alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
A Civ-like game, but with a rather different focus, and a Message in the mechanics.

Mechanics of Production and Combat are present, but greatly simplified. Exploration and (peaceful) Expansion are NOT present. By the time the player gets here, all the good places to put cities have already been occupied. Research is not an issue, at least in the initial version.

The major focus of the game (both in theme and mechanics) is on Culture (with a sideline in Diplomacy, as that's strongly related). Military conquest is relatively straightforward, assuming greatly superior force. And the player will start the game with sufficient military force to easily conquer some of his immediate neighbors right away. The really interesting part is not the war itself, but the decisions that build to the war, and those in its immediate aftermath.

After you conquer an enemy city, you are given three choices: Genocide, Enslave, or Assimilate. Genocide is the simple way to take all their territory and physical infrastructure, but has the critical failing that you lose the potential population growth. Given the timescale of this game, population growth through breeding is a minimal factor at best; you really want to get conquered people working for you. The simple way to do THAT, is to Enslave. Slave workers, however, are not very efficient, and you also need to allocate a significant amount of your military to police functions, to keep the slaves in line. To get the FULL benefit of your increased population, you need to Assimilate them as citizens. This has its own difficulties, of course.

Most of the player’s actions outside of conquest consist of shaping the Culture of your civilization. Your Culture will have opinions, possibly strong ones, about Genocide versus Slavery versus Assimilation. They will have all sorts of other opinions as well, which may initially seem largely pointless, but which help define your cultural identity.

In the build up to a Conquest, one of the most crucial points is how your cultural identity compares with that of the target city. If you move your own Culture away from theirs, and paint them as completely barbaric, that gives your own soldiers bonus strength in combat, but makes it almost impossible to Assimilate the target afterwards. Conversely, if you try to make your culture similar to the target’s, your soldiers will be less enthusiastic about fighting, but Assimilation is far more possible, and will go more smoothly, afterwards.

Ultimately, the winning player is likely to be the one who has the largest definition of “us”, the most all-encompassing cultural identity. Though their soldiers are actually the least efficient, this is more than compensated for by the number and productivity of their workers.

My design goal is to demonstrate interactively both how demonizing the Other is an attractive short-term political strategy, and how EMBRACING the Other outperforms it in the long term.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
The Librarian paged through my day’s writing with one of his tentacles. Coming to the end, he turned his eye stalks back to me. “Very good, Nathaniel, this is exactly what we wanted. Now, as is traditional, I will spend a time interval answering some questions for you. What would you like to know?”

Previous times of answering had told me much about the strange situation I found myself in, but I still felt far from understanding. “I know that your race can travel through time. And I know that you have collected all the knowledge of the ages into this library. But I do not understand why. What is all this knowledge for? <lj-cut>

“Your question contains many unexamined assumptions which make it difficult to answer. I doubt we can conclude within one time interval. However, we can at least begin.

“You say that we “collect all knowledge”. This is not so. “Knowledge” is, like most words, imprecise. Let us first address the meaning “data; facts”. To collect all data would be impossible, redundant, and worthless. Your philosopher Lewis Carroll has a story about a map which is exactly the same size as the territory it depicts. Such a map saves no space, nor can it be unfolded without covering up the very territory that it describes.

“To the people of my own race, who can move our perceptions through space and time, there is no need to collect data. All the data is accessible at once. It does not need to be collected, it is merely necessary to look when we need a piece of data.

“What matters is not raw data, but summaries. Everything that matters is a summary. A scientific equation summarizes many pieces of raw data. A book summarizes some of the accumulated wisdom of the author. Even your sense data is not a direct reflection of the universe, but a processed summary presented by your sense organs to your brain. And a library summarizes a culture.

“What makes a summary valuable is the very fact that it leaves out things, that it is more concise than the raw data that went into its making.

“A human writer approached this idea a few decades after your home time in a story called “The Library of Babel”. He conceived of a library which contained every possible book, formed of every possible combination of letters. This library, however, was useless. The vast majority of possible books are mere gibberish. Of those which have any degree of sense, there is no way to easily tell which are true, which are false, or even which are indeterminate.

“We, the Great Librarians, enact the construction of libraries which are, to the best of our ability, true and useful summaries.

“You and I are part of The Library of Sol, which summarizes the history of this solar system and all the varied planets and cultures which have been (or will be) a part of it. But we are just a small branch library. We primarily exist to answer questions submitted by researchers of the Milky Way Library. And they, in their turn, exist to answer questions submitted by Librarians of a yet higher order, and so on.

“There are rumors and myths among us about the nature of the Universal Library, and what questions it serves to answer, but I doubt that any of them are true.”
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
A recent post from [livejournal.com profile] siderea included the sentence The whole Protestant work ethic thing is based on the notion that you can tell where you stand in God's eyes (and your neighbors') by how "prosperous" you are. This reminded me of some thoughts I’ve been wanting to write about for a while now.

A year and a half ago, when it dawned on me just how much my colleague Shane was willing to commit to our joint project, I had an unusual (for me) set of reactions. Gratitude, of course, but also a sense of disbelief and unworthiness, mixed with wonder. I was deeply grateful that it was happening, but I did not (at that time) understand WHY, nor did I understand what was going on inside my own emotional world.

As I struggled to find language to express these feelings, I kept returning to phrases like “blessed” and “by grace of God”. As a near-lifelong atheist, I noticed something odd was going on. I was experiencing emotions that didn’t seem to map to any prior models EXCEPT explicitly religious ones. This didn’t actually change my (non-)belief in God, but I do recall thinking “THIS is what they mean when they talk about ‘grace’.”

