Choose Your Illusion: A Review of Every Cradle is a Grave

Originally posted on The Reactivity Place:

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It was very hard for me to read Sarah Perry’s Every Cradle is a Grave: Rethinking the Ethics of Birth and Suicide (Nine Banded Books, 2014). She is, first of all, one of the brightest minds within the nascent neoreaction. Her thought-provoking scientific research on sacredness, beauty, group belonging, and suffering is top notch. Moreover, her writing on such topics is always coupled with humility, wonder and a deep appreciation for the human condition?an approach that seems strikingly like the Christian Humanism of Chesterton or St. Terese of Lisieux. Her work has been positively inspiring, and, perhaps ironically (especially after you read the punch line) increased my Catholic faith.

Why so difficult then? Not because the book is not well written or difficult to digest. It is supremely well written, and the average college graduate will be able to read and understand it, and would probably benefit greatly by doing…

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Machines, Work, and the Value of People

Originally posted on The Frailest Thing:

Late last month, Microsoft released a “bot” that guesses your age based on an uploaded picture. The bot tended to be only marginally accurate and sometimes hilariously (or disconcertingly) wrong. What’s more, people quickly began having some fun with the program by uploading faces of actors playing fictional characters, such as Yoda or Gandalf. My favorite was Ian Bogost’s submission:

Shortly after the How Old bot had its fleeting moment of virality, Nathan Jurgenson tweeted the following:

This was an interesting observation, and it generated a few interesting replies. Jurgenson himself added, “much of the bigdata/algorithm debates miss how poor these often perform. many critiques presuppose & reify their untenable positivism.” He summed up…

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Weaponized Sacredness

On March 12, 1928, the St. Francis Dam, just north of Los Angeles, California, failed catastrophically and sent a wave of water through the valley that caused the gruesome deaths of hundreds of people. No one had predicted the disaster, but after an investigation, it was decided that the dam was built on inadequate soil; the disaster was, in theory, predictable – after the fact. People thought they had control over a massive force (the water), but their control turned out to be illusory.

Considering political and social disasters like the famines of the Great Leap Forward in China or the French Revolution, a similar explanation for the resulting piles of bodies seems apt: social forces over which humans thought they had control (in the sense of being able to coordinate with each other for well-being and sustenance) turned out not to be under their control. No one ever sees it coming, but after the fact everyone is anxious to demonstrate how inevitable it was. If mass violence and destruction seem impossible in our time, consider that everyone who was about to experience revolution felt pretty much the same way. Even the revolutionaries themselves often think they have little chance of success until the revolution is already underway.

Why the surprise? Why does a phenomenon so seemingly inevitable in hindsight go unforeseen? Just as the water in the St. Francis Dam was slowly, imperceptibly undermining the stability of the dam in the weeks preceding the catastrophic failure, the private opinion upon which the success of a revolution depends goes unobserved. It is difficult for anyone to gauge the true popularity of either an incumbent government or the revolutionary opposition, because of a phenomenon Timur Kuran calls preference falsification (in his book Private Truths, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification – a concept briefly mentioned in an earlier installment).

Preference falsification is an information theory term for the tendency for people to express a public preference that is different from their private, interior preference. For various reasons, certain preferences may not be publicly acceptable to express; they may be punished by execution, or labor camps, or exile, or social exclusion, or at the very least suspicion and a risk of some of these things. When people do not express their true preferences, they are deprived of the opportunity to coordinate with each other to create a more preferable outcome for both. Preference falsification is not just a political phenomenon, but a product of our dual nature, experiencing ourselves on the one hand from the privileged first-person perspective, and on the other hand from the imagined perspective of others.

via Weaponized Sacredness.

Pretending to Care, Pretending to Agree

In common usage, the stress and strain are used interchangeably, but in engineering, stress is the force acting on a material, while strain is the resulting distortion in the material. In humans, stress can be measured by the internal anxiety we feel, and various physiological symptoms. Strain can be measured by the distortion represented by the social masks we need to maintain, in order to function under that stress.

There are two basic types of masks: masks of pretending to care are exit masks, and masks of pretending to agree are voice masks. I suspect these two kinds of masks, between them, cover almost all cases of preference falsification, the concept Sarah introduced us to in her post a couple of weeks ago. Much of her post had to do with the effects of voice masks at the scale of nations, but in this post I want to consider both together at an individual scale.

via Pretending to Care, Pretending to Agree.

“We Reached The Tipping Point”: Income Inequality Is Highest Since Records Began

Sadly as this point it is far too late for hopes of a change: the wealthy are so engrained in the fabric of official decision-making, that any hope they would willingly cede their wealth, or power, is naive. As a result, the failed policies which have pushed the world to this disastrous condition will continue as can be seen by the recent launch of QE in Europe and the boost of QE in Japan, which will make the rich even richer, and the poor and hungry even madder until one day, the entire world decides it has had it and is covered in a bloody revolution against a broken status quo regime.

via “We Reached The Tipping Point”: Income Inequality Is Highest Since Records Began | Zero Hedge.