Categories
quotes ranting

The four drives

I am currently reading The Consolation of Philosophy [goodreads.com] by Boethius. And listening along to the Tolkien Professor’s [tolkienprofessor.com] Mythgard Academy podcast [mythgard.org] of their discussion.

In book two of Consolation, there is a discussion of what drives humans:

Some believe the highest good is being rich without want, so they toil to gain an abundance of wealth. Others think the good is winning the best reputation, so they seek the respect of their fellow citizens by obtaining honors. There are those who locate the highest good in the highest power. They want either to be rulers themselves or to ally themselves with those who are. To others the good seems to be the greatest fame, so they rush to spread their glorious name abroad by works of war or peace. But the largest portion measure the fruit of the good by sensual pleasure and joy. They suppose the happiest man abandons himself to pleasure. There are also those who confuse ends and means, like those who desire riches for the sake of power and pleasures, or who seek power for the sake of money or fame.

Boethius, from The Consolation of Philosophy, book 2, prose 2

This reminded me of something that a history teacher once said to me, and my whole class. I’m wondering now if they go the idea from Boethius, they never explained where it came from, and I think we were all too shocked to ask for more details. No doubt this is paraphrasing, as it was decades ago, and maybe it’s been refined over many retellings, but this is the essence of what they said:

Money, power, prestige and sex, are the four drive of the human race. Once basic needs are met, it is the desire to possess these four things that has shaped history.

History teacher who shall remain anonymous

If you have hung out with me for any significant length of time over the last three decades or so you have hear that, over coffee or beer or stronger. It has suck with me, I wonder if anyone else in the class remembers it?

Boethius actually lists five drives: wealth, reputation, power, fame and sensual pleasure, but it’s close enough. Reputation is as much of a function of the others as a goal itself. I wonder if my teacher had ever read Consolation?

Can you boil history down to money, power, prestige and sex? Probably not. But there are a lot of incidents in history, large and small, that are driven by these things. Wars over natural resources often boil down to money. Hunger for power has driven many a king, emperor or chancellor to conquest. Prestige? That’s a bit harder. But sex driving “history” is as old as the Trojan War.

There was actually a corollary to the four drives. It’s probably offensive, and it’s definitely sexist, and I debated even adding it here, since the internet never forgets and people will assume the worst about you. But for most of human history sexism was the default, and while no doubt this is a Reductio ad absurdum, it puts an interesting spin on the whole statement. Anyway, the corollary, added later by another friend is:

If you are a man; money, power and prestige are how you get sex. If you are a woman; sex is how you get money, power and prestige.

I told you it was sexist.

Categories
photography ranting

The Queen is dead, long live the King

As close as I’ll ever come to royalty, June 4th, 2002

So much for her immortality. 96 is a good run. 70 years as Queen. More than three generations. In any English speaking place The Queen refers only to her, and will for some time I expect. It will be a hard act to follow. And maybe it’s time to put an end to the whole thing, send the monarchy out while it’s on top.

I took the photo above on June 4, 2002 [confusion.cc], when the UK was celebrating The Queen’s 50th Jubilee. Stumbled on the motorcade a few blocks from the Guildhall. I was literally 6 meters from The Queen. Amazing.

Categories
quotes ranting

Feed the Algorithms…

You have no free speech — not because someone might ban your account, but because there’s a vast incentive structure in place that constantly channels your speech in certain directions. And unlike overt censorship, it’s not a policy that could ever be changed, but a pure function of the connectivity of the internet itself.

Sam Kriss, from The Internet is Made of Demons [damage.com], published on Damage

The Internet is Made of Demons is a fun article from a few weeks ago, published on Damage.com. It’s a roundabout review of The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is: A History, A Philosophy, A Warning by E. H. Smith. The review starts with this argument that Social Media is brainwashing us all, like some Pavlovian demon conditioning us to salivate over likes, shares and retweets, training our thoughts and actions. We are all being trained by the demons of the internet to please the almighty algorithms. Everyone is a content creator, not a person talking to other people, but a person talking at other people to generate views and sell ads.

