Later On

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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The lost “Greek” tribe of Alexander the Great

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Paul Raffaele writes in The Critic:

One hundred and twenty-seven years ago, a mysterious Afghan pagan tribe, the Kalash, fled Islamic religious persecution to three secretive valleys in a remote corner of what is now north-western Pakistan. In 1998, when I was visiting Lahore, a Pakistani friend told me that little was known about the Kalash, except that they still lived largely as their people had back in their homeland for more than 2,000 years.

The Kalash, rarely visited by outsiders, claimed descent from Alexander the Great’s troops who had campaigned through their Hindu Kush homeland. In their refuge, they were said to still practice a similar culture and religion to that of ancient Greece, even worshipping Zeus as their paramount god.

In 330BC, Alexander established many cities across what is now Afghanistan — with thousands of his soldiers left to inhabit them, keep order, with his generals to rule them. More than 10,000 of his troops married local women and stayed behind. He gave the cities Greek culture with artists, musicians, architects and artisans. They built outdoor theatres and gymnasiums, and erected countless marble statues of Greek gods.

Nudging the remote north-eastern edge of Afghanistan, the mountain town of Chitral, the provincial capital, was ruled by the ul-Mulk royal family until 1947, when it was swallowed by Pakistan. At breakfast the morning after I arrived in search of the Kalash, Prince Siraj, the grandson of Chitral’s last king, told me that near the turn of the nineteenth century, the entire Kalash tribe of about 50,000 spread across the high mountains of Afghanistan’s Hindu Kush bordering Chitral.

Scorned by Afghan Muslims as kafirs, their homeland was a secluded, mysterious place called Kafiristan, or Land of the Unbelievers. That was where Rudyard Kipling set his epic story, “The Man Who Would Be King”, first published in 1888 in Kipling’s collection of short stories, The Phantom Rickshaw and other Eerie Tales. It was later made into a fanciful but entertaining film. Two rogue British soldiers, played by Michael Caine and Sean Connery, travelled to Kafiristan, where the Connery character is mistaken for a god.

So little was known of the ethnic group in 1888 that the Bombay-born Kipling based his story on vague rumour and his fertile imagination. The movie plunged even further from the truth with John Huston, the director, depicting the Kafirs, or Kalash, as resembling shaven-headed, ancient Egyptian priests clad in white robes.

Towards the nineteenth century’s end, the Sultan of Kabul, Abdur Rahman, brutally put down 40 rebellions during his 21-year reign. Following the gruesome example of the invading Mongols five centuries earlier, he built towers formed from the heads of thousands of defeated rebels who dared challenge him.

In 1895, he turned his attention to the Kalash. He decided their presence in his domain, with their free-wheeling, timeless lifestyle — a religion with multiple carved gods, rampant wine drinking, especially at their bacchanalian religious festivals, and exuberant fornication, even sanctioned adultery — was an abomination, a flagrant public insult to Islam, and thus to himself.

“The Sultan ordered all the Kalash to convert to Islam immediately,” Prince Siraj told me, “if not, he would declare a jihad against the Kafirs, and his troops would slaughter, by beheading, all those who resisted — men, women and even their children.”

Invading Kafiristan, he renamed it Nuristan, Land of the Enlightened, and offered the Kalash a simple choice: convert to Islam immediately or die by the sword. Almost all converted. Those who resisted and were captured, were slaughtered.

Siraj alerted me to an account of the massacre in mountain climber Eric Newby’s classic book A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush. The prince had the . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

10 August 2022 at 12:16 pm

Posted in Books, History, Religion

Planet eBook offers good free ebooks

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Planet eBook, like Standard Ebooks, offers well-edited, carefully proofread ebook editions of a wide variety of classics. However, Planet eBook offers books in just 3 formats — epub, pdf, and mobi whereas Standard Ebooks has more formats, including the native Kindle format.

But if you get ebooks, you certainly should download and install the ebook management app Calibre. Calibre will import your free ebooks (so that if you get a new device, you can upload the books from Calibre to the device), let you edit the metadata, allow you to change the cover art, and — important for users of Planet eBook, convert ebooks from one format to another (e.g., from epub to azw3, the Kindle format).

More info in the ebook section of my list of often-recommended books.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 4:43 pm

Posted in Books, Software, Technology

The Psychology of Killing

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Perhaps it’s an artefact of the algorithms of the streaming services I watch, but TV series involving murder seem to be amazingly easy to fine — not perhaps so common as grass, but maybe as common as roses. In fact, just last night I watched a movie based on a George V. Higgins novel, Cogan’s Trade (which was a sequel to his first novel, The Friends of Eddie Coyle, both eminently worth reading). The 2012 movie, Killing Them Softly, starred Brad Pitt, Richard Jenkins, Ray Liotta, and James Gandolfini, and it was a good watch. (It’s on Primevideo.com up here; apparently not available right now in the US.)

So what causes killing to be so common? FiveBooks.com has an interesting interview with Gwen Adshead, a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist who works in prisons and secure psychiatric hospital providing therapy to violence perpetrators who have mental health problems. In the course of the interview Dr. Adshead recommends five books, as the site name suggests. The interview begins:

Let’s start by looking at the topic you’ve chosen: the psychology of killing. How did you become interested in this area?

I’m a forensic psychiatrist and psychotherapist. A forensic psychiatrist is someone who specialises in the assessment and treatment of people who have offended while they were in some kind of abnormal mental state. There are two questions there: first, the legal question—does this abnormal state affect their legal responsibility?—and secondly, if the offender is mentally ill, do they need to be treated in secure hospital rather than go to prison?. That treatment will be designed to look not only at their mental health, but also their risk to the public.

Mental health problems are rarely a risk factor for crime generally, so a forensic psychiatrist won’t be dealing with people who are committing minor crimes, like shoplifting . We tend only to get involved in crimes of violence, and usually where that violence has been fatal. So most of my working life has involved assessing people who have committed serious acts of violence, or who are threatening to do so. For a long time I ran a therapy group for people who had killed a family member while they were mentally ill. I’ve also been involved in assessing mothers who have been abusive, or are considered at risk of abusing their children.

So this has been my bread and butter for about thirty years—an interest in the mental states that give rise to killing.

The obvious question, to me, is: if one commits murder, does that not indicate that, almost by definition, that the assailant is undergoing an abnormal mental state?

