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Guest post from Thorn: Sortil├Ęge

Posted by Ben
on 07.07.18

(She didn't provide the title; I did. She provided everything following this parenthesis.)

Welcome to my less-than-half-assed take on Part III, where I'm going to assume you've read the book because I can't really even make myself summarize it.

We start with religion, which is useful because I've been thinking all along about this dude who said that the poor are always with us and yet this is a book that's really not about that most of the time. It's also a book written long enough ago that Clay Aiken hadn't come out yet and so it's not jarring that a megachurch is selling his autobiography. (Ten years after publication, one of the most common questions in the local Autostraddle-spinoff facebook group mostly for queer women is how to find the megachurch worship experience that will still be affirming for someone who has come out. I do have queer friends, including black ones, who go to the biggest local megachurch. Lee would in a heartbeat if there weren't periodically homophobic sermons; she hates that the church we used to attend overlaps with NFL games and that the traditionally black worship style means you're there too long. But more on my take later, probably.)

So we start with the argument that the traditional Christian missionary work got good works delivered (hospitals, orphanages, Westernization, many at least to some extent arguably "good") but didn't create converts in the process. So what does? Converting people in trusted groups where they share backgrounds, food preferences, social connections, apparently. And Bishop (the author, not an actual bishop) then leads us into the world of megachurches and microtargeting, where if I wanted to find my place among 40,000 Christians attending a giant church I could decide whether I belong in the group for single parents ("Fresh Start," eww) or one for people in their late 30s. He doesn't mention one for queer atheist socialist pacifist parents via transracial adoption, which is why I haven't done too well in targeted affinity groups here in my community at least, but maybe I just need to get out more.

Sorry, I can't really make myself summarize this stuff. I should be open to talking about how to welcome and retain new members because that's something our DSA chapter is working on, probably in some ways via cells/small reading groups, but everything here felt both basic and bogus. I'm still quite enamored with Habits of the Heart, which also talks about the US shift from collective community involvement as a core part of social and civic life to a more inward I-do-what-I-want mindset coinciding with "so let's just elect Reagan" as an ending to that latter phrase. This portion of Bishop's book is much more anecdotal and much less insightful, which is partly why I'm putting my own slightly contrasting (in content, not level of insight) anecdotes in here too, because that's almost all a person can do in response.

Then we get to talk about marketing, and again none of this is necessarily even wrong when we talk about the history of why brands personalized their messages and what led politicians to microtargeting and the idea that they should. And yet we all know they so typically DON'T. Part of the shock of the Ocasio-Cortez campaign was that the people sending the campaign messages were responsive to the people receiving them. If you said you'd already donated, they didn't ask again. If you didn't want texts, you didn't get any more. And yet the same election date saw the defeat of a creepy Tinder political catfisher but probably nothing like an end to creepy Tinder political catfishing, not to mention the apolitical kind.

The third part is lifestyle, the idea that I might be more likely to buy something recommended by a reprobate on a blog than something advertised to me by the seller. Bishop is talking again about how social (or socioeconomic, because once again we're back to wealthy-ish people mostly and definitely not meaningfully addressing the actual poor in any of this) clustering happens geographically. So I want to live near people who are politically and culturally homogeneous and like me for lifestyle reasons, except as mentioned above I haven't done too well with that. I have chosen to live in a diverse neighborhood where no one is going to call the cops on a black tween except in a true emergency and where housing is cheap. Maybe those are values that matter by Bishop's standards, but race seems to get conveniently elided because it so often complicates things. Do we vote alike? Probably, except some are immigrants who can't vote and some may well be among the more than 1/4 of black adults in the state who are barred by our felon disenfranchisement laws and plenty don't get the day off work when there's an election, so who knows?

