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  • Archive for the 'Human Behavior' Category

    Summer Rerun: Metaphors, Interfaces, Memes, and Thinking

    Posted by David Foster on 20th August 2019 (All posts by )

    This rerun of an earlier post (slightly reworked) was inspired by a comment by MCS at this post:

    We are now living in the first post-literate society where the masses will be directed by rumor. Memes will take the place of reasoned discussion.

    Neal Stephenson wrote In the Beginning was the Command Line, a strange little book which would probably be classified under the subject heading “computers.”  While the book does deal with human interfaces to computer systems, its deeper subject is the impact of media and metaphors on thought processes and on work.

    Stephenson contrasts the explicit word-based interface with the graphical or sensorial interface. The first (which I’ll call the textual interface) can be found in a basic UNIX system or in an old-style PC DOS system or timesharing terminal. The second (the sensorial interface) can be found in Windows and Mac systems and in their respective application programs.

    As a very different example of a sensorial interface, Stephenson uses something he saw at Disney World–a hypothetical stone-by-stone reconstruction of a ruin in the jungles of India. It is supposed to have been built by a local rajah in the sixteenth century, but since fallen into disrepair.

    The place looks more like what I have just described than any actual building you might find in India. All the stones in the broken walls are weathered as if monsoon rains had been trickling down them for centuries, the paint on the gorgeous murals is flaked and faded just so, and Bengal tigers loll among stumps of broken columns. Where modern repairs have been made to the ancient structure, they’ve been done, not as Disney’s engineers would do them, but as thrifty Indian janitors would–with hunks of bamboo and rust-spotted hunks of rebar.

    In one place, you walk along a stone wall and view some panels of art that tell a story.

    …a broad jagged crack runs across a panel or two, but the story is still readable: first, primordial chaos leads to a flourishing of many animal species. Next, we see the Tree of Life surrounded by diverse animals…an obvious allusion (or, in showbiz lingo, a tie-in) to the gigantic Tree of Life that dominates the center of Disney’s Animal Kingdom…But it’s rendered in historically correct style and could probably fool anyone who didn’t have a PhD in Indian art history.

    The next panel shows a mustachioed H. sapiens chopping down the Tree of Life with a scimitar, and the animals fleeing every which way. The one after that shows the misguided human getting walloped by a tidal wave, part of a latter-day Deluge presumably brought on by his stupidity.

    The final panel, then, portrays the Sapling of Life beginning to grow back, but now man has ditched the edged weapon and joined the other animals in standing around to adore and praise it.

    Clearly, this exhibit communicates a specific worldview, and it strongly implies that this worldview is consistent with traditional Indian religion and culture. Most viewers will assume the connection without doing further research as to its correctness or lack thereof.

    I’d observe that as a general matter, the sensorial interface is less open to challenge than the textual interface. It doesn’t argue–doesn’t present you with a chain of facts and logic that let you sit back and say, “Hey, wait a minute–I’m not so sure about that.” It just sucks you into its own point of view.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Arts & Letters, Blogging, Book Notes, Deep Thoughts, Film, Human Behavior, Internet, Obama, Tech | 9 Comments »

    Murder, Suicide, and Society

    Posted by David Foster on 12th August 2019 (All posts by )

    A collection of worthwhile…if not very cheerful…links from Don Sensing.

    Posted in Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Religion, Society, Terrorism, USA | 13 Comments »

    Under Pressure

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 6th August 2019 (All posts by )

    On summer nights, in the suburb where I lived in the late 1980ies, I often heard gunfire at night – a regular popping kind of noise, like pebbles dropping into a metal bucket. The every-day noise of the city died away, as well as sounds of traffic on the highway between Zaragoza and Logrono. Very distant, of course – the firing range at Bardenas Reales was at least thirty miles north as the crow flies, but the sounds of artillery, air gunnery, and military war games carried quite well, under certain conditions. I was often reminded then, of accounts from both world wars – recollections of residents in France and England; miles from the front, but who could hear the war, at a distance. The popping sound of distant firing also reminded me of other accounts, like this one – of submarine warfare in WWI, and how pressure worked on the hulls of early submarines, quite often fatally to their crews.

    The noise – hissing, popping, creaks and groaning, as the pressure builds, and builds. I cannot help thinking that the shootings in an El Paso Walmart, at a bar in Dayton, and at the Gilroy garlic festival are symptomatic of pressure building to a nearly unbearable level. Those young men, the shooters in each case (as well as earlier shooters like Dylan Roof and Adam Lanza) are the weakest rivets popping loose. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Civil Society, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Culture, Current Events, Human Behavior, Media, The Press, USA | 36 Comments »

    More Than Crazy Years

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 1st August 2019 (All posts by )

    Yes, the great science fiction visionary, Robert A. Heinlein (PBUH) an Annapolis grad and serving naval officer who was discharged for reasons of health early on in what might have been a promising naval career at the right time and in the right generation to have made a significant command mark in WWII, generated the concept of the crazy years. But I wonder if he had the slightest clue of the far-frozen limits of bug-house, chewing-at-the-restraints, raving-at-the-moon crazy that current political figures, media personalities, self-styled internet stars, and academic t*ats would achieve … and just in the last week or so. Really, under the old rules of civility, the ones that I grew to adulthood honoring, decent citizens would have just looked away, murmuring polite demurrals and excuses under their breath, while deleting the offending party from their address book and never inviting them to their neighborhood potlucks any more … but now the crazy has got to such an extent that one can hardly keep up.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Big Government, Civil Society, Culture, Current Events, Human Behavior, Leftism, Media, Politics, The Press, Urban Issues | 24 Comments »

    Worthwhile Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 22nd July 2019 (All posts by )

    Haven’t posted one of these for while, so here are a few links I found interesting…

    Tom Wolfe on the space race as a combat of individual champions in the ancient style.

