Musings – Week of June 15, 2020

Just some scattered thoughts. Not particularly well thought through, but perhaps interesting. I just want to write something.

  1. Not sure anybody predicted things would deteriorate so fast. Admittedly, a pandemic (read: random catalyst) is rather hard to predict.
  2. I’m pretty sure academic dialectic doesn’t advance purely in pursuit of truth. Flaming take, I know. But I want to push this from a more utility-esque angle. I think that dialectic is partially based on strength. This is weird, so maybe an example will help. There are many reasons for psychoanalysis becoming popular in academia, especially in aesthetics, where theorists such as Danto have pushed the idea that only interpretation is relevant to art, not evaluation. But I think that this works because, well, it works so well. First, interpretations are really damn hard to argue against, but much easier to argue for. This puts the interpreter at a dialectical advantage. They are able to produce content with positive claims with almost impunity. So here the problem is not that psychoanalytic interpretations work, it’s that they will never not work. Same goes for interpretations obtained through other frameworks, too. Pretty easy to produce work without any epistemological constraints, but it does raise the question whether or not the produced work is meaningful. Compare this to evaluation, where criteria is easy to argue against, but incredibly difficult to argue for. See: aesthetics. I think this applies to other contemporary strategies for theorizing, such as identity politics, where adherents are necessarily at an advantage as they are able to publish with impunity and dismiss any dissenters as privileged. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I think incentives other than “truth” and [other academic values] play a role in prevailing academic paradigms. I’m also pretty sure this can be extended to politics, among other places. On the “left,” the fear of being labelled an -ist is wielded against others, while on the “right,” the fear of going against Sacred Tradition [God/”inalienable” “rights”/The Constitution that everyone’s definitely read] is wielded against others. Incentives say it’s not in your best interest to hold yourself epistemically accountable. Whoever attempts to set boundaries on, say, privilege will certainly be opening themself up for a dogpiling. I know this doesn’t leave us with a very positive outlook for, well, anything. Yeah, that’s a tough one.
  3. Which kind of transitions to the next thing that’s been on my mind: why is logical progression/coherence/connectedness important for art, especially for narratives? Really, why is it important for anything? I liked one of the points made on SEP, that consistency in one’s worldview, for example, is to be desired because believing in multiple, mutually exclusive positions at the same time means that some of said positions cannot be true. Obviously there are replies to this, but I found this explanation at least moderately compelling. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to apply this to narrative consistency. This may help to explain why people are so bothered by the idea of multiple, mutually exclusive interpretations of a work potentially being valid, but it doesn’t really help explain why narrative consistency is something to be desired, in itself or otherwise. One could instead make the argument that narrative consistency is important for the artist(s) if they wish to achieve their desired aims. This seems palatable at first, but consider The Last Jedi. Wouldn’t rate high for narrative consistency, whatever one may take that to be, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that Rian Johnston achieved something very close to what he had envisioned. One may also suggest that narrative consistency is an indicator of overall artistic competence. I’m sure this trend is accurate enough to be useful, but this still wouldn’t explain why it would be something to be desired in itself. Else, a competent artist could simply recognize this fact and throw narrative consistency out the window.
  4. I’ve been listening to some podcasts recently. One was the Red Scare podcast. I only listened to a few minutes of a couple episodes, but I wasn’t really impressed by the hosts. I would like to mention though that the Red Scare subreddit may be one of the [greatest?/worst?] dumpster fires I’ve ever seen. Another podcast was Pseudodoxia run by KantBot. Actually not bad. Especially liked the episode where KantBot and a guest talked about Mark Fisher. Sometimes, though, I find KantBot’s unrelenting irony a little annoying. Honestly, I just find large amounts of irony annoying in general. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the most narcissistic age of all time is also the most ironic. I’m pretty sure constant deployment of irony is a defense of sorts. If nobody knows what you really think, you (read: your self) can’t be attacked now, can you? The last podcast I checked out was the Perfume Nationalist. The host Jack is probably the least charismatic out of the bunch, but I really like the content. Straight aesthetics, baby, with a movie (or several) discussed each time.  Plus, each episode is paired with a certain perfume, which is actually pretty cool. Jack likes to stress that perfume-making is an art of sorts. I guess this is true, though I can’t see how scent-craft(?) could rise to the level of, say, literature. It’s kind of like food. There’s some sort of artistry involved, but at the end of the day, you kind of just want something that tastes good. Maybe it’s just the lack of content. Hmm, on second thought, I’ll have to think more about this. I can definitely see some weird arguments about perfume as high art. Strange.
  5. Reading your old writing is torturous, but at least it’s educational. One thing I tried (and mostly failed) to get at in my extremely edgy “wonderbread” post was that these mass political movements (the “right” and “left,” essentially) look exactly the same from the outside. Both sides claim to have [truth/history/etc.] on their side, both find the other side totally repulsive and definitely wrong, both claim to be underdogs, and both create a boogeyman to fight against that justifies collective and extreme action. Exact same tactics. Oh, and both are either completely unaware of this, or, when confronted with such information and a look “from the outside,” will always resort to something along the lines of “yeah, but [my group] is right.” Also pretty sure this was the goal of Samzdat’s one post on Hoffer. I think SSC put it when he mentioned that if you are convinced 50% of the population is wrong, you better be damn sure you’re in the right 50%. Now, this may seem to invite in some sort of moral (read: political) relativism. I don’t think I’m a moral relativist, but it does follow that if everyone is “wrong” and “brainwashed,” we are left with some particularly ugly questions: what the hell do we do? How can we be right? How could we know? I don’t have good answers for these, but I’m pretty sure this is why Samzdat talks so much about epistemology.
  6. Some self-congratulation: holy shit I was right about BreadTube, what a mess that sub has become! But the always-delightful satisfaction of “being right” fades quick. Discourse dying isn’t something to celebrate. It’s just kind of sad.

