Community: A Third Place

“Home and work, I had read that morning, are our first and second places, respectively, and the third place is a sociable one we choose for ourselves as somewhere that helps root us in our communities, and promotes social equality. Or at least that’s the ideal, according to sociologist Ray Oldenburg, who coined the phrase in 1989 in his book, The Great Good Place: Cafés, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community. ‘Nothing contributes as much to one’s sense of belonging as much as ‘membership’ in a third place,’ he wrote.”

—Brown, Jessica. “Searching London for My ‘Third Place’.” July 2017.

Adding Oldenberg’s book to my queue. I am curious what qualities make for good First, Second and Third Places. I suspect they differ and could be classified, perhaps Oldenberg has already explored this in detail.

Book Review: Every Twelve Seconds by Timothy Pachirat

Highly recommended. Describes in detail the operation of an industrialized slaughterhouse, from the front office to the delivery of cattle and back again. While it is clear the process is inhumane and unsanitary, the working conditions of the employees are the focus. Even if the ethics of killing animals for food is not an issue for you, a system that has one person kill 2,500 cattle, every work day, in order to put meat on your plate has qualities reminiscent of the hypothetical posed in Le Guin’s, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.” Horrifying, but a book everyone that buys and eats meat in cellophane packaging should read.

“Like its more self-evidently political analogues—the prison, the hospital, the nursing home, the psychiatric ward, the refugee camp, the detention center, the interrogation room, the execution chamber, the extermination camp—the modern industrialized slaughterhouse is a ‘zone of confinement,’ a ‘segregated and isolated territory,’ in the words of sociologist Zygmunt Bagman, ‘invisible’ and ‘on the whole inaccessible to ordinary members of society.’ Close attention to how the work of industrialized killing is performed might thus illuminate not only how the realities of industrialized animal slaughter are made tolerable but the ways distance and concealment operate in analogous social processes: war executed by volunteer armies; the subcontracting of organized terror to mercenaries; and the violence underlying the manufacturing of thousands of items and components we make contact with in our everyday lives…

You may find the descriptions in the pages ahead both physically and morally repugnant. Recognize, however, that this reaction of disgust, this impulse to thumb through the pages so as to locate, separate, and segregate the sterile, abstract arguments from the flat, ugly day-in, day-out, minutiae of the work of killing, is the same impulse that isolates the slaughterhouse from society as a whole and, indeed, that sequesters and neutralizes the work of killing even for those who work in the slaughterhouse itself. The detailed accounts that follow are not merely incidential to or illustrative of a more important theoretical argument about how distance and concealment operate as mechanisms of power in contemporary society. They are the argument.”

—Pachirat, Timothy. “Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight.” New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011.

Meditation: Familiarization With a New Way of Being

“Mere intellectual understanding is not  enough. It is not by leaving the doctor’s prescription by the bedside or learning it by heart that we are cured. We must integrate what we have learned so that our understanding becomes intimately bound up into our mind’s flow. Then it ceases to be theory and becomes self-transformation. Indeed, as we’ve seen, that is the meaning of the word meditation: familiarization with a new way of being. We can familiarize ourselves with all sorts of positive qualities in this way — kindness, patience, tolerance — and continue to develop them through meditation.”

—Ricard, Matthieu. “Happiness: A Guide for Developing Life’s Most Important Skill.” New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2003.

Perception & Reality

“‘We read the world wrong and say it deceives us,’ wrote Rabindranath Tagore. We take for permanent that which is ephemeral and for happiness that which is but a source of suffering: the desire for wealth, for power, for fame, and for nagging pleasures…By knowledge we mean not mastery of masses of information and learning but an understanding of the true nature of things. Out of habit, we perceive the exterior world as a series of distinct, autonomous entities to which we attribute characteristics that we believe belong inherently to them. Our day-to-day experience tells us that things are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The ‘I’ that perceives them seems to us to be equally concrete and real. This error, which Buddhism calls ignorance, gives rise to powerful reflexes  of attachment and aversion that lead to suffering. As Etty Hillesum says so tersely: ‘That great obstacle is always the representation and never the reality.'”

—Ricard, Matthieu. Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. New York: Little, Brown, and Company, 2003.

Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra

A kind of zen koan in the form of a multiple choice test. Questions are asked, and it’s never entirely clear what the correct answer might be, if there is one. Perfect book for reading in the bathroom, self-reflection, thinking about language, etc. It’s not a book you can read in one sitting, and it will likely be inscrutable and strange to most people. Recommended.