    Zoning rules as an enemy of shade.

    Sarah Hoyt on the human tendency to assume that the conditions of the past still apply.  (Even the purely imagined and stereotypical conditions of the past, in some cases, I’d add)

    Interesting ‘blog’ by Holly (Maths Geek).  (Actually a Twitter feed…people who are on Twitter would IMO do well to mirror all content onto a traditional blog unless they are willing to have their work at the mercy of Jack Dorsey and his minions)

    Despite all the concern and hype about Russian hacking, China’s spying and influence within our borders are rising.  See also this case of a former GE engineer and a businessman charged with stealing turbine technology, with the “financial and other support” of the Chinese government.  Additionally, see my post So, really want to talk about foreign intervention?

    Posted in Big Government, Blogging, China, Deep Thoughts, Feminism, History, Human Behavior, Science, Space, Tech | 8 Comments »

    Fear of Freedom?

    Posted by David Foster on 16th July 2019 (All posts by )

    Stuart Schneiderman links to an article by a therapist who has a lot of experience working with millennials

    On any given day, a handful of millennials will come into my office and express their most pressing concerns: “I’m worried I’ll never make enough money to retire.” “I feel like a failure.” “I don’t know if I’m setting up my adult life the right way.”

    But the complaint they bring up the most? “I have too many choices and I can’t decide what to do. What if I make the wrong choice?”

    Now, I think that ‘generational’ explanations of social phenomena should be taken with multiple carloads of salt:  individual differences are IMO much more significant than generational differences.  And the people this therapist has been working with are not just millennials, but San Francisco area millennials.  Still, this pushback against having too many choices is unpleasantly reminiscent of the young German who was quoted as saying, shortly before the outbreak of World War II: “We Germans are so happy.  We are free of freedom.”

    To the extent that this phenomenon is real and is general, I would suspect several factors of being implicated. Specifically:

    ***The focus on “self-esteem building”, which seems to have the effect of producing people whose self-esteem is brittle and cannot withstand failure or contradiction.

    ***The trend toward child-raising in organized group settings…usually for-profit organized group settings…which may tend to create more orientation toward group conformity and less individuality than the more traditional “artisanal” at-home child raising.

    ***Increasing years of schooling, which can delay growing up.  Peter Drucker observed that when you’re in school, it’s all about you, unlike the working world where it’s all about doing things that are of value to others.  (FWIW, Drucker also said he observed striking levels of immaturity in many medical students because of this factor.)

    Anecdotal evidence only, but I have observed that people with many years of education–specifically, people with graduate degrees–are often reluctant to try new approaches to things.  Whether it’s an MBA or a Masters in Computer Science, they often want to stick close to the paradigms they were given in the classroom.  It would be interesting for someone to systematically study the relationship between education and mental rigidity.

    ***Finally, there is general social change and disorganization.  Stuart writes:  “Back in the day, when society was organized and where people understood their duties and obligations, these decisions were far less difficult and far less onerous”…the decisions were less onerous, but of course many people felt constrained–and often were constrained–in ways they did not want to be.

    Someone writing in an aviation magazine observed that “if you do anything with your airplane that is not consistent with the Pilot’s Operating Handbook, then you are a test pilot.”  In a society, the equivalent of the POH is the aggregate of laws, customs, and implicit expectations that guide behavior.  There is no doubt that any society’s POH needs constant updating, and sometime major changes–but when major changes do occur, they will be disorienting to many people, and it seems that a nontrivial number of them will react by wishing for more constraints.

    Some people thrive as test pilots–either of aircraft or in a societal setting–but many do not, including many people who would be perfectly adequate or even excellent pilots in a more-defined setting.

    One of the major problems we have in America today is that so many of the people who have taken it upon themselves to totally rewrite the societal POH are people who are lacking in practical experience, historical knowledge, and ‘skin in the game.’  To continue the aviation analogy, it is as if a POH was rewritten by people who had no background in aeronautical engineering, no experience or minimal experience in flying aircraft, and (in many cases) absolutely no intent of either flying or flying in those aircraft being operated in conformity with their documents.

    What proportion of the people in a society can lose belief in the value of individual freedom before they destroy that freedom for everyone, including those who do value it, and how close are we to that point?

     

     

    Posted in Big Government, Civil Liberties, Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, USA | 28 Comments »

    Perception and…

    Posted by David Foster on 14th July 2019 (All posts by )

    Culture?  Language?  Genetics?

    Alison Gopnik, writing in the WSJ, discusses an interesting experiment on problem solving in very young children which was run by two researchers at UC San Diego, following on to research in which Gopnik was herself involved.  Children of various ages were shown a machine that lights up when you put a block of a certain color or shape on it.  “Even toddlers can easily figure out that a green block makes the machine go while a blue block doesn’t.”

    The researchers wondered:  what if the test was of the relationship between objects..say, two square blocks of the same color made the machine light up, but not two blocks of different colors?

    For American children, 18-month-old children had no trouble figuring out that the relationship between the objects was the key thing.  But older American children, 3-year-olds, did worse at the relationship test than did their younger counterparts.  For Chinese children, however, the fall-off in relationship-assessing performance between 18 months and 3 years old did not happen.