That question has always been of great significance, and one that humans have asked themselves for thousands of years. What is fascinating about humans is the many ways in which we do kill each other. We are one of the few animals that kill each other in different ways. Chimpanzees, for example, do have very serious fights, competitions over power, which can be fatal. And chimpanzee tribes can wage war on other chimpanzee tribes, killing in the process. But killing in the way that we kill appears to be pretty unique. Killing over territory is one thing, but we also kill over money, over politics and in the context of relationship disturbance; and that last context is quite unusual.

For as long as we have had recorded data about humans, we’ve written about the impact of murder. I don’t think there’s legislation in any culture in any age which hasn’t set aside some kind of law or ruling about how and when you can kill somebody, and what should happen to people who kill.

Take the Old Testament. There are rules in there about killing that are very specific. The Ten Commandments separate killing from murder, for example. Traditionally, in many cultures, if you killed somebody, you had to make restitution to their family. That didn’t always mean being killed yourself. Different countries and ethnic groups have had different rules, but all human societies have developed rules about killing, in what circumstances it might be legitimate to kill, and what punishments and sanctions there should be for the different kinds of killing.

The first thing to say about homicide is that it is not all the same. I think that’s one of the things I didn’t understand when I started out. Like anybody else, I thought that all killers must be really odd or mad. That if you killed once, you must be permanently in a homicidal state of mind. But once I began to spend time with people who had killed, I learned that killing is often highly contextual and arises from a specific set factors that are present at that time; which may never occur again. Someone who’s killed their wife in a jealous rage is not likely to be a threat to the general public; although they might be dangerous to future wives, of course.

So does that mean that everyone has the capacity for murder? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

9 August 2022 at 3:10 pm

Teaching for learning in organizations

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I have always been a reader, and when I was working in various organizations over my career, I would (naturally) read books about organizations and how to work effectively in them.

Occasionally, I found a book that struck me as providing excellent guidance. Some of these are listed among the books I find myself repeatedly recommending — for example:

When I found a book that taught me a lot, then to ensure I fully absorbed the ideas, I would teach it. I’d offer to present the material to a few fellow employees. The session — one or two or even three hours — would be a presentation with slides, handouts, and worksheets.

Teaching the material of course deepened my own understanding, and I also gained the benefit of insights from participants’ comments and questions.

Generally after the first teaching session, I would improve and extend the teaching materials (slides, handouts, and worksheets) and then offer a session to another group. Word would get around, and I would end up doing the presentation several times, and in so doing fully absorb and internalize the ideas. (And in fact, I continue doing this — see my posts on Covey’s 7 habits, for example, or on my diet — writing and adding to those has helped me understand them better and has also (I hope) helped my readers.)

Back then, I used this tactic — teaching the essential ideas from a book whose content I wanted to master — fairly often. It was a good way to learn, it seemed to be helpful to others, and I could do it on my own initiative: no permission required. And, of course, it was in my interest for my fellow employees to become better (using the books listed) at making decisions, planning, and negotiating — and it was in their interest as well: a win-win situation.

These books worked especially well because each presents a well-defined process, which means that (a) you know what is to be done, and (b) you know where you are in the process: what is complete and what remains to be done. Other books — the books by Chris Argyris, for example — gave me useful insights but did not lend themselves so well to teaching in the short-session format that I used.

Written by Leisureguy

7 August 2022 at 10:20 am

The war against printing

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Aldus Pius Manutius (1449-1515) an Italian humanist. Engraving by Yenetta, 1880. Credit : Album / Alamy Stock Photo.

Technological progress frequently is met with resistance because almost always such progress involves trade-offs, and for some what is traded off is too central to the enterprise to be discarded. Alexander Lee provides an example in Engelsberg Ideas. He writes:

The pen is a virgin,’ wrote Filippo de Strata in the late fifteenth century, but ‘the printing press is a whore.’ And that wasn’t the half of it. Born into a wealthy Pavian family, Filippo had joined the Dominican Order at a young age and had spent most of his adult life at the convent of San Cipriano, on the Venetian island of Murano. One of the smallest religious communities in the lagoon, it could boast no special intellectual renown, yet its members still attached great importance to the production of manuscripts, and Filippo was no exception. He translated texts from Latin into Italian, copied sermons and biblical commentaries, and even penned a few works of his own. Yet he was also a pompous, even arrogant man, who seemed to be at war with the world around him. His invectives were legion. He attacked the French for spreading heresy among unsuspecting Italians and wrote a rather clunky elegy against the use of organ music in church. But it was printing which attracted the worst of his ire. In a Latin address to Doge Nicolò Marcello, written at some point between August 1473 and December 1474, and in a vernacular poem composed about 20 years later, he lashed out at it with unconcealed hatred. He not only called the press a ‘whore’, but also accused printers of being ‘asses’ — and even asked the Doge to ban printing altogether.

It was, perhaps, not the most obvious of targets. Between the development of the first writing systems in ancient Mesopotamia and the dawn of the internet age, nothing so revolutionised communication as the invention of printing by Johannes Gutenberg (c.1400–68). Indeed, as the English statesman and philosopher Francis Bacon (1561–1626) later wrote, it was one of the three innovations ‘unknown to the ancients’ which could genuinely be said to have ‘changed the appearance of the whole world’.

Granted, the idea behind it wasn’t completely new. For some time, Europeans frustrated by traditional forms of scribal production had been looking for ways of speeding things up. Back in the thirteenth century, the so-called pecia system had been introduced at the universities of Oxford, Paris and Bologna. Books which were in high demand were divided up into sections and rented out a piece at a time, so that several students could copy the same text simultaneously. A little over 100 years later, some Rhenish or Burgundian carvers may also have experimented with printing very short texts using wooden blocks. But even at their best, such methods were clumsy, expensive and fraught with problems.

What made Gutenberg’s innovation so remarkable was his use of movable metal type. This not only allowed compositors to set any text, but it was also so durable that it could be used hundreds — if not thousands — of times without any significant loss of clarity. Combined with a press (modelled on that used for producing wine), a stickier variety of ink and large sheets of paper, Gutenberg’s type allowed a printer to produce books in greater numbers and more quickly than anyone had ever thought possible. As the humanist Benedetto Brugnoli (1427-1502) later observed, ‘twenty men may [now] print in a month more books than one hundred could previously have copied in a year.’

After Gutenberg established his press in Mainz in c.1450, printing spread rapidly — if rather erratically — throughout Europe. Within less than 20 years, . . .

Continue reading. Complaints about readily available books are specified later in the article.

