Monday, 26 December 2016

Persia International Bank



There is no such place as Persia. It's called Iran. For quite a while it was on the Naughty Step, being removed by the EU in late 2015. Someone's been doing business there in the meantime.

Happy Holidays.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Gellner's Ironic Cultures Illustrated By Volkswagen Advert

The sociologist Ernest Gellner wrote a very good book called The Legitimation of Belief, and one of the many ideas in it that stuck with me was that of an “Ironic Culture”. He used this to describe the way that the middle-classes were embracing Eastern spirituality, various forms of mysticism and guru-based ways of living and thinking about the world, but when they broke a leg, they went straight to hospital and had X-rays, antibiotics and whatever else. When it mattered, they went to western rationalism and its by-products (science, modern medicine, engineering). All the spiritual stuff was there to provide a little cultural colour. It wasn’t really what they believed, it was an ironic costume.

Multi-culturalism is an ironic culture. The Good White People think that the West should welcome people from antagonistic cultures with open arms, but while the may have mutli-culti Saturday Nights, they marry assortively with other Good White People, work in organisations where the entry qualifications are attainable only by adopting White European personal values such as study, practice, self-control, and deferred gratification. So although the Good People say they are all for multi-culural life, and eat in Vietnamese, Pakistani, Ethiopian and Malaysian restaurants to prove it, their real lives are white, white, white all the way through.

And here’s Gellner’s idea illustrated as only a good advertising agency could. It shows why someone would want to believe all that hippy claptrap, and how they rely on technology when it matters, and even the love-hate relationship with that technology.

You may have seen the ad in your local independent cinema, but if you don't have a local independent cinema, watch it now. Or anyway. I love it.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Rama Burshtein's Through The Wall

The reviewers seem a little puzzled by this film. It’s about a thirty-something woman, Michal, who turned to God in her twenties, has a ditzy job (she runs a petting zoo), shares a flat, and suddenly feels the pain of not being able to live a conventional religious social life, for which she meeds to be married to a nice Orthodox Jewish Boy. Let me know when the penny drops.

Yep. This is a movie about the hazards of Alpha Lays and Beta Pays. In this case the Alpha is God, and the Betas are all those Orthodox Jewish men she meets. With the slight problem that none of them seem to be dumb enough or Beta enough for Michal to fool. All of them, from the hot indie singer to the various be-hatted guys sent to her by yentas, catch onto her prickly character, the fact she will be horrible to live with (there’s no father at home, and her much hotter married sister is in the middle of a screaming-in-the-streets row with her husband), and possibly notice that they are slimmer than she is. None of the men are shamed for being smart enough to realise she’s not relationship material: in fact, they each get to tell her she’s a nightmare and full of herself. That’s a clue right there.

The movie starts with Michal and her fiance tasting the food for their wedding. She makes which item to taste first a subject of debate - something her boyfriend point out, and which had a man along the row in the cinema curling up in laughter. She senses there’s something wrong and eventually verbally bludgeons the truth out of him: he doesn’t love her. Despite that, she goes ahead with her plans for a wedding. She’s got everything else, and all God has to provide is a husband. Everyone goes along with this, with increasing reluctance and foreboding, but no sense that perhaps a psychiatrist might be in order. She gets to the wedding room, takes her bridal seat and seemingly starts hallucinating (the script suddenly tells us she’s been fasting) a conversation with the Hot Guy who runs the wedding venue. Her BBW sister even asks her “who were you talking to”.

And then, right at the end, God sends her the hot guy who runs the wedding venue.

This film can be read that way: he only way an over-weight, contentious, socially-inept Four who has clearly bashed through The Wall is ever going to land a hot guy is by a miracle sent from God. Before you say that can’t be what Ms Burshtein intended, don’t forget that she is an Orthodox Jew herself. I’m guessing she feels about Michal the way Red Pillers feel about career-focussed Carousel Riders. In other words, Michal isn’t the heroine, she’s the deluded central figure.

I liked this film, though my reality-principle kept me wondering, in the last fifteen minutes, where the psychiatrists were. The painful lead-up to her groom-less wedding is necessary, because without it there wouldn’t be the miracle ending. There would have been a poor-Michal-strong-independent-woman-vicitim-of-the-Patriarchy ending. Or finally-someone-mans-up-and-marries-the-post-wall-woman. And those were not, I suspect, readings Ms Burshtein wanted.

It’s got moments of comedy and acute observation - the sequence with the snake and the schoolgirls is a gem - and it has moments of pathos where we feel sympathy for the seemingly doomed Michal.

I saw it at the Curzon Soho. I’ve previously written about their silly pricing. Since then, for reasons I’ll explain later, I joined their members’ scheme, got four free films which are almost worth the price of membership, and discounts that meant I paid £11.50 that Sunday. That’s a price I can live with.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Bicycle Baffle


I've just come out of the other end of my Annual Autumn Cold and Fever, which oddly always strikes after half-term. I think I'm thinking about something, but I can't think what it is: every time I try to have a thought, it vanishes in a puff of indecision. Hence all the photographs, taken earlier in the year when the sun was still shining.

I've lived through a number of social changes and political shocks, but never what we're seeing with Brexit, on a much larger scale with Trump, and will see with Wilders / Le Pen. The
Workingman's Left was destroyed by Thatcher / Reagan, and was replaced by a nomenklatura of teachers, social workers, university lecturers, political consultants, "left-wing" journalists and government-funded activist groups where what mattered was saying the right thing and an increasing adherence to the victim-based ideology of identity politics. The Populist Revolution is about unmasking the hypocrisy and self-serving goals of this elite and of everyone else who hides material ambition behind a mask of right speech, online activism and a love of all things distant that hides a contempt for all things close. It's about the self-image of the snowflake, and people will fight to the death to preserve their moral camouflage, and even the fact they are wearing any.

Reading the mainstream media now feels like listening to a bunch of spoiled infants being told that it's bedtime. They are squalling and pretending Mommy is cross with them, yelling "abuse" when Daddy picked them up, and saying what children of all ages say: it's not fair, we're not doing it, go away.

And I guess that's really what worries me. There's so much virtue signalling and moral posturing that someone might forget it's all for show, take it seriously, and drop a major economy into the middle of a constitutional crisis no-one even thought would happen. I'm still going with Trump-Wilders-Le Pen. (I can't decide whether Angela Merkel is a misguided but ultimately pragmatic politician who will see the light sometime in summer 2017, or is an East German agent still carrying on the good fight against the Capitalist West.) But I think there's just a chance that one of these adolescent snowflakes of all ages will confuse their image with their duty, sell out their people, and cause unrest the like of which we haven't seen since the Communist bloc really did hack the Trades Unions.

I'm pretty sure it's all posturing and attention-seeking and posturing. I'm pretty sure the snowflakes at the Guardian, the Economist and on US campuses everywhere are actually pleased that Daddy is putting them in the car and taking them home. I just hope that's the way they feel underneath all the posturing.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Newcomb's Problem Solved By Quantum Mechanics

Revisiting Newcomb’s Problem again, because I had a cold when I first wrote about it and at one point crawled into bed thinking that there was something about Quantum Mechanics that made perfect predictors impossible. It turns out there is.

On Monday our Perfect Predictor says what I’m going to do and acts accordingly (it doesn’t matter how). On Tuesday, I make my decision. With the aid of a Schrodinger box. No cats are harmed in this box, I press the button and after a while either a red or a green light shines. If it’s red, I take Box B, otherwise I take both boxes. This turns the Perfect Predictor’s prediction into a perfect prediction about the result from the Schrodinger box, and that’s the contradiction, because the behaviour of Schrodinger boxes is not predictable. There are no Perfect Predictors and in that case, you take both boxes.

One of my colleagues presented this problem as the warm-up brain teaser in our team meeting this week. The reason she liked it was because, she said, it showed that two different conclusions could be reached by what seem like equally plausible logical arguments. Some people like the idea that reason can’t draw conclusions. I was amazed at how some people bought straight into the inductive fallacy - that previous success meant future success for the Perfect Predictor - or indeed how people thought only taking Box B might even be a good idea. What was noticeable was that anyone whose job had “analyst” in the title went for taking both boxes.

Problems like these, and trolley problems, arise for the same reason that the problem of "what happens when an irresistible force meets and immovable object” arises. There is a contradiction or subtle falsehood in the premises. In the case of the force and object, the question posits a contradiction: there can’t be irresistible forces if there are immovable objects and vice versa. Trolley problems rob you of morally-relevant information about the people that you would usually have in real life. Newcomb’s Problem posits something impossible according to our best theories, or slyly hints that it’s okay to be an inductivist, or to believe in causality that runs backwards in time, or some other mistake.

Beware of American Philosophers bearing paradoxes.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Feminine Solipsism and Masculine Empathy

I haven’t Sphered for a while, for various reasons, one of which is that I’ve really said all I need to. I do have one thing left. One of the commentators on Rollo’s War Brides post said this:
Simply put, feminine solipsism has a nasty tendency to sap masculine empathy. Sadly, when the pattern repeats itself enough, men lose the ability to connect to women on an emotional, trusting level. When emotional connection and trust is gone, what remains is the the conception of women as objects.
It has haunted me since I read it. There’s something in there I identify with, and something I think is wrong.