    Here’s a reasonably decent summary of the paper’s main points, and here’s the paper itself.

    Why the fall-off for American kids?  (A temporary fall-off, it seems…the researchers say that the American kids recover their relationship-assessing skills between the ages of  4-6 years.)  One hypothesis is language….possibly the “noun spurt” that is said to characterize early-English learning has something to do with it.  Or perhaps there are broader cultural factors:  “In particular, there are well-documented differ- ences in holistic and analytic processing (and relatedly, collectivist and individualist cognitive styles) across cultures, which may simi- larly result in an emphasis on relationships between entities or on characteristics of individual entities. More broadly, environmental variation across these learning contexts (e.g., socioeconomic status, number of siblings, and pedagogical and child- rearing practices) may differentially affect general cognitive skills that are known to influence relational reasoning, like executive function.”  (quoted from the paper)

    Or, perhaps, could there be a genetic explanation?…Would children of Chinese ancestry, raised in the US in English-speaking homes, show more often the Chinese  pattern or the American pattern in these experiments?  While a genetic explanation seems unlikely to me, I would think it should at least be considered.

    Most likely, to me, seems the language explanation.  The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which has also been dubbed ‘linguistic relativity’, holds that the language we speak has a major impact on how we perceive the world…it fell into some disrepute after WWII because of its appropriation by the Nazis to make claims of cultural superiority and also because of some apparent errors in Whorf’s reporting, concerning for example the Inuit words for ‘snow’…it does make sense, however, that language has a significant impact on what thoughts can be most easily expressed and hence on what thoughts are most likely to be conceived.

    Posted in Academia, China, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, USA | 10 Comments »

    Heat and the Movies

    Posted by David Foster on 5th July 2019 (All posts by )

    Hot weather encourages feelings of gratitude for the existence of air conditioning, the primary inventor of which (at least as far as a practical system goes) was Willis Carrier.  His original motivation was not the improvement of human comfort, but rather solving air quality problems affecting the operations of a printing company.  But A/C was quickly applied to the dehumidification and cooling of human was well as industrial environments.

    Initially, systems were large and expensive and hence better-fitted to businesses and other environments serving a lot of people than to individual homes.  One of the first industries that adopted air conditioning was the motion-picture theater industry, starting with an installation at Sid Grauman’s Metropolitan Theater in 1922.

    It makes sense to believe, and seems to be generally accepted, that the introduction of A/C had much to do with the great success of the movie industry…if the theater was one of the few places in town where you could be cool, then it would be nice to have enough new movies constantly coming out to justify going the the theater as often as possible.

    The same phenomenon applied with department stores…starting with a Hudson’s in Detroit in 1926…though I would think A/C was not quite as impactful in that case as in the case of the movies.

    BUT, with the introduction and constant improvement of home air conditioners, the process would have likely gone into reverse: if you can be cool at home, there is less incentive to “go to the movies” unless there is something showing that you really want to see. Similarly with retail..although until the introduction of the consumer Internet, you still needed to go to a store for most things.

    It is pretty common that a technology that helps a particular industry at one point will, later and with further development of that industry, harm that industry.  Another example is the newspaper industry:  one of the great enablers of the growth of the newspaper industry was the telegraph (along with the high-speed printing press and the Linotype machine.)  But as digital communications (of which the telegraph was an early example) developed into data networks and ultimately the Internet, the ability to conveniently extend the information flow into the home was devastatingly harmful to that industry.

    Returning to the air conditioner, another impact of this technology has been geographical: making areas that were previously not-so-desirable for reasons of climate much more generally inhabitable…as in the cases of the US south and southwest.

    A/C is a significant consumer of energy in the form of electricity, and as it is more widely adopted in places such India, it will have a major impact on electricity consumption in those countries.

    Thoughts?  Other industry examples?

    Posted in Business, Energy & Power Generation, History, Human Behavior, Internet, Tech | 35 Comments »

    Mice in a Maze

    Posted by Jay Manifold on 18th June 2019 (All posts by )

    Arnade, Chris. Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America. Penguin Publishing Group, 2019.

    Chris Arnade certainly seems to have been called, and may well have been chosen, to help mitigate one of the great divisions of our time. Dignity complements, among others, Charles Murray’s Coming Apart with interviews and photos from what Murray would call “Fishtown,” or rather its extreme margin, whose inhabitants are simultaneously transient and rooted, strategizing to survive in ways often incomprehensible to the more cognitively gifted and emotionally stable. Learning to extend compassion and respect rather than mere pity (in its more negative variant), glib political “solutions,” and outright contempt is a challenge far too few Americans are willing to undertake. Matthew 22:14 seems unnervingly relevant in this context, and while the church as it is depicted among the people Dignity portrays is an overwhelmingly positive influence, more “front row” believers might take a moment to consider just how much better than the vast majority of us Arnade, a secular liberal, has done at reaching out to desperate communities. My advice to them is to buy and read this book, pray over it, maybe lend it out to others for discussion, and—without reinventing the wheel—do the Tocquevillian thing and organize/volunteer, with an eye to Luke 15. Because if the parables in that chapter aren’t about “back row” people, they don’t mean a damned thing.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Big Government, Biography, Book Notes, Christianity, Civil Society, Current Events, Education, Human Behavior, Libertarianism, Personal Narrative, Political Philosophy, Politics, Religion, Society, Trump, USA | 31 Comments »

