A Nation of Hives

Saturday, May 20th, 2017 08:57 pm
flwyd: (1895 USA map)
When a single hive is scaled up to the size of a nation and is led by a dictator with an army at his disposal, the results are invariably disastrous. But that is no argument for removing or suppressing hives at lower levels. In fact, a nation that is full of hives is a nation of happy and satisfied people. It’s not a very promising target for takeover by a demagogue offering people meaning in exchange for their souls. Creating a nation of multiple competing groups and parties was, in fact, seen by America’s founding fathers as a way of preventing tyranny. More recently, research on social capital has demonstrated that bowling leagues, churches, and other kinds of groups, teams, and clubs are crucial for the health of individuals and of a nation. As political scientist Robert Putnam put it, the social capital that is generated by such local groups “makes us smarter, healthier, safer, richer, and better able to govern a just and stable democracy.”
— Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion, “The Hive Switch”

The driving metaphor for the final section of the book is “We are 90 percent and 10 percent bee.” He spends quite a while arguing for a limited form of group selection (specifically multilevel selection theory which I previously resonated with in David Sloan Wilson's Darwin’s Cathedral). Haidt says that humans usually act with the familial interest that any evolutionary biologist or economist could explain. But we’re also capable of switching into a eusocial hive mode akin to ants, bees, some shrimp, and naked mole-rats. This hive capability (which other primates do not possess) has allowed humans to build progressively larger groups from tribes to city-states to nations to empires to multi-national corporations. It's at work with sports teams, religions, politics, and any scenario where groups compete with each other and can form a strong internal bond.

Cheap travel, mass media, and the Internet have allowed the last few generations to develop and scale hives which are much more geographically diffuse than we could at America’s founding. I wonder if this, plus our winner-take-all political system, puts us more at danger of one hive being able to impose that hive’s will on all the others.
flwyd: (McCain Palin Abe Maude Simpsons)
In America, the political left and political right have conspired to create a culture and politics of victimization, and all the benefits of resentment and cynicism have accrued to the right. That's because resentment and apocalypse are weapons that can be used only to advance a politics of resentment and apocalypse. They are the weapons of the reactionary and the conservative — of people who fear and resist the future. Just as environmentalists believe they can create a great ecological politics out of apocalypse, liberals believe they can create a great progressive politics out of resentment; they cannot. Grievance and victimization make us smaller and less generous and thus serve only reactionaries and conservatives.

As liberals and environmentalists lost political power, they abandoned a politics of the strong, aspiring, and fulfilled for a politics of the weak, aggrieved, and resentful. The unique circumstances of the Great Depression — a dramatic, collective, and public fall from prosperity — are not being repeated today, nor are they likely to be repeated anytime soon. Today's reality of insecure affluence is a very different burden.

It is time for us to draw a new fault line through American political life, one that divides those dedicated to a politics of resentment, limits, and victimization from those dedicated to a politics of gratitude, possibility, and overcoming. The challenge for American liberals and environmentalists isn't to convince the American people that they are poor, insecure, and low status but rather the opposite: to speak to their wealth, security, and high status. It is this posture that motivates our higher aspirations for fulfillment. The way to get insecure Americans to embrace an expansive, generous, and progressive politics is not to tell them they are weak but rather to point out all the ways in which they are strong.
— Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility, “Status and Security”

The thrust of the book is that people support environmental protection when their more basic needs have been satisfied and they're less focused on basic material concerns. The authors argue that we can better address environmental concerns by raising standards of living rather than focusing on limits and restriction. It's worth noting that the book was published in 2007 before the financial crisis, but I think many of their ideas hold in the post-crash world where even more Americans are worried about job security.
flwyd: (McCain Palin Abe Maude Simpsons)
In chapter 1 we described how a common psychological effect of rising insecurity is for people to become more conservative, less generous, and more zero-sum: think pre-Hitler Germany or pre-genocide Rwanda. Many decades of social science literature strongly correlates rising insecurity, fear, and pessimism with authoritarian politics. In difficult situations, the insecure and the pessimistic seek out authoritarian leadership. What's more, social psychological research conducted in laboratory settings has found that manufacturing insecurity and fear, particularly of one's own death, can have the same impact as real social circumstances of fear, such as during a terrorist attack or rising economic insecurity.

