Leftist Identitarianism is an identity

Leftist Identitarianism is itself an identity, one with more real-world reality and salience than any of the canonical identities it recognizes and focuses upon.

Where people habitually list their identities before speaking — “speaking as an x, y and z…” — they should say “speaking as a Leftist Identitarian who identifies as x, y and z…”

Once you recognize that in academia and most popular culture Leftist Identitarianism exercises hegemonic power to dictate what is really real, what moralities are moral and which opinions must be punished and silenced you can see why members of alleged dominant identities are lining up around the block to check their privileges: these are positively dwarfed by the privileges gained through membership in the Leftist Identitarian identity.

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Given the emotional connotations of the word “empathy” and my suspicion that few people have actually had firsthand experiences with empathy outside of merely emotional understanding I am going to re-adopt the term synesis.

Synesis is a greek word for understanding, and it literally means togetherness. It is a capacity to take-together otherwise chaotic data together-with other people. Synesis does tend to generate sympathy — similar feelings — but it also produces similar interpretations of data, suggesting similar practical responses. Where these intellectual, evaluative and practical responses differ, they appear to be the effects of subjectivity or taste — different but not altogether alien.

What is most important to know about synesis, and where it differs in connotation from empathy is synesis is social and learnable.

With empathy, we can respond to another person’s subjective experiences with emotions of our own, but we are permanently locked out of first-hand knowledge. We have our feelings about what the other experiences, and we can remember what they tell us and try to remember and relate it, but the other person’s experiences are theirs and they have privileged knowledge to these subjective truths. If we treat empathic knowledge as the goal of understanding others, true understanding is the insight that acquiring real knowledge of another person’s experience is impossible. This is true as far as it goes, but it artificially limits the possibilities of learning and gaining synesis.

With synesis, we can learn to make conceptual, moral and practical sense of the world in the way another does, and in fact the way groups understand other members of groups. The learning is never perfect, but it is far more adequate than those whose knowledge of otherness is limited to empathy, who tend to wax pious about the unknowability of the Other. As we develop synesis we get progressively better at anticipating how others will perceive things, how they will feel about them and what responses will seem advisable and acceptable, and we get better at speaking fluently, appealing persuasively and acting productively with them. We learn to make room for one another in our understanding.

This is crucial: synesis is the basis for all political alliance. Where it seems otherwise, look closer.

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How to talk about politics?

I think I am going to try to organize political conversations around a single all-purpose question: “With respect to this change you want, if you could wave a magic wand and pass any legislation you wanted, what would you legislate?”

This idea is not mine. I think I’ve heard it from at least two friends of mine. But I’m starting to think that this format is essential to political discussion. Until an issue or concern is framed in terms of legislation it is merely cultural or social and pre-political.

I’m sort tired of pretending that personality disorders expressed in political terms are political conversations. This is not because I find personality problems boring. On the contrary, I think they’re fascinating: it’s the legislation part I find hard to think about.

I am not sure I am interested in politics as I defined it. I think there are better ways of talking about my interests.

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I think a lot of what is currently lauded as strength is actually aggressive weakness.

Aggressive weakness says “I’d be stronger if other people didn’t prevent me from being strong.” It resents signs of strength in others, interpreting them as evidence that these others are consuming an unfair portion of a limited supply of power that ought to be shared, so everyone can be equally strong. It celebrates outbursts of indignation, irritable analyses, passionate denunciations and other articulations of resentment as “brave” or “insightful” — despite the fact that they are riskless repetitions of tried-and-true formulas that guarantee applause, head-pats, dittos, retweets, etc. from fellow weak aggressives.

Strength is different. Strength likes strength. It wants resistance, challenge. Strength will even acknowledge its own weaknesses, often in the form of self-mockery. Strength does not need other people to make way to allow it to be strong, and in fact any refusal to make way and grant it permission or even better — to confront it — provides strength an opportunity to activate and to experience itself.

It could be argued that aggressive weakness is a preliminary to the taking of power in order to gain strength. I’m skeptical that strength is ever gained that way. I suspect if weakness manages to seize instruments of control its own weakness ensures it will use the control unskillfully, and at best will only undermine the strength of others without actual gain of strength.

In my experience strength is generated through living as one ought to. When one is prevented from living in a way that generates strength, then one has a case for taking aggressive action. But the focus is not on other people and how they live, what they believe or what they have. The focus is on the goal of being free to live in a strength-generating way. Other people’s lives, beliefs and possessions might be altered in the effort to free one’s self, but if the other and resentment toward what they have is the focus, my bet is on catastrophe.

I believe this is a liberal attitude, as opposed to what is called “liberal” today, but what is, in fact, a degrading left-wing illiberalism.

