Multiculturalism

Not really, but I’ve had visitors from these countries visit here in the past 7 days. Whilst I either try to be culturally inclusive or admit where I am obviously off, I live in the United States at the time and it just colours my perspective in the same manner it would be coloured if I was spending a lot of time steeped in some other cultural setting.

I am aware that people visit blogs for different reasons. Some are searching for confirming views or to broaden a perspective; others are scratching their heads and asking if people actually think like this or that. In all cases, you are welcome. You are also welcome to share your agreements or disagreements.

What I find most interesting are my subscribers (or whatever WordPress names them). from what I can tell, at least three-quarters of subscribers to Philosophics would appear to have views counter to my own. Of course, they are welcome, but it seems that a have a lot of, let’s say, ‘spiritual’ subscribers, where I hold antithetical if not diametrically opposed views. I’ll presume this is to keep a pulse on a different perspective, which I admire.

Nothing more to say at the moment. Just taking a quick break to give a special shoutout to anyone who has visited from one of these countries. If ‘Unknown Region‘ is some interdimensional visitor, you are still welcome. Thanks for stopping by.

Ambiguous Normalcy

I’ve never really liked the concept of normal being applied to behaviour, whether individually or societally. At a micro level, it might be fine, and one can assess a deviation from a norm, but at a macro level, we have averages of averages, so how many dimensions need to be out of calibration and for how long to be considered abnormal.

Moreover, statistically speaking, where we have a normal (Gaussian) distribution, we might consider a mean and a certain variance or standard deviation from that mean to be normal, but the reaction to deviance is asymmetrical.

An example that comes to mind is that of cheating. It is well documented that humans are predictably cheaters (and liars). Nonetheless, there are two measures of normalcy. There is a fundamental attribution bias in play.

We view ourselves as basically honest and justify occasions when we act the same way. Regarding the chart below, we like to believe that cheating is uncommon. In fact, we chastise or otherwise punish cheaters.

Descriptive versus Prescriptive Normalcy

Full disclosure this is not to scale nor representative of actual data. It’s merely an illustrative tool for conversation.

Prescriptive Normalcy

The bottom range in green represents the accepted and prescribed normal range of cheating. In this example, it might be anticipated that an average person might cheat on things like their taxes, their diets, not returning extra change at a vendor, and so on, about a third of the time, give or take. Anything more would be considered abnormal and unacceptable. Anything less and the person might be considered to be uptight or a goody-two-shoes, perhaps like Ned Flanders of the Simpsons franchise.

Ned Flanders – Hokily Dokily

Descriptive Normalcy

In practice, people operate well outside of this range. As illustrated by the top red range, people tend to cheat closer to two-thirds of the time. If a person is caught cheating, they are treated as being well outside of the prescribed range, society will look upon them harshly despite this actually being normal behaviour for those judging, those who know that they are guilty of the same activity.

One reason for the overreaction may be to signal that they are among the righteous. Here, it’s good to remember Jung’s quip: The brighter the light, the darker the shadow.

The brighter the light, the darker the shadow

Carl Jung

Intelligence Quotient

If I use IQ* for a reference, normal is the mean plus or minus a standard deviation (or sigma [σ]) of 16 points, so between 84 and 116. In the early to mid-20th century, clinical psychology nomenclature grouped IQs by bands:

ClassificationIQ Range
Idiot0 – 24
Imbecile25 – 49
Moron50 – 69
Dull or Borderline70 – 79
Below Average90 – 89
Average90 – 109
Above Average100 – 119
Superior120 – 129
Very Superior130 – 139
Genius140+
Willam Stern Intelligence Quotient Nomenclature

Later moron was replaced by moderate mental retardation or moderate mental subnormality with an IQ of between 35 and 49. As with many things, and in the case of IQ, an observation above the norm is associated as better with an observation below the norm being considered as worse.


