“The Chair”: A Straussian interpretation

Scott Aaronson in Shtetl-Optimized:

In one sentence, then, here’s my beef with The Chair: its script portrays a mob, step by step, destroying an innocent man’s life over nothing, and yet it wants me to feel the mob’s pain, and be disappointed in its victim for mulishly insisting on his innocence (even though he is, in fact, innocent).

With real-life woke controversies, there often lingers the question of whether the accused might really be a racist, fascist, sexual predator, or whatever else, adequate proof or no. What’s different here is that we know that Bill Dobson is none of those things, we know he’s decent to his core, because the writers have painstakingly shown us that. And yet, in a weird narrative pretzel, we’re nevertheless supposed to be mad at him, and to sympathize with the campaign to cancel him.

More here.

The surprisingly exciting story of the woman who studied slime moulds

Patricia Fara in Prospect:

The pioneer of slime mould research was an extraordinary mycologist called Gulielma Lister (1860-1949). Like many female scientists, she has vanished into near obscurity, yet her colleagues celebrated her as the “Queen of Slime Moulds.” In 1905, she was among the first 25 women admitted as a Fellow of London’s prestigious Linnean Society. She made quite an impression on that august group: one younger admirer remembered that she “removed her hat in deference to the sexless character of a Fellow. It was an unusual thing then for a lady to remove her hat, but we all took our cue from Miss Lister and did the same.” She broke the conventions of her time, and a century later her research lies behind a major new approach to computer software.

More here.

Internet and Blockchain Will Kill Nation-States

Tomas Pueyo in his Substack Newsletter:

Rigobert, a 16th century European nobleman

We love telling ourselves that our political systems were crafted by great people coming up with novel ideas, wise founding fathers, patriots revolting against the establishment.

There’s a bit of that. But humans believe they have more agency than they actually do. In reality, what we do is more determined by our context, by systems that drive our actions. We are like pawns on a chessboard.

I find it much more interesting to ask: what underlying systems cause our current society? And if the systems change, how will our society change?

We’re in the first decades of such a massive change. Internet and blockchain are upending everything we know. They will eventually kill the most powerful establishment: nation-states. And I’ll prove it to you by talking with Rigobert.

More here.

Notes on Chuck Close in Rome

Henri Cole at The Paris Review:

I’ve just come from a little opening up on the fourth floor, and while the pastel landscapes were fine to look at, most remarkable was a brief conversation I had with the painter Chuck Close, who suddenly began speaking quite openly about his ailment or condition, the result, I believe, of a blood clot in his spine. He said he’s been in his present state for seven years, and that he only feels heat from his shoulders up. Pointing to his scalp, he said the only place he can perspire is through a small patch of skin on the left side of his head. When he is touched anywhere below his shoulders, what he feels is an icy cold. He is happiest in the sun in his bathing suit.

When he paints, he straps his brushes to his wrists. It is easier for him to paint than to draw, because he can paint with his arm out before him; to draw requires more mobility than he has. He talked with such candor that a small group of us was drawn to him.

more here.

Nine Nasty Words: English in the Gutter – Then, Now, and Forever

Fergus Butler-Gallie at Literary Review:

The lavatory facilities at Trisha’s bar, that glorious survivor of old Soho, adorned with photos of Al Capone and the pope, bear a legend written at eye level: ‘USE AS URINAL ONLY. NO SITTING.’ Except someone – I believe they are known usually as a ‘wag’ – has inserted an H into the final word, rendering it an equally familiar (and, arguably, more appropriate) piece of Anglo-Saxon. Or ought that to be Proto-Indo-European? As John McWhorter informs us in Nine Nasty Words, the history of that graffitied verb (though, as he points out, it can also be a noun, an adjective, a pronoun and even ‘with a bit of adjustment’ an adverb) goes back to the word skei  used by steppe dwellers of yore and meaning ‘to cut off’. It really is fascinating, the things one can learn in a lavatory.

Skei’s modern-day descendant is one of nine words profiled by McWhorter in this spirited and scholarly history of profanities. As you’d expect in a work by a professor of linguistics, etymologies and tales of bastardisation form a sizeable proportion of each chapter.

more here.

