Twofish's Blog

April 12, 2008

About media bias or non-bias

Filed under: china, economics, politics, wikipedia — twofish @ 5:08 pm

I don’t think that the Western media is particular biased against China per se. It’s just that media is looking for a “good” and “exciting” story, and “good stories” are usually about “EVIL OPPRESSOR” against “INNOCENT VICTIM” and China sometimes falls into the “EVIL OPPRESSOR” role. It’s not necessarily anti-China since any big government or corporation is going to sometimes fall into the “EVIL OPPRESSOR” mode, and one part of any media strategy is to try not to get hit with the EVIL OPPRESSOR label too much.

Part of the reason is that China is getting more and more powerful and rich, and the more powerful and rich you are, the more likely it is that you will be an “EVIL OPPRESSOR” and less likely that you will be “INNOCENT VICTIM.” Note that in the 1980’s Japan and Russia were “EVIL OPPRESSORS” but today no one cares about them any more.

Part of the reason I’ve started the “LET’S BASH CHINA COLUMN…” is that one has to get used to it and laugh at it rather than get too angry because anger destroys you (something that I learned from the Dalai Lama).

The other problem is that Chinese students tend to go into fields that make money (computer science, law, and finance). I really don’t know that many Chinese students that come to the US to study journalism. Part of the reason this is that skills in finance and CS are transferable. People can easily move from Goldman-Sachs to Bank of China and vice-versa, from Huawei to Cisco and back, and no one I know has moved from the New York Times and back.

One issue here is that the “Western media” claims lack of bias. If you go to People’s Daily or Xinhua and ask, are you fair and objective. They’d say “of course not, we speak for the Communist Party.” The trouble with CNN, Washington Post, and New York Times is that they claim to be objective and unbiased, when it’s pretty clear that they are not. (Read anything that Howard W. French writes.) Interestingly not all media claim non-bias, the Economist, one of my favorite magazines, makes it very clear that they are biased for free-markets and free-minds. The Wall Street Journal also doesn’t claim objectivity.

The problem with claiming non-bias is that then you can’t talk about them and thing rationally about how your biases affect your reporting. Also by claiming non-bias, you are implicitly saying that people who disagree with you are biased, and that means that you have no reason to take their views seriously.

This brings up the question of whether the notion of non-bias works at all in the internet age.

The groups that overseas Chinese groups should learn from are groups conservative groups like “Accuracy in Media” and conservative bloggers that killed CBS News and made Dan Rather a laughing stock. Another thing to study is the Tailwind scandal.

One reason to not get too overexcited about media portrayal about China is that people in the US are “immunized” to media bias in much the same way that people in China don’t really trust the People’s Daily. People in the US *don’t* get all or even most of their information about China from the newspapers but rather from Chinese that they live and work with.

Finally, one reason that is important in that during the 1970’s and 1980’s, the United States was seen has “heaven” and “savior” by most Chinese. CNN gets a *lot* of anger now, because of its role in 1989 when it was seen as “savior” during the Tiananmen demonstrations. Chinese are finding out the truth which is that the United States is run by ordinary people not super-humans. One thing that greatly concerns me is that Tibetans in Tibet who have much less exposure to the West than Han Chinese in Shanghai may see the United States as a savior, and this may lead them to do things which they wouldn’t do if they knew the reality.

So you have monks demonstrate and pictures end up in the front page of the New York Times. *WE ARE SAVED, TIBET IS FREE, THE NEW YORK TIMES AND NANCY PELOSI WILL SAVE US*. Except that in three months, the New York Times is gone, people in the West have forgot about you, and the Chinese government is still there. People are still dying in Darfur and Burma. Remember them?

Two, under what situations would it cease to be biased against China?

If China falls apart and gets invaded then it becomes an *INNOCENT VICTIM*. Personally, I think we should just get used to the media trying to portray China as an *EVIL OPPRESSOR* and learn to manage it.

Also don’t think of the Western media is an monolith. There are lots and lots of different groups in the West. As with all political activism, you need to find the groups that agree with your views and work with them. has a nice section on anti-anti-China bashing.

And three, if Westerners are receiving a distorted image of China, their valuation of the Chinese economy must be distorted. How do I make money off it?

Not really. Business people don’t get their news from the newspapers, they see for themselves. One reason I like people in business is that it is interesting how people who are good at making money are very good at trying to figure out what is *REAL* going on since they want to make money off it.

