(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘social psychology

“Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up”*…

A supposed “crisis in masculinity” is much in the public discourse these days. But as Jules Evans points out, we’ve been here before…

Last month Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson released a TV series called The End of Men, warning that American men were becoming effete, flabby and sterile. Civilization is descending into chaos, the series suggests, but that’s OK, because ‘hard times produce strong men’. It also featured a man tanning his testicles to the tune of Thus Spake Zarathustra (you can watch the trailer here).

With that Nietzschean image in mind, now seems like a good time to tell the story of President Theodore Roosevelt and his cult of manliness. Teddy Roosevelt preached a life-philosophy of vigour, and embodied this in his own romantic life. His words and deeds made him an icon to the online ‘manosphere’. Indeed, the popular website ‘Art of Manliness’ sells inspirational posters of him, and calls him ‘the patron saint of manliness’.

And yet there is a darker side to his life-philosophy. It included Social Darwinian attitudes that might makes right, only the strong deserve to survive, there are fitter and less fit races, and the white race has a right to conquer other races, while itself needing to be strengthened through eugenics. It’s a story that helps us explore some of the ways that wellness, men’s fitness, the human potential movement and ecological conservation can lead to ‘spiritual eugenics’

The history– and the dark downside– of the “cult of masculinity,” “Teddy Roosevelt and the End of Men,” from @JulesEvans11.

C.f. also: Benito Mussolini and Vladimir Putin.

* Ronald Wright

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As we parse power, we might recall that it was on this date in 1997 that software running on Deep Blue (an IBM supercomputer) became the first computer program to defeat a world champion in a match under tournament regulations.

The year before, Garry Kasparov had defeated Deep Blue (4-2). In the rematch, Kasparov won the first game but lost the second. The the next three games were draws. And the sixth game lasted only a little over an hour after just 19 moves.

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“Behind the hieroglyphic streets there would either be a transcendent meaning, or only the earth”*…

Gerardo Dottori, Explosion of Red on Green, 1910, oil on canvas. London, Tate Modern. [source]

A crop of new books attempts to explain the allure of conspiracy theories and the power of belief; Trevor Quirk considers them…

For the millions who were enraged, disgusted, and shocked by the Capitol riots of January 6, the enduring object of skepticism has been not so much the lie that provoked the riots but the believers themselves. A year out, and book publishers confirmed this, releasing titles that addressed the question still addling public consciousness: How can people believe this shit? A minority of rioters at the Capitol had nefarious intentions rooted in authentic ideology, but most of them conveyed no purpose other than to announce to the world that they believed — specifically, that the 2020 election was hijacked through an international conspiracy — and that nothing could sway their confidence. This belief possessed them, not the other way around.

At first, I’d found the riots both terrifying and darkly hilarious, but those sentiments were soon overwon by a strange exasperation that has persisted ever since. It’s a feeling that has robbed me of my capacity to laugh at conspiracy theories — QAnon, chemtrails, lizardmen, whatever — and the people who espouse them. My exasperation is for lack of an explanation. I see Trump’s most devoted hellion, rampaging down the halls of power like a grade schooler after the bell, and I need to know the hidden causes of his dopey rebellion. To account for our new menagerie of conspiracy theories, I told myself, would be to reclaim the world from entropy, to snap experience neatly to the grid once again. I would use recent books as the basis for my account of conspiracy theories in the age of the internet. From their pages I would extract insights and errors like newspaper clippings, pin the marginal, bizarre, and seemingly irrelevant details to the corkboard of my mind, where I could spy eerie resonances, draw unseen connections. At last, I could reveal that our epistemic bedlam is as a Twombly canvas — messy but decipherable…

Learn with @trevorquirk: “Out There,” in @GuernicaMag.

* Thomas Pynchon, The Crying of Lot 49

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As we tangle with truth, we might send rigorous birthday greetings to Gustav Bergmann; he was born on this date in 1906. A philosopher, he was a member of the Vienna Circle, a a group of philosophers and scientists drawn from the natural and social sciences, logic and mathematics, whose values were rooted in the ideals of the Enlightenment. Their approach, logical positivism, an attempt to use logic to make philosophy “scientific,” has had immense influence on 20th-century philosophy, especially on the philosophy of science and analytic philosophy… even if it has not, in fact, eliminated the issues explored above.

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We might also send birthday greetings in the form of logical and semantic puzzles both to the precocious protagonist of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and to her inspiration, Alice Liddell; they were “born” on this date in 1852.

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“Our social tools are not an improvement to modern society, they are a challenge to it”*…

Nicolás Ortega. Source: “Turris Babel,” Coenraet Decker, 1679

Jonathan Haidt ponders the poisonous impact of social media, arguing that “It’s not just a phase,” and what considers we might do about it…

… It’s been clear for quite a while now that red America and blue America are becoming like two different countries claiming the same territory, with two different versions of the Constitution, economics, and American history. But Babel is not a story about tribalism; it’s a story about the fragmentation of everything. It’s about the shattering of all that had seemed solid, the scattering of people who had been a community. It’s a metaphor for what is happening not only between red and blue, but within the left and within the right, as well as within universities, companies, professional associations, museums, and even families.

Babel is a metaphor for what some forms of social media have done to nearly all of the groups and institutions most important to the country’s future—and to us as a people. How did this happen? And what does it portend for American life?