Written by Leisureguy

6 August 2022 at 1:45 pm

In praise of aphorisms

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Andrew Hui, associate professor in literature at Yale-NUS College in Singapore and author of The Poetics of Ruins in Renaissance Literature (2016) and A Theory of the Aphorism (2019), has an interesting essay on the aphorism as a philosophical device, but aphorisms enliven and encapsulate discourse beyond philosophy. One famous example is Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr’s dictum “The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.” Another example, so far less famous (since I wrote it just minutes ago) is “A routine is a ritual that has lost its soul — or has not yet found it.” (That now is in my post on Covey’s method.)

Hui writes in Aeon:

Atypical university course in the history of philosophy surveys the great thinkers of Western civilisation as a stately procession from Plato to Aristotle to Descartes to Kant to Hegel to Nietzsche. These magnificent intellects offer their ideas in weighty philosophical tomes, stuffed with chiselled definitions, well-reasoned arguments and sustained critiques. In turn, instructors present the grand narrative of ideas to a new generation of students.

Immanuel Kant typifies this magisterial approach. In the closing pages of his Critique of Pure Reason (1781), the German philosopher narrates the history of Western philosophy from Plato to Aristotle to Locke to Leibniz to himself as a series of attempts to construct systems. Indeed, he is nothing if not a scrupulous architect of thought:

By an architectonic I mean the art of systems. Since systematic unity is what first turns common cognition into science.

That is, science turns what is a mere aggregate of random thoughts into something coherent. Only then can philosophy become a doctrine or method of judgment of what is knowledge and what is not. No systems, no real philosophy.

But might there be more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in Kant’s philosophy? What happens when we consider the history of philosophy not from the point of system-building, but through an alternative account that pays attention to the fragments of thinking?

Consider Heraclitus’ ‘Nature loves to hide’; Blaise Pascal’s ‘The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me’; or Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘If a temple is to be erected, a temple must be destroyed.’ Heraclitus comes before and against Plato and Aristotle, Pascal after and against René Descartes, Nietzsche after and against Kant and G W F Hegel. Might the history of thought be actually driven by aphorism?

Much of the history of Western philosophy can be narrated as a series of attempts to construct systems. Conversely, much of the history of aphorisms can be narrated as an animadversion, a turning away from such grand systems through the construction of literary fragments. The philosopher creates and critiques continuous lines of argument; the aphorist, on the other hand, composes scattered lines of intuition. One moves in a chain of logic; the other by leaps and bounds.

Before the birth of Western philosophy proper, there was the aphorism. In ancient Greece, the short sayings of Anaximander, Xenophanes, Parmenides or Heraclitus constitute the first efforts at speculative thinking, but they are also something to which Plato and Aristotle are hostile. Their enigmatic pronouncements elude discursive analysis. They refuse to be corralled into systematic order. No one would deny that their pithy statements might be wise; but Plato and Aristotle were ambivalent about them. They have no rigour at all – they are just the scattered utterances of clever men.

Here is Plato’s critique of Heraclitus:

If you ask any one of them a question, he will pull out some little enigmatic phrase from his quiver and shoot it off at you; and if you try to make him give an account of what he has said, you will only get hit by another, full of strange turns of language.

For Plato, the Heracliteans’ stratagem of continual evasion is a problem because they constantly produce new aphorisms in order to subvert closure. In this sense, Heraclitus is opposed to Plato in at least two fundamental ways: first, his doctrine of flux is contrary to the theory of Forms; and second, the impression one gets is that his thinking is solitary, monologic, misanthropic, whereas Plato is always social, dialogic, inviting.

Plato’s repudiation of his predecessor’s gnomic style signals an important stage in the development of ancient philosophy: the transition from oracular enunciation to argumentative discourse, obscurity to clarity, and thus the marginalisation of the aphoristic style in favour of sustained logical arguments. From Socrates onward, there would simply be no philosophy without proof or argument.

Yet I think it is possible to defend Heraclitus against Plato’s attack. Perplexity arising from enigmatic sayings need not necessarily lead one to seizures of thinking. On the contrary, it can catalyse productive inquiry. Take this well-known saying: . . .

Continue reading. There’s quite a bit more.

Written by Leisureguy

1 August 2022 at 10:35 am

Finding a book you want to read

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Check out Recommendmeabook.com. You can discover a book by reading a page, or by browsing covers, or by a straightforward search, or by browsing other readers’ bookshelves of saved titles. You can save titles to your own bookshelf, which can be public or private, as you prefer. And you can suggest books to be included.

Written by Leisureguy

31 July 2022 at 8:39 am

Posted in Books, Daily life, Software

A major publishing lawsuit would cement surveillance into the future of libraries

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One problem with corporations is that, though legally treated as persons, they lack some essential attributes of personhood, such as empathy, a moral compass, and any sense of the public good (since their sole focus is private gain). As corporations accumulate wealth, they also become more powerful, and they use that power exclusively to benefit themselves (aka increase shareholder value without regard of the impact on employees, customers, and community). This results in monetization and degradation of the commons and of daily life.

Lia Holland and Jordyn Paul-Slater write in Fast Company:

Amid the inflection point of library digitization, publishing corporations want to reduce and redefine the role that libraries play in our society. Their suit seeks to halt loans of legally purchased and scanned books, cementing a future of extortionate and opaque licensing agreements and Netflix-like platforms to replace library cards with credit cards. If successful, they will erode the public’s last great venue to access information free from corporate or government surveillance. This dire threat to the privacy and safety of readers has gone largely unnoticed.

Big Tech monopolies like Amazon and its Kindle e-reader shamelessly collect and store data on readers. They do this in order to exploit readers’ interests and habits for advertising and to gain an advantage in the market—but that same data can be shared with law enforcement or bounty hunters to prosecute people exploring topics such as abortion or gender affirming healthcare. Libraries, on the other hand, have a centuries-old practice of vigorously defending the privacy of their readers. Even the Oklahoma library system that recently threatened librarians if they so much as “use the word abortion” is still doubling down on providing better anonymity for patrons. The function of a library is antithetical to the prerogatives of surveillance capitalism.

Today, libraries generally are blocked from purchasing and owning digital books—and readers are in a similar boat. Instead, publishers offer only high-cost licenses for which libraries rely on emergency funds and may only be able to afford the most popular works. These costs put libraries at a disadvantage in serving traditionally marginalized communities, including particularly young, disabled, rural, and low income readers who may rely on e-books. Already, public schools bound by state law to protect the data of their students are having to pay $27 per digital copy of Anne Frank’s Diary of A Young Girl each year. Publishers are sending a clear message that privacy will be a premium feature if they have their way.

