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How shall “in the box” people think “outside the box”?

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — a gadfly question ]
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We have seen various conversations online in which its is plausibly suggested that YESness leads to upward mobility across an array of silos and disciplines, specifically including the intelligence community and the military — the end result being risk-averse group-think that is pretty much “inside the box” by definition.

Similarly, we have noted that serious and nuanced issues are frequently debated in the media by those who are known for their general-purpose punditry or seniority, rather than by those with specific knowledge of and insight into the particular issues of concