Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sometimes Things Just Don't Come Together

That's me trying to light a folded piece of news paper. The folds are quite simple; a piece of newspaper is folded much like an envelope. At the center where the corners of the paper come together they're twisted a bit, then the construction puffed up a little. The tricky part is to quickly light the four corners and then allow the flaming contraption to float into the sky from the updraft of a camp fire. Done right it can float high and then the disintegrating embers float wildly to the ground. I hardly ever get it right; the paper is in flames and simply drops into the fire. Some people have a knack for it.

I like having the MyBlogLog widget here to see who's been stopping by. I thank BlairSupporter for leaving a comment on my last post. Daisy of Daisy's Dead Air commented too and Phil Jones gave me a nice shout out about the post. I see that Linda Nowakowski has been around and Geoffrey Philip too. I end up spouting off on the Internet quite a lot, but the idea that anyone reads what I write is a bit frightening. Most of the time it doesn't come together.

Daisy's Dead Air always gets me thinking. I didn't link to anywhere for Linda Nowakowski because I'm not sure of the etiquette about linking to content on social networks. But she writes at among other places and what she writes always makes me think hard. Linda often writes on the subject of Buddhist economics. There are many schools of thought outside the mainstream of economic orthodoxy, often together called heterodox economics. Heterodox economics are not simply anti-neoclassical economics, or at least that's not what I find so interesting about them. What's important is cross fertilization across schools of thought in economics and with other disciplines.

Daisy posted a long post Ash Wednesday ruminations on feminism, religion, etc. During the week I had been struggling to write something regarding a proposal Linda was making to make a presentation at the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions. I'd written many pages, but it just wasn't coming together. Reading Daisy's ruminations on religion among other things caught my attention because I was thinking and trying to write about that too.

One of the reasons I enjoy reading Daisy's blog so much is I get to click on links to feminist blogs. It would be great to say I would find such links otherwise, but that's probably not the case. Part of her "ruminations" post has to do with how commentary at feminist blogs sometimes runs towards vitriol. That's a more general fact of the Internet which often seems impossibly hard to figure out and to imagine how to stop. Phil Jones has written smart commentary about this phenomenon, including Sarcasm Doesn't Scale. Phil has really smart comments on his blogs and various discussions on them have clued me in about what a knotty and interesting issue this is. Something I love very much about Daisy and Linda online is their arguments. It's not just that their arguments are good, it's also their fearlessness in engaging that I admire.

Nowadays more people my age are getting online and getting involved in the social Web. I've got one friend who's been involved since before there was a World Wide Web, so of course she knows a thing or two about Internet discourse. But talking with most of my friends about arguments online I'm greeted by blank stares, apparently they've never encountered such. I can't imagine how this is possible. The exciting thing about the Internet is people can engage in discussions across all sorts of boundaries. As it turns out this is very hard to do, not for technological reasons but for social reasons, and fireworks ensue.

More generally, it's difficult for people immersed in disciplines to engage with people immersed in different disciplines. But such interdisciplinary work is fertile ground for increasing knowledge.

Ethan Zuckerman has written brilliantly about xenophilia, which is a love of engaging across boarders. Homophily is the opposite number of xenophilia, meaning "birds of a feather flock together." Zuckerman observes:
Homophily can make you stupid.
Daisy's post notes that religion seems a sure fire way to kindle big and unreasonable arguments on the Web. That's of course true in meat space too. Mother always told us to avoid sex, politics and religion at the dinner table. I don't think she mentioned sex come to think of it, but sure she meant to.

Something really interesting about Buddhist economics is the intersection of religion and what is considered by many the dreadfully dull subject of economics. I had been vaguely aware of E. F. Schumacher before encountering Linda Nowakowski, but was quite uninformed about Buddhist economics, a term Schumacher coined in 1955, the year of my birth. Buddhist economics is not a huge school within economics, but is remarkably widespread. I'm impressed with the spread and durability of the whole notion of it.

Collen Wainwright *[update] writes a wonderful blog Communicatrix. I'm a bit confused about religion, I tell people that I don't believe in God, and yet I "hew to the woo." I knew I'd read that last bit somewhere, but couldn't remember where. I searched the term and Communicatrix came up and as thought to myself, "yes, of course." This isn't the post that came up in search, but is the post I remember reading it. I'm pretty skeptical about The Law of Attraction which communicatrix writes about, but her approach to thinking about it won me over.

