Thursday, March 28, 2019

Jordan Peterson's "12 Rules", well, the executive summary, and the Lobster Metaphor (and "Clean Your Room")

I recently bought a paperback copy of Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” (2018).  There has been a lot of controversy about this book being "banned" by some sellers in New Zealand and other places (video). 

Well, I thought I did.  The original book from Random House Canada runs over 400 pages.  What I actually bought was a booklet from the Executive Growth Summaries for Personal Growth series. It runs 80 pages with ISBN 978-172598071-6.  This apparently is not written by Peterson himself. 

Nevertheless, the summary gives you enough to demonstrate the controversy. On page xi, it gives you a QR code to point your smartphone camera at to open a link with the 12 rules.

Furthermore, when I picked up my copy at a UPS store, the teenager working there pointed out to me that Amazon or the UPS driver had opened it “by mistake”.  Spying on someone for buying “right wing” literature?

 A few of the points help demonstrate the controversy.

The most disturbing to some people is the first one, “stand up straight”.  Peterson gets into a metaphor about the life of a male lobster to develop his idea that social hierarchy in nature is essential for anything to work. He sees it as almost a mathematical axiom. But roughly speaking, this sounds like a justification of authoritarianism and “ranking” or “rightsizing” people, a preoccupation of both fascism and communism (as in China today with the idea of a “social credit score”).  This observation might have motivated the 2015 satirical movie “The Lobster”, from director Yorgos Lanthimos, where single people are forced to find partners or be turned into beasts.

Point #6 is the “clean your room” idea, get your own life in order no matter how “unfair” the world has been to you. That call for unconditional self-discipline has drawn a lot of anger and indignation, to say the least.   This sounds like my essay “Assimilate (or join a resistance and assimilate)” or my father’s dictum “to obey is better than to sacrifice”.
Point #12 suggests we have a lot to learn from animals, more from cats (for their independence) than dogs.  It is certainly very good for teenagers to have experiences with wilder animals, and learn communication skills with beings that are a lot smarter (about their own worlds) than we realize. 
Martin Goldberg is very critical of Peterson’s hyperindividualism in his own “clean your room” video, and says people need to be open to joining others with collective activism, sometimes. 
It's not clear how Peterson replies to bullying.

It's interesting that Peterson grew up in a remote town even north of Edmonton, Alberta (the edge of civilization at the West Edmonton Mall).

Wikipedia attribution link for photo of lobsters in a supermarket tank in CT (CCSA 4.0)

Friday, March 22, 2019

Time gives detailed and sympathetic coverage of Octavio-Cortez

Here is Charlotte Alter’s lengthy Time portrayal of Alexandria Octavia-Cortez’s rising, “Change Is Closer than you Think”.

Yet on Friday morning, Tim Pool launched an angry tweet at the author of the article, not at Cortez. 

Ocasio-Cortez sounds aggressive, and willing to threaten Marxist style expropriation to put people who don’t deserve to be where they are in their right places.  That is sort of what Maoism was about. That could affect people like me, maybe like shutting down Social Security on means testing, or maybe tying Internet use to social credit someday. 

Yet there is an argument that a non-capital model for productivity can work within the context of localism, as some intention communities (like Twin Oaks in Central Virginia) are showing.
There is something else about Pool’s (and perhaps Martin Goldberg’s) uncompromising intellectualism (how many of his videos end “you know I’m right”) that gets put in a place in this article on Medium by Ryan Holiday, "It’s not enough to be right, you have to be kind" where he says “you can’t reason people out of positions they didn’t reason themselves into.”  Haque recently compared democratic socialism to “your local record store” as opposed to YouTube. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Atlantic offers major articles on John Bolton (national security advisor) and on pragmatic immigration policy

April 2019 issue of The Atlantic offers to important articles.

On p, 44, Graeme Wood asks “Will John Bolton Bring on Armageddon or Stave It Off? Bolton brought some fear when McMaster was ousted in March 2018, and became national security adviser on April 9. Bolton was said to have a very hawkish reputation, and wanted to tear up past agreements, as with Iran.

Trump had left the impression that he might do a “bloody nose” attack on North Korea, but after the winter Olympics he rather suddenly softened his position, leading to the summits in Singapore and recently Hanoi.

Bolton, in a recent interview on CNN, said that the “failed” Hanoi talks may not that bad – he still thinks that Trump’s offering an eventually more prosperous economy, at least for the Communist elite in North Korea, would be in Kim Jong Un’s best interest and safest for the U.S.  Trump, a few times in mid 2018, actually said that his buttering up Kim was necessary to prevent possible (nuclear) war now.

Bolton (from Baltimore, a “blue” city) has been described as OK on social issues, like supporting gay marriage.

On p. 64, David Frum (photo work by Oliver Munday and Patrick White), asks “How Much Immigration Is Too Much?  (Online his subtitle is, “If liberals won’t enforce borders, fascists will”.)  Frum, normally conservative, is quite objective on the various ways immigration policy would affect various subgroups of Americans, and his arguments are quite double-edged.

