Tag Archives: human behavior

conformity & the cult of personality

Thanks (again) to Shrillblog, which has condensed all wisdom everywhere in the world into one blog, for pointing me to yet another lovely blogger [chad orzel in uncertain principles] who has beautifully articulated a certain unease about the cult of personality and republicans. He writes about the cult of personality that allows bush supporters to suspend their critical thinking faculties.

I like the digs / insights about the current Republican fandom. But I also just like the piece because it captures one of those ways in which people self-deceive …

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conservative intellectuals also have their own separate realities

A widely-discussed and reported new study shows that Bush supporters are pretty clueless about the Bush administration policies and, well, facts. [Univ. of Maryland, Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), The Separate Realities of Bush and Kerry Supporters, Oct. 21, 2004.] This has got the conservative intelligentsia tying themselves in knots to try to explain how, exactly, Americans could so misunderstand the Bush administration. I’ve got a tip for them: It could be because the Bush administration regularly lies, obfuscates, and denies problems and responsibility for those problems. And the major media until recently seems to have thought “journalism” meant “reporting the Bush administration’s gloss on a story as news.”

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editing in blogs versus wikis

I get the feeling sometimes that editing is bad form in a blog, as compared with a wiki. The blog is supposed to stand as a record for all time of the writer’s thoughts and/or feelings at a particular moment. You should have edited your thoughts before you published them!

I see this in the way that folks correct themselves — not by actually editing their work and rewriting it so it’s more accurate, but by striking through the old text and inserting new text, along with careful editorial notes: [edited on 2004-07-10 at 07:10 a.m.]. See, e.g., LibraryLaw blog, carefully noting “UPDATE: the introductory paragraph was expanded to describe the law on 9/15/2004” on a post from the 14th.

My first guess is that this is an instinctive attempt to be academically correct. The notion being that you have published something, and now if you change it “after the fact” without noting that you have changed it, you are misrepresenting yourself in some fashion. Misrepresenting how well you wrote initially, what you wrote initially, trying to make yourself not look so stupid & ill-informed, etc.

But it’s not just in academic blogs that people have this habit — they do so even in their personal blogs.

By contrast, people expect wikis to be rewritten and edited. It would be annoying to have to read, in wikipedia, an entry, and then, following after, chronologically, each of the corrections and edits. In fact in many if not most instances the entry would rapidly become unreadable.

And in terms of the writer’s experience, doesn’t it suck some of the joy out of it, to have to regulate and track it to such an extent? To not be able to spontaneously put something out there in the heat of the moment? That later, maybe, you don’t necessarily want to conceal, but that you’ve refined & improved? I want to interact with a thought or a piece of writing, to play with it, to write it down, and come back a few days later, and see that it is good, or more likely that it is not good, and edit that first Adam into an Eve.

So what am I doing with this blog? I’m not treating it like that kind of exercise. In semi-accordance with the apparent norm in the blogosphere, I’m announcing my edits. But I’m doing it in advance, and globally.

Basically, what I want, and what I’m using this blog for, is as a roughly chronological (journalistic) collection of brief semi-essays and annotations. I’m processing my thoughts in it.

I have the opportunity to turn each of these entries into a little experiment. Some of them will be frozen at the moment. Others will be edited to fix typos. Others will be edited to fix misstatements. Some entries will even be edited to reflect changes of view, new facts, etc. I’m going to have a “modifed on” tag in the entry but I’m not tracking each & every modification, because frankly they’re not that significant.

I “publish” something when it’s in some kind of a half-way-ready state to be out there. A state at which I’m not completely embarrassed if someone sees it. But it’s not what I would consider finished work because this is a blog, not a journal paper. This is more casual writing, more off-the-cuff. It’s real but it’s a different format, and I cannot see why I should have to stick to the old rules in the new format, when they impede my ability to fully utilize the new format.

Often in the first few hours or days after I “publish” something I go back and tweak it, adding sometimes a lot more content. Over the days and weeks that follow the changes to that entry get less & less frequent. Some kinds of entries stay hotter longer — for instance the Bush TANG memos covered by CBS — and accordingly are edited more frequently over a longer period of time.

The ideal, I think, would incorporate more wiki-like features, so you could go back & read the original versions, and see a version-tracked history.

Right now, the blog is my sandbox. If at some point I have a group blog, or publicize this blog & try to get comments & dialog started, then that will change the dynamic; maybe then it will be more sensible to publish once and denote specific retractions / corrections.

Torture: Kaplan thinks Hersh evades the question–but Kaplan misses the point

Fred Kaplan in slate.com ostensibly reviews Sy Hersh’s new work on torture & Abu Ghraib in Does Torture Work? – Seymour Hersh evades the question. By Fred Kaplan. In reality he sets out once again, just in case anyone missed it the first 10,000 times that torture apologists made it, the argument we’ve all heard by now: torture is/may be effective sometimes, and if so, shouldn’t we use it?

Torture to produce a confession (“Yes, I am a terrorist”) almost certainly is useless; at some point of pain, many people would confess to anything. But torture to elicit specific information (Who told you to do this? Where did the meeting take place? Who else is in your cell? What are they planning to blow up tomorrow?) sometimes will do—clearly, has done—the job. If it hasn’t, many times over the centuries, then why do so many regimes engage in it? Some no doubt do it for the kicks, but they’re not all purely sadists.

Kaplan suggests that we need to begin answering this fundamental question: Is torture effective in some instances? for instance, torturing high-level operatives who reasonably seem likely to have information.

Kaplan thinks Hersh evades the question in his new book, but Kaplan is actually missing the point. The rules against torture are not based on the lack of efficacy of torture. We rarely forbid the government to do the inefficient. [This point could be heavily footnoted by history and law.] The rules against torture are based on the knowledge that torture is most effective as a tool for terrorizing the populace, and that as such, this tool is too dangerous to be permitted.

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everyone’s a radical / ends & means

We are all anarchists now – Siva Vaidhyanathan – openDemocracy.

Ah, Siva, if only it were true. At any rate it reminds me of one of my mantras in earlier years: everyone is a radical if you dig deep enough.

Meaning, that if you dig, everyone will agree that people should not be killed, that people should have life, that society should be structured so as to maximize fairness … Folks disagree on how to get there or if it’s possible. Or sometimes on what constitutes rights or fairness or equality. (Equality of opportunity versus equality of results.) But, at the time, anyway, I felt that most people ultimately share a common sense of core beliefs. People might disagree, or be too afraid or too cynical to believe it openly, but it was there deep down.

Now, it’s not so much that I have changed my mind, as that I no longer necessarily believe there is any deep down for folks. I’m not sure that people have cores. Are we not all just onions? Every one of us? Growing onions? Where if you scrape away a layer and think you’ve achieved something, in the meantime more stuff is growing up from the center?

And most relevantly, all the little surface beliefs that I dismissed as mere conditioning or tactics–maybe after all, maybe those little surface beliefs are the real thing, or as near to it as one gets. Fighting & quarreling over tactics is even more important–because tactics are the struggle. The means are the end.