Feminism for Women: The Real Route to Liberation

Rachel Cooke in The Guardian:

Away from the sulphurous world of Twitter, the feminist campaigner and journalist Julie Bindel is best known as the co-founder of Justice for Women, an organisation that since 1990 has advocated for those convicted of murder after having experienced violence by men; JfW campaigned successfully for the release of Emma Humphreys, who killed her violent pimp, Trevor Armitage, in 1985, and more recently for Sally Challen, who was convicted of the murder of her abusive husband, Richard, in 2010. Thanks to this work, and to her reporting elsewhere, Bindel also has expertise in the areas of porn, prostitution and sex trafficking; she was one of those who helped to break the story of the grooming gangs operating in the north of England, an investigation that would eventually lead to the independent inquiry into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham in 2013.

All of which surely makes her a Good Thing: a person of integrity, bravery and determination. But alas, as she writes in her new book, Feminism for Women, there are people for whom none of this is relevant. To them, Bindel is a Bad Thing, and they would like her to disappear – if not from the world, then at least from public life. In recent years, she has been de-platformed by numerous universities and other institutions following protests by assorted trans activists and their allies, among them those who argue that “sex work is work”. Even when such events do go ahead, there’s often trouble. At one, a man tried to punch her in the face. At another, a debate about pornography, her opponent, a man who has made money in that industry, was given a warm welcome by the students who’d tried so hard to get her taken off the bill. What, you might well wonder, has she done to invoke such anger, disapproval and bizarre contrarianism? Why does her past now count for so little? Is it really such a crime to believe, as she does, that sex is a material reality, and gender a social construct?

More here.

Schemer or Naïf? Elizabeth Holmes Is Going to Trial.

Griffith and Woo in The New York Times:

SAN FRANCISCO — After four years, repeated delays and the birth of her baby, Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood testing start-up Theranos, is set to stand trial for fraud, capping a saga of Silicon Valley hubris, ambition and deception. Jury selection begins on Tuesday in federal court in San Jose, Calif., followed by opening arguments next week. Ms. Holmes, whose trial is expected to last three to four months, is battling 12 counts of fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud over false claims she made about Theranos’s blood tests and business. In 2018, the Department of Justice indicted both her and her business partner and onetime boyfriend, Ramesh Balwani, known as Sunny, with the charges. Mr. Balwani’s trial will begin early next year. Both have pleaded not guilty.

Ms. Holmes’s case has been held up as a parable of Silicon Valley’s swashbuckling “fake it till you make it” culture, which has helped propel the region’s start-ups to unfathomable riches and economic power. That same spirit has also allowed grifters and unethical hustlers to flourish, often with little consequence, raising questions about Silicon Valley’s tightening grip on society. But the trial will ultimately be about one individual. And the central question will be whether Ms. Holmes was a deceptive schemer driven by greed and power, or a naïf who believed her own lies and was manipulated by Mr. Balwani.

More here.

Tuesday Poem

A Scratch

what is god
and what is stone
the dividing line
if it exists
is very thin
at jejuri
and every other stone
is god or his cousin

there is no crop
other than god
and god is harvested here
around the year
and round the clock
out of the bad earth
and the hard rock

that giant hunk of rock
the size of a bedroom
is khandoba’s wife turned to stone
the crack that runs across
is the scar from the broadsword
he struck her down with
once in a fit of rage

scratch a rock
and a legend springs

by Arun Kolatkar
New York Review Book, 1974

Link: Jejuri

Create an “Instant Community” with other visitors to 3QD

Dear Readers,

We are collaborating with the company Now4real to bring you a new feature: the ability to chat in real time with any other people who happen to be visiting 3QD at the same time. You will notice in the left lower corner of your screen a widget which looks like the image shown at the top right of this post. The large number in the center indicates the number of current visitors reading 3QD. The smaller number in the little circle indicates the number of unread messages currently posted and available to read by clicking the widget.

Once you post a message in the chat area, it is available for anyone to read and respond to for 3 hours, after which it will automatically be deleted. We are not completely sure whether this will prove to be a useful way for 3QD readers to communicate with each other but it is an interesting supplement to comments and we are going to try it out as an experiment for a couple of weeks. Please let us know in the comments area of this post if you find it useful and would like us to keep it permanently.