Then, being who I am, I integrated this into my existing moral framework with reference to a 20-year-old computer game :-)

From the mid-80s to the early 90s, the Ultima series of computer games spent an unprecedented (and never-yet-repeated) amount of effort on mixing gameplay with serious explorations of moral systems. These explorations were in many ways very limited, but the degree of engagement caused by mixing them with interactive game systems led to some uniquely powerful lessons. For me, anyway.

1992’s Ultima 7, the last one to deal with morality in any organized way, had one particularly cogent lesson.U7 introduced a new religion to the fantasy world, called The Fellowship. The Fellowship would ultimately turn out to be bad guys. Their moral principles had been carefully designed to make intuitive sense on a cursory reading, but to have distinctly regressive effects when actually put into practice.

One of The Fellowship’s principles was “Worthiness Precedes Reward”. Humans (primates) are hardwired to seek out “fairness”, even when we have to invent it. When positively valenced, this finds expression in ideas like “I worked hard to get where I am today” and “self-made man”. But it has a darker side as well. “You brought this on yourself.” “You must’ve been asking for it.” And so on…

This brings us back to where we started, with the Protestant work ethic. If you are poor, sick, or otherwise disadvantaged AND we live in a “fair” universe, then you must DESERVE to be in such a state. (And those who are better off, of course, have no reason to help you out.)

Of course, despite what our primate wiring would have us believe, the universe is NOT fair, not even close. Yes, there is such a thing as cause-and-effect, but the web of causality is so interconnected and complex that that really isn’t any help. Unfair stuff happens all the time.

I had been used to thinking about the unfairness of the universe when BAD things happened to me, but it was new to me to realize so viscerally how, sometimes, the unfairness could happen in a GOOD way. We are stuck with the bad breaks and no way to avoid them. When unreasonably GOOD things happen, we must accept this as well – with “Grace”.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I forgot to mention another classic media example: _Sophie's Choice_.

Also relevant, the classic Douglas Adams parable of the lizards:

“On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards and the lizards rule the people.”

“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”

“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”

“So,” said Arthur, hoping he wasn’t sounding ridiculously obtuse, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”

“It honestly doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they all pretty much assume that the government they’ve voted in more or less approximates to the government they want.”

“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”

“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”

“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”

“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.”
Over on FaceBook, [livejournal.com profile] rickthefightguy commented:
I am no longer in favor of a blanket minimum wage. I now favor a maximum differential between total income of highest-paid capitalist and lowest-paid worker involved in any company. Something like 50:1. So if you want to increase your annual increase in real income by a half a million, that's cool. Just increase all of your lowest-paid employees' annual take by $10K each. If on the other hand, you really _are_ just scraping by and making a tiny profit yourself, you can try to get people to work for you at a pretty low wage.
The 'maximum differential' idea is a nice one, and I am in favor of companies adopting it. But as a regulatory solution it leaves much to be desired. One flaw is obliquely noted in Rick's comment by his use of the phrase "real income". Good luck defining that one in a non-exploitable way. Also, the definition of "company" would become (more) fraught. Already, the company I work for doesn't "employ" janitors or security guards; we hire the services of another company to handle that for us. Though my company is large and global, it wouldn't take much paper-shuffling to transform it technically into 25 or more different companies with a wide variety of pay scales, who happen to contract/outsource work between themselves.

When I said "I support minimum wage laws", I mean that I support them in the same sense I support Obamacare. It's a clunky, awkward solution that completely ignores the possibility of simpler, more efficient (and more just) solutions -- but it is a solution that is achievable in the current political climate.

I think that, for both health and 'minimum wage', the *best* solution is actually a socialist one. The government guarantees the health and (basic) welfare of all citizens. Lose all the bureacracy about judging who is "eligible" for these benefits, and the savings are so large that you can afford to just give them to whoever asks. The vast majority of people would still work, either for personal satisfaction, or to improve their lot above subsistence level. And in that situation, you don't need a minimum wage law, because *all* wages are gravy, and the employees aren't being driven by desperation. Not that I expect to live long enough to see American politics move that far from "Communist == Evil" :-(
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
I have many libertarian friends, and have, at times, described myself as a "small-l libertarian". All else being equal, I'd like to keep government small and simple. Of course, all else is *not* equal in anything other than theory-land.

I have heard many of these friends in conversation with other, non-libertarian friends on the subject of things like minimum wage laws and abusive workplaces. A frequent line taken by the libertarian side is that providing people choices is always good; while 'bad' jobs may be unsafe or pay poorly, they are demonstrably better than the available alternatives, which is why people take them, and are thus a net good.

Something about that argument has long struck me as mistaken, and I think I now have a handle on an important piece of it. I think that "providing people more choices is always good" is actually mistaken. It is *usually* good, and makes a good rule of thumb, but I don't think it stands as a universal principle. And the ways in which it fails are, I think, instructive.

My first example of this is (I think) a morally neutral one. Some years back, I came up with a meta-strategy for how to optimize my chances when playing any competitive game that I wasn't yet skilled at. If I can't see any other way to differentiate between two options I have, pick the one which gives my *opponent* the most possible choices on his next move. If I *force* his next move, then, being forced, it must be the best possible move. But if my opponent has *many* choices, then some will be better than the others, and he may choose badly. Hence, I, personally, have long experience with "providing people more choices" being an *aggressive* act, not a helpful one. This is one of the traditional ways in which economic arguments fail: the presumption that humans are rational actors. In fact, people often make sub-optimal choices, and clever/evil people will exploit that.