  7. If you aren’t planning on changing the world, why spend all your time learning about it? Most referring to KantBot and Logo’s comments on Twitter, that I may link to once I read this over. It’s like playing a video game where you have no controls and instead your only goal is to figure out the mechanics by watching the pixels change color on a screen. It seems really strange to want to learn how things work with no intention whatsoever to use said knowledge for your own advantage, or for the advantage of others. It’s also like a narcissist’s fantasy to continually learn things forever and ever and never have to worry about being tested on said knowledge or have to use it for any purpose. I think the goal of most Twitter “intellectuals” is to learn these things just to laud their big knowledge over others for [clout, I guess]. Certainly there is the view that learning things is often fun in itself (which I happen to agree with), but that wouldn’t do much to explain why people are so vocal about their knowing! At every given opportunity we seem to waggle our knowledge sticks in front of others. Sometimes I find the more evolutionary angle pretty satisfying here: that a lot of what we do is just “weird adaptation stuff,” and that we’re wired to find explanations for “why things are the way they are” that are satisfying in a very specific way. How much of “proofs” are just aesthetic preferences evolved from the pleistocene? “Hmm, ‘knowledge for the sake of knowledge?’ No, that can’t be right.” And that the very same programming gives us an aversion to looking at our own code. “Hmm, ‘knowledge is just information gathering for survival’s sake that we still carry on doing?’ Nah, that sounds lame.”

  8. How to align incentives so optimization promotes flourishing, rather than skewers it… Christ, I sound like such a rationalist.

  9. I’d like to take back my statements about Red Scare and also about Jack from The Perfume Nationalist. Strange how malleable some of our opinions can be. Or how wrong our past selves can be. Anyway, just listened to the latest episode of TPN featuring Anna, one of the hosts of Red Scare. Honestly, fascinating. Thought both she and Jack were great. Maybe I’ll have to give Red Scare another shot. Also listened to episode 76 of the TrueAnon podcast, first one I listened to. Pretty decent stuff. The humor was eerily similar to some of my own, which was kind of nice. The discussion was on the media changing narrative regarding masks. Kind of funny how after discussing how incredibly unreliable the media is these days due to ideology, incentives, lack of context, lack of [a lot of things, really], there’s always that moment at the end where people grapple with this idea for a bit before shrugging it off and going back to consuming the news the next day. “Oh but we NEED to know what’s going on!” Yeah, something might just happen! It’s weird how hard it is to get away from the news, really. How prevalent this idea is that you “need to be informed” even though becoming (being?) informed is like, pretty impossible, especially if you aim to do so by way of mainstream media. Some might say they like to “keep an eye on things,” but for what, really? FOMO? Intellectuals resort to this all the time too, and I think it’s a massive waste of energy. The information is so fleeting, so transitory. Can anyone name some “world event” that happened in 2003? I guarantee the MSM was spazzing out about something back then. Plus, it’s not like people really refine a nuanced worldview by “keeping up with the times” or whatnot. Perhaps the most insightful resources for informing our worldviews are books that were written by people who are dead now. Would it really be such a loss if you unplugged from the news for a year? Seems weird to think about, but almost every child was unplugged from the news for at least a good ten years. Is there just some switch that’s supposed to turn on when you become an adult? Some weird responsibility to argue over the superiority of our interpretations of others’ interpretations of world “events”? And it’s not like people who have been consuming news for their whole lives are at some crazy knowledge advantage compared to fresher consumers. The funny thing about the news is that you can jump “in” and “out” at any time and “know” “what’s going on” in moments. This should probably be a huge red flag. If you could, for example, simply “jump right in” to say, sociology, in mere minutes, that would be extremely worrying. Same thing if you could do that with a game like chess for example. If some dude could just play chess for a couple hours and beat Magnus Carlsen, it would reflect really poorly on chess. I guess that’s the thing. Consuming the news takes no skill. There’s nothing to win. Everybody’s equally a loser. It’s just this big process of plugging in, taking in information about an issue framed to maximize engagement, quickly generating opinions, optional step of sharing “takes” for clout. Repeat forever. The inferno rages on. It’s also weird that people have almost no control over what specific topics are framed for discussion. No control of the framing, no control over what is talked about. It’s like Sauron’s eye but instead of agency, it’s just incentives playing out and optimizing. Is this what liberalism is? Is this what everything is?

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