Friday, 14 October 2011

Rant No.1 (I don't need this pressure on)

I destroyed my PC keyboard this morning, in the sense that I put it out of its misery. I picked it up and smashed it on the top of the monitor - keys everywhere.
Emma got it for me last Christmas because she was sick of looking at the stained and discoloured grey one I'd been using for years. Remember when all PCs used to be a sort of landing-craft grey? That's how old it was. But it worked Goddammit it worked!
The new one had been bugging me for a while - well, ever since Emma got it for me really, but it was a slick brushed steel effect wireless job so I stuck with it. And besides - Emma got it for me. But the keys were too close together and I was forever hitting the wrong ones. In particular I'd inadvertently hit the caps lock when I went for the A and since I caN'T TOUCH TYPE i'D NOT NOTICE UNTIL SEVERAL SENTENCES LATER. Like that. There's an Ebay thing you can go on called Fat Fingers where you can bid for things that have not sold owing to their posting having been miss-spelled. For example - anyone looking for, say, an aquarium will miss the fact that someone is trying to sell an aquaroium. You can find some real bargains apparently. Anyhow I resent the fact that they call it Fat Fingers. It's blatant discrimination against blokes like me with normal working man's fingers, and a refusal to accept the reality that we don't all have tiny tiny little girlie pin digits.
But that wasn't why I smashed it. I yelled at it for that but I didn't get violent. It was the fact that I couldn't log in sometimes that really began to get to me. Clearly it wasn't registering all my key strokes, but even that wasn't really it. What really did it was the message that came up. 'Did you forget your password?' it said. 'No' I fumed. 'I didn't. It's this bloody keyboard.'
Try again.
'Did you forget your password?'
'No I bloody didn't. Can you morons not countenance the possibility that it might be the technology that's at fault?'
'Did you forget your password? You're a bit stupid aren't you.'
'No I'm bloody not...'

The thing that really gets me about this is the fact that the Tekkies who design this stuff - who presumably wrote that little message to come up when the wrong password was entered, could not allow for the fact that the machine rather than the user might be at fault. I've come across engineers like this before. My father was one, which possibly explains the violent atavistic reaction. 'A bad workman always blames his tools' he'd intone, helpfully, whenever I failed to accomplish a simple practical task. OK sometimes it was me that was at fault, but not always. But what got to me was that he could not conceive of the possibility of Bad Tools. They are unthinkable to the Tekkie, and hence not an option.
And the old key board worked fine, for years. And we threw it away because it was a bit grubby (frankly it was unsanitary - it had food in it). Clearly it's not impossible to make a keyboard that works. Why can't they do it then, the Tekkies? It seems like lately I'm coming across a lot of things (kettles, car stereos, socks) that I know from personal experience it is quite possible to make so that they function perfectly for decades. It's not exactly cutting edge technology, and yet  for some reason they don't seem to be able to do it any more.
I used to drive an old Lada (it was given to me free). I used the radio and tape deck pretty much all the time because I drive better with a little gentle distraction on in the background. It stops The Deep Thoughts forming. It never let me down - the radio I mean, not the Lada (although that did remarkably well too considering its age.) It was simple and reliable. Likewise that of the old Ford Escort estate I had after that. A simple to use, reliable car stereo is something that's been well within our grasp for quite some time now.
More recently I've had an MG ZTT (I know, don't get me started) and now I have a SEAT. In the MG the radio constantly tried to re-tune itself whenever the signal went a little off. I was yelling at it 'Leave it alone! It's not going to get any better!' but no. Try try try again, every ten seconds. Even worse was the setting where, if the signal from the station I was listening was not quite perfect, it went and chose another, seemingly at random.
'Is the sound quality of In Our Time not totally pristine and perfect? Well here's a blast of ludicrous junk from one of the local commercial stations. We're sure you'll find that an adequate substitute.'
No I won't! Bloody leave it alone!
At least I found the setting for that 'feature' and managed to turn it off. If I recall you had to press TTP, bass and FM at the same time while whistling the Marseillaise.
And now the SEAT has some sort of setting where every time you start it up the volume goes down to almost nothing and the Air Con blasts you out, drowning out whatever tiny sound the radio might be emitting. I have to turn the one up and the other down every time I start the car. Maybe there's some sort of factory setting I can change to stop it doing all these things I don't want it to. Who knows? But why should I have to? It should be obvious. I shouldn't have to go and find the manual to stop it doing a lot of unnecessary crap! Simple and straightforward should be the default. Tekkies can't conceive apparently of not wanting to read the handbook from cover to cover, or memorise a whole lot of permutations of switches and knobs in order to get the thing just to do the basic thing it was designed to do.
Our stove is like this if you switch it off at the mains. When you switch it back on you have to reset the oven by pressing these two buttons simultaneously and then that other one, or it won't work. Why? Surely the default state for an oven, when you switch it on, is to be able to use it to cook things. You shouldn't have to remember the combination.
And then, to cap it off there's the volume control (we're back in the car now) which, if you're not ever so delicate adjusting it (whilst driving along mind) suddenly turns the volume down to, say, 5 instead of up to 20, and then back to 12. Why? I understand it's a certain sort of design of dial and I'm sure it must have seemed very clever at the time, but... why? What's the point? Did they even think about it? Who employs these people?
These things do not happen by accident, as unintended consequences of some other feature of the appliance. Someone somewhere in  the design department has looked at these idiotic proposals and gone 'An oven that won't come on until you press some random combination of buttons. That looks like a great idea!' or 'Of course, we know much better than the actual driver what settings the car stereo/ventilation system should be at!' They've made an executive decision to install these pointless settings. Why?