This lawsuit is a digital book burning to end libraries’ most viable avenue to loan and preserve diverse, surveillance-free digital books: scanning the books themselves. If libraries do not own or control the systems for accessing digital books, or can only afford digital books with a “let our corporation surveil your patrons” discount, people who rely on digital books from libraries are much more likely to be surveilled than those privileged enough to travel to check out a paper book.

But it is not only readers whose opportunities are on the chopping block. If publishers are able to charge more money for a smaller list of books, authors will be in a more dire position for publishing opportunities, making an already exclusive and white industry even less hospitable for diverse and emerging authors. To be published at all, even more authors will be forced to turn to Amazon’s extractive self-publishing e-book and audiobook monopoly. To access those books, readers already have to pay both in dollars and in data.

Surveillance endangers traditionally marginalized people the most, and publishing urgently needs to confront this blind spot. The authors listed in the suit appear to be about 90% white, 60% male, and 17% deceased. While it would be ludicrous to blame deceased authors for not speaking out, the others have been resoundingly complicit: allowing publishing companies, associations, and other institutions to outrageously claim that the existence of libraries in the digital age harms their intellectual property and smear librarians as “mouthpieces” for Big Tech.

Authors listed in the suit include James S. A. Corey, best known for The ExpanseA Game of Thrones’ George R.R. Martin, Gillian Flynn of Gone Girl fame, and Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love. Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly as well as multiple titles by Lemony Snicket are also listed. Sarah Crossan’s YA novel Resist, and Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven are also among titles the Internet Archive is being sued for owning and loaning. Ironically, Malcolm Gladwell’s David & Goliath is also among publishing giants’ arsenal.

This lawsuit illustrates a new level of unabashed greed from publishing corporations and their shareholders, swathed in a record-profits-fueled PR campaign using inadequately compensated authors as human shields. Not only will

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 July 2022 at 9:58 am

Why humans run the world

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Very interesting TED talk by Yuval Noah Harari. It seems to me that the cement that enables large-scale cooperation among humans is trust, and currently that is being diluted and undermined by those who exploit it selfishly.

What he calls “fictions” are, in my view, a variety of memes (cultural entities).

Also, interesting quotation:

We are social creatures to the inmost centre of our being. The notion that one can begin anything at all from scratch, free from the past, or unindebted to others, could not conceivably be more wrong.

-Karl Popper, philosopher and professor (28 Jul 1902-1994)

Written by Leisureguy

28 July 2022 at 2:34 pm

When failure is free

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From Mindset, by Carol Dweck:

Ty Cobb argued that being a pitcher helped Ruth develop his hitting. Why would being a pitcher help his batting? “He could experiment at the plate,” Cobb said. “No one cares much if a pitcher strikes out or looks bad at bat, so Ruth could take that big swing. If he missed, it didn’t matter. . . . As time went on, he learned more and more about how to control that big swing and put the wood on the ball. By the time he became a fulltime outfielder, he was ready.”

Failure was free, so he could do as much as he wanted. When a resource is free, a smart person finds a way to exploit it — a resourceful person looks at all free things as potential resources.

Update: I realize that I apply a version of this principle when I start learning something new: I simply try various things without striving for “perfection” or even “good,” but more in the spirit of “see what happens when I do that.” I take these early efforts as “play” and thus no penalty and no way to fail, since the point of the activity is the play, and if I am playing at it, I am by definition succeeding at what I am trying to do — which, basically, is to get enough experience to develop through experience 1) my ability at the activity and 2) my judgment (based on experience) of the relative quality of what I accomplish.

Aiming immediately to achieve high quality is not a good idea because that goal creates an obstacle to just trying things to see what happens. Since experience is an excellent teacher, the idea is to have a lot of experience quickly, to try many things in a short time, observing carefully what happens and apply to each new attempt what was learned from the previous efforts.

Written by Leisureguy

26 July 2022 at 5:58 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Leonard de Vries’s Book of Experiments

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This PDF of experiments seems ideal for a child of elementary-school age. Doing an experiment engages the mind and physical body in a way that merely reading about the experiment does not, and drives the knowledge deeper so that it resides in both brain and body and is more likely to be recalled, used, and built upon. The student who does not do an experiment remembers only a fact;  the student who does an experiment remembers the fact in the context of an experience, a much stronger and more vivid memory.

Highly recommended.

Written by Leisureguy

23 July 2022 at 6:23 pm

A.I. and the fiction it writes

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Josh Dzieza has an interesting article in Verge on AI-assisted fiction writing. (Careful disclaimer: There is no AII involved in the writing of my blog, though I have indeed seen ads for AI software to assist in writing blog posts. I write my own.) Dzieza’s article begins:

On a Tuesday in mid-March, Jennifer Lepp was precisely 80.41 percent finished writing Bring Your Beach Owl, the latest installment in her series about a detective witch in central Florida, and she was behind schedule. The color-coded, 11-column spreadsheet she keeps open on a second monitor as she writes told her just how far behind: she had three days to write 9,278 words if she was to get the book edited, formatted, promoted, uploaded to Amazon’s Kindle platform, and in the hands of eager readers who expected a new novel every nine weeks.

Lepp became an author six years ago, after deciding she could no longer stomach having to spout “corporate doublespeak” to employees as companies downsized. She had spent the prior two decades working in management at a series of web hosting companies, where she developed disciplined project management skills that have translated surprisingly well to writing fiction for Amazon’s Kindle platform.

Like many independent authors, she found in Amazon’s self-service publishing arm, Kindle Direct Publishing, an unexpected avenue into a literary career she had once dreamed of and abandoned. (“Independent” or “indie” author are the preferred terms for writers who are self-publishing commercially, free of the vanity-press connotations of “self-published.”) “It’s not Dostoevsky,” Lepp said of her work, but she takes pride in delivering enjoyable “potato chip books” to her readers, and they reward her with an annual income that can reach the low six figures.

However, being an Amazon-based author is stressful in ways that will look familiar to anyone who makes a living on a digital platform. In order to survive in a marketplace where infinite other options are a click away, authors need to find their fans and keep them loyal. So they follow readers to the microgenres into which Amazon’s algorithms classify their tastes, niches like “mermaid young adult fantasy” or “time-travel romance,” and keep them engaged by writing in series, each installment teasing the next, which already has a title and set release date, all while producing a steady stream of newsletters, tweets, and videos. As Mark McGurl writes in Everything and Less, his recent book on how Amazon is shaping fiction, the Kindle platform transformed the author-reader relationship into one of service provider and customer, and the customer is always right. Above all else, authors must write fast.

