Sunday, March 09, 2014
oh. hi. it's been awhile. i was thinking, hey, maybe i'll try this again, but new. so i'm officially leaving this old blog as a record of some years, never again to be posted on or reformatted. just the brown bear on gray on until the day this old thing dies whatever death webpages ever do. it's nice and also sad how you don't leave blogs empty, like houses. you lock the door behind you, leaving everything just how it was. anyway, i'm starting again here:
right now it's just a couple of things i've reposted from this blog, to get the hang of the new formatting, and remember myself a little. but i hope it'll be more.
bye old weblog. bye.
Sunday, July 01, 2012
*an interesting point that's come up in the facebook comments: despite my qualms about asking others to accommodate any dietary restrictions of MINE, i actually experience the act of making food that accommodates the restrictions of others to be more (and not less) satisfying. it really feels like taking care of someone to make them something pleasing that's within the special limits of what their bodies can accommodate, and it can feel especially like honoring someone to make them something pleasing that accommodates their principles and commitments. it's a funny little asymmetry that i'd never really thought about before.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
this is a post that i started last year and never finished. i'm posting it as-is just to lay the groundwork for a new post i have in mind on privacy and technology-- laying out the problems and approaches that interest me and inform my interest in these questions going forward. it's twice as long as it should be and stops abruptly. apologies. i'll edit it someday.
before the technological advances of the last quarter century, there was a natural limit to the information about us by which we would likely be judged by our friends, family, potential employers, our government, creditors, and the community at large. these were the limits of human memory, the limited life of paper. our indiscretions may have been on record, but they were preserved by means that naturally degrade over the course of a lifetime, and in which information, even where preserved, can nonetheless be buried. or this, at least, is the premise of this week's new york times magazine feature-- jeffrey rosen's "the end of forgetting"-- a meditation on the theme of viktor mayer-schonberger's new book delete: the virtue of forgetting in a digital age.
"a finely calibrated system of [these] social norms, or rules, [that] govern the flow of personal information in distinct social contexts (e.g. education, health care, and politics). these...context relative informational norms define and sustain essential activities and key relationships and interests, protect people and groups against harm, and balance the distribution of power. responsive to historical, cultural, and even geographic contingencies, informational norms evolve over time in distinct patterns from society to society"
in our society, for example, there are norms according to which it is generally proper to share facts about your income with the IRS, and improper to share facts about your income at dinner parties with your coworkers. and there are norms according to which it is generally proper that to share facts about your sexual history with your family doctor, and generally improper to share facts about your sexual history with, say, your kids' teacher. these norms arise for all kinds of reasons, often having to do with the nature of particular kinds of relationships. (you have only to describe what kind of a thing a doctor is to start to see why sharing your sexual history with your doctor is appropriate, though you may refrain from sharing this information from even people you are very close to.)
on nissbaum's view, we ought to assess the alleged intrusiveness of particular instances of information gather or dissemination according to whether or not they violate the existing social norms of a particular society. and we ought to structure our laws around information gathering and dissemination in such a way as to protect and buttress those norms, even as new technologies make it ever easier to violate those norms on ever grander scales.
there's a crapload that's problematic about nissbaum's view-- most centrally its inherent conservatism. her program is essentially one of conserving whatever the existing norms are, however contingent, and without any particular attention being paid to what sorts of contingencies we're talking about. the contingent fact that a particular society exists in an extraordinarily warm climate looks to be different from the contingent fact that a particular society has lived for sixty years under cruel dictatorship, but it's hard to see how the existing norms established under this latter contingency are any less norm-y than the existing norms in the former. as with all societal norms, informational norms will sometimes seem, upon inspection, sound and other times silly, or oppressive, or otherwise objectionable. it's at the very least not obvious that laws that both varieties of norm ought equally be protected by law.
but there's something i fundamentally love about this view: it begins with an understanding of the dynamics underwriting all privacy concerns: the near-illiminable diversity of relations in which a human being can stand to other human beings, each essentially constituted by what the various parties know about one another and how they know it. to be someone's friend, or husband, or doctor is to stand in a particular kind of relation to that person-- a relationship subject to both generalizable norms and a a thousand little peculiarities. we might think, for example, that friendship is a particular sort of a relation, and that liking or trusting someone is partially constitutive of it, such that you could not truly say of someone that you neither like nor trust 'she is my friend.' and then beyond the general features constitutive of any particular type of relationship, there will be more localized norms (what i share with my best friend, my childhood friends, my friends at work), and ultimately the entirely unique pattern of sharing and expectation that we have with each individual friend, sensitive to specific contours of who someone is, or who they are to you. (the problem with facebook-- its ground-up misunderstanding of how relationships works-- the need to distinguish beyond "friend," to share in a much more targeted and discerning way.)
one of the philosophies around privacy issues is that it's ultimately the protection of a precious resource: intimacy. that in controlling what people know about us, we control who they are to us and who we are to them. we decide who gets in and to what degree, according to (best case scenario) our judgments about who they are.
the particular problem of aggregation.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
update: a couple of relevant links!
discover magazine - facts don't persuade climate skeptics, so what does?