Two theories come readily to mind - one is that the Tekkies are incompetent. They just haven't done enough research or thought about it enough, or tested it properly. I think this is quite possible. We're so obsessed with everything being new and exciting these days we don't seem to ask ourselves any more - But does it work? Is it reliable? Or failing that, is it easily fixed? We just go 'Ooh! Shiny new gadget. Ooh!' (stroke, caress)
'Does it work?'
'No idea. But isn't it shiny. And new.' (stroke, caress...)
This points to a second, more sinister explanation, which is that they're doing it on purpose, because after all, who wants computer hardware that lasts more than eight months? Haven't you upgraded yet?
Nobody's going to complain, or not enough of us anyway. We just chuck it out and get a new one. Which I suppose is what I've done (borrowed one actually, although I will have to get a replacement eventually.)
But at least I'm angry about it. All this stuff going into landfill. All this money I'm wasting buying new stuff (DVD players - that's another one - and you can't even nudge the arm to make it move on when it's stuck. You can't do anything except chuck it out and buy a new one. We've had five I think, in the last six years. One was a Wharfedale too so apparently that name counts for nowt these days) Am I alone in liking having stuff around that's been with me for donkey's years, grimy and clunky though it might be? Workmanlike is what I call it. It does the job. But can you get the parts?
I have a third explanation. Contrary to a lot of the whining going on at the moment about the price of things, most things (Electrical goods, clothes, you name it) are massively cheaper than they were a couple of decades ago. As I recall, the actual price ticket on, for example a half decent pair of jeans (£30) or a mid range stereo (£150 - £200?) hasn't changed but the figure on my pay cheque has increased by an order of magnitude (as a gardener £30 a week then vs £400 now) Maybe the new stuff is cheap because it's rubbish. Maybe the good stuff, which I'm sure you can still get if you know where to look, is also an order of magnitude dearer.
I doubt it actually. That may be part of the explanation but I think they're just happy to sell us flashy sub-standard junk and frankly they're really not that bothered what we think about them. Who could you complain to anyway, even if you could find the receipt? Customer Services? Don't make me laugh.
A lot of people born in the last couple of decades I suspect don't even know what it's like to own something reliable and well-made that's been around for years. (Wasn't that something they had to do in the post-war make-do-and-mend austerity times?)
Chuck it out then. Buy a new one. It's good for the economy after all, even if not for the environment or our moral well-being.


