Categories
society

Celebrity News is not News

Looked at the news today to find this utterly silly celebrity news story about the Pope adding another 22 Cardinals to his team (they had been part of the lower-tier Archbishop team that performs with Pope on tour). What is the big deal that this gets classified as World News? I specifically unsubscribe/remove celebrity news and sports from any news content I consume. Because it’s not meaningful to me.

The question is why the Pope is considered meaningful enough to garner mention in a non-religious news context.  The answer is that historically the Pope had a lot of power to cause people to kill each other.  Same reason they still cover the various Royal Families of the world without properly sequestering those to Celebrity News.

Having had the ability to get a lot of people killed, they were relevant.  You might be one of the people that would be killed, or that would kill, or know some of those people.  It was good to know if people were going to be killed.

But these days, I don’t think the Pope can have anyone killed, and if he or she can, a stop ought be put to that Papal power.  Same for the Royal Families.

It’s different for Roman Catholics, as it is for the subjects of the Royal Families.  But is that any different than being a fan of a pop singer or a fan of a sports organization, when viewed from the outside?

At best, isn’t the modern non-Royal, non-Religious celebrity just a counterpart to the former celebrities that were ordained by the gods?  And the other counterpart, the leaders and politicians, they are news only because they have the power to get people killed and otherwise harm society in similar ways.

But high profile figures are harmful in and of themselves, as they are seen as archetypes for the rest of us.  If the politician or the Pope resort to certain types of rhetoric, the average person for whom they represent archetypes will follow their leads.

This is clear when we look at nations brought to war on the backs of bad arguments and shoddy evidence.  The debate isn’t just shaped, but fabricated by the hands of these archetypes.  Whether the war is on illegal immigrants or a foreign nation, the capacity for the average person to make their voice heard depends upon the archetypes’ ability to show respect for the rest of us, and they seldom do so.

So, celebrity news is not news, but seldom is the new authority’s view news.  It’s agenda, it’s propaganda.  It is the cloth that the followers hang inside their minds, and when they look out to the world, their view is framed with that cloth.

Categories
society

Conflict and the Demands of Protests

With the Occupation of Wall Street by the dissatisfied masses, the media poses: what do they want?

But examining the impetus for the protest requires a larger context, of conflict in general.

Conflict represents an imbalance in resources, always.  Whether it’s a dominance fight in the wild, where the resource of control needs allotting, or in warfare where the resources vital to the function of society need equilibration, conflict means forcing a decision.

When protesters take to the street, they seek redress.  They do so in a fundamentally civil fashion, though, which separates protest from riot.  Where protest erupts into riot, the cause may be found in the fact that yelling and amassing of people also occurs during violent outbursts, and police conditioning makes them wary, while protester conditioning shows authority to have reactionary tendencies to lash out.

But, again, the question of what the protest wants.  What do they demand?

Excepting the most radical views, conflict wants only a fair shake.  They may believe in one set of outcomes, but they will accept less.  That less is simply a compromise.

Some of the protesters want environmental concerns to be addressed.  They may truly want the end of fossil fuels, for example.  But they will accept a more modest move to minimize the fuel use.

The unemployed want full employment, but they will accept more minor concessions and a general shift in the ambiance of the job market.  For example, they would be glad to see employers begin to give them more feedback regardless of the hiring decision.  They want work, but even a simple response that they are on the right track would be immensely helpful.  Instead, they typically hear nothing, and the lack of reinforcing their behavior is discouraging.

The people with bad mortgage debt would like nothing more than to be free of their bindings, but would feel much better if the banks would simply agree to a refinancing and would set them up with a single point of contact that would provide them with a sense of certainty that their concerns could be voiced in a reasonable manner.

When you go in for surgery, the surgeon is responsible for not only the actual procedure, but for explaining it to the patient.  There’s an accountable party.  But the fact is it doesn’t have to be the surgeon, as long as it’s one particular person that you reliably deal with.