Here is some information about the company provided by Now4real:

With Now4real, we aim at introducing a new paradigm for the web. We call it “instant communities”. An instant community is the group of people who happen to be visiting the same web page at the same time. The moment an online article is being read by someone, it becomes like a virtual place because a human is dedicating time and attention to it. That person is at home, in the office, or on a train, but is also on the web page containing that article. It’s quite surprising that until now, there has been no means for people to meet in these virtual places. Now4real connects these people in real time, by detecting and showing how many readers are present “right now” and where they are from in the world, and by providing a live group chat dedicated to that website. Chat messages are ephemeral, to stimulate the continuous birth of new and extemporaneous instant communities.

Try it and see if you like it!  NEW POSTS ARE BELOW.

What you know is a policy to live by

by Charlie Huenemann

Philosophers are prone to define knowledge as having reasoned one’s way to some true beliefs. The obvious kicker in any such definition is truth; for how am I supposed to determine whether a belief is true? If I already know what is true, why should I bother with some philosopher’s definition of knowledge? What’s the use of this stupid definition anyway? “Hey, I’m just doing my job,” replies the philosopher. “You wanted to know what knowledge is, and I told you. If you want to know how to get it, that’s another story — and for that you’ll have to pay extra!”

If we think of true beliefs as getting things rightreally right, like if you asked God about it they would say, “Yep, that’s what I figure too” — then it is indeed difficult to see how we could ever know the truth, and not just because friendly chats with God are so exceedingly rare, but also because we don’t really know what we mean when we say “really right” instead of just saying “right”. The “really” is supposed to add some special oomph to the knowledge, an oomph we by definition can never experience or access: it is the knowledge of what is going on in the world when no one is knowing it, which is like trying to see what your face looks like when no one is looking at you. “Really”, in this context, just means: at a level that is impossible to attain. Trying to get something really right means never knowing for sure whether you in fact have it right.

Where does that leave us with regard to knowledge? Well, we could be pure-souled skeptics and insist that knowledge, real knowledge, is strictly impossible ever to attain. Or, being slightly more careful, we could at least insist that we can never know when we have it. Maybe God or other metaphysical chimeras are able to confidently pronounce whether this or that mortal attains knowledge, but these or those mortals can never know when they know. In that case, if this is the route we choose, we should simply strike the word “knowledge” from our vocabularies, as it is never going to come into any practical use. Read more »

Goddam, Mississippi

by Deanna K. Kreisel (doctorwaffle.substack.com)

This week I had planned to present the 3 Quarks Daily readership with a fluffy little piece about my memories of a grade school foreign language teacher. It was poignant, it was heartfelt, it was funny (if I do say so myself). Above all, it was intended as a brief respite from the nonstop parade of horrors scrolling past our screens every day—a parade in which my own recent writings have occupied a lavishly decorated float. We all deserve a break, I thought. It would be nice to look at some baton twirlers for a minute, listen to an oompa band.

And then. Something happened in my newly adopted home state that has filled me with such rage that I feel I have to write it out in order to be able to move on with my life. Everyone around me—my colleagues and friends—are filled with the same rage, to the point where I think we could use some kind of collective catharsis. It occurred to me yesterday that maybe my monthly essay for 3QD could form a tiny part of such a catharsis. Maybe I could scrap what I’d already written, and quickly write a piece about what happened here on Friday. At the very least, it would feel good to scream a little into the void, even if ultimately no one in the rest of the country really cares. That happens a lot with stuff that goes down in Mississippi.

Before I go any further, let me hasten to say the following. I am about to complain about Covid protocols at a university. I fully recognize that many, many other faculty, staff, students, and teachers across the country are dealing with horrifying working and learning conditions right now—not to mention, of course, what health care workers are going through. I do not mean to imply that we are somehow special. And yet—who are we kidding? It’s Mississippi. Of course we’re special! If you’ve been checking the New York Times Covid coverage for the past couple of weeks you might have noticed that things here are … challenging. For weeks our state has occupied pride of place as the top, labelled line in all the new-case graphs published above the fold. Indeed, we are now number one in the world for Covid transmission. So please bear with me as I attempt to complain about my own patch while simultaneously recognizing that it’s pretty bad all over the place. Read more »

Some (Philosophical) Corollaries of the Linguistic Update of the Study of Nationalism

by David J. Lobina

Augustine Rodin’s The Thinker. Public domain photo.

