Thursday, March 22, 2012

A Security Officer to English Phrasebook

Post made in honor of GwtTS

What the security officer says => What you should hear

"Can I help you find something?" => "You don't belong here."

"Is there a problem here?" => "You're the problem, aren't you?"

"Excuse me." => "Get out of the way."

"I'm afraid not." => "No."

"Can I help you with that?" => "Stop, before you break something."

"Can I do something for you?" => "State your business in eight words or less."

"I don't know who that is." => "Name dropping will get you nowhere."

"You'll need to leave now." => "Either go out the door, or I'll drag you out."

"Get down on the floor." => "Your choices are now simple: jail or hospital." 

"We consider that our custodial property." => "I can be sued if you hurt yourself on my sidewalk, so I get some say in what happens on it."

"Nice to meet you." => "I've concluded that the only reason you're trying to make friends because you'll be up to no good later."

"My name is David." => "My name is certainly not David."

"I'm sorry, I can't flirt right now." => "Either you're the wrong gender or sex, or I find you unattractive."

"Please be on your way." => "She doesn't like you.  Give up now."

"Thank you for coming." => "Get out now."

"We assisted him to the floor." => "I can write better incident reports than you."


I set out tonight to continue some semantic games related to some of the posts on "Safe from Shame".  But I've run into some trouble.  I'm not sure what "taking responsibility" means.

Is taking responsibility simply doing what we've agreed to do?  I'm sure many parents of children would agree to that.  "Let's get Jimmy a dog, it will teach him to take responsibility."  But that's just 'duty' masquerading under another name.

Is "taking responsibility" accepting that our actions have consequences?  That seems rather trivial.  Of course, or actions have consequences.  Those consequences tend to have their effects no matter whether we are willing to accept them or not.  There's no way to avoid the consequences of our actions.  We are floating in a pond that none of us can escape from; the ripples that stem from all of our movements will come back to us sooner or later, reflected off our surroundings.  There's no way out of the pond, no way to avoid them.  Karma is unmindful, undiscriminating, and relentless.  It will come and find you, no matter where you hide.

So is "taking responsibility" really "taking the blame"?  I suppose.  Everyone wants people to own up to their actions.  But is this really the full picture?  After all, no one person acts in isolation.  We are immersed in a world, acting on the stimuli we recieve and the motivations that well up from the subconscious.  Very rarely is one person entirely to blame, as catastrophes are so often several people acting in concert, either knowing or unwitting to the parts they play.

As well, "taking the blame" suggests that we are all free to act or not act as we would choose.  We are constrained by the situation in which we find ourselves.  Although the player is free to make any legal move, only a few moves are strategically viable, and in the worst case one alone is forced.  And sometimes there is no good move available, and a piece must be sacrificed for the good of the rest.

Then there's the old adage, "fix the problem, not the blame".  Knowing who to blame isn't nearly as useful as correcting or resolving the problem.  So often, the issue becomes passing the buck and trying to avoid getting hided that nothing ever gets fixed.  So is "taking responsibility" taking the blame just so something can get done?  That seems rather petty.

Even then, there is no way to predict the consequences of any action.  We can guess, but we are imperfect creatures with a limited viewpoint.  There is much we don't know.  Life isn't simple Newtonian physics, life is complex socio-dynamics, a game played with limited information, no assumption of rational players, and no clarity on the end goals.  There is simply no way to predict the consequences of any action, either in the short term or in the long term.

So let's look at the roots of 'responsibility'.  In short, it's the ability to respond.  We act.  If bad things happen, and we can do something about them, we should.  We should respond when it is in our ability to do so.  Is that 'responsibility'?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Playing with the semantics of shame, pt. 2

Continuing the discussion started earlier, in reference to the Safe from Shame project.

Having played with 'shame' and 'shameless', let's go ahead and play with 'acceptance'.

But first, there's an unspoken question looming: “What if a society attempots to make an individual feel shame, not for something the individual has done, but for who the individual is?” Is there perhaps a distinction between shame-for-doing vs. shame-for-being?

Perhaps, there's a deeper, unifying connection. Perhaps some societies assume that everything an individual is is a result of something that the individual has done (or has not done, as not engaging in a behavior is engaging in behavior). For example, the underlying assumption of some members of a society might be that an individual who is overweight (by the society's standards) is so because that individual has failed to do what was or is necessary to avoid such a state; in this, we make no assumption that societies or individuals are rational or reasonable in their assumptions. So a person may be doing or have done everything they know in order to attempt to reach some standard, but the society judges that they have failed by not doing the right things, and so attempts to impose shame for that failure. So, in this sense, shame-for-being is an aspect for shame-for-(not)-doing. The fact that to do otherwise is not considered.