No doubt. We all want people to value our creations. To validate our existence, to inflate our self-esteem. Why else would anyone post things on the internet?

The internet exploded, in large part, while I was in college as a way to connect with people IRL, a tool to enhance social contact not replace it. Applications like ICQ, AIM and many more allowed us to communicate when we were apart. Free campus internet allowed us to leave the messenger running when we were away from the dorm, in an era largely before people had laptops or cellphones. Napster was a tool to download music to play in your dorm for your IRL friends. But over the past two decades the internet has not just crept into more and more aspects of our daily life, it has replaced them. And for too many people this has lead to less real social activity.

[The Internet] simulates the experience of being among people

I can relate to this. There are so many “friends” on my social media that I am not really in touch with —setting aside people who “friend” or “follow” every person they ever meet or hear about, I’m talking about people I know or, at least, knew. The fact that I see their posts, that I know what is going on in their life, or at least that part of their life that they choose to share; I know people get married, go on holiday, have kids. Or, maybe, I see their comments on things others have posted, and I know their politics or, preferably, their sense of humor. It feels like I am “in touch” with these people. But, I’m not, not really. I haven’t seen most of these people in years —or in decades— I have no real connection to them. Just a simulation of a connection. And this model of social media seems to be fading as it evolves from conversations to one-way self-advertisement.

Part of this, this feeling that I’m informed by not connected is that many, if not most, of the people on my social media live in other countries; the US, Japan, Sweden, England, Italy, Australia… I’m very bad about maintaining actual contact in real life, in IRL. I don’t call and I don’t even text or email people. I tied to get better at it, I set some reminders to reach out to a few people who live overseas… And I kept finding myself saying “I should call/text so-and-so today.” But always at the wrong time and I was too tired to do it or just forgot it later.

I can barely keep in contact with people who are physically nearby. My work colleagues or ex-work colleagues who live here in Singapore, we go out regularly when we are in the same company, but then when they leave it become more and more seldom… Some of these people are “friends-of-convenience,” meaning we would not naturally be friends outside of the shared experience of work… but others are people I think would be friends regardless of work —true friends. I was better at it during the height of the COVID lockdowns, I would randomly call groups of people for “virtual coffee” sessions to replace the in person coffee breaks at the office. I don’t even do that any more… I’m too lazy. Should start again.

I do have to admit that I have been able to use social media to create moments of serendipity that would not have happened without it: three times I have been in foreign countries for work or holiday and found out, via social media, that someone from my past was also there and we have been able to meet up. This would not have happened without social media.

But moving out, this sort of replacing IRL interaction with simulated online interaction is not the real point of the review. The review is more concerned that the form of “communication” we have through the internet is destroying our empathy, our humanity to each other:

As more and more of your social life takes place online, you’re training yourself to believe that other people are not really people, and you have no duty towards them whatsoever. 

The reviewer cites stats that younger, more internet native generations show reduced empathy when tested. I can’t agree or argue with this, I don’t have enough young or IRL friends to judge it. But I don’t disbelieve it.

From there the review goes a off the rails, talking about books on demonology and medieval cryptography. Seemingly to make a point that the internet is a natural evolution of our need to communicate widely with others across distance claiming “telecommunications” is as old as humanity. I told you it was fun. But I think the key points are those at the beginning about simulating social connection and causing us all to focus on feeding the algorithms rather than helping to deepen friendships.

Categories
quotes ranting

Life after Dobbs

In the day after the Dobbs ruling was formally published, POLITICO ran an article full of statements from various thinkers on the potential impact of Dobbs. POLITICO is a very left leaning site, but there are some quotes from pro-life people. The opinions range from bleak “there will be civil war” (from an opinion that reads as a hypothetical future paralleling the the next 10 years with the 10 years leading up to the US Civil War) to hopeful (opinions which to me sound extremely naïve, fairy tale ending, wishful thinking, in the afterglow of victory.)