Vincent said...

Hear, hear! I had to buy a new computer recently. Always takes me weeks or months to get everything transferred and organized so I don't have to think about it.

You raise important points about the way our economy is organised. If we throw things away (uneaten food, machines that no longer work) we create jobs and so the world is saved from some form of financial disaster. Except that finance thinks only of itself. Profit thinks only of itself. We could look at everything from an ecological point of view. But ecology (in the hands of activists) thinks only of itself too.

On a not entirely unrelated topic (if you accept the inter-relatedness of all things) I do recommend Stephen Mitchell's translation of the Tao te Ching

Do you want to improve the world?
I don't think it can be done.

The world is sacred.
It can't be improved.
If you tamper with it, you'll ruin it.
If you treat it like an object, you'll lose it.


Steve Law said...

Hey Vincent - good to hear from you, as always.
But if 'the world' is being tampered with by others? Are we supposed to just lie back and let them get away with it?
I'd make the distinction between 'The World' meaning basically the natural world - everything except what we humans do, and 'the world' as in 'it's the way of the world', meaning only what we humans do. I understand that some might reject the distinction, and it's crude to say the least but I think there's something useful in it. Anyhow I'd leave the former alone as much as possible and be involved in changing the latter as much as possible. Those as-much-as-possibles I think are the debatable parts.

Vincent said...

You can make the distinction between the natural world and what we humans do, but I think it's a kind of thought experiment of the kind that religions perform: they call it doctrine. Because who are we to say we are not just part of nature?

So if we try to understand the Tao te Ching, we need to see a difference between what we as humans do to survive (cut down forests, mine the earth, burn hydrocarbons etc) and what we do to tamper with the earth so as to ruin it.

I suggest that not lying back to "let them get away with it" is tampering. Not letting them get away with it is the source of all wars and most of the crimes. But one can do a similar act from a different motivation, and this would not be ruinous.

I think the author(s) of the Tao te Ching are taking the view that the All is constantly trying to recover from the assaults of its components parts. That is to say, it may be considered as a single organism.

Or as the book says (in the same translation):

See the world as your self.
Have faith in the way things are.
Love the world as your self;
then you can care for all things.

Steve Law said...

No, I think the distinction between the two is to do with the ability to make moral decisions. Humans can choose. Nature just is. Obviously humans are a part of nature at a biological level. (I don't think it's 'doctrinal' to say that. Seems like an odd thing to say...)
The free market fundamentalist would tell us that their way is the most natural since, untrammelled by regulation, it is based on ruthless competition and survival of the fittest, irrespective of the long term consequences, and perhaps they're right. Maybe that's why being 'natural' is not always a good thing.

Ok, I'm a bit lost here - why are we suddenly looking at the Tao te Ching?

Your distinction between survival and tampering seems highly debatable. Most of what you term survival is what is doing most of the ruining. What other sorts of ruining did you have in mind?

"not lying back to "let them get away with it" is tampering"
Really? Do you have the same opinion about murder, robbery, rape? I assume not. What's the difference?
What do you think i mean by "letting them get away with it"? I suspect you're making an unwarranted assumption here.

"the All is constantly trying to recover from the assaults of its components parts"?
This is where you lose me. I have no sense that there is an 'All' out there that is trying to do anything so I don't know where to go with that.

Steve Law said...

Actually - slight rephrasing - I have no sense of an 'All' out there and if it does exist I would not presume to know what it might be trying to do (and certainly not by reading an old book)
This brings us back to our old debate

Vincent said...

It is true that our old debate was never resolved, and I suppose when we come back together, we can hardly help resuming where we left off.