    Book Review: The Caine Mutiny

    Posted by David Foster on 18th May 2019 (All posts by )

    The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk

    —-

    (reposted in honor of Herman Wouk, who died yesterday at the age of 103)

    Just about everyone has seen the movie based on this book, featuring Humphrey Bogart’s famous performance as Captain Queeg.  The movie is indeed excellent–the book is even better, and contains a lot that is absent from the film.  And while the film ends basically after the court-martial scene, the book continues to follow the USS Caine and  key characters for the duration of the war.  In this review, I won’t worry about spoilers re plot elements that were included in the movie, but will try to minimize them as far as other aspects of the book are concerned. After summarizing the story, I’ll comment on some of the issue raised by the book. (A 2005 article, referencing The Caine Mutiny, refers to Wouk as “the first neoconservative.”)

    Lieutenant Commander Philip Queeg, a rigid and insecure man, is appointed during WWII to the command of Caine, a decrepit old destroyer-minesweeper…the ship and its slovenly-appearing crew are described as being part of the  “hoodlum navy.”  This is Queeg’s first command, and he is desperately concerned to make it a success, deeply afraid of making a mistake which will lead to his failure.  Ironically, it is specifically this fear of failure and perceived need for perfection which is responsible for many, perhaps most, of his troubles. When Caine runs aground the first time Queeg takes her out, he fails to submit the required grounding report for fear of higher authority’s reaction. When the ship cuts her own towline while assigned to target-towing duty, Queeg cannot make up him mind whether or not to attempt recovery of the drifting target–and radios in for instructions.  Incidents like these do not inspire confidence in Queeg on the part of his superiors.

    The officers and crew of Caine also lose confidence in the captain as his obsessive-compulsive behavior becomes increasingly problematic.  As a result of several incidents during combat, there are also concerns about Queeg’s personal courage. While no one aboard Caine likes Queeg once they get to know him, the captain’s most vocal critic is an officer named Thomas Keefer, an intellectual who is an aspiring novelist. Keefer has a cynical attitude toward the Navy, which he refers to as “a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots,” and advises Willie Keith, a young officer who is his subordinate,  that “If you’re not an idiot, but find yourself in the Navy, you can only operate well by pretending to be one.”

    The ship’s executive officer is Steve Maryk. In civilian life a commercial fisherman, Maryk now hopes to make the Navy his career. Maryk is a fine seaman and a good leader, but not a highly-educated man–he is somewhat in awe of Tom Keefer’s intellectual attainments.

    In repeated conversations, Keefer tells Maryk that the captain must be mentally ill, using psychological jargon and concepts that Maryk does not pretend to understand. Maryk is concerned enough about Queeg’s behavior that he begins keeping a “medical log” on Queeg, with the idea of presenting this to higher authority if necessary and possible. The time seems right when Caine shares an anchorage with the battleship carrying Admiral Halsey:  Maryk takes his log, takes Keefer in tow, and heads over to the New Jersey to see if they can speak with the Admiral.  But Keefer, at the last moment, chickens out, asserting that Halsey, with his experience aboard large well-managed ships, would never be able to understand the state of things aboard a hoodlum-navy ship like Caine, and that raising the issue with him would only get the two of them in trouble.  Feeling unable to make the case without support, Maryk gives up on talking to Halsey and the two officers return to Caine.

    But soon thereafter, the old ship encounters a typhooon. Fleet course is 180 degrees, due south–away from the wind–and Queeg refuses to adopt the safer course of heading into the wind even though communication with other ships, as well as radar contact, has been lost.

    An unbelievably big gray wave loomed on the port side, high over the bridge. It came smashing down. Water spouted into the wheelhouse from the open wing, flooding to Willie’s knees. The water felt surprisingly warm and sticky, like blood. “Sir, we’re shipping water on the goddamn bridge!” said Maryk shrilly. “We’ve got to come around into the wind!”

    “Heading 245, sir.” Stilwell’s voice was sobbing. “She ain’t answering to the engines at all, sir!”

    The Caine rolled almost completely over on its port side.  Everybody in the wheelhouse except Stilwell went sliding across the streaming deck and piled up against the windows.  The sea was under their noses, dashing up against the glass.  “Mr Maryk, the light on this gyro just went out!” screamed Stilwell, clinging desperately to the wheel.  The wind howled and shrieked in Willie’s ears.  He lay on his face on the deck, tumbling around in salt water, flailing for a grip at something solid.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Book Notes, History, Human Behavior, Management, Military Affairs, Nautical Book Project, Reruns, Transportation | 9 Comments »

    Pretty Scary

    Posted by David Foster on 17th May 2019 (All posts by )

    Martin Wolf, writing in the Financial Times, displayed the above graph, which is taken from this article in the Journal of Democracy.

    After seeing this graph, I was going to put the title “Absolutely Terrifying” on this post.  But when looking at survey data, I like to dig into the source information a bit and look at the wording of the actual questions asked.  This data comes from something called the World Values Survey, and the specific question is:

    How important is it for you to live in a country that is governed democratically? On this scale where 1 means it is “not at all important” and 10 means “absolutely important” what position would you choose?

    I wondered how the results would look if I added the “9”  answers, one notch below “absolutely important”, to those who gave the highest possible importance answer…then did the same thing when adding the “8” respondents.  Here’s what I got (US data only), summarized.

