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Political Discussion

At the end of a long march they were talking about politics.  “We should go back to the time when everybody felt they were a big family and worked together” said Nimmi.  “That’s crazy” said Raoul.  “That led to incredible loss of life and wars.  We should go back to a time when people were united by a common belief about what Truly Matters.”  “That would mean going back to the bloodletting of the Inquisition.” said Marie.  “We should go back to the time when we were simple technologically undeveloped bands of hunter gatherers who wandered across the savannah.”  “Oh but that led to all the other things — to slavery and religion and then wars of national conquest.” said another.  But they fought alongside each other when the Ant-Men of Kadap attacked and they were swallowed all three of them — Nimmi, Raoul, and Marie — and the ant-men brought them back to life in virtual form inside the brain of the Hive Queen there to conduct their political dialogue until eternity and a day.  Maybe they have figured it out by now.

Hope so!

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Online Communication

I wanted to recount three stories of online communication and draw some conclusions.  I think it’s worth thinking about because of how much of our lives we spend online, and how many romantic and political decisions are made online.  That prompts fear and worry, on the one hand, but attraction on the other for reasons some good, some bad, and some mixed.

First story: story of the angry trolls.  I have accumulated a lot of online facebook followers over the years and don’t know who many of them are in real life.  Usually they are people who liked some sort of art or entertainment that I put out there.  A few months ago I made a joke online supporting a boycott of Uber, which seemed to be involved in some shady price-gouging.  There were some obnoxious posts making fun of me and accusing me of being a stockholder in Lyft.  The last part was untrue and was known to be untrue by the person who posted it, so I deleted it.  Then I went to the store to do some grocery shopping.  While I was waiting online I saw my feed was filled up with personal attacks including altered photos of me, from two people.  I googled how to block them and blocked them and deleted all their posts.   I wondered what the story was — why would people who want to interact with me online lie about me and end up getting blocked.  What good did it do them?

Second story – story of the Islamophobia debate.  I got involved in a twitter debate about whether or not Sam Harris was Islamophobic.  Somebody I didn’t know with a weird twitter handle argued with me and gave me the challenge “Can you give me one example of people blowing themselves up who are not motivated by a promised afterlife, from religion in general, and often Islam in particular.”  I felt his whole take on Islam was quite bigoted, but a challenge was a challenge, so I suggested Cato the younger, who killed himself because he didn’t want to live in a world where Julius Caesar was in power.  My online debate partner said, quite reasonably “That was suicide but he didn’t bring anybody down with him.”  I responded “Sure but that’s just cause he didn’t have access to a suicide vest.  The Romans participated in political assassination and if Cato could have brought Caesar down with him, he would have.”  But I knew this was pretty weak on my part.  My unknown debate partner would be justified to say “Look we are talking about real things that actually happened, not some made-up counterfactual situation where Cato the Younger had access to a suicide vest.”  So I was driving to get some milk and wondering “Hmmm….homicide plus suicide plus atheism…”  And then I thought “Aha!  Dylan Klebold!”  So I pulled over to a side street whipped out my phone and tweeted back.   I had a great counter-example of a murder suicide not motivated by religion.

Third story – I reposted an article about how the ultra-orthodox in Israel are alienating US Jews.  A friend of mine from high school said this was the sort of thing that alienated him from his Jewish faith.  An online acquaintance — a religious woman and political commentator posted that if that was the sort of thing that shook my real friend’s faith then he had no faith to begin with.  I am pretty non-confrontational but I thought — why not put my foot down.  I told my online acquaintance publicly and privately that she shouldn’t attack people’s faith to defend her political position.  She agreed and posted a nice apology though I don’t think my real life friend cared.  He felt she had shown her true colors.  The online acquaintance felt bad — she feels she is a compassionate person and that her zeal had been misunderstood.  I also told her she can’t respond to people’s points with stickers of somebody vomiting into a toilet bowl, and had to restrict herself to rational arguments.  She agreed she would.

What do these stories teach me about online communication?

One is that it is fun and has a game-like quality.  When I came up with my counter-example I felt a feeling of triumph.  I scored a point against an opponent whom I had never met, but I felt a rush of dopamine as I do when I win a chess game or see a tweet get a lot of likes.   This game like stance is a guarded stance — you don’t feel that the online response can actually hurt you.  And yet people can really get hurt.  Actual lies can get spread, and actual enmities can form and fester.   That’s why the “troll” strategy is appealing — act in such a way that you can really hurt others, but don’t let them know you well enough that they can really hurt you.  Sun Tzu really.  I’m not saying I was a troll but my activities were troll adjacent because my interactions were more about winning an intellectual game than really putting myself out there.

My conclusion is that when you are willing to show vulnerability you can actually accomplish something, as I think happened in my third story.  When you try to treat things as a game you at best can just win a game, at worse can do real damage.  As Plutarch says “Though the boys throw stones at the frogs in jest, the frogs do not die in jest, they die in earnest.”

Of course the ability to protect yourself, hide behind a fake persona, and treat interactions as a game is in no way limited to online communication.  You can be real online and fake IRL.  Whole fifty year marriages might as well take place in a chat-room for all the actual honesty that is on display.