* IQ has many problems. At first, an IQ of 100 is supposed to represent the average (mean) of a population, yet the average IQ of the world population is just over 82, a number outside and below the 1σ threshold. In the United States, the average IQ is an unremarkable 97% (ranking 26 among 199 countries). Japan and Taiwan top the list at over 106. In fact, Asian countries comprise the top 6 slots. Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom are almost an even 100, falling ever so short. at 99 and change. Guatemala, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Nepal fall at the bottom of the ranking, each with average IQs under 50.

Cultural Relativity

That culture is a social construct is by now a meme. Those who disagree with the notion believe there is some objective measure—who disagree with the notion of cultural relativism—, almost invariable to their own belief systems. My goal is not to convince them otherwise. I’m sure their teacups are full. However, I’ve recently become aware of some data I find interesting. These data consider dimensional pairs of data. For example, do parents of certain cultures foster the message of imagination or hard work.

Hard Work vs Imagination

The caveat here is that no culture is monolithic. In practice, no two people are precisely redundant. People are effectively snowflakes—not the pejorative sort. Just insomuch that even identical twins are not, in fact, identical. What we are examining are generalised stereotypes. For example, the United States finds hard work over-indexing imagination. This comes as no surprise to anyone who takes even a cursory view will note that both political persuasions buy into and propagate this mythos. On the Right, imagination is something that can be explored. In fact, it needs to be propagated if only to buy into supported narratives. Imagination is over-indexed in Left-leaning countries. On the Left, a little more latitude is afforded, but in the end, someone needs to pay for the Volvos and Teslas. Given that the Left basically doesn’t exist in the professional politics of the US, imagination is more lip service than manifest.

Imagination need not apply. Britain, Australia, and Canada are more balanced, but they still favour hard work over imagination. Interesting to me is that the Nordic / Scandanavian countries push imagination more than their peers. I’ve never ‘imagined’ them to be imaginative. Perhaps it’s more an absence of Calvinism. Perhaps I’m judging. The piece suggests that Anime is evidence of Japan’s imagination. Firstly, this feels like a stretch. Secondly, this doesn’t resonate with my experience living in Japan. Perhaps I’m just conflating cultural obsequiousness.

Independence vs Obedience

Another pairing is independence versus obedience. Whilst I focus on the UK, US, and Canada, you may find represented your own country or culture of interest. Across these dimensions, the US, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand all favour independence over obedience, though I find this a strange dichotomy. Fundamental attribution bias is evident in full force and effect.

I just came across a meme that lauded the Japanese for fostering independence, but cultural obedience is a given. Honour, shame, and shunning are ubiquitous in Japanese, so I’m not sure how this manifests. Cognitive dissonance is strong here. I’m having a difficult time reconciling. Perhaps I need to evaluate the semantics.

Independence versus Obedience

Unselfishness vs Religious Faith

I debated including this dimensional paring. First, it’s an odd dichotomy. Are we trying to claim that the religious are selfish or that unselfish people are areligious? No matter. Let’s keep going.

Unselfishness versus Religious Faith

I suppose this just shows that one can compare anything on a graph and someone can read something into it—like a Rorschach test or tea leaves. Here the US rides the fence. Great Britain and France self-assess as promoting selflessness, and Bangladesh is off the charts with its need for faith. Well, clearly not off the charts because it’s literally on the chart, but it’s trying.

Anyhoo, I feel I need to investigate the raw data and evaluate more parings. For now, I think it’s safe to say that cultural preferences are all over the map. And, even though these preferences have no objective centre, I can admit to having preferences of my own. On these dimensions, I favour imaginative, selfless independence, but that’s just me. Where do you stand?

Post Truth?

Foucault should be a reminder that the culture wars are not new and post-truth can’t exist because there was never a truth at the start. This is similar to Latour’s question asking if we’ve ever been modern. And the answer remains ‘no’. There is no post-truth as there is no post-modern as each of these is predicated on a fantastical claim. Many humans defend the notion of truth, but they are fighting windmills.

We are therefore at war with one another; a battlefront runs through the whole of society, continuously and permanently, and it is this battlefront that puts us all on one side or the other. There is no such thing as a neutral subject. We are all inevitably someone’s adversary.”