Consider a fictional trope I've seen used in a few different places: Hero gains power over evil child-murdering Villain; Hero handcuffs Villain to something metal, hands him a hacksaw, sets the building on fire; Hero informs Villain that he doesn't have time to saw through the metal, but *does* have time to saw through his own arm, then walks away. This setup does interestingly complex things to the moral structure of the story. The Hero can say, "I didn't kill him; I left him in a situation he could have escaped from. Likewise, I didn't torture and maim him. Whatever happened to him, he *chose* to happen." Moral culpability is shifted from the Hero onto the Villain, because the Villain "had a choice". This is never actually stated out loud, because if it was, people might notice the obvious moral failings of such a stance. The situation the Villain is in is entirely of the Hero's arranging; there would otherwise be no threat of death *or* torture. So (I think) regardless of which "choice" the Villain makes, the Hero remains culpable for the outcome. But the Hero (and the audience) rarely seem to do that level of analysis, remaining happy with the simplistic surface absolvement of the Hero's responsibility. [See also the recent XKCD, where he states: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can make me think I deserved it."]

This trope has been extended in popular culture through the "Saw" films and "The Dark Knight" (among others), featuring stories where characters are deliberately put into agonizing "choice" situations, which they can allegedly survive only by doing something physically or morally traumatizing. It is parodied neatly in "Cabin in the Woods", where the protagonists are placed in a position where they must "choose" their "punishment" (not even aware that they are doing so), overlooking the fact that they were heavily manipulated into their "sins" by the manipulator/voyeurs in the first place.

These examples are all fictional, and exaggerated, but I think the basic principle applies to at least some real-world situations. A sweatshop owner/manager may not have *created* the crushing poverty that makes his dangerous and ill-paid employment seem like a step up for the locals -- but he is still responsible for the poor conditions of the employment that he creates. Though, as with both characters and audiences above, he is usually able to *tell* himself that he bears no such responsibility, so long as he doesn't examine it too closely.

For that matter, it is not necessary for the businessman's success that he *actually* provide life-improvement for the potential employees, only that they *believe* that it will do so. Given the power and information imbalances involved, propaganda will often be cheaper than actual improvements. [See also the recent XKCD: "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can make me think I deserved it."] A business driven purely by profit motive (and as short-sighted as most are these days) will naturally pay as little as they can get away with and spend as little as possible on infrastructure.

So, yes, I support minimum wage and workplace safety laws.
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Western thought has a long history of mind-body dualism. I don't believe it's actually *true* in any meaningful sense, but I certainly do see the appeal. Like many of my peers, one of my early role models was Spock, with his (claimed) ability to be "in control of [his] emotions".

When the arm aches start up, I feel a strong desire to deny that pain, to separate it from me. My arm is in pain, but that is not part of the Essential Self, and should be able to be ignored. But then it *twinges*, and *I* *HURT*, in a way impossible to deny.
alexxkay: (Default)
I recently read something worth sharing. It's a bit from the end of "Arkfall", by Carolyn Ives Gilman. The story as a whole was good-but-not-great, partly because the bit at the end was too much like a pat Moral. On the other hand, it was really well put, and so I share it:

"I've decided you Bennites have something here, with these arks, this autopoiesis thing."

"It's not a new idea," Osaji said. It was, in fact, as old as life.

"No, but it's a better idea than you realize. Permeable membranes, that's the key: a constant exchange between outside and in. You've got to let the world leak in, and let yourself flow out into the nutrient bath around you. You've got to let in ideas, and observations, and . . . well, affection . . . or you become hard and dead inside. Life is all about having a permeable self--not so you're unclear who you are, but so you overlap a little with others on the edges."

Osaji was too surprised to say anything. She could not imagine anyone less permeable than Jack. But as she thought about it, and herself, she said hesitantly, "Some people are too permeable. They spend their lives trying to flow out, and never take in nutrient for themselves. They end up thin and empty inside."

alexxkay: (Default)
There's a book that was on my Wish List for a while, and [livejournal.com profile] herooftheage got it for me for Christmas: _The Ethics of Computer Games_, by Miguel Sicart. I've been reading it snippets, as my 'book to read during meals if [livejournal.com profile] kestrell isn't around'. So, this morning, the first words which presented themselves to my eyes were:
The ludic hermeneutic circle operates as a layered interpretational moral process, which starts with the becoming of the player and goes through a series of interpretative stages that conclude in the development of the ludic phronesis.
The scary part is that I understood it... (Approximately: "Games, players, and game communities influence each other in ways that lead to players understanding how they should play the game.")

Tom asked me to let him know if the book was any good. Well, I feel I am getting some value out of it -- but man, it's a slog. I can't really recommend it, unless you happen to have that rare intersection of interests: games and academic philosophy.
alexxkay: (Default)
I posted detailed notes about this talk when I got back from GDC, but I just found out that the full video is on-line, and I *highly* recommend watching it. Even if you're not a gamer, this has lots to say about, well, being a human being.

“Train: or How I dumped Electricity And Learned to Love Design”

(If it doesn't load the first time, try again later. Really.)
alexxkay: (Bar Harbor)
Inspired by the recent movie-viewing, I reread _The Strange Case of Doctor Jeckyl and Mister Hyde_. Some observations follow.