Book Queue: May 2017

1. Moore, Alan. Jerusalem.
2. Berger, John. Ways of Seeing.
3. Endō, Shūsaku. Silence.
4. Vaughan, Brian K. The Saga series.
5. Shakur, Assata. Assata An Autobiography.
6. Liew, Sonny. The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye.
7. Spengler, Oswald. The Decline of the West.
8. Moorcook, Michael. Elric series.
9. Alain. The Gods.
10. Garson, Scott. Is That You, John Wayne?

Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor: Summary

Chapter 1: Reinforcement

• A reinforcer is anything that, occuring in conjunction with an act, tends to increase the probability that the act will occur again.
• There are two kinds of reinforcers: positive and negative.
• Reinforcers are relative, not absolute – in order to be reinforcing, it must be something the subject wants or doesn’t want.
• A major point in training with reinforcement is that you can’t reinforce behavior that is not occuring.
• Punishment is what happens when a behavior results in a loss of something desirable or when the behavior results in the undesirable.
• Each instance of negative reinforcement contains a punisher.
• Punishment results in unpredictable outcomes.
• A conditioned reinforcer is some signal combined with the delivery of a reinforcer.
• Reinforcers can also be segmented to communicate: good, keep going, and stop.
• It is useful to have a variety of reinforcers for any training situation.
• Reinforcement lagging behind behavior is the beginning trainers biggest problem.
• The size of the reinforcer should be as small as you can get away with.
• Eighty reinforcers seems to be the maximum for any subject’s interest during any one day.
• Use jackpots – reinforcers 10x normal size for special occasions or randomly.
• Variable reinforcement should be used once a behavior has been learned – except when solving a puzzle or test is involved (1to1).
• Long-duration behaviors can be reinforced with a fixed schedule of reinforcement.
• Reinforce yourself, reinforce everyone.

Chapter 2: Shaping

• Shaping consists of taking a very small tendency in the right direction and shifting it, one small step at a time, toward a goal.
• Shaping is possible because the behavior of living beings is variable.
• Shaping shortcuts include: targeting, mimicry and modeling (helping subject do motion).

Ten Laws of Shaping

1. Raise criteria in increments small enough that the subject always has a realistic chance for reinforcement.
2. Train one aspect of any particular behavior at a time, don’t try to shape for two criteria simultaneously.
3. During the shaping, put the current level of response into a variable schedule of reinforcement before adding or raising criteria.
4. When introducing a new criterion, or aspect of a behavioral skill, temporarily relax the old ones.
5. Stay ahead of your subject: Plan the shaping program completely so that if the subject makes sudden progress, you are aware of what to reinforce next.
6. Don’t change trainers midstream; you can have several trainers per trainee, but stick to one shaper per behavior.
7. If one shaping procedure is not eliciting progress, find another; there are as many ways to get behavior as there are trainers to think them up.
8. Don’t interrupt a training session gratuitiously, that constitutes punishment.
9. If a behavior deterioriates, “go back to kindergarden”; quickly review the whole shaping process with a series of easily earned reinforcers.
10. End each session on a high note, if possible, but in any case quit while you’re ahead.

Chapter 3: Stimulus Control

• Anything that causes some kind of behavioral response is called a stimulus.
• Teaching an animal to touch the end of a stick with its nose is an excellent beginning exercise for the new reinforcement trainer.
• Train the behavior first, then provide the cue.
• Cues can be anything that the subject can perceive.

The Rules of Stimulus Control

• The behavior always occurs immediately upon presentation of the conditioned stimulus (the dog sits when told to)
• The behavior never occurs in the absense of the stimulus (during a training or work session the dog never sits spontaneously).
• The behavior never occurs in response to some other stimulus (if you say, “Lie down,” the dog does not offer to sit instead).
• No other behavior occurs in response to the stimulus (when you say “Sit,” the dog does not respond by lying down or by licking)

Chapter 4: Untraining

Eight methods in order, least to most effective.

1. Shoot the animal.
2. Punishment.
3. Negative reinforcement.
4. Extinction, goes away by itself.
5. Train an incompatible behavior.
6. Put the behavior on cue.
7. “Shape the absence”, reenforce everything but the behavior.
8. Change the motivation.