Lepp, who writes under the pen name Leanne Leeds in the “paranormal cozy mystery” subgenre, allots herself precisely 49 days to write and self-edit a book. This pace, she said, is just on the cusp of being unsustainably slow. She once surveyed her mailing list to ask how long readers would wait between books before abandoning her for another writer. The average was four months. Writer’s block is a luxury she can’t afford, which is why as soon as she heard about an artificial intelligence tool designed to break through it, she started beseeching its developers on Twitter for access to the beta test.

The tool was called Sudowrite. Designed by developers turned sci-fi authors Amit Gupta and James Yu, it’s one of many AI writing programs built on OpenAI’s language model GPT-3 that have launched since it was opened to developers last year. But where most of these tools are meant to write company emails and marketing copy, Sudowrite is designed for fiction writers. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. “Sudowrite” is, I assume, a gentle acknowledgment that the product is not actually “writing.” (Sudowrite = Pseudowrite)

Written by Leisureguy

22 July 2022 at 4:24 pm

“The Wrath to Come: Gone with the Wind and the Lies America Tells,” by Sarah Churchill

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Alex von Tunzelmann reviews Sarah Churchill’s book The Wrath to Come in Literary Review:

The night before Gone with the Wind’s Atlanta premiere in 1939, there was a ball at a plantation. Dressed as slaves, the children of the black Ebenezer Baptist Church choir performed for an all-white audience. They sang ‘There’s Plenty of Good Room in Heaven’; the actress playing Belle Watling, Rhett Butler’s tart with a heart, wept. The scene is already striking: a painfully literal example of the mythologising of the South for white consumption, redefining slavery as harmless and the slaves themselves as grateful. Yet Sarah Churchwell finds a jaw-dropping detail: ‘One of the little Black children dressed as a slave and bringing a sentimental tear to white America’s eye was a ten-year-old boy named Martin Luther King, Jr, who would be dead in thirty years for daring to dream of racial equality in America.’

Churchwell has written about American mythology before, notably in Behold America: A History of America First and the American Dream, as well as in works on Marilyn Monroe and The Great Gatsby. This time it feels like she has hit the motherlode: ‘The heart of the [American] myth, as well as its mind and its nervous system, most of its arguments and beliefs, its loves and hates, its lies and confusions and defence mechanisms and wish fulfilments, are all captured (for the most part inadvertently) in America’s most famous epic romance.’ For Churchwell, ‘Gone with the Wind provides a kind of skeleton key, unlocking America’s illusions about itself.’

This is a bold claim – but Gone with the Wind was, and remains, a phenomenon like no other. Published in June 1936, Margaret Mitchell’s novel sold a million copies before the end of that year, won the 1937 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, and became the bestselling American novel of all time. Even now, it shifts 300,000 copies annually. In 1939, a film version was released, starring Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara and Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. Adjusted for inflation, it is the highest-grossing film of all time, ahead of Avatar and Titanic. In 2020, when the South Korean film Parasite – a biting satire on capitalism – won the Academy Award for Best Picture, President Donald Trump expressed his displeasure: ‘What the hell was that all about?’ he asked a rally in Colorado. ‘Can we get like Gone with the Wind back please?’ As usual, his audience understood exactly what he meant.

If the idea that one book and film can be the skeleton key to a whole culture seems simplistic, Churchwell swiftly begins to pile up startling evidence in short, pithy chapters. Race, gender, the Lost Cause, the American Dream, blood-and-soil fascism, the prison-industrial complex, a Trumpist mob storming the Capitol in 2021: it’s all here, and it’s all bound up with the themes of Gone with the Wind. Mythmaking is not just the building of fantasies but also the erasure of truth. The genocide of native peoples, for instance, is not in the book or film, but it was taking place at just the time that Gerald O’Hara would have been acquiring land in Georgia: ‘Scarlett’s beloved Tara is built upon land that was stolen from indigenous Americans a mere decade before her birth.’ Churchwell cuts through these thorny subjects with a propulsive assurance. Her writing is an extraordinary blend of wit, intellectual agility and forcefulness: it’s like being swept along by an extremely smart bulldozer.

Churchwell doesn’t flinch from the horrors that Gone with the Wind belies. The book and film propagate the Lost Cause myth, portraying the South as a place of chivalry, slavery as benevolent and the members of the Ku Klux Klan as honourable men stepping up as the world around them collapses. Churchwell shows us how these myths were constructed from the end of the Civil War onwards, and congealed seventy years later into Gone with the Wind. The reality of the reassertion of white supremacy during and after Reconstruction was, as Churchwell shows, horrific: there is some deeply upsetting material here on the terrorisation of both black people and those whites who did not comply with supremacist social codes. Lynchings were advertised in advance in local newspapers, ‘just as a fun fair or circus might have been’. A typical headline from 1905: ‘Will Burn Negro: Officers Will Probably Not Interfere in Texas’. Eight people were lynched in the year of Gone with the Wind’s publication.

‘Most defences of Gone with the Wind hold that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 July 2022 at 9:52 am

“A novel is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it.”

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The title quotation is from Randall Jarrell’s introduction to Christina Stead’s novel The Man Who Loved Children. I came across it in reading Wyatt Mason’s wonderful article (gift link, no paywall) in the NY Times about Akhil Sharma, who rewrote (and is about to publish) his first novel, published 22 years ago and started 30 years ago.

That caught my attention, but I also find myself revising and augmenting things I previously wrote — in fact, I spent time last night and this morning polishing (again) my post on Stephen Covey’s method, a post that I initially wrote more than 5 years ago and have revisited (and revised) many times over the years.

Needless to say, Akhil Sharma is a much better writer than I, but then it’s even more appropriate for me to revisit and revise things long since written.

The article begins:

“Hey, man, can I give you a hug?”

The unexpected question was posed by a man I’d just met — the 50-year-old, Delhi-born Indian American novelist, essayist and short-story writer Akhil Sharma — as we stood at the top of the chilly little hill we had climbed. The hill was part of a loop we would end up taking a number of times over two days, the three of us, which is to say me, Sharma and his baby daughter, asleep in her stroller. Her need for a nap had been the pretext for our circuit around Hollins, a small university outside Roanoke, Va., where Sharma was a writer in residence.

