Checking the the idea of “Privilege”

I noticed three articles this week on the theme of privilege and leftist ideology as religion.

One of my favorite public intellectuals, Jonathan Haidt, has a video in the Wall Street Journal (paywall)

Jonathan Haidt on the Cultural Roots of Campus Rage – “ An unorthodox professor explains the ‘new religion’ that drives the intolerance and violence at places like Middlebury and Berkeley.”

On Twitter, Peter Boghossian points out that he called this first, back in 2016:

Privilege: The Left’s Original Sin:

The concepts of Original Sin and privilege are identical except that they operate in different moral universes. In familiar religions, Original Sin is something you’re born with. It’s something you can’t escape. It’s something you can’t really do anything about – except be ashamed. It’s something you should confess and try to cleanse yourself of. It’s something that requires forgiveness, atonement, penitence, and work. It’s something, if you take it to heart, for which you will browbeat others.

For many contemporary left-situated activists, privilege occupies the same role in a religion of contemporary identity politics. There is no greater sin than having been born an able-bodied, straight, white male who identifies as a man but isn’t deeply sorry for this utterly unintentional state of affairs.

Finally, “The last thing on ‘privilege’ you’ll ever need to read” is a book review of Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s “The Perils of "Privilege": Why Injustice Can’t Be Solved by Accusing Others of Advantage”.

Criticality

I love discovering the correct name for a mental model. For years I was using the metaphor of supersaturated solution to describe a state I now know is called being “critical”:

“In physics we say a system is in a critical state when it is ripe for a phase transition. Consider water turning into ice, or a cloud that is pregnant with rain. Both of these are examples of physical systems in a critical state.

The dynamics of criticality, however, are not very intuitive. Consider the abruptness of freezing water. For an outside observer, there is no difference between cold water and water that is just about to freeze. This is because water that is just about to freeze is still liquid. Yet, microscopically, cold water and water that is about to freeze are not the same.

When close to freezing, water is populated by gazillions of tiny ice crystals, crystals that are so small that water remains liquid. But this is water in a critical state, a state in which any additional freezing will result in these crystals touching each other, generating the solid mesh we know as ice. Yet, the ice crystals that formed during the transition are infinitesimal. They are just the last straw. So, freezing cannot be considered the result of these last crystals. They only represent the instability needed to trigger the transition; the real cause of the transition is the criticality of the state.

But why should anyone outside statistical physics care about criticality?

The reason is that history is full of individual narratives that maybe should be interpreted in terms of critical phenomena.

Did Rosa Parks start the civil rights movement? Or was the movement already running in the minds of those who had been promised equality and were instead handed discrimination? Was the collapse of Lehman Brothers an essential trigger for the Great Recession? Or was the financial system so critical that any disturbance could have made the trick?”

From the 2017 Edge question “WHAT SCIENTIFIC TERM OR CONCEPT OUGHT TO BE MORE WIDELY KNOWN?

Links for December 24th 2016 through January 1st 2017

Scott Alexander on Nonfiction Writing

Scott writes the Slate Star Codex blog.

  1. Divide things into small chunks
  2. Variety is the spice of life (add images etc.)
  3. Keep your flow of ideas strong
  4. Learn what should and shouldn’t be repeated.
  5. Use microhumor
  6. Use concrete examples
  7. Figure out who you’re trying to convince, then use the right tribal signals
  8. Anticipate and defuse counterarguments
  9. Use strong concept handles
  10. Recognize that applying these rules will probably start disastrously

Details of the above at: http://slatestarcodex.com/2016/02/20/writing-advice/

 

Chaotic Nazi Germany

Something caught my eye in an article on The Logical Fallacies of History:

“Whilst it is true that Owens’ performance was indeed remarkable – he won four gold medals – he by no means spoiled the party for Hitler. The games provided him with the opportunity to showcase the organizational skills of his regime (which actually went against the grain, since Nazi Germany in many ways was run very chaotically).”

This is new to me. The stock cliche is that “Hitler made the trains run on time,” or maybe it was Mussolini? Anyway, both Germany and the Nazi war machine were notoriously orderly.  I want to look into this claim that they were run chaotically.

Hail the Maintainers

I am finally clearing out some old Instapaper articles. One that I really enjoyed was Andrew Russell’s examination of our civilizational obsession with “innovation” at the expense of maintenance and sustainable operability.

This is something we in cloud services learned fairly recently. Features are increasingly table stakes, fundamentals (e.g. availability, supportability, security, privacy, operability, maintainability, etc.) are the crucial differentiators.

Hail the Maintainers 

 

 

Tyranny and the Cloud

Only one thing worries me about the cloud: It facilitates state control because Cloud Computing reverses the decentralization (distribution) of computer power that heralded the internet. I think I got this fear from Cory Doctorow and his “The coming war on general computing.”

Anyway, maybe it is just a phase. Distributed Computing may very well be making a comeback as we see the end of Cloud Computing.

“World War III will be a global information war with no division between civilian and military participation.” -Marshal McLuhan