Right now the CEO of every major corporate sponsor is hoping that the Olympic protests dissipate and if they can think of a quiet way that they can reduce the protests they’ll do it. They are limited by the fact that if they do anything obvious then the headlines will read *EVIL BIG CORPORATION SILENCES INNOCENT VICTIM PROTESTERS!!!!!* so I think what they are doing is to not say anything stupid and just wait for things to blow over, and if there is no news, then they can start running the Olympic commercials in June or July. Looking at the list of cities, the only two that I can see where you could have a repeat of Paris are Canberra and Delhi.

BTW, no major corporate sponsor will *DARE* pull out at this point. Anyone that does will be looking at losing the China market for the next decade. One thing that’s nice about multi-national corporations is that while 1.2 billion Chinese can’t vote for President of China, they can vote as to whether or not the want to drink Coca-Cola or wear Nike. This gives Chinese quite a bit of control over multi-national corporations, and the protesters can have the streets if we take the board rooms.

February 3, 2007

Ugh!!! Awful New York Times article

Filed under: china, politics, wikipedia — twofish @ 4:15 am

I wish the New York Times would start translating the full text of speeches instead of selectively quoting them. Here is the article

Here is the original talk
(The link doesn’t quite work because it has Chinese characters, but you can copy and paste the url into your browser.)

It was a forward on an magazine devoted to improving social harmony in China.

From the New York Times article you get the impression that Luo Gan is about to lead this crackdown on the Chinese judiciary since he talks about how enemies of China are using them. But lets look at the context.

Let me just translate the second paragraph.

To develop socialism and a harmonous society, gives the government and legal bodies a great deal of responsibility. As society changes, criminals cases, civil cases, mass actions, and public order incidents are constantly rising. Most of these conflicts end up in the legal system, and most of the conflicts and problems which affect social stability also end up in legal channels. The legal system is already a very important method for adjusting society, and legal work remains a very important channel for dealing with the conflicts of society. The knowledge of the people of democracy and law is constantly increasing, and their expectations of the fairness and effectiveness of the legal system is ever increasing. The work of legal departments is being increasingly examined by the public. The gap between the judicial system and people’s ever increasing expectation of the judicial system is not an abstract conflict, but it is something that we should face squarely. Because in the past, we have not taken legal work seriously, our enemies have been able to use legal work to promote Westernization, and their strategy of dividing China. Every mistake that we make in our legal work has a bad impact on society, and allows are enemies to use their power. Our ability to do legal work has a direct impact on society, and directly affects socialism and harmonious society.

There is a lot of other things he said that seem very different once you put them in context. For example, the statement about “free people” outside the social management system, sound really ominious. Until you read the entire sentence, which is something that the reporter seems to have neglected to do.

We must not neglect the care of “unattached people”, drug abusers need to be entered into treatment centers, reeducation by labor centers, and taken care by the proper social authorities; the children of migrant workers, the sons and daughters of those in jail for crimes, the children of those farmers away at work in the city, we must insure that their care and education are given to agencies whose responsibilities are clearly defined; juvenile delinquents, we must improve their education and make sure that they are effectively taken care of.

Part of this is translation. Socially manage “free people” has the same Chinese characters as society taking care of the abandoned, and that paragraph clearly illustrates the context.

I’m doing the translation off the fly, so I may have made some errors, but I’ve given a like to the whole speech, and you can put it through google translate if you want.

January 12, 2007

Notes on MIT Energy Initiative

Filed under: energy, politics, wikipedia — twofish @ 4:14 am

I’ve posted some notes on a talk about the MIT Energy Initiative on Wikiversity

December 15, 2006

The word for today is ….

Filed under: academia, china, iraq, politics, Relationships, wikipedia — twofish @ 10:59 pm

Limerence…  A word made up by psychiatrist Dorothy Tennov describing an emotional state most people call love.  The one thing that Tennov doesn’t mention but I think it would be possible to extend to concept of limerence not only to people but also to companies, nations, groups, ideas, and software programs.

The other word that I’ve used a few times is passion

Passion…  This is an interesting word because the root of passion is suffering for a higher cause, and I think that passion and limerence go together.   The concept of passion is important in international relations because how a dispute turns out often depends on how much a party is willing to suffer for its goals.