So, acceptance might come in several forms:

  1. The individual might accept that they have or are doing everything they know to do to meet the social standards.
  2. The individual may believe that the correct behavior is possible, but that they are unable to engage in such behavior for whatever reason.
  3. The individual may accept that the social standards being imposed are not reasonable or impossible (either for them, or as a whole) and so choose to defy or ignore them.

Each of these forms of acceptance may include

a) defiance of social norms and resultant repression or suppression of shame,

b) willing acceptance of the resultant shame due to the disjunct between expected and actual behaviors

c) or the integration of the difference between personal and social norms and the resultant rejection of any shame.

So, to answer the question, “Is it possible to accept what is while working to change it?” the answer might be “yes, provided that we accept 'acceptance1a', 'acceptance1b' or 'acceptance1c' as meaningful.”

Food for thought: One might seek to change aspects of oneself despite there not being an outside impetus to do so, merely out of an individual desire to improve oneself. But why does the individual think he or she is lacking and needs improvement? Where does that impetus originate?

Sunday, March 18, 2012

The War of Descriptivism and Prescriptivism in Lexical Semantics

One of the eternal conflicts in linguistics is descriptivism versus prescriptivism.  The two are different approaches to the study of language.  Prescriptivism asserts that in order to be useful as a mediator of social discourse, language must have rules.  Those rules must be commonly agreed upon, and all parties must abide them or communication is made more difficult and faces a greater probability of failure.  Descriptivism asserts that linguistics is the study of languages as they are used in the real world by humans.  That is, the native speakers of a language are the ultimate arbiters of the "rules" of a language, and that if a given language communication succeeds, then the language must perforce have been used correctly.  The two approaches are somewhat in conflict, and most reputable linguistic schools chart a middle course involving elements of each approach.

Word meaning is as amenable as any other sub-field to both approaches.  Prescriptivism suggests that words mean what they mean, and if a given word is used to mean something else, then that word is used incorrectly.  Meanwhile descriptivism would suggest that if meaning is successfully conveyed, then the word was used correctly.

Following Tarski, a formal approach to lexical semantics sees words as defining sets.  Of the universe of discourse, the word defines a set: all those phenomena that are meant by the word are in that word's set, all phenomena not meant by that word are in that sets complement.  Or, to borrow vocabulary from semiotics, all those denotata referenced by a sign are in that sign's set, while all other denota are in that set's complement.  For example, if the word 'cat' is defined as all filidae with four legs, fuzzy ears, and a desire for ear scritchies, then all phenomena (denotata) that fulfill that definition are in the set of all cats.

Sets, of course, have two different definitions.  The first is the intensional definition, which lists the predicates all members of the sat share.  The second is the extensional definition, listing all members of the set.  Should those two defenitions ever fail to correspond, one or both should be modified (we are ignoring, for the moment, any theories on fuzzy set membership).

Of interest when defining words is identifying edge cases, which may or may not be members of the set.  Whether a native speaker of the language would identify a given edge phenomena as belonging to the set or not shapes the defenition of the word that the set represents.  A difficulty arises when two or more native speakers disagree on set membership for a given phenomenon, this can lead to communicative difficulties and even to controversy (is a human zygote included in the set of all persons?  Why or why not?).  Language communication succeeds most often where edge cases are avoided.

Language changes over time.  One of the processes of that change is the alteration of word meaning.  Word meaning changes as some phenomena that were not previously included in membership in a set are now included, or when some phenomena previously inclded within a set are judged to no longer be included (or whan their fuzzy inclusion values are changed).

Descriptivism then attempts to note when word meaning has changed (by movement of phenomena in or out of the set), and prescriptivism holds that there ought to be some inertia as regards to changes in word meaning.  Both approaches are useful, but both have their limitations.

Cross Posting with "Safe from Shame": Playing Semantic Games

Safe from Shame (a fabulous blog and project, one which Et in Arcadia Ego wholeheartedly supports) took some time to play with lexical semantics, an activity Et in Arcadia Ego engages in frequently. In that sense, let's throw some things in the hopper and see what sausages come out.

The following is based on some pre-conceived notions that, one hopes, will become clear as we proceed. Let's get those out of the way:

When we speak of ethics and ethical behaviors, we recognize a significant division:

There are those behaviors that tend towards the survival, fulfillment, and satisfaction (of the will-to-power) of the individual. Then there are those behaviors that tend towards the survival, propagation, and satisfaction of the group. Importantly, there are some behaviors (for instance, altruism) that are pro-group but not pro-individual (except in an indirect way).

For the individual, possible behavioral choices are judged against the individual's moral code. Those behaviors that are consonant with the individual's moral code are moral (from that individual's moral perspective), those behaviors that are inconsonant are immoral (from the individual's moral perspective).

