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Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

The end

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A head injury took out the part of my brain that cared about politics. That’s how I’m choosing to narrativize it, anyway; but I’ve wanted out for a long time, and the recent examples of the awful epistemological standards of internet discourse only made that stronger. Given that many people are susceptible to hoaxes that reinforce their worldview, the proper thing to do is to assume that you are as well.

I only started following politics because of the Anton-Wilsonian argument that (to summarize) one ought to follow many mutually exclusive perspectives to gain an understanding of ‘reality tunnels’, but these days that’s an infohazard. It’s easy to get sucked in, and hard to get out.

Besides, blogging won’t make your communities better.

Written by nydwracu

July 9, 2016 at 21:42

Posted in politics

On hate

with 5 comments

This article was originally written in 2014. 

Hate is an interesting term. A hater, one who hates, may want to avoid interaction with members of the hated elthede, may complain of the problems with them and with interacting with them, may claim there are just too many of them around himor may advance pseudoscientific theories claiming that members of the elthede are mentally deficient, or say they’re all disgusting miscreants who are literally devoid of independent thought and who ought to be imprisoned en masse for identifying with the hated elthede, or advocate the total destruction of the elthede’s identity, or just write or listen to songs that go, “Kill them all! Kill them all!”

In the context of American politics, who is a hater? If you are told that someone hates, or affiliates with hate groups, what comes to mind? What inferences can you draw? Which party, for example, do you think they would be more likely to vote for?

To answer this question, you must answer the questions of membershipwho is a hater?and of prototypicality.

Under the classical model of semantic categorization, a category consists of a set of properties, and all objects that have those properties are equal members of the category. A bachelor is an unmarried man, so all unmarried men are bachelors, and all unmarried men are equally bachelors.

This model gives rise to all sorts of problemsthe Sorites paradox, absence of fuzzy concepts, and so on—but the important one here is the problem of prototypicality: some members of a category come to mind more easily than others, and are taken as more central to the category.

Think of a piece of furniture. If you’re an average Westerner, you probably thought of a chair, a table, or a sofa, not a barstool, a hammock, or a kotatsu. All are types of furniture, but chairs and tables are more central to the categorymore prototypical. Barstools, hammocks, and kotatsu are types of furniture, but they don’t come to mind as quickly.

Prototypicality is connected to not only the commonness of an object, but the presence or absence in that object of properties held to be prototypical: flightless birds are less prototypical in the category ‘bird’ than birds that can fly, and furniture that actively does something, like a kotatsu or a massage chair, is less prototypical in the category ‘furniture’ than furniture with no active function, like a chair or a barstool. (Wikipedia lists things like pinball machines and video game consoles as types of furniture; do you agree?)

Language is not an objective thing existing in the Platonic realm of forms, but an abstraction, a cluster-in-thingspace over individual idiolects; similarly, prototypes and prototypical properties are not objective forms, but abstractions over individual judgments, which are affected by individual environments. Someone who has spent all their life in a society that does not use chairs would not consider chairs to be a prototypical type of furniture; someone who has spent all their life in a place with no robins or sparrows would not consider robins or sparrows to be prototypical birds.

It’s not just prototypicality: membership may also vary, and its variance implies factors causing it to vary. One may not recognize the ad hominem or the slippery slope as a fallacy before it is pointed out as a fallacy, from a source taken to be authoritative on fallacies. And after it is pointed out, its membership may be contested: some virtue ethicists have argued that ad hominem is not necessarily a fallacy, and the concept of the Schelling fence argues that slippery slope is not necessarily a fallacy.

Membership-variance in certain categories, like fallacy, is naturally going to be contested due to the ideographic implications of membership or non-membership. (A trivial example: an argument over whether or not a thing is a member of the category things that are racist.) For Marcus Arvan to argue that beliefs that correlate with aspects of the Dark Triad should be dismissed on the basis of that correlation, he first has to argue either that his dismissal argument is not an ad hominem or that ad hominem is not necessarily a fallacy; otherwise it pattern-matches to ad hominem, which pattern-matches to fallacy, and membership of an argument in the category fallacy allows dismissal of that argument.

How does contestation of prototypicality and membership work? Since both prototypicality and membership are abstractions over individual judgments, the goal of contestation is to shift individual judgments in the desired direction.