— Michel Foucault, Society Must Be Defended

In these culture wars, each side is fighting for its version of the truth. The truth of rights and freedoms and the correct construct of societies. But there is not one culture war. There are myriad culture wars, and there are few opportunities to be allied across all of these dimensions with another person. For the congruent dimensions, one needs to operate in the mode of the enemy of my enemy is my friend whilst deciding how to ally on other disagreed dimensions later.

But never forget that the wars are intentional. They are a feature of the system of normalisation, not a bug. More importantly, don’t think for a moment that your truth is the truth. The same goes for your adversary.

Insurrection Bandwagon

There was a recent insurrection at the United States Capitol building in Washington, DC. I won’t take any more time discussing whether this is hyperbole or real. In the end, it doesn’t matter. It’s not relevant to the solution.

From the perspective of propaganda, it’s been an effective message. It’s gotten Trump haters and supporters to view Trump as a common enemy—some of them anyway. Some people and entities can’t performatively distance themselves fast enough or scapegoat him loudly enough.

Whilst I do feel that much of the hullabaloo is performative, I’m not going to focus on the performative aspect. This serves to amplify, but it’s not the central message. Instead, I’d like to frame this through the lens of René Girard’s mimetic theory of conflict and resolution.

Adopting Girard’s vantage, we can see each of mimetic desire, scapegoating, mimetic crisis, ritual, sacrifice, and culture.

Mimetic Desire

In a social context, mimetic theory is about creating in-groups and out-groups—and intentionally so. Groups have rules, by which membership is governed. Symbols are employed to amplify belonging and compliance. At it’s core, mimetic desire employs mimesis—imitation. Monkey see, monkey do.

Here, society is the prevalent in-group. From their perspective, this is the us of the in-group versus the them of the out-group. Girard noted that us versus them is evident in many contexts—whether in the wild or otherwise—, and it can be exploited. It’s about creating a flag to rally around—in this case literally, figuratively speaking.

The mechanism of mimetic desire is to coalesce the focus on some object. From the positive dimension, the desire is to belong, but mimetic desire doesn’t have to be positive. As in this case, it can be negative. The masses have assembled for a common cause of vilifying one Donald J Trump.

Mimetic Crisis

The insurrection is the mimetic crisis. It broke the rules. It’s unclear how all of the many rules that were broken in the four preceding years were able to fly under the radar. To some extent, the US government is constructed of two nearly equal in-groups. They each belong to the institution of institutionalised government and so-called Republican ideal as an expression of modern Democracy. They share some common beliefs, but this sharing diverges dimensionally and methodologically. The telos are multi faceted, and each group prefers different facets—and the facets desired by the public are different still.

At first—to borrow from Kübler-Ross—, there was denial by the Trump-aligned party of sycophants. These Trump-aligned Republicans (read: Neoconservatives; UK: Tories) were also aligned with the outgroup, leaving them vulnerable to ostracism. Meanwhile, the Democrats (read: Liberal/Neoliberal; UK: Labour) secured the moral high-ground and control of the larger in-group. They painted themselves as the adults wearing big boy trousers (over their Pull-Ups).

Scapegoating

Scapegoating is instrumental in mimetic theory. It’s a mechanism to build solidarity and cohesion through exclusion. Narratively, it operates to distinguish acceptable behaviour versus unacceptable. In almost all instances, scapegoating is an object to project blame.1 The remaining members have received the signal.

Here, we have two entities to scapegoat 2: the insurrectionists and the Instigator in Chief, soon to be ex-president, Donald Trump.

Ritual

Ritualistically, scapegoats need to be bear the brunt of the anger of the in-group and associated friends and family. There are procedures to follow. These rituals play out in the House in the form of impeachment, and in the Senate in the form of conviction. For the uninvited guests, the traditional court system ritual

Part of the outrage is performative ritual. Certain entities are checking the boxes suggested by their PR teams. These same entities had nothing to say for the past four years as they’ve enriched themselves at the expense of the American public and world, but this was the last straw. They vowed to cut off support and funding —until they don’t, but by then no one will be any the wiser. People have both short attentions spans and memories.