Collapse [by Jared Diamond] was intended to help Americans change their social values and create a more ecological society in order to avoid the fate of groups like the Grenland Norse. But in terrifying himself and his readers about the growing risk of social collapse, Diamond's eco-apocalypse narrative risks having the opposite effect. What extensive research finds is that the more scared people become about social instability and death, the less likely they are to change the way they think. Fear of death, wrote a group of social scientists in 2003, engenders a defense of one's cultural worldview.
— Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility

Nordhaus and Shellenberger argue that people will be more motivated to take action on environmental issues if they're presented as positive opportunities, not dire warnings.
flwyd: (step to the moon be careful)
Imagine what would have happened if environmentalists had proposed that the nations of the world make a shared investment in clean energy, better and more efficient housing development, and comfortable and efficient transportation systems. Opponents of global warming would have had to take the position against the growth of these new markets and industries and for limits. Proponents could have tarred their opponents as being anti-business, anti-investment, anti-jobs, and stuck in the past.
— Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, Break Through, “The Pollution Paradigm”

In this chapter, the authors make the case that the pollution-focused tactics of environmental activists are inappropriate for addressing global warming. Carbon dioxide, unlike CFCs or mercury, is not in itself problematic—the trouble is that we emit too much of it. Rather than focusing on limits, they want the environmental movement to call for investments in new and better energy sources; rather than worrying that there are too many people on the planet, they think we should create more efficient cities.

The authors don't cast this as an issue of balance, but as a Taoist I will. The proper ratio of carbon emission and ingestion must be maintained on a worldwide basis, much as an individual needs the right balance of inhaled oxygen and exhaled carbon dioxide. We won't reduce the planetary fever by suddenly stopping to breathe. Instead, we must steadily work to rebalance our sources of energy. With better technology, we can save our carbon dioxide budget for situations where fossil fuels are especially useful.
flwyd: (mail.app)
I've been using Twitter a lot more lately. Here are some clever things I've said that are worth repeating. I also set up a perl6 script to post a #quotefile quip every day.
  • A smile is a hammock for your face
  • I tried to order an extra large T-shirt from Rome. I received forty shirts.
  • Bitcoin is a commodity whose foundation is the artificial scarcity of numbers.
  • When @realDonaldTrump said he'd drain the swamp he didn't tell us that the effluent would flow into the Potomac and then into Chesapeake Bay (re: this story)
  • Chuck Berry transported listeners to a simpler world where we pursued our crushes, drove fast cars, and the week ended with a rockin' dance.
  • Imma let you finish @NCAA, but the March Hare and Mad Hatter are the best #MarchMadness team of all time. #DownTheBasketHole
  • The 2010s surge in white nationalism is in large part a reaction to a century of white internationalism.
  • Hypothesis: Trump thinks girls have cooties. (re: not shaking Angela Merkel's hand)
  • Odd that we live in a culture that stigmatizes seeing a psychologist but not seeing a pastor. They do similar work with different specialities.
  • If your house is too big of a landslide risk you can in theory get a new house. If you have a chronic disease you can't move to a new body. (re: America's model of health insurance)
  • Sets to the left of me, sets to the right / Here I am, stuck in the middle with ∪ / #MathHumor
  • alice@rabbithole> cd wonderland
    alice@rabbithole> ls
    DRINKME
    EATME
    README
    alice@rabbithole >
  • When you gaze into the void, the social media ranking algorithm answers back.
  • The tyranny of Daylight Saving Time is not that you lose an hour of sleep or an hour of sun. It's that you let a clock decide when you act.
  • More people lived in Kentucky in 2010 than lived in the US in 1790. Constitutional suspicion of federal power should apply to state gov't too.
  • I'm more confused reading #Perl6 docs as an experienced programmer than Learning Perl as a novice: "Why'd you make the sausage that way?"
  • Don't defend the status quo. Describe a better system and work to make it happen. Legislators gonna legislate–ensure they enact your vision.
  • Regardless of the benefits of "like a business" governing, Trump's management style isn't fit for leading a country.