The origins of a person's individual moral code are somewhat murky. The moral code of an individual is somewhat programmed by the cultural gestalt in which the person was raised and within, modified both by the individual's experience and by the individual's history of moral cognition and ethical thinking. Further, despite having been programmed by the cultural gestalt, a person's moral programming may be at odds with the given subset of society one finds oneself at any given time. That is to say, the individual's perception of pro-group behaviors may be inconsistent with the group's same perception of pro-group behaviors.

Some initial working definitions:

Moral behavior: This we describe as any behavioral choices that carry a deontotic aspect; that is, behaviors for which there is a question of whether they should or should not be done. We ignore for the moment any question of degree: immoral behaviors may be sins, crimes, or simply those which the group, culture, or individual disagrees with, and immoral behavior may or may not be met with any negative re-inforcement from the group and may be meet with a range of negative reinfrocement. We will for the purposes of this discussion ignore that range: for this discussion, belching in public and cannibalism will both be considered immoral behaviors in conventional Western society.

Guilt: This is the emotional sensation experienced by the individual upon engaging in behavior that one feels is at odds with one's personal moral code, particular when engaging in pro-individual behavior that is seen as anti-group behavior.

Shame: This is the emotional sensation experienced by a person who engages in behavior contrary to the moral code observed and enforced by the group. Importantly, shame here implies that the individual's behavior is consonant with the individual's moral code, but is at odds with the local group's standard of behavior. This leads sometimes to a situation where shame does not manifest itself until the individual comes to believe that he or she has somehow violated the local group's behavioral standards (whether or not such a violation has or has not actually occurred.

Under these definitions, it is possible for an individual to feel both guilt and shame as a consequence of the same behavior.

So, if there is an emotional experience labeled 'shame', then it would logically follow that there is an emotional experience ⌐shame, that is a lack of shame (we'll assume for a moment a bi-valued propositional logic, excluding both the middle and non-binary truth values. We'll also assume a non-constructivist classical logic with double negation. Formally, axion 1: ~(P +~P), axiom 2: (P v ~P), axiom 3: ~~P <=> P).

By natural English rules, ⌐shame could be expressed a number of ways:

  1. We could choose the semi-formal *'not shame'. This is problematic, as the noun phrase is a violation of natural English syntactic rules.

  1. We could choose 'shameless'. However, does ⌐shame = shameless given our intuitive understanding of English 'shameless'?

'Shameless' as used by native speakers of Western-American English carries a strong negative connotation. More specifically, it implies that the object of the phrase either ought to be experiencing shame, but is not, or is experiencing shame but is choosing to react against that sensation.

This may merit some further exploration. If the initial pre-conceptions about shame are correct, then it is entirely possible for the group to attempt to impose shame for what the individual feels is moral behavior. A concrete example: a person from a tropical culture where nudity and genital exposure is normal, accepted behavior is brought to a Euro-American city where such behavior is considered immodest and shameful. The transplanted individual not only fails to feel shame, he is unaware that he ought to feel shame. The prevailing Euro-American culture fails to impose its standards of moral behavior or induce shame. Is this ⌐shame? Is it shamelessness? Are there, perhaps, different kinds of ⌐shame?

Of course, the human psyche is complex and many-layered. It is possible for a person to consciously reject or appear to reject the dominant cultural values. Yet consciously or unconsciously, the psyche has not truly or completely repudiated those values. The psyche is thus in conflict with itself, and the person engages in behavior the dominant culture considers shameful, almost in defiance of those cultural values. The resulting sense of shame thus becomes repressed and a source of conscious or unconscious disquiet.

It is also entirely possible for a number of persons to collectively reject the values of the dominant culture in order to form a sub-culture (or tribe, as I sometimes use that word). This may come with or without the conscious and unconscious repudiation of the dominant cultural values. Future behaviors that are consistent with the values of the subculture may be inconsistent with the values of the dominant culture (or vice-versa). An individual engaging in those behaviors may thus experience shame in some sense and ⌐shame in some other sense simultaneously.

Then consider a person raised within the moral values of their culture. This person, perhaps by dint of self-exploration, self-discovery, and cognitive-behavioral modification, comes to reject one or more of the dominant cultural values (about which more later). They then begin to behave in a fashion that the culture would consider shameful, but the individual does not feel shame. Is this ⌐shame? Is it shamelessness?

It may make sense to reserve 'shameless' for situations in which the dominant culture attempts to impose its cultural values and fails. That is, when the dominant culture would require an individual to feel shame, but that individual does not (or refuses consciously to do so), the individual experiences ⌐shame, and the culture labels them 'shameless' with that word's disapproving connotation.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Arcadianism: A manifesto of creation.

A Manifesto of Post-Nietzschean Anti-Nihilism

syād-asti-nāsti-avaktavya, "In some way, it is true, and false, and indescribable."

