Within the EU, Britain has the second-largest income difference between men and women. Things are worse only in Italy:
male-female-diff.PNG (PNG Image, 303×673 pixels) – Scaled (86%)
Within the EU, Britain has the second-largest income difference between men and women. Things are worse only in Italy:
“Will a surveillance team stake out the Gare du Nord or the Sunday market at Cergy? Will Eric Besson and Brice Hortefeux accompany the flics as they lay hands on the offending ‘agent of Islamism?’ Will she be taken for a garde �vue and, in the name of equality of women and public security, be stripped of her robes and headgear, searched, photographed, and displayed on the evening news? Will she be hauled into court and required to appear with face uncovered before her ermine-clad judges? Will she then express gratitude to the state for emancipating her from her oppressive culture?”
My attitude to Hunter S Thompson is that of the owner of an overindulged rottweiler, calling him a harmless softie while barely restraining the beast. For sure, much of the HST mythos is true: doubtless he was a drug-addled psychotic bastard who you wouldn’t want to turn your back on. Posterity may have literally turned him into a cartoon — both Transmetropolitan‘s Spider Jerusalem and Doonesbury‘s Duke are based on him — but there was plenty of crazy lingering there from the get-go. Beneath it all, though, there’s a touching melange of disbaused idealism and a surprising affection for those working less dramatically from within the system.
Even Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is, Duke keeps telling us, a search for the American Dream. The intrepid heroes purgatory their torsos, strain themselves to the point of breaking, and through this mortification uncover the nature of their world. The apparent nihilism is the aftermath of broken dreams, the realisation that the chnage which had appeared to be beginning in California in the 60s had come to a juddering halt:
[in the mid-Sixties] there was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda….You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning.And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave.
So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high—water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.
This sense of disappointed idealism, and the quest to regain it, appears much more strongly in Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. his report from George McGovern’s 1972 presidential campaign. He’s striking in his affection for the young staffes and volunteers fighting for McGovern from within the system, even when their positions are far more centrist and pragmatic than anything Thompson would himself countenance.
Final post on the Scholastics — and this one will be short, because doing it properly would require enough research to lose myself in a library for a week. I’m very big on the defensibility of reasoning by analogy, in partial (prob. exaggerated, tbh) opposition to a Popperian understanding of science by development of hypotheses in a vacuum. The scholastic idea of analogy is a very limited and specific one, intertwined with the theology of man created in the image of god, and they’re sceptical of metaphor in general.
Again there’s an ancient Indian parallel to be drawn here, and again I’m too wooly-minded to make the case. But here is an article giving the basics of Nyaya ogic, and the classic example is easy enough to follow:
There is fire on a hill (called Pratijna, required to be proved)
Because there is smoke there (called Hetu, reason)
Wherever there is fire, there is smoke (called Udaharana, i.e. example)
There is smoke on the hill (called Upanaya, reaffirmation)
Therefore there is fire on the hill (called Nigamana, conclusion)
In brief: analogy good, mmkay?
And so to bed
While I’m on the subject of scholastics (I’ve just been listening to a lecture on the subject): had Ken Macleod been so minded, he could have found plenty o material in medieval theology to justify robot religion — perhaps starting with ideas of grace. In Aristotle’s conception, Grace is a form within the soul. That means it’s a shape, a pattern. The material in which it is embedded is irrelevant, just as a pot is a pot whether wooden or ceramic. Grace in silico would not be inferior to Grace in vivo**: robots would be as capable as humans of faith, hope and love.
* bear in mind, this entire concept remains somewhat new and alien to me; I’m almost certainly butchering some carefully-considered principle. In all honesty, I don’t much care.
** Doubtless you could concoct other arguments for robot inferiority, perhaps arguing that they weren’t created directly by good, and so are merely a shadow of a shadow of his Goodness. After all, Christians have plenty of experience justifying racism; justifying discrimination against machines would be an order of magnitude easier.
“Science envy” and “math envy” are perennial problems across huge swathes of the academic world. Mathematics and the hard sciences are seen as having achieved great leaps forward in understanding the world, and thus become objects for emulation whether applicable or not. Greek symbols start to fill up journal pages. It doesn’t matter if they demonstrate the argument more rigorously, they just need to look impressively sciency. Economics is currently the most seriously-afflicted discipline, although the other social sciences are rapidly succumbing as massive datasets become available online.
This is nothing new. As their name suggests, the social sciences have been built up by wave after wave of this imitation throughout the 20th century. Or even further back. The scholastic theology of medieval Christianity was largely a centuries-long case of ‘logic envy’. Theologians discovered Aristotelian logic in the 12th century, and proceeded to apply it to the bible in mind-numbing detail.
The indian case is even more interesting. Here the discipline to be emulated was grammar, then far more advanced than any other branch of knowledge (and pretty damn impressive even in a modern context). Grammatical terminology and forms of argument cross over into most other disciplines.
Ken MacLeod, The Night Sessions. Near-future Scotland, recovering from a post-9/11 replay of the Wars of Religion. Churches are allowed to exist only on a private level, with the state studiously ignoring their existence. So when Detective Adam Ferguson begins to investigate the murder of his priest, his attention — and his superiors’ — is on the political and bureaucratic consequences almost as much as on the rapidly-escalating series of killings.