I mentioned the Tao te Ching because I recently obtained a translation of it by Stephen Mitchell and like the way it often invokes the contemporary scene. I was inspired to quote it in the first place for its view that the world cannot be improved, only ruined.

Where you and I may differ is in this sense of an ‘All’. By its nature it is not ‘out there’ because it is all: it doesn’t recognise the boundary of in-here/out-there. So it’s an interesting perspective to see the world from, when you can get glimpses of it.

A non-mystical, or should I say less mystical, proponent of the All concept is James Lovelock, whose Gaia theory supposes an Earth which looks after itself (not just Man) and corrects the assaults any component part imposes upon it.

I think this responds to some of your points.

When you say that “humans can choose, Nature just is”, I wonder if you are assuming that Nature doesn’t choose but is somehow compelled to follow some path built into the genes of its components creatures (all except Man which can choose). I have been persuaded to see Nature differently by reading Becoming Animal by David Abram. In his view, all of Nature is alive and imbued with intelligence. Every plant and animal is constantly choosing. You cannot survive as a species without the ability to choose your path for in every moment you are assailed by the unknown. This is as true for the spider as it is for the bird riding thermals in the sky. Extinction happens when the species is cornered, you might say.

I agree with you that the distinction between acting for our survival and tampering is somewhat arbitrary.

I think we can be pretty sure that the distinction between Man and the other species is intimately bound up with murder, robbery and rape: I mean historically and prehistorically. What we now condemn as genocide must have been practised myriad times in the past, as part of the human version of the “Survival of the fittest” remarked upon by Darwin.

I’m also influenced by a book by Leonard Shlain, Sex, Time and Power: how women’s sexuality shaped human evolution. It is hard to summarise his argument, but I shall try, since I haven’t got round to writing a post about it. He notes the peculiar physiological differences between Man and his closest cousin primates, and (as a medical man) muses on the implications: menstrual blood and women’s need for extra iron; the pain and dangers of childbirth; women’s use of power to control their pregnancies (and survive!); the need for male to woo female; and much more. Robbery, murder and rape are certainly part of the scene in his account. Of course we tend to be more against these things today than our ancestors were. But they would be morally shocked by many aspects of our behaviour today, too.

Steve Law said...

Just a quick response - just to keep things going. This week's been a bit fraught.
Yes - the old debate. I have future postings in mind for that.

"the world cannot be improved, only ruined"
This implies that there was some ideal time in the past since when it has all gone down hill (or up hill surely, since down hill sounds like a pleasanter ride) - some Golden Age perhaps? Perhaps a time before humans existed at all? Or before we were civilised, or before industrialisation? Maybe the best time was back in the Pre Cambrian before there was multicellular life (those darn Vendian organisms - they ruined everything!)

Yes - Gaia - apart from the obvious fact that there are feedback loops at every level in biological systems this suffers from the same problem as all the God/Intelligent design notions in that there is no objective material evidence for any kind of 'guiding intelligence'. Your use of the word 'choose' is misleading.

No, my point about "murder, robbery and rape" is that you presumably don't believe that the world is ruined by not letting people get away with them. Murder, robbery and rape are 'illegal' and hence uncontroversial. But in my view, 'illegal' and immoral are not the same thing. In my opinion there are lots of things that are legal that people should not be allowed to get away with (destroying the environment, exploiting the poor etc etc).

We covered Shlain (and I thought pretty much dismissed him) in a previous exchange.

Vincent said...

Yes, we agree on most things here. But to take your last point first: the things which are not illegal but are immoral. The problem with not letting people get away with things is the process of how we stop them getting away with it. One way is to make them illegal. Another way is to express disapproval. This is a powerful method of control in a small community, when there is a sufficient consensus of the majority. However it has been weakened by laws constraining the expression of disapproval, implying that the people are not trusted to express their opinions. Not allowing referendums is just one obvious symptom.