None of the film adaptations have really portrayed the moral weakness of the character as written. Film Jeckyls are all basically working from good intentions, with the creation of Hyde being an unfortunate accident. In the book, Jeckyl deliberately sets out to unleash Hyde.
If each, I told myself, could but be housed in separate identities, life would be relieved of all that was unbearable; the unjust might go his way, delivered from the aspirations and remorse of his more upright twin; and the just could walk steadfastly and securely on his upward path, doing the good things in which he found his pleasure, and no longer exposed to disgrace and penitence by the hands of this extraneous evil.
(emphasis added)

Ok, granted, he also wanted (or claimed to want) to create an angelic self -- but in this, he failed utterly, as he himself realizes.
...although I had now two characters as well as two appearances, one was wholly evil, and the other was still the old Henry Jekyll, that incongruous compound of whose reformation and improvement I had already learned to despair. The movement was thus wholly toward the worse.

There is no mention of any further attempt to create an angel-self. Instead, Jeckyl indulges his Hyde-self to an ever-increasing degree. Unlike most movie versions, he does this while in full control of his faculties, and with each side having clear memories of the other's actions. Though he is thus fully culpable for Hyde, hear how he struggles, ineffectually, to distance himself from his own evil:
When I would come back from these excursions, I was often plunged into a kind of wonder at my vicarious depravity. This familiar that I called out of my own soul, and sent forth to do his good pleasure, was a being inherently malign and villainous; his every act and thought centered on self; drinking pleasure with bestial avidity from one degree of torture to another; relentless like a man of stone. Henry Jekyll stood at times aghast before the acts of Edward Hyde; but the situation was apart from ordinary laws, and insidiously relaxed the grasp of conscience. It was Hyde, after all, and Hyde alone, that was guilty. Jekyll was no worse; he woke again to his good qualities seemingly unimpaired; he would even make haste, where it was possible, to undo the evil done by Hyde. And thus his conscience slumbered.


I note that Jeckyl and Hyde are *very* physically distinct in the book, much moreso than could be portrayed by a single actor, no matter how much makeup he wears. (And there are definite thematic drawbacks to using two actors.) But we now have not just makeup, but CGI and motion-capture. It might be interesting if someone applied techniques such as those used in the last several Robert Zemeckis films to an adaptation of this story. One actor could provide voice and movement for both J&H, while being 'projected' into two radically different bodies.

This line of thought is also inspired by the reactions everyone in the novel have to Hyde. Those reactions bear a strong resemblance to those caused by The Uncanny Valley. Of course, one would want the technical art to have progressed to the point that *only* Hyde was situated in that valley!
alexxkay: (Default)
Speaking of Terry Pratchett, he has made a quite moving personal statement in favor of assisted suicide (although he doesn't care for that term). There's a short article with some political context and a summary of Pratchett's statement, but they've printed the entirety of that statement further down the page. Well worth reading.
alexxkay: (Default)
Fascinating discussion going on over here about convention structure in general, and Readercon in specific. Lots of talk about what various types of panel structures either encourage or discourage. I asked a question asking for more data that started a sub-thread.
"discouraging small or individual book conversations among people who are not panelists"

I am not aware of any convention that has mechanisms in place to encourage such conversations, nor do I have any clear notion what such mechanisms might be. I'd be interested in having this ignorance corrected, if you know of any examples.
A bunch of examples were provided, though none of them seemed close enough for me to easily check them out.

The more I think about this, though, the more I realize that my problems with various panels don't *seem* (to me) to have anything to do with structure.

When I go to a panel, I want to hear interesting, non-annoying people talk. "Interesting" can include any of the following: Informative, Witty, Insightful. Conversely, "Annoying" includes things like: Pompous, Sexist, Self-absorbed. Qualities like Rambling and Off-Topic can be positive or negative, depending on what other qualities they are paired with.

The problem, then, is to give the Interesting people lots of time to speak, while squelching the Annoying ones. Unfortunately, 'being on a panel' is only weakly correlated with this divide. Someone on a panel is *slightly* more likely to be interesting, whereas an audience member is *slightly* more likely to be annoying -- but there have been plenty of times when an audience member proved more interesting than a panelist. Indeed, it was the feeling that *I* was more interesting than some panelists that prompted me to start being a panelist at Arisia.

The one significant thing on the panelists' side (to me, as a consumer) is that I can (eventually) have some advance knowledge of what they are likely to be like. I know that any panel with at least two of Greer Gilman, Faye Ringel, and Sonya Taafe (sp?), is going to be entertaining. I have identified a few people who (naming no names) will reliably piss me off if I attend a panel they are on. Audience members, on the other hand, are catch-as-catch-can.

Is there any structural way to promote Interest, and reduce Annoyance? I can't think of one off hand. Strong moderation is one approach, but that can fail drastically when the moderator himself turns out to be Annoying. Further discussion welcomed.
alexxkay: (Default)
Reposting this in my own LJ by request, adapted from comment threads elsewhere.

Many of my friends deplore the anti-gay-marriage protesters. They frequently say things like, "There is no reason for them to worry so much about what other people do. What we do has no impact on them. So why are they irrationally fighting us so much?"

Actually, it's not irrational at all. While acceptance of gay marriage may not *directly* impact anyone else's marriage, it *does* undermine the axioms which their whole world-view (including, but not limited to, the nature of marriage) is based on.