And I guess really that's where I come down on a lot of this stuff. Bishop is explicitly writing a book trying to justify why he and his wife chose to live where they were comfortable. He wants to imply that's by creating connections with similar people, but it's also like the white missionaries who set up colonial outposts that he thinks failed to meet their goals. I also think it's not a coincidence he's showing a red-state example in megachurches as a way of looking down on this kind of deliberate connectedness. But what if we choose not to sort? What if we don't make our facebook timelines full of people just like us because the people we know and care about and interact with are not like us? That's the path I've chosen and I'm certainly tempted to evangelize about it as hard as he has, except I guess I'm not. I don't think there's much point trying to draw people over if they'd rather be Big Sorted or do something else entirely. I definitely don't want to be self-congratulatory, because I'm just doing what I feel I should do and there are sacrifices but there are with everything else too and that's no reason to believe I'm better or try to explain it. But I'm not able to read this book without a basic hostility that this is exactly the kind of smug whiteness I've tried to avoid because I don't want his people to be my people and I don't want him to get to speak for me. And so maybe he doesn't? Or maybe I'm self-deluded too.

NickS passed along a Kevin Drum piece claiming that cultural differences haven't changed much over the decades discussed in these chapters and that most of the changes that have occurred have been related to race.

I'm sorry to the blog that I was slow to pull this together and sorry to Mossy Character that I'm not really saying more, but the more I thought about that the more I felt it was sort of pertinent. I love that because of this blog I have a friend who can tell me about his life on Roc Island and his childhood far away from both there and me and that I'm sending this to neb, who talks with me about learning Greek and sewing and to whom I tried (so far unsuccessfully) to pass on a girlfriend when she moved to his area, because that's what normal people do, right? I am so sick of hearing generalizations about what regions are All About from people who don't live there and don't get what that living is like, but I know that means I don't get to generalize about other places either. And I try to microtarget my generalizations, I guess, which seems different from generalizing about microtargeting. But to me it's important to for people to know that I live on the outskirts of Appalachia, just outside a city that has at least two charismatic queer black churches and at least two active socialist organizations (three if you count the wobblies, but oh, the wobblies) and in a neighborhood with the highest concentration of Guatemalan immigrants on our side of the river and in the first city in the south to mandate that black and white schools use identical textbooks and so on because all of this matters and it matters a lot to me who gets erased by the big-picture view, not just because it's sometimes me.

The Big Sort feels like a justification and erasure project and I'm curious if it does too to people who feel a bit more Sorted themselves or if this is me being hostile and prickly. I suppose it might actually be more annoying from inside, if he's talking about you but not quite you. (I am fighty about his references to my state, and should have talked about his aside on the early stages of the opioid crisis in Harlan County, but didn't. Maybe I'll hit it up in the comments.) Can we talk about cultural creatives in the era of the gig economy? Have our phrasings changed but the underlying conditions stayed the same? Who the hell are we even talking about? And I guess ultimately why???


 

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Friday WTFuckery

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.06.18

Let's do a standard political-anger thing here, because I've only got a minute to post. Scott Pruitt, boo! The new guy, boo! Watching the world burn!


 

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Microdosing

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.05.18

Ok, shall we talk about microdosing LSD now? I enjoyed the book, although I can see why the author might drive people crazy at times. She sounds like a very intense person to be around.

It is demoralizing to know what an effective drug LSD probably is for lots of mood disorders, and how few side effects there are, compared to the scads of products currently on the market. Also it made me think perhaps my current even-keeled nature might owe something to my high school and college drug experimentation.

In the last post, I sort of committed myself to posting about this book once I'd finished it, but now that I have, I don't have much to say. It's a quick, fun read. Most of the research is stuff you probably already know about the immorality of the drug wars and mass incarceration, how pharmaceutical companies shape public policy, Timothy O'Leary and other trippy bums, and so on, but I'm always game to read about MK-Ultra and the surprising health benefits of recreational drugs, so.


 

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Robot You

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.03.18

I'm reading the microdosing LSD book and enjoying it quite a bit. I will finish it in a day or two and put a post up about it then, so please hold off talking about it in this thread.

However, I thought this excerpt from it was a fun thought experiment. This is the therapist talking to the author, Ayelet Waldman:

Imagine you have a closet full of Ayelet robots. These robots are the idealized version of you. They are every bit as competent as you at your best. No, they are more competent! They are better than you. They can write better than you can...They can wow audiences with mind-blowing lectures. They are better mothers than you. They can cook glorious meals for your children, create exciting and thrilling experiences for your family to enjoy. They are better wives than you. They are ever ready with a supportive ear. Sex with the Ayelet robot is consistently earth-shaking.

