Impressions

Things I think about sometimes:

  • I love the idea of being someone who might be described like “He only cares about the things that matter,” except loving that particular idea means that I… care about things that don’t matter. Darn it.
  • My DJ name is rather obvious: “43rd to the Q.”
  • Finally got a new phone! I’m thrilled – now I expect to make and receive calls consistently. I’m happy enough with it that I actually ordered a specialty case from Carved. Of course, now I’ve got to learn to use it again…
  • The culture we’re engendering, where being called out is a threat from every vector, is incredibly dangerous. But people keep feeding the mindset, because calling people out is fun, satisfying, rewarding… it’s “speaking truth to power,” ignoring a basic truth: we’re ALL guilty when the metric isn’t fixed and history remembers everything. The wheel turns, folks. If you see something offensive, especially if it’s from “the past” – which might be as recent as a few years ago, given Internet time – you might want to scowl to yourself and say “… people!” privately, instead of howling publicly…. because the beast that howls is coming for you, too. It’s coming for you, too. My goodness, we have people apologizing for having been born now.

We have failed our children on gun control.

Americans have absolutely failed our children on gun control – and I probably don’t mean that the way you think.

There’s no way to write this without sounding like I’m ignoring nuance. I totally understand the responses from both sides: those resenting the politicization of a shooting (on both sides), and those screaming that this will not stand, that it’s time to do something about guns.

We do need to do something about guns. I just don’t think it’s what either side is advocating as talking points.

This morning, I was thinking about those Parkland students who are saying it’s time for them to act, that they won’t stand for this (gun ownership), that the time has come.

It occurred to me – again – that we’ve failed these kids, because we’ve not taught them properly.

Note that I think they absolutely have the right to speak out and protest all they like. They have every right to say what they feel, regardless of what it is, such that it doesn’t directly harm others – and in this, they’re doing fine. I just think that what they feel is too simple to be useful. When they grow up, they’ll enjoy having exercised their civic rights – but I really hope that none of us have to bear the burden of their desires coming to fruition, unless we somehow pacify the supplicants of power in a way that we’ve never managed before, except through the possibility of empowered resistance – and that means by being armed.

Our education system is built such that outsiders are driven far outside, which removes empathy from all sides; we don’t teach our kids in such a way that they’re recognized as useful individuals, we don’t teach our kids how and why our country came to be. We try to teach our kids how to fit in a specific set of neat little boxes. We create our own outsiders. It’s the shooters’ faults, no doubt, but we created the conditions for them – not through armament, but through culture and idiotic education practices.

There are student archetypes in high school. One such (non-canonical) list might include: the intellectual, the creative genius, the athlete, the rebel, the caregiver, the visionary, the royal, the performer, the faithful, the tastemaker, the explorer, and the advocate. Most students will fit these to some degree… but they might not fit in with others in such a way that they’re accepted despite their archetype. The ones that don’t fit in, the ones that have no clique and especially those who are the targets of cliques… those are the ones we’ve failed the most.

We teach our children about the Founding Fathers’ resentment of tyranny; they rebelled. They fought back. They created a system where the people were as well armed as their government was… and it stops there.

Note the use of “they” and “their.” It’s not “our” resentment of tyranny; it wasn’t us, it was them. It’s all about their responsibility, not our responsibility; their risk, not ours.

We teach our children how to read and write, how to count… and we teach them the nuts and bolts of psychology, in some cases, but not much. We ignore game theory, a way to represent interactions mathematically. What they need is psychology, the study of how our minds work. What they need is game theory, a study of mathematical models of how interactions work – the study of ways to define “winning” and achieve it. They need to see everything as a system – as both psychology and game theory suggest and model – and not as a series of unrelated stimuli.

So they see the world as a set of simple causes and effects, because they’ve not been taught to see the world as a set of inter-related systems; remove guns, they say, and people will become kind. They say that we already threw off the chains of tyranny; we don’t need to defend ourselves any more, and the weapons we would have used to defend ourselves have become weapons used against us. They say the imbalance of power between government and the people is too great, so why bother?

Truth is, I don’t understand that last point; it’s often the mantra of people who virulently oppose Donald Trump. How they can master that contradiction is beyond me; if they really think Trump is a fascist (inaccurate) or is otherwise reprehensible and untrustworthy (explicitly true), expecting Trump’s government to protect them from potential gun-wielding maniacs – or trusting Trump to not exploit the opportunity to seize further power – seems stupid. Now would be the time for such people to praise the Second Amendment, not gut it, because it’s the best way to let a simpleton like Trump know that he is not all-powerful.

Sadly, this isn’t even limited to those children we’ve educated; I know people older and presumably wiser than I who see the world this way. They point to countries like England and Australia as examples of disarmed citizenry, saying we can be the same.

We cannot be the same as the UK and Australia with respect to guns.