I think about all sorts of issues in religious terms. Because of my upbringing I tend to think in terms of Christianity. I just do. I'm also skeptical of these habits of thought. Far from rebelling and turning into a staunch atheist in response to my internal dialogs, thinking about how my thoughts turn to religion seems to inform the subjects I'm thinking about. But what comes out of this sausage making is hardly ever doctrinally sound in any religion!

Linda is sure that economics must take into account not only value in economic terms, but human values as well. That is a subject near and dear to my heart. My thinking about values is somewhat peculiar and overlaps with iconoclastic thinking about God. The really odd thing about my thinking of values and God, is these come into play when I'm trying hard to be rigorous in my thinking, that is, when I'm trying to think about science in a formal way, or philosophy and other subjects. What I've just written seems easily misconstrued, and I'm not sure how to correct that. I'm not saying that I think it's necessary for people to think of God when they think about science, philosophy and other subjects in a formal way. What I am saying is that when I do that thoughts come together in some surprising and fascinating--to me--ways.

Alas, most of the times when trying to show others these patterns I've imagined too often things just don't come together.

The deadline for Linda's proposal has passed. I've seen the drafts of it and they look great. I didn't contribute a thing, but am very happy she opened up the process to view and comment. I think there are some parts in the draft I'm writing that make some good points. I won't give up trying and one day will share them.

What this post is about is really how people on the Web share the process of thinking. Their sharing changes my thinking, but not always, or even most of the time, by argument. Rather, first is a modeling of good thinking and second by their wonderful creations the encouragement to think. Sometimes thoughts come together nicely, but often not. Often that's when the most joy comes, like a puzzle where there's clearly a solution and the fun is in trying to discover it.

Cheers to the generous souls on the Internet who don't hide their light under a basket.

*Update: I'm not sure why, but I mistakenly identified Joann Wypijewski as the communicatrix. I apologize both to Colleen Wainwright, the real and inimitable the communicatrix and to JoAnn Wypijewski. Furthermore I must apologize for not only the misidentification, but also for butchering the spelling of JoAnn Wypijewski's name.

Most of the time when I screw up I can't figure out why. In this case I'd just watched a videonation video at YouTube Church Sex Scandal: False Memories, False Justice, the print version of the story is here and took note. I probably wrote down JoAnn Wypijewski's name on the same scrap of paper I wrote down Colleen Wainwright's name.

I've mentioned that religion is a hard topic for me, especially the notion of collusion and conspiracy. I took note of JoAnn Wypijewski's report about a Massachusetts court taking up the scientific, evidentiary basis for repressed memory, because the subject of repressed memory is such a staple or the conspiracy minded. A big part of that conspiracy are attacks on the reporters who report that scientific studies do not tend to support repressed memory claims, neither have courts who've examined the issue.

Knowing what a hot button issue repressed memory is on Internet discussion boards, I was impressed that Wypijewski is willing to report on the issue and to do do a video too. Taking up subjects ignored by most, but which are so vigorously attacked by a few, seems hardly a great career move. Wypijewski must see her role as reporter to present the facts in news stories and not to back away, even when it might be advantageous to do so. I applaud her gumption.


the communicatrix said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the post, but Joan Wypijeski most definitely does not write communicatrix. I do, and my name is and always has been Colleen Wainwright (although many now know me as "the communicatrix.")

A quick trip to the Oracle of Google tells me that one JoAnn Wypijewski writes for The Nation and Mother Jones--perhaps you somehow scrambled us together?


John Powers said...

I apologize profusely to the communicatrix! I'm so sorry. Clearly I did scramble things together and will correct the post immediately.

DaisyDeadhead said...

I'm glad you enjoyed the post, or got some ruminating out of it anyway. :)

You've got some great links too--I always really enjoy at least two of em every time!

Linda Nowakowski said...

Dear John....I am sometimes late but...well you know how my life has been since the end of February.

Please feel to link to anything I write, anywhere. It always excites me that there is at least one person who is interested in what I say.