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Semiformalishmaybe

Feuerwoche

This has been an interesting week for me.

  • This monday, I had dinner with my father at Yaffa, not having spoken with him for many years. This was largely at the insistence of my mum; contentious topics were avoided, it was still kind of weird, but it was generally ok. He's a bit more faded than he was last I saw him; greyer hair, skin a bit more pale, and it seems he's stopped bothering with the fake northern accent to some extent (I've actually been longing to let my inner voice influence my outer voice). Showed him Tea Lounge.
  • This tuesday, I went to a meetup held at the Ethical Society; the building is kinda weird, with a feel somewhere between that of a church and a university. It's incredibly large, fairly old, and pretty awesome. The meeting was with a bunch of people who are significantly older than me, but we had a very good conversation (that didn't stay at all on topic, but it was great). I'm not interested in keeping too many ties with groups where I am the youngest person there by such a wide factor (I need to make social ties with people roughly my age, probably the 20s-30s range), but these conversations are too good to pass up.
  • Today I also went to Yaffa to see Lizza, whom I also haven't seen for many years. After that and some walking around, I tried to meetup with the informal start to the secularism conference this weekend in a group visit to AMNH, but either nobody else showed up to that or I missed the group. Oh well; had a nice visit to the museum anyhow. I was very irritated to see one presentation on on evolution where they apparently took care to have a scientist who's a christian on the panel talking about how their faith and their science are compatible and speaks praisingly about separate roles for faith and science. I guess it's necessary to pave the divide between modern science and the superstitious with statements like that, but it makes me sad. Anyhow, AMNH is really amazingly great. I'm likely to get some kind of membership there.
Health concerns and knowing that my current lease, while m2m, has a maximum duration, is inspiring me to seek a job sooner than I otherwise would. I don't like dealing with headhunters, but for some reason employers sometimes use them rather than directly post jobs on the big public boards, and a few of them have some jobs that seem okay, so next week I expect to go in to the offices of two of these places. This is largely to make them happy and get a shot at those jobs; their talk of "representing me" is kind of weird, and I suspect they think I want to deal with them as an intermediary. Awkward. There are also a few jobs where I've directly applied that also seem pretty okay. I guess I'm saying that I'll probably be fulltime-plus-sidejob employed soon.

Living here is helping me discover new sides to myself; while I still have those hangups that make it very hard for me to make meaningful new social ties, I seem to manage a lot more one-off conversations in the city; people seem to be more socially aggressive and just start talking with me, which is pretty nice; it helps push back against some of the deeper edges of my paranoia of being entirely socially invisible, with no conversations that arn't strictly functional. These random conversations are helping me heal from years of what's mostly been solitude.

Two concepts that are tricky to resolve: the concept of the genetic fallacy, and conversational calls of privilege.

  • The Genetic Fallacy is the notion that arguments should generally be resolved regardless of who makes them; regardless of the race, sex, religion, etc, arguments stand on their own
  • The Conversational Call of Privilege is a call for people to reexamine the positionality inherent in their position, with a hint that it may be self-serving and put an unfair burden on others
Neither of these are entirely good or bad.

The genetic fallacy is, I think, most appropriate for topics where technical expertise is not required; technical fields produce experts that are few in number, and requiring those few to handle debate with unqualified people with equal weight as debate within their community would be an undue burden. Even this isn't unlimited though; the existence of experts on a topic doesn't suggest others must value that expert community, as the community could be entirely fucked. Schools of divinity or astrological experts are a prime example of thise. I would suggest that people generally trust academia as a default in modern times though; even though we're seeing new kinds of corruption through private finance of academic departments and private research, the system remains as a whole the best shot we have at understanding. The genetic fallacy also has limits, I think, where those who have malign political views might not have their arguments given serious weight because one knows they're acting as an adversary, although this would likely take the form of not entering into debate with them at all rather than trying to disqualify their moves within one. In general, we should understand the idea of the genetic fallacy as a reluctance to disqualify people based on their identity.