After running through “a linguistic update” of the study of nationalism and outlining some of the psychological underpinnings of the nationalist world-view that such an update suggests, it is now time to take stock. It is time, that is, to consider some of the repercussions of this general take on things.

Three interconnected corollaries come to mind, which I shall rank, and present, from the more general of consequences to the narrower and more significant. I should add that this is probably the sort of stuff that overzealous referees of academic journals dismiss outright, without giving it much thought (I know from experience), but do humour me anyway.

The first corollary has to do with the study of nationalism itself; or more properly, with what may well be termed “the origins of nationalism” – i.e., the genesis of nationalist beliefs.

There has been plenty of discussion on this issue in the relevant literature, with various proposals on offer, each espousing a whole paradigm. Some of the better-known accounts come under the names of perennialism, primordialism or ethno-symbolism, while the consensus on the study of nationalism I myself outlined is based on the so-called modernist paradigm, perhaps the most prominent of them all. Though a well-trodden topic, I think some of the material I presented in what I am now calling Parts 1 (the update) and 2 (the psychology) of this series on nationalism offers some novelty. As argued in Part 2, after all, it is by teasing out “the building blocks” of nationalism that we can obtain a better view of the overall phenomenon, and it may well be by drawing attention to the psychological underpinnings of nationalist beliefs that it might be possible to make sense of where nationalism as an idea comes from.[i] Read more »

The United States of Anger

by Robyn Repko Waller

Photo by Camila Quintero Franco on Unsplash

In the United States these days, it’s difficult to find a person not profoundly angry about something. Headlines scream of the vaccinated America tired, frustrated, and angry at the vaccine-hesitant and anti-vaxxers. And unvaccinated America in turn, outraged at the local jurisdiction and vaccinated for the increasing restrictions they face in attending school, dining indoors, and enjoying the gym and theater without conceding to a COVID jab. Angry parents are expressing exhausted outrage at school boards for mask policies. Outrage at mask mandates. Outrage at a lack thereof. 

The anger isn’t confined to the pandemic. Our social and political landscape is bubbling with anger. Anger at politicians, left and right. Outrage in the form of cancelling. Responding anger at the ‘Cancel Culture.’ Anger about the Afghanistan withdrawal and the tragic humanitarian aftermath. Anger at continued social injustice stateside and abroad. Conversely for some, anger directed at social justice activists. Outrage for the teaching of Critical Race Theory. Anger — but perhaps not enough — that climate change, disrupting and catastrophically reshaping our Earth and its populace, remains largely unaddressed. So much anger. 

Americans are angry. But is all of this anger really warranted? And even if it’s warranted, does it do us any good? With the amount of negative appraisal emoted as of late, it seems like a fitting time to step back and explore these concerns. 

This is especially so, as political polarization is no longer a novel phenomenon in the US. Whereas once one might take such claims of political shifts to be hype, recent electoral and public health crises stand out as manifest expressions of polarizing views and self-contained communities. Divided towns, divided co-workers, even deeply divided families. Anger at a perceived other is a prominent feature of our current standing. Moreover, clashing moral views plausibly underpin this growing schism in society.  Read more »

Stop The Planet Killers

by Thomas O’Dwyer

Climate protesters cover a square in central London in fake blood and coins last week. They poured blood-red paint across Chartered Bank’s glass facade, to highlight the $31bn they say it had invested in fossil fuels since the Paris climate accords. Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images
Climate protesters covered a square in central London in fake blood and coins last week. They poured the paint across Chartered Bank’s glass facade, to highlight the $31bn they say it has invested in fossil fuels since the Paris climate accords. Photo: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Before we can save the planet, we need to expose and stop the willful planet killers. They’re not difficult to identify – it’s the usual science-hating suspects and their followers. Shortly after the United Nations released its shocking scientific report on climate change last week, one of my acquaintances who has a sharp eye for ready-made answers to inconvenient truths, forwarded me an email. These Fwd: Fwd: messengers never share their own researched and crafted opinions – there’s an industry that creates cookie-cutter thinking for its email warriors. The report in the news is from the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. This UN climate-science organisation, founded in 1988, has 195 member countries and every seven years it publishes a state-of-the-climate update, summarising current, peer-reviewed research on the science of climate change and its effects. To write this latest IPCC summary, 234 scientists read more than 14,000 research papers.