Contestation or implementation of judgment-shifting policies may not be consciously motivated by a desire to shift judgments. Furniture stores form a part of my environment, but they don’t sell pinball machines or video game consoles. If they did, I’d be more likely to consider pinball machines and video game consoles types of furniture, since furniture stores are authorities on furniture. If I got into an argument with someone about whether pinball machines are furniture, and furniture stores sold pinball machines, I could cite that fact as evidence that pinball machines are furniture. The furniture stores would not intend to redefine the category furniture to include pinball machines (or redefine pinball machines to be a type of furniture)—they’d just be responding to the profit motive—but their response to the profit motive would have the effect of shifting our judgments about whether pinball machines are furniture.

The point is that prototypicality and membership may be contested, and that there are benefits/incentives to doing so, as Arvan’s example shows: his argument pattern-matches to a fallacy, so he has to break the match. The same principle can apply in reverse: it can be beneficial to set up a connection between an instance (or a category) and a patternespecially when the pattern to be matched is an ideograph, when the pattern holds some connotational (good vs. bad) or exosemantic (thedish vs. elthedish, like us vs. like the enemy) valence.

Prototypicality matters because it’s how we think: categories may have formal definitions, set up with necessary and sufficient conditions and set out in authorities that one may appeal to, but actual judgments may differ from those definitions nevertheless. A sandwich technically consists of food between two pieces of bread, but open-face sandwiches and pita sandwiches are sandwiches even though they only have one piece of bread—and what about hamburgers? As one poster in the link put it: “Yeah, technically they are…but I wouldn’t say they are”. Hamburgers meet the formal definition of sandwiches, but are still not considered sandwiches.

It may be that categories are shaped through comparison of features with those of the prototypes; it may also be that they are shaped through comparison of features with already-existing members. The difference doesn’t really matter here. Botanically, tomatoes and cucumbers are fruits, but the prototypical fruits are sweet, are eaten either by themselves or in fruit salads, and can be made into jams or pies, whereas the prototypical vegetables are not sweet, are eaten either on sandwiches, in salads, or in cooked dishes, and cannot be made into jams or pies. Tomatoes and cucumbers are not sweet, are put on sandwiches, and cannot be made into jams or pies, so they’re considered vegetables. (For tomatoes, see Nix v. Hedden.)

Here is an article on the Daily Beast about “hate music”an informative case study in category-membership.

In the aftermath of the killing spree, the volume has been turned up on the music scene that appears to have fostered Page’s beliefs, a shadowy corner of the punk-rock universe—also known as white-power music, hatecore, or hate rock—that has existed in semi-obscurity since the ‘80s. The genre promotes a kind of racial apartheid and appeals to a tiny but rage-prone audience that often, in turn, fights viciously within its own community. According to the Anti-Defamation League, hate music stands as “one of the most significant ways neo-Nazis attempt to attract young people into their movement.”

The suspected shooter reportedly performed at white power and neo-Nazi skinhead festivals such as 2010’s Independent Artist Uprise Fest in Baltimore and Georgia’s Hammerfest, one of the largest hatecore-skewing festivals in America. Heidi Beirich, Intelligence Project Director for the Southern Poverty Law Center, described the event as “like the Lollapalooza or the Ozzfest of hate.” …

The immersion in hate music appears to have influenced Page’s worldview enough to compel him to acquire several large neo-Nazi tattoos.

Beirich says the genre actively encourages hate crimes. “The lyrics tend to be really explicit in urging the commission of acts of violence targeting minorities,” she said. “[The genre] is associated with the most violent part of the white-supremacist movement.”

Hate music, in other words, is neo-Nazi, and advocates white power, and the commission of acts of violence targeting minorities.

When I wrote the first part of this post, I had a specific song in mind. The chorus of this particular song has only one line; that one line contains the word “kill” immediately adjacent to the word “all”, followed by the name of a thede. The band that wrote it also wrote another song, which begins, “It’s okay, allow yourself a little hate…” The album on which the latter song appeared made it to the top of the Billboard independent album charts.

The band that wrote it would never be described as hate music. This should be obvious: the top of the chart is not “semi-obscurity”. But isn’t that interesting? Hate music is music advocating hate, but music advocating hate is not necessarily hate music.

————

What is required to shift or create general judgment of prototypicality? What is required to shift or create general judgment of membership?