There is no requirement whatsoever that rituals produce anything. As hard work is its own reward, ritual for the sake of ritual is all that’s necessary. Rituals needn’t be authentic or heartfelt. Simply mime the parts, and you’re all set. Plus, you get full credit—participation points just for playing.

Sacrifice

One ritual is to sacrifice the goats, but we need only exile the offending members. In Christian lore 3, there are actually two goats—a sacrificial goat and an emissary goat—the scapegoat. The sacrificial goat is, obviously, sacrificed—burnt offerings—, but the emissary goat was released into the wilderness, taking with it all sins and impurities. This is the excommunicated, the shunned.

Culture

Where performatism really comes in, is cultural signalling. People and other entities work overtime to signal they are on the winning side. This includes everything from Oscar-winning performances to cringeworthy Razzie-candidates. Those in the public eye tend to go overboard. It’s good to remember that an empty vessel makes the most noise.


  1. The notable exception to this scapegoat-blame relationship is the Christian Christ myth, where Jesus acted as a scapegoat but was without blame.
  2. Trump and the Scapegoat Effect, The American Conservative, David Gornoski, September 1, 2016.
    An interesting article discusses the Trump-scapegoating phenomenon that also mentions René Girard’s work.
  3. Leviticus 16:21–22

Cultural Diversity

Humans seem to be hard-wired to prefer in-groups over out-groups, family and tribe over outsiders. In the business world, we hear about corporate culture. But these days, diversity is all the rage. Companies strive to convince the world that that have diverse and inclusive cultures, but what does this mean? Is there such an animal as a diverse culture? And how does one balance the familiarity of in-group homogeneity versus out-group heteronormativity?

you can’t spell culture without ‘cult’

In corporate-speak, there is the concept of cultural fitness. Afterall, we want efficient and productive humans and processes? People who don’t fit this mould are disruptive, right? So, we are justified in excluding people from the group, right? Remember, you can’t spell culture without ‘cult’.

Although the United States brand themselves as a cultural melting pot, this is only partially correct, and mostly in more populous areas, and even this occurs in pockets.

Diversity—in hiring and otherwise—is only accepted if it is along approved superficial dimensions—skin colour, national origin, sex, religious orientation, maybe gender, perhaps some latitude around lifestyle choices. But more substantial diversity need not apply. They are interested in hiring conforming normies. The gay guy is OK, so long as he toes the rest of the line. That woman: ditto. That Muslim: same. That black person: so long as s/he acts white in public.

everything needs to distil down to the white male ethic

Performatively, they’ll accept the diversity proponent as a PR prop. This person is proof that they hire [target group]. This person broadcasts how s/he can wear their cultural garb, bring cultural dishes to potlucks, put up posters and advertise about support groups outside of work. But in the end, everything needs to distil down to the white male ethic.

Talk about work-life balance is fine, so long as work gets the upper hand. You need to be able to talk about charity, but you need to be motivated by money and status. There are exceptions to this motivation, say, public health and healthcare, education, and so on, but the boundaries in these professions are narrow, too. Not acting ‘professional’ is a key criticism. So, if your diversity counters some perceived professionalism, your diversity is not welcome.

not acting ‘professional’ is a key criticism

If the company hires people who routinely put in 60 hours for 40 hours of salary, they are not interested in the person with boundaries, insisting on 40 hours of work for 40 hours of salary. They aren’t interested in people who might question the ethics of the company’s business practices. Companies aren’t generally interested in rebels.

You need to be Sartre’s waiter. You’ve got a role to perform. In fact, you are evaluated specifically how well you perform that role. So, whilst you may be a singing waiter or a dancing waitress, your boundaries aren’t much broader than this. It’s easy for an observer to dismiss the call for diversity. S/he’s a waiter, right? Why should I expect anything different to that? And this is what locks in a lack of diversity.