  • None of us are as strong as all of us are.
  • Best part so far of a two-week liquid+purée diet? Eating a bowl full of mayonnaise. #TastyRecovery (later that day, my stomach regretted that decision)
  • A good approach to cleaning up public discourse on the Internet: you must listen before you speak. (re: a Norwegian news website's new policy)
  • There are no high-paying jobs at family ethnic restaurants, but it's a crucial role played by immigrants. #JointAddress (re: proposed immigration policies that focus on high-paying tech jobs)
  • For every war we start, we must end two more.
  • The best way to stop drugs from coming into America is to grow marijuana in the U.S. #JointAddress
  • Key change in gay marriage support was folks knowing more gay people. Let's create opportunities for Americans to meet ordinary scientists.
  • Biologists are pro-birth, pro-life, and pro-death.
  • Framing: refugees and immigrants are freedom seekers. They're willing to give up even home and family ties to pursue American values.
  • Freedom isn't free. It's made possible by hard work and generous support from taxpayers like you.
  • Hapless Hank wanted to be the "go to programmer", but instead became the goto programmer.
  • Don't want to be subject to any government? 2000+ sqkm between Egypt and Sudan are claimed by neither.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bir_Tawil
  • Honk if you fly south for the winter.
  • “I'm not racist, I have black friends!” “This bill isn't homophobic, several closeted legislators voted for it!”
  • I don't declare war on xenophobia. I declare peace. May it rest there.
  • It's a travesty that America will have to navigate the era of alternate facts without George Carlin
  • You can't keep evil out of a country; it doesn't travel on a plane. Evil casts its spores through ideas, sown in a heart fertilized by hate.
  • Don't just make art. Be art.
  • Humans are my ingroup.
  • Obama sought dissenting opinions and input from experts. Trump surrounds himself with like-minded people and thinks he knows everything.
  • Hey @POTUS, while you're making it harder to hire foreign workers, please invest in US education system so there are good Americans to hire.
  • Halal food in NYC doesn't come in meal deals. It's Allah carte.
  • If I told you that you tested positive for antibodies, would you hold them against me?
  • Flotsam and jetsam are the mass noun equivalents of odds and ends.
  • Pancakes crêpe me out.
  • Just to keep things surreal @realDonaldTrump should nominate Hillary Clinton for Secretary of State. She's got experience and is unemployed.
  • Strange times when a populace, concerned about decades of job loss, votes in a president whose catchphrase was “You‘re fired”
  • Folks advocating for unfaithful electors in next month's electoral college have moved past shock, denial, and anger and are on to bargaining
  • Two generations ago, GOP was the party of education, business, & taking blacks for granted; Dems the party of labor & southern xenophobia.
  • 2020 campaign promise: free electoral college tuition for all Americans
  • To tap into the wisdom of the crowd, maybe pollsters should ask respondents who they think will win their state and the electoral college.
  • Next time can we choose the greater of two goods?
  • To pay a parking ticket, I have to click "Add to Basket" as if I went to the Municipal Justice Store and browsed around for a nice citation.
  • Maybe Republicans would get serious about #climatechange if we called it "Recapitalizing snow and ice banks."
  • "Wake of the Flood" was the tidal track of the Grateful Dead's 1973 album. #pun
  • Atlas Hugged, in which John Galt attends Burning Man.
  • What do you call a really cute cephalopod? Squeed!
  • I know I'm not going to eat half the food I bring to @burningman. I just wish I knew which half.
  • I'm into second-order psychedelics. I don't take drugs myself, but I thoroughly enjoy consuming the output of those who do.
  • When God closes a door He goes to the window, opens it, sticks His head out & yells “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!”
  • Thank you Mario, but the princess is the protagonist in her own feature film!
  • Mallard abduckted. Fowl play suspected. #terrible #pun
flwyd: (xkcd don quixote)
The turn will come… when Americans, in hundreds of communities throughout the nation, decide to put the man in power who is pledged to enforce the Constitution and restore the Republic. Who will proclaim in a campaign speech: “I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promotte welfare, for I propose to extend freedom… And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents’ ‘interests,’ I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that case I am doing the very best I can.”
– Barry Goldwater, The Conscieence of a Conservative, "The Perils of Power"