This is a long article talking about what I mean. It's well worth reading all of, but here's two key excerpts:
Same-sex marriage. The husband/father and wife/mother roles in the Inherited Obligation model are timeless, unchangeable, and necessary. Someone has to be the husband/father and someone has to be the wife/mother. Same-sex couples just can’t cover both roles, no matter how well-intentioned they may be.

But no comparable difficulty exists in the Negotiated Commitment model. A child has needs, and the parents have to negotiate a plan to meet those needs. Whether the parents are a mixed-sex couple or a same-sex couple - or even a single parent with a lot of committed friends - the problem is the same.

If the government recognizes same-sex marriages and same-sex couples as parents, then it is tacitly siding with the Negotiated Commitment model of marriage and parenthood, and undermining the Inherited Obligation model. This is why conservatives believe that marriage needs to be “defended” from same-sex relationships. But from the Negotiated Commitment point of view, “defense of marriage” is nonsense. How a same-sex couple negotiates its relationship has no effect on the negotiated relationships of mixed-sex couples.


Should We Just Give Up?

As I have discussed these ideas with my friends, surprisingly often they jump to the conclusion that I’m advocating surrender. “So what are saying? That they’re right? What do you want us to do, give up?”

Not at all. But I am saying that we have to drop our self-image as nice guys. The mere fact that people think I’m advocating surrender demonstrates just how attached we are to that image. It’s comforting to think that we only want what’s best for everybody, and that the only reason people oppose us is because they’re stupid. But it’s not true.

Liberals have a vision of how the world should be. I believe in that vision. It is a fairer, more just world than has ever existed before. It is better adjusted to the realities of modern life. And it is, in my opinion, the only vision of the future that does not eventually lead to competing fundamentalisms fighting a world war.

But no matter how peaceful and good our vision is, eggs will be broken to make our omelet. Eggs have already been broken. We need to take responsibility for that. And we can’t expect people with cartons of half-broken eggs to simply shrug and let us do our thing.
alexxkay: (Default)
Reposting this in my own LJ by request, adapted from comment threads elsewhere.

Many of my friends deplore the anti-gay-marriage protesters. They frequently say things like, "There is no reason for them to worry so much about what other people do. What we do has no impact on them. So why are they irrationally fighting us so much?"

Actually, it's not irrational at all. While acceptance of gay marriage may not *directly* impact anyone else's marriage, it *does* undermine the axioms which their whole world-view (including, but not limited to, the nature of marriage) is based on.

This is a long article talking about what I mean. It's well worth reading all of, but here's two key excerpts:
Same-sex marriage. The husband/father and wife/mother roles in the Inherited Obligation model are timeless, unchangeable, and necessary. Someone has to be the husband/father and someone has to be the wife/mother. Same-sex couples just can’t cover both roles, no matter how well-intentioned they may be.

But no comparable difficulty exists in the Negotiated Commitment model. A child has needs, and the parents have to negotiate a plan to meet those needs. Whether the parents are a mixed-sex couple or a same-sex couple - or even a single parent with a lot of committed friends - the problem is the same.

If the government recognizes same-sex marriages and same-sex couples as parents, then it is tacitly siding with the Negotiated Commitment model of marriage and parenthood, and undermining the Inherited Obligation model. This is why conservatives believe that marriage needs to be “defended” from same-sex relationships. But from the Negotiated Commitment point of view, “defense of marriage” is nonsense. How a same-sex couple negotiates its relationship has no effect on the negotiated relationships of mixed-sex couples.


Should We Just Give Up?

As I have discussed these ideas with my friends, surprisingly often they jump to the conclusion that I’m advocating surrender. “So what are saying? That they’re right? What do you want us to do, give up?”

Not at all. But I am saying that we have to drop our self-image as nice guys. The mere fact that people think I’m advocating surrender demonstrates just how attached we are to that image. It’s comforting to think that we only want what’s best for everybody, and that the only reason people oppose us is because they’re stupid. But it’s not true.

Liberals have a vision of how the world should be. I believe in that vision. It is a fairer, more just world than has ever existed before. It is better adjusted to the realities of modern life. And it is, in my opinion, the only vision of the future that does not eventually lead to competing fundamentalisms fighting a world war.

But no matter how peaceful and good our vision is, eggs will be broken to make our omelet. Eggs have already been broken. We need to take responsibility for that. And we can’t expect people with cartons of half-broken eggs to simply shrug and let us do our thing.
alexxkay: (Default)
[This post is inspired by several interactions with various people over the past few months. If you think it is About You, you may be right, but only partially. (Unless you're me. Me, me, me, it's all about me!)]

Sometimes one person says something which is misunderstood by someone else. Often, in such cases, bad feelings result. I've been musing on this a lot lately. Is it useful to assign blame in such cases? What can be done to minimize them? Or at least to minimize the damage that happens when they occur?

Some things that I believe:
I. People should state what they mean as clearly as they can manage.
Ia. People should not say false things.
Ib, People should not say deliberately hurtful things.
II. People are responsible for their own reactions.

Point II is subtle, and worth going into more detail about. My mom (after years of therapy) used to occasionally say that a given thing made her uncomfortable, but that she "owned" that feeling. That is, she acknowledged that the feeling originated within herself, and that the exterior stimulus was not to blame for her reaction to it.