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Scientism vs designerism

Rereading Richard J. Bernstein I can now see clearly why my first encounter Beyond Objectivism and Relativism was such a revelation and relief to me as a designer:

But we must realize that “individually the criteria are imprecise: individuals may legitimately differ about their application to concrete cases.” Furthermore, when the criteria are “deployed together, they repeatedly prove to conflict with one another.” Kuhn seeks to make sense of rational disagreement in theory-choice, disagreement that cannot be resolved by an appeal to precisely formulated determinate rules. Kuhn also claims that over time such disagreements can be and are rationally resolved by the force of arguments in the relevant scientific community. But even here it is misleading to speak of proof (if our model of proof is a deductive argument). Rather, the cumulative weight of the complex arguments advanced in favor of a given paradigm theory, together with its successes, persuade the community of scientists. “Such a mode of development, however, requires a decision process which permits rational men to disagree, and such disagreement would be barred by the shared algorithm which philosophers have generally sought…. What from one viewpoint may seem the looseness and imperfection of choice criteria conceived as rules may, when the same criteria are seen as values, appear an indispensable means of spreading the risk which the introduction or support of novelty always entails.”

Often in the name of scientific rigor, the kinds of rational arguments offered by designers in support of their judgments are dismissed as subjective. When you realize these attempts at rigor are actually scientistic misnorms to which working scientists do not conform (and that if they were to conform to these misnorms scientific progress would halt) designers have a way to disarm those who wish to suppress innovation in the name of objectivity and rationalism.

I am also seeing some fascinating parallels with Roger Martin’s mystery-heuristic-algorithm model for the evolution of knowledge. He sees heuristic as a step on the way to perfection of knowledge in codifiable algorithm. Years ago I argued with him on LinkedIn that algorithm is not always a desirable end, and in fact in some cases this stripping away of individual interpretation and judgment can harm an employee’s ability to connect with customers. But I can also see that Martin was applying some prejudices of the folk philosophy predominant among business managers.

Now I have a paranoid theory that Design Thinking is a sort of cargo cult — the methods and the symbols used by designers dropped into the business world, but stripped of the designer folk philosophy that permits those methods and symbols to produce quality work. It is a designeristic misnorm — a fanciful antithesis to business scientism…

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Mark of the philosophical laggard

Failure to stay current with philosophical thought has the form: “Beyond this point philosophy ran astray.”

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Seinfeld wisdom

“Your blessing in life is when you find the torture you’re comfortable with.” — Jerry Seinfeld

I’ve tried to say something like this before, but this is how to say it right.

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Golden Ages

As great as television has become in the 21st Century, podcasts are even greater. The wealth of insight available through podcasts is staggering.

My suspicion is that this is largely due to the medium’s low production overhead, which enables individuals to work relatively quickly and spontaneously (thanks to advancements in sound recording technologies and user interface design) alone or in small teams (also thanks to tech/UI) — the most fertile conditions for creation and to be able to reach a large audience without the need to persuade media distribution gatekeepers that their content will appeal to their target audience — a soul-killing endeavor that often fails, resulting in filtering, dilution and conservative punch-pulling of the most novel, risky and exciting experiments.

1) Good tools — light, transparent, activity-supporting — enabling users to focus exclusively on the creative object, 2) liberation from the need to enlist extended technical teams, with all the attendant money and management burdens, 3) cheap or free distribution of the creative product, 4) access to a market of consumers who become the arbiters of success, and 5) removal of approval gates (and gate-keeping mindsets) that come with all expensive endeavors — all these things support the takeover of industries by people with ideas and creative talent from the domination of technical, managerial and financial considerations.

In other words, the best creative products result from maximizing investment in design minimizing the overhead of management, engineering, finance, logistics, sales and marketing.

(When software development finally passes an analogous threshold, and software can be produced by designers focused exclusively on how people interact with what they’re making, we will have far better lean methodology for producing software.)

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Domain hoarding

I use domain names as a sort of intellectual property registry. I know I will never use most of the domain names I register, but I do want to plant a flag in the terms I invent or want to settle and develop in my own way.

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Coinage: misnorm

When people have a distorted image of a discipline, and harbor a detailed misunderstanding of how that discipline achieves its results, this can result in a “misnorm”. A misnorm combines a fanciful picture of what a discipline really accomplishes, how it functions at the micro and macro-level, why it has developed its various practices, and consequently, how it is most effectively managed.

Management is where misnorms are most damaging — where groups of practitioners are required to conform more closely to the misnorms of their own field, or where well-meaning innovators attempt to import “best practices” from other fields. In such cases, rigor means introducing effort-wasting burdens, removing necessary flexibility and autonomy, and, worst of all, the smothering of the tacit skills and intuitive judgment that are the substance of mastery of any craft.