A plum gig, it required that Sharma teach one graduate-level fiction course to a small group of students at Hollins. So Sharma and I had taken his daughter for her daily stroller nap through the not particularly lovely campus, which, beyond its lackluster borders, was ringed in the distance by the oceanic peaks that make up the Virginia quadrant of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

As we walked, Sharma and I fell easily into the discussion of uneasy things. The particulars of those uneasy things haven’t much bearing here, except to say that we — two men in our early 50s — were addressing, with candor, the difficulties through which people at midlife pass. And it was at one materially insignificant moment in our conversation, when we reached the crest of that hill on that loop, that Sharma posed the unexpected question.

Sharma, who is slight and dapper, opened his arms. I opened mine. His leatherette puffer parka compressed slightly as he held me and I him.

It is unusual to hold a stranger in a loving way, and yet it didn’t feel strange. What’s odd to me, retrospectively, about that moment in Sharma’s arms is how congruent the feeling of it was with the feeling of reading his work: to be brought suddenly, unexpectedly, un-self-consciously close to another human — a pressure that’s palpable on every page of his work.

I realize the same assessment might be made of any number of contemporary writers, and while I stand by it and will try to qualify it, there is something undeniable about Sharma that can be said of very few novelists, and it was for this reason that I went to see him. Sharma had done a weird thing, something white-rhino rare in the history of literature: He had revised and radically rewritten a novel, his first, “An Obedient Father,” one he published 22 years earlier. Considerably shorter, with a very different ending but the same title, the novel was about to be published a second time — it reappears this month — more than 30 years after Sharma began it.

It’s not as though the first version of “An Obedient Father” was ignored. It met with the kind of success few first novels receive. It was excerpted in The New Yorker and won the PEN/Hemingway Award, and Sharma received a Whiting Award — career milestones for any writer. Novelists reached out to its 29-year-old author out of the blue. Sharma was not shy to say that among them was the Nobel laureate J.M. Coetzee. Still, the book would sell only adequately for a literary novel: according to Sharma, 6,000 hardcover copies and then 11,000 paperback copies over the next two decades, taking 17 years to earn back what the publisher advanced him for it and certainly not paying well enough that it let Sharma live off his writing.

Aside from those encouraging/discouraging realities, Sharma was secretly displeased with the novel when he published it. He’d had doubts, yes, but he had been arrogant enough, or insecure enough, or hopeful enough to want to be hailed as a genius, and when it was clear that, despite the praise the book received, “genius” was not a word being thrown around, Sharma’s sense of failure, of not living up to his hopes for the novel, was confirmed. In that little way, what he already knew to be true was borne out: Whatever the book did well, aesthetically, it had real things wrong with it, formal problems he hadn’t been able to name, much less fix.

“An Obedient Father” is a brutal book. It tries to integrate two first-person reports of family life, one by a father and another by his daughter, with a larger, social story about modern India, its political history and its fraught, failed attempts at change. The father . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

12 July 2022 at 1:24 pm

Posted in Art, Books, Daily life, Writing

Secrets of the Voynich Manuscript

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I have a variety of posts on the Voynich manuscript. (The first in the list will be this post, but continue scrolling.) 

Written by Leisureguy

11 July 2022 at 8:55 pm

Posted in Art, Books, History, Video

My post on Covey’s 7 habits

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From time to time I revisit some blog posts — for example, several of those mentioned at the right — to revise and extend my remarks. My post on Covey’s 7 habits is a prime example, and it came to mind because today again I reworked it somewhat. So if you find productivity and effectiveness of interest, you might take another look at it.

Written by Leisureguy

8 July 2022 at 5:01 pm

‘They are preparing for war’: An expert on civil wars discusses where political extremists are taking this country

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I came across the Washington Post interview below (gift link, no paywall) via a Facebook post by Rebecca Solnit, who extracted some of the article:

The CIA also has a manual on insurgency. You can Google it and find it online.

[See “Guide to the Analysis of Insurgency” (PDF), which seems to be the manual she has in mind. See also:  “Estimating State Instability” (PDF). See also this page on the Wilson Center website: “Political Instability Task Force: New Findings” (2004) – LG]

Most of it is not redacted. And it’s absolutely fascinating to read. It’s not a big manual. And it was written, I’m sure, to help the U.S. government identify very, very early stages of insurgency. So if something’s happening in the Philippines, or something’s happening in Indonesia. You know, what are signs that we should be looking out for?

And the manual talks about three stages. And the first stage is . . .

The Washinton Post interview is from March 8, 2022, and was done by KK Ottesen (and again: that’s a gift link). The quoted passage above is taken from the interview, which begins:

Barbara F. Walter, 57, is a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego and the author of “How Civil Wars Start: And How to Stop Them,” which was released in January. She lives in San Diego with her husband.

Having studied civil wars all over the world, and the conditions that give rise to them, you argue in your book, somewhat chillingly, that the United States is coming dangerously close to those conditions. Can you explain that?

So we actually know a lot about civil wars — how they start, how long they last, why they’re so hard to resolve, how you end them. And we know a lot because since 1946, there have been over 200 major armed conflicts. And for the last 30 years, people have been collecting a lot of data, analyzing the data, looking at patterns. I’ve been one of those people.

We went from thinking, even as late as the 1980s, that every one of these was unique. And the way people studied it is they would be a Somalia expert, a Yugoslavia expert, a Tajikistan expert. And everybody thought their case was unique and that you could draw no parallels. Then methods and computers got better, and people like me came and could collect data and analyze it. And what we saw is that there are lots of patterns at the macro level.

In 1994, the U.S. government put together this Political Instability Task Force. They were interested in trying to predict what countries around the world were going to become unstable, potentially fall apart, experience political violence and civil war.

Was that out of the State Department?

That was done through the CIA. And the task force was a mix of academics, experts on conflict, and data analysts. And basically what they wanted was: In all of your research, tell us what you think seems to be important. What should we be considering when we’re thinking about the lead-up to civil wars?