This is why game theory is relevant; it explains that there has to be someone who lights the way. If the United States didn’t have its culture of an equal populace (meaning “armed such that it can defend its rights even against the government, in potential”) then those other countries would either have had to light the way themselves, or fail. We are the sacrifice that makes peace possible.

Game theory also explains why the imbalance of power between us and the government we presumably might oppose still makes sense, too. The threat of the unknown power balance is very convincing, for one thing. For another, if there’s an imbalance of power, it’s hardly to your benefit to make the balance of power even worse. The goal is to find a Nash equilibrium – a condition in which no party has to change strategy to achieve a better outcome – between the amount of power held by the citizenry as a sort of sword of Damocles held over the government’s head, if you’ll pardon the analogy. (In game theory, certain parties can choose strategies that benefit them personally, assuming the other parties make bad choices; a Nash equilibrium is achieved when all parties make the choices that lead to the best overall outcome. When you make choices to benefit only yourself, you might be making a choice that wins – but you might also be hurting every other player, and you might also be causing your own catastrophic downfall.)

It’s entirely arguable that we, the American citizens, do hold too much power, that we have more than we need. (In other words, we don’t have a desired equilibrium yet.) I have no problem with that conjecture; I’d be interested in seeing what might happen if we fix the root causes of gun violence (education and isolation, along with proper restriction) rather than strike at ownership that is, in the vast majority of cases, legal and responsible. I also wouldn’t have my feelings hurt if we lowered the number of guns overall… especially those in the hands of people who we’ve generally declared as unfit for possession.

There’s nuance here, too. I don’t know of a good, quantifiable definition that would satisfy me as a metric for gun ownership. You could suggest generalities for mental illness – but then you’d have to have a definition for “mental illness” that would be worthwhile, since most humans have aberrations and thus might be considered “mentally ill.” You could suggest that those who advocate violence might qualify… but what does “advocate violence” mean? I’m all for Nazis being disarmed… but that definition might include Nazi hunters, too. And I’m dissatisfied with that. Quantitative definitions in law are difficult to get right, and I don’t know the answer here, either.

But there is no easy fix; repairing education won’t help the legions of people who we’ve already failed, and it certainly won’t help those victims who have already perished.

Needs are often subjective, even if we don’t recognize that

How much pain could be forgotten if we remembered that many of our needs are subjective?

They’re not all subjective, of course… if you take something from the base of Maslow’s pyramid from a person, that person will logically and realistically suffer. Air, food, water, shelter… all critical to human survival.

But love? Self-esteem? The iPhone X? Companionship? All desirable, no doubt… but subjective needs. If I want an iPhone and don’t have one, I have options:

  • Endure (because the need’s not real; it’s a desire, instead)
  • Complain
  • Act…
    • Improperly (steal one somehow, or lash out until my desire is fulfilled)
    • Properly (buy one, choosing the iPhone over other things I might use the money for)

To be clear, an iPhone is a made-up desire for me; I have an Android phone and I’m satisfied with it. Even if I wasn’t satisfied with my phone, I wouldn’t find an iPhone to be a compelling investment; a cheaper phone would do everything I needed.

But you can say the same thing about most desires: they’re subjective. They’re not concrete things to satisfy… and they’re easily replaced. Get an iPhone today, and tomorrow that desire might be for a virtual reality rig instead, with similar intensity.

It’s easy to get confused, to say that your needs (or my needs) are needs and not desires, are concrete and not subjective… and when they go unfulfilled, we get angry, and angry people are stupid people.

What needs do you have? What needs do you have that don’t actually affect your survival from day to day?

Introspection Time: MBTI Types

A few days ago I was reading something about relationships with the INFJ psychological type, from Myers-Briggs typology. Something about the description got me wondering, and I’m still wondering: am I an INFJ instead of an INTJ?

Normally I test very strongly as an INTJ:

  • Very high on Introversion, because I’m an introvert
  • Typically fairly highly on iNtuition, because I’m all about adding meaning and understanding (often to the point of distraction for someone, who might be me)
  • Decision making is usually fairly rapid and often based on the information at hand (thus the “Thinking” as opposed to “Feeling”). Feelers here tend to look at the specific circumstances and work on a case-by-case basis.
  • I tend to make decisions and run with them, this “Judging” as opposed to “Perceiving,” because “Perceiving” refers to being staying more open to options. My scores here trend to the “Judging,” but I’ve also tested as an INTP.

An important note is that Myers-Briggs tests are not conclusive in and of themselves; from skilled practitioners, they are expected to be around 70% accurate, and I don’t know that I’d consider online tests (the most common tests) as being administered by “skilled practitioners.” So my scores are anecdotal in nature; they’re fairly consistent, and the descriptions generally fit me, but they’re not expected to be absolute by any measure.

