mcgann_letterhead

#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 as a spectrum of rigidity: toolkits (innate stuff) > frameworks (models or maps) > ideology (one map only).

The protagonist of Peterson is male. I can think of an explanation for this. Let me know what you think. The masculinity of the protagonist is the result of a selection bias that occurs when considering practical philosophy. If one accepts (as he does) that everything is a synthesis of masculine and feminine, and then one asks questions about how to act in the world, one will be talking about the masculine bits more often. The myth structure tends to be masculine for rationality, risk, civilisation and feminine for emotion, protection and nature. While everything is a combination of the two, when it comes to acting in the world those questions tend to be in the “risk” category because actions worth talking about are all sacrifices of safety for unknown reward. In English we use “she” for inanimate but impressive objects capable of creation, protection and destruction (nature itself, nations, storms, large ships). So if we were to discuss this world I’d expect his protagonist would be female.

Whether one thinks this archetypal M/F splitting is unfair or incorrect is a separate question. It’s one of our most ancient frameworks, and the pairing seems reasonable for newly-conscious ancient bald ape creatures to apply. As a proto-human abstracting the world that has noticed that things are of roughly of two abstract categories, the most obvious two real-world categories or words that I could use to represent it are male and female. It’s the only noticeable, clear, reliable duplet in all of nature. Now that we have so many new ideas and objects the choice of what to call the categories seems arbitrary. It seems reasonable for coffee-drinking modern trendy ape creatures to think that the masculinity of the protagonist is result of the patriarchy, while ancients thought it obvious that the patriarchy is a result of the masculinity of protagonists.

I get where you’re coming from proportionality-wise. It treads on the logic we lampooned in this article of ours about “punching up” in satire. Let’s say a group of revolutionaries are agitating and plotting to overthrow the government. To fight groups proportional to their power, would be to always fight the government over the underdogs, up to the precise point of revolution, when you fight both equally, then side with the ousted, less powerful group. It’s quite a treacherous, permanently turbulent way to go.

Actually now that I say it out loud it doesn’t sound so bad. But I realise now the key is: it doesn’t sound so bad so long as you are actually being proportional, rather than you being on a side that happens to be the underdog. We should explore that distinction because it seems to me to be the nub of this whole thing. One is being proportional if, in a situation where you fought for the underdog, caused a revolution and won, you must then turn on the revolution if you see new problems.

On our diverging scepticism, you inspired this thought in me the other day. It seems to me you are sceptical based on whether good or bad science is being done. I see it differently. There is no good or bad science, there is science or not (e.g. have you done a controlled experiment or not). And you can apply science to regimes which are more or less transparent to scientific enquiry. Some regimes are opaque to the scientific method, so despite how impressive someone’s science cred, cast their map to the flames if its applied to a complex domain.

Mat

PS I didn’t know that about the feminine totalitarian state. I’ll have to look that up. Be careful you don’t fall into your favourite fallacy, that just because someone pointed something out in the past, doesn’t mean pointing it out now isn’t correct.


Also published on Medium.