I’ve said before, but not clearly enough, that well-balanced adults do not need to make "emotional connections” with other adults. As children, they had their need for connection met by their parents, and as adults they are going to connect in the same way with their children. It’s the children who had bad or missing parents who become adults with un-met needs for connection. Since healthy adults are equipped to meet the emotional needs of children, the un-fulfilled people wind up trying to find comfort with other un-fuliflled people. Which does not work out well.

Well-balanced adults do not treat each other, or think of each other as objects. They have relationships of varying degrees of trust and sharing: from the purely instrumental relationship with a shop assistant, to the high-trust, high-sharing but non-domestic relationship needed for one’s attorney, to the medium-trust, cautious sharing of a domestic relationship. A well-balanced husband and wife know they are going to keep secrets from each other, and they know that the trust they have in each other is negotiable and circumstantial. A well-balanced wife / girlfriend doesn’t ask or insist her well-balanced man “shares” with her, she knows that he will tell her if it helps for her to know, and won’t burden her otherwise. A sensible man shares only as much as is needed to keep the relationship warm and functional. (If none of that makes sense, read Esther Perel.)

Pragmatic, moderated relationships like that can’t work for people with un-met childhood needs for connection. For them, relationships must be high-connection and high-trust, or purely instrumental. She’s his soulmate or she’s a waitress in a restaurant in a town he's never going to stop in again. And once he’s given up on the idea that she could be a soulmate, since he wants sex, he’s going to be having it with women with whom he has an instrumental relationship. That feels like ‘objectifying’ women to him. Well-balanced couples have sex with each other quote happily without having to believe they are each others’ soulmate. They treat sex as a shared experience that enhances them individually and hence confirms that their relationship provides value to each of them. It’s a glitch in the commentator’s thinking that sex without soulmate is objectification.

Let’s turn to the first sentence: that female solipsism has a nasty tendency to sap masculine empathy. I need to riff about empathy for a while.

“Empathy” is one of two things. One is an heuristic for anthropologists and negotiators: attempting to see the world through the eyes of the population they are studying, or of the people on the other side of the table they are dealing with. To do this, one learns what the other side values, what it believes about the physical and social world (or as much about that as needed for the purpose), how its legal and commercial systems work, and so on. One does not regard the other side’s ideas as true or false, better or worse, but as objects of study, much as one can learn Arabic and translate the Koran without becoming a Muslim. The ability to think like the other side without becoming one of them is empathy.

This is not the same as the ability to recognise when other people or animals are having emotions, and what the likely consequences and causes of those emotions. This is a standard-issue survival skill, possessed, along with a conceptual framework of varying sophistication, by pretty much anything that can move and has teeth. African lions recognise “angry bull elephant” and leave before the trouble starts.

In people, emotions caused by life-events, as opposed to stubbed toes or snubbed advances, are accompanied by a mass of thoughts about life, friends, the children, whether you need to take time off from work and what will that mean for your bonus, and a bunch of other stuff that might not be considered wholly appropriate to the event. These thoughts don’t arise from the nature of the life-event, but from the particular pre-occupations of the person. It is these thoughts that women need men to divine, since some of them can’t be said out loud without sounding gauche, tone-deaf or self-centered. No-one, of course, can say that out loud, so it gets covered up under “feelings”, and a feminised, therapeutic idea of empathy-as-the-ability-to-feel-what-the-other-person-is-feeling appears. These “feelings” are not physiological changes accompanied by behaviours, but needs, wants and desires for all sorts of things, that she “feels” she needs, because there is nothing in the circumstances that make those things actual requirements. That’s what men are “lacking empathy” for not intuiting.

And this is ambiguity that’s been nagging at me to be resolved. One the one hand, exposure to female solipsism does not reduce a man’s empathy. Empathy is an ability that most of us have and some of us consciously improve. Like sprinting or anything else. Once gotten, it’s hard to lose. He still has it, in fact, it’s what is telling him about her solipsism. It’s that empathy that will make him a good PUA if he chooses to go down that route.

What does get worn down is his willingness to divine her can’t- / won’t-be-said-out-loud “feelings” about what she thinks she deserves and needs. To guess well at these, he needs to know a lot about her, and unlike his male friends, who are one-and-done as regards insight, his knowledge of her ever-changing state of mind needs constant updating. That’s a serious drain on his residual energy and it’s one he is less likely to make as he gets more doses of her solipsism. And rightly, he feels that the less updating he does, the more he may feel he is treating her as taken-for-granted and maybe object-like.

But in fact, it’s exactly the right attitude towards a woman who is that emotionally unstable. She is not a good long-term partner, though she may be a fun short-term one. No-one is supposed to keep up with the twists and flips of unstable emotions.