(I would have excerpted more except I had to type it out myself.) Anyway:

Imagine you have a closet full of robots at the ready, my therapist said. Which of your various obligations would you assign to a robot? Which tasks and activities would you reserves for yourself, because you enjoy them too much to delegate them even to a robot who's better than you?

Now, I think it would be breaking the rules to use the robots to live a life that you're not currently living - I can't assign my robots to go hold down four jobs while I live in a Swiss chalet. The universe available is capped at your current life, and then you're subtracting from there, is I think the question that the therapist is posing. (Although maybe the right question is the question that yields the most interesting answer, so feel free to vary it.)

For me, there are lots of things that I'd just like to do less. I'd probably farm half my workouts to a robot, and maybe half the cooking, half of my commutes, and maybe I'd break the rules and have the robots play with my kids more than I currently do. The robot could shower and get dressed for me, but never eat my meals for me.

As I think through my answer, I realize I'm just a goddamn housecat. Maybe I should bail on this whole post already. Ugh, but look how long it is and how I typed those parts out by hand.

When I started posting on Unfogged, the number one risk seemed to be dwindling off - having posting become an unwelcome chore. To prevent that, I instituted a few self-rules like: Post impulsively, and don't overthink it. Do not spend more than ten seconds thinking about a title. Now that I've been doing this for so long, dwindling is not much of a danger anymore, but now I'm just going to wrap this up and then hit "post".


 

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Guest Post - Meanwhile, in the Rules-Based International Order

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.02.18

Mossichar writes: The first compulsory conciliation under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea has been successfully completed (PDF):*

Compulsory conciliation is legalese for a process in which a panel of judges initiates a series of closed-door meditations with two parties to a dispute in an effort to resolve differences and forge consensus in a manner equitable to both countries.
[...]
Dili accused Canberra of espionage during CMATS [Treaty on Certain Maritime Arrangements in the Timor Sea] negotiations, which Timor-Leste authorities believed invalidated the spirit of the CMAT arrangement and prompted the Timorese government to pursue compulsory conciliation with Australia. It was widely believed that the ultimate goal of Timor-Leste in bringing forth the proceedings was to negotiate a permanent maritime boundary based on an equidistance line with Australia, thereby giving Timor-Lest exclusive rights to GSF [an undeveloped gas field].
Timor didn't get exclusive rights, but did get a compromise border giving it most of the field, and at least 70% of revenue, compared to 50% under CMATS. Timor wants the gas processed in Timor rather than Australia, which is evidently unrealistic; I guess they'll accept instead a second option, with processing in Australia but 80% of revenue and a bunch of sweeteners for Timor.

I think this interesting, (1) in that this obscure technocratic mechanism worked, and worked fairly well (taking just over two years); (2) in that Timor-Leste, by far the weaker party, appears to have gotten the better of the exchange (Australia initially tried and failed to deny the conciliation clauses of UNCLOS applied, trying to keep the dispute inside the bilateral CMATS framework**); and (3) in that there exists in the world a document entitled Non-Paper on Uncontroversial Elements of a Greater Sunrise Special Regime.

*The whole thing is kind of tortuous, this is the best I can figure it out with light digging.
**That said though, this was still diplomacy, not rule of law; although Australia could be compelled to go to conciliation, it couldn't be compelled actually to conciliate anyone, so the politics did still matter.

Heebie's take: Interesting!


 

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Guest Post - unfogged journal club

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.01.18

LW writes: Possibly too recherche for a post, but I thought this was pretty interesting. I keep meaning to get a metabolism textbook to get a better understanding of the fundamentals of human nutrition, but so far have not actually done so. The biochemistry of turning food into energy and proteins interests me a lot-- there are a few examples where modifying diet can lead to slightly different metabolically relevant proteins being made; the only example I actually know off the top of my head is arachidonic acid and its eicosanoid products.

Anyway, here's a cool paper looking at Inuit population genetics, evidence of strong selection for metabolic changes to support a basically plant-free diet. The link claims free full-text.

Heebie's take: Are we reading this in order to tidy up my waistband or are we reading for authentic academic interest? I just want to know so I can moderate my tone to match the group. kthx.


 

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