Folks on the left are often surprised when Republicans support economic policies which negatively impact a majority of their constituents. Some folks use this observation as a rhetorical barb (e.g. these tweets). But for politicians inspired by Senator Goldwater and the last half century of conservatism, policies which favor liberty (freedom from) at the cost of opportunity (freedom to) are the goal, not an accident.
flwyd: (darwin change over time)
Programs are a major problem for attempts at unity. As soon as a policy is made specific, the differences must be addressed. Progressives tend to talk about policies and programs. But policy details are not what most Americans want to know about. Most Americans want to know what you stand for, whether your values are their values, what your principles are, what direction you want to take the country in. In public discourse, values trump policies, principles trump policies, policy directions trump specific programs. I believe that values, principles, and policy directions are exactly the things that can unite progressives, if they are crafted properly. The reason that they can unite us is that they stand conceptually above all the things that divide us.

Having those shared values, largely unconscious and unspoken, is not good enough. They have to be out in the open, named, said, discussed, publicized, and made part of everyday public discourse. If they go unspoken, while conservative values dominate public discourse, then those values can be lost–swept out of our brains by the conservative communication juggernaut.
Don't just read about these values here and nod. Get out and say them out loud. Discuss them wherever you can. Volunteer for campaigns that give you a chance to discuss these values loud and clear and out in public.
– George Lakoff, The All New Don't Think of an Elephant!, “What Unites Progressives”

Put another way, values, principles, and policy directions are how you build a movement. Policies are how you implement the vision once the movement has critical mass. When building a movement you don't worry too much about folks with a drastically different world view; you're just trying to find all of your friends. But when it comes to policy, it's important to work with folks from “the other side.” A policy which is supported by many members of some movements has a better chance of surviving than a policy which is supported by all and only one team.
flwyd: (Om Chomsky)
Unfortunately, all too many progressives have been taught a false and outdated theory of reason itself, one in which framing, metaphorical thought, and emotion play no role in rationality. This has led many progressives to the view that facts–alone–will set you free. Progressives are constantly giving lists of facts.

Facts matter enormously, but to be meaningful they must be framed in terms of their moral importance. Remember, you can only understand what the frames in your brain allow you to understand. If the facts don't fit the frames in your brain, the frames in your brain stay and the facts are ignored or challenged and belittled.

When George W. Bush arrived, we got "compassionate conservatism." The Clear Skies Initiative. Healthy Forests. No Child Left Behind. … This is the use of Orwellian language–language that means the opposite of what it says–to appease people in the middle as you pump up the base. … Imagine if they came out supporting a "Dirty Skies Bill" or a "Forest Destruction Bill" or a "Kill Public Education" bill. They would lose. They are aware people do not support what they are really trying to do.

Orwellian language points to weakness–Orwellian weakness. When you hear Orwellian language, note where it is, because it is a guide to where they are vulnerable. They do not use it everywhere. It is very important to notice this and use their weakness to your advantage.

– George Lakoff, The All New Don't Think of an Elephant!
flwyd: (darwin change over time)
The scientific community assumes the same rules of communication are always applicable and rational, that people are attentive, open minded, persuaded by facts and believe that those who are presenting information are people of goodwill, and not deliberately trying to manipulate them. But none of those things are true.

Yankelovich and Rosell have identified a process that they call the public learning curve that describes maturing public opinions, where people's views evolve from poorly informed reactions to more thoughtful conclusions. The three-stage process begins with building awareness and consciousness (where advocates and the media typically do a good job). The seecond stage involves working through wishful thinking and denial, resistance to change and mistrust, grasping at straws, deliberate obfuscation and lack of urgency (which is where dialogue comes in). The third part of the learning curve is when people come to resolution (which is handled by decision-makers and government institutions). "Much of our work focuses on improving the 'working through' stage, which our society does not handle well and where critical issues like climate change can get stuck for years or decades," said Rosel.
– James Hoggan, I'm Right and You're an Idiot: The toxic state of public discourse and how to clean it up, chapter 1 with Daniel Yankelovich and Steve Rosel

It is not a wise strategy to define a situation as inevitable or out of control. "This is a negation of politics–because you don't do politics with inevitability," explained Latour. If you send a message to people that there's no other possibility, that it's too late–the result is inaction. Latour suggested that the message must give them the will to find a way out of the dilemma.
– ibid., chapter 7 with Bruno Latour
flwyd: (transparent ribbon for government accoun)
Activists often quote Margaret Mead saying "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." One aspect of this is certainly true: large groups of committed citizens tend to get caught up in either bureaucracy or ideological infighting.
flwyd: (Trevor over shoulder double face)
Talk about what you know. Demonstrate who you are.

Optimal Length

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010 12:39 am
flwyd: (mail.app)
Inspired by a recent comment at work, I propose the optimal length of a blog post (or email or most any writing):

As short as possible and as long as necessary.

Twitter is so great because it makes you practice the former.
flwyd: (dogcow moof!)
More gems from 1986's Programmers At Work, this one from Butler Lampson:
That’s why I think the idea of computer literacy is such a rotten one. By computer literacy I mean learning to use the current generation of BASIC and word-processing programs. That has nothing to do with reality. It’s true that a lot of jobs now require BASIC programming, but the notion that BASIC is going to be fundamental to your ability to function in the information-processing society of the twenty-first century is complete balderdash. There probably won’t be any BASIC in the twenty-first century.

It's the 21st Century now, and the surviving BASIC dialect is Visual Basic, which is more different than mid-80s BASIC than it is alike. The heart of BASIC is to make it easy for people with a strong computer background to write programs. Depending on your perspective, this may be good or bad; BASIC and Visual Basic have been home to some truly groan-worthy code, but also let people accomplish many straightforward tasks more effectively. As the number of computer users has grown exponentially in the last few decades, the percentage of people who know a programming language has dropped significantly. In the 1970s, perhaps half of computer users in academic or research environments could write a program and most businesses that owned a computer had someone who could program it to some degree. Today, we've realized that programming well takes a style of thinking that doesn't come naturally to a lot of people in addition to an investment of time in understanding the ins and outs of specific systems. We've shown that it's more effective to have experts in programming learn new domains and write programs targeted to those than to have experts in domains learn how to program.