DISCLAIMER: This ended up more of a meandering rant, but I’m distracted and out of time. And so it goes…

Unintentional Indoctrination

Fiction in the form of film, television, and books has an insidious propaganda effect. This effect is not necessarily conscious or intentional. In practice, it may simply be a meme as a result of prior programming.

I don’t tend to engage with much fiction, though I have in the past. I hadn’t really considered the indoctrination effects at the time. Lately, on account of my significant other, I’ve been consuming fiction via Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO, Starz, and the like. It’s mostly drivel, in my opinion, but I like to spend time with her, and we can connect discussing plot lines and such over a shared experience.

I find the repetition of facile but culturally prevailing themes such as right and wrong, good and evil, heroes and villains, the power of community and the detriment of the individual, except for the rugged individual, who prevails against all odd.  

These shows propagate pop-psychology beliefs and over-simplify complexity to create a digestible narrative, but which is the equivalent of eating refined white bread instead of whole grains.

My point is not that the writers are seeking to influence the masses, it’s just to point out that this is the case. People view this, and use it to calibrate their own believe systems, but it’s a recursive, self-referential model—an echo chamber. I haven’t done any investigation or research into whether people have already made this connection. I will if I get the time.

One might argue that a counter model would not be well-received, and a goal of most fiction is to gain an audience and earn some money, so give the people what they are asking for and don’t make them think about their worldview. Besides, a single film or series is likely to challenge ones prevailing filters anyway. Even if someone were to create an anti-theme, cognitive dissonance may just rationalise it as a statement, so satire rather than objective criticism.

We do have Absurdist authors, like Franz Kafka, Donald Barthelme, or even Kurt Vonnegut, who rather point out absurd situations in life and some possible speculative fictions, but these Post-Modern writers are accepted, though arguably not widely consumed, save for intellectuals and their quasi-counterparts.

If I had more time, I’d document a few examples, but these shows are typically difficult to sit through once casually let alone carefully dissect. Perhaps, I’ll do this for the sake of science.

Character Arc

The US government are a crime syndicate, a veritable mafioso family. The current Don, quite literally, Donald Trump, The Don, is a conman at all levels. Some forget that conman is short for confidence man. About a quarter of the eligible voters had confidence in him–or at the least had more confidence in him than in his rival.

The US don’t have a vote of no confidence, but the impeachment process may serve as a worst case proxy. Watching the news, much f the political theatre and grandstanding revolves around the issue of character. It all sounds so tidy. A particular legal defence tactic is to impugn character. He’s got character; she doesn’t. One can’t trust that bloke even though he’s in a position presumably predicated on this character thing.

Character is a quaint notion, remnant of specious Virtue Ethics. The warring families–let’s call them Republicans and Democrats–attempt to secure the moral high ground by making a claim on the impeccability of their character pedigree. But what is character?

Character is another weasel word mired in cultural relativism. Essentially, it’s an asymptotic function wherein a person approaches some archetypal ‘good life’, as in eudaimonia. In the end, it suffers the fate of a no true Scotsman logical fallacy.

Criminal Conservatism

A few years ago, I shared with a colleague that I had noticed that my high school classmates who seemed to be the most non-conformist (or perhaps the most anti-authoritarian), the ones most likely to have abused drugs and alcohol and most likely to criticise the Man, have by and large become extremely conservative on the political spectrum. Most are card-carrying Republicans, and dreaded low-information voters, continuing the trend of low-information acquisition and processing. He said that he had noticed a similar trend.

I still keep in contact with some some old mates who are Conservative Republicans, but who were high-information consumers then and still, so I am not saying that all Conservatives are low-information people.

A man who is not a Liberal at sixteen has no heart; a man who is not a Conservative at sixty has no head.

—Benjamin Disraeli (Misattributed)

The past couple of years, in a sort of nod to Bukowski, I’ve been researching or circulating among the underbelly of the United States, the veritable dalit-class comprised of drug dealers and users, pimps, prostitutes, and thieves. And I’ve noticed the same trend. These people might fear or hate the police and the system, and they may not vote or even be high-information seekers, but they seem to have a marked propensity to Conservatism. I admit that this is anecdotal and rife with confirmation bias, but this is my observation.