No evidence for "guiding intelligence"? Sure, no evidence for a central guiding intelligence. But I see the Earth, my home, with all its creatures, as a vast complex of distributed intelligence, which cannot be reduced to cybernetic feedback loops. We are not in a position to dismiss intelligence outside ourselves since we are limited to our own.

Why is my use of the word "choose" misleading? I hope you are not assuming that only human beings have the ability to choose and everything else is ultimately determined, like a computer program?

Finally, "the world cannot be impproved, only ruined" is my paraphrase of something in the Tao Te Ching, which is the author's paraphrase of the original Chinese, which may or may not have expressed nostalgia for a Golden Age. I'll grant you that. But I see it a little differently. The Tao Te Ching is not all about good government - i.e. improvement of the world. It is also about good attitude - i.e. how to view the world and respond to it on an individual level. The latter precedes the former.

Your original post, which I hope we are still focusing on (I don't want to diverge from it too far, after the other time) illustrates a dissatisfaction with how the world is organised, and how this organization affects everyday life in the privacy of our own homes. An excellent consumerist rant which ends in a very sound motto for our times: "Chuck it out then. Buy a new one. It's good for the economy after all, even if not for the environment or our moral well-being."

Yes, it's good to help the economy. And as for our moral well-being, I think we have to be trusted to look after that ourselves. That's why you and I and everyone else are separate. We have different experience and different responses.

As for the environment, each one of us affects it, in attitude as much as in actions. As usual, the first leads to the second. But I question whether you or I need worry too much about others' attitude.

Steve Law said...

I see two deep fault lines in our views here I think - both deserving fuller treatment in later postings:-
1. I sense some anxiety at the idea of anyone wanting to change the world - as if such impulses are inherently futile, unnatural, counter-productive or downright dangerous. Maybe this is based on living through a century in which the Communists and Fascists did such damage trying to build a new order. Totalitarians, police states, fundamentalists, planned economies, year zero, 1984 and all that. I do worry about others' attitudes and actions. I've had mine changed by the opinions of others. I don't see it as dangerous.
2. The recurrent theme of entities greater than ourselves or beyond our normal understanding where somehow the lack of physical evidence counts as a strong argument for their existence.
Can we come back to these?

On the smaller, more manageable points, no, I have no reason to think other organisms 'choose' in quite the way humans do. It's a sliding scale of course. Cetaceans and primates and elephants probably make decisions in a stronger sense than alligators or sharks do, starfish more than sea anemones, worms more than daffodils, but there are many levels of complexity in the responses, and I haven't seen any evidence that even chimps and dolphins are capable of the sophisticated decision-making processes that we are.

I'd certainly go along with what you say about having a 'good attitude'. Cynicism is an insidious poison.

Not so much a 'consumerist' as an anti-consumerist rant. Buying things is not consumerism. Buying at least some things is how we run our society. Consumerism is about buying for the sake of it, as an end in itself. It depends on novelty and disposability. Wanting things that are well-designed, long-lasting and without superfluous 'features' goes against the consumerist ideology. I have a posting almost ready to go on the myth of the importance of customer satisfaction in the free market.

Vincent said...

if you 'have a posting almost ready to go on the myth of the importance of customer satisfaction in the free market', then I'd better get my response to your point about consumerism quickly.

You define consumerism as 'buying for the sake of it, as an end in itself': a definition that I don't really understand, unless you mean that for some people the act of shopping in itself gives a satisfaction comparable to sex.

I would broaden it to include 'Wanting things that are well-designed, long-lasting and without superfluous "features"' - i.e. wanting things that provide you with satisfaction in continued ownership.

But perhaps you could point me to a succinct manifesto of consumerist ideology, written by someone other than you and me, who does consider it to be a bona fide ideology comparable with say Marxism or capitalism?

Perhaps 'Which?' magazine have one.

Vincent said...

On the point of ranking the quality of choices, I would prefer to rank them by the degree of keeping in harmony with the rest of creation, rather than by sophistication.