Generally, increasing legal immigration would help wealthier Americans but could hurt some low-wage Americans.  It’s quite true that lower-wage (and sometimes undocumented) immigrants do the labor-intensive, manual jobs Americans don’t want to do, including housekeeping and particularly caregiving. Increase legal immigration will improve economic growth, even as native born Americans have lower birth rates (which is sometimes an ideological weapon of the alt-right).

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Again, the Christchurch incident gives the idea of a "manifesto" a bad name

Indeed, I do have a tag “objectionable books” on this blog, and this includes “manifestos” of a few notorious criminals.

OK, the author is apparently Brenton Tarrant, one of three people charged in the Christchurch attack. I read the 74 page screed on Document Cloud;  it now gives a 403-forbidden. (Elliot Rodger’s is still there and accessible.)

The manifesto also refers to a 1500-page screed by Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik,

Given the notoriety, I won’t give the links and determined users can probably find them.  I personally think that users need to know how people like this think, so it should be available in archives. Students need to know what "great replacement" means, even if the idea is repulsive.  Kaczynski’s has long been online.

There are stories Sunday afternoon that the prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand had received an email with the manifesto about 10 minutes before the attack but had no idea where it would be.

The important point to note about this document is the way it manipulates the reader into feeling that some fake points and false leads need to be reacted to. The author wavers between ethnic nationalist fascism, and outright communism.

A detailed analysis by Aja Romano on Vox explains the manifesto as a “shitpost”.  Ford Fischer (owner of News2Share) had explained the concept in a Facebook post Friday morning.

But the term "shitposting" usually refers to placing spam-like posts in a forum to disrupt it. Back in 1998, the Libertarian Party of Minnesota used a listserver (a predecessor to today's social networks) that one person kept disrupting with rude comments derogatory of other people. There was also an Independent Gay Forum around 2000, managed from Washington DC by someone associated with GLIL (Gays and Lesbians for Individual Liberty) that experienced these kinds of problems. When applied to one booklet-length post or long essay, it would seem to imply to illogical flow of argument intended to distract the reader or intimidate the reader -- which would seem to fit with the idea of emailing it to authorities to taunt police before committing a crime. But it could also be just an "English 101" composition problem. "Qz" has an article on the practice and says "don't" and even maintains that everyone has to take moral responsibility for the effect of their speech on less savvy or educated users.
One of the most alarming aspects was his naming others (besides Breivik) as “inspiring” him (starting with PewDiePie) although soon it is apparent this becomes a “joke”.  This could be dangerous to an Internet personality without not enough popularity and clout.  It also contributes to the (socially Marxist) notion that speakers are partially responsible when unstable people connect them with their crimes.

The shitpost idea also brings back a persistent problem that was controversial on the internet ten years ago – spam blogs –  their detection (sometimes with false positives) got a lot of attention in the summer of 2008.

Update: March 23

According to USA Today, New Zealand has made possession of copies of the manifesto illegal, pretty much the way US law would treat child pornography. Personally, I don't approve of "banning" any political material at all, however objectionable, because others need to know how this person thought.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Atlantic discusses discoveries about multipartite viruses; why they could make fodder for doomsday science fiction (they may be really common on alien worlds)

The Atlantic has a new science essay by Ed Yong that looks, at least in science fiction, to have possibly sudden and explosive impact on public health someday in an asymmetric fashion.

The piece is “A New Discovery Upends What We Know AboutViruses” with the subtext “a plant virus distributes its genes into eight separate segments that can all reproduce, even if they infect different cells”.

Generally, plants have the potential to be larger than animals (like California redwood trees) and some fungi even larger still (like a fungus underground in Michigan that has the DNA for the same organism for 37 miles). It has been speculated that on other worlds, it may well happen that single-“paper sheet” organism population species exist (like on Titan), with cells hundreds of miles apart (a little like slime molds).
So it could be useful for a “multipartite” virus to split into parts so it can produce separate infections in separate kinds of cells feet apart.

Since many plants have cell walls, the idea that they can spread more easily than in animals is hard to grasp.

These viruses are rare in animals, although they have been found in some insects – moths and mosquitoes. Already you see where this can head – arthropod transmission to higher animals, maybe mammals and people.  Is it true that “there is always a first time?”  Quantum theory says, well, “yeth”.

A virus that could split into different viruses might be sexually transmitted sometimes, and airborne other times – imagine the apocalyptic nightmare from the 1980s had this been possible with a certain retrovirus.  It didn’t happen. Or it might produce varied kinds of diseases, where eliminating one kind with a drug or even environmental change (as in my novel) allows another to flourish, and we don’t know about it.  In fact, Truman Bradley's "Science Fiction Theater" back in the 1950s predicted that a virus could change a human into a plant.

Multipartite viruses have a very specific meaning in the world of computer malware.

Martin Goldberg (“Economic Invincibility”) recently said in a video that he was working on a sci-fi novel and the idea would be shocking.  Is this his idea?  It’s already in my “Angel’s Brother”.  Maybe he has something credible that is even more shocking.  Bird flu is already trite.

