Reality vs. Dualism: Raw or Pasteurized Dairy

“There exists a tendency to see all dairy foods as being either raw or pasteurized.  Like most dualistic concepts, this is a oversimplification, and there exists a rainbow between black and white.  If we want to move beyond what is actually a legal definition, to understand how different ways of processing milk impact the microbiology and nutritional value of dairy foods, we need to transcend this dichotomy.  Drawing hard lines and fighting over which side one is on, is the task of fools.  There is hyperbole, ignorance, sectarian childishness, and misinformation from both Pasteurian proselytizers and raw milk renegades.  I hope to show that there is a spectrum of levels of heating applied to milk that alter its microbiology in various ways. This microbiology is never static, and after the heating process, microbial communities continue to evolve and have new members join….

….My whole point is that placing cheese into a binary definition denies the complexity of microbiology, of life.  Maybe instead of trying to simplify everything and imposing a false sense of order on the world, we can embrace complexity and uncertainty, and humble ourselves in the process.  While simultaneously seeking knowledge, quantifiable data, and learning from other ways of knowing, of working with microbes to preserve food.”

-Trevor Warmedah, “Beyond the Raw/Pasteurized divide.” milktrekker.substack.com. September 18, 2022

Learned a lot about cheese and microbes in this brief blog post, but I think I like the larger philosophical point more. What’s true of cheese is true of pretty much every dualism. Dualism is the stripping away of nuance. You’re either for us or against us. Sociologically, it’s fine, I suppose. Dualism is creating a sense of group cohesion. But, as epistemology? Dualism isn’t truth. It’s fiction. And, this fiction has a tendency to shape our reality beyond our social ties.

Cargo Cult X

“Good listeners do often reflect words back—but not because they read it in a book somewhere. Rather, it’s cargo cult advice: it teaches you to imitate the surface appearance of good listening, but misses what’s actually important, the thing that’s generating that surface appearance.

The generator is curiosity.

When I’ve listened the most effectively to people, it’s because I was intensely curious—I was trying to build a detailed, precise understanding of what was going on in their head. When a friend says, “I’m furious with my husband. He’s never around when I need him,” that one sentence has a huge amount underneath. How often does she need him? What does she need him for? Why isn’t he around? Have they talked about it? If so, what did he say? If not, why not?

It turns out that reality has a surprising amount of detail, and those details can matter a lot to figuring out what the root problem or best solution is. So if I want to help, I can’t treat those details as a black box: I need to open it up and see the gears inside. Otherwise, anything I suggest will be wrong—or even if it’s right, I won’t have enough “shared language” with my friend for it to land correctly.”

-Ben Kuhn, “To listen well, get curious.” benkuhn.net. December 2020.

I liked this notion of cargo cult as an adjective. I was trying to think of other types of cargo cult advice. Most self-help is cargo cult advice. There is rarely one right way to be in the world, and as the rest of this text suggests, perhaps all advice given without understanding the context a person lives in has the potential to be cargo cult advice.

Then, it occurred to me that cargo cult can have more expanded use as an adjective. Facebook friends might be cargo cult friends.

Belief systems around romantic relationships and “finding the one” might be another. Doesn’t make more sense to think about relationships as a skill, and it is possible to have meaningful relationships with many “the ones”, if we could only learn those skills?

When you start thinking about it, much of what is going on in our culture is cargo cult culture. There are many people, following the same paths, subscribing to the same ideas, and it gives them a sense of belonging to a group, which helps them form their identity. But, much of it is a display that denies our experience and requires us to gaslight ourselves and deny our lived experience.

There’s to lot to unpack in this idea. Perhaps something to think on further and write a longer essay about.

Ideological Amazon & Punk Nazis

“The words are violence crowd is right about the power of language. Words can be vile, disgusting, offensive, and dehumanizing. They can make the speaker worthy of scorn, protest, and blistering criticism. But the difference between civilization and barbarism is that civilization responds to words with words. Not knives or guns or fire. That is the bright line. There can be no excuse for blurring that line—whether out of religious fanaticism or ideological orthodoxy of any other kind.