MacLeod’s science fiction is, among much else, a vehicle for satire on the preset. Here it’s most entertaining when confined to small details: Creationist theme parks, for example, or gangster-ridden “Capitalism with Russian Characteristics”. His broader swipes on religion mostly fall flat. Towards the end there is a particularly ludicrous conversion as a True Believer is confronted with the contradictions of the bible* — a shaky plot device on the biblical literalism which a certain kind of atheist shares with only the most extreme of protestant sects.
The science fiction elements are largely window-dressing, with the exception of the robots. Macleod’s robots are superior not only in strength and intelligence, but in their ability to understand human emotion. They unnerve people, even though they are no longer given humanoid form to avoid this very problem. Police robots are loyal and devoted sidekicks to their masters, and the strength of this bond is one of the assumptions driving the plot. And, finally, there’s the question of whether robots could be affected by religion.
These are all interesting questions, but the pace of the book prevents MacLeod exploring them. The Night Sessions is fundamentally a thriller and a police procedural, and theories of robotic personhood have to take a back-seat to that.
* ETA: later, it occurs to me that the nature of this is partly a comment on the human/robot comparison. The human is defeated in the same way robots are according to B-movie cliche: show them a contradiction, and wait for them to blow a fuse. Meanwhile the robots, emotionally advanced far beyond human level, have no trouble on this point.
Douglas Coupland, Generation X. An often uncomfortable book to read, because it’s a good one. Simultaneous identification with, loathing for and jealousy of the characters doesn’t make for a pleasant reading experience.
Like all his books, it’s set in an all-too-real world. The cast are young Americans, raised on marketing and branded aspiration, with every possible gestrue of rejection, independence or individuality already anticipated and commodified by the marketing industry. The plot developments are incidental; the action is in the stories and fantasies of the Generation Xers, mostly of where they find love and beauty within small moments of their lives:
“inspired by my meetings of the Alcoholics Anonymous organization, I instigated a policy of storytelling in my own life, a policy of “bedtime stories,” which Dag, Claire and I share among ourselves. It’s simple: we come up with stories and we tell them to each other. The only rule is that we’re not allowed to interrupt, just like in AA, and at the end we’re not allowed to criticize. This noncritical atmosphere works for us because the three of us are so tight assed about revealing our emotions. A clause like this was the only way we could feel secure with each other.”
Coupland’s happy-ever-after endpoint, here as elsewhere, is for this circle of friends to find a shared language, a common aesthetic in their savviness and semi-rejection of the world, and so an ability to share their perfect moments. The problem is that they aren’t really “tight assed about revealing [their] emotions”. Once the storytelling device clicks into place, they’re all able to talk in the style that is Coupland’s trademark, cannily picking apart the brands and marketed aspirations from which they’ve built their inner lives. The emotional fluency isn’t developed over the book; it’s present from the start, as plot device.
Not only is the endpoint present from the start, it’s also deeply unsatisfying in itself. We can’t leave any mark on the world, he seems to be saying, so should content ourselves with occasional brief moments of beauty and communication. This is both accurate, and sufficient reason to fling yourself off the nearest cliff.
Currently reading Tobias Jones’ The Dark Heart of Italy. So naturally I glance online to see what others have made of it. Equally naturally, I find they’re strongly suggesting I find better books on Italian politics. Noting their suggestions, in preparation for the next time my thoughts take a turn bootward:
Paul Ginsborg, Italy and Its Discontents, a history of Italy 1980-2001 (following an earlier book covering the period to 1980):
the 1980s were years of “cynicism, opportunism and fear” – the conditions in which corruption could flourish, and from which Berlusconi would benefit.
Much of the blame lies with the Communist Party. Rather than serve as gatekeeper, filtering Autonomy’s contributions, the party co-operated in the suppression of groups to its left. The result was a weakened political system, the left avid for respectability while the right operated without constraints. If the Italian left is to regain the initiative, it will need to open itself again to influences like those of the autonomists.
. CT comment:
I’d recommend anyone interested in post-war Italy to read Ginsborg; his previous book on Italy from Liberation to the 1980s is also excellent, and his short book on Berlusconi is good. Ginsborg’s weak spot is that he doesn’t devote much attention to the conspiratorial side of politics. In that respect David Lane’s book on Berlusconi (the book of the Economist feature) is surprisingly good – he turns over quite a few stones. Philip Willan’s The Puppetmasters is the conspiracist account of post-war Italian politics in English; God only knows how accurate it is, but it’s extremely suggestive. The Dark Heart of Italy… meh. I enjoyed it (Tobias Jones writes well), but it’s a bit Orientalist. [links added]
It’s a truism (and true) that exising globalisation fails by being limited to capital (and perhaps ideas), with labour excluded by law, and land land excluded by definition. Hence No Borders takes pride of place in the alterglobalisation movement, both logically and practically.
Perhaps this desired expansion of globalisation across the factors of production will lead to the development of other havens analogous to tax havens. A return, if you like, to safe havens as pirate islands, refuges for the stateless and hte outlawed.
Or, as with Iceland, we could have ‘free speech havens’, outposts where data can be sent and stored, and can sally forth to break through the restrictions of established nations. The ideal espoused by Cryptonomicon and Sealand, finally brought to fruition.