Communication Breakdown

It’s good to remember that words are but a small portion of communication, which operates in a larger space. Body language, gesticulation, facial expressions, speed, tone, inflexion, and intonation, all combine to convey at least as much. This is why a written document is always lacking. This is why important or sensitive information should be delivered in person unless you are willing to risk misinterpretation.

In the post-covid reality, some people have moved a lot of their previously face-to-face communication to one of the various videoconference services. Infants rely highly on the face, and they express much through the face. Even domesticated dogs have expressive faces. The face conveys a lot of information. This helps to make videoconference a decent means of communication. It is a step up over the telephone for instant communication, but it still falls short. Even over the phone, one can still use delivery speed and pacing. Tone, inflexion, and intonation should be able to be conveyed, but this may also be limited by connexion quality as well as microphone and speaker quality. However, body language and gesticulation are still largely absent. What may be present can be lost over a small viewing screen or poor video quality.

What gets left behind or limited are cues of authenticity and trust. I remember I had a client in Texas who preferred not to speak with my manager and other executives from the New York office. We had all met in person in the pre-Covid world, and the Texans had judged these people as “fast-talking city folks” instead of real down-to-earth people. I may be a city-slicker, but I’m not as fast-talking. One of these men was a great communicator in my eyes, but these are city eyes. As for the other person, he had snake-oil salesman written all over him, but he tried to hide it in all his erudition. He was very book-smart but lacking in authenticity.

mean what you say, and you say what you mean

Allow me to pause for a moment to riff on authenticity. In one way, I don’t believe in authenticity because I don’t believe there is anything to be authentic to. I write about this in many posts and at length. On the other hand, authenticity is that you believe what you are saying—you mean what you say, and you say what you mean. So what you are asking me to believe, you believe yourself.

If spoken communication is so important, why do you write a blog? That a picture is worth a thousand words is telling. In fact, a picture may convey a thousand words, but it’s probably conveying almost infinite words—or it could be. Words typically fail to transmit metaphor and intent. If we want to be clear, we need to add all sorts of additional words to allay confusion. Perhaps we need to include background information, tangential information, context, and whatnot. By the time we include all of the information that would be conveyed by the face and gesture, we’ve probably overwhelmed the recipients with a document that reads like a terms and conditions page—the ones almost no one reads but tick the box at the end anyway.

What is lost or diminished over video is authenticity and emotional content. Of course, a person can convey sympathy, empathy, and compassion over the phone, but to me, it’s like the wire monkeys in the old psychology experiments by Dr Harry Harlow. You get something to cling to—perhaps even a blanket around the wire is better than nothing. If the telephone is a wire monkey, videoconference is the wire monkey wrapped in a Teri-towel. The human element is still missing. We’re interacting with a simulacrum.

Princess Leia Organa

Some people are amazed at the prospect of holograms in the manner of Princess Leia’s grand entrance. “Help me, Obi-Wan.” Indeed, help us all. It is a step in the right direction, but mind the gap.

In the end, we should at least strive to prioritise in-person communication. At least in the movies, when they want to tell a loved one that their combatant or police officer has fallen (read: died), they do this in person. It should be telling that this also convey’s an emotional message to the audience that is often received as intended. It may cost more, but be sure to evaluate this cost against the benefits. Consider the lost benefits as well.

Nontonomy

Being critical of freedom, liberty, and autonomy is likely to make one the subject of scorn and derision. Most people tend to feel these things are self-evident attributes and goals, but they are all simply rhetorical functions. I was reading a passage in Mills’ On Liberty, where he posits

That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant … Over himself, over his body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

On Liberty, John Stuart Mill

It should come as no surprise that I question a position adopted by the Enlightenment Age. These geezers posited that many things were self-evident, but all of this is self-serving magical thinking, and there is no reason to have truck with any of it. These are all normative claims being dressed as positive, non-normative, ones, hoping to skirt scrutiny by employing a position of self-evidence.

I am generally critical of any notions of identity and self from the start, so affixing some attribute of power to it seems just silly.

It seems that I again am distilling this notion to a power equation. As a person, I want to claim power, if anything, over my self however that might be defined. And though, I would like this, too, it is nothing more than some emotional reaction.

