Category Archives: everything else

This category means, “I didn’t know where to put this post.”

Musings on collective cognition

Something I’ve been thinking about for a while is Carl Jung’s concept of a collective unconscious and the omission of a complementary term, collective consciousness. The emerging fields of AI and of rapid transmission of thoughts by social media is making the idea more and more interesting all the time.

Many people in different fields are working on the question of defining things like cognition, sentience, consciousness, and so forth, and in different fields. I haven’t studied anything deeply but I get bits and pieces now and again, like the concept that human consciousness/identity/”I” is simply an illusion made up by a vastly more complex brain. If that’s the case, then perhaps a single voice could pipe up, such as an artificial intelligence, call itself the mind of the world, and convince others that only it has the power of speech. And maybe that would be a collective consciousness.

So I think about weird things like that.

Or perhaps humanity has always had not one but many collective consciousnesses, with some dominating the conversation and others forced to remain silent. The ones on top would be, for instance, news outlets, celebrities, and respected authors.

In that case, what effect is social media having? Is another collective consciousness rising to the surface, as when people use hashtags such as #metoo and #blacklivesmatter, quickly followed by #notme and #bluelivesmatter. If so, it’s based in humanity but it’s also inhuman. It’s an emergent consciousness.

Depending on how you define consciousness (cognitive scientists disagree), this is an overreach. But maybe collective cognition is a safer and less new-age concept.

Here’s Wikipedia’s current definition of cognition: “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses”. This definition leaves out the question of “who or what is doing the thinking,” because we’ve always assumed it to be a human or other animal. Maybe it’s time to question that.

Back to the idea that maybe social media and artificial intelligence could give rise to collective consciousness, we had better be damn sure that what we are building, accidentally at the moment, serves the interests of humanity and the Earth.

Then connecting that concept to the idea “the medium is the message” — that is, if you communicated the same idea over the TV, radio, or speech, the media you used would make a much larger difference than the idea you were expressing — our social media platforms impact our collective cognition.

Connecting that idea to Facebook in particular, it just changed its algorithms for what kinds of posts get higher in our news feeds. It’s a good idea to do something, since social media encouraged fake news, which helped swing a presidential election, but there will inevitably be unexpected side effects. We need to watch them.

Now, taking that idea and putting it into a crystal ball, what is likely to happen in the near future? What kinds of positive change are likely and which impossible? Well, in the absence of a catastrophic failure of technology (could happen), there’s no going back. Social media is with us to stay.

The one thing we can  impact is who owns it.

So that’s it, a tour of my musings. Like the image I’m featuring, they turn the ways we typically view the world on its side. Hope you enjoyed the ride.

-Kristin

(Image features a sideways view of the globe.)

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Daniel R. Strebe, March 27, 2015, from Wikimedia Commons

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Talking points for the #MeToo backlash

We all know that political discussion on social media can be infuriating, hazardous, frustrating, a minefield, a hornet’s nest, et cetera. And we’re starting to understand how easily social media can be used to manipulate us. But here’s something we don’t know: people with money can pay to design talking points that get allies fighting among ourselves. When this happens invisibly, we have no defense. But we can learn.

Let’s start with a metaphor. A well designed talking point, or meme, is like a hand grenade. It’s thrown carelessly and it does more damage than anyone expected. Or it’s an unethical translator. A says one thing, B translates it for their own personal gain, and C loses trust in A. Or perhaps a virus. An idea that on the surface sounds so good, so exactly like the point you were going to make yourself, that you spread it everywhere. But it has a payload you weren’t expecting.

With that groundwork in place, let’s take a look at some talking points against the #metoo backlash as they appear in a site built by a P.R. firm to change the world by shaping discourse. I’m not going to link directly to their site but SourceWatch has a page for them here and the Wayback machine has generously provided a glimpse at their original intentions when they launched in 2000: “nothing less than the creation of a new language for political, social and cultural writing in the twenty-first century”.

(By the way, the page also makes mention of “fresh, non-consensual thinking.” That’s not what they meant to say, I’m sure, but I find it apt. If propaganda can shape our words, it also shapes our thinking. And when it does so invisibly, there is an element of consent that gets lost.)

Anyway, their article, “Meet the women worried about #MeToo”, gathers opinions from thirteen women on why the #metoo crowd is a bunch of weak victims who are gathered in a screaming mob to chop heads off innocent men. We could go through point by point and refute their arguments, or we could do something different for a change. We could catalog them. With no further ado:

Talking Points for the #Metoo backlash

(I found all these in that single article, by the way.)