Today our culture is dominated by those who blur that line—those who lend credence to the idea that words, art, song lyrics, children’s books, and op-eds are the same as violence. We are so used to this worldview and what it requires—apologize, grovel, erase, grovel some more—that we no longer notice.”

-Bari Weiss, “We Ignored Salman Rushdie’s Warning.” Common Sense. August 13, 2022.

Thinking for yourself is never going to line up with any kind of ideological orthodoxy. Free speech is ultimately about listening to unorthodox voices. But, if it is used to drown them out, giving certain orthodoxies the greatest share of voice, then do you really have free speech? What often pretends to be “free speech” isn’t about free speech. It’s about something else. As Steve Bannon would have it: “This is not about persuasion: This is about disorientation.”

The disorientation is to make it more difficult to come to independent conclusions, and it is also designed to limit the kind of traction unorthodox ideas can get among the population. Both are very much designed to promote established ideas and the status quo.

To use a metaphor, who is the Amazon of ideology in a culture? Often, thee are driven by political elites, whether they be based on religious, business, or some other orthodoxy. Ideally, free speech is about expanding the Overton window, the things that we can talk about. Shouting down the opposition isn’t free speech. Giving room for dissenting voices is free speech.

Of course, if that is the view, people will claim their views are somehow dissenting. They’ll espouse the most mainstream ideas, and they’ll exclude some portion to signal that their ideas are in the minority or unique.

There’s also the other direction. You may have some unique ideas. But, it’s very possible that they aren’t interesting to many other people, even if you believe they should be. Tolerance for people that do not share your views has to flow in all directions. A minority that thinks they are on the right side of history and doesn’t have to listen to people that don’t agree with them have all the same problems of the dominant ideologies without the political clout. For people on the sidelines, it is hard to see the advantages of switching out one for the other.

So, it’s a complex business. The Dead Kennedy’s offered good advice though in Nazi Punks Fuck Off, i.e., our default mode should be to listen to new ideas and voices. But, a punk Nazi, or one that shares some of our ideas or aesthetic, isn’t necessarily an improvement over the choices of the ideological Amazon.

Punk ain't no religious cult
Punk means thinkin' for yourself
You ain't hardcore 'cause you spike your hair
When a jock still lives inside your head

Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!
Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!

If you've come to fight, get outta here
You ain't no better than the bouncers
We ain't tryin' to be police
When you ape the cops it ain't anarchy

Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!

Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!

Ten guys jump one, what a man
You fight each other, the police state wins
Stab your backs when you trash our halls
Trash a bank if you've got real balls

You still think swastikas look cool
The real Nazis run your schools
They're coaches, businessmen and cops
In a real fourth Reich you'll be the first to go

Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!

Nazi punks, Nazi punks
Nazi punks fuck off!

You'll be the first to go
You'll be the first to go
You'll be the first to go
Unless you think

Tragedy vs. Comedy Modes

As Brown notes, Meeker argues that Western Civilization is mostly founded on the “tragic mode,” inspired by the great tragedies in which a “larger-than-life character attempts to bend the world to his (and it’s always his) image.” The character’s success “is also his undoing,” and tragedies end in bloodshed, death, and a funeral of some kind. Our civilization has been built on the tragic idea that we can bend nature to our will, the result of which has been complete ecological catastrophe.

Meeker proposes an alternative for surviving our disastrous times: the “comic mode,” inspired by comedy:

Comedy is not a philosophy of despair or pessimism, but one which permits people to respond with health and clear vision despite the miseries the world has to offer. Its mode is immediacy of attention, adaptation to rapidly changing circumstances, joy in small things, the avoidance of pain wherever possible, the love of life and kinship with all its parts, the sharpening of intelligence, complexity of thought and action, and strategic responsiveness to novel situations. It permits people to accept themselves and the world as they are, and it helps us make the best of the messes around us and within us.