Some people may think that this attitude is unfair. "Isn't this just blaming the victim?" I don't think so. English is inherently ambiguous. Despite the best efforts at clarity (I), sometimes there will be failures. As long as what was said was neither false (Ia), nor deliberately hurtful (Ib), I think that any negative reaction on the part of the listener rightfully belongs to the listener themselves. Or to put things another way, to whom *would* you cede authority over your own emotions? And under what circumstances? It seems to me distinctly unhealthy to assign responsibility for one's own emotional state to anyone but oneself.

It has been stated, by people whose opinions I generally respect, that there is a further principle that should be followed: "Ic. People should not cause offence." But, to me, this is fundamentally incompatible with Principle II. Which is not to say that there is not a fuzzy middle ground. While I cannot *control*, or be completely *responsible for* a listener's reactions, I can, with a greater or lesser expectation of success, *predict* those reactions. Indeed, Principle Ib is fundamentally based on such predictions. I cannot *know* what will be hurtful, but it is incumbent upon me to make my best guess.

So, how much responsibility *do* I have to guess my listeners' mental state(s)? As a reductio ad absurdum, I clearly cannot fully and correctly model their mental state at all times -- even were such a thing possible in theory, doing so for even one person would leave me no room to think thoughts of my own. So clearly I must use simple approximations as my mental models of other people.

In practice, the detail of these mental models varies widely. Here's a list of some mental models I have, in increasing order of detail and complexity.
A random human being.
A typical citizen of Japan.
A typical citizen of England.
A typical citizen of the USA.
A distant family member.
A typical Bostonian.
A typical Carolingian.
A casual friend.
A co-worker of several years.
A close friend.
An ex-girlfriend.
A close family member.
A really close friend I have been close to for decades.
[livejournal.com profile] kestrell.

My mental model of [livejournal.com profile] kestrell happens to be at least one, if not two orders of magnitude more complex than the next most detailed. I've known her almost a decade now, and for most of that time I've been deeply invested in making her happy. For purely selfish motives -- her happiness makes me happy in turn! Hence, it's very important to me to predict her reactions to the best of my ability. And that ability is notably deficient; I still occasionally offend her without meaning to. The frequency is dropping as I improve, but perfetion seems likely to be unattainable.

So if I unwittingly give offense to you, it is only because I don't understand you well enough. Of course, some people may take that as further cause for offence: "What?!? You think me unimportant enough that you haven't studied all my nuances in depth and memorized them!" To which I can only shrug sheepishly and reply, "Yeah, fair cop." You're welcome to try and convince me that understanding you *should* matter more to me -- but at the moment, it clearly doesn't, and I'm OK with that.
alexxkay: (Default)
[This post is inspired by several interactions with various people over the past few months. If you think it is About You, you may be right, but only partially. (Unless you're me. Me, me, me, it's all about me!)]

Sometimes one person says something which is misunderstood by someone else. Often, in such cases, bad feelings result. I've been musing on this a lot lately. Is it useful to assign blame in such cases? What can be done to minimize them? Or at least to minimize the damage that happens when they occur?

Some things that I believe:
I. People should state what they mean as clearly as they can manage.
Ia. People should not say false things.
Ib, People should not say deliberately hurtful things.
II. People are responsible for their own reactions.

Point II is subtle, and worth going into more detail about. My mom (after years of therapy) used to occasionally say that a given thing made her uncomfortable, but that she "owned" that feeling. That is, she acknowledged that the feeling originated within herself, and that the exterior stimulus was not to blame for her reaction to it.

Some people may think that this attitude is unfair. "Isn't this just blaming the victim?" I don't think so. English is inherently ambiguous. Despite the best efforts at clarity (I), sometimes there will be failures. As long as what was said was neither false (Ia), nor deliberately hurtful (Ib), I think that any negative reaction on the part of the listener rightfully belongs to the listener themselves. Or to put things another way, to whom *would* you cede authority over your own emotions? And under what circumstances? It seems to me distinctly unhealthy to assign responsibility for one's own emotional state to anyone but oneself.

It has been stated, by people whose opinions I generally respect, that there is a further principle that should be followed: "Ic. People should not cause offence." But, to me, this is fundamentally incompatible with Principle II. Which is not to say that there is not a fuzzy middle ground. While I cannot *control*, or be completely *responsible for* a listener's reactions, I can, with a greater or lesser expectation of success, *predict* those reactions. Indeed, Principle Ib is fundamentally based on such predictions. I cannot *know* what will be hurtful, but it is incumbent upon me to make my best guess.

So, how much responsibility *do* I have to guess my listeners' mental state(s)? As a reductio ad absurdum, I clearly cannot fully and correctly model their mental state at all times -- even were such a thing possible in theory, doing so for even one person would leave me no room to think thoughts of my own. So clearly I must use simple approximations as my mental models of other people.

In practice, the detail of these mental models varies widely. Here's a list of some mental models I have, in increasing order of detail and complexity.
A random human being.
A typical citizen of Japan.
A typical citizen of England.
A typical citizen of the USA.
A distant family member.
A typical Bostonian.
A typical Carolingian.
A casual friend.
A co-worker of several years.
A close friend.
An ex-girlfriend.
A close family member.
A really close friend I have been close to for decades.
[livejournal.com profile] kestrell.

My mental model of [livejournal.com profile] kestrell happens to be at least one, if not two orders of magnitude more complex than the next most detailed. I've known her almost a decade now, and for most of that time I've been deeply invested in making her happy. For purely selfish motives -- her happiness makes me happy in turn! Hence, it's very important to me to predict her reactions to the best of my ability. And that ability is notably deficient; I still occasionally offend her without meaning to. The frequency is dropping as I improve, but perfetion seems likely to be unattainable.

