service noticeClearing out the clutter and polishing up a few things. It might all be broken.
lauantai, syyskuu 30
Permalinks work again, thanks to Matt Haughey, the smartest person in the whole United States.
If You're Not a Socialist When You're 20 You Have No Heart
When I read things like this or decline to participate in conversations like this, I find it incredibly frustrating. There is as little room for argument as there is in any ideological discourse and yet since we are all pragmatists (or consequentialists) now and since there are plenty of facts to argue about we could actually debate some of these issues.
But on the other hand, when there is disagreement on nearly every point, perhaps we don't share enough ground to avoid talking past each other. And it is mercilessly tedious.
The basic point seems to me to be something like this: born behind a veil of ignorance (not knowing where in the world you'd be born, nor into what situation), when you have liked to have been born? Now, right?
No? Because people all over the world are suffering? Ah, you'd rather be born in the age of chivalry? Or some idyllic tribal society? The renaissance? 50 years ago? Look, there are problems all over the world now, but those problems (taken together) are fewer and of less severity than they ever have been before.
Think about the difference between western Africa (an obvious place to point to as undesirable, vis-a-vis being born in a place) now and 200 years ago. The Congo today or under King Leopold? Sure, Russia is in terrible shape, but it's better than WWII, and better than it was before the serfs were emancipated. Starving in India with Bollywood, or back in the days of the Mogul wars? Birmingham ghettos today or in Dickens' time? Or in Elizabethan times where "tragedy of the commons" had a quite literal interpretation?
You may be tempted by the omnipresent myth of the a perfect past (why is this present in pretty much every culture?), the noble savage, our fall from the garden, and on and on and on. But of course, that is a myth. While it may have been pleasant to be a Lord in feudal Germany, a Pharoah or a Sultan, the king of Timbuktu, or the Emporor of China, chances are 99 in a 100 that you'd be born into those times and places as a slave, a serf, a servant, a toiler, a peon, drafted to fight capriciously, having no teeth by the time you were 30 (granted you lived that long), with some music but no literature, no philosophy (save for a few simplified combined cosmogony/theologies), no summers off, raped and pillaged, forced to billet soldiers, starving when the weather's bad, uneducated, burned for heresy and beaten for disobedience not much point in extended this list since a full catalog of human suffering through the ages would fill volumes ...
Of course we wouldn't rather be a pig satisfied than Socrates dissatisfied and yet somehow believe that living as a part of an old indigineous society would be so incredibly spiritually fulfilling that it would easily outweigh the material lack or missing access to the worlds of history, art, science that are available in the public libraries even to Main Street crackheads.
There is no disagreement that parts of the world today are worse off than there were at certain points in the past, but on the whole, averaged out and playing the odds, if you wouldn't rather been born in 2000 than in 1500 or 1000 or 1000 BC or 5000 BC then you are just dumb. Having the opportunity to learn, take leisure, choose your vocation (or even have a decent chance of surviving childhood) used to a luxury affored to one person in a hundred worldwide. Now we are perhaps at twenty in a hundred; long way to go, but this is generally the right direction.
OK, so why this diatribe? People act as if we are at a crisis point, as the precence of too many advertisements is really a horror comparable to ... well, as if it was a "horror" at all. As if the present system has done so much damage that it must be torn down, smashed and we have to start again. As if low-paying jobs in the service industry aren't better than farming the Yangtze (flood and famine, baby). As if Monsanto is worse than the East India Company or poverty in a half-assed welfare state is worse than poverty in a plutocracy.
AND YES I REALIZE THAT THERE ARE TERRIBLE PROBLEMS TODAY (you idiots). Understand that I am no advocate of complacency. I am aware of not doing enough personally (though charity starts at home and I am generous in spite of my self-absorbtion) and I recognize that activism is essential to achieving the ends that we all so reasonably desire: the end of hunger, the equalization of opportunity, sustainable resource use, the perpetuation and refinement of medicine, etc. I just think that our course needs to be altered rather than abandoned.
But the thing that really gets to me is that people who are obviously intelligent, people who I agree with on matters of taste and culture, who I personally admire and whose company I enjoy, can hold such crazy political beliefs. On the one hand we have the belief that business is necessarily, essentially evil and that people with more than some certain amount of money are ipso facto likewise wicked and cruel. Can't you see that this (a) is factually wrong and (b) just creates another "us" and "them" distinction from which to draw demons, blame and target? On the other hand, we get the complements: that people who have bad lives all have bad lives because of circumstances beyond their control.
People rich and poor can be petty, can commit themselves to being miserable to spite [whoever], kill themselves to show their parents or spouses or children, are violent, coercive or theiving. People rich and poor raise their kids poorly and resent their parents, putting "being right" above making amends and emotional health. People rich and poor devote themselves to mindless activities at the expense of intellectual curiousity, have spectacular moral failings, lack the discipline to create the lives they want.
So, please, when you get to thinking about the malaise of our age, or the commercialization of x and the breakdown of y, about who's to blame for what, think a little bit about how far we've come: how slavery and servitude have only barely ended; how, though suffrage is still not truly universal, it is far closer than ever before; how freedoms unimaginable to our great-grandparents are taken for granted all over the world; how the Thames is no longer flammable and extinctions are now illegal; how much less possible a world war seems; how the freeing of markets and trade (though not without its pain) has spread prosperity far wider than ever in history.
And don't let me stop you from changing the world. I'll even join in and support you, as long as you don't think that economics is a zero sum game and that constructing faceless enemies is a productive means to accomplishing anything. As long as you understand where responsibility always lives.
Unrelated: Winners of the Foil the Filters Contest and did you know that you can change text size (on Win/IE 5 at least) with a mouse wheel hold down the CTRL key and spin away (I just noticed this by accident). Awesome. If only it worked on px-specified css declarations.
Do you hate it when you think of something clever to say a little too late? I do too. I have a similar problem sometimes which goes like this: I think of the clever thing to say right away but then forget to say it. When I said "say it" just then, I meant "write it".
Anyway, uh, "Speaking of luncheons, I had lunch with Suzanne Carter-Jackson last week for no other reason than it is fun to meet different people. And it was fun." Yeah, speaking of luncheons ... Oh, never mind.
fresh new geegaw again. Where does it end?
While in sunny Pasadena, I recommend the Equator Café. Slightly less of a non-sequitur: hopefully something fantastic will finally happen this week. (Actually, I guess I hope that something fantastic will happen every week, and to everyone, but I have a specific and reasonable expectation that something fantastic will happen this week to me and various people I like.) Sequitur! Sequitur! Sequor? Expectations are a big thing on my mind right now, design-wise. How to create frames of expecation so you can actually satisfy people, or surprise them, or build tension or minimize time-wasting poor choices and so on. There are practical and aesthetic applications of expectation creation, which will be discussed in due course.
In unrelated "news" I've been writing an email to someone for so long now that it is hard to finish. That happens to you, sometimes, I bet.
Here are some of the other things on this site:
The 5k contest
Stephen Toulmin's 1979 Ryerson Lecture at the University of Chicago, The Inwardness of Mental Life, reprinted with the kind permission of the Author & the University.
An excerpt from an interview with philosopher Donald Davidson, which I find complements the former.
Some pictures of Illuminares, Vancouver's annual latern festival.
Some pictures of The Symphony of Fire, Vancouver's annual fireworks competition.
A video from my second trip to Vegas in the year 2000. Sad, that.
And more, to be dusted off.