What I fear most is that the rollback of Roe will confirm for younger Americans, those who don’t remember the ’60s or ’70s, that this meanness, small-mindedness and flat-out oppressiveness is what American politics is fundamentally all about — and that movements for collective good are on the fringe, a pipe dream. With this view they will not assume, as I did, that good change is a hard fight but in a democracy is inevitable. They won’t fundamentally see this country as a democracy. And that’s chilling.

Erin Aubry Kaplan

I can hardly remember a time when that was not the way of it. I expect everyone things “it used to be better” not really understanding how it was before they were old enough to remember but I do see the straight line from the 1990’s to today. Bob Dole and his Rush Limbaugh hypnotized legions.

Litmus tests overwhelm reason, and rage drowns out prudence.

Charles Sykes

That just sounds like the status quo. Single issue voting, pushed by single issue, money rich lobbying groups.

What happens when states such as Louisiana treat the decision to obtain an abortion as a criminal homicide. Like many other states, Louisiana allows a bystander to “use force or violence or to kill” if they “reasonably believe” it necessary to protect a person. Such “defense of others” provisions in criminal codes, on their face, would allow someone to use force — even deadly force — to stop a woman crossing state lines to secure an abortion. That is, it would be perfectly lawful to draw a firearm on a woman traveling outside the state to get medical care.

Aziz Huq

That’s from a law professor. And given that anti-abortion and pro-gun Venn diagram is just a circle… Totally plausible. Gives the lie to the “pro-life” label. They don’t care about life. They care about abortion, they have been whipped into a rabid frenzy by a fanatical few who’s focus is —was now— on overturning Roe. “Pro-life” would imply they would be fighting for other things, like abolition of the death penalty.

On the “pro-life” side. I have to admit I read their statements and I feel like “wow” these people are crazy… but they worked hard over decades and they got what they wanted. It’s more scary crazy than funny crazy.

Many of these young people can’t imagine a world in which abortion is illegal. But this disregard for human life and family has been a wrecking ball to our society. Easy access to abortion has fostered a culture of people who have lost respect for the dignity of their own lives and the lives of those around them.

Kristan Hawkins

This is the most self-propagandizing (that’s a word?) sounding one to me. Moving on, this one is less crazy sounding, more thought out and also a bit depressing. Basically arguing that the battle lines were drawn long ago and nothing will change just because the Supreme Court actually overturned Roe:

Abortion, like guns, has been at the center of our culture war debates for decades. The data suggest that voters who were going to be motivated by those issues — for or against — have already been voting and have already sorted themselves into their respective parties. It’s hard to see how a Supreme Court decision will change that’s

Sarah Isgur

And this guy just sounds delusional… I can’t imagine American’s learning to “talk to each other” about divergent political issues. My opinion of the average American is much to low, we have fallen too far, too many people bought into their own tribes political propaganda about the other side, about all-or-nothing positions.

[W]ithout Roe and Casey, over the next 10 years, the American people will be forced to talk to one another, reason together and learn that their political opponents are not enemies, but people of good will who are trying to care rightly for those they love.

O. Charter Snead

And Finally:

Abortion opponents will not be appeased until abortion is entirely eliminated from our country, and they will without a doubt force this onto the entire nation should they ever gain full control of all three chambers of government.

Robin Marty

That sounds about right, overturning Roe was always just one step. Now they need to get it outlawed everywhere, state-by-state if they can’t get a national ban. As several of the writes note, the next logical step is a “Fetal Personhood” ruling or amendment.

Categories
ranting

Roe, Roe, Roe your vote…

So it’s official. Roe is no more. The next phase of this long running culture war starts. There will be reams of analysis and plans and emails filled with both righteous indignation and celebratory zeal… and, of course, pleas to donate money to the fights to come.