Monday, March 11, 2019

"Your Brain on Nationalism" in Foreign Affairs (Sapolsky)

The early Spring (March-April, 2019) issue of “Foreign Affairs” has a major piece on tribalism by Nicholas Sapolsky, “Your Brain on Nationalism: The Biology of Us and Them”.

The picture shows a chimpanzee at the Singapore Zoo.  Indeed, chimpanzees (not bonobos) are fiercely tribal and their social organizations are geared for conflict with rival groups.

His article stresses that humans, with even larger brains, are able to belong to more that one group at the same time. Besides setting the stage for intersectionality, it creates new opportunities and challenges for cooperation.

Tribalism is relative.  There’s a video of a cat encountering an octopus on a pier. My own inclination was to “bond” mentally with the cat, who is more like me than an invertebrate octopus (whose intelligence is actually comparable). Race, based on the most superficial of characteristics that first develop when populations are isolated from one another, still generate tribal feelings of us and them.  Many people, myself included, could not imagine sexual desire for someone of a different race.

But nationalism is more than just ordinary tribalism, it is aggregate tribalism, that set up the modern state system.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Time: "The Science of Memory": what makes a person

Highly recommended from the supermarket is the Time booklet “The Science of Memory: The Story of our Lives”.  The subtitle is “Build a Sharper Mind; Erase Bad Memories; What Animals Recall”. The editor is Edward Feisenthal, for 96 pages.  There are four chapters with many sections.

On p. 22, there is a short piece “An Elephant Never Forgets” (Courtney Mifsud), which explains why for a pachyderm, the elephant has intelligence and self-identity approaching man.  It’s comparable to cetaceans and apes.  There are other facts: chimpanzees remember some details better than humans.  

When I lived in Dallas in a garden apartment in 1979, I was adopted by a tomcat (“Timmy”), who recognized the sound of my car and ran to my apartment door when he heard it.  He would disappear for a few days and then return, to look after me, bringing trophy birds. He had a rich vocabulary of sounds and at night could come into the bedroom and communicate he needed to go outside for the bathroom.

On p. 67, Joshua Foer describes “The Battle of the Big Brains”, and memory contests. But consider how world chess champion Magnus Carlsen can play multiple simultaneous chess games while blindfolded, even winning complicated endgames. He tells journalists that he is always pondering some theoretical position in his mind all the time.

On p. 42 Su Meck and Daniel de Vise present “A Life Lost to Amnesia”.  In 1988 a ceiling fan fell on Meck, costing her all previous memories. She had both retrograde and anteretrograde amnesia. They recovered only very slowly.

Patrick Rogers, on p. 37, looks at why we forget most of our early childhood memories, even though as toddlers we have them.  My earliest memory may be of my father opening an electric train set when I was 3 on Christmas morning in 1946. I have some kindergarten memories at age 5 (the red chair), but in grade school there is more continuity as I become a person.  To a child or teen, school seems indefinite and time passes slowly, because that’s what he or she knows. School and home is the universe. An older person makes up for lack of quickness and immediacy of short term memory with a rich database of a lifetime of experience, as if one could watch a video of a typical day of any period in one’s life. In the space-time sense, they seem equidistant.

Even during a lucid dream (especially if of a desired intimacy, or of a problematic escape situation) one feels like the same person with the same identity. Then memories of many dreams disappear suddenly unless written down, erased from experience. But some remain for life.

The adult brain is fully formed by age 25.  But how do you explain prodigies?  Jack Andraka not only invented a major medical test at age 15 for science fair; he keeps up with school work even as an undergraduate at Stanford while globetrotting.  Taylor Wilson demonstrating knowledge of physics and engineering to build a fusion reactor (effectively a sun) in his garage at age 14. David Hogg was dyslexic until puberty, when he suddenly blossomed into a teen able (getting started at 17) to lead a revolution against the gun lobby and outwit lobbyists and conservative media personalities, putting some on the ropes.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

"Washington's Golden Age": a biography of Post editor Hope Ridings Miller (preview)

Today, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC was selling copies of Joseph Dalton’s non-fiction biography “Washington’s Golden Age: Hope Ridings Miller, the Society Beat, and the Rise of Women Journalists”.  Dalton is her first cousin twice removed.

Miller was a member of First Baptist Church for years, dying of congestive heart failure in 2005.

Hope became the Washington Post’s society editor in 1937, so she covered society life during the New Deal and then World War II.  Her career at the Post continued through the Lyndon Johnson administration, past the time of Kennedy.  She was the only woman on the Post City desk and edited the Diplomat Magazine.

Here’s a netgallery preview of the book.

The book is published by Rowman and Littlefield. The book comprises sixteen chapters, 238 pages, hardcover.

The former pastor of FBC, Edward H Pruden (pastor until 1969), wrote “Interpreters Needed” in 1951 (Judson) and “A Window on Washington” (Vantage, self-published, 1979).