    “Absolutely Important” only:

    1930s 63%
    1940s 56%
    1950s 57%
    1960s 47%
    1970s 43%
    1980s 27%

    “Absolutely Important” plus “9” responses:

    1930s 78%
    1940s 74%
    1950s 67%
    1960s 61%
    1970s 57%
    1980s 40%

    When I also add those who assigned democracy an “8” rating, I get a total of 89% for the 1930s cohort falling to 77% for the 1960s birth and 53% for those born in the 1980s.

    (There have been six “waves” of the World Values Survey; I used only the most recent one, which probably explains why my numbers for the “absolutely important” category are slightly different from those shown in the graph.  The data is openly available here, and the display and crosstab toolset is very easy to use.)

    So the results are slightly less-alarming than they appeared at first glance, which is why I changed the title of this post from “Absolutely Terrifying” to “Pretty Scary.”  Still, 40% is less than half, and the indication that only 40% of the 1980s cohort value democracy as either “maximally important,” or one step down from that, should be of considerable concern.

    Your thoughts?

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Deep Thoughts, Europe, Human Behavior, Political Philosophy, Politics, USA | 16 Comments »

    Anecdotes: The Uber Driver

    Posted by Jonathan on 14th May 2019 (All posts by )

    A couple of months ago in an Uber:

    The driver, a Haitian immigrant, is listening to an NPR interview with Pete Buttigieg, the South Bend, IN mayor and Democratic wunderkind. The questions are softballs and Buttigieg gives polished, mellifluous, contentless answers in his perfect NPR-announcer voice. He is exploring the possibility of running for President. He thinks more young people should consider government careers. He is married to a man and this fact pleases the interviewer. There are no questions about the role of the presidency or about how someone as young and inexperienced as Buttigieg could possibly be qualified.

    The driver says, Why do people in this country think running for office is the only way to help their country? Why don’t they start businesses and create jobs instead?

    I attempt a rational answer along the lines of: Most productive people don’t run for office and the people who do run for office aren’t typical. But the driver’s question was mostly rhetorical. Buttigieg is obviously a talented guy who could be successful in many roles yet chose retail politics. He fits a profile: Young, ambitious, vague on political philosophy and with a resume that suggests a disciplined long-term effort to groom himself for high elected office. This is not the profile of a normal person and it engenders suspicion in people who have conservative temperaments. The Uber driver is clearly someone with a conservative temperament. Many other Americans, it appears, are not. Time will tell which approach – brilliant resumes and glibly articulated rationality, or respect for experience and hard realities – will prevail politically.

    Posted in Human Behavior, Leftism, Political Philosophy, Politics | 5 Comments »

    Study in White

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 3rd May 2019 (All posts by )

    I was ruminating all this week, after last week’s post on the practice of ‘othering’ and how common it seems of late that that white people (that is, those of us who are on the paler end of the skin-color spectrum and whose ancestors originated somewhere north of the Mediterranean and west of the Urals) are the piñata of choice among a wide swath of lefty academics, and certain media and political personalities. Last week it was the lefty librarian blogger getting her pantyhose in a twist about all those books by white people in academic libraries, this week it’s students at an Oakland HS (of course – Oakland/SF) demanding that murals of George Washington be painted over, a couple of months ago it was a rather nasty bigot named Sarah Jeong landing a cushy gig at the so-called newspaper of record, in spite of a series of tweets that would have seen any writer of pallor and masculinity reduced to waiting tables and driving for Uber. And now it appears that such concepts as a rule of law, assumption of innocence, conventional good manners and even timeliness are now held to be proof of the iniquity of whiteness. Why should this be so, and why now? Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Academia, Civil Society, Conservatism, Culture, Current Events, Human Behavior, Leftism, Media, Politics | 9 Comments »

    Of Humor and Sanity

    Posted by David Foster on 1st May 2019 (All posts by )

    Back in September, I mentioned some articles describing efforts to give artificial intelligence systems something resembling a simulated sense of humor.  “Interesting research, perhaps,”  I wrote at the time, “but at this juncture I’m less concerned above providing a sense of humor for AI systems than maintaining a sense of humor for human beings.”

    Comes now Claire Lehmann, tweeting:  “In clinical psychology you learn that the loss of a sense of humour can indicate deterioration in mental health.”  I’d assert that this is probably also true of entire organizations and entire societies.

    While people in general are increasingly too afraid to engage in real, lighthearted humor, there is a kind of faux-humor that is toxically thriving.

    In The Screwtape Letters, C S Lewis’s devil responds to a letter from his protege, in which the latter refers to his “patients” as “great laughers,” which the younger devil sees as a good sign for his project to lead them into damnation.  Maybe yes, maybe no, replies Screwtape; it depends on what kind of humor the patients are engaging in. He goes through a categorization of types, and says:

    But flippancy is the best of all. In the first place it is very economical. Only a clever human can make a real Joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the Joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it. If prolonged, the habit of Flippancy builds up around a man the finest armour-plating against the Enemy that I know, and it is quite free from the dangers inherent in the other sources of laughter. It is a thousand miles away from joy it deadens, instead of sharpening, the intellect; and it excites no affection between those who practice it.

    Flippancy is closely related to sarcasm and snark.  Field Marshal Lord Wavell had some thoughts:

    Explosions of temper do not necessarily ruin a general’s reputation or influence with his troops; it is almost expected of them (“the privileged irascibility of senior officers,” someone has written), and it is not always resented, sometimes even admired, except by those immediately concerned. But sarcasm is always resented and seldom forgiven. (emphasis added) In the Peninsula the bitter sarcastic tongue of Craufurd, the brilliant but erratic leader of the Light Division, was much more wounding and feared than the more violent outbursts of Picton, a rough, hot-tempered man.