As it stands, the business culture has become disconnected. And that’s no magic.  That’s just bad, collusive dealings.  Dealings that shouldn’t have happened but for irregular leverage.

When you buy a product and have feedback, if you contact the manufacturers, the vast majority of the time they are very helpful, going so far as to give you highly technical details and explanations. They know their products, they work hard on them, and they like to hear unsolicited feedback.

The exceptions are restricted to a few high profile organizations that are more trouble to deal with, typically banks and wireless carriers top that list.  They are service companies, which rely on lock-ins and the like, for continued payment.  Often their service does not require their ongoing diligence to guarantee your satisfaction as a means to ensure payment.

That creates a malformed relationship, much like that between prisoners and guards.  The bank’s loan to you represents a dominance over you, so they feel entitled to bother you and push you around.  See also the Stanford Prison Experiment.

What the protest represents there, is a call against that sort of dominance.  Wall Street represents a continuous tweaking of our entire economy.  When they say jump, we all brace for impact.  But we know that’s an imbalanced relationship.  We know that the government gives them preferential treatment to our detriment.

The same thing with the oil companies, where accidents in natural environments mean they try to escape with as little pain as possible.  We recognize that as a domination of our system, which calls for a change.

So what’s the outcome?  What’s the demand?

A fair shake.  Period.  That the people in charge of writing the laws and understanding/improving the system as a whole (both inside and outside of government) actually pay attention, like the manufacturer when you give feedback.  That Wall Street recognize the vitality of Main Street to their existence.  That the oil companies recognize that Main Street is why they exist, and not the other way around.

It’s really that simple.  They just want a level playing field.  They don’t want profitable companies to be subsidized.  They don’t want socialism, which a major imbalance of wealth represents.  That’s right, having a minority hold a majority of the wealth is just as destructive to capitalism as central-planning by government.  Proper capitalism requires and thrives on distribution of wealth.

I apologize if these ideas are not clear enough.  They are still developing/forming.  I will try to refine them in future posts.

Categories
society

Fixing Government: End Central Planning

Let’s say you have a chain of ice cream parlors, ten in all, sprinkled over a large metropolitan area.  You’re planning your next quarter, and so you send out a press release telling everyone in reading distance which parlors they should shop at, on which days, which flavors they should buy, etc.

Something tells me that is not the way to do it.  The ice cream flows according to where the customers decide to go.  While they do take past reports of ice cream flows under advisement when they decide to look for it, if they happen to end up a kilometer from the nearest ice cream, the ice cream will eventually move to them.

This is one of the basic tenets of modern economics: let the distributed information direct resources.  Barring cosmos-scale advancements in computing power and information gathering, we must accept that the more distributed and informed agents will achieve better results.

Why is it, then, that we still practice central planning?  Why is the tax rate fixed until it changes?  Why does Congress intervene to thwart their own wisdom in basing Medicare payments on the Sustainable Growth Rate method?

The answer is simply that although it’s recognized that central planning is ineffective at best and dangerous in most cases, it feels good.  You see, for all their brave rhetoric, congress feels vulnerable.  They worry ceaselessly about their ability to continue serving us in a broken capacity.  Likewise, businesses feel as though a dark cloud could pass and Washington could decide to legislate them into obsolescence.

So they create symbioses.  Now, they need each other, joined at the hip, and find themselves stuck when circumstances change.

Solving the burdens of central planning takes very little changing, but the hardest thing to change still must: the congressional affairs with businesses must end.

Instead of mandating a certain tax rate, and having to adjust it based on economic conditions, the tax rate should already be sensitive to the economic conditions.  Instead of passing the Medicare Sustainable Growth Rate only to keep balking to the point where now Medicare provider payments have nearly doubled since the early 1990s where they should be nearly flat, they would let the rates move with the rest of the economy.

An ocean of information, the economy abiding fixed pillars in its middle is an utterly laughable suggestion.  While man may one day be capable of such constructions, by that point the need for their creation seems absurd, and building them today only carries us to torment when they fail and send huge pieces of debris tumbling at us across the waves.