Lampson's bigger point is also insightful, but in a way it's wrong. It's true that the details of almost no program used widely in 1986 is relevant today[1]. The specific syntax of Microsoft BASIC, the keystroke shortcuts of WordPefect for DOS, and the location of hidden items in King's Quest are all irrelevant today. But folks like me who learned how to use computers before we learned how to drive have a cognitive model of computer interaction that's a lot more flexible and successful than folks in my parents' generation who get confused about the web and have no hope for social media. The medium is the message.

[1] Amusingly enough, this isn't as true for programmers. The C programming language, the vi and emacs text editors, and Unix-like operating systems have all evolved significantly in the last 25 years, but if you knew how to accomplish something back in the day, you can still do it now. Not to mention COBOL, the illness in the sleeper zombie army of legacy code.

Album Cover Meme

Thursday, March 5th, 2009 08:35 pm
flwyd: (requiem for a dream eye)


Make Your Own:

1 - Name of band: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random

2 - Tile of album: last four or five words of the last quote on http://www.quotationspage.com/random.php3

3 - Album cover: third picture on http://www.flickr.com/explore/interesting/7days

4 - Assemble in photoshop or paint or whatever

1 came from Stetson University Campus Historic District. I assume the band formed while in school and wanted a name that would make people say "That's a weird name for a band."

2 is the end of "A loud voice cannot compete with a clear voice, even if it's a whisper." -- Barry Neil Kaufman

3 is from nikkiethh and is a great fit for the album title.

4 was the GIMP because GraphicConverter didn't have very crisp text when flattening.

Audience participation: Pretend you just listened to this album. Write a review!
flwyd: (bad decision dinosaur)
"It's as if your auto insurance agent came over to your house, got liquored up, borrowed your keys, totaled your car, and said 'Well that'll make your rates go up.'"

That's from today's Planet Money episode on NPR and in the New York Times. It's one of the best "How does the global financial crisis become local?" bits they've done.

Mental Images

Monday, August 6th, 2007 01:28 pm
flwyd: (spam lite)
From the Quote of the Day iGoogle plugin:
You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat.
-- Albert Einstein

I also got a spam message today from an address @portlandhottub.com. While I assume that domain is owned by someone who sells hot tubs in Portland, the first thing that came to mind was every person in Portland, OR lounging in a very large hot tub. Now that would be my kind of city.

flwyd: (inner maiden animated no words)
/usr/games/fortune gives us this gem, presented without comment:
I shall come to you in the night and we shall see who is stronger -- a little girl who won't eat her dinner or a great big man with cocaine in his veins.
-- Sigmund Freud, in a letter to his fiancee

[ The Cube ]

Monday, March 19th, 2007 08:27 am
flwyd: (bug eyed earl)
Forum2000 may be long gone, but the wisdom of The Cube is available in handy image form. I have the image URL http://www.enweirdenment.org/cgi-bin/cube-notrans.gif on my start page so that I get a different quote each time I start a web browser. This morning's quote was:
I want a second career in prostitution. I'll call myself Microsoft and promise everything, but in the end I'll only go down, suck, and make you wonder if you got a virus.
flwyd: (over shoulder double face)
The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his Father, in the womb of a virgin will be classified with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But we may hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated Reformer of human errors. -- Thomas Jefferson
flwyd: (blue sky red rose)
I like to believe that people in the long run are going to do more to promote
peace than our governments. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much
that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them
have it. -- Dwight D. Eisenhower

fortune on... sicence

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006 12:57 pm
flwyd: (mathnet - to cogitate and to solve)
In the space of one hundred and seventy-six years the Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. Therefore ... in the Old Silurian Period the Mississippi River was upward of one million three hundred thousand miles long ... seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long. ... There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesome returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
-- Mark Twain
flwyd: (Default)

Last week (4/8-4/12) was my absolute favorite week of the year. I laughed much more than usual. My brain got stimulated in unusual directions. I got up before 9 am for five days straight. What provoked this? The 54th Annual Conference on World Affairs. This brain dump is somewhat after the fact, because I put off everything that could be put off last week, so had a major crunch the past four days. What follows is a collection of notes (some to myself), insights, humorous or thought-provoking one-liners, and stories from memory. As a reward for reading through the whole thing, you get to learn second-hand about lots of details in Mulholland Drive.

Separate for your convenience )

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