Thursday, 26 May 2022

When nonsense is an advantage

Our choice is usually mistaken from a false view of our advantage. We sometimes choose absolute nonsense because in our foolishness we see in that nonsense the easiest means for attaining a supposed advantage.

Fyodor Dostoevsky - Notes from Underground (1864)

Approval, assent, agreement, acceptance, acquiescence all seem to revolve around the way we go along with something. Yet given the right circumstances and backing we can easily be persuaded to go along with the most abject nonsense. 

Dostoevsky was right of course, nonsense can be the easiest means for attaining a supposed advantage, which is why we see so much of it and why it can't be eradicated. Some make use of the advantage and some don’t. Making use of it successfully almost always requires the nonsense to be called something else and imposed on others.

Yet it is surprising how often nonsense offers some kind of advantage even when quite startlingly blatant. It can be built on the distortion, corruption and endlessly subtle misuse of language, yet still be absurdly obvious. Not to everyone of course.

As we grow up we learn our native language and make ourselves understood. We learn to mimic whatever language forms are appropriate to the situations we encounter. But from an early age we also learn nonsense language appropriate to other situations such as fairy stories which evolve over time into political convictions.

We also learn from an early age that it can be socially beneficial to repeat nonsense. Often it becomes an apparently innocuous activity such as watching Monty Python with friends. It doesn’t seem to matter if nonsense enters the language as amusement but perhaps it does.

As children we receive subtle and not so subtle approval cues when we use language appropriate to a situation. Approval almost becomes a thing, almost an entity, an essential aspect of language. Without approval there is no way to learn a language, no way to get it right. But many of us must have signalled our approval of Monty Python nonsense and a vast amount of other nonsense in a similar vein.

Approval is an aspect of what we are as social beings and is necessarily manipulated because we are social beings. The Monty Python team aimed at one type of approval, political movements aim at another. We approve or we don’t, but as individuals we cannot cause even the most obvious nonsense to expire through terminal disapproval. We may approve or reject political nonsense, pass it on or ignore it, but cannot stand in the way of it.

Nonsense can have value and in our value-conscious world that value can be pumped up by pumping up the nonsense market. Almost inevitably it has become common for experts to offer dubiously simple opinions to a wider audience than their fellow experts. These wider audiences may be incompetent, but their approval is guaranteed because the experts are pumping up an approved narrative.

All of which is familiar, but it leaves us with an insoluble problem. Many people clearly give their approval to anything authoritative and pass it on rather than carry out their own analysis. Others are far more inclined to withhold approval, recognise nonsense for what it is and reject it whatever the social consequences.

For some people, the search for truth often goes no further than conformist approval of anything authoritative which is dutifully passed on socially. The distinction is blurred of course, but not that blurred. Conformist blockheads who can't even detect nonsense are a problem. Possibly the problem.

Wednesday, 25 May 2022

Civilised Gestures

Nearly thirty years ago we were in the second car of a funeral cortege driving through a housing estate at the usual sedate pace on the way to the crematorium. As I glanced through the car window I saw an elderly couple walking towards us on the pavement.

When the hearse in front of us was about to draw level with them, the old chap stopped and raised his hat. Even in those days it was an old-fashioned gesture, but one I’ve always remembered. I promised myself that I’d do the same if the opportunity arose, but it never did.

Simple civilised gestures are important, but as with a number of others, that one seems to have gone the way of the dodo. Partly the lack of a hat I suppose.

The rise of fragility

In Mercatornet, Jon Miltimore has an interesting piece on Netflix and censorship. Not unfamiliar, but it has the potential to be a trend worth watching.
Netflix delivers salvo for free speech in 9 short words to employees: ‘Netflix may not be the best place for you’

After a tough year, the streaming giant has decided to back freedom of expression

In the wake of a brutal earnings report and a sea of controversy, Netflix recently delivered a blunt message to employees.

If you don’t like the content Netflix produces, you are free to leave.

Two linked trends are identified as the reasons Netflix arrived in this situation.

How Netflix arrived here stems from a pair of cultural trends. The first is the mainstreaming of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), an idea that says corporations must be socially accountable to its customers and stakeholders—by getting involved...