    A few pages later (in his little book The Art of Generalship), Wavell again addresses the topic of sarcasm:

    He (the general) should never indulge in sarcasm, which is being clever at someone else’s expense, and always offends.

    At the same time humor is being suppressed among people in general, late-night comedians and other media types are heavily engaging in sarcasm/snark, with socially-toxic results that would have been no surprise to Lord Wavell.

    Also, some thoughts on the damage done by snideness in advertising.

     

    Posted in Civil Society, Human Behavior, Humor, Media, USA | 8 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 30th April 2019 (All posts by )

    Dennis Prager, quoting and expanding on Bret Stephens’s explanation of how the New York Times could come to publish an obviously anti-Jewish cartoon:

    “The reason is the almost torrential criticism of Israel and the mainstreaming of anti-Zionism, including by this paper, which has become so common that people have been desensitized to its inherent bigotry. So long as anti-Semitic arguments or images are framed, however speciously, as commentary about Israel, there will be a tendency to view them as a form of political opinion, not ethnic prejudice. But as I noted in a Sunday Review essay in February, anti-Zionism is all but indistinguishable from anti-Semitism in practice and often in intent, however much progressives try to deny this.”
     
    Exactly right. As I wrote in “Why the Jews? The Reason for Anti-Semitism” 40 years before Stephens wrote his column, there is no difference between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism. Of course, one can criticize Israel, just as one can criticize any country, but that is not anti-Zionism. Anti-Zionism is not criticism of Israel. It is a hatred of Israel — a hatred greater than that of any other country and a delegitimization of Zionism, the movement to reestablish the Jewish national home. Imagine someone who argued that the establishment of the Italian state — Italy — was illegitimate and who hated Italy more than any other country in the world yet claimed that he was in no way anti-Italian, as he had Italian friends and loved Italian culture. No one would believe such an absurdity.

    Posted in Human Behavior, Jewish Leftism, Judaism, Leftism, Quotations, Rhetoric, The Press | 16 Comments »

    Seth Barrett Tillman: Why Obama and Clinton Described the Sri Lankan Victims as “Easter Worshippers” and not as “Christians”: A Friendly Amendment for Dennis Prager

    Posted by Jonathan on 28th April 2019 (All posts by )

    Why do senior politicians across the Western world systematically engage in this and other similar sorts of newspeak? Here, I suggest, Obama and Clinton (and their peers) believe millions of otherwise ordinary American citizens are deplorables. They believe that if they were to discuss the reality of world events with their fellow citizens, and do so without dissembling, then any number of our fellow citizens would organize communal violence, mayhem, and murder—on a mass scale.

    Read the entire post.

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Christianity, Civil Society, Human Behavior, Leftism, Obama, Political Philosophy, Politics, Rhetoric, Terrorism, The Press, Trump, USA | 5 Comments »

    Anecdotes: The Gas Station Guy

    Posted by Jonathan on 28th April 2019 (All posts by )

    During bike rides I sometimes stop for refreshment at a particular gas station/convenience store. It is a busy station at a busy intersection – very convenient. The station is usually attended by one of two late-middle-aged taciturn Indian guys. I assume they are related to each other. One of them barely acknowledges me. The second one was like that too until maybe a year ago but now greets me warmly. The second guy is the topic of this post.

    At some point I noticed that the second guy sometimes makes errors, generally favoring himself, in ringing up the snacks I buy. Several times he’s shortchanged me by small amounts. Of course he corrects the errors when I point them out. One weekend I realized that I had paid ~$6 for two items that were priced at around $2 each. It was too late to do anything, but the same thing happened again a week or two later and I called him on it. Ah, another mistake – he corrected the charge.

    This morning I experienced the most refined version of his game yet. I hadn’t eaten breakfast so I took a piece of cake, a bottle of Gatorade and a small bag of mixed nuts to the register. The total should have been around $6 but it rang up at more than $8. I paid with a credit card and asked for a receipt – he doesn’t give a receipt unless you ask – and mentioned that the total seemed high. He said that the price included two bottles of Gatorade in a two-for-$4 deal and that I should take my second bottle. Why did he wait to tell me this until I requested a receipt? I walked back to the Gatorade rack and the price was listed as $2.67 each, as I remembered. I said that I wanted just one bottle of Gatorade as I had no way to carry a second bottle. Very quickly he refunded, in cash and without further prompting, my $2 overpayment. Slick. I wonder how much he takes in over time through overcharges that customers don’t notice. It’s a busy store.

    The upshot is that I stopped at the gas station again later, on my way back, and bought another Gatorade. The gas station guy greeted me warmly and said that if I had paid for two Gatorades earlier I could be picking up the second one now and saving $1.34. I thanked him for his consideration.

    Posted in Human Behavior | 8 Comments »

    Saving (Restoring) Free-Range Childhood

    Posted by David Foster on 24th April 2019 (All posts by )

    Kerry McDonald:  The Value of a Self-Directed Summer for Kids.

    Autonomy and choice are central to a self-directed summer, in contrast to the control and regimentation that define so many children’s days all year round. Parents from all socio-economic backgrounds face mounting pressure to have their children’s summer days filled with structured, and often expensive, enrichment activities; but poorer parents may confront the most coercion.

    RTWT.  See also my related post Six Hundred Million Years in K-12.

    The term “free-range kids” was originated, AFAIK, by Lenore Skenazy, who has a blog with that name.

    Posted in Civil Society, Crime and Punishment, Human Behavior, USA | 8 Comments »

    Boredom

    Posted by David Foster on 14th April 2019 (All posts by )

    Ammo Grrrll writes about her husband, a man who is never bored…”the most self-amusing human I have ever known, mostly due to an overabundance of enthusiasms and boundless curiosity about every dang thing in the world.”  She contrasts this attitude with the attitudes of those people who really can’t think of anything to do unless they need to go to work.

    Valerie Jarrett famously said of Obama:  “He’s been bored to death his whole life.”  We can’t be sure, of course, that Jarrett is here actually reflecting Obama’s true characteristics;  but we can be sure that she feels that the characteristic of being bored one’s whole life is something admirable, a sign of intellectual and maybe moral superiority.

    (I think it’s correct to say that the affectation of boredom has traditionally been associated with members of aristocracies)

    Years ago, when I visited the American Museum of the American Indian, one of the exhibits was a collection of jewelry made by former senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (Cheyenne)…really fine stuff, not that I’m any judge.  I remember wondering at the time:  how many other politicians have a serious hobby or avocation such as this?  I thought then and I think now that it’s probably pretty exceptional; most of them seem to have few interests other than the pursuit of power and activities directly related to that pursuit.

    In his important memoir of growing up in Germany between the wars, Sebastian Haffner discusses a period (during the Stresemann chancellorship) when the political and economic climate in that country stabilized significantly.  Most people were a lot happier:

    The last ten years were forgotten like a bad dream. The Day of Judgment was remote again, and there was no demand for saviors or revolutionaries…There was an ample measure of freedom, peace, and order, everywhere the most well-meaning liberal-mindedness, good wages, good food and a little political boredom. everyone was cordially invited to concentrate on their personal lives, to arrange their affairs according to their own taste and to find their own paths to happiness.

    But…and I think this is a particuarly important point…a return to private life was not to everyone’s taste:

    A generation of young Germans had become accustomed to having the entire content of their lives delivered gratis, so to speak, by the public sphere, all the raw material for their deeper emotions…Now that these deliveries suddently ceased, people were left helpless, impoverished, robbed, and disappointed. They had never learned how to live from within themselves, how to make an ordinary private life great, beautiful and worth while, how to enjoy it and make it interesting. So they regarded the end of political tension and the return of private liberty not as a gift, but as a deprivation. They were bored, their minds strayed to silly thoughts, and they began to sulk.

    and

    To be precise (the occasion demands precision, because in my opinion it provides the key to the contemporary period of history): it was not the entire generation of young Germans. Not every single individual reacted in this fashion. There were some who learned during this period, belatedly and a little clumsily, as it were, how to live. they began to enjoy their own lives, weaned themselves from the cheap intoxication of the sports of war and revolution, and started to develop their own personalities. It was at this time that, invisibly and unnoticed, the Germans divided into those who later became Nazis and those who would remain non-Nazis.

    I believe that in America today, there are a lot of people–largely, but not exclusively on the Left–whose political activity is motivated in large part by their inability to make their own lives great, beautiful and worth while.

    Discuss, if so inclined.

    Posted in Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Germany, Human Behavior, USA | 17 Comments »

    The Internet Rewards Crazy (Rerun)

    Posted by Jonathan on 25th March 2019 (All posts by )

    (This is a reposting of posts from two and seven years ago. Unhappily, this post’s themes are more relevant than ever. The Internet seems to be changing human social relations, business, politics and civil society in significant ways not all of which are clear. Perhaps the nature of what is happening will be better understood with time.)

    —-

    Crazy, overconfident; the opposite of the judicious, scientific, skeptical temperament.

    Extreme opinions.

    Stubborn.

    Bombastic.

    The opposite of thoughtful.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Business, Human Behavior, Internet, Society, Systems Analysis | 5 Comments »

    Important Reading

    Posted by David Foster on 23rd March 2019 (All posts by )

    Sarah Hoyt:  The Totalitarian Train in Rolling Down the Tracks

    If I could communicate just one thing, across the increasing divide of language and thought to the left it would be this: that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you’re running someone down is not righteousness.  It’s just the feeling apes get when they run off another ape.

    If you’re part of a band and all of you were piling on an outsider — or an insider who was just declared an outsider and run off — you’ll also feel very connected to your band, and a feeling of being loved and belonging.  It’s not real. It’s the result of a “reward” rush of endorphins, oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine that flood your body after stress and a perceived “victory.”  Oxytocin, particularly, promotes a feeling of bonding with those around you.

    Just remember, as you’re high fiving each other and believing that something that feels so good has to be good and morally “just” you could be the victim tomorrow.  Because the feelings don’t last, and that rush of “righteousness and victory” is addictive. Those who are your comrades today will be looking for someone to kick in the face tomorrow. And it really could be you.

    I’m reminded again of a passage in Goethe’s Faust. After finding that she is pregnant–which meant big trouble for a single woman in that time and place–Gretchen is talking with her awful friend Lieschen, who (still unaware of Gretchen’s situation) is licking her chops about the prospect of humiliating another girl (Barbara) who has also become pregnant outside of marriage. Here’s Gretchen, reflecting on her own past complicity in such viciousness:

    How readily I used to blame
    Some poor young soul that came to shame!
    Never found sharp enough words like pins
    To stick into other people’s sins
    Black as it seemed, I tarred it to boot
    And never black enough to suit
    Would cross myself, exclaim and preen–
    Now I myself am bared to sin!
    Yet all of it that drove me here
    God! ws so innocent, was so dear!