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Mixing up the Weird and the Normal

Do you know the story of the English-speaking kid who learned Spanish?  He learned that Spanish has another word for the second person plural — usted — used in polite contexts and for speaking to more than one person.  And he wondered why English had no such form of the second person.  So he sojourned forth into the world and asked everyone he met “Do you know the English second person?  Do you?  Do you?  Do you?”  Joke being that the word he was using — “you” — is the English second person plural, and in a foregone age due to excess of politeness and deference, English speakers stopped using the English second person singular — “thou.”

This kid was subject to a confusion.  He thought “thou” was a weird word, used only in old-timey contexts, by witches and Shakespearean kings, and “you” was the normal word.  But actually he had it reversed.  What he took for normal was weird and what he took for weird was normal.  He was making a mistake cousin to that of the fish who don’t know they swim in water because they have never experienced anything else.   But unlike the fish he had experienced the weird, and he sought for it, but didn’t realize as he sought for it asking “Do you?  Do you?  Do you?” he was an example of the weird thing he was looking for.

Similarly people seek out the monstrous and the strange and imagine it.  The minotaur: half-man and half-bull.  The sphinx: half-man and half lion.  The centaur: half-man and half horse.  But what do these monsters have in common that make them monstrous?   Not, bull lion and horse which are just animals, as normal as a spring rain.  They share their monstrous nature in the monstrous ingredient: the weird true and original monster: man.

We seek weird heavens and hells but the weirdest locale is the one we were born to: the world.

The world is cognate with the weird and both are cognate with “were” — the weird and spooky man for all of us.  The world is the were-held — the home of that original weirdo.

You.

 

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Feces Man

There was once a man made entirely of feces who would run around causing problems.   He would hide behind bushes and run out and kiss women but then say “Gross their mouths have feces on them!” and slap them.  He snuck in the palace and sat on the throne and  said “Look at me!  I’m on a throne!”  But everyone said  “Yuksters!  That throne has a feces man on it.” and he raged like the dickens and sprayed all and sundry with feces.    Eventually we scrubbed him away and as we did so he yelled “Look at them!  They’re as dirty as me!  They are all touching feces!”  One guy said when feces man had finally been washed away he looked in the drain and found a piece of paper that said “Son you are no better than a piece of —” here an indelicate word for “feces” – “love, Dad.”   Who knows if a note can make a man first believe he is feces and then become it but that night we each gave  our kids an extra hug.

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Three-Handed Engine

Imagine if you were J S Bach and any little musical scrap you could build up into a six part fugue in your mind, effortlessly, like water coming from a cloud.  If you were J S Bach it would be impossible for you to hear a boring phrase of music.  Why impossible?  Because your mind finds so much interest in everything, your mind can work everything up from a brick to a cathedral without you even noticing it at it work that everything seems fascinating.

This was the characteristic epistemic stance of SHELVON.  To Shelvon, nothing, nobody, no moment could be boring, because she built it up into a geometric hall of mirrors in her mind.  “Shelvon, I’m not sure if I love Louis.”  Boring, right?  To Shelvon it was not — it was the tip of the iceberg of a complicated story of love, betrayal, forgiveness as it echoed and ramified through everyone we knew.  Shelvon was the J S Bach of life.

Taenae was the opposite.  I don’t know — call her Bartok.  She could only tolerate the purest melody, and everywhere she turned she saw bullshit, fakes, margarine masquerading as butter.  “Taenae, I miss my mother.”  Yeah, right, thought Taenae.  You miss feeling like you was important.  You wish to be someone who misses her mother and is embarrassed you ain’t.

And Motari just listened.  Where Shelvon saw bricks and built them into mental cathedrals, and Taenae saw pyramids and pounded them back into Nile mud, unwrapping the mummies and pulverizing them to pharaonic dust, Motari was quiet and discerned and let them know which response was called for.

We called them the three-handed engine.

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Oh Frederick!

The prince fell in love with a beautiful young man, not just he looked beautiful but when they walked in nature together nature seemed beautiful and they both seemed beautiful and they were grateful for even being alive!  But the prince’s father was afraid this meant he was weak.  So he killed his boyfriend.  The prince wanted to kill himself — why be alive if his love was not?  Maybe there was another country beyond death where they could be together?  And if not, why do anything?

But then the prince started to read, and he read the following quote from the Angel of Silesia — “I’m like the rose, I bloom as I bloom, without a why”.  And he resolved to live, without a why.

But then prince Frederick became Frederick the Great (his Dad had died) and when he could he started a war to get the country of Silesia!  So many young men like his boyfriend killed and for what reason?  The bad kind of without a why!

Oh Frederick, you made a mistake!  You went for the Silesia part and not the angel!

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Adventures of Tiresias

The blind seer was a woman for nine months and a man for one months and said “the sexual pleasure experienced by women is a hundred times greater than that experienced by men.”

Next year he was an old man for nine months and a little baby for one month and said “the pleasure of playing experienced by the old is a thousand times that experienced by the young.”

Next year he was a dead man for nine months and a live man for one month and reported back “Don’t remember the dead stuff very well, but I think it is pretty much as you’d expect.  Pleasure of being live much better than pleasure of being dead.”

Then he was a herd of dolphins for nine months and a single drop of sweet, sweet Pepsi Cola for one month and he said “That was wild.”

Then he became for nine months a guy who can turn into different things and then for one month a guy who was just Tiresias and could not imagine anything else forever and they asked him “which is better?  Being stuck as being Tiresias or being able to become all kinds of stuff — man, woman, old, young, dolphins etc.”

And he said “Than being Tiresias I can imagine nothing better!”

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