One of the features I love most about the internet is following links that are embedded in links……………………….you never know what you’ll find. Generally it’s either a virus or a piece that agrees with the original you’ve just read but with either a twist or a few added details. Occasionally you find an unexpected source of information or amusement.
I woke up way too early this morning, for someone who was out until midnight, and spent the wee hours of the morning following links and came across this guy. It’s too early to tell if he’ll be a valuable source of information or just another quack hiding behind some interesting ideas, but the piece I read this morning might interest some of you.
It’s been suggested by more than one wit that life imitates art far more often than art imitates life. The United States military these days seems intent on becoming a poster child for that proposal. Industrial design classes at MIT used to hand out copies of “Superiority” as required reading; unfortunately that useful habit has not been copied by the Pentagon, and as a result, the US armed forces are bristling with brilliantly innovative wonder weapons that don’t do what they’re supposed to do.
You’ll notice that this has done little to stabilize the puppet governments we’ve got in the Middle East these days, and even less to decrease the rate at which American soldiers are getting shot and blown up in Afghanistan. There’s a reason for that. The targets for drone attacks have to be selected by ordinary intelligence methods—terrorists don’t go around with little homing beacons on them, you know—and ordinary intelligence methods have a relatively low signal-to-noise ratio. As a result, a lot of wedding parties and ordinary households get vaporized on the suspicion that there might be a terrorist hiding in there somewhere. Since tribal custom in large parts of the Middle East makes blood vengeance on the murderers of one’s family members an imperative duty, and there are all these American soldiers conveniently stationed in Afghanistan—well, you can do the math for yourself.
He goes on to talk about torture being another ineffective use of the military and then explains a theory based on chaos, discord and confusion. I especially like this explanation of chaos and discord comparing a tropical storm (chaos) to antibiotic resistant bacteria (discord).
If we shift attention from Tropical Storm Isaac to the latest recall of bacteria-tainted produce, we move from chaos to discord. Individually, bacteria are nearly as dumb as storms, but a species of bacteria taken as a whole has a curious analogue to intelligence. All living systems are value-oriented—that is, they value some states (such as staying alive) more than other states (such as becoming dead) and take actions to bring about the states they value. That makes them considerably more challenging to deal with than storms, because they take active steps to counter any change that threatens their survival.
If X occurs, then Y must occur………………………………………..
This bit of systems theory is relevant here because American culture has a very hard time dealing with any kind of uncertainty at all. That’s partly the legacy of Newtonian science, which saw itself—or at least liked to portray itself in public—as the quest for absolutely invariant laws of nature. If X occurs, then Y must occur: that sort of statement is the paradigmatic form of knowledge in industrial societies.
It also explains a good bit of why the United States has stumbled from one failed counterinsurgency after another since the Second World War.
You can’t treat a hostile country like a passive object that will respond predictably to your actions. You can’t even treat it as a chaotic system that can more or less be known statistically. At the very least, you have to recognize that it will behave as a discordant system, and react to your actions in ways that support its values, not yours: for example, by shooting or blowing up randomly chosen American soldiers to avenge family members killed by a Predator drone.
There’s more and he gets into the confusion aspect of his theory…………I just thought it was an interesting exercise in expanding the way we think.
MiA – I am pulling a Kevin and adding a Ted Talk here. Liberals, conservatives, and the Moral Mind
Haidt is a liberal. After the first few minutes that include bashing conservatives for the amusement of liberals, he presents what he says are the pre-wired pathways that lead to developing an adult sense of morality. He claims five from neuroscience, and liberals will be inclined to criticize him when he says conservatives use all five while liberals rely on two. I will shorthand the five neural presets as: nurturing-hurting, fairness-cheating, group loyalty or betrayal, authority-rebellion, and purity-disgust. I would criticize him just as I would Kant for the categorical imperative: we do not I think, have the tools to make this a simple matter. But what Haidt says in this Ted talk is interesting [after the cheap shots in the beginning], and I think worth attending. If the neurosci is accurate, then it has more weight than most offerings on “morality”.
Filed under: Open Thread, TED Talks | 154 Comments »