So now I have to riff a little on solipsism. This seems to be a nineteenth-century coinage for the epistemological idea that while we can be sure of the existence of ourselves as a thinking mind, we cannot be sure that other people have minds. At least is our theory of knowledge that starts with the premise that all we can know is what we perceive with our senses. But then, the same premise leads us to taking seriously the idea that we’re all batteries in the Matrix as well. This isn’t the kind of solipsism we’re talking about.

The idea as used in the Sphere has two strands: the first is when experience and facts are interpreted through the filters of her feelings, needs and purposes; the second is when she clearly puts the indulgence of her wants, desires and feelings ahead of anyone else’s needs. Add to this some deliberate whimsy and tactical misdirection and you have something most men will recognise from at least one of their female acquaintances. This is not so much about women, as about anyone who has few or no resources of their own and must hi-jack other people’s time, skill and money, which is a lot of corporate types, government officials and politicians.

There’s some plain English for these traits: ‘selfish’, ‘manipulative’, ‘strategic’, ‘self-centered’: to name but a few. We don’t need to abuse a technical term from philosophy. Except we do. Because try reading the original comment as translated:
Simply put, women's selfishness, manipulation and utter whimsy has a nasty tendency to sap masculine patience. Sadly, when the pattern repeats itself enough, men lose the motivation to pay any attention to the whimsical and strategic changes and purposes of women’s “feelings". When that happens to man he stops caring about a woman’s wants and needs, and focuses on how she can satisfy his.
Really harsh. Best dress it up a bit. And round off the edges. By contrast “female solipsism” sounds almost cute: they can’t help it, the poor dears, it’s the oestrogen, or too much junk culture. It’s not subject to nasty moral words like “selfish’ and ‘manipulative’.

(This brings me to the heart of my reservations about the universality of the insights in the Sphere. Well-adjusted women are very rarely solipsist in this sense. A bad day here and an hour there, perhaps. Not every week, let alone every hour of every day. The women who are more frequently solipsist will be identified quickly by well-balanced men and other men with good radar, and will wind up with men who are themselves flawed in one way or another. And that’s who’s in the Sphere - and yes, that includes me. The Sphere describes the experiences of men who wound up with the less stable, less desirable women who make less co-operative and less supportive partners. As ever, misery seeks advice and solace while happiness stays silent.)

Let’s assume a man with hung-over needs for emotional connection and (unconditional) trust and examine that idea that he should focus on how the woman can satisfy his needs. A well-adjusted adult woman cannot and would not expect to satisfy those needs: a badly-adjusted woman might think she could, but of course she cannot. This leaves the man in the position of knowing that no woman can satisfy this unsatisfiable need, and that therefore he is always going to find that his relationships with women will leave him wanting more, and this is not always their fault, but arises because he cannot have the limited-trust-limited-connection relationships that well-adjusted people have. So there is a chance that he may not bother with relationships, for the same reason that he doesn’t bother with, say, polo ponies or concert violins.

What this man has to learn to do is to have relationships that meet other needs: for sex, entertainment and company. For some men, the same upbringing that left him with unmet needs for connection and trust will also have made him develop a life that is based around solitude and cultural consumption rather than the company of people, and these men are left with relationships with women that are mostly about sex, though there may be some entertainment as well. Whether he is one of those or not, he should consider a series of short-term (up to six months or so) relationships. There are plenty of sane women who, for one or more of over a hundred reasons, need a short affair. There is no reason for him to get involved with crazy people, though he may through sheer demographics find himself involved with other men’s wives or ex-wives. The mistake our original commentator made was to suppose relationships had to be long-term. He should focus on the realities: men want sex, women want attention. Short-term relationships provide both really effectively. In a short-term relationship, you can pretend to give a damn about the ever-changing weather in her head, because you’re going to split when you get tired of it.

I think the commentator is mis-lead by his own vocabulary, and by the need to avoid accepting that he’s a flawed case himself. The behaviour of un-balanced and damaged women doesn’t affect his empathy, but it does affect his willingness to pay much attention to them after the initial excitement of meeting has faded. Because he is flawed, he’s only going to meet women who don’t deserve much trust and with whom emotional connection would be ill-advised. That’s not exasperated by her behaviour, it’s right there in her damage. Sure, he’s stuck with women he can’t really trust and should not connect with, but if he could experience what a well-balanced relationship was, he would not find that met his needs either. He’s blaming the sadness he feels about his unsatisfying relationships on the crazy women he meets, but really he should blame the fact he only meets crazy women on the fact that he came into adulthood without experiencing connection and trust with his parents.