A. Destroying REAL feminism 

A1. Real feminists don’t think sex is dirty

A2. Women as victims / fainting flowers

A3. My generation kicked them in the balls

A4. Turning back the clock on sexual equality

A5. Watch your privilege!

B. Hysterical mob

B1. Mob violence

B2. Witch hunt

B3. Beheading

B4. Panic

B5. Mass hysteria

C. That’s not really assault

C1. Confusing real assault with failed advances

C2. Trivializes real sexual violence

C3. Phantom sexual harassment

C4. You can’t touch my elbow

D. Totalitarianism

D1. Censorship

D2. George Orwell

D3. Bullying women to conform

E. The legal system

E1. Presumed innocent / no due process

E2. Innocent people destroyed

E3. If it’s not against the law, it’s not assault

E4. All we need to do is fix the law

Examples

“we are throwing knee-touching into the same basket as rape” – C1, C4

“sex itself seems increasingly to be seen as dirty” – A1

“destroy almost any man by a single accusation” – E1

“in need of shielding” – A2

“celebrates conformity and demonises dissent” – D3

“it was supposed to be about empowering women” – A3

“this is a witch-hunt” – B2

“return women to delicate, Victorian damsels who reach for the smelling salts if they hear a lewd joke” – A1, A2

“accused of transgressions no reasonable person would define as a crime” – E3

“even decades later” – C3

“The heads keep rolling” – B3

“A charge of creepiness is a death sentence” – E2

“ensuring that the lives of innocent people are not destroyed” – E2

“every male as a potential predator and every female as a perpetual victim” – A2

“modern feminism all but ignores the plight of the most oppressed women around the world” – A5

“turning the clock back on hard-won sexual equality” – A4

“Raise qualms and watch the insults roll” – D1

“those of us who have spent years metaphorically kicking sex pests in the balls” – A3

“bullying climate” – D3

“phantom sexual-harassment epidemics” – C3

“fainting-couch nonsense” – A2

What’s Next?

The first step in countering think tank talking points is to find them in the first place. I found it enjoyable – with just a think tank article and a highlighter pen, I was able to take a pile of glowing propaganda and identify the core messages being pushed by the funders, thereby dismantling it until it turned into naked sludge of ugly insults. Fun.

But it would be much more fun as a shared exercise. You could do the same thing to any propaganda campaign, really. Or you could take it one step farther and identify which of the many propaganda techniques are being used. Or consider what’s deliberately left unsaid.

If we can develop a shared understanding of think-tank memes, we’ll be much better prepared to explore the important issues on our own terms.   Using our own words, finding our own thoughts. That’s consensual thinking at its finest.

– Kristin

witch hunter

 

 

 

 

Watch your language . . . please?

So there’s an argument on social media somewhere. Doesn’t matter what the argument is. There are two sides to the argument, even though the issue itself may have many sides. You try to make a third point and are swarmed by angry hornets, maybe on one side or maybe on both.

Poor you! You’ve just been unfairly mobbed! It’s a witch hunt! Thought crimes! There’s no room for moderates any more!

What do you do? Retaliate, of course. Of course you do. Because on social media, you have to think fast and act fast. You take advantage of your brain’s superpower — and it is indeed a superpower — of quickly assembling meaning from a group of facts, of seeing patterns. And you respond.

But now you’re somebody else’s angry hornet.

For most folks on social media, the solution is simple: go offline, get a cup of tea, call a friend and vent, smell some flowers, or do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself. Come back later when you’re calmer, or move on to some more pleasurable activity.

But there is one group of people for whom I have a higher expectation: public writers and bloggers. You, my dearies, are the ones that upset the hornet’s nest in the first place. This isn’t a value judgement. Sometimes a situation calls for a swarm of angry hornets.

But if you are writing for the public, if you set those hornets off accidentally, that’s on you. That’s your mistake. If you’re complaining about thought police and whatnot, and you’re doing it honestly (you don’t have a hidden agenda, that is), but not looking at where you might have gone wrong, you’re only compounding the mistake.

Me? Who? Me? I didn’t do anything wrong! I was just saying what I think!

Yes, you did do something wrong. You were careless with your craft. And if someone is kind enough to point it out to you, for heaven’s sake, pay attention! Put on that thick skin that all professional writers must have, and look past the sting of the comment to what the person is really saying. Writers mess up, all the time, but if we look honestly at our mistakes we will always improve.

Now, when I say you were careless with your craft, what I mean is that you didn’t bother to get to know your audience. And that’s Rule #2 for persuasive writing. (Rule #1 is “Consider your purpose” and Rule #2 is “Consider your audience”.) No matter how good of a writer you are, you will never have a full understanding of the depth and breadth of your audience’s viewpoints and life experiences.

#

So why am I saying all this right now? Is there a specific piece and writer that set me off? Yes, there were two or three or four. But rather than go into the specifics, here’s what they did wrong.

  1. A respected Second Wave feminist who actually had something important to say about #Metoo but erred in using the phrase “witch hunt.” There were no actual witches in Salem, but there are plenty of people who sexually assault and harass others. This matters because some of the people who are actively fighting to maintain the status quo, such as Gamergater types, are also using the phrase “witch hunt.” Is it fair of people to accuse you of guilt by association? No, of course not. But, as a master wordsmith, did you really intend to align yourself with Gamergaters?
  2. Same feminist who is apparently getting into arguments with millenial feminists and wrote an article to defend herself against the claim that she is a “bad feminist.” This broke Rule #2, “Consider Your Audience,” because her message will be received positively by some audiences (anybody who feels defensive about being called a “bad feminist”) and with anger by others (millenial feminists who don’t feel listened to).
  3. A writer of an ostensibly progressive paper who started her article complaining about social media is a brush fire — which is true — and callout culture is a problem — also true, but lost me in the middle when she started talking about “thought crimes.” For some reason, although George Orwell coined the phrase to attack authoritarian governments, these days it’s mostly used to shut down conversations about racism, sexism, ableism, and the like. I paused in my reading of the article to wonder, “Which side is she on, anyway?” and then, “Should I bother finding out, or do I have better things to do?”

#

To go all meta, let’s look at my purpose and audience in writing this piece.

My primary purpose is to provide an alternative perspective to a problem we’re all complaining about (other people being annoying on social media) and also to advocate for craft in persuasive writing. This is a bit of a follow-up on a series I started several years back on persuasive writing for activists and have yet to finish.

So far so good. But let’s be honest: my primary audience is imaginary. I wrote it for every single author who’s ever started a pointless argument over a topic that actually needs attention, and who, when called out, takes it personally and attacks back. This is what I’d say if we were in the same room and I had their undivided attention.

So there’s also a secondary audience: every writer everywhere who has to write for an audience of human beings. My condolences.

#

Keep writing, but for the sake of your craft . . . mind your language!

scoobydoogang01

-Kristin

 

 

 

Why genealogy?

Elenor, Ellen, Eleanor, Helena. Every official source seems to list her name differently. Why? After some digging, I learned that she could read but not write.

But that’s not the main question. The question I started with: which one of her husbands was my ancestor? Odd, conflicting family stories. Brothers who ran away from their father, or stepfather. They were adopted, but by which one?

The answer, which comes out only partially, is that there was one hell of a soap opera happening in the late 1800s. Elenor’s first husband Thomas had married before, not sure what happened to her. So Elenor married Thomas, and then had two sons. At some point, after the birth of the oldest son, she either left or divorced Thomas for a Henry (who had abandoned his first family to go gold mining, and who would later start a third family, after Elenor’s sons ran away from home and Elenor divorced him). She took her two boys, but later, Thomas filed a suit to get the oldest son back.

The game of musical spouses notwithstanding, it looks like my ancestor, the father of the oldest son, is Thomas. It took me three days of research and the answer feels somewhat anticlimactic.

But now there are more questions. Why did Elenor give up her oldest son? And several years later, when she went back to retrieve the oldest son, did Thomas give him up? Was it because he was busy with his third family? Why did the two boys later run away? Did they stay in contact with Elenor or did the family lose track of each other?

This is a story for which I’ll never know the details. The two boys had a happy ending. What about Elenor? She was indigent when she divorced Henry. Did she manage to have a good life anyway?

So why do I research genealogy? I’m seeking answers. But to what question? I confess I don’t know.

Chasing around after long-gone dead people to whom I am only remotely connected, but without whom I’d never exist. There’s some deep mystery there.