General judgment is an abstraction over individual judgments, so these questions break down into two parts. First: what is required to shift or create an individual judgment? Second: what is required to shift or create individual judgments on a mass scale?

The second question is easy to answer: to shift or create individual judgments on a mass scale requires the ability to reach a mass of individuals in whom to shift or create judgments.

The first question is similar to that of the operations of magic, and many of the same terms apply. An individual judgment can be shifted through reinforcementjuxtaposition of the object and the category, as with the pinball machine in the furniture storeand it can be created through the invention of a category to hold the object, or the redefinition of an existing category, the creation of an argument for or against the membership of the object in the category.

There’s an important difference between reinforcement and redefinition: redefinition draws attention to itself, makes itself explicit, whereas reinforcement operates in the background and takes it for granted that the reader already gets the point. The Daily Beast article does not argue that hate music is equivalent to neo-Nazi white power music; it just says it. Reinforcement implies that the author believes the reader to already share the judgment; redefinition implies that he does not. When Mencius Moldbug argues that the prevailing political belief-system in America is “super-Protestant”, he cites a 1942 Time article that described a “super-Protestant” foreign policythat reinforced the membership of the policy points listed in the article in the category of things that are super-Protestant, and therefore implied that, in 1942, the writers of Time thought not only that the points listed were members of the category, but also that the readers would already share that judgment.

Those are the operations; who can apply them? It’s possible to read an article that reinforces the connection between the pop music industry and the Illuminati without buying the reinforcement, so clearly these can’t be applied by anyone to anyone.

Reinforcement is easier if the judgment being reinforced fits with what the reader already thinks, either in the literal sense (if your parents, your friends, and your teachers tell you that Kim Jong-il can control the weather, you’ll probably believe it when the newspaper reinforces that belief; if your parents, your friends, and your teachers tell you that the weather is a natural process that can’t be controlled, but the newspaper reinforces the belief that Kim Jong-il can control the weather, you’ll cancel your subscription) or in the sense of extension from already-held beliefs (if your parents, your friends, and your teachers all reinforce the belief that Kim Jong-il can control the weather, you’ll be more likely to believe it when the newspaper mentions in passing that he also invented the hamburger than you would if your parents, your friends, and your teachers all tell you that Kim Jong-il was a bumbling tyrant who manufactured outlandish propaganda about himself). This is also the case for redefinition.

Reinforcement and redefinition are also easier if the reader judges the speaker to be credible or authoritative. The whole point of the mainstream media is that it’s widely considered to be authoritative. (The Cathedral is called the Cathedral because it speaks ex cathedra.) Remember the pinball machine and the furniture store: furniture stores would be considered authorities on furniture, so if furniture stores sold pinball machines, one could point to that fact as evidence that pinball machines are furniture. Also remember Nix v. Hedden: that the Supreme Court ruled that tomatoes are vegetables is evidence that tomatoes are vegetables. As is obvious by the fact that tomatoes are botanically defined as fruits, category membership need not have anything to do with the formal definition of the category.

As for the results of a shift: when the operation has been donewell, what is the goal? The goal is to shape a judgment, to define or redefine a category, its prototypicality, and its membership. If this goal is met, if the shift is successfully carried out, the category, its prototypicality, and its membership will be (re)defined.

————

NOFX is not a hate band. NOFX wrote a song that begins, “It’s okay, allow yourself a little hate”; they also wrote a song titled “Kill All the White Man”. But NOFX is not a hate band.

Brian Leiter is not a philosopher of hate. Brian Leiter fulminates on his blog against “the Right-Wing Blob” whose members are “fascist thugs” who are “literally devoid of independent thought, they are just bits of slime that ooze off the Blob when the Blob is poked”; he says that “these sick, sick people need to be caged” and approvingly excerpts an Amiri Baraka poem that ends with a call to imprison Republicans en masse. But Brian Leiter is not a philosopher of hate.

Hate has a definition. NOFX and Brian Leiter both fit the definition. Sandwich also has a definition, but hamburgers are not sandwiches.

The prototypical meat-containing sandwich (I specify meat-containing because, to me, the prototypical sandwich is peanut butter and jelly) contains either cold cuts or thinly-sliced meat. Hamburgers fit the definition of sandwiches, but their meat is neither cold nor thinly sliced. The prototypical meat-containing sandwich is sold in sandwich shops; hamburgers are not sold in sandwich shops, but in burger shops. The prototypical sandwich is put on either slices of bread from a loaf or a hoagie roll; hamburgers are put on burger buns. Hamburgers fit the formal definition, but are far from the prototype and don’t match up in the relevant characteristics.