So if I unwittingly give offense to you, it is only because I don't understand you well enough. Of course, some people may take that as further cause for offence: "What?!? You think me unimportant enough that you haven't studied all my nuances in depth and memorized them!" To which I can only shrug sheepishly and reply, "Yeah, fair cop." You're welcome to try and convince me that understanding you *should* matter more to me -- but at the moment, it clearly doesn't, and I'm OK with that.
alexxkay: (Default)
Imagine that you want to build a robot designed to climb to the highest mountain in the world. Sadly, due to budget constraints, you can only build in very limited senses for this robot. He has an altimeter, to sense his current height, and he has an arm about a yard long, with which he can feel the area immediately surrounding him. How do you program this robot?
The simple answer is as follows:
1. Look all around myself.
2. Figure out what direction slopes up the most from here.
3. Move a few feet in that direction.
4. Repeat.

This method works moderately well, but is subject to one major problem -- it can easily get trapped at a local maximum. Once the robot is at a peak, so that *every* direction slopes down, it will never leave that peak -- even if it's merely a small outcropping near a much taller mountain.

This imagery comes from a Computer Science course I took many years ago, as a problem in search theory. But I have found it to be a useful metaphor for much of life. If you take 'height' as 'happiness' and the 'short robot arm' as 'our limited ability to predict the future', this mountain-climbing robot suddenly stands in for the human condition. We always want to make ourselves happier, but our limited vision often makes it hard for us to do so.

Humans are especially susceptible to the Local Maximum problem. It is common for people to arrive at a state of happiness which cannot be trivially improved. At that point, *any* significant change will make you less happy. But that doesn't mean that there isn't greater happiness *available* -- just that you have to wander through some low-happiness regions to find any that are out there.

So, when you find yourself at a local maximum, you can ask yourself "Am I happy *enough*?" If you are, of course, that's wonderful. But it's sadly common for people to be trapped at a local maximum that's only mediocre -- or actively bad. Such people are often reluctant to initiate changes, because any change will make things, at least in the short term, even *worse*.
Scarier, there's no guarantee that you *will* find a higher balance point any time soon, or even at all. But without such dangerous exploration, you're guaranteed to stay where you are.

This applies to romantic relationships, career choices, living conditions -- all sorts of fields. I've found it a useful lens to look at the world through. I hope you do too.
alexxkay: (Default)
Imagine that you want to build a robot designed to climb to the highest mountain in the world. Sadly, due to budget constraints, you can only build in very limited senses for this robot. He has an altimeter, to sense his current height, and he has an arm about a yard long, with which he can feel the area immediately surrounding him. How do you program this robot?
The simple answer is as follows:
1. Look all around myself.
2. Figure out what direction slopes up the most from here.
3. Move a few feet in that direction.
4. Repeat.

This method works moderately well, but is subject to one major problem -- it can easily get trapped at a local maximum. Once the robot is at a peak, so that *every* direction slopes down, it will never leave that peak -- even if it's merely a small outcropping near a much taller mountain.

This imagery comes from a Computer Science course I took many years ago, as a problem in search theory. But I have found it to be a useful metaphor for much of life. If you take 'height' as 'happiness' and the 'short robot arm' as 'our limited ability to predict the future', this mountain-climbing robot suddenly stands in for the human condition. We always want to make ourselves happier, but our limited vision often makes it hard for us to do so.

Humans are especially susceptible to the Local Maximum problem. It is common for people to arrive at a state of happiness which cannot be trivially improved. At that point, *any* significant change will make you less happy. But that doesn't mean that there isn't greater happiness *available* -- just that you have to wander through some low-happiness regions to find any that are out there.

So, when you find yourself at a local maximum, you can ask yourself "Am I happy *enough*?" If you are, of course, that's wonderful. But it's sadly common for people to be trapped at a local maximum that's only mediocre -- or actively bad. Such people are often reluctant to initiate changes, because any change will make things, at least in the short term, even *worse*.
Scarier, there's no guarantee that you *will* find a higher balance point any time soon, or even at all. But without such dangerous exploration, you're guaranteed to stay where you are.

This applies to romantic relationships, career choices, living conditions -- all sorts of fields. I've found it a useful lens to look at the world through. I hope you do too.
alexxkay: (Default)
I recently reread Shakespeare's Henry V. As with all the best stories, it has grown with me; coming to it a different man, I see different qualities within it. Three main observations this time.

1) I did not recall I.i. as being such naked politicking. And it's more relevant today than ever. One could easily cast it in modern terms.

CEO A: Congress is saying that our industry has too much money, and they're trying to nationalize us.

CEO B: Damn Commies! What does the President think about it.

CEO A: He could go either way on this. But I think I've worked out a way to get him solidly on our side. First, I've had my lawyers work out a casus belli for that war he's been wanting to have.

CEO B: I dunno, isn't that a little thin?

CEO A: Hey, we're the experts here, people will trust us. Second, we offer up a bribe of $BIGNUM to 'help the war effort', all patriotic-like.

CEO B: (whistles) That's a lot of money.

CEO A: Yeah, but it's just a one-time payment. If it gets him to leave our *business* intact, it's a bargain for us. It'll pay for itself in no time.