December 11, 2006

Wiki’s changing the world

Filed under: academia, massachusetts institute of technology, wikipedia — twofish @ 4:18 pm

Two posts I made to the Chronicle of Higher Education board

Something that I’m interested in is how wiki’s have the potential to transform the structure of education.  With wiki’s, faculty at SLAC’s and community colleges now have the ability to create social networks which could challenge the R1 schools.  The analogy is with the internet, where you with R1 schools being the big mainframes, and community colleges and SLAC’s being microcomputers.  Once you start networking faculty and community colleges and SLAC’s together, interesting things will happen, and the R1’s will have to react or get left behind.

I’ve been thinking through some of the long term implications of this to R1 schools like MIT (my alma mater).  The danger for the R1’s is that they won’t see this change coming, and won’t react to it quickly enough, so before it happens I’ve been thinking through what strategies schools like MIT can take to have a place in the “new order.”  Getting back to the mainframe analogy, the model which I think will work is something like google or amazon where you have the R1’s serve as a clearinghouse or central core for research activities that are taken at the SLAC’s and the CC’s.  This means opening channels of communications and developing networks between MIT and SLAC’s and the CC’s, and I’ve been doing what I can to push MIT in that direction (not that anyone there listens to me).


What I’d like to encourage people to do is if they need wikispace that they set up shop in Wikiversity.  Setting things up on wikiversity has some advantages in that someone else is responsible for most of the system administration and you have a community of users using the thing which helps with things like vandalism prevention.

What I’d like to do is to have people put things on wikiversity so that it becomes more associated with “serious scholarship.”  The ultimate goal I see is to have wikiversity be the place that creates social and support networks between adjunct faculty working in community colleges or outside of academia.

Protected: Putting back on the blinders

Filed under: academia, asian am, Career, china, father, wikipedia — twofish @ 7:39 am

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Toward a social constructivist theory of law

Filed under: academia, hayek, international law, iraq, islam, wikipedia — twofish @ 2:46 am

Here is a sketch of some ideas that I got reading Benedict Kingsbury’s work on the International Legal order, and his efforts to created an global administrative system.

The two theories of law are legal positivism and natural law, which are in conflict.  To resolve this conflict one can see how a similar conflict was resolved in early childhood education.

There is a deep correspondence between these two theories of law and two theories of early childhood development, the behaviorist and the developmentalist.  The behaviorist model is associated with Skinner and Pavlov.  The developmentalist are associated with Montessori.  Behaviorists wear lab coats.  Maturationists are hippies.

The correspondence between these two theories is not accidental.  If you trace the history of ideas associated with maturationists, you end up with Rosseau, who also came up with the idea of natural law.  If you trace the history of ideas associated with behaviorists you end up with August Comte who came up with the idea of positivism.  These two people also took different sides on the French Revolution.  Rosseau with the republicans, and Comte with the monarchists.  Maturationists are liberals.  Behaviorists are conservatives.   Maturationists are hippies.  Behaviorists wear lab coats.

Now in early childhood education, the conflict between the two was largely resolved in the 1980’s with ideas with from cognitive development.  The main name with this is Lev Vygotsky’s whose main idea is social constructivism.  Learning is the process of making external interactions between human beings internal.

I  would argue that just as there is a “third way” in ECE, the concepts of cognitive development and social construction of ideas can be used to create a theory of law.  One example of this is wikipedia which in a very short time has developed an elaborate legal system with courts and legal norms.   The usefulness of this theory of international law is that I think it allows for the incorporation of non-state or semi-state actors.  States, non-states, and semi-states come from social interactions, and this provides a common ground to see how these relate to each other.  The other thing is that by using social interactions between individuals as the fundamental generating principle of law, one links in law with other endavours such as economics, diplomacy, and politics.  Finally, to get back to my early article, creating a social constructivist theory of law allows for one to bring in passion, emotion, and irrationality into international law.

It is necessary to include passion into international law since the fundamental actors are all based on passion.  International law is particularly “passionless” since it was created in the time of Grotius by kings to mediate what were essentially contractual disputes, and has many elements of contract civil law.  However, since the mid-19th century, the unit of international law has been the nation-state which ultimately is based on the rather irrational but important need for human beings to sacrifice themselves for their family and nation in the name of love.  Any theory of international law must incorporate these irrational but essential aspects of the human condition.  Social constructivism does this by basing law ultimately on the silly and irrational interactions (or lack thereof) between human beings.