The prototypical hater is Hitler. Hitler was a right-wing extremist, in the same sense that the prototypical sandwich contains either cold cuts or thinly-sliced meat on either two slices of bread or a hoagie roll: in both cases, we can reach a great deal of accuracy in categorization by matching the characteristics of the prototype. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich contains no meat, but its contents are placed between two slices of bread; an open-face sandwich usually contains cold cuts (and when it doesn’t, it contains other common sandwich materials, like lettuce and tomatoes), but is on only one slice of bread. In both cases, one characteristic matches with the prototype, so it falls within the category; in a case like a hamburger, which contains a large block of warm ground meat on a burger bun, neither of the characteristics match, so the object is not part of the category.

(For sandwiches, better results would be reached by positing an additional category of absence of rotational symmetry about the horizontal axis, and requiring a match to two of the three categories, to avoid matching Italian wraps, which contain cold cuts. But the accuracy isn’t much better, and this standard would say that sloppy joes are not sandwiches, a judgment with which I intuitively disagree. But the whole point is that definitions don’t work by conditions; this updated pseudoclassicalism is close enough to work well as a useful approximate explanation, but it’s not perfect.)

To reach an approximate explanation of membership in the category of hate, the same test can be applied. Hitler was a right-wing extremist. Left-wing extremists may be considered hateful, like Kamau Kambon; but they are often not. (Communists are not generally considered hateful. Is Noel Ignatiev? I doubt it.) Right-wing moderates are frequently considered hateful: Clarence Thomas, Jezebel solemnly informs us, “fucking hates minorities”. But left-wing moderates like NOFX and Brian Leiter (and isn’t it interesting how easy it is to describe them as moderates?) match neither of the categories, so they are not considered hateful.

Hitler is also the prototype of evil, as the existence of Godwin’s Law demonstrates. One of the reasons why he was so evil is that he was very, very hateful; disapproval of Hitler bleeds over quite naturally into disapproval of hate, and disapproval of hate means disapproval of the Rightnot because of a match with any formal definition, but because of the bleeding-over of disapproval onto characteristics of the thing disapproved of, whether or not those characteristics are actually relevant. (The mustache is also disapproved of, but there is nothing connecting the mustache to evil other than Hitler.)

Brian Leiter is not hateful, even though he is. Clarence Thomas is hateful, even though he is not. Leftists are not hateful, even when they are; rightists are hateful, even when they are not.

Isn’t that interesting?

‘Hate’ is not denotatively applied. Its strict meaning does not correspond to its use. It’s prototypical, not definitional. Human concepts usually are.

There’s no convention yet for separating out denotative meaning from connotation and exosemantics, so let “hate”, with double-quotes, refer strictly to the denotative meaning, and hate refer to the rest of the word. Is there any evidence to determine whether, say, Clarence Thomas is “hateful”? That is: is there any evidence that he “dislikes intensely or passionately; feels extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detests” any particular group?

What evidence does Jezebel give?

Thomas goes out of his way to make life more difficult for black people. Hey, are you a black guy who was convicted and put on death row because the prosecutor purposefully hid exonerating evidence from your lawyer? Go fuck yourself, says Thomas. Are you a racial minority who wants to attend college? Eat this shit, courtesy of Clarence Thomas. Yesterday, Thomas went out of his way to point out that he would strike down affirmative action if given the chance even though no one asked him to rule on that issue. He just wanted to make sure you knew he fucking hates minorities!

When you follow the trail of links back to the source, here’s what turns up.

Thomas argues that before Grutter, the court had only twice approved racial discrimination. First inKorematsu v. United States in 1944, when it cited national security to uphold an evacuation order for all those with Japanese ancestry, and then in 1986 when it said in Wygant v. Jackson Bd. of Ed that the government “has a compelling interest in remedying past discrimination for which it is responsible.”

Thomas argues that Grutter doesn’t fit within those “strict-scrutiny” precedents and so it should be overturned.