Originally the model included over 30 different factors, like poverty, income inequality, how diverse religiously or ethnically a country was. But only two factors came out again and again as highly predictive. And it wasn’t what people were expecting, even on the task force. We were surprised. The first was this variable called anocracy. There’s this nonprofit based in Virginia called the Center for Systemic Peace. And every year it measures all sorts of things related to the quality of the governments around the world. How autocratic or how democratic a country is. And it has this scale that goes from negative 10 to positive 10. Negative 10 is the most authoritarian, so think about North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain. Positive 10 are the most democratic. This, of course, is where you want to be. This would be Denmark, Switzerland, Canada. The U.S. was a positive 10 for many, many years. It’s no longer a positive 10. And then it has this middle zone between positive 5 and negative 5, which was you had features of both. If you’re a positive 5, you have more democratic features, but definitely have a few authoritarian elements. And, of course, if you’re negative 5, you have more authoritarian features and a few democratic elements. The U.S. was briefly downgraded to a 5 and is now an 8.

And what scholars found was that this anocracy variable was really predictive of a risk for civil war. That full democracies almost never have civil wars. Full autocracies rarely have civil wars. All of the instability and violence is happening in this middle zone. And there’s all sorts of theories why this middle zone is unstable, but one of the big ones is that these governments tend to be weaker. They’re transitioning to either actually becoming more democratic, and so some of the authoritarian features are loosening up. The military is giving up control. And so it’s easier to organize a challenge. Or, these are democracies that are backsliding, and there’s a sense that these governments are not that legitimate, people are unhappy with these governments. There’s infighting. There’s jockeying for power. And so they’re weak in their own ways. Anyway, that turned out to be highly predictive.

And then the second factor was whether populations in these partial democracies began to organize politically, not around ideology — so, not based on whether you’re a communist or not a communist, or you’re a liberal or a conservative — but where the parties themselves were based almost exclusively around identity: ethnic, religious or racial identity. The quintessential example of this is what happened in the former Yugoslavia.

So for you, personally, what was the moment the ideas began to connect, and you thought: Wait a minute, I see these patterns in my country right now?

My dad is from Germany. He was born in 1932 and lived through the war there, and he emigrated here in 1958. He had been a Republican his whole life, you know; we had the Reagan calendar in the kitchen every year.

And starting in early 2016, I would go home to visit, and my dad — he doesn’t agitate easily, but he was so agitated. All he wanted to do was talk about Trump and what he was seeing happening. He was really nervous. It was almost visceral — like, he was reliving the past. Every time I’d go home, he was just, like, “Please tell me Trump’s not going to win.” And I would tell him, “Dad, Trump is not going to win.” And he’s just, like, “I don’t believe you; I saw this once before. And I’m seeing it again, and the Republicans, they’re just falling in lockstep behind him.” He was so nervous.

I remember saying: “Dad, what’s really different about America today from Germany in the 1930s is that our democracy is really strong. Our institutions are strong. So, even if you had a Trump come into power, the institutions would hold strong.” Of course, then Trump won. We would have these conversations where my dad would draw all these parallels. The brownshirts and the attacks on the media and the attacks on education and on books. And he’s just, like, I’m seeing it. I’m seeing it all again here. And that’s really what shook me out of my complacency, that here was this man who is very well educated and astute, and he was shaking with fear. And I was like, Am I being naive to think that we’re different?

That’s when I started to follow the data. And then, watching what happened to the Republican Party really was the bigger surprise — that, wow, they’re doubling down on this almost white supremacist strategy. That’s a losing strategy in a democracy. So why would they do that? Okay, it’s worked for them since the ’60s and ’70s, but you can’t turn back demographics. And then I was like, Oh my gosh. The only way this is a winning strategy is if you begin to weaken the institutions; this is the pattern we see in other countries. And, as an American citizen I’m like, These two factors are emerging here, and people don’t know.

So I gave a talk at UCSD about this — and it was a complete bomb. Not . . .

Continue reading. (gift link, no paywall)

Written by Leisureguy

7 July 2022 at 9:11 pm

Covey’s method in practice

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I came across a post on Facebook, and it struck me as an excellent illustration of Covey’s first 3 habits:

1. Be proactive
2. Begin with the end in mind
3. First things first

And I see a bit of habit 4 (“Think win/win”) in addition. (You can read more about the habits in this post.) Specifically, the driver focused on his circle of influence and did not spend time on his circle of concern — that is, he focused on things he could control directly or through direct influence.

Here’s the post:

I was waiting in line for a ride at the airport. When a cab pulled up, the first thing I noticed was the taxi was polished to a bright shine. Smartly dressed in a white shirt, black tie, and freshly pressed black slacks, the cab driver jumped out and rounded the car to open the back passenger door for me.
He handed me a laminated card and said, “I’m Wasu, your driver. While I’m loading your bags in the trunk, I’d like you to read my mission statement.”

Taken aback, I read the card. It said, “Wasu’s Mission Statement: To get my customers to their destination in the quickest, safest, and cheapest way possible in a friendly environment.”

This blew me away. Especially when I noticed the inside of the cab matched the outside. Spotlessly clean!

As he slid behind the wheel, Wasu said, :Would you like a cup of coffee? I have a thermos of regular and one of decaf.”

I said jokingly, “No, I’d prefer a soft drink.”

Wasu smiled and said, “No problem. I have a cooler up front with regular and Diet Coke, lassi, water, and orange juice.”

Almost stuttering, I said, “I’ll take a lassi since I’ve never had one before.”

Handing me my drink, Wasu said, “If you’d like something to read, I have Good Housekeeping magazine, Reader’s Digest, The Bible, and a Travel + Leisure magazine.”

As we were pulling away, Wasu handed me another laminated card, “These are the stations I get and the music they play, if you’d like to listen to the radio.

And as if that weren’t enough, Wasu told me he had the heater on and asked if the temperature was comfortable for me.

Then he advised me of the best route to my destination for that time of day. He also let me know he’d be happy to chat and tell me about some of the sights or, if I preferred, to leave me with my own thoughts.

“Tell me, Wasu,” I was amazed and asked him, “have you always served customers like this?”

Wasu smiled into the rear view mirror. “No, not always. In fact, it’s only been in the last two years. My first five years driving, I spent most of my time complaining like all the rest of the cabbies do. Then I heard about power of choice one day.”

“Power of choice is that you can be a duck or an eagle. If you get up in the morning expecting to have a bad day, you’ll rarely disappoint yourself. Stop complaining! Don’t be a duck. Be an eagle. Ducks quack and complain. Eagles soar above the crowd.”

“That hit me right,” said Wasu. He continued and said, “It is about me. I was always quacking and complaining, so I decided to change my attitude and become an eagle. I looked around at the other cabs and their drivers. The cabs were dirty, the drivers were unfriendly, and the customers were unhappy. So I decided to make some changes. I put in a few at a time. When my customers responded well, I did more.”