    Doesn’t this describe a lot of today’s SJW behavior and other political behavior?  “Never found sharp enough words like pins To stick in other people’s sins…Would cross myself, exclaim, and preen”

    Lots of exclaiming and preening going on these days..quite likely, even, in certain churches, some crossing of themselves by activists as part of the denunciation of the “others.”   The extent of the pleasure gained by many from group cruelty toward approved targets is pretty clear and is a major factor in today’s social and political toxicity.

    Posted in Civil Society, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, USA | 13 Comments »

    The New Party Line

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 14th March 2019 (All posts by )

    So, as of this last week, as per the sparkly new members of the House, the Democrat Party line is now one of unapologetic and hard-line anti-Semitism. Not that this should surprise anyone with a grounding in history: in the 19th century, the Democrat Party was the party of slavery and secession, in the 20th, the party of segregation and Jim Crow. And now, in this faintly-tarnished 21st, they appear to have become the party of socialism, anti-Semitism, and the fanatical belief that OMG-The-Planet-Earth-Is-Gonna-Fry!
    The Horrendous Climate Change thing is bad enough on its’ own. Look, I have been paying attention long enough to remember when Massive Global Cooling was all the Panic du jour, then followed by the Massive Global Warming – all this human and/or industrial caused. I am so not falling for the scam of the successor to this panic – that of Massive Global Climate Change!!Eleventy!! It was warm enough in Roman times to grow wine grapes in England, warm enough in Medieval times for subsistence farming in Greenland, cold enough in the 17th centuries that the Thames froze over at London, enabling midwinter jollities to be held on the ice. The monumental Cliff Dweller settlements in the American Southwest flowered and flourished until the thirteenth century, when widespread drought and subsequent unrest drove the Anasazi from their aeries among the cliffs. The volcanic explosion of Mt. Tambora in 1815 in the East Indies brought about the following “year with no summer” in the northern European continent and the eastern US – all this when industry was in infancy and automobiles a dream in the mind of whatever madman was doing science fiction at the time… so, not buying anthropogenic global warming or the Green New Deal for a hot second. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Anti-Americanism, Conservatism, Current Events, Environment, Human Behavior, Judaism, Leftism, Media | 39 Comments »

    Social Media

    Posted by Jonathan on 13th March 2019 (All posts by )

    “it’s merely common courtesy, you moron”

    (Actual quote from a FB discussion I read today.)

    Posted in Human Behavior, Internet | 8 Comments »

    Anecdotes: The Mango Lady

    Posted by Jonathan on 27th February 2019 (All posts by )

    The Mango Lady is a peddler who does business under the elevated train tracks at a major intersection. I have seen her many times but never bought anything from her. However, I know someone who knows people who say that they have.

    The story is, if you ask the Mango Lady her price she will reply that mangoes are $1 each or $3 for two. Yes. My friend’s friends wanted to buy several mangoes but made clear that they would pay no more than $1 each. They weren’t about to get taken by the 2-for-$3 gimmick. The Mango Lady laughed and said: You wouldn’t believe how many people fall for that.

    Posted in Human Behavior | 14 Comments »

    Peak Stupid

    Posted by Sgt. Mom on 25th February 2019 (All posts by )

    No, I don’t think will ever reach Peak Stupid; just as we will probably never reach Peak Oil, either – since there appears to be an inexhaustible supply of the former, and more of the latter than the gloom’n’doom crowd apparently thought. But Deity on a Trisket, the farrago of Stupid on display just this past week is just plain mind-blowing. And I read a lot of history, so it’s not a total surprise to me that individually and en masse, humans are capable of the spectacularly moronic; things like Tulip Mania in 17th century Holland, pursuance of the Flat Earth theory after trips into space, and the Billy Jack movie series, not to mention the whole disco era in general.
    So the Jussie Smallett supposed hate-crime on the below-freezing streets of Chicago on the coldest day of the year thus far (hey, it’s only February, I am confident that the remaining ten months of 2019 will bring us ever more bountiful levels of stupidity) has fallen completely apart – much as the intelligent and logical portion of the blogosphere had predicted upon being made aware of the specifics. Yes, a planned – with an astounding level of stupidity even for an actor – hate crime, intended to leverage a pay raise, and garner oodles of that sweet, sweet milk of sympathy for a victim. And the National Establishment Mainstream fell for it, hook, line, sinker and whatever else in an appealing sob story, not to mention quantities of gullible media celebrities, and gullible political celebrities. Oopsie. The most decent of them appear to have the nous to be resoundingly pissed with Mr. Smolett over how their sympathies were exploited. The indecent are lying low and doubtless waiting for the next shiny, flashy supposed hate crime to bubble up to the top of that pond of scum which appears to be our national thought leaders. Live and learn, people – there exists a long, long, long history of faked hate crimes. The most recent of which happened not two weeks previously, with the Covington Catholic students. Memories are short in the National Establishment Media gene pool; measured in hours, I would guess. Possibly this is a variety of genetic defect. Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Architecture, Business, Chicagoania, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Current Events, History, Human Behavior, Just Unbelievable, Leftism, Media, Military Affairs, The Press | 6 Comments »