The high point of techno-democratic optimism was arguably 2011, a year that began with the Arab Spring and ended with the global Occupy movement. That is also when Google Translate became available on virtually all smartphones, so you could say that 2011 was the year that humanity rebuilt the Tower of Babel. We were closer than we had ever been to being “one people,” and we had effectively overcome the curse of division by language. For techno-democratic optimists, it seemed to be only the beginning of what humanity could do.

In February 2012, as he prepared to take Facebook public, Mark Zuckerberg reflected on those extraordinary times and set forth his plans. “Today, our society has reached another tipping point,” he wrote in a letter to investors. Facebook hoped “to rewire the way people spread and consume information.” By giving them “the power to share,” it would help them to “once again transform many of our core institutions and industries.”

In the 10 years since then, Zuckerberg did exactly what he said he would do. He did rewire the way we spread and consume information; he did transform our institutions, and he pushed us past the tipping point. It has not worked out as he expected…

Social media and society: “Why the Past 10 Years of American Life Have Been Uniquely Stupid,” from @JonHaidt in @TheAtlantic. Eminently worth reading in full.

See also: “The big idea: how to win the fight against disinformation.”

* Clay Shirky

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As we follow Jaron Lanier‘s advice to “go to where you are kindest,” we might recall that it was on this date 1397 that Geoffrey Chaucer “told” (read aloud) The Canterbury Tales for the first time at the court of Richard II.

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A woodcut from William Caxton‘s second edition of The Canterbury Tales, printed in 1483

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“You fix what you can fix and you let the rest go”*…

Humans are natural problem solvers; still, sometimes no amount of thoughtfulness, hard work, or understanding will transform an intractable problem into a resolvable one. But, as Alex Berezow argues, we must accept this harsh reality to have peace in our lives…

Though our species name is Homo sapiens (Latin for “wise man”), perhaps a better one would be Homo problematis solvendis (“problem solving man”). If there’s a mountain, we’ll climb it; if there’s a moon, we’ll fly to it; if there’s a disease, we’ll cure it. Our species’ success in science and technology has even given rise to scientism, the naïve and arrogant belief that science alone is the only legitimate source of knowledge and that any problem — no matter how great — will one day be solved by science.

It is easy to see why many people believe that. We are taught from a young age that the trickiest homework can be solved through diligent study; the toughest sporting competitions can be dominated through training; and the complexities of interpersonal relationships can be settled through understanding and compromise. All of this conspires to create in each of us a false sense that no problem is too big to tackle. Yet, the unfortunate reality is that, sometimes, no amount of thoughtfulness, hard work, or understanding will transform an intractable problem into a resolvable one. Indeed, some problems really have no solution…

Berezow goes on to unpack three examples: the Riemann hypothesis, the problem of aging and cancer, and willful ignorance. Then he urges us to understand them as a metaphor…

As we grow older, we slowly come to the realization that there is very little in our lives that we actually can control. We didn’t control who our parents were, where we were born, our genetic gifts (or lack thereof), or the sort of upbringing we received. We can’t control our spouses or our children, let alone politicians. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll admit that we can barely control our own thoughts and feelings. It should not surprise us, therefore, that the world contains unsolvable problems. I would go so far as to posit that there may be more unsolvable problems than solvable ones.

So, if there’s any moral lesson to learn from the aforementioned “unsolvable problems,” let it be that they serve as a metaphor for the greater truth that we control far less than we think we do, and that we must become comfortable with that discomforting fact. How? Perhaps the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr could help:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

Or perhaps this cheekier version will suffice:

Give me coffee to change the things I can
And wine to accept the things I cannot.

The very concept of a “problem with no solution” goes against human nature, but they’re everywhere– and we need to find ways to relate to them: “Problems with no solution: From math to politics, some things humans cannot solve,” from @AlexBerezow @bigthink.

* Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men

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As we ruminate on resolution, we might we might send bright birthday greetings to Robert Wilhelm Eberhard Bunsen; he was born on this date in 1811. A chemist, he observed– with a prototype spectroscope that he created– that each element emits a light of characteristic wavelength (thus founding the field of spectrum analysis) and used his insight to discover two new elements, caesium and rubidium.

But Bunsen is probably best remembered for his creation of the Bunsen burner, a gas burner with a non-luminous flame that does not interfere with the colored flame given off by the test material–ubiquitous in labs around the world. Indeed, today is (Inter)National Bunsen Burner Day.

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“Everyone waits in line”*…

What we can learn from studying the crowd-management approaches at Disneyland…

Who gets to do what and when at a themepark may sound like a trivial question, but I think it’s a perfect little microcosm for the distributional problems that are at the heart of all political economy – questions that the pandemic’s shortages and shocks threw into stark relief…

Stay in your lane: “The definitive answers to Disney’s pernicious queueing debates,” from Cory Doctorow (@doctorow)

The video that Cory recommends:

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* Paul Theroux

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As we bide our time, we might recall that it was on this date in 1971 that traffic-choking crowds jammed Walt Disney World to capacity (on the day after Thanksgiving). Shortly before noon the Florida park closed its gates to additional visitors.

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Written by (Roughly) Daily

November 26, 2021 at 1:00 am

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