Without delving into the depths of autonomy quite yet, on a proverbial desert island—as necessarily the case with any social constructs, where these notions are meaningless without a social context—adding a second person creates friction. Person A seemed to have full autonomy on this island—notwithstanding the other life forms on this island that are somehow never granted autonomy—now has had this autonomy reduced by the presence of Person B.

Firstly, Person A may have claimed this island to be their own. Given this, Person B is infringing on this autonomous decision, having arrived sequentially. Is Person B tresspassing? Does their presence harm Person B, be limiting their autonomy however slightly?

Mills’ concept is one of no harm: one is free to do what one chooses as so long as it doesn’t harm another. Accordingly, it says one is free to harm one’s self—essentially treating the self, the corpus, as personal property. Just as one could damage a piece of personal furniture, one could damage themself. I am not sure if Mills intend this to extend to suicide, but that’s not an important distinction here, so I’ll move on.

Let’s return to Person A on the island—only Person A is a woman and Person B is a fetus. What rights and autonomy does Person B now possess? For some, it has full autonomy; full personhood. Still, Person B is ostensibly trespassing, so does this autonomy even matter if it exists?

If you are Person X and own a house, and I, as Person Y, enter into it, how does this differ from A and B? Can you justify disallowing Person Y from exercising autonomy whilst supporting Person B? I don’t want to make this about abortion, so I’ll keep stop here.

Justice Prevails

If anything showcases how nonsensical the concept of justice is, just look at the Rittenhouse trial in the United States. Ultimately, justice is about perception. In a textbook, a bad person does something bad, and a process ritual is performed by judges and juries to divine the otherwise obvious badness, and the bad person is brought to justice. In the extended version, they learn the error of their ways and reintegrate into society and live happily ever after.

In reality, this is all bollox. Good and bad are subjective and contextual. But this post isn’t about that. It’s about the charade of justice. In the case of the Rittenhouse trial-slash-debacle, Kyle Rittenhouse shot some people and killed them. Whilst he is being charged with murder, some people view him as a hero—the good man with a gun rather than a vigilante.

Given these perspectives, whether justice is served is a matter of your starting perspective. People in the United States are generally divided on some fundamental political stands, and this predictably colours individual perspectives.

In the Bible, Christians are taught the story of King Solomon, wherein two women each claim a child as their own. Solomon suggests that they cut the child in half and by doing so, he reveals the true mother by judging their responses.

Spoiler Alert: I am only pretty sure that Solomon wouldn’t have followed through on his twisted joke.

This Bible story is part of the Western legal canon and teaches the impartiality of judges and some practical wisdom, but then we remember that it’s just a story.

Returning to Rittenhouse, irrespective of whether justice ends up being served is basically a coin toss. If you have been following the proceedings, you’ll notice that the pack is being stacked in his favour and the dice are weighted and the coin is biased.

Personally, I think the guy is an ass-hat. I feel that anyone who carries a weapon has anger and compensation issues. And if he wasn’t there in the first place, none of this would have unfolded as it did. I am a conscientious objector and believe this is precisely why the Second Amendment of the US Constitution relates to a well-regulated militia and not some pizza-faced wanker.

If he is judged not guilty, people like me will viscerally feel that justice is a sham. Obviously, I already maintain that opinion, but other people still believe in justice and Santa Claus. If he is judged guilty and gets a suitable sentence—another subjective constituent of justice—, then the other cohort feels that justice was not served.

One could argue, as Christians do, that God is the final arbiter of justice. Someone has to be, right? It also reminds us not to judge—probably because we’re not very good at it—, so there’s that, too.

I hold my original stance: justice is just another vapid weasel word.

Conceptual Abstraction

Shared Concept Image

I tend to go on about weasel words and the insufficiency of language, but I tend to get a lot of resistance by people who insist the chasm isn’t as expansive as I make it out to be. This makes me wonder how one might create a test to determine how much is similar and how much doesn’t.

To summarise my position, abstract concepts of this type are specious archetypes that cannot exist in the real world: truth, justice, freedom, fairness, and so on. The common thread here is almost always that they exist in the realm of morality, another false concept.

It seems to me that one could construct a sort of word cloud intersecting with a Venn diagramme. I’d assume that more articulate people would have more descriptors, thereby creating landscape with more details and nuance for any given concept.