To broad brush any group into some monolith is always a fools errand and missing dimensional nuance, but the general direction holds. In my observation, these people are very black & white, and they want to see law & order (as much as they want to avoid its glance). They are interested in fairness, and call out being beat, as in being shorted in a drug deal or overpay at the grocery store–the same grocery store from which they just shoplifted.

When they see a news story, ‘That bank robber deserved to get caught’ would not be an unexpected response. Even if they got caught, they might voice that they deserved it. The received sentence might be a different story.

I am not sure why this shift from anti-establishment to hyper establishment happens. I’ve also noticed that even if they dislike the particular people serving government roles, they still feel that the abstract concepts of government, democracy, capitalism, and market systems make sense, if only the particular instance is not great.

One reaction I had is that some of these people feel that the transgressions of their youth might have been avoided only if there were more discipline, and so they support this construct for the benefit of future generations, who, as embodied in Millennials, are soft and lack respect for authority.

I’d recently re-discovered a Bill Moyers interview with moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, and there is some relationship. And whilst I could critique some of Haidt’s accepted metanarrative relative to society, his points are valid within the constraints of this narrative.

The video is almost an hour long and was produced in 2012, it is a worthwhile endeavour to watch.

I am wondering if anyone else has seen this trend or who has experienced a contrary trend. Extra points for an explanation or supporting research.

Cover image: Sean Penn, excerpt from Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and Brett Cavanaugh, SCOTUS and posterboy Conservative hack

The Problem of Rape

Last week, Motherboard published the full email thread in which Stallman wrote that the “most plausible scenario” is that Epstein’s underage victims in his campaign of trafficking were “entirely willing.” Stallman also argued about the definition of “rape” and whether the term applies to the victims.

When someone else in the email thread pointed out that victim Virginia Giuffre, who was 17 when she was forced to have sex with AI pioneer Marvin Minsky, Stallman said “it is morally absurd to define ‘rape’ in a way that depends on minor details such as which country it was in or whether the victim was 18 years old or 17.”

Vice.com

Richard Stallman resigned from several positions after these comments were surfaced.

The United States have a communication problem that transcends their petty polar politics, and this issue extends to the West.

The conversation around rape and Julian Assange became an issue based on Sweden’s characterisation of the crime as they see it, but this is different.

As with many jurisdictions, the United States creates age-based legal boundaries. This is expedient, to to sure, but we also know, rape aside, that people mature at different paces–not to mention the concept that the brain is not fully developed (whatever than means) until around age 30.

Age is used to delimit majority for contracts, marriage, sex (consent), alcohol, voting, military service, and so on, but it’s a weak tea proxy.

As a legal/social subject, rape is fairly categorically reviled, but it is hardly cut and dry, especially when one confounds the issue with the concept of statutory rape, which is where the systems strips the concept of consent from the equation, so that at 6,569 days a woman (because this is predominately applied to females over males) has no right to consent but at 6,570 does. This is further exacerbated because different jurisdictions have different ages of consent and loopholes, that are beyond the scope of my commentary and misses the point of communication.

Hot Button

Rape, race, and gender are hot button topics used to curtail and derail legitimate discourse and conversation. Whether Stallman’s comments exceeded the bounds of my argument does not invalidate the argument. Perhaps, he did overstep the bounds of civility, but that’s not my concern here.

To me, the question is, given I feel that the sole purpose of jurisprudence systems is to consolidate power to the status quo, how do we create a fair but ‘knowable’ boundary around things for which we currently rely on age, one where both sides of the consent equation understand the limit ex ante. But given legal systems are not designed for precision but for simplicity and expedience (albeit in a Rube Goldberg sort of way) and given that most people don’t question systems themselves, I don’t expect it change any time soon.

Neither do I expect the broader population not to be distracted by these same hot button topics. Distraction is a standard rhetorical device.