31 October 2017

Spooky Inaction at a Distance

The quiet for the month reflects postsurgery stuff (not significant complications, more discomfort and loss of energy) and Life. Just because if I went to the beach now, Frankenstein's monster would point and say "Gnarly scars, dude!" — and all of the children would run screaming, even on Halloween, as if they wouldn't have before — doesn't mean I should "walk" around internet Hyde Park/Times Square in a virtual Speedo in virtual subzero weather… as antisocial as I can be on my best days.

But let's have a witch hunt anyway. So, if His Cheetoness weighs more than a duck, he won't float, and we might get better after all having been turned into newts… but probably not that much better, and probably not enough to avoid a lifelong fondness for insects and worms.

  • Quasiopinion pieces at the NYT and in WaPo each rather inelegantly attempt to grapple with the problems of reforming (anti)social media without archly grasping with the real problem:

    There are downsides to ascribing/allowing motivation of social institutions solely by shareholder wealth maximization, and there's a quasilegal barrier to doing anything else.

    None of which is to say that there aren't some pretty dark social-engineering, quasipartisan, and even scary monsters of abuse lurking in Dodge v. Ford Motor Co., 204 Mich. 459 (1919), concerning corporate purposes other than wealth maxmization. (Note: That's "wealth maximization" in the long term, not immediate magic-of-accounting profit, you arrogant hedge-fund/corporate-raider shitheads.)

    In short, the law of organizations has not kept up with the fact that economic theory (except for a few cranks) abandoned the "rational economic actor" as a complete, necessary, and sufficient explanation of human behavior half a century ago (Exhibit A: for all of its faults — and they are many indeed — the American Red Cross, a corporation (PDF, see page 2)). One of the comments at the NYT sort of hints at this by suggesting that social media needs to be run as benefit corporations (which would by no means restrict the founders from paying themselves outrageous salaries and benefits!), but fails to note that the divide between "benefit" and "for-profit" is still too strictly and formalistically established… and requires an expensive, time-consuming formal reorganization with concomittant vulnerability to regulation-by-lawsuit and/or -by-government that destroys flexibility to meet changing needs, objectives, opportunities, and responsibilities. And if you limit someone's identify to being only "White" or "Black," you miss not only all of the shades of grey in between, but all of the Hispanics and Native Americans, and even questions of whether a particular origin counts as "White" or "Black" (let alone the distinction between descendants of slaves and Nigerian princes… even real ones…). And it matters, because when we preestablish the criteria for "success" we necessarily discount other aspects of "success" that have failed to win the preexisting, usually-decades-old-among-different-people-entirely argument.

  • And then there's the flip side of oversharing on (anti)social media and in the classroom: Trigger warnings and accusations of snowflakism frequently coming from the entitled from privileged and protected backgrounds, which entirely ignore that the purpose of a trigger warning is to facilitate engagement with difficult issues by foreshadowing, and enabling those who might be triggered to be prepared so that any visceral reaction (however valid and sincere) does not eliminate the chance to communicate. That some of the outrage about trigger warnings is coming from the same sources who are equally outraged by spoilers for their favorite TV series bears some consideration, in the comfort of a classroom or seminar or even public panel devoted to careful consideration of not just the subject, but the tools; in more craftsmanlike terms, not just the beautiful grain and texture of the rosewood desk, but the quality and construction of the joinery and finish. Since the joinery and finish are inherently (and inextricably) intertwined with the characteristics of the materials — one would use different joinery and finish on MDO laminates, for example — just maybe that matters.
  • Liz Bourke is much too nice about the illusion of linear measurements of "quality" in the arts — perhaps even self-underminingly so. I refuse to get drawn into a hypothetical debate over whether Da Vinci or Michelangelo produced work of higher quality, whether considering specific works or broader subsets or their entire output. That hypothetical purposely chose two canonical dead white guys without considering, say, Georgia O'Keefe; or considering their subject matter as part of the "quality" debate; or… you get the idea.

    Here's why Ms Bourke's presentation is slightly self-undermining: It fails to acknowledge the limits of pluralist interpretation and evaluation. To an extent, the comment "[Books'] success as a work of art is entirely subjective" is correct — but there are limits. It is not possible to linearly rank-order all books for merit, definitively. It is, however, possible to sort groups of otherwise comparable books out into "kewl and worth further discussion," "meh," and "save trees (and electrons) from these ones"… and then just not discuss that third category. However, the claim that reactions are "entirely subjective" does not acknowledge that some "subjective" belief is not reasonable, is not supported by the text, and may not even be supported by the personal experience of the person forming the belief. <SARCASM> I would never suggest that some "evaluations" of works of art are offered in bad faith for reasons independent of the merits — objective or subjective — of the works in question. And Pat Boone never existed, either. </SARCASM>. In short, the short piece presumes good faith in the absence of any real evidence that "good faith" is the default, let alone universal.