Upon reading this, I was immediately struck by how well the tragic and comic modes map to Brian Eno’s concept of genius vs. scenius, with one being a egosystem and the other being an ecosystem. Our world is an ecosystem inwhich our only real chance at survival as a species is cooperation, community, and care, but it’s being lead by people who believe in an egosystem, run on competition, power, and self-interest.

Comedy and scenius show us a way forward. A chance at survival that, in Meeker’s words, “depends upon our ability to change ourselves rather than our environment, and upon our ability to accept limitations rather than to curse fate for limiting us.” Comedy, like scenius, gives all the characters in the story a surviving role and a chance to live to see another day.

-Austin Kleon, “The comedy of survival.” austinkleon.com November 19, 2020

Make the best of the messes around us and within us is great advice. Recommend the whole bit.

A Cyclic Theory Of Subcultures

“During Involution phase, many counterelites are trying to slice off adherents and resources at the same time. Some people even become meta-counter-elites, complaining that the counterelites themselves have strayed from the true principles, etc. The actual elites realize their status is also precarious, and some of them side with the counterelites in order to get a new base, bringing the conflicts to the highest levels. The overall tone of the movement becomes darker. Ordinary rank-and-file members hear so much criticism of the movement that it’s hard for them to stay optimistic about it. They stop talking about it as The Amazing Movement That Will Change Everything, and become defensive: “I’m not, like, one of those members of the movement, I just sort of think some of their ideas make sense sometimes.”

-Scott Alexander, “A Cyclic Theory Of Subcultures.” Astral Codex Ten. August 9, 2022
  • Phase One: Pre-Cycle, niche
  • Phase Two: Growth, moving to mainstream
  • Phase Three: Involution, complexity, sub-groups, elements shrink
  • Phase Four: Post-Cycle, established institutions, final form or return to Phase One

See also  Giambattista Vico‘s La Scienza Nuova which posits a civilization cycle and is described in Wikipedia as follows:

“Relying on a complex etymology, Vico argues in the Scienza Nuova that civilization develops in a recurring cycle (ricorso) of three ages: the divine, the heroic, and the human. Each age exhibits distinct political and social features and can be characterized by master tropes or figures of language. The giganti of the divine age rely on metaphor to compare, and thus comprehend, human and natural phenomena. In the heroic age, metonymy and synecdoche support the development of feudal or monarchic institutions embodied by idealized figures. The final age is characterized by popular democracy and reflection via irony; in this epoch, the rise of rationality leads to barbarie della reflessione or barbarism of reflection, and civilization descends once more into the poetic era. Taken together, the recurring cycle of three ages – common to every nation – constitutes for Vico a storia ideale eterna or ideal eternal history. Therefore, it can be said that all history is the history of the rise and fall of civilizations, for which Vico provides evidence (up until, and including the Graeco-Roman historians).”

Pretty straight-forward parallels, with the post-cycle indicating a frozen state where institutions persist for some period before descending back into Phase One or dissolution.

Let Go With Grace

“Once you accept that as a fundamental boundary on your capacity as a manager, it’s going to set you free. Free from centering on the self-serving anguish over what you could have done differently, and on to the acceptance that these outcomes are inevitable when dealing with the opaque potential of strangers.

The redeeming realization is that this is a great, big world. The human pieces that don’t fit into your puzzle will complete someone else’s. And in fact, if you refuse to let go of a piece that doesn’t fit on your end, you’re keeping someone else from making theirs. Besides, nobody wants to be the piece that doesn’t fit.

So learn to let go with grace. You’re not here to save anyone. It’s an illusion of grandeur to believe that you can.”

-David Heinemeier Hansson, “I can’t save you, nobody can.” world.hey.com. August 5, 2022

This reminded me of a conversation with a neighbor I had several years ago. They were trying to get involved in the lives of heroin addicts in order to “save” them. I said it was a mistake. It’s a rare circumstance where you can “save” anyone. Moreover, the most likely outcome is that they would negatively impact her, not the other way around.

There are acute situations, where an intervention at a key moment, might change the outcome. They happen. But, they are rare.

