We are living through a time of online outrage and increasing irrationalism, and the combination has not been a happy one for public discussion. Generally, shallow emotion seems to be in the driving seat for many keyboard warriors: not the slow burn of genuine anger that fuels the prolonged, difficult pursuit of a worthwhile goal, but rather a feel-good performative outrage whose main expression is typing furious snark onto a computer screen before switching over to Netflix. [emphasis added]
Material Girls, by Kathleen Stock.
And applicable to a lot more than the topic of her excellent book. Sometimes, it takes a philosopher to spell out exactly what people are saying. She also introduced me to the reverse Voltaire from Mary Leng
I agree with what you have to say, but will fight to the death to prevent you from saying it.
Some words from Edward Said, quoted in Adam Shatz’s review of Places of Mind: A Life of Edward Said by Timothy Brennan. Ever more timely.
Victimhood, alas, does not guarantee or necessarily enable an enhanced sense of humanity,’ he said. ‘To testify to a history of oppression is necessary, but it is not sufficient unless that history is redirected into intellectual process and universalised to include all sufferers.’ He went on:
It does not finally matter who wrote what, but rather how a work is written and how it is read. The idea that because Plato and Aristotle are male and the products of a slave society they should be disqualified from receiving contemporary attention is as limited an idea as suggesting that only their work, because it was addressed to and about elites, should be read today. Marginality and homelessness are not, in my opinion, to be gloried in; they are to be brought to an end, so that more, and not fewer, people can enjoy the benefits of what has for centuries been denied the victims of race, class or gender.
The idea that education is ‘best advanced by focusing principally on our own separateness, our own ethnic identity, culture and traditions’ struck him as a kind of apartheid pedagogy, implying that ‘subaltern, inferior or lesser races’ were ‘unable to share in the general riches of human culture’. Identity was ‘as boring a subject as one can imagine’; what excited him was the interaction of different identities and the promise – the ‘risk’ – of universality.
But after completing medical training, Sacks fled the homophobic confines of his nation and family—his mother had called him “an abomination.” Paul Theroux tells Burns that Sacks’s “great luck” was ending up in Los Angeles in 1960, where he found ample “guys, weights, drugs, and hospitals.”
Advance requires those who can imagine new spaces, and medicine is even more hostile today than it was all those years ago. We pretend otherwise, thinking those tick-box courses will suffice, but real diversity of intellect is the touchstone of our future.
At the same time, Vox found ways of reaching groups of voters who were disgruntled by other aspects of modern life that the mainstream parties weren’t addressing. Think about how record companies put together new pop bands: they do market research, they pick the kinds of faces that match, and then they market the band by advertising it to the most favourable demographic. New political parties now operate like that: you can bundle together issues, repackage them, and then market them, using exactly the same kind of targeted messaging – based on exactly the same kind of market research – that you know has worked in other places. The ingredients of Vox were the leftover issues, the ones the others had ignored or underrated, such as opposition to Catalan and Basque separatism; opposition to same-sex marriage; opposition to feminism; opposition to immigration, especially Muslim immigration… It wasn’t an ideology on offer, it was an identity: carefully curated, packaged for easy consumption, queued up and ready to be “boosted” by a viral campaign.
Anne Applebaum in the Twilight of Democracy. Her description of Boris Johnson — her once fellow traveller — is well worth a read; I am glad the lawyers thought so too.
Yes, a big word. From a review by Martin Wolf of Anne Applebaum’s Twilight of Democracy. Just pencil in your favourite organisation or person.
Her theme is not just this split. It is about the role of intellectuals in supporting the would-be despots. In this, she follows Julien Benda, author of a classic book, La trahison des clercs (1927). Benda’s target were the ideologues of his time, whom he accused, in Applebaum’s words, “of betraying the central task of the intellectual, the search for truth, in favor of particular political causes”.
How did people she knew come to support these new authoritarians? One answer, is “resentment, revenge and envy”. Replacing people of talent and principles with mediocrities who will do anything for success has never been difficult. Finding greedy people happy to join a corrupt new business elite is just as simple. She describes perceptively people who have done such things.
His younger co-workers, with their zippy metabolisms and surplus collagen, started referring to him as “the elder.”
“I hope the lesson will really be that we can’t afford as a society to create the fire brigade once the house is on fire. We need that fire brigade ready all the time hoping that it never has to be deployed.”
Peter Piot 1
No just in time here. It’s in the statistical tails that dragons lurk and reputations are shattered. Chimes with a quote from Stewart Brand that I posted a short while back.
Education is intellectual infrastructure. So is science. They have very high yield, but delayed payback. Hasty societies that can’t span those delays will lose out over time to societies that can. On the other hand, cultures too hidebound to allow education to advance at infrastructural pace also lose out.
Defining the appropriate probability space is often a non-trivial bit of statistics. It is often where you have to end up leaving statistics and formal reasoning behind. The following quote puts this in a more bracing manner.
There are no lobby groups for companies that do not exist.
The same goes for research and so much of what makes the future captivating.
Some quotes from William Gibson in an interview with the FT
“we’re looking at the collapse of the only liveable planetary ecosystem we know of anywhere”.
He fears that the world’s FQ — or F***edness Quotient, as he calls it — is rising to a worrying degree.
And this one gets you
If I could learn one thing about the future,” he says, “I would want to know what they think of us because that would tell me everything I’d want to know about them.”
Zuckerberg also said the company will not be changing its policies that allow lying in paid political advertisements.
‘Today’s meritocratic ideology glorifies entrepreneurs and billionaires. At times this glorification seems to know no bounds. Some people seem to believe that Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and Mark Zuckerberg single-handedly invented computers, books, and friends.’
Thomas Piketty, Capital and Ideology. p713
In the closing lines of The Protestant Ethic, Weber described the typical capitalists of his own time as mediocrities much like the stunted creatures that Nietzsche had called “the last men.” A world populated by such soulless beings ran not on individual initiative but on the imperatives of the system: “Today,” Weber wrote,
this mighty cosmos determines, with overwhelming coercion, the style of life not only of those directly involved in business but of every individual who is born into this mechanism, and may well continue to do so until the day when the last ton of fossil fuel has been consumed. [emphasis added]
Peter Gordon adds, ‘Those final lines were prescient.’
This is from Larry Page of Google (quoted in “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power” by Shoshana Zuboff)
CEO Page surprised a convocation of developers in 2013 by responding to questions from the audience, commenting on the “negativity” that hampered the firm’s freedom to “build really great things” and create “interoperable” technologies with other companies: “Old institutions like the law and so on aren’t keeping up with the rate of change that we’ve caused through technology. . . . The laws when we went public were 50 years old. A law can’t be right if it’s 50 years old, like it’s before the internet.” When asked his thoughts on how to limit “negativity” and increase “positivity,” Page reflected, “Maybe we should set aside a small part of the world . . . as technologists we should have some safe places where we can try out some new things and figure out what is the effect on society, what’s the effect on people, without having to deploy kind of into the normal world.
As for his comments on safe spaces, I agree. There are plenty of empty planets left.