Let us raise our sails once more and be ready to trim them according to the ocean rather than expecting the ocean to accommodate us.

Categories
society

Free as in Culture.

Came across some ongoing debate regarding whether culture should be treated as software is.  That is, whether the licenses of culture can be equally free to those of software.  Thought I would write briefly on that subject.

Before continuing I will simply note my own guilt in licensing the contents of this blog.  Up until today I was using the Creative Commons 3.0 License with the Attribution and No Derivatives caveats.  Today I’m glad to relicense all of the works under the simpler, freer Attribution, Share Alike license.  This is much more in line with my general leaning toward the GPL.

Prehistory and History

In the time before writing, man did possess language.  While language has evolved further due to the intertext from written language, its core remains spoken.  And in that time before writing, culture was free.  If I told you a story, you would retell it in your own fashion.  You might or might not attribute the story to me, and I might or might not attribute it to its original author or influences.  But the central freedom to experience, modify, and redistribute the data was maintained.

Once writing came into play, the general pattern did continue.  Oral tradition became a bit more fixed (and in some cases the freedoms were lost due to lack of ability of more than the privileged to write and read), but even then rewriting occurred.  The new regime rewrote the old regime’s deeds, depending on their relationship.

LISP

One of the things that made the programming language LISP so powerful and notable was its treatment of data and code as equals.  With that ability in place, LISP informs this discussion.

If you see human language as a programming language for building memes, it becomes important to see that it’s a case where data and code are equals.  Otherwise, we might be stuck with a non-functional meme like, How come that bird we like to eat sometimes with the funny head and it lays eggs went all the way over that place people like to walk around on? instead of, Why did the chicken cross the road?

Why Culture is Free

Cultural freedom is essential because in order to be in a culture, one must participate.  Some cultures try to reduce that participation to being a member of an audience, but that is still participation.  The bystanders of the revolution are just as much involved as the victims, tyrants, soldiers, terrorists, police officers, attorneys, and so forth.

Recognizing that by reading this you are sharing a cultural experience, you automatically have some amount of shared ownership in that experience.

Ownership

Ownership is a set of freedoms and restrictions over some given object.  In culture, most of those attributes are implicit.  If you attend a museum or a play, you implicitly have the right to experience your presence in that location.  You implicitly (explicitly in cases, by statute or contract (eg, ticketholder agreement)) may not take the artifacts with you or get on stage.

But you can tell people you were there, what it was like, what it cost you, etc.  And you own that experience.

As it Was

So the issue with culture that’s raised is the threat of someone taking a work and changing it in ways that misrepresent or otherwise diminish the original.  If I draw my own Mona Lisa then does that harm the original?  No.  Particularly not when I give attribution (“go see Leonardo’s version over there”).  Particularly not when I disclose the difference between the works.

That’s exactly among the requirements of the Creative Commons Adaptations section: that one must disclose that the work is not the original.

As You Wish

But that’s still my decision.  You might feel in some circumstances you want the work to get out there and don’t want anyone to make a buck on it or to change one iota (Ɩ, 0x0196).  Just as with software, that’s the creator’s right to decide.  That’s important, that free software and free culture never seek to coerce behaviors, only to provide the choices.

Think of the (Time When You Were) Children

When you were a kid, you hopefully had some pretty fun interactions with others.  They didn’t tell you that those experiences were restricted.  They didn’t say, “I own hide and seek,” or that you had to repeat their exact giggle when you splashed in puddles.

Some of the games even depended upon free culture, like the Lossy Encoding Game where you sat in a circle and whispered what you heard to the next person.

No one got mad when the lossiest encoding was something that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike the original.  It was fun.  And no one really believed the first person had said that last phrase, either.  And everyone had their own set of phrases, the heard and the spoken, and they all differed from the initial and the final.