On this basis, human decision-making ranks perhaps lowest of all creatures, since its net effect appears to be threatening the balance of many systems on our planet.

But the choosing mechanisms of migrating birds may have a sophistication that we don't yet know about.

Vincent said...

I forgot to mention that human decision-making can be disastrous on a smaller scale too. A disinterested observer would say that it's too sophisticated for its own good, and would place it below that of other animals.

Steve Law said...

"I don't really understand, unless you mean that for some people the act of shopping in itself gives a satisfaction comparable to sex"
I don't know about sex especially. Alcohol perhaps, or some other sort of addictive or compulsive behaviour, but yes, I think that's usually how it's meant. It certainly isn't generally taken to mean "wanting things that provide you with satisfaction in continued ownership" or indeed just plain old satisfaction. Consumerism is all about dissatisfaction.

"perhaps you could point me to a succinct manifesto of consumerist ideology"
I think consumerism is a pretty commonly understood concept (Does an ideology need a manifesto? I don't think so), your claim to not understand it notwithstanding. It's a pretty feeble argument actually - unworthy of you.
Ah - I see - you're trying to wind me up. Sorry. Not falling for it.
Shall we move on?

Steve Law said...

I think this topic is getting a bit too chaotic for me.
I'll have a go at answering but I think it's probably getting on for time to stop.
I didn't 'rank quality of choices' (implying that one sort is better than another). 'Rank' is your word, not mine. I said it was a sliding scale if you remember. You have assumed wrongly that, by 'sophisticated' I mean better.

Human decision making can be disastrous, or it can be fabulous. You can't have one without the other. I suppose for me the aim has to be (since the bad decision makers aren't about to stop) to at least counter-balance their worst excesses.
Can we agree on that?

Steve Law said...

Actually I have one more tiny biological thing to add, which is that this notion of harmony of creation is spurious. I'm sure you realise that wholesale death and destruction are a feature of the most natural of systems. Even leaving aside the obvious tsunamis, volcanoes and comets crashing to earth, in the normal course of evolution, speciation leads to species ousting each other, resulting in not only the extinction of one species but of any number of other species that may depend on it. There may be carnage, torture, genocide, or slow death by starvation or disease. Even competition between individuals or populations of the same species can have horrific consequences. The aftermath must sometimes look like Armageddon.
The only difference between this and the damage we do to nature is that we can, if we choose, do the research, think about it and try to do something different.

Vincent said...

There are those who see all the death and destruction as part of the harmony of creation. Yes, species become extinct.

Nature is not gentle, neither is that part called humanity. I don't really see a difference. There is an apparent choice, yes. But I think it is a bit like a situation on a motorway, when there is a crash on the side of the road and many drivers slow down to have a good look. The ones who don't want to slow down have no choice. And sometimes you discover (if the road is busy enough) that the slowing-down at that spot persists for an hour or more after all signs of the crash have been removed.

There is choice (for some) to go and demonstrate, say by camping out beside St Paul's Cathedral. But for those who work in the City or on Wall Street there might be less choice to give up their jobs suddenly and become eco-warriors. The mortgage and family commitments require that one does more or less the same as what one did the day before.

Returning to James Lovelock and his Gaia theory, if I may for a moment, he recently said that there is not much we can do now to stave off what's coming. It was set in motion fifty or a hundred years ago, and it's too late now. I made a transcript of an interview he did with John Humphrys last year:

Vincent said...

As for the attempt to wind you up, I've been wondering if that's what I was doing - making fun of your use of the word "ideology", for I thought that this word refers to a doctrine that people consciously believe in and follow. But it could be mainly a term of abuse. Like in America when someone is accused of being a socialist, or unpatriotic, or even unAmerican.

As for shopping and sex, I was recalling the phrase "sex and shopping". Now, when I Google this phrase, I find this article in New Scientist, which may set out the ideology, and demonstrate that I wasn't really trying to wind you up at all.