The court is supposed to rule on constitutionality of things. But both sides of this fight know that this was pure politics. The result of years of political maneuvering, scheming and massive spending by a minority over years to win a verdict that does not reflect will of the American public. The fact is, most Americas wanted the status quo to remain the law of the land. Fivethrityeigtht [fivethirtyeight.com] has a good summary of where people actually stand, it’s a nuanced topic, as most things are but the headline is clear; a large majority of Americans wanted things to stay as they were. The will of the majority lost to the zeal of the minority. The tyranny of a minority restricting the rights of all. Why? How?

Two things that people should learn from this:

  1. The opinions of the majority matter little to those fighting the culture wars
  2. Long term planning and focus pays off

So many Americans believe in conspiracy theories; Q-anon, Lizard people, satan worshiping pedophiles, the illuminati and much more. The truly bazaar thing is that there is a clear cabal of shady types running the US right in front of us, no conspiracy theories required: lobbyist, PACs, special interests.

These groups rely on the fact that you and I are too busy putting food on the table, working for a that promotion, helping the kids with their homework, living our life. They are laser focused on their issue, full time.

These group, and the power they have have over politics, have destroyed democracy in America. Our government does not reflect what people actually think and want. They have learned to game the systems through the time and money they put into pursuing their chosen cause; their crusade, their jihad. They have corrupted the system.

The pro-gun and anti-abortion fanatics have pushed there agenda for so long, and they have become so effective at it, that they managed to shift laws away from the view of the majority and to the extremists. They turned congress into a waste of time, the presidency into a sad reality show and the courts into… something.

Their goals are not supported by a majority of Americas and yet they have been so effective for so long at crushing anyone who opposes them they have eliminated cooperation and compromise and left obstruction and intransigence in their place.

They succeed with long term planning and focus. Special interest groups holding extreme views are not unique to the conservative side of politics —the liberal side has it’s own extreme views that are only supported by small vocal minorities— but they have been at it longer and playing a long game. Anti-abortionists started the work to overturn Roe immediately after it became the law of the land. For most of the past 50 years. While of America thought of abortion as a settled issue, they planned, they maneuvered and they fought to get their way with single-minded focus. No doubt opportunistic politicians “used” the causes and their supporters to advance their careers, but in the end they were only thinking short term, the anti-abortionists were in it for the long term. They remember and they call in their favors.

The gun nuts perfected the art of political assassination, how appropriate. Taking out any politician who crossed them. Breeding spineless politicians who won’t stand up to them for fear of it ending their career in the next primary.

The anti-abortionists and the pro-gun cabals captured the politics, gaming the system of primaries and caucuses to push their extreme positions. My mobilizing their one-issue voters in the primaries, before the majority of people were even involved in an election, they shifted the whole field to the extremes. After the primaries the winners “pivot to the center” to win votes but they were still beholden, for re-election to the extremists, who watch and remember. Extremists on the left learned from this and have used the same tactic to push their party further from the center, but they lack the longevity of the conservatives.

The end result is we are all fucked, the long term planning and laser focus of the extremist minorities on the left and right have eviscerated American democracy. There is no more room for politics, no compromise or common ground. The parties have been pushed so far apart that they have become unable of governing.

The extremists have built an unassailable position; they have burned system down on their way to success. By gaming the system they have broken the system, we have fallen into their trap, electing politicians who are so far to the extremes that all they can do in Washington is scream insults back and forth across the aisles.

They destroyed congress, they destroyed the presidency and they have destroyed the supreme court.

I don’t see how we will fix the system from within the broken system. How do you ever overcome the gerrymandering, lobbying, career politicians, PACs, and the apathy? I’d say vote, but I can’t see how voting will fix it… the extremist will kill any candidates who want to work with the other side, it to big a risk to their agenda. Its a zero sum game that only leads to more and more extreme positions.