To see an example of social constructivism in action, I’d argue that my views on the Chen Guangchen case are very highly influenced by social constructivism.  A legal positivist would look only at the literal application of the law, while a natural lawyer would try to find general principles.  Both would miss what I think is the essential matter of this case, which is how law exists within a particular social system and how it influences and is influenced by that system.

I’d also argue that social constructivism also takes the law out of the realm of the lawyers and puts it into the hands of the common man.  In legal positivism, the law is unconnected with social systems.  In natural law, the law is connected with abstract principles which are not connected with the day-to-day activities of ordinary humans.  The social constructivist views human and social relations as the basis of law, and by connecting law with people’s day to day lives, it provides a gateway by which people can be empowered to use law, rather than becoming dependent on experts.

Question: Relate what I’ve said to the various issues that have concerned Chinese philosophers since Confucius.

December 10, 2006

How 1970’s sitcoms ruined me – Mediations on International diplomacy

Filed under: media, mental health, personal, wikipedia — twofish @ 2:36 am

One of the useful things about trying to write a 2006-style sitcom is that it made me realize how
1970’s sitcoms and television shows gave me a distorted view of how the world works. If you look at the typical comedy and drama of the 1970’s, they have a very simple narrative structure. Problem. Conflict. Problem solved. End credits.

What I’ve learned is that life is not like that. The real big conflicts in life are not things that can be “resolved” in any meaningful sense, life is not like a television episode. Conflicts last for decades, even centuries, they mutate, they evolve, they become irrelevant. Sometimes they get out of control. But the narrative structure of the 1970’s sitcom where everything gets resolved when the credits roll. That doesn’t happen.

The problem is with the expectation of resolution is that it puts unrealistic pressures on the parties involved. You’ve seen the damage this has done with the Israeli-Palestinian talks, and in the Iraq War. The model in which there has been no resolution and everything has works out well is the PRC-Taiwan situation. That situation is not going to get “resolved” in any meaningful sense for decades, but that’s alright. Some arrangements can be made that keep people from killing each other.

Now if you take this notion that disputes often can’t be resolved only managed, and my notion that the affairs of nations can be understood by looking at the affairs of individuals, and vice versa, this view has implications for how I handle the situation with the fairy princess. When I was young, I made the mistake that this conflict between us could be resolved like the end of the 1970’s sitcom. I wrote a letter which I thought would end things. A treaty of sorts. The trouble is that it didn’t end things, and it can’t end things. The two of us are actors in a grand historical saga involving events that started centuries before either of us were born and will last centuries after we both die. As long as history goes on, it’s unlikely that the conflict between us will be “resolved” in any meaningful sense. It is not a concidence that the year I wrote the letter to her that I thought would fix things was the same year as the fall of the Soviet Union when people like Frances Fukiyama argued that history had ended.

I had this idea that at some point in the future that she and I would have lunch and that would fix things forever. However, this won’t work. The trouble is that what I’d like to communicate to her simply cannot be absorbed in one lunch. Feelings are complex. It takes a very long time (sometimes a lifetime) to comprehend what someone thinks about you. And like the interactions between nations, even the mechanics of meeting carry with it subtle (or not so subtle) implications. I couldn’t eat dinner with this woman right now, for many of the same reasons that Hu Jintao and Chen Shui-Bian couldn’t have dinner with each other without everything around them falling apart. I can’t send her an e-mail and she can’t send me an e-mail for exactly the same reasons that Bush and Kim Jong-Il can’t exchange e-mail.

And thinking that one e-mail or one meeting could “resolve” things between the fairy princess and I is as absurd as thinking that one meeting could resolve the Korean nuclear standoff or the PRC-Taiwan situation. It can’t. And assuming that it can puts intolerable pressures on me.

So I have to step back and think whether or not there is a better way of communicating with the fairy princess than trying to come up with a perfect letter, and we can take a page from international relations. When Bush wants to say something to Kim Jong-Il and vice versa, they issue a public statement, and they look for private intermediaries that can carry messages back and forth, and they should expect no conflict resolution just conflict management. I’m doing this with my blog. This is my equivalent of the State Department press briefing or the Korean Central News Agency. There are all sorts of subtle and sometimes hidden messages in these articles, just like press briefings between nations have subtle and hidden messages.

