Monday, September 17, 2018

Another Way Smart Phones Mess Up Your Writing

It's commonly observed that writing has decayed into a trashy thicket of abbreviations, truncations, and emojis in the age of thumb typing. But I just noticed that writing can also be distorted in the opposite direction, thanks to dictation.

In reaction to this tweet about a NY Times story about Michael Bloomberg considering a run as a moderate Democrat...

...I shot the following text message to a friend:

I wouldn't normally type out "Republicans" or "Democrats". The long-form versions of these terms - in the context of an informal text message - lend a formality I hadn't really intended. Writing precision, I just realized, is a two-edged sword.

In other news, Gary Kasparov, one of my heros, has gone to the dark side (read the whole thread). This is emblematic of the shift I wrote about in yesterday's posting (though this particular end of it isn't specifically about dehumanization). This is a very bad and extraordinarily viral mindset, and it will make the post-Trump world extremely unpleasant for at least a generation, likely more.

But do check out this brilliant reply from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, an interesting and mega-smart guy (he's the fellow who coined the term "Black Swan" to describe unpredictable major disruptions). Taleb is, alas, an old school thunderingly arrogant intellectual of the Gore Vidal mold, for whom everyone is an uncomprehending simpleton. But unlike Vidal, he's usually right. I highly recommend his Twitter feed, even if you and I only understand 30% of it (if you thought my cognitive lozenges were dense, his are like neutron stars).

To counter Kasparov, consider my moderate perspective (from this posting), which - I can't believe I'm typing this - I know reads sharply out of step with current norms in its distaste for the cleansing glory of angry mobs:
What if we let racists live and work among us, in peace? What if we tolerate their free use of language as part of that same glorious rainbow? And what if we club them over the head with the full weight of the legal system if they ever ever act on it by discriminating - i.e. doing actual harm? What if you can be a racist, think like a racist, talk like a racist, but we prevent you from acting on it? Conveniently, we have a legal system, with lots of preexisting legislation, to handle exactly that.
A Facebook friend once posted this screed:
Reminder: Presumption of innocence is a special legal principle not a general philosophical one. There is no compelling or practical reason to suspend your normal human judgment in the course of your regular life. You can read the news and judge it to be factual without having to have it proved in court.
My comment was: "Angry mobs, unconstrain yourselves."

If you lean Left and feel a visceral attraction to the righteousness of angry cleansing mobs, despite intellectual and moral hesitations, I'd suggest you explore that ambivalence. Doing so earnestly will shed light on - and cultivate empathy for - the plight of the current Right. We're all infected with the same bug, though it takes two forms. Consider joining me in the center, advocating moderation and reconciliation even amid tribal consensus and emotional turbulence. 


plam said...

Speaking of the other news, what are your thoughts about the paradox of tolerance? I don't quite get it but it seems to be a thing.

Jim Leff said...

That's pretty much what I've been pointing to (without using the term) all week.

Take a hypothetical. You hope for a 100% tolerant society. First problem you'll hit: what do you do with intolerant people? Well, you'd better "fix" them! You can reeducate them (they just need is a few years of intense convincing to get right with their thinking), or you can hide them away in a gulag so they no longer disrupt the perfect tolerance, or you can shoot them.

All these solutions are spectacularly intolerant, of course. The paradox is that those who staunchly demand that we all synch with their standards of tolerance are inherently intolerant of anyone who draws their tolerance lines in different ways; anyone who transgress their utopia; anyone who questions the taboo expression or thought. In fact, the most intolerant possible society would be one bent on 100% tolerance! It's a paradox!

Here's how the extreme Left might respond: let's not waste time considering the outcome of intolerant people. Racists, sexists, etc, are beyond-the-pale; unworthy of consideration. Basically inhuman, really. Fuck 'em. They can crawl up and die.

Thing is, it's no longer a hypothetical. We're there now. Consider what's done with intolerant people right now. An angry mob works relentlessly to publicly shame them, and, most of all, get them fired from their jobs. Apparently, intolerant people are not allowed to work, to make a living, to feed and support their families. Again, they can crawl up and die. And anyone who objects is likely beyond the pale, as well, and subject to the same treatment. This is how otherwise reasonable people on the left are persuaded to go along with extremism. They're as complicit as moderate Republicans, who similarly stifle their misgivings to avoid friction with the extremist kooks of THEIR tribe.

Are there things you're terrified to publicly say right now that you'd have been perfectly comfortable saying a few years ago? Many people would reply: "Fantastic! It's working! We're cleansing things!" A triumph of toleratance!

Tolerance is a wonderful thing. Sanctimonious, mob-enforced tolerance is a grave and terrifying danger and an incredibly viral contagion.

plam said...

So that's not the Paradox of Tolerance. That paradox goes something like this. Tolerating intolerance is actually untenable, because (as I understand it) it'll lead to intolerance taking over.

I don't understand it well enough to comment meaningfully about it, but it has certainly been popular recently.

I can imagine ways of judging what level of intolerance should be unacceptable: for instance, one might say that you can't have calls to intolerant action.

Jim Leff said...

Unless I'm seriously misinformed (always possible!) I think it can be conceived both ways. And it has indeed become popular to conceive it this way.

Me? I'm a big fan of the classical liberal stance: put up with absolutely all speech short of yelling "fire", plus standard law re: incitement. That law is imperfect, but it's time-tested over centuries. The radical left wants to overthrow the paradigm (much like the radical right), and their clamorings do not register with me as a fruitful sluice of brilliant woke new ideas charting a better way forward, any more than do Trump's seemingly maverick moves (protectionism, nativism, isolationism, executive authoritariansm, flouting of institutions, etc). Each side of this divide sees the true brutishness of the OTHER side re: actual intent. I'd pray for a time-out on all bright new ideas in this furious, muddled time. Let's not tear-down-and-rebuild amid massive kookery, fury, and demagoguery.

(Let's definitely, however, enshrine traditional executive branch norms into law as soon as this toddler's out of office, if not before)

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