'Do as thou wilt' shall be the whole of the law. Every man and woman is a star. Love is the law; love under will” the three statements of thelema

God is dead.” Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nothing means anything. Nothing can mean anything. Nothing is meaningful.

God is dead. The universe has no meaning and no purpose. Stars flare and die, planets spin. Random fluctuations of quantum phenomena. Nothing becomes, exists, and dissolves to nothing again. One day, the Death of Universes will claim us all. “The Sun was born and so shall die, so only shadows comfort me”i.

Nothing means anything. Nothing can mean anything. Nothing is meaningful.

By some fluke, some random chemical changes on a rock spinning around an insignificant yellow star, life emerges. An ordering of chemical bits. An organization of a small corner of chaos. Green fuzz on rocks. Animals live their brief lives in light, then return to darkness with a squeak and a bloody smear.

Nothing means anything. Nothing can mean anything. Nothing is meaningful.

In an eddy of evolution, mind emerges. A species that can solve problems has an evolutionary advantage. Observation of its surroundings, inductive reasoning, memory. Life sees, observes and remembers. Derives information from data. Forges perception from observation, cognition from behavior. An ordering of electro-chemical bits.

Nothing means anything. Nothing can mean anything. Nothing is meaningful.

Some especially bright monkeys evolve an ability to solve more complicated problems, evolve more complex modes of thought. Abstraction. Modal operators. Subjectives. Counterfactuals. Symbols, signs and signifiers. Language. A fire is lit. From the evolutionary advantage of our forebears, we inherit the ability to see meaning in meaninglessness. From s*** we extract pure Shinola™. We begin to see meaning everywhere. We ascribe meaning to everything. We decode meaning.

We create meaning.

Nothing means anything. Nothing can mean anything. Nothing is meaningful.

I meet a lady. Mating and the evolutionary imperative: form a pair bond, co-operation as a survival strategy, reproduce the species. But from it, I decode 'love'.

I create love.

In a universe with no love, I decode love. In a universe with no meaning, I decode meaning. I create meaning. I separate “the sparrows from the nightingales”ii, “the warships from the ferry boats”.

Nothing means anything. Nothing can mean anything. Nothing is meaningful.

I decode love. I decide what 'love' means. I decide how best to exemplify it. From a random ordering of biochemical bits, I decode love.

I see some pebbles in the road. I count them. I decide there are 'four', not 'three' or 'five'. I decode 'four'. Later, I find more. I put them also into my hand. I decode 'addition'. I hurl them from me, I decode 'removal'. I decode 'permanence', I decode 'change'. Ultimately, I decode 'something', I decode 'nothing'. I decode 'from nothing comes something'.

I see a fuzzy object. I say, “You're a kitty!”iii I don't decode cats, but in deciding that this is a cat and not a dog, I decode 'cat'. On seeing my old friend Professor Von Meeces, I make friends anew. I decode 'Professor von Meeces' from a fuzzy object.

I decode 'number', I decode 'color', I decode 'form'. I decode 'goodness'. I decode 'justice'. I decode 'truth'. I decode 'greatness'. I decode 'honor'. I decode 'virtue'. I decode 'hate'. When I observe a phenomenon, I decide, “That's justice.” Et in Arcadia ego.

I decide what these things are. I decide how to best exemplify them. I can shoot my own arrow of longing beyond myself and decide how to model what I have decoded. What I have created. What I decode, I create; what I create, I can show; what I show, I can be. What I create, I can be, just as hard as I can. What we create, we can be.

I believe that we'll conceive to make in Hell for us a Heaven [...] Until I see this kingdom's mine, I'll turn the darkness into light, I'll guide the blind, my will be done, until I say our kingdom has been won.”iv

The universe has no purpose. We have no purpose. But we can make our own purpose. The universe has no God. But “we are on our way to being gods”v. Et in Arcadia nos. “Let there be, let there always be, never-ending light.”vi

Nothing means anything. Nothing can mean anything. Nothing is meaningless.
i VNV Nation, “Further
iii XKCD #231
iv VNV Nation, “Kingdom
v C-Tec, “Foetal
vi VNV Nation, “Perpetual

Googlebombing for a cause:

Friday, March 9, 2012

Some Unfomed Ideas

In a critique of Utilitarianism, The Ones Who Walk Away from Omalas condemns the suffering of one for the sole purpose of the happiness of the community.

But one can inure oneself to suffering.  A Nietzschean embraces it.  A Buddhist transcends it.  A Johnian anticipates an ultimate reward.

Can one then meaningfully volunteer for suffering?  Perhaps on behalf of another?

Could one meaningfully go to Hell to insure the salvation of another?

The commodification of suffering?  A commodity that can be taken on, but never given away?

Is this a morality?

Googlebombing for a cause: