Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Thursday, February 13, 2003day link 

 Categories and Group Forming
picture I have often tried to come up with lists of perfect categories in one context or another. Right now one that works fairly well is the one you might see for example in New Civilization News in the right sidebar. There are more than 50 total, and usually I can find one that fits whatever I'm posting. But the categories I chose for my own weblog here no longer work. Most of the time none of the categories fit, so it is pretty haphazard what I choose.

Part of the trouble with categories is that most of us don't really organize our lives around clinically neat categories. We don't really get passionately excited about sections of the yellow pages. We usually get passionate about more complex memes or about complex feelings we have inside or about specific activities we do with specific other people. I'm passionate about 'Emergent Social Systems', but even if a number of other people were willing to stand under that same banner, we probably wouldn't all agree on what it meant, or what fit under it, or what was really important about it. My own passion is a compass I steer by, which I can't even adequately describe in writing. If I could write it down, it would be pages long, rather than just a couple of words.

At first I thought that categories naturally and automatically would lead to group forming and collaboration and community. They don't. If several people choose the same category, chances are they'd be more likely to form a group than if they were put together randomly, but none of it is automatic. In NCN one of the first things I did was to announce a number of groups based on certain subjects. Alternative Energy Sources, Alternative Money Systems, Social Rules and Ethics, Spirituality, etc. A number of people joined each one, and there was some initial excitement. Then there were interested discussions for a couple of months. And gradually each of the groups died out. More people joined once in a while and sometimes revived them, but nothing much happened. Why? Because all they had in common was a category. They didn't have a shared outcome in mind, they hadn't agreed or committed to anything, and they didn't share any model for how to think about it, or how to go about it. And because nobody took the lead in making it happen, no matter what.

Categories are still very useful, and might help people find what they're looking for, and I'll probably still look for better and better categories to put on things. But when it comes to forming groups, I think we need to find ways of codifying outcomes, world views, and preferences, so that we might help match up people who actually fit together. And we need to turn on the spotlights, blow the trumpets, and roll out the red carpet the moment we notice that somebody actually is passionately driven to do something great. Because that is what the world is really organized around, whatever label we put on anything.
[ | 2003-02-13 16:21 | 9 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Languages of the world
Gabe Andersokn mentions Ethnologue, which shows a matrix of what languages are spoken in what countries. I'm paying a lot of attention to languages right now because I'm trying to get up to speed to speak French.
[ | 2003-02-13 23:59 | 1 comment | PermaLink ]  More >

 Your Mind Read
The Flash Mind Reader is all the rage today. It seems totally impossible for it to do what it does. I did it a bunch of times and couldn't figure it out. ...But it is ultimately fairly logical. You just need to question some assumptions you took for granted.
[ | 2003-02-13 23:59 | 12 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 No Total Information Awareness
picture Howard Rheingold mentions that it seems that the U.S. Congress has succeeded in shutting down the Total Information Awareness program.
Virtually without dissent, the House conferees accepted a bipartisan Senate provision written by Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, and Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, stipulating that the program cannot be used against American citizens. The conferees also agreed to end research on the program — in effect shutting it down — in 90 days unless the Pentagon submits a detailed report on the program's cost, goals, impact on civil liberties and prospects for success against terrorists. What this means, in effect, is that if the program continues at all, it will be as a low-intensity research project under close Congressional supervision.
Good news.
[ | 2003-02-13 23:59 | 9 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 The Proof
Question: "What proof do you have that Iraq has Weapons of Mass Destruction?"

Colin Powell: "We kept the receipts."
That is a joke. But not all that much of a joke once you consider that the United States and Great Britain sold lots and lots of atomic, chemical and biological weapons material to Iraq, including rockets to deliver it with. See a list here of the companies involved.
[ | 2003-02-13 23:59 | 16 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

 Choice or No-Choice
picture It is a widely held value that people can hold different opinions, and it is sort of good to agree to disagree. Particularly if it is political opinions. It is considered noble to respect people one disagrees with.

But there are some qualities of opinions that most people don't notice. It is sometimes like comparing apples and oranges. Two opinions might be of a totally different order from each other, even though they are compared equally.

Let's take a politically and religiously very controversial issue like abortion. The typical way of presenting it is that there are two sides. For or against, basically. The people who think abortion should be legal and those who think it should be illegal. Those are not at the same logical level at all. Comparable choices would be to force all pregnant women to have abortions versus to allow no pregnant women to have abortions. Yes, that is ridiculous, but those would be logical opposites on the same playing field.

Or let's take opinions about whether it should be legal to smoke in public places or not. One side says that one should never be allowed to do so, or one would be fined or arrested. The opposite of that would be that one HAS to smoke in public places, or one would be fined or arrested. Ridiculous? Yes, indeed.

The point is that the choice of forcing everybody to always do something, or to never do something, that's a huge responsibility, and not just a matter of making a good point. You have to be responsible for it always, always, forever being the right choice. That's a real big thing. And it is fairly impossible, because you don't really know if it is always the right thing, because you probably can't imagine all the people and all the situations it applies it. So you probably just make the choice based on your own personal inclination right now, or your religious beliefs, or your idealistic political views, and you might vote for having that choice imposed on everybody all the time. And you sort of ignore the details, hoping that as a member of a government, you probably never have to be faced with those circumstances where that choice wouldn't be the right one.

So, in summary, the option that people are free to make their own reasonable choices based on the situations they find themselves in, that is not on equal footing with the option that they always have to do things the same one way, or that they never can do it a certain way.

People who believe in abortion rights do not necessarily plan on getting pregnant and getting an abortion. People who think there should be somewhere they can smoke, do not necessarily plan on smoking in all the very places that would be the most bothersome for non-smokers. They would maybe just like to be free to make some reasonable choices about it, based on the actual circumstances.

So, they're not equal opinions to have. If your option involves that I will be forbidden by force from exercising my option, but my option only is my personal choice, then our options are certainly not equal. Your option is clearly hostile to mine, but the reverse probably isn't true, even if you have trained yourself to think about it as if it is.

Most politicians don't realize the enormity of a decision to force something to be a certain way for everybody, particularly when we're talking about some sort of personal behavior or lifestyle choice.

To go to war and or not to go to war aren't equal either. They aren't just different opinions, different choices based on personal preferences. One will involve taking away the right to choose from hundreds of thousands or millions of people, because they will probably be killed. Sometimes that might make sense, if even bigger killing is avoided, but it is a very, vary hard decision, based on careful analysis of the facts. It isn't just some opinion to have.

Certain global choices don't really take anything away from anybody. Forcing all of us to drive in the right or the left side of the street, or to use 110V or 220V electricity, that is a matter of organization, and doesn't make any of us lose anything.

But a choice is a choice. Something an individual makes, or something that the people involved make in concert.

True bottom-up grassroots democracy consists of people making choices, and being quite likely to get what they're choosing. Many people will choose different things, and they will get different things. Enforcing the same choices on everybody should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.
[ | 2003-02-13 23:59 | 16 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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