Category Archives: EMAC 6361

Being Optimistic

My favorite feel-good quote of the semester:

For us, nostalgia is not only unproductive but also senseless. Things are getting better, not worse.

From 2.0.


Narrating War

It’s no secret that killing people is unpleasant. Even if there weren’t genetic blocks against bloodlust, we have all been conditioned to understand that causing death is bad. Other people deserve to live.

Unless they’re not people. Or they’re very, very, bad people.

"goons 'massacre' rebels" (screenshot from The Daily)

Name-calling is an effective argument. In logic-nerd circles (where arguments ad hominem are invalid) this is not true, but to the rest of us, calling someone a name often works wonders to undermine their credibility.

dislodging "Gadhafi's thugs" (clipped from The Daily)

It’s only natural that we be willing to bomb “goons” but not “fathers.” Of course, if you’re beating a war drum, “thugs” also seems perfectly appropriate (as opposed to “supporters of the current government”).

Now, before you call me a name to discredit me (Gadhafi lover!), let me say that I don’t think there’s a “right” side to this story.

Having said that, I believe we are entitled to reporting on events that doesn’t paint so clear a picture of desired outcomes. Populism is popular (notice the shared Latin root…), but invoking hatred, or very very stern dislike, is not the job of news media.

They should leave it to blog commenters…



On the Head

Robin Hanson nails it in a recent post to his fantastic blog, Overcoming Bias:

One way to avoid having a social norm to apply to oneself is to prevent wide knowledge that the norm applies to your situation. It is all right if some folks know, as long as outsider observers don’t know. People don’t want to anyone to be able to prove they knowingly failed to enforce a norm.

This (at least in part) drives the desire for privacy; of course, it is also a social norm to restrict certain activities to private settings.

Even understanding what someone means when they smile is a complicated process we take for granted;  the complexities of socialization come naturally to us after millions of years of evolution.

Of course, there are evolutionary advantages to being able to work around social norms (e.g., a male produces more genetic offspring if he cheats on an ostensibly monogamous female partner). This results in hypocrisy (again from Overcoming Bias):

When folks expect to be able to evade a norm, they don’t mind making that norm stronger. This lets them sound more pro-social, while actually giving themselves an advantage over folks who can’t evade as easily. And once norms get overly strong, there is more intuitive support for allowing evasion, via attitudes supporting letting people keep their “privacy.”

I submit this as a solid launch pad for answering the question, “What is public, what is private?”

Public becomes the realm of activities and behaviors which help us cooperate socially to increase survival, and private being the realm of activities primarily focused on self-interest and individualism.

Please Hammer, Don’t

Hammers are awesome. To our rockhammer using ancestors, hammers were life-saving and -giving. There’s a reason the handheld hammer is in every worthwhile toolbox around the world.

Super Mario Hammer

In his essay titled “Cyberdemocracy: The Internet and the Public Sphere”, Mark Poster makes the outrageous claim that “the effect of hammers is not to make people hammers” (p. 262).

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I Am My Own Dauphin

I am opposed to spanking. I would be more open to it if a child, once spanked, never misbehaved again, but I’m pretty sure that never happens. Not-spanking doesn’t mean you let children do everything they please, but it does mean you have to be more creative wherever an action requires a manufactured consequence. If little Timmy chops off a finger while playing with the door (a “natural” consequence) you told him not to play with, manufacturing additional punishment seems excessive — although an “I told you so” may prove irresistible.

Like those intrepid parents who don’t wish to hit their children to punish them, governments and societies invest great amounts of treasure, time, and/or energy into developing disciplinary techniques. French philosopher Michel Foucault offers his three cents in his book Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison; of special interest (i.e., class assignment) is the chapter titled “Panopticism.”


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Chimp’s Dilemma

No one laughs at me more than me, partially because I’m the only one who thinks I’m funny. Plus, I consider myself little more than a well-trained talking monkey (ape, for you purists). I often have moments where I visualize chimpanzee-me running my errands or doing my chores, a mental image which makes it difficult to take anything I do seriously.

98 percent Chimp

Chimpanzees (and bonobos, genetically as similar to humans as chimps) evolved from a common ancestor within social contexts similar to those experienced by humans. The prevalent Social Brain hypothesis proposes that the evolution of our “large” brains was driven largely by the complexities of functioning within these social environments. Continue reading

Eventually Inevitable

Not that anyone is on the edge of their seat, but I have officially caught up on all the reading for class AND have draft versions of 2 posts (which were due more than a week ago)  I’ll put them up after I eat something & have made sure I don’t sound super dumb. (Too late…)