Jezebel doesn’t think that there’s any possible reason motivating this other than hate. There are many possible reasons that don’t involve “hate”for example, a belief that the argument is actually rightbut, at least to Jezebel, there is no possible reason that doesn’t involve hate. One may assumeand assumptions of this sort are only made stronger by the recent Hobby Lobby rulingthat there is a direct and immediate emotional association between Clarence Thomas, his position, or his wing of the Court and hate.

(The structures underlying this are unimportant for the purpose of establishing that there is, in [at least Brahmin] American culture, a direct association from right-wing to hate. So they will not be addressed here.)

If you have been raised in Brahmin culture, you can make use of the method of introspection, as is described here:

I have never had or seen anything like the “red flags” response to socialism. If I saw a crowd of young, fashionable people lining up at the box office for a hagiographic biopic on Reinhard Heydrich, chills would run up and down my neck. For Ernesto Guevara, I have no emotional response. Perhaps I think it’s stupid and sad. I do think it’s stupid and sad. But it doesn’t freak me out.

Some friends of mine live on a street in Brooklyn where there is a Black Muslim storefront with TVs in the window, broadcasting Louis Farrakhan’s Jew-hating black nationalism 24/7. To get from their compound to the subway, you need to go past a little taste of Rev. Louis. Should this freak me out? Should I see “red flags?”

Maybe I should. But I don’t.

Do you think the author of that Jezebel article sees red flags around Clarence Thomas? It sure sounds like it. I’ve seen people see red flags around Scalia. As for the examples above, the consensus about Nazism is that it’s indisputably evil and definitely worthy of as many red flags as possible, and the consensus about Communism is that it was well-intentioned: good in theory, but, unfortunately, bad in practice, and also Che Guevara is really cool. Some people see red flags around the USSR; very few see red flags around Che. And nobody sees red flags around NOFX. “Kill all the white man!”

If you generalize from individual judgments to the general judgments of a society (in the same manner that one generalizes from idiolects to dialects), you begin to see patterns. Hitler, the Klan, Clarence Thomas, the Hobby Lobby ruling, and evangelical Christianity on one side; Che Guevara, NOFX, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Roe v. Wade, Louis Farrakhan, and Unitarian Universalism on the other.

The pattern should be obvious.

Written by nydwracu

June 29, 2016 at 09:53

Posted in politics

A case study in American Communism

with 10 comments

Born in 1945, Lee [Felsenstein] grew up in the Strawberry Mansion section of Philadelphia, a neighborhood of row homes populated by first- and second-generation Jewish immigrants. His mother was the daughter of an engineer who had invented an important diesel fuel injector, and his father, a commercial artist, had worked in a locomotive plant. Later, in an unpublished autobiographical sketch, Lee would write that his father Jake “was a modernist who believed in the ‘perfectability’ of man and the machine as the model for human society. In play with his children he would often imitate a steam locomotive as other men would imitate animals.”

… His father Jake’s political adventures as a member of the Communist Party had ended in the mid-fifties when infighting led to Jake’s losing his post as district organizer, but politics were central to the family. Lee participated in marches on Washington, D.C. at the age of twelve and thirteen, and once picketed Woolworth’s in an early civil rights demonstration.

… After graduation, he went to the University of California at Berkeley to matriculate in Electrical Engineering. … He got … a work-study job at NASA’s Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, at the edge of the Mohave Desert. To Lee, it was admission to Paradise—the language people spoke there was electronics, rocket electronics, and the schematics he had studied would now be transmogrified into the stuff of science fiction come alive. … Then, after two months of that “seventh heaven,” as he later called it, he was summoned to a meeting with a security officer.

The officer seemed ill at ease. He was accompanied by a witness to the proceedings. The officer kept notes and had Lee sign each page as he finished it. He also had the form Lee had filled out upon entering Edwards, Security Form 398. The officer kept asking Lee if he knew anyone who was a member of the Communist Party. And Lee kept saying no. Finally he asked, in a gentle voice, “Don’t you understand that your parents were Communists?”

Lee had never been told. He had assumed that “Communist” was just a term—red-baiting—that people flung at activist liberals like his parents. His brother had known—his brother had been named after Stalin!—but Lee had not been told. He had been perfectly honest when he filled out Form 398 with a clear “no” on the line that asked if you knew any known Communists.

Steven Levy, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution

Written by nydwracu

May 18, 2013 at 04:29

Posted in politics

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