But more than 99% of the time, people interesting in “saving” others are not focused on these moments because they have a different agenda. They feel broken and in saving others they are trying to save themselves. Or, more generally, if others can be saved, perhaps they can be saved. And much of that time, they doom themselves because they are busy trying to solve someone else’s problems rather than working on their own.

But, of course, that also sounds selfish. You don’t want to save others? You only want to save yourself.

The reality is that I can only control what I do. The key point is that we are interconnected. We cannot solve only our problems. But, we cannot solve the world’s problems. Nor can we solve the problems of a large group. Our effective influence is a few people, who we have enough interaction with to see those rare moments when an opportunity opens. We need to prepare ourselves to meet that moment, which means working on our own shit and keeping good relationships with people – building our relationships – so we trust one another when the storm hits. The reality is that trust often isn’t fully cemented until after the storm, when you rose to an occasion and you could have left.

But, the only way to get there is to spend the time and do the work. Even then, it may not be enough. It won’t be enough if you are with other people that aren’t spending the time and doing the work. I guess the net on that is make sure you choose your relationships wisely.

Shadow Libraries: Library Genesis, ZLibrary & Sci-Hub

I’ve never seen the term “shadow libraries” mentioned in this blog post before. I had heard of Sci-Hub. But, I’m not a scientist, and I have never needed to access it. But, I does make me wonder.

Open Question: How does one balance how copyright helps to foster an environment where people conduct research and against the negatives associated with restricting access to that information?

In a print paradigm, the medium is a bottleneck. So, you need to provide incentives for publishers to publish a work. But, in a digital environment, the material costs have largely been eliminated or transferred to the reader.

Of course, there are costs of selection, peer-review, editing and the other functions of a publisher. But, it seems to me that capitalism is a horrible system for an information architecture, particularly in the sciences where much of the funding for foundational research is either paid by governments or are channeled through public universities. Research that cannot be accessed is no different from research that was never conducted at all.

Custom, Off-The-Shelf or DIY

  1. Quality and custom work is expensive, but it can be tailored perfectly to your needs.
  2. Off-the-shelf is cheaper, but a pretty good fit for the typical use case.
  3. Adapting an off-the-shelf product costs less than custom but it will never be a perfect fit.
  4. Do-It-Yourself, if you want to do it well, is going to take up much more time than you imagine, at least an order of magnitude more time.

A generalization of Eliot Peper’s The Four Laws of Making a Website*

The Corruption of Apology

True apologies are precious. They’re a secular process of remediation, drawing on moral intuitions shared by many religious traditions. They encourage membership in one’s moral community because they are fundamentally relational: They heal the bond between wrongdoer and wronged. By temporarily humbling the perpetrator and vindicating the victim, they pave the way for both sides to make up. 

Apologies presuppose that there is some sort of moral community that shares a sense of right and wrong to which both the wronged and the wrongdoer belong. By apologizing, the wrongdoer embraces the norm that he violated. By doing that personally, ideally face to face, he works to heal his wounded relationships. And so he invites his victims to forgive, release their resentment, and move on. 

We all depend on apologies and forgiveness to go on living with one another. Husbands and wives admit their faults and patch up their differences. Kids on playgrounds say they’re sorry and then get back to recess. Coworkers talk through misunderstandings. As Hannah Arendt argued in The Human Condition, we wrong one another every day, and we learn to forgive constantly so that we can start afresh. The alternative is trapping ourselves in endless cycles of vengeance. 

Stephanos Bibas, “The Corruption of Apology.” persuasion.community. July 27, 2022

What I found interesting about this commentary was how it explicitly lays out what is necessary for an apology to have meaning, i.e.:

  1. A shared norm that was violated.
  2. A person who violated the norm and a person effected by the violation.
  3. Discussion and acknowledgment to observe the norm in the future.

A shared norm implies membership in a community, or at least a relationship between two people. Of course, some norms are universal, or nearly so. Murder, stealing, lying and so forth are generally disapproved of. However, the norms may be different between members of a community and The Other, or outsiders. However, a morality that has double-standards, one for the in-group and one for the out-group, is a dubious morality. Yet, they exist and are common.