It might seem odd that I’m using the lessons of international diplomacy to resolve what might seem like petty personal issues. But I’ve lived a life where the affairs of nations are deeply interrelated with personal affairs. I am a child of the Chinese Civil War. I would not exist if certain key political leaders made certain key decisions (i.e. Truman’s decision to send the 7th fleet into the Taiwan straits). One of the core principles of my life is that the grand and the personal, the great and the small. They are all related if you can find the common key.

The key issue between the fairy princess and I is the same as the one between nations. How do you communicate complex subtle messages, and reach understandings that manage conflict, when the risks of getting it wrong are enormous. Innocent people may suffer and die, if you get the communications wrong.

This will take decades to manage. It won’t get done in 30 minutes, and to capture the full flavor of what is to be communicated will take hundreds of pages some with subtle allusions and baffling hidden messages.

In the past few days, I’ve been reading a lot of the papers of Benedict Kingsbury, who is the head of the International Law department at New York University. I came upon him after a bit of searching, and his papers seem to represent precisely the view of international law and human relations that I don’t merely dislike, but which I actively hate. They are very erudite, very learned, but in those papers, I don’t see any people. I don’t see any passion. I see a bit of condescension. In his world, people don’t bleed. They don’t hurt. They don’t fall in love. They don’t get angry. They don’t argue. And I think it is this world view that causes problems, because a world view that denies that people have feelings and emotions is dangerous in a world in which people actually do.

Look around you, look at the news, look at your life, look in your heart, and see if the clockwork, rational view of the world that he represents fits with with what you see. and what you feel If it does, fine, maybe I’m wrong about the way that the world works. But if it doesn’t, then maybe I do have something useful to say to you and to the rest of the world. And if I do have something that you can use, all I want is for you to listen. Nothing else. That’s all I want. That’s all I’ve always wanted. To be listened to, and taken seriously.

Look at me. They don’t take me seriously, because I act irrationally. I have feelings. I have problems. I cry. I bleed. Because of that, they see me as a statistic, not as an equal. And they have that attitude toward anyone that feels and bleeds.  Because I react emotionally, I cannot be trusted.  But just read what I’ve written, and make a decision on your own the degree to which you can trust me.

The problem with the world view of rationality conquering all is that it is an incomplete and incorrect description of the human experience, and the people who subscribe to it don’t see that it is incomplete and incorrect, and bad thing end up happening, and bad things are happening.

Just look around you.

Anyway I wrote this to point out that these issues are not going to be resolved by one post. I’ll be spending the rest of my life trying to understand and deal with what is going on. I’ll be spending a lot of time going through Professor Kingsbury’s writings and those of people like him. He is part of the Committee that runs the world, the legacy of British colonialism and Cecil Rhodes. They think that they’ve sanitized the system, and got rid of the nastier bits of racialism and imperialism, and they have, but there is still something there that is unhealthy, and they don’t see it.

I saw it. I wanted to tell them. But those folks that denied my application. Unlike wikipedia.

And that’s why I’m angry, and I don’t think that I’m the only one….

I think I’d make a great Platonic philosopher-king, but I’ve ended up a Confucian scholar-bureaucrat. I wanted to be a philosopher-king, part of me still does. But to become a philosopher-king, you have to be chosen by the other philosopher-kings, and if you aren’t chosen, they won’t invite you to their discussions, and parties, and will treat you with humilating condecension.

But to become a Confucian scholar-bureaucrat, you aren’t chosen, you chose yourself. There are books and guides, and descriptions of what you must do. It has something to offer for every human being that lives and breathes, and like wikipedia, the door is always open, and anyone can edit.

You philosopher-kings can go to hell. Unfortunately, you are taking the rest of the world with you.

December 9, 2006

Passion, love and international law

There is an interesting paradox in international law and in law in general. International law is based on the relations between actors such as nation-states whose existence is based on passion and emotion. China exists because there is a community of people that think that they have something in common with each other and have an emotional bond. When those emotional bonds break as in the case of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, the nation state disappears. At the same time, when emotional bonds are formed toward organizations, such as corporations, religions, or things like wikipedia, these items suddenly become powerful actors.

But you’ll never read an international lawyer talk about passion, about love, and you will find that they talk very rarely about individual people, even though love, passion, and relationships between individual people are the building blocks by which all of the international actors are founded on.