wired science - stubbornness increases the more people tell you you're wrong
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Thursday, June 03, 2010
perhaps it's true that the data-driven approaches to self-knowledge are inextricably entwined with dubious self-improvement projects ('We use numbers to optimize an assembly line. Why not use numbers on ourselves?') , the nature of which somehow skews the inquiries' results. but there are plenty of people who would argue that it makes no sense to try to conceive of any truth except in the context of practical inquiry-- as the answer to some question that we raise as a means of accomplishing some goal. on this view, there is no purer truth for truth's sake. there is no purer method that generates self-knowledge for its own sake. truth is a function of practical inquiry and it's utterly misguided to seek a truth external to it. so perhaps, in this, data-driven approaches to knowledge are no different from any other-- the answer will be largely a matter of how you ask the question. but even if we're thoroughgoing pragamatists, we can hold that there are better and worse kinds of practical inquiry. it still might be the case that the particular practical context of this data-driven stuff (which, historically at least, has been to maximize efficiency and thereby profit for capitalists) is the problem, but then there is a burden to show what other kind of practical inquiry would be superior and how it would be.
Tuesday, June 01, 2010
Friday, May 21, 2010
i love sarah silverman. i do. i think she's funny, independent of any view that i might have of myself on any particular occasion for thinking that. so i was listening today to her interview with tom ashbrook on on point, and of course the topic is roughly: "is anything sacred?" "is everything fodder for your jokes?" and more subtly the topic turned to the question of (1) whether it makes a difference (a moral difference, is the implication) whether or not the listeners are in on the joke, and (2) if it's better to say what we're all already thinking. if sarah silverman makes a joke about kids with mental retardation, and the "real" joke is that she (or, rather, her on-stage persona) is morally obtuse, well, what does it mean that some people are laughing at the joke of her obtuseness and some people are laughing at retarded kids? and are we all really laughing at the kids, while a few sophisticates are simply able to tell themselves that they're laughing at the former rather than the latter? and is it better, as she claimed, to give a voice to the -isms that would otherwise be there, tamped carefully down upon. is there something potentially redeeming about being forces to confront that in ourselves?
i think that there's some merit to these defenses, but listening to silverman kind of vaguely and uncomfortably offer them (she is humbly uncomfortable in the role of theoretical explicator or moral philosopher), i thought, as i often do, of this passage from arendt's on totalitarianism, in which she addresses the actual impact of the work of another group of artists (silverman is clear in expressing her belief that comedy is art, and that this means the comic, like other artists, has no business telling the audience what they ought to make of their work) looking to expose some middle-class hypocricy:
Since the bourgeoisie claimed to be the guardian of Western traditions and confounded all moral issues by parading publicly virtues which it not only did not possess in private and business life, but actually held in contempt, it seemed revolutionary to admit cruelty, disregard human values, and general amorality, because this at least destroyed the duplicity upon which the existing society seemed to rest. What a temptation to flaunt extreme attitudes in the hypocritical twilight of double moral standards, to wear publicly the mask of cruelty if everybody was patently inconsiderate and pretended to be gentle...
At the time, nobody anticipated that the true victims of their irony would be the elite rather than the bourgeoisie. The avant-garde did not know they were running their heads not against the walls but against open doors, that a unanimous success would belie their claim to being a revolutionary minority, and would prove that they were about to express a new mass spirit or the spirit of the time. Particularly significant in this respect was the reception given Brecht’s Dreigroschenoper in pre-Hitler Germany. The play presented gangsters as respectable businessmen and respectable businessmen as gangsters. The irony was somewhat lost when the respectable businessmen in the audience considered this a deep insight into the ways of the world and when the mob welcomed it as an artistic sanction of gangsterism. The theme song in the play, ‘Erst kommt das Fressen, dann dommt die Moral,’ [LG translation: first comes a full stomach, then comes ethics] was greeted with frantic applause by exactly everybody, though for different reasons. The mob applauded because it took the statement literally; the bourgeoisie applauded because it had been fooled by its own hypocrisy for so long that it had grown tired of the tension and found deep wisdom in the expression of the banality by which it lived; the elites applauded because the unveiling of hypocrisy was such superior and wonderful fun. The effect of the work was exactly the opposite of what Brecht has sought by it. The bourgeoisie could no longer be shocked; it welcomed the exposure of its hidden philosophy, whose popularity proved they had been right all along, so the only political result of Brecht’s “revolution’ was to encourage everyone to discard the uncomfortable mask of hypocrisy and to accept openly the standards of the mob.
obviously, this isn't pre-war germany. despite some insane shit going on at the moment, i don't think that we're on the verge of a collapse into totalitarian dictatorship from the right or left. and i don't think, where our -isms are concerned, we're anything like eager to drop the pretense to embrace our worse selves. i don't think that we're weary in the right ways to start thinking that our worst selves are our true selves. but the point is, there are worse things than hypocrisy. there are worse things than tamping down on our base impulses. there can be a sophomoric holden caulfieldish naivete in the urge to point out and rile them.
of course no one decried hypocrisy more directly than hannah arendt, who famously referred to it as 'the vice of vices' ('integrity,' she said, 'can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. only crime and the criminal, it is true, confront us with the perplexity of radical evil; but only the hypocrite is really rotten to the core.'). so the lesson isn't 'tolerate hypocrisy for fear of something worse', but i does suggest that there are real moral and political risks in even an act so seemingly righteous. our moral responsibility doesn't stop with being honest or demanding honesty. taking a hard look at the worst of ourselves is not, itself, morally worthy-- though it can lead to acts of great moral (and artistic) worth.