This last casualty of misnorms, is itself the result of the greatest misnorm of modernity: scientific rationality. Behind the misnorms of scientific rationality is the craving for a fully explicit world, where articulate logic plans, directs and evaluates all behavior, which makes all gut responses, inspirations and talent obsolete. These irritating ineffables are quarantined to another misnormed sphere of activity: creativity.

This is why reexamining the history of science, ethnographically studying the daily practices of scientists doing science, and philosophically interrogating scientism is so crucial to life outside the laboratory. These investigations reveal a scientific methodology that resembles life as most of us know it, where logic, language, craft and inspiration are combined in flexible collaboration — not segregated and forced either to march in line or to frolic whimsically.

If scientists were forced to conform to the misnorms of science, science would cease to happen. Luckily, the prestige of science is such that this does not happen. But unfortunately paralyzing imposition and enforcement of misnorms does happen all the time in other less prestigious and empowered fields, such as education, where teachers are forced to conform to innumerable incompatible misnorms of education. Where education still happens, it is done entirely despite the control of politicians and administrators. It appears this misnorming dysfunction is also happening in the field of medicine, where the power of doctors is overwhelmed by the even greater resources of the insurance and legal industries.

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Orginality then and now

The 20th Century ideal of originality was based on an individual as sufficient condition of creation: “I alone originated this.” Or “the help I got arriving at this original idea could have come from any number of sources, but I alone am the one irreplaceable element.”

I hope the 21st Century ideal of originality will be based on an individual as necessary condition of creation: “Had I not been there this would not have originated. But the same is true of my fellow-collaborators.”

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Some people, when confronting an abstract idea, ask “what can I do with this, practically, concretely, in specific applications?”

Other people, when confronting a concrete practicality, ask “what can I learn from this, theoretically, abstractly, generally?”

Unfortunately, all too many people in the business of concrete practicality do not regularly confront abstract ideas because they lack a taste for the theoretical, and too many people in the business of abstract theory do not regularly apply their theories in concrete situations where they need to affect change, because they lack a taste for the practical.

Had I understood myself earlier, I might have protected myself from the harassment of the business world, but I think I might have followed a better-beaten curriculum. Then again, I might have travelled further along a paved road and come to where it could be paved further. But then… is “further along the same path” really where we want to go? I don’t know. My curriculum has been a mixture of accident and intensely urgent questions that seem to erupt up from beneath myself in response to my efforts to live this practical life I’ve blundered into.

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Where we are

An irritable, snobby, consensual contempt — “everyone who matters knows those people are hateful idiots” — stands on one side; paranoid, delusional belligerence stands on the other. Both claim privileged knowledge of “what’s really going on”, and this knowledge not only absolves them from respect, or even forbids them to respect — it philosophically precludes respect. We are philosophically ill, and this illness, being a species of mental illness, is reflexive: mental illness shows us a world that confirms the truth of our views.

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Drawing on every side of the brain

In high school, all my art teachers taught us to draw and paint the shapes our eyes “really” saw. We were discouraged from drawing the things we believed we were depicting — eyes, noses, vases, cow skulls, gourds, drapes — and encouraged instead to draw the shapes that were said to precede our objective interpretations. We did zillions of blind contour drawings. We drew and painted shapes instead of trying to model the dimensional forms we believed were there. It was an interesting experience. I learned to shift into a trancelike consciousness that made the visual world hyper-vivid, and disabled speech.

Toward the end of college I met a prickly teacher who demanded a different style from her class. Now we were to observe, analyze and model forms. She taught us methods for rendering various three-dimensional effects on flat plains, so we could translate the forms in space we learned to understand to what charcoal and paper could convey. It was an incredibly difficult shift, which I experienced as an undoing of years of skill development.

In the years after I did some other visual thinking development, but they were all remote from figurative drawing. I learned to compose pages and screens to aid in comprehending complex information. Shortly after college, I experimented with translating musical compositions into visual ones via the language of mathematical ratios. Most importantly, though, I developed an ability to collapse complexity into simple visual diagrams, which are tools for conceptualizing information, not only existing data, but for framing incoming data on an ongoing basis. They are visual hermeneutic tools. I philosophize visually first, and even when I translate the visuals into words, I keep wanting to retain the visual qualities, which might be why I’m tempted toward prosody. Not for the sake of sounds (or not primarily), but for the sake of structure. I want important thoughts to be expressed in linguistic crystals.

Now my job has me doing figurative drawing again, but in a style going driving me back further into those left-brained natural habits of seeing and drawing I worked so hard to break and replace in my teen years. Now I am sketching ideas with the goal of communicating complex ideas as simply as possible. It is somewhere between cartooning and writing in pictograms.

My life as a visualizer-thinker has led my on a tour through my brain and shown me how many ways we can bilateralize what we see and know.

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In marketing there is a research technique known as laddering for getting at a customer’s root motivations. I’ve also heard it called the “seven whys”. When interviewing a customer about her feelings about some aspect of a product, the interviewer asks “why?” and then “why?” again, until the customer is unable to go further. This technique is used to uncover the fundamental emotional drivers of a customer’s behaviors.

A journalist friend of mine uses a similar technique to get at the emotional drivers behind people’s beliefs. When an interviewee makes an assertion she asks “How do you know?” and then “How do you know that?” until the interviewer is no longer able to produce an answer. She then asks “Why do you care?”

I think a procedure like this is necessary in politics. When a person claims our system needs to be overhauled and replaced with some radical alternative we should ask “Who decides that?” and then “Who decides that they decide?” and so on until there no answer but “because that is what is right.” And that answer, of course, means “Me. I decide.”

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“I am unique”

One of the greatest obstacles to relating to individuals as individuals is need.

The need might be utilitarian. We look for someone who can perform some useful function for us. We might see them as a useful role. This person is an engineer, a designer, a manager, etc.

The need might be emotional. We look for someone to fill a hole in our life. We might see them as some kind of fulfillment, completion or soulmate. As wonderful and romantic as the language might sound, this is still a failure to value an individual for their own individuality. The other is reduced to one’s own feeling of wholeness, or, worse, and more commonly potential wholeness — a longing.

Finally, the need might be cognitive: a need to feel secure in one’s understanding. We reduce people to categories with attributes which help us anticipate and explain their beliefs, behaviors and attitudes and to quickly give us a moral and possibly practical relationship with them.

It’s not that we should never do these things. I believe we always will and even must suppress the individuality of the people we meet. The who-ness of most individuals will never shine through the opacity of the what-ness of what we take them to be. (See Arendt quote below.) But we should know when we are suppressing individuality, to know how to invite individuality and to know what it feels like when individuality approaches. And most of all, we must work at wanting individuality and to be vigilant of those times when we do not want it and want to push it away or even to deny its existence. These kinds of knowing carry us from the ethical into the religious.


Re: the what-ness of individuals, Hannah Arendt’s hard-nosed realism is on the mark:

No society can properly function without classification, without an arrangement of things and men in classes and prescribed types. This necessary classification is the basis for all social discrimination, and discrimination, present opinion to the contrary notwithstanding, is no less a constituent element of the social realm than equality is a constituent element of the political. The point is that in society everybody must answer the question of what he is — as distinct from the question of who he is — which his role is and his function, and the answer of course can never be: I am unique, not because of the implicit arrogance but because the answer would be meaningless.

To know an individual is precisely to make the answer “I am unique” meaningful.

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Nine times out of ten, perfectionism is a symptom of an incapacity to make intelligent trade-offs — a compulsive correction of minute isolated imperfections which has lost all sense of a potentially perfect whole.

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Why you should be mad about Lean Startup

Lean Startup externalizes usability costs to users.

To combat this practice, if I find a usability issue I call tech support and have them walk me through the interaction. These calls cost a company a significant amount of money and makes it less profitable for them to skip the user-centered design steps that ensure a decent experience for users.

I urge everyone who cares about design to do the same. Stop wasting your time and energy trying figure out how bad designs are supposed to work, and start wasting the company’s resources instead.


The long story on Lean Startup:

Before Lean Startup, companies invested in user centered design processes, including usability testing, to ensure customer’s tools always worked well. The highest priority was given to protecting customers from design mistakes that inflicted frustration and interfered with their lives. Software was released only when the flaws were fixed and the software was ready for human use.

Lean Startup changed all that. It advises companies to not invest money in design and research, but instead to release the software sooner, even though this is likely to expose customers to usability errors, frustration and confusion. Rapid release cycles enable the problems to be spotted in analytics and quickly corrected. This enables the company to accelerate software improvements and outpace competitors.

With Lean Startup, it’s all about competing to be the best product first. It’s all about the company’s product surpassing the competitor’s product — not about the customer’s tools working as they should and providing a great experience. It’s all about how good the company’s software gets, not how bad their customers feel while using untested, hastily hacked-together interfaces.


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Langer (and Geertz)

Looking for a beloved Geertz quote, I happened upon this mind-blowing hunk of truth.

One regret: I should have called the post “Langer (and Geertz).

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A cruel thing to say

“I wish you actually were the person you want to be.”

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