All posts by Mathew McGann

#48 On Groups

I realised after I sent the letter that I might have been wrong to say you dismissed it because it was Jesus. What I meant to say is that you dismiss it because it comes from a religion. Ex Schola would have been the better phrase to use, but because it’s less pretentious it’s less fun to say in a letter.

It’s absolute madness that fundamentalists think The Bible is perfect. And the exact opposite to this, which is to think it’s perfectly and absolutely flawed, is also madness. If you had never heard Continue reading #48 On Groups

#46 On hominems

Dear Jamie,

I’d like to invent a phrase. I proposed it on Twitter and a rando was able to give me the Latin for it. “Ex homine”. Rather than ad hominem (try to disprove an idea by criticising the person), ex homine (from the person), my phrase, is to automatically dismiss an idea because of who it comes from. The rando insisted that ad homimem does what I want, he has a point, but this second thing is so common I think it deserves this more precise version.

Jesus is an ethical exemplar only in the way that his story contains tidbits of ethical exemplarism. You’re triggered because Continue reading #46 On hominems

#44 On the struggle

Dear Jamie,

I’m sitting at my house in my spare room with that cool Canberra breeze invigorating my fasted frame. It’s a cold snap that feels like a reprieve from the extreme heat of previous weeks, but in reality it’s likely to be two violent swings of a unpredictable climate growing more extreme. Still, feels good.

I admit I didn’t know about COINTELPRO. But I was aware of other, more purely racist things like Nixon and his advisors recorded on tape actively working to increase racial tensions, and of course Jim Crow. But I do see a very uncomfortable reality that all* these “conspiracies” you mentioned were government-instituted. And government instituted because the people were either: undermining the government (COINTELPRO), weren’t trusting the government enough (Nixon) or not segregating themselves enough (Jim Crow). Who knows what the world might be like if the government wasn’t trying to fix our social lives over the last hundred years.

Now moving to systemic problems more generally. Continue reading #44 On the struggle

#42 On objective exploitation

Dear Jamie,

I’d already read the Atlantic article of Between the World and Me, and read it again after your suggestion. To be honest I found it baleful and conspiratorial. The end kind of saves it with a Christian-like “we’re all struggling but some more than others”. Though rather than a cosmic evil or an entropic universe his struggle is against a white conspiracy beyond the knowledge and intention of most of those involved. One of the issues with subjective experiences as we’re discussing them is that they can be annihilated when in contact with an opposing one.  At the time I also read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s response, a more optimistic reading of America despite her subjective plight being obviously more violent and horrible than Coates’.

Two topics have been rolling around in my head since reading your letter. Can subjective experience add up to an objective indictment? And what is the role of exploitation in history? Continue reading #42 On objective exploitation

#38 On unfair, necessary or different differences

Dear Jamie

You said “women are treated unfairly in overt and subtle ways”. That’s true. All groups are to different extents in different ways. And groups on average are different in preferences, while individuals are all over the map in terms of capability. This is a multi-level, fractured problem that can never be perfectly solved. Indeed by definition it will never be even satisfactorily solved, because you can’t solve all competing, fluid preferences at once.

You’ve kind of walked the line with the dichotomy I gave you before (free market vs enforced ideology). You say they should “die by the sword” but do it on a “level playing field”. It sounds like you’re advocating a regulated capitalist system if I were bring back the economic analogy. But I can’t see that working at all. The competing fluid preferences problem would be the least of your worries. You would be Continue reading #38 On unfair, necessary or different differences

#36 On freedom and equity

Dear Master F,

We should just deal quickly with this notion of “rigidity” but then I think we can move on. If I understand you correctly you call M/F rigid because it has a broadness and simplicity that makes it difficult to change or to cope with the subtleties.* Whereas I take rigid to mean something so precise so as to be either very useful when applied correctly or very unuseful (or damaging) when incorrectly applied. So the fact that the M/F categorisation is so rough and barely adds any information makes it unrigid in my view but rigid in yours. You used the word reliable, that’s more what I meant.

Our earlier letters spent a lot of time on science and physics and I worried about their asymmetry. You’d spend most of your time asking questions and I’d spend my time rattling off opinion. But we’re moving well into your territory, so I look forward to stumbling through with mostly questions. I used to be on the same page as you but Continue reading #36 On freedom and equity

#34 On frameworks around complexity

Dear Jamie

The “innate maps” you talk about are the same toolkit I meant when I said “‘Heuristics, rules of thumbs, feel your way around locally, learn from error.” But I don’t think these have the weaknesses of the other frameworks and so aren’t maps in my analogy. These innate responses can definitely, definitely be wrong. And how. But the point I want to stress is that they in principle don’t exclude any physically possible course of action. While maps can be defined by the course of actions they exclude.

A map is a guide, an explanation, a rule, a representation but what makes it a map is that it is static and predictable. Like a good explanation it is fragile, it’s strength comes from its reproducibility. Innate responses are not consistent, often irrational and maybe even random. Which at least reflects how the world is. Maybe the right way to go is Continue reading #34 On frameworks around complexity