The All-Thing

All stick and no carrot, since ought-three.

`Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. All human progress, even in morals, has been the work of men who have doubted the current moral values, not of men who have whooped them up and tried to enforce them. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on ``I am not too sure''.' -- H. L. Mencken.


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Sat, 17 Jan 2004

Hackers and Painters

Holy shit. I have just seen the dilemma that has occupied my mind for the past two years—which started as a nagging doubt once I left college, only to grow like a fast-spreading fungus to become my daily angst—what I thought was my own personal, bizarre hell—described on paper, in lucid and exacting detail.

Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham.

Every single sentence in this essay is like the tolling of some great Bell of Truth in my head.

Identity crisis: resolving, slowly.

Posted at 18:42 | /internet/links | (leave a comment) | permalink

What You Can't Say

Paul Graham has written a fantastic essay called What You Can't Say about taboo topics within society. He pulls together, in a elegant and cohesive manner, several ideas that I (and, I'm sure, many others) have had about at one point or another about taboo topics: the historical constancy of their existence within society, the fact that every generation invariably considers itself right, looking back and laughing at the cognitive blind spots of their predecessors, and the fact that each generation in turn is always encumbered by its own set of blind spots and incorrect beliefs.

"It seems to be a constant throughout history: In every period, people believed things that were just ridiculous, and believed them so strongly that you would have gotten in terrible trouble for saying otherwise.

Is our time any different? To anyone who has read any amount of history, the answer is almost certainly no. It would be a remarkable coincidence if ours were the first era to get everything just right.

He discusses how one might discover the taboo topics of one's own generation, and how, more often than not, these topics are the ones that that society has mistaken beliefs about.

I think one of the things that really reverberated in me about this article is the fact that I know I'm more aware of these things than most people, and Paul Graham is too, and for the same reasons. We are both nerds:

Nerds are always getting in trouble. They say improper things for the same reason they dress unfashionably and have good ideas: convention has less hold over them.

And we are both (god help me) scientists:

"In the sciences, especially, it's a great advantage to be able to question assumptions. The m.o. of scientists, or at least of the good ones, is precisely that: look for places where conventional wisdom is broken, and then try to pry apart the cracks and see what's underneath. That's where new theories come from.

A good scientist, in other words, does not merely ignore conventional wisdom, but makes a special effort to break it. Scientists go looking for trouble. This should be the m.o. of any scholar, but scientists seem much more willing to look under rocks."

See, I can tell he's a scientist from this note:

"I don't mean to suggest that scientists' opinions are inevitably right, just that their willingness to consider unconventional ideas gives them a head start. In other respects they are sometimes at a disadvantage. Like other scholars, many scientists have never directly earned a living– never, that is, been paid in return for services rendered. Most scholars live in an anomalous microworld in which money is something doled out by committees instead of a representation for work, and it seems natural to them that national economies should be run along the same lines. As a result, many otherwise intelligent people were socialists in the middle of the twentieth century."

Anyways, it's definitely worth a read.

Posted at 18:00 | /internet/links | (leave a comment) | permalink

Schneier on Fingerprinting

Bruce Schneier, once again, comes through with insightful and clear-thinking commentary on the allegedly anti-terrorist security measures. This time it's the mandatory fingerprinting and photographing of foreign visitors.

The whole essay is worth a read. He concludes:

"America's security comes from our freedoms and our liberty. For over two centuries we have maintained a delicate balance between freedom and the opportunity for crime. We deliberately put laws in place that hamper police investigations, because we know we are a more secure because of them. We know that laws regulating wiretapping, search and seizure, and interrogation make us all safer, even if they make it harder to convict criminals.

The U.S. system of government has a basic unwritten rule: the government should be granted only limited power, and for limited purposes, because of the certainty that government power will be abused. We've already seen the US-PATRIOT Act powers granted to the government to combat terrorism directed against common crimes. Allowing the government to create the infrastructure to collect biometric information on everyone it can is not a power we should grant the government lightly. It's something we would have expected in former East Germany, Iraq, or the Soviet Union. In all of these countries greater government control meant less security for citizens, and the results in the U.S. will be no different. It's bad civic hygiene to build an infrastructure that can be used to facilitate a police state."

Posted at 16:50 | /politics | (leave a comment) | permalink

Cantab Round Two

Looks like we'll be back at the ol 'tab this Tuesday warming up the main band. Starting at 8:30 or 9 and going until they kick us off around 10. Come see us!

Posted at 15:08 | /media/music | (leave a comment) | permalink


Tempt not a desperate man. -- William Shakespeare, "Romeo and Juliet"