The thing that I’ve figured out over the last ten years is that the passions, love, and feelings that I have toward people cannot be seen in isolation, but are products of historical processes. In addition, the other thing that I’ve figured out as a physicist is that things that happen at one scale can tell you a lot about what is happening an other scale. If you understand the behavior of particles, you understand more about the behavior of the entire universe, and this applies to social relations. If you start to look deeply at how two people relate with each other, this will tell you a lot about how nations relate. And it works the other way, if you look at how nations relate to each other, you will start to understand how two people relate with each other.

There is a tendency in social science to trivialize feelings. This results from a basic misconception of Darwinian evolution that was used to justify British colonialism and the British class system. The idea was that there are “higher” and “lower” centers of the brain and that “higher” people and “higher” civilizations use “higher” centers of the brain. The parts of the brain that were more recently developed are those involving logic and language.

So using this incorrect interpretation of Darwinism, “higher” people and civilizations use only logic and language, and the older mammalian centers of the brain which are responsible for passion, emotion, sex, hunger, are the preserve of “lower” people, “lower” civilizations. This view has consequences to people’s views on how society should be structured. This incorrect view of Darwinism was used (and is used) to divide people into “thinkers”, “feelers” and “doers” with the “thinkers” obviously getting all of the power.

And when the people at the bottom get angry that they are being used, well anger is an example of emotion and obviously people with emotions are inferior and shouldn’t be allowed to intermix with us thinkers.

The trouble with all of this is that it is *TOTAL RUBBISH*. Darwinism doesn’t work that way, and you can look at the work of Stephen Jay Gould to see how this view of Darwinism as a ladder is incorrect. In truth, the differently evolved areas of the brain complement each other. The anger, hate, and rage I feel integrates with associative centers that are responsible for poetry and partial differential equations. As a physicist and a computer programmer, I don’t *think* about programs and equations, I *feel* them. The model that I use is an integrative model, in which different parts of the brain have different functions, but all of them are necessary for the functioning of the whole and should be treated with respect. This view of how the brain works extends to how I view society as working. People are complex. People do different things. But people all deserve respect and you get amazing things happening when you network different people together, and societies are about networks, about passion, and about love.

This is the fundamental difference between me and the woman I  call the fairy princess. Her model of the world rejects passion. Mine embraces it. Her model of the world involves associating with only the “elite” and then “helping the lower classes.” Mine involves associating with everyone and both helping and being helped.

I think her ideas are incorrect, and incorrect ideas have bad consequences at the large scale level and at the small scale level. If one does not embrace love, if one does not embrace passion, then one denies one of the very foundations of human existence. Love and passion if not directed correctly and respected by the associative centers of the brain will fester and explode. It’s not a coincidence that the nation that has created a class system that is based on these incorrect views of evolution and Darwinism is facing a huge amount of Islamic radicalism, whereas a nation that is fundamentally based on equality and equal dignity of man is not.

I’ve been reading a lot of the work of Ben Kingsbury who is Professor of International Law at New York University, and he makes this fundamental error. He talks about a passionless system of “global adminstrative law” which rejects the passion and emotions of politics. We are being issued orders by the Iraq study group which are emotionless bureaucrats, objectively studying matters without realizing that war is all about passion and love.

This will not work to win the Long War. Wars, nations, and organizations are about passion. They are about love. Any system of international law which ignores this fundamental reality of human existence will create structures that accord with objective reality, and things that do not fit objective reality are doomed and cause unnecessary pain and agony, both at the level of international relations, and at the level of relations between two people.

I’m tired. I’ve been thinking and feeling too much the last week, and my mind and body are near exhaustion. I don’t know what is going to happen. I’m scared, and I think it is going to be worried. But I do think that I’ve broken free of some intellectual chains, of being ashamed of passion, of being unable to speak about love, that the fairy princess and people like her have put on me. I’m free of things that they aren’t, and that may be a good thing. I’m not afraid to challenge. I’m not afraid to fight.

But I am tired.

I want to end with the one thing that drives me. The one passion that I think explains everything in this blog. The one unifying principle that I would like to present.

I don’t like to think. Thinking is hard. Thinking is painful. Thinking will get you in trouble.  Thinking leads to talking, and talking leads to invoking the name of past ghosts that one may wish to forget.  Ghosts like the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward.