The gist of the scoffing email I received was that the UN report was alarmist, exaggerated and too negative. UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ warning that the report was “code red for humanity” was an overstatement. Behind the entire effort was “a political agenda” in which “some” politicians falsely proclaim an existential threat to the world by mixing politics and science. The writer admitted that they had not read the report, only “a couple of articles about it,” but assured us that far from heralding planetary catastrophe, climate change would bring “great commercial opportunities” (which the email did not specify). This vague prediction did contain the grudging admission that climate change is real — a couple of years ago, these emails were in full Trumpian cry proclaiming it a left-wing hoax. Now there’s a shift among the former purist deniers —it exists but it comes bearing bounty (more wealth for the wealthy). Read more »

Irrationality, Artificial Intelligence, and the Climate Crisis

by Fabio Tollon

Human beings are rather silly creatures. Some of us cheer billionaires into space while our planet burns. Some of us think vaccines cause autism, that the earth is flat, that anthropogenic climate change is not real, that COVID-19 is a hoax, and that diamonds have intrinsic value. Many of us believe things that are not fully justified, and we continue to believe these things even in the face of new evidence that goes against our position. This is to say, many people are woefully irrational. However, what makes this state of affairs perhaps even more depressing is that even if you think you are a reasonably well-informed person, you are still far from being fully rational. Decades of research in social psychology and behavioural economics has shown that not only are we horrific decision makers, we are also consistently horrific. This makes sense: we all have fairly similar ‘hardware’ (in the form of brains, guts, and butts) and thus it follows that there would be widely shared inconsistencies in our reasoning abilities.

This is all to say, in a very roundabout way, we get things wrong. We elect the wrong leaders, we believe the wrong theories, and we act in the wrong ways. All of this becomes especially disastrous in the case of climate change. But what if there was a way to escape this tragic epistemic situation? What if, with the use of an AI-powered surveillance state, we could simply make it impossible for us to do the ‘wrong’ things? As Ivan Karamazov notes in the tale of The Grand Inquisitor (in The Brothers Karamzov by Dostoevsky), the Catholic Church should be praised because it has “vanquished freedom… to make men happy”. By doing so it has “satisfied the universal and everlasting craving of humanity – to find someone to worship”. Human beings are incapable of managing their own freedom. We crave someone else to tell us what to do, and, so the argument goes, it would be in our best interest to have an authority (such as the Catholic Church, as in the original story) with absolute power ruling over us. This, however, contrasts sharply with liberal-democratic norms. My goal is to show that we can address the issues raised by climate change without reinventing the liberal-democratic wheel. That is, we can avoid the kind of authoritarianism dreamed up by Ivan Karamazov. Read more »

Washington’s War: Redcoats and Smallpox

by Mark Harvey

Washington greets the troops. Print by Courier and Ives.

Here’s a weird thought: if it weren’t for 18th-century vaccines, America might have lost the revolutionary war to the British. That would have meant that all the anti-vaxxers today touting their freedom not to get a vaccine might have inherited quite a different destiny of eating scones and clotted cream under the British crown. Viruses have always been with us and they always will be, but in the early days of the revolutionary war, an invisible enemy probably killed more American soldiers than the British did. That quiet killer with no generals, no cannon, no forts, and no muskets was smallpox. The weapon against smallpox back then wasn’t truly a vaccine, for modern vaccines hadn’t been invented. But the inoculations were based on a similar principle of introducing a pathogen into a human to develop immunity to a disease.

It’s hard to know exactly how long smallpox has been with us, but we do know that it has been around for at least a few thousand years and probably killed Pharaoh Ramses V in 1157 B.C. When archaeologists unwrapped the linens and layers of resin preserving the pharaoh, his skin showed the characteristic pockmarks of a bad case of smallpox.

George Washington himself had suffered a bout of smallpox when he was traveling with his brother through Barbados at the age of 19. The illness incapacitated him for a solid month but also left him with a lifelong immunity, and a respect and understanding of the disease that would come to play a huge role in the revolutionary war and even the destiny of our country. Read more »