidate two people that were near the accuser. Those people generally stood their ground (one of them was pretty short(B), the other fairly tall(C) ), saying they didn't claim A stole anything. A kept getting angrier, physically intimidating B and C, and walking around the entire area claiming he'd clobber someone if they said he stole anything, and generally making an ass of himself. I stayed reasonably near B and C in case anything physical broke out; B and C were remarkably calm in the face of this. A made as if to hit people, removed his shirt as a sign of impending violence, and seemed driven by testosterone and indignity, but eventually left. And came back. And left again. And then came back holding a lighter up in the air threateningly. B went and got food from the food tent and tried giving it to A as some kind of a peace offering (which made me kind of grumbly; IMO, one should not become servile in the face of crazy), to no avail. A really wanted a fight, and said he'd be coming back with a bunch of "his people" tomorrow to "show people". And finally left again.

Throughout this, I had my camerabag out and was hoping to get a good photo of A so I could get him locked away by the police, but never saw a moment where a photo would not be provocative (and some protester types are ridiculously anti-police and there may have been consequences).

I mean to write more about this later, but a few thoughts:

  • This was not dissimilar to an incident last year where some random guy could not take that I picked up a cigarette he threw into the street and put it in a rubbish bin, and when he criticised me for this, I called him a schmuck, and he was unable to take the criticism even after I had long stopped speaking and eventually battered me a bit and followed me threateningly on the bus.
  • Similarity: there's this notion of defending honour that some guys have which dates back to the times when people would demand a duel if their honour was insulted
  • I have come to associate this with traditional masculinity in our society, a set of traits that, like traditional femininity, I consider to be a bundle of serious character flaws.
  • I consider academic attempts at truth, and civil data-driven non-personal discourse to hint at new traditions for handling disagreement, avoiding the traditional deference that I consider feminine and the face-obsessed cowboy theatrics that I consider masculine. Whenever possible, things should come down to facts and gender-neutral nonpersonal discussions, aided by societal traditions. When conflict is necessarily personal, it should be businesslike, with people using traditions rather than ego, and neither servile nor domineering roles for anyone involved. If and when violent conflict is inevitable (and there should be no desire to escalate conflict to this level under most circumstances), it should be done as quickly and matter-of-factly as possible; violence and catharsis should never be mixed.
That last statement is crucial. Whenever we mix violence and catharsis, we are working against the instincts of civilisation. Very rarely, we may be forced to do things that would seem cathartic, but if we wish to preserve ourselves as civilised, we must withdraw from those feelings as much as possible.

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