I do feel a greater understanding of human history. It’s a muddle. It’s full of people trying to survive the best they can. Sometimes they’re the oppressors and sometimes the oppressed, and sometimes they move from one category to the other.

And every one of the official stories about our collective past is a lie.

– Kristin

Picture of deeply entwined tree roots

We usually show genealogy as “a family tree” with happy ancestors adorning the branches. But our past digs deep, becomes unknowable fast. And many stories, like Elenor’s, become like bramble. (Image from the public domain.)

 

 

 

Let that be a lesson to me!

Somehow I ran down my iron stores and ended up with iron-deficiency anemia. In retrospect, it was inevitable. I’m a pre-menopausal woman, and although I’m not a vegetarian, I rarely eat red meat. Also, I donate blood.

The symptoms came on gradually and didn’t scream out “iron deficiency!” For starters, my red blood count was normal less than three months ago, when I last gave blood. But I was frequently lightheaded and had activity-related headaches, and a normal aerobic workout would wipe me out for the whole day. Oh, well. Now I know. I’m taking the supplements and starting to feel better, except for the upset tummy that iron supplements cause.

But it’s also a metaphorical object lesson. I just kept right on giving blood, without making sure I had enough iron in reserve. In other words, I ran myself into the ground. But I do that in many other areas of my life as well. I give other people more of my time than I mean to. And since the last presidential election, I’ve pushed myself to be more politically active than I can handle, which has meant an important life goal (my novel) has been sliding.

So my goal for the next month or so, as I build back up my iron stores and my energy: practice being selfish. I’ll see how it goes!

 

 

 

Multiply like a Roman

The Romans used weird, weird math. To multiply two terms, they repeatedly doubled one of them in one column while halving the other term in another column, throwing away any remainders that came up, crossed off half the numbers in the first column, added up what remained, and — voila! — got the right answer.

How on earth did they come up with it? And why on earth does it work?

Here’s what it looks like. If you’re not a mathy person, don’t worry, I’m not asking you to do any calculations–just to enjoy the strangeness.

1. Start with two numbers

536 * 42

= (500 + 30 + 5 + 1) * (40 + 2)

= DXXXVI * XXXXII

2. Multiply the first column and halve the second

Multiply these Divide these
DXXXVI XXXXII
MLXXII XXI
MMCXXXXIIII X
MMMMCCLXXXVIII V
(8M)DLXXVI II
(17M)CLII 1

3. If a number in the second column is even, cross it off in the first column.

XXXXII
MLXXII XXI
X
MMMMCCLXXXVIII V
II
(17M)CLII I

4. Add up all the remaining numbers in the first column.

(22M)CCCLLLXXXXXVIIIIIII

= (22M)DXII
= 22,000 + 500 + 10 + 2

5. And here’s the answer!

= 22,512

That’s all I have. If you want to know why it works, one of these links should satisfy.

A Different Kind of Multiplication

Roman Arithmetic

Or, if this is too much math for you, just be glad I didn’t tell you about multiplying infinity.

2000px-nc3bameros_romanos-svg

wikimedia commons

 

Thoughts on Veteran’s Day

Today I honor the veterans from my family. My beloved Grandpa Russell, who fought the Nazis in World War II. His experiences quieted him. He never once spoke to family about his time in the army and I can only guess at why. Did he want to shelter his family from the horrors of war? Or to keep his life compartmentalized, safe? I remember him as a quiet, friendly, laughing man who always went into his study alone with a newspaper and a pipe and watched the news, then M*A*S*H. Sometimes I joined him. Thank you, Grandpa Russell.

Then there was Sylvanus Hulet, Revolutionary War soldier. I don’t know too much about him. But his name, meaning forest grove, makes me happy. I hope he had a good life.

Today I’m thinking about the values the Revolutionary War soldiers fought for and how far we have strayed from them. “No taxation without representation” feels especially ironic. For one reason or another, there a re a lot of folks who must pay the price for the actions of our representatives, but who cannot themselves vote. As for freedom? We have the highest incarceration rate in the world. And many people, these days, go to prison without the benefit of a jury trial. The wars we fight are no longer for freedom or to save the world from the Nazis.

When it comes to veterans who fought in wars I find unjust, my feelings are complicated. But today I honor them too. They come home with scars I can only imagine. They risked their lives for what they thought was right. Or they fought without choice. I blame the people in charge, who sent them into a bad war.

May we all find peace and justice.