I can say without a doubt that the Introversion is strong; people exhaust me. I got into music because it was a way of forcing interaction with others without having to be part of the others (on stage, you’re with people but you’re separate from the audience). I played drums, in fact, for two reasons: one is that it’s fun (and cathartic) to hit things hard, and the other was that I could hide behind the kit.

Intuition is also strong; I can’t look at something without formulating something about it. It takes a lot of repetition and effort to avoid this; I look at a sunrise and wonder how the colors are generated that way. I identify phenotypes when I meet people for the first time (which allows my introversion to roam free, since while I’m identifying phenotypes I’m not interacting with the people I’m analyzing. Why, yes, I’m very friendly… what makes you ask that?)

It’s the “Feeling” and “Perceiving” that are in question, and “Perceiving” versus “Judging” doesn’t bother me; I’m not an artist, per se, but I love to create art, poetry, music, fiction, shapes. If Perceiving weren’t a capable feature for me, I don’t know if I’d approach seeing the world as a growing flower the way I do. At the same time, Judging is still strong as well; I have a largely-fixed moral compass (some would say it’s fixed in place and isn’t all that great of an actual moral compass, and I’d probably agree with them. I can be a moron sometimes… but even “I can be a moron sometimes” is an indicator of a powerful “Judging” impulse.)

“Feeling,” though…

That moral compass I mentioned in the paragraph on “Feeling” and “Perceiving” is just as relevant for “Feeling” as it is for “Judgement.” I believe in a fixed morality, but I also see that fixed morality as a Platonic ideal rather than an objective reality.

For example, I believe strongly that theft is wrong… but that there are circumstances under which it’s a moral imperative.

Here’s a dilemma that illustrates that concept. It’s probably something you’ve heard before, but in case you haven’t:

Imagine a poor man whose wife is gravely ill. A medicine is available which can heal his wife, and the local pharmacist has the medicine, but the man cannot afford it. Should he steal the medicine and save his wife, or respect the injunction against theft?

For me, that’s a no-brainer. He steals the medicine. It’s arguable that the pharmacist has an obligation to give the medicine, but the dilemma is meant to be considered from the poor man’s perspective, not the pharmacist’s, or the wider society’s perspective. (I would hope that the pharmacist would, of course, offer the medicine, and that the society as a whole would also be willing to share the burden of the medicine, in such a simple case, but… again, not the point of the dilemma.)

For others, it’s just as cut-and-dried – in the other direction. I know someone who was upset that the wife would die, but saw no other choice for the man. That’s fine; I understand that decision even while disagreeing with it and its reasons.

For that person, the rules were simple: you don’t steal.

For me, the rules are just as simple, but longer: you don’t steal, unless circumstances with higher priorities factor in. A life is a higher priority. If it were me, I’d steal the medicine and take my chances. I’d probably even leave a note: “I stole the medicine, here’s my number and my address and why I stole the medicine.”

Can I even describe every circumstance under which I’d feel theft was morally, if not legally, permissible?

… No. I can describe some – after all, I just described one – but I don’t think I can figure out a canonical, authoritative list of conditions under which I feel theft would be morally permissible. In fact, I’d feel icky even trying – it’d be sort of like saying “when is it okay to look at pornography?” – the question itself carries with it a sense of coarseness with which I’d prefer to not be associated.

The bottom line is, I don’t imagine when it’s okay to apply fluid judgement to “the rules,” but I can imagine the rules’ fluidity being perfectly valid. That’s the Platonic sense; there’s an ideal out there, but I don’t know what it is (and in most cases, I don’t need to know what it is.)

That’s a “Feeling”-dominant idea, more than a “Thinking”-dominant idea.

So… I don’t know, honestly. It’s not extremely important what my actual MBTI classification is (although I want to understand myself so that I can leverage my strengths well, and compensate for my weaknesses), but my type also factors into how much control I assert over myself.

That’s what really got me thinking about this: what if I want to be an INTJ, so I force myself to react as as INTJ would, despite being (for example) an INFP or INFJ? What if I’m not that good at, say, mathematics (and I’m not, honestly), and yet I desire more skill, so I force myself into being a mathematician? (If that’s what I’ve done, I’ve failed, BTW.)

It goes further: what if I am not an especially good person, but desire to be, such that I do only those things that allow me to see myself as a good person? That’s a question Orson Scott Card asked in Ender’s Game: if Peter, who is a murderous psychopath in his internal drives, ends up doing only good things, is he a good person, or is he an evil person who does good things?

I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer Orson Scott Card’s question; I don’t know how I would be able to tell if I’m subconsciously answering MBTI questions in such a way that I can admire my own answers. (For example, what if I would respond in one way to a question, but I find that I don’t like that answer – so I answer the other way? If that impulse to change the answer is so ingrained that I can’t tell if I’m doing it, is it really my actual answer, or am I subverting the test?)

It’s distressing to me. It’s why songs like Supertramp’s “The Logical Song” are so powerful to me: “Please tell me who I am…”