Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn

Weaponising Loneliness

Given how the bloody spammers have infiltrated IM and Twitter (and are tiptoing into G+), I am coming to think that anti-spam measures should be a first principle in the design of online services, on an equal standing with security and whatever privacy commitments a service chooses to make. We still need better laws for dealing with spam, of course, but we don't have a great precedent set in societal expectations given how much junk mail most of us get. I am hoping we can build a solid-enough consensus against spam to effectively combat it; my own views are quite radical (I condone vigilante action against both the servers and the person of spammers), but even a moderate set of steps could achieve good results.

I believe that most people have a need to believe that consensus on their positions is far stronger than it is, and they preserve that illusion by choosing their company. I would wager that this is because we don't like feeling that we're in the middle of long-running cultural wars, and why the ideas of Kulturkampf that (presently mostly conservative but it has varied over the years) provocateurs pose are so stressful. A bit under half of America is living under this in every election cycle; the constant "oh, shit!" of liberals under a Republican president or conservatives under a Democratic one (note that liberals who are not Democrats, like me, still feel this) is one of the things we can't block out. Still, on the smaller scale, we mostly manage to feel that we're winning, sometimes aided by geography (liberals as cityfolk, conservatives as countryfolk). This filters down to the way we argue; one of the less formal ways we argue with each other is to wield philosophical lonliness as a weapon. Our notion of the sanity of the world requires a smooth alignment with relatively objective reality (rocks and trees and things moving about) with the worlds of meaning we layer on top (justice, dignity, things of that sort). An insane world is one where the other people see things in an unrecognisably different light; culture shock is the first exposure to this. How do the culture-shocked manage? I believe they borrow a few tools from philosophers; they lower their expectations of consensus and internalise their past and project it outwards (or they might take another route and "go native"). In common discourse, one of the ways we can push on someone is to demonstrate their views to have no commonality, either with history or with "most people" (the latter might look like it can be boiled-down to something more foundational, but I claim that it's actually a hardwired high-level concept for humans). People are not psychologically equipped to stand alone, and making them feel alone can prompt them to revise their views. A good philosopher will not do this and will be relatively insulated from peer pressure; the explicit goal of stepping outside of local consensus and arguing for different conclusions requires one accept being divergent. It is still a set of basic needs for all humans though, and ignoring it has a cost.

This is therefore another kind of argument in popular discourse, part three of a potentially large set:

  • Logical arguments
  • Aesthetic/foundational arguments
  • Consensus arguments
One way to cope with consensus arguments, for those who know they're stepping outside any current consensus but not willing to weather the philosophical winds, is to claim the company of the dead; "I am following in the traditions of my nation's founders" is one form of this, another is to claim family traditions (I have been tempted to do this to justify humour over political correctness; my family generally has a tradition of very barbed jokes aimed at absolutely everything, but I'm willing to advocate this on its merits as I think political correctness is in fact terribly rude), or to some other lost ideal (Roman classicism? Some religious perspective?).

I am coming to see Google's existence as-it-is to be very worrying; binding as many bright techies as Google does into the same comprehensive NDAs, for a company that so comprehensively affects the tech industry, can't be good. I would be far more comfortable if the vast majority of Google innovations, from Android onward, were done in universities. We should not be happy to hear about the things happening in Google X without an easy way to verify them, technology and people gagged like that. So far, for a company that makes much of its money off of advertising, Google has done a reasonable job at "not being evil" in the most surface forms, but I think we can conclude that it's stagnating the industry too.

I have an idea for a game for tablets/cellphones! It's fairly simple, and I was playing it in a dream last night. Wondering if it's worth implementing; I haven't written any involved games apart from Zorklikes and Roguelikes before.

Tags: philosophy

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