Additionally, I could see a third dimension which would capture diametric meanings. There is also the issue of diverse contexts, e.g. in the case of justice, we have distributive, retributive, restorative, and procedural flavours, so one would need to be taken into account.

In everyday existence, I notice that these terms are good enough and have enough substance to trick people into believing not only that it’s real but that the are operating with a shared concept. My point is that it’s more apples and oranges. We could employ dimensions that make these appear to be similar.

  • Approximate spheroids
  • Fruits
  • Contain fruits
  • Have skin

Additional scrutiny would illustrate the differences.

  • Colour
  • Taste
  • Consistency

This difference between this concrete case is that we can observe the objects to compare and contrast, but with abstractions, we have a sort of survivorship bias in play. We remember what we agree on and forget or diminish the parts we don’t agree on. And we don’t necessarily even know the complete inventory of descriptors of our counterparts.

The image at the top of the page is not to scale. I don’t know what the percent breakdowns are, but I wouldn’t be surprised if in a situation where there were 10 possible descriptors, that only 4 would be commonly shared—so 40 per cent—, leaving 6 not in common—60 per cent.

In any case, I wonder if anyone has attempted this sort of inventory comparison. I haven’t even looked, do there could be tome upon tome published, but I don’t suppose so.

What wrong with anarcho-syndicalism?

What’s an anarcho-syndicalist supposed to do in the advent of artificial intelligence, process automation, and robots?

Wikipedia relates anarcho-Syndicalism as follows:

Anarcho-syndicalism (also referred to as revolutionary syndicalism)[1] is a theory of anarchism that views revolutionary industrial unionism or syndicalism as a method for workers in capitalist society to gain control of an economy and thus control influence in broader society. Syndicalists consider their economic theories a strategy for facilitating worker self-activity and as an alternative co-operative economic system with democratic values and production centered on meeting human needs.

The basic principles of anarcho-syndicalism are solidaritydirect action (action undertaken without the intervention of third parties such as politicians, bureaucrats and arbitrators) and direct democracy, or workers’ self-management. The end goal of syndicalism is to abolish the wage system, regarding it as wage slavery. Anarcho-syndicalist theory therefore generally focuses on the labour movement.[2]

Anarcho-syndicalists view the primary purpose of the state as being the defense of private property, and therefore of economic, social and political privilege, denying most of its citizens the ability to enjoy material independence and the social autonomy that springs from it.[3] Reflecting the anarchist philosophy from which it draws its primary inspiration, anarcho-syndicalism is centred on the idea that power corrupts and that any hierarchy that cannot be ethically justified must either be dismantled or replaced by decentralized egalitarian control.[3]

As a matter of preference, I’ve leaned toward anarcho-syndicalism. I don’t have a lot of faith in humans or humanity to govern or self-govern. The arguments for this, whether monarchies, democracies, plutocracies, or even anarchies are each rife with its own sets of problems. Still, I favour a system where there is no class of governors, though I am more of a fan of Proudhon over Marx.

Mind you, I don’t think humans make very good judgements and are as bad in groups as individuals but for different reasons—and especially where complexity or too many choices are available. That we’ve survived this long is, quite frankly, a miracle.

This said, it isn’t my problem. My contention is with the syndicalist aspect. If all of this human as worker displacement occurs as some are forecasting, there will be precious few workers. I am not saying that this is inevitable or will ever happen. My concern is merely conditional. If this were to happen, the idea of a worker-centric system is daft.

Do we just defer to people categorically, where we arrive at simple anarchism? Without delving, there are different flavours of, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to debate, for example, the merits of anarco-capitalism (an oxymoron if there ever was one) versus anarcho-communism or anarcho-transhumanism for that matter.

Although, I like how Kant identified four kinds of government…

  • Law and freedom without force (anarchy)
  • Law and force without freedom (despotism)
  • Force without freedom and law (barbarism)
  • Force with freedom and law (republic)

…the whole notion of freedom is another weasel word, and laws without force are unenforceable—pun intended. At least the syndicalism felt like it was intentional or purposeful. I understand why Plato despised the rabble, but as with the sorites paradox in the heap-hill distinction, where to the rabble distil down to something meaningful?