“I take it that has paid off for you,” I said.

‘It sure has,” Wasu replied. “My first year as an eagle, I doubled my income from the previous year. This year, I’ll probably quadruple it. My customers call me for appointments on my cell phone or leave a message on it.”

Wasu made a different choice. He decided to stop quacking like ducks and start soaring like eagles. I hope we all decide to soar like an eagle and not quack like a duck.

I could not find a link to the specific post, but that’s the text. And the mission statement idea is directly from Covey’s Habit 2.

Written by Leisureguy

6 July 2022 at 12:15 pm

War and Peace: book and movie

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It’s no surprise that War and Peace is one of the books in my list of books I find myself repeatedly recommending, and in fact its entry includes a link to a free ebook of an excellent translation (along with a tactic on how to get a handle on the large number of characters you will encounter in reading it).

Colin Marshall in Open Culture points out a free four-part movie adaptation of the novel from 1966-67. Generally speaking, movies made from books fall short of the experience of reading the book and must also overcome things easy to convey in print but challenging to show on the screen — for example, a character’s internal state or a quick summary of action. For example, “He rode hard for three days and nights” is quick and easy to read and understand, but showing that on the screen requires a montage that can seem interminable. (In fairness, movies can also easily and quickly present some things difficult to portray in print — for example, a party scene in a movie presents immediately and directly the sounds of the party — the music, the snippets of overheard conversation, the sounds of drinks pour, glasses clinked, plates moved — along with the appearance of the guests and their garb, the physical setting, and what’s happening. All that is immediately evident, with no need at all for a detailed description.

Still, though I point out the movie — free — I would first recommend the book — also free.

Written by Leisureguy

5 July 2022 at 10:45 am

Posted in Books, Movies & TV

What is mistake theory and can it save the humanities?

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Claire Lehmann writes in Engelsberg Ideas:

The French philosopher Michel Foucault is the most cited scholar in the humanities of all time: as of July 2018, he has 873,174 citations on Google Scholar. Judith Butler’s influential book Gender Trouble, which gave rise to Queer theory, and the idea that gender is a performance rather than a biological reality, has been cited over 51,000 times; vastly more than most books written in the twentieth century, or any other time period.

In recent years, universities across the Western world, and particularly in the United States, have seen a rise in new forms of protest: the de-platforming and disinvitation of speakers, the implementation of trigger warnings and safe spaces, and a perception that there is a growing hostility to the principles that define the university experience such as open inquiry and debate. Simultaneously, populist revolts have been occurring around the globe, from Brexit to Trump to the rise of the Sweden Democrats and the backlash to liberal centrist parties across the European continent.

Does anything unite these two disparate trends? It may seem like along bow to draw, but in a 2018 essay posted on his blog, Californian psychiatrist Scott Alexander developed a model of politics which allows one to find parallels between the far-left activists on US university campuses and the far-right populists of continental Europe. His model is called the ‘Conflict versus Mistake’ model and it neatly reduces the fissures that many of us have observed within contemporary political discourse into axioms that can be applied across contexts.

Within his model, Alexander identifies two key explanatory styles that are crucial for understanding contemporary political discourse. The first is that of the ‘mistake theorist’. A mistake theorist, according to Alexander, is someone who believes that political problems arise because there is a mistake or an error in the system. To the mistake theorist, social phenomena arise from an interplay of many different variables. To understand social problems, one must generally undertake an in-depth analysis to work out what is really going on and how to fix it. Mistake theorists view politics like a science, or an engineering problem. They are like a mechanic looking at the engine of a car.

The second explanatory style is that of the ‘conflict theorist’. A conflict theorist sees the world as being comprised of oppressor classes and oppressed classes. Powerful groups systematically exploit disadvantaged groups. Any unequal distribution of resources is seen as evidence of one group exploiting another. The conflict theorist generally views interactions between groups of people as zero sum. For conflict theorists, politics is war.

The mistake theorist values debate, open inquiry and free speech. There is an understanding in the mistake theorist’s worldview that different people bring different skill sets and knowledge to the table, and that we need diverse views in order to harness our collective intelligence. Because free speech allows us to search for the truth and uncover our mistakes, the mistake theorist views free speech as sacrosanct. Conflict theorists are not so enamoured of the need for debate. They may view debate as being a distraction, a delaying tactic, or an attempt to proliferate ideas that are harmful to the disadvantaged. To the conflict theorist, protecting the disadvantaged is sacrosanct.

Moral sociologists Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning have theorised in their 2018 book, The Rise of Victimhood Culture, that within this conflict theory worldview (what Campbell and Manning call the ‘victim-hood culture’ worldview) a moral hierarchy is set up according to one’s status as a member of an oppressed group. Members of less powerful groups are imbued with a special moral status, and due to this special moral status, members of the less powerful groups demand fierce and vigilant protection. To criticise the victim is to engage in victim-blaming.

By contrast, mistake theorists (what Campbell and Manning call the ‘dignity culture’ worldview) see persons as possessing equal moral status. A member of a so-called ‘oppressor’ group is just as entitled to his or her rights as a member of an ‘oppressed’ group. Moral status is not determined by one’s membership of an identity category. Emphasising the importance of process and method in coming to accurate conclusions, in contrast with rushing to judgement, the mistake theorist is likely to advocate principles like the presumption of innocence, procedural fairness, and due process.

Conflict theorists are not the sole purview of the Left. Leading up to the 2017 French presidential election, Marine Le Pen frequently used conflict theorist rhetoric, pitting native Frenchmen and women against oppressive elites: ‘Immigration is an organised replacement of our population. This threatens our very survival. We don’t have the means to integrate those who are already here. The result is endless cultural conflict.’

Le Pen draws on the language of victimhood: immigration ‘threatens the survival’ of the French people, and that this threat is ‘organised’ — indicating an identifiable enemy. The enemy is a powerful class of elites. While the left-wing manifestation of conflict theorist worldview blames oppression on white people, men, straight people, and increasingly cisgender or cis people (those who identify with the sex or gender they were born with), the right-wing version blames bankers, globalists, and technocratic elites for exploiting and oppressing the ordinary people.

Unlike conflict theorists, mistake theorists are suspicious of passion and emotion when it comes to answering complex political problems. The apotheosis of this attitude is . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

3 July 2022 at 10:36 am

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