A place for new ideas to settle.

21 April 2014

Be careful with that 'marketplace of ideas' metaphor

In many discussions that swirled around the Internet in the wake of Brendan Eich's resignation from Mozilla Corp., someone invariably invoked the concept of the "marketplace of ideas"—just as in the market for physical goods or services, ideas themselves are brought to the "marketplace" of discussion, weighed on their merits, and adopted or discarded as this "market" dictates. If you hang positive traits like "freedom," "openness," and "meritocracy" on the market-metaphor, that's all the more reason to apply it to many different spheres.

But it's worth noting some possibly uncomfortable implications.

19 April 2014

What if... We focused on families, rather than "marriage"?

Okay, I (sort of) understand the rationale that drives so many conservatives to harp on "one man, one woman" marriage as the "bedrock of civilization" (for often poor reasons) and to position themselves as so-brave champions of the pure in a "war on marriage." For the highly religious it really does seem to stem from a bedrock-level worldview, something like the Great Chain of Being where there's a truly universal law that places God, husband/man, wife/woman, children, and everything else in a vertical hierarchy (in that order). I think that's bizarre and rather repugnant, but at least it does explain why we see such otherwise insane statements about how gay marriage will lead to a hermaphroditic universe. When gender-essentialism enters the picture, homosexuality truly is a Blue Screen of Death.

But for the red-blooded conservative who wants to uphold strong family values but isn't that committed to the Great Chain of Being, here's a possible escape clause from this seemingly intractable problem.

16 April 2014

Western Washington University: "diversity = anti-white"?

Western Washington University got launched into the right-wing (and racist! and Glenn Beck!) blogosphere yesterday, when the conservative advocacy site Campus Reform published an article titled "University calls the amount of white people on campus a ‘failure,’ asks for ideas on how to have fewer". Yikes! But let's dig deeper.

Brendan Eich’s resignation was nobody’s “victory,” but it wasn’t unfair.

At this point the furor has mostly died down so I think I should frame this as a reply to Katrina’s earlier blog post on the topic. In a nutshell, Brendan Eich, former CTO and now former CEO of Mozilla Corp. (the for-profit arm of the Mozilla Foundation which produced the Firefox browser among other things), stepped down after it became known that he donated $1000 to California’s Proposition 8.

This sent many people, particularly libertarians, into a tizzy of self-reflection, especially coming so hot off the heels of the absolutely ridiculous #CancelColbert campaign. On the one hand, a lot of people are fed up with the knee-jerk, bile-and-brimstone mob mentality of some extreme “social justice warriors”—I’m familiar with the type. On the other hand, this seems to be a case of the system working: consumers and employees in the company voiced their displeasure with the company’s choice of CEO, and he stepped down rather than drag the company through the mud.

Bowling alone, camping together,

My post on collectivism was a response to my friend Katrina's post, which in turn was inspired by this video about "the innovation of loneliness." My other friend Jon Bash had this to say about it:
I'm calling BS on a good portion of this video. Technological fearmongering, extrovert-bias, and attempting to speak for everyone's experiences. Personally: I don't make up stuff to share on the internet, and I'm just fine being alone and socializing with people on the internet (to an extent), thank you.
I've heard the video's critique before, but I watched it anyway. The visuals are quite slick, but the content is anything but incisive. The narrator, Shimi Cohen, mentions the "maximum group size" of 150 persons—also known as Dunbar's number—but this is a mean of a value for individuals, that might be as low as 100 or as high as 230, even upwards of 290! The video sort of slides (or slouches) downhill from there, with the usual litany of woe-is-us scares about what technology will do to our humanity.

15 April 2014

On the word “fringe”

Disambiguation: I’m not talking about the T.V. show called “Fringe.” That show is awesome and I love it to death, but wholly unrelated to this post.

As my previous blog posts may suggest, I’m a (at times, masochistic) fan of politics and the way people think. As such I tend to eagerly participate in online discussions, in an attempt to encounter beliefs not the same as my own. One exchange got me thinking about the way I use words—specifically, the word ‘fringe.’ What do we mean when we talk about “fringe theories” or “fringe ideas”? Fundamentally, I think, ‘fringe’ is a political term.

I’ve often heard ‘fringe’ used in the context of the so-called “demarcation problem” in science: how can we tell whether something is science, or pseudoscience? “Fringe” therefore takes on the connotation of pseudoscience, but I think they’re describing two very distinct things.