The enumeration is interesting. It really cuts to the heart of a common class of problems in our modern world. The article focuses on the fact that norms are in dispute in different communities, but I think there are more interesting aspects of this problem.

Some people are toxic. They have no regard for norms. They will not acknowledge that they have harmed anyone. They will not discuss it beyond making excuses, like those you see in A Narcissist’s Prayer. You will never get a real apology from such a person.

The other side of it, that the article does discuss, is that our online environments pretend to community, but they aren’t actual communities. We have “friends” that aren’t really our friends. There are people trying to enforce norms without community and often on behalf of others. It turns it more into blood sport, where we are allies promoting the agenda of different teams.

For example, I believe in equal rights for women. I would like to see structures of institutional racism broken down. I think we should broaden our acceptance of the various sexualities between consenting adults. I think there are serious problems of class than need to be addressed, and we need greater opportunities for success for people living in poverty. But, as a white, male, heteronormative person that is not living in poverty, what are my responsibilities to forward those various agendas?

Is a country a community? A state? A city? Or even a neighborhood? And when I think about the communities and norms I subscribe to, does believing in a norm make a community? It can. You can forge a community based on a shared norm or values. But, you need both. If you want to promote values – or norms, it needs to be done in the context of a community. You cannot impose them from outside. And, even a community is not enough, you need to promote them in relationship with other people that you know. Values that abstract out real people, with real flaws, aren’t much of a value, just as getting people to apologize, not to some person, but to the world, isn’t a real apology.

Forer Statements As Updates And Affirmations

“The Forer Effect is a trick used by astrologers, psychics, and social psychologists…What statements show a Forer effect? Wikipedia just says they should be vague and somewhat positive. Can we do better?…

…Or you could phrase them as affirmations, or arguments for self-compassion…

– Scott Alexander, “Forer Statements As Updates And Affirmations.” astralcodexten.substack.com. July 26, 2022

I found the concept of the Forer Effect and the exercise or turning it around interesting. But, I think where it fails for me is I think trying to compare ourselves to the internal states of other people, an experience we do not have direct access to and can only guess at, is rarely an exercise that has value. We do not know what other people’s lives are like. And, for those whom we have a lot more interaction and might be able to guess, it’s largely irrelevant.

My wife is someone who seems genuinely happy as a default state. Does it make any sense to use what I imagine her experience is of the world as a comparison for my experience? I assume I am different from her and from most people. I think the real question here is whether a given behavior is adaptive or maladaptive. Is my self-criticism, on net, a positive or a negative in my life? Is my sense of being different from other people a positive or negative force in my life?

When you reframe this discussion and try to get away from comparison and think instead of other ways of being, or perhaps other times in your own life, you are at least interacting with your lived experience and trying to do something to improve it. Personally, ‘I find questions like: does anyone else experience/believe/whatever X?’ to be in the same category. Whether other people have similar experiences is largely irrelevant, isn’t it?

We live in an environment where we are constantly being manipulated and influenced. Of course, everyone feels critical of themselves and awkward because we are products of that environment. If we lived as hunter gatherers 500,000 years ago, the uncertainty and doubts we have would be completely different. So, the fact other people have the same outlook and behaviors that you do is not surprising. It would be surprising if they were much different.

So, perhaps the more interesting question is: how am I different than most people? Or, as Scott Alexander puts it:

“These affirmations aren’t foolproof. 50% of people are in the top 50% of most-sexually-awkward people, and 1% of people are in the top 1% most sexually-awkward. When I read these, I feel like most of the time I can think “Ah yes, this is a Forer Effect, good thing I caught myself before I believed it”, and then for one or two of them I think “No, I am just literally objectively in the top 10% of the population on that trait.” This is why I’m calling these “potential updates” instead of “absolutely correct articles of dogma”.

-ibid.

To me, this is the more interesting question. If you are going to engage in comparison, which I don’t think you should – i.e., comparison is the thief of happiness, wouldn’t it be more interesting to focus on where you are truly different from others?