The conversational call of privilege is most appropriate for where the participants in a discussion know each other well enough to have an adequate theory of mind grasp on each other. It is naturally moderately rude in most of its phrasings, as it requires speculation as to the deeper reasoning behind another's arguments and suggests something ugly (which may yet be true) about that reasoning. That said, it's a worthwhile thing to think about during a debate. As constraints on this conversational call of privilege, I suggest:

  • It should never be done without a corrisponding argument about what exactly one claims that a more-in-touch-with-the-unprivileged version of them might see differently, and ideally why
  • It should be done with sensitivity to the idea that not everyone is operating from anything akin to a Rawlsian Original Position (with risk-aversion); a failure to be maximally enabling to the feelings or position of the worst-off in society is not necessarily a failure of empathy or racism/sexism/etc.
With these constraints, I strongly suggest that if one suspects one's conversational partner is actually operating from privilege, we avoid an explicit call of privilege, and instead proceed right to discussion of harm caused by their preferred position or policy. The actual phrasing of an explicit call of privilege doesn't work on anyone who's not (willing to be prey to/a member of) some of the worst flavours of the activist community; to everyone else it's either mysterious or irritating and closes ears.

With this analysis, how do we resolve calls of privilege and the genetic fallacy? First, we don't use a call of privilege as a conversation-closer. It too often is used as such, and by ceasing to disqualify people or arguments through it, we turn it into attention to the effects and reasoning behind a claim. I accept that this is taking a tool away from activist communities fighting what (usually) are good causes, but it's needed for good discourse, and (general point here) good discourse is more important than providing seemingly strong and cathartic arguments to the activist that will never convince anyone but the weak-willed. We also should not hold the genetic fallacy so strongly that we refuse, in a debate, to consider the mental state of our conversation partner. We generally will keep such suppositions and analyses in our heads rather than making them a conversation topic though; they shape what arguments (and meta-arguments, possibly) we make.

This weekend will largely be swallowed by Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism. Hoping I'll meet yet more members of the secular community here.

A bit of news that might be interesting, perhaps:

  • Recently there was controversy over the Swedish Minister of Culture attending a party where a cake caricature of a pregnant black woman was being eaten. I had a suspicion that there was more to the story than was initially reported, and eventually it came out that it was a performance art exhibit against female genital mutilation, where the artist stood nearby and made crying noises as the cake was cut from the genital region first. Disturbing, yes, but less so when one understands the whole story and the intent of the art. Also a nice example of how critical intent is in understanding things that offend; more than most parts of life, art without interpretation is empty, and not all offense is worth worrying about
  • Lawrence Lessig tweeted a link to this, a tracking site that shows how often congresspeople followed the money by showing correlations between their congressional votes and their election-bribes (I mean lobbying). We might worry that it's a bit unfair in theory because people might be funded because of their positions rather than than paid to be obedient, but the net effect is the same; in a more ideal world we'd have funding structured differently so neither would be significantly possible.
  • The Oracle-Google lawsuit, currently underway, should make us very concerned about the future of Java. Specifically, it looks like we were probably concerned (so far) against the wrong player when we worried that Microsoft would assert IP claims over their Java clone, C#, when Oracle's doing things like this over Java. Unless Oracle has an abrupt course change, I believe the opensource community should abandon the language; it's not free if it's policed this way.
  • German poet Günter Grass was recently banned from Israel over a poem critical of Israeli policies. I think this is pretty stupid; it violates a feature we expect of modern states: a separation between the legal character of the state and the national character of it. By the national character, I'm talking about the portions of the state that seek/project dignity, quality, and the like. This distinction is needed to allow for open criticism (even to the point of mockery) of the state, and we established it strongly in western legal traditions when we decided to put an end to the crime of lese majeste. We may permit very limited positive exceptions, for example not disapproving of knighthoods or other honors for limited numbers of specific people who have brought some kind of service to the national character of the state, but having strong negative exceptions is something we should consider a mark of primitivity in governmental and social traditions (not the lone failure of Israel to be completely civilised, mind you, just more remarkable by their status between being western and not)
  • I'm always disappointed to see India's anti-offense laws enacted. These are the laws that Salman Rushdie has railed about in a few of his books (a stronger form of political correctness, and equally unhealthy)

Finally, I offer a (perhaps strange) reconsideration on the topic of military chaplains. After some reflection on some of the arguments for and against them, I am no longer of the opinion that they should not exist. My reasoning is based on the enclosed nature of life in the military; like only a few other jobs, there are few opportunities to reliably leave an active post of duty, and given that, a failure to provide adequate opportunities for self-expression of one's philosophy (religious or not) is excessively damaging to the effective practice of freedom of conscience that exists in outside life. This is not precedent-setting for the kinds of leeway we must/should give in general society so much as a recognition that unusual allowances can be made to equalise with self-actualisation opportunities present in broader-society, and that these allowances might override a general strong commitment to secularism in some instances and to some degree. I don't have any specific ideas as to what the acceptable bounds are of the field this opens up, I just am willing to accept it as a field. We would probably provide the same thing to astronauts on a long-term manned space mission, for the same reasons.

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