Wednesday, October 31, 2007

a take away show.

yesterday after breakfast steve and i gave each other little musical gifts, gifts of the internet, and this is what he gave me:

#64.2 - Beirut - The Penalty
Video sent by lablogotheque
it's beirut playing 'the penalty', which i just learned on my ukulele! one of a hundred little shows (one song, or two) filmed on the fly, all over paris, by the kinds of artists that you probably like, or would like. you should watch every one of them @
[watch the first menomena song to the end for dancing babies.]

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

aiming at it.

twenty years ago derek parfit wrote a book, and one of the things that he said in it is: it's sometimes true that "if someone tries to achieve [certain] aims, those aims will be, on the whole, worse achieved". he says that if you play tennis to have fun, you'll have less fun than you will if you play to win, and that's a stupid example, but there are others. there is the larger contention that our self-interest, on the whole, may be worse served by those who go around consciously serving their own best interest. and even that, one the whole, the interest of our families may be better served when we choose to act in the interest of some larger community.

there are endless examples of this-- how in aiming at something too directly we defeat our own aims. i think it happens two ways-- one is a matter of the limitations of our practical reason-- how we aren't able incorporate enough information to be good conscious calculators of how to serve some particular interest, as in the above examples. the second class of examples come up when people relate to one another in groups- maneuvering socially, pursuing and spurning one another's advances. how uncool x proves himself in his efforts to be cool-- how y, acting out of a desire for z's attention, looses it. there's something about us. we want all kinds of power-- knowledge, beauty, notoriety, social status-- and we like other people who have it, but we save a special kind of disgust for those we catch pursuing power directly. we respect those who achieve it indirectly, as the bi-product of some other aim. i've thought about this phenomenon before, felt badly that i'm so repulsed by people who aren't so good at masking their aims. they're seams are showing, i say. and i know that other people have seams, too, whether they're showing or not, and i wonder why i should like someone better just because they're more adept at coving their tracks.

there's a mess more to say-- especially about how this is bound up with the idea of non-maximizing dispositions (which i think may also be a concept propounded by parfit) and how both concepts hinge on game theory (the classic prisoner's dilemma v. the iterated prisoner's dilemma). and also something about the problems of escaping this-- what if trying not to care about one's own self-interest- or about one's social position- or about the object of one's affection- is itself the sort of aim which is self-defeating?

Monday, October 29, 2007

[yoko ono, 1968. thanks to ms. molly oh for it. ]

Monday, October 22, 2007


i just turned in my first paper of the semester, and i want to sleep for a three days. i'm so sick of it i could spit, but the question i was writing about was basically this: are values beliefs or are values desires? the problem is that beliefs respresent and desires motivate, but we sort of want values to represent (some standard of good behavior) AND motivate (us to behave according to those standards). so lots of conceptual analysis ensues.

i think that values are desires-- one small subset of them, anyway. and i don't think that what we believe can change what we desire, at least not on it's own. what can change or overrule our desires are our other desires. and luckily most of us have these broad desires to do things like behave in ways that we can justify to each other, and thats what i think values are. and these broad desires, these values, are sometimes strong, and sometimes a check on those desires that are most certainly not values. and sometimes they aren't. and if we're lucky things turn out alright anyway.

Monday, October 15, 2007

how to exploit a conspiracy of douche bags.

today in class we learned about non-maximizing dispositions, and their ironic advantages. the idea goes something like this: we have some beliefs and desires that cause us to act against our own best interest-- dispositions that don't stand up under rational reflection-- but that are, in some larger strategic sense, in our interest to have. anger was the example: when we're angry, we are more likely to do harm to others, but we're also far more likely to subvert-- or at least fail to maximally achieve-- our own aims and interests. but even still, there's a serious strategic advantage in being disposed to get angry: it deters others from fucking with you. so anger, when triggered, may cause you to act irrationally (that is, against your own interests), but a well-known disposition to react angrily when fucked with does so much work, even when rarely triggered, to prevent those situations from ever arising, that it is still, over-all, in our interest to be creatures with dispositions to get angry under certain unfavorable circumstances.

the interesting implication is meant to be that having the disposition to keep a cool head and always think of one's own best interest might not actually be in one's own best interest.

but suppose that our inclination to avoid angering others whenever possible is (in well-socialized adults) general, and not just aimed at those who we specifically know can be angered. wouldn't it be to my advantage if i could keep a kind and cool head and stay focussed on best achieving my goals, while still enjoying the advantage of other people's general concern not to anger others, including myself? i'd be a sort of free-rider1, but opposite, in some sense, of the sorts of free-riders that evolutionary theorists like to nag about
-- the dove who games the hawks.3

[1] the problem of the free-rider is an important (and often discussed) one in evolutionary theory, and in ethics. the idea, in simplistic human terms, is that if we were all unfailingly kind and honest, we might all be better off, but that a society in which every member is unfailingly kind and honest is a system destined to be gamed. it's a society vulnerable to free-riders-- those individuals who would gain the advantage of living among the unfailingly kind and honest while also reaping the benefits of being themselves self-serving and dishonest. because (when it comes to surviving and passing on your genes, at least) there's only one thing better for the individual than being good and honest among the good and honest, and that's being bad and dishonest among the good and honest. so while, collectively, we maximize utility by cooperating, our individual utility is maximized by defecting, and so individuals will defect.

[2]dawkins does discuss something like this idea of free-riding peacenik when he talks, in 'the selfish gene' about how we arrive at an evolutionary stable strategy, but it's the concept of a 'conspiracy of doves', not a conspiracy of hawks (see next footnote), that's usually harped on as the niave notion of the uninformed.

[3]hawks and doves, in the rhetoric of evolutionary theorists, are a sort of short-hand for aggressive/defecting/obviously self-serving sorts of creatures and peaceful/cooperative/apparently altruistic sorts of creatures. the impossible society of the unfailingly kind and honest that i mentioned in the first footnote is often referred to as a "conspiracy of doves".

Sunday, October 07, 2007

these are all of the things that i've bought since last wednesday, one and one half weeks ago:

-a pot of tea [i didn't actually pay for it, but i left the cost as tip]
-ten bic mechanical pencils
-one third of a bottle of rum [maybe more like 40%]
-one gin&tonic.
-one long island iced tea
-one superfood smoothie
-a cup of coffee (for andrew, who took me to brunch)
-two veggie dogs w/ honey mustard
-a hot chocolate (for my roommate, post-spikes)
-a thermos
-two tickets to see 'the darjeeling limited'
-two vegetable samosas
-one arabic coffee + one mint tea
-two books (one was a gift.)
-two more books.
-a t-pass
-a red hat
-cup of tea
-one spinach scramble
-small decaf coffee
-dental floss
-one gin&tonic

Saturday, October 06, 2007

[if you don't read the kircher society blog from time to time, you should:]
[thanks to who showed me it.]

Wednesday, October 03, 2007


today i brushed my hair for what i think may have been the first time in three and a half years. it was just lying there, the brush, with all of my roommate's toiletries, and then it was just happening. it felt pretty good. i feel pretty good about it. i found four gray hairs.