But I am utterly terrified by the consequences of being unable or unwilling to think, and I have unhealable wounds that keep me in constant pain, that are the result of what happens when one is unable or unwilling to think.  The consequences of being unable or unwilling to think are horrific, both at the international/global level, and at the personal level.

I’ll talk more later. I need to sleep.

December 2, 2006

The essential message of MIT

Filed under: academia, massachusetts institute of technology, wikipedia — twofish @ 4:32 pm

I’ve been discussing MIT a lot on the Chronicle of Higher Education forum. Something I’ve learned from my physics training is

  1. look for the deep message in everything. It could be a unifying equation or concept
  2. look for unexpected connections between things. Once you see a deep concept like energy, you see different manifestations of things.

There are other things that I’ve been taught over the years, that mix unexpected with those things, and which puts me in conflict with a lot of academia:

1. Power based on secret knowledge is bad and dangerous. This is an interesting concept that I got from Confucianism, but which my parents repeated emphasized. There is a passage from the Analects in which Confucius (or whoever compiled his writings) said *I’m trying to say what I mean and mean what I say*. This is interesting when you think of the different types of secret knowledge. For most people string theory and quantum mechanics and that is secret knowledge. I give you a textbook on string theory or quantum mechanics, and you aren’t going to made any sense of it. Things that are also secret, the source code of Microsoft Windows, the business plans of most companies, and what the admissions committee is actually looking for.

If you think about it, this puts me in conflict with the academia power structure. Tell me, why is a physics professor more powerful than an eight year old? The physics professor has secret knowledge that the eight year old doesn’t. So there is a conflict of interest. Suppose everyone knows string theory and quantum mechanics? Then the physics professor loses power, doesn’t they?

It also puts me in conflict with the Cecil Rhodes Society to Rule the World (yes such a thing exists and I’m quite mad at it) and Microsoft. It also creates an alliance with Wikipedia and Linux.

I sound like a conspiracy theorist sometimes, but the thing that makes me different from Lyndon LaRouche is that I don’t want to replace an old conspiracy with a new conspiracy. LaRouche actually is a rather smart person, but the problem is that he has created an “secondary conspiracy”. You are more powerful because *you* are the secret few that know the conspiracy. Also, if I empower you with open knowledge, then you can tell me that I’m taking rubbish.

There actually is a power elite that runs the world (or more accurate there are clusters of power that run different parts of the world). I’ve met them, and had lunch with a few of them. They are really nice people. *Somebody* has to run the world, and I don’t have too much objection to the current group being in charge, except maybe for the fact that I’m not one of them.

2. Power based on mastery of *open knowledge* is a good thing. So if power based on secret knowledge is a bad thing, what should power be based on. I’ve been taught that power should be based on *virtue* and *technical mastery of open knowledge*.

Anyway getting back to MIT.  Funny things happen when you mix physics and marketing.  I like looking at something and figuring the essential message.  The thing about a commercial is that it gets its power from hitting the mammalian brain, and when you strip it out the essential message, it looks kind of funny.  The bad way of deailing this (which I see in academics) is to say “ha, the masses are stupid to fall for marketing”.  The problem with this is that academics also fall victim to marketing and because of their sense of superiority they don’t have the self-reflection to realize that this happening, and it is often hurting them.

The essential message of a beer commercial is “drink this fizzy water, and it will make you attractive to women.”

The essential message of MIT is “you are stupid, but that’s OK, everyone is stupid.  you are stupid, your teachers are stupid, you will always will be stupid, but there is salvation, you can redeem yourself by trying to be less stupid.”

The interesting thing is that this is same message as fundamentalist Protestant Christianity.  “You are a sinner.  We are all sinners.  But there is the possibility of redemption.”  (There are slight differences in the essential message.)

It is an incredibly liberating experience to realize that you are stupid (but so is everyone else!!!!)  You have *SINNED* against the LORD, but *SO HAS EVERYONE ELSE*.  You are *DOOMED* to a life of ignorance. but so is everyone else.

I am free!!!!!

It removes a huge burden ofguilt and shame.  I’m ashamed that I’m so stupid.  I’m guilty because I don’t work hard enough.  But if I realize that I *always* will be stupid, and *everyone* us stupid, then I don’t have to feel guilty about being human.  I just have to accept Jesus into my life in the case of Christianity, or learn more and more about the volatililty curve in the case of MIT.

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