Steve Law said...

Ideology. No, I've always taken the word to mean a more-or-less coherent, more-or-less political set of assumptions and attitudes carried by a given group of people,not necessarily consciously and certainly not formally (in the sense of defined in a manifesto.)
Right-wingers tend to deny that ideologies exist because of course they are all totally individual but I think left and right wing ideologies are fairly easy to identify, as are various religious and secular ideologies, and those of other groups in society such as feminists or gays, trades-unionists, islamists or New Age hippies etc etc etc. I'm aware that i have quite a strong ideology and I know where it comes from. Some of it I like, some not so much, but I do know it's neither totally a matter of choice nor entirely determined by my background. I hope that the more I know about it the more I can pick and choose but I don't ever expect to be able to entirely discard it.
It's a necessarily fuzzy notion because of course, we are all more or less individuals, and at its worst it is simply an excuse for over-generalisation and stereotyping. I still think it's a useful concept though. My use of it for consumerism is perhaps a bit sloppy but I do think it is a crucial component of a very powerful free-market ideology which, I don't think it is exaggerating to say, is taking over the world at the moment.

Vincent said...

Good, then I can agree with you and especially with the sentiments of your last paragraph. Consumerism is indeed a crucial component of that free-market ideology.

It's sobering to think that the facility which enables us to make contact with one another is funded by consumerism. Google is free to us, but depends on advertising which in turn depends on a widespread eagerness to buy what's advertised, no matter how unnecessary or unreliable. I've often thought that advertising by sellers is rather worthless. Feedback from purchasers, satisfied or not, is a better guide. Give the Web its due, it carries a lot of that too.

Steve Law said...

Natural 'harmony'- yes exactly. That was my point - in that respect there isn't a difference. Death and destruction are common to both. So why call it 'harmony', with ruin it's antithesis? It seems a misleading use of language to say the least.

And I agree, most of the time we humans do not choose. Much of the time we just blunder about, acting on instinct, impulse or habit, but to argue that we cannot, given the time and resources, make conscious rational decisions (or that the results of these decisions are no better than the blundering about) strikes me as bizarre, but this is another big fault line between our world views (your Reason is Evil theme)
I think we'll have to come back to this one too.

Lovelock's view is just one among many (and is not necessary to his Gaia hypothesis). Any ecologist who claims to know what's going to happen to the environment is an idiot. There are just too many unknowns.
Anyway I'm not so inclined to determinism.
People have been predicting the end of the world for a very long time, and I'm not saying they'll always be wrong, only that they can't know for sure that they're right and that it'll be worth trying to make things better right up to the end.
It's like a cancer patient with only a 10% chance of survival. Should she just give up?
I think in any case that the End-of-the-Worlders do so as much for personal reasons as because they have good evidence. I think they kinda like it.

Steve Law said...

Consumerism - absolutely. There's probably something to be said for almost any ideology (even fascism? Well I suppose it could be argued that at least Hitler was trying to make a better world, rather than just accepting it as it was, even though his 'better world' was utterly obscene)
I'm not totally against the free market. I'm against it taking over everything. Consumerism, like recreational drug use is probably fun as part of life but no way to run a world.
The fact that so much of the media is dependent on advertising (and therefore on what the advertisers are prepared to back) strikes me as worrying. The fact that I wouldn't have access to anything I do online without them (I hardly pay for anything I use) has troubled me for quite a while. I read recently that Yahoo is in big trouble, which makes me wonder what would happen if whoever finances them decides to pull the plug, or radically change the terms and conditions, or leaves the system vulnerable to Unknown Third Parties! Suffice it to say I shan't be letting go of my actual physical books and plants any time soon, I can tell you. I certainly won't be throwing my lot in with iTunes and Kindle to any great extent. I just don't trust them.
But yes - we should complain more, keep our receipts, provide reviews and feedback rather than just chuck stuff out and buy a new one. But I'm still not sure this is consumerism, so much as being a good customer. I think there's a difference.
It might not be up to me to tell someone that they drink too much, but that doesn't mean they are not an alcoholic.