2) My goodness, Hal is a total moral coward. Brave enough in physical terms, but terrified of responsibility. First he tells the clergy that the moral responsibility for the war is theirs (which they readily accept). Next, he tells the French Herald that the Dauphin's insults caused the war (patently untrue). In Southhampton, he manipulates the traitors into effectively pronouncing their own sentences, so he doesn't have to feel guilty about it. At Harfleur, he tells the town that, if they don't surrender, he won't be responsible for the rapine and slaughter that will follow.

And, of course, in his disguised wanderings the night before Agincourt, he argues vehemently that the King is not responsible for the deaths of his soldiers.

Even in victory, he can't bring himself to take credit, but leaves it all up to God.

3) I see a message in this play which I never saw before: Trust no one.

In practically every scene, people say things which are clearly untrue. I'm not just talking about outright lies, either. Mistakes, misunderstandings, and malapropisms are at least as prominent. And those which are lies come in every shade, from polite white lies all the way to high treason.

Even the Prologue is not exempt. He spends his whole second speech talking about "Now let us go to Southampton. Look, here we are in Southampton. Southhampton, Southampton, Southampton!" And the curtain rises on... London. At first I thought this a careless error on Will's part (or his editors'), but looking back, I saw how it fit into the general theme.

The matter of the Agincourt prisoners is also of interest here. Three scene-lets pass in quick succession. In the first, Hal says (approximately) "The French are getting reinforcements, so tell everyone to kill their prisoners." Then, we see soldiers discussing the slaughter of the boys at the baggage cart, and claiming that *that* caused Hal to order the prisoners slain. Then the scene shifts back again to Hal, who clearly has *just now* heard about the slaughter of the boys. To confuse matters further, he then asks how many prisoners were taken, with an implication (to me, at least) that they weren't executed after all!

The soaring rhetoric that the play is famous for is no less full of misspeaking. As already mentioned, Hal's speech to the French Herald in I.ii. is, at base, a lie. When he tells "we happy few" that whoever fights with him "shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,/ This day shall gentle his condition" he is again lying, as the post-battle scene with Pistol clearly demonstrates. Even when the words sound sweet, don't trust them.

No significant character in the play is without notable errors or lies. No one can be fully trusted. Perhaps God can, but he doesn't actually say anything in the play; his earthly representatives don't seem especially trustworthy.
alexxkay: (Default)
I recently reread Shakespeare's Henry V. As with all the best stories, it has grown with me; coming to it a different man, I see different qualities within it. Three main observations this time.

1) I did not recall I.i. as being such naked politicking. And it's more relevant today than ever. One could easily cast it in modern terms.

CEO A: Congress is saying that our industry has too much money, and they're trying to nationalize us.

CEO B: Damn Commies! What does the President think about it.

CEO A: He could go either way on this. But I think I've worked out a way to get him solidly on our side. First, I've had my lawyers work out a casus belli for that war he's been wanting to have.

CEO B: I dunno, isn't that a little thin?

CEO A: Hey, we're the experts here, people will trust us. Second, we offer up a bribe of $BIGNUM to 'help the war effort', all patriotic-like.

CEO B: (whistles) That's a lot of money.

CEO A: Yeah, but it's just a one-time payment. If it gets him to leave our *business* intact, it's a bargain for us. It'll pay for itself in no time.

2) My goodness, Hal is a total moral coward. Brave enough in physical terms, but terrified of responsibility. First he tells the clergy that the moral responsibility for the war is theirs (which they readily accept). Next, he tells the French Herald that the Dauphin's insults caused the war (patently untrue). In Southhampton, he manipulates the traitors into effectively pronouncing their own sentences, so he doesn't have to feel guilty about it. At Harfleur, he tells the town that, if they don't surrender, he won't be responsible for the rapine and slaughter that will follow.

And, of course, in his disguised wanderings the night before Agincourt, he argues vehemently that the King is not responsible for the deaths of his soldiers.

Even in victory, he can't bring himself to take credit, but leaves it all up to God.

3) I see a message in this play which I never saw before: Trust no one.

In practically every scene, people say things which are clearly untrue. I'm not just talking about outright lies, either. Mistakes, misunderstandings, and malapropisms are at least as prominent. And those which are lies come in every shade, from polite white lies all the way to high treason.

Even the Prologue is not exempt. He spends his whole second speech talking about "Now let us go to Southampton. Look, here we are in Southampton. Southhampton, Southampton, Southampton!" And the curtain rises on... London. At first I thought this a careless error on Will's part (or his editors'), but looking back, I saw how it fit into the general theme.

The matter of the Agincourt prisoners is also of interest here. Three scene-lets pass in quick succession. In the first, Hal says (approximately) "The French are getting reinforcements, so tell everyone to kill their prisoners." Then, we see soldiers discussing the slaughter of the boys at the baggage cart, and claiming that *that* caused Hal to order the prisoners slain. Then the scene shifts back again to Hal, who clearly has *just now* heard about the slaughter of the boys. To confuse matters further, he then asks how many prisoners were taken, with an implication (to me, at least) that they weren't executed after all!

The soaring rhetoric that the play is famous for is no less full of misspeaking. As already mentioned, Hal's speech to the French Herald in I.ii. is, at base, a lie. When he tells "we happy few" that whoever fights with him "shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile,/ This day shall gentle his condition" he is again lying, as the post-battle scene with Pistol clearly demonstrates. Even when the words sound sweet, don't trust them.

No significant character in the play is without notable errors or lies. No one can be fully trusted. Perhaps God can, but he doesn't actually say anything in the play; his earthly representatives don't seem especially trustworthy.

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Alexx Kay

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