Monday, April 30, 2012

Authenticity Shopping

Why is shooting fish in barrel looked down upon?  The immediate reason seems to be the excessiveness of it all.  Make it less excessive.  Dipping a net in a stocked pond does not have any respectability.  Before indulging in too many assumptions, let's hit the other end.  Commercial fishing is little more than dipping a net in stocked pond, but the people employed in the profession enjoy some respectability.  Likewise, the advances in aquaculture are actively studied at various universities. So while the degree of "sport" may play into things, there seems to be more going on.

While getting a feel for the landscape, let's move on to excessive things that are widely respected.  Take gardening.  10 hours of labor, watering, weeding, and finally the reward of 5 pounds of carrots.  There are a few kooks who attempt to justify this on economic grounds.  In particular, you can find eccentrics in the organic  gardening community.  Yes, there are non-economic grounds, but in order to maintain relevancy, advocates of course ground a significant portion of their appeal in economy.

One of the non-economic factors in both cases is authenticity.  The argument over sport is an argument over authenticity.  Gardening is seen as authentic.  Where authenticity has fallen is a bit arbitrary.  Dipping a rod with a hook in the water may be sporting, but the use of nets was quite common in fishing.  As for agriculture, things are far more complicated.  Gardening has never been egalitarian.  Agriculture has most often been done by servants, slaves, or some combination of the above.   Perhaps, the superintending portion of gardening in the part we wish to retain.  More likely is that the authenticity we seek is the one of being upper class.  Gardening for sport after all is to be identify with the elite of the past.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Exclusion Is an Exercise of Privilege

Upon reading the title people will have a tendency to become defensive.  In part this traces itself to the American civil rights experience, something that explicitly, or at least implicitly, comes to mind when one mentions exclusion.  The idea of privilege is just as likely to bring forth defensiveness.  On the one hand, you have people who think wearing blue jeans means that you are one of the people, and on the other hand you have a pretty strong streak of denial over the issue of privilege in the US.  In this case, I'm not going to be making a political statement.  I am simply going to seek to establish that exclusion is indeed an exercise of privilege.  I am not making an argument over prudence or establishing a principle of action.

The Adolescent by Fyodor Dostoevsky is one of my favorite books.  A bastard child comes about from the union of a serf holder and serf.  The child knows of his mother and her husband, but he is separated from most of his family as a youth.  The child is conflicted about his real father, but the symbol of power he represents intrigues him.  He detests his mother as a weak woman, and he doesn't have all that high of an opinion of his step-father.  Without giving an extended treatment of the plot, the book needless-to-say does address the topic at hand.   The child comes to an understanding of the love his poor parents had for him.  He even manages to de-romanticize his real father.  Despite the peasant marriage, the step father was unable to exercise exclusion.  And while his mother might have been able to cry rape or its equivalent, it would have fallen upon deaf ears.  She would have been made to suffer, as would her husband.

As I approach midlife, I appreciate more greatly the amount of privilege I've enjoyed.  I have done such things as choosing which family members will enjoy influence over my children.  I have very heavily influenced my children's social circle.  Other choices I've seen but not indulged are things such as homeschooling.  While I would no longer count myself among the supporters of homeschooling, it simply is the embodiment of privilege.  Sure, there are a whole pattern of just-so stories about how homeschooling was the norm, and they are simply nonsense.  Private tutors were the domain of the wealthy.  Literacy among adults is a wholly modern phenomenon, so let us not pretend that teaching reading to one's children was universal.  As we continue on the anti-community streak in America, we pretend that we are protecting our children from various evils when in fact we are often little more than projecting our own insecurities.

Obviously we don't desire suffering, especially for our children.  But it is quite easy to declare our choices as those between suffering and not suffering.  It allows us to escape criticism, particularly since great deference is granted to parental choices.  This is probably as it should be.  But as the adults, it is sometimes necessary to attempt to peal back the emotionalism.  Study after study has shown that this is one of the safest eras to be a  child.  This includes such things as bullying that while awful are by objective measures lower than in prior decades.  While even acting to protect is often just an exercise in privilege - albeit the kind we all support - much of the debate around children is a near arbitrary exercise in privilege.  Be it good or bad, I'll leave others to judge, but perhaps it is time to at least entertain the conversation.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Getting Along

One of the more tiresome things in life is the adage to "get along."  It is quite prevalent on the Internet.  Personally I would like to see the meme eschewed.  The last thing Internet discourse needs is more getting along.  What it needs is more civility.  The last thing it needs is more hosannas offered to jerks.  Getting along is about how much garbage you can tolerate until you tell someone to go fly a kite.  Civility is about arguing in good faith and recognizing that one may share a mutual interest with one's enemy.  Take for a example the relationship between unions and management.  They are portrayed as adversarial.  The thing is that management and unions get along about 95% of the team.  The leadership of both tend to be chummy even.  But when it comes to negotiation time, they each recognize their interests and negotiate for them.  Things can even get heated.  But at the end of the day, there is the recognition of mutual interest.  With Internet debate, there is all too often no mutual interest.  When there is no mutual interest, what is being discussed is often trivial or neither party has real power to effect change on the matter.  This is where you get professional arguers.  This is why so much of Internet debate becomes little more than squabbling entertainment.  It isn't about knowledge or truth.

What needs to occur is for people to recognize their own interest and their community's interest.  Much of present life in the United States is about recognizing abstract interests.  It is a shame that self interest has devolved into a Randian interest in the abstract self.  Everyone gets to be John Galt for the day.  It is pathetic.  It gets really pathetic when you are losing but you attempt to come up with some scheme to think you are really benefiting.  At my university there have been significant cut backs and there are still a large number of students who won't even make the concession that it is bad for the university.  I'm not merely speaking of a prudential calculus where one states that bad is happening but it is better than the alternative.  There is the actual absence of recognition that anything ill has occurred.  I cannot fathom where this idealism has sprung, but it needs to go away.

Abstractions are killing us.  Freedom of speech for example is little more than the toleration of jerks and pornography.  If you desire either, it isn't for me to tell you otherwise, but for the love of all that is holy, let us not pretend that there is some cosmic reason to do so.  Even the prudential calculus from the historical perspective is largely hogwash.  For most of the world's history, jerks weren't tolerated.  For much of the world's history, pornography and public solicitation have not been tolerated publicly.  Again, if you like being able to download Internet pornography, more power to you, but please do not act like your act is furthering some public interest.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Illusion of Reason

While the self esteem movement was plenty noxious and we are still living the consequences of it, a similar movement has enjoyed uncritical growth.  That movement was the one that pushed reason.  It comes in many guises.  Critical thinking was one catch word.  With children's programs we are seeing the word "hypothesis" and the scientific method thrown around quite a bit.  The problem is not with reason itself.

It is ultimately a problem of hubris.  One of the requirements for reason is knowledge.  Society is coming around to accepting this.  Society now has created a simple dichotomy.  There are stupid people and intelligent people.  The former can't reason, and the latter can.  This would seem to solve a lot of problems except that it is unexceptional to hear someone refer to a person with a doctorate as an idiot.  In other words, the people who agree with me are smart seems to be a convenient tautology regardless of the merits.  While admittedly the rank tribalism so rampant today is an ill effect of this, I'm not sure it is worth dismissing as a bad thing altogether.