Categories
society

Incivil Disobedience

One of the problems that seems to get brought up quite often is the incivil behavior that happens when strangers interact on the Internet.

There are a variety of motivations for that behavior, and I will examine them in turn.  But here’s the general list to let you stop and think about ones I might have missed if you wish:

  1. Impress others
  2. Share a bad mood
  3. Genuinely angry at the situation
  4. Pyschopathy

After looking at each of them, I will argue that (with the possible exception of psychopathy) they all stem from a single problem.

Impress others

This antecedent is rather specialized.  It occurs when there is an existing social structure in place, and a person wants to improve their standing in that structure.  It’s one that’s sometimes seen around FLOSS communities, because they create a natural social structure.

They also offer help or discussion of their projects, which leads new users to their doors at which they may be mistreated because some other participant feels that their relationship in the community isn’t as strong as they would like and believes that tearing into the user could improve their standing.

This behavior is especially prevalent in communities where it’s become a cultural attribute.  There are online communities that fit this bill, but so does the political and media establishment at times.

But that’s not the only reason that behavior occurs in relation to project-based structures.

Share a bad mood

This is another reason that it happens, and also applies to project communities.  If someone in the community is having a bad day and didn’t manage to extricate themselves from the community for the day to cool their heels, they may lay into another user, even a peer or a superior in the structure.

This one is hard, because the person is simply on tilt, and if it’s recognized as such the situation doesn’t have to become a burden to the participants and community.  But it’s too easy to overlook, and the natural reaction is to feed back into the community and make things worse.

Genuinely angry at the situation

Again one that is seen in project cultures.  Most commonly this is a matter of either RTFM (Read The Fucking Manual) or LMGTFY (Let Me Google That For You), but it could be something else, such as a peer pulling the rug out on a change the user worked on, or a user that feels like a change made increases the suck of the project.

They have a valid position, but they handle that poorly.

Psychopathy

Psychopathy is a relatively rare psychological disorder.  It’s almost definitely not this, but it could be.  Maybe one in a hundred.

You will need to inspect the microstructure of their uncinate fasciculus for signs of underdevelopment, damage, or other abnormality, but be aware that could be a sign of other various disorders too.

Memory and emotion exercises may help over time, though at present the condition is largely considered untreatable.

Insecurity

Aside from psychopathy, the other three stem in part from insecurity, but there are other forms where insecurity plays a role.

In the instance of impressing others, the insecurity is with regard to the individual’s place in the community.  If they feel like they will be included and their opinion matters, they will not see the need to try to dig in further.

In the instance of a bad mood, the insecurity is of their own emotional state.  They have taken an emotional hit, and it is causing their brain to fixate.  They need to understand that the other community members have bad moods and they can avail themselves of the community for support for their problems.  They also need to find a way to normalize the firing of their brain.

And, in the instance of genuine anger they are insecure about their time and the presence of people that may not be as conscientious as they wish they were.  The best result for this case would be to take a moment to suggest the manual or search options, but to explain that they are willing to help. In this case it’s also notable that they are trying to ensure the community does respond to those that need help, so there’s also a measure of insecurity with regard to the community’s role and ability in providing that assistance.

Pulling it all together, a few things are apparent.  The main thing is that people have motivation behind their behavior, and while their motivation may be based on bad information, that doesn’t make it go away.  In order to get past the incivility on the Internet, the participants must not let the behavior of others push them to continue the bad behaviors or make them worse.

The participants must disobey the prompt that incivility poses.  They must respond with care and defuse the situation rather than buying into the false story that the misbehavior is merely due to that person being an asshole or a troll.

In the case of genuine trolls?  It’s still an insecurity.  If it’s a Foo user going in to troll the Bar project, they aren’t secure with their choice to use Foo over Bar.  Note you can replace Foo and Bar with just about any sort of rivalry or difference of choice.  It could be Cat and Dog, Allah and Yahweh, Coffee and Tea, etc.  Or Vim and Emacs.