The second trend is the rise of fragility and censorship, which in recent years has steadily chipped away at free expression and speech. Around 2016, social media companies like Twitter, which had formerly described itself as a bastion of free speech, began to aggressively police speech on its platforms. By 2020, corporations like Coca-Cola, Hersey, Verizon, and others were boycotting Facebook as part of a Stop Hate For Profit campaign designed to spur more aggressive “content moderation.”

To my mind the rise of fragility is potentially significant because ultimately fragility is a somewhat undesirable personal attribute. It is not associated with ideas of strong, independent people making their own way in the world. For those who are not fragile it is worth reading the whole thing.

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

A sketch we’ll never see

Imagine a Monty Python type sketch with a similar format to the dead parrot sketch. This imaginary sketch opens with a man in a suit fiddling around with papers at the reception desk of an office. The walls are covered with weather maps. Another man wearing a thick fair isle jumper enters the office, walks up to the reception desk and says –

Jumper: Hello, I wish to make a complaint about the Met Office.

Suit: Oh… er… Sorry mate, this isn’t the Met Office it’s a bicycle shop.

Jumper: A bicycle shop? He gazes around the office. Then why does it say ‘Met Office’ on the door and why are your walls covered in weather maps and suchlike? Answer me that.

Suit: Great weather maps aren’t they? Very decorative we find them, especially the use of colour and those wiggly lines, But we aren’t the Met Office, Sir. We’re a bicycle shop.

Jumper: Don’t give me that. If this is a bicycle shop why are there no bicycles and why aren’t you wearin’ brown overalls?

Suit: That’s because we’re right out of bicycles at the moment… He looks around ostentatiously then shakes his head. Just can’t get hold of bicycles these days.

Jumper: Can’t get hold of bicycles? There are millions of them all over the world. 

Suit: Not round here squire.

Jumper: Look here my man, I’ve had quite enough of this. This is the Met Office and many years ago you promised us warmer weather because of global warmin’. You said we’d be so ‘ot we’d have move up north to Carlisle or somewhere. So why am I still wearin’ my woolly jumper in May? Tell me that.

Hardly hilarious, but although it could be made to work, only sceptical people would find it amusing. Most comedy is essentially conformist in spite of its somewhat anarchic image.


N. Korea conducts mass testing in Pyongyang, people who refuse testing are labeled “disloyal”

North Korean authorities are conducting mass testing in Pyongyang and other areas of the country to track down fever patients, and people who refuse testing are labeled “disloyal,” Daily NK has learned.

“The authorities are mainly relying on taking people’s temperatures for coronavirus testing,” a source in Pyongyang told Daily NK on Friday. “If someone has a fever for more than two days along with coughing and difficulty breathing, they are designated to be quarantined.”

Our pandemic situation in the UK cannot be compared to that in North Korea, but in a limited sense it is worth making a point about that word 'disloyal'. 

As we know, there was strong pressure to comply with a range of government coronavirus measures. Even though the word was not used, it could easily be said that refusal was portrayed as a form of disloyalty to the common good. Strengthen that level of political pressure and we are on the way to a destination we should be actively avoiding.

Monday, 23 May 2022

Sneaking away from the catastrophe

The BBC has an interesting piece which tries to tone down the catastrophic aspect of the climate narrative. Written by someone described as a BBC climate disinformation specialist, suggesting with huge irony that the doom-laden climate narrative could be classed as disinformation by those who have been pushing it for decades. Although they would deny that. Doom deniers we could call them I suppose, which is also ironic. 

It's simpler to assume they are all mad.

Why is climate 'doomism' going viral – and who's fighting it?

Climate "doomers" believe the world has already lost the battle against global warming. That's wrong - and while that view is spreading online, there are others who are fighting the viral tide...

Climate doomism is the idea that we are past the point of being able to do anything at all about global warming - and that mankind is highly likely to become extinct.

That's wrong, scientists say, but the argument is picking up steam online.

Sunday, 22 May 2022

Blair is the key figure, the cataclysm


An interesting video on the virtue of obedience and the problem of freedom. Somewhat pessimistic as to the future, but this is unlikely to surprise anyone paying attention to recent cultural changes. 

The post title is taken from a comment made round about 10:58.