Thursday, May 18, 2017

Emphatically immoral

‘When some people think of empathy, they think of kindness. I think of war...’

In Against Empathy, Bloom provides a thoughtful, considered, empirically-grounded case which challenges many notions that we often accept as good without really thinking them through.



We live in an age in which, Bloom observes, reason is constantly deprecated and emotions celebrated. Social psychologists and neuroscientists insist that humans are irrational creatures. Many philosophers and sociologists claim that the appeal to reason is Eurocentric; Bloom writes of a sociology professor who ‘gently told me that my emphasis on reason expressed a particularly Western white male viewpoint...’

...Reason is what ‘makes us distinctively human, and it gives us the potential to be better to one another, to create a world with less suffering and more flourishing and happiness.’ Empathy, on the other hand, is ‘a poor moral guide’ in almost all realms of life, whether that be public policy, private charity or interpersonal relationships...



By ‘empathy’, Bloom means something highly specific. He is not talking about general sympathy for, or identification with, another’s plight. He refers rather to ‘the act of feeling what you believe other people feel – experiencing what they experience.’

So, what is the problem with such empathy? Bloom has a long checklist. First, empathy is like a spotlight that focuses on certain people, making us care more about them but leaving us insensitive to long-term consequences of our acts, and blind to the suffering of those we do not or cannot empathise with.


Source. Emphasis mine

Monday, May 15, 2017

Days of our Lives

[H]ow old do you suppose the hourglass is: two thousand years? Four thousand years?

...Oddly enough, it came into use at almost exactly the same time as the first mechanical clocks. The hourglass is only about seven hundred years old.

...Hourglasses found their place in setting off blocks of time. The time between canonical hours in a monastery, or between watches on shipboard. They ran neither long enough nor accurately enough to be of much use in marine navigation. They were a poor person's timepiece -- a kind of clock for everyman.

Both the mechanical clock and the hourglass found powerful symbolic roles during the Renaissance. The complex mechanical clock with its rotary gears became a metaphor for the heavenly spheres or for the wheel of fortune. But the hourglass, whose sands run out, was a thing of this base earth. It became a metaphor for the running-out-of-sands we all inevitably face. It became, and it remains, a universal symbol of death.



 
Two technologies, one simple, one complex, running side by side -- the clock making a continuum of time, the hourglass segmenting it -- the clock speaking of timelessness, the hourglass showing us finality -- the clock evoking things celestial, the hourglass reminding us of base earth. They are Yin and Yang.

 ...The clock and the hourglass create technological parity. Either, without the other, would provide an unbalanced metaphor, and that subtle fact can be far more important than it might seem.

Source.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Discernment or Discrimination, how fine a line we think we can see

In modern American English, a shibboleth also has a wider meaning, referring to any "in-group" word or phrase that can distinguish members of a group from outsiders – even when not used by a hostile other group...

The term shibboleth can also be extended, as in the discipline of semiotics, to describe non-linguistic elements of culture such as diet, fashion and cultural values.






Cultural touchstones and shared experience can also be shibboleths of a sort.

Shibboleths have been used by different subcultures throughout the world at different times.

The legend goes that before the Battle of the Golden Spurs in May 1302, the Flemish slaughtered every Frenchman they could find in the city of Bruges... They identified Frenchmen based on their inability to pronounce the Flemish phrase schilt ende vriend (shield and friend)...



"Butter, rye bread and green cheese, whoever cannot say that is not a genuine Frisian" was used by the Frisian Pier Gerlofs Donia during a Frisian rebellion (1515–1523). Ships whose crew could not pronounce this properly were usually plundered and soldiers who could not were beheaded by Donia himself.

The Dutch used the name of the seaside town of Scheveningen as a shibboleth to tell Germans from the Dutch...

In October 1937 the Spanish word for parsley, perejil, was used as a shibboleth to identify Haitian immigrants living along the border in the Dominican Republic. The president of the Dominican Republic, Rafael Trujillo, ordered the execution of these people. It is alleged that between 20,000 and 30,000 individuals were murdered within a few days in the Parsley Massacre...

During the Black July riots of Sri Lanka in 1983 many Tamils were massacred by Sinhalese youths. In many cases these massacres took the form of boarding buses and getting the passengers to pronounce words that had hard BAs at the start of the word (like "Baldiya" - bucket) and executing the people who found it difficult.



During World War II, some United States soldiers in the Pacific theater used the word lollapalooza as a shibboleth to challenge unidentified persons, on the premise that Japanese people often pronounce the letter L as R or confuse Rs with Ls; the word is also an American colloquialism that even a foreign person fairly well-versed in American English would probably mispronounce or be unfamiliar with...

During The Troubles in Northern Ireland, use of the name Derry or Londonderry for the province's second-largest city was often taken as an indication of the speaker's political stance...[t]he pronunciation of the letter H is a related shibboleth, with Catholics and Protestants often pronouncing the letter differently.

Source, with some light editing by me.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Post Partisan Performance Review

Maybe not perfect, but the best I've seen:

In a sense, great leaders transcend the good and the bad. Every good thing they do affects millions, and every mistake can cost hundreds of thousands of lives. In this way, judging legacy is reduced to sifting consequential leaders from inconsequential ones. We try to determine whether those consequences were good or bad for us, in historic terms. But here is where it gets dark.




By ending World War II President Truman was among those who saved western democracy. To do so he ordered the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and killed over 130,000 people within four days. Likewise, no appraisal of Obama is complete without considering the near existential threat to world stability that the Syria crisis and its related rise of ISIS unleashed. And it is here that Obama’s “lead from behind” legacy will suffer terribly.

Source.