Vincent said...

I like your labelling of my 'reason is evil' theme. It's off the mark of course and not just because I never talk about evil. Acceptance of what is, is more my line.

But I shall riposte with a straightforward question. Do you believe that in other than personal matters, reason is a unifying strategy? Do you think that if reason is followed strictly (assuming that means anything) reasoners will reach the same conclusions? I'm thinking of such arenas as ethics, ecology, economics, philosophy.

To me, reason is not unifying because reason is, broadly speaking, a tool for justifying any cherished point of view.

Steve Law said...

How refreshing to get a straightforward question!
The straightforward answer I suppose has to be 'no' but I'm not sure there is a straightforward answer. You've lumped together a lot of disparate disciplines there. Of all them ecology is the only one where I might answer 'yes' and maybe economics, but only if we had all the facts, which we never do. I have another post almost ready to go on this. (Just because I say I have a post almost ready to go doesn't mean it'll appear any time soon. I have lots of posts almost ready to go.)

"Acceptance of what is, is more my line."
I suppose it depends how much you like the way things are, but you seem to think that any attempt to make things better is likely to make things worse. I don't think history bears this out, and in any case, I remain optimistic.

"reason is, broadly speaking, a tool for justifying any cherished point of view"
'broadly speaking'... hmmm. People certainly do 'reason' this way, possibly more often than not. I'm not sure this says anything about the value of reason in itself though. A lot of the most valuable things among human capabilities are terribly rare.

Steve Law said...

"reason is, broadly speaking, a tool for justifying any cherished point of view"
It just occurred to me that this is another instance of your failure to distinguish reasoning from rationalising

Vincent said...

Am I alone in this failure? Who is not guilty of it? We all reason and rationalise many times a day, and the only person who spots that we fail to make the distinction is the person whose reasoning conflicts with our own.

Apart from genuinely open-minded scientists - I don't doubt they exist - most other professions, including estate agents, lawyers, politicians, marketeers, PRs, journalists happily fail to make the distinction, because they work according to a parti pris - "a preconceived view; a bias or prejudice".

But I bow to your point, that the distinction exists, and is important.

Steve Law said...

Absolutely and of course - we all do it, but I would hold that we are all (not just the scientists)capable of reasoning if we put our minds to it. Science has more safe-guards than most enterprises but is still guilty on occasion.
Of course - reasoning from false, assumed or uncertain premises is still perfectly valid reasoning. Faulty or selective use of reasoning, deliberate or otherwise, is another matter.
There's a lot more to say about the irreducible impulses that motivate us of course. Ethics, aesthetics, faith, personal preference... We've hardly got started.

Vincent said...

Right, but we have no choice other than to select the premises and data we consider relevant, out of millions of facts. And therein lies the problem.

I quote from Chaos, by James Gleick, Prologue, page 8:

"Tiny differences in input could quickly become overwhelming differences in output--a phenomenon given the name 'sensitive dependence on initial conditions'. In weather, for example, this translates into what is only half-jokingly referred to as the Butterfly Effect--the notion that a butterfly stirring the air today in Peking can transform storm systems next month in New York."

Trouble is, there are too many butterflies.

Steve Law said...

Ok - I see where you're coming from. This is not so much a rejection of reason per-se so much as not wanting to apply it to big complicated systems. It's perhaps not so much Chaos Theory (which does not say that you can't make viable predictions, only that it is a matter of probability rather than certainty)as The Law of Unintended Consequences, writ large. I have a lot of sympathy with your view but still can't bring myself to just sit back and let it go. Perhaps it's ultimately an ethical issue rather than an epistemological one. At any rate it's something that deserves a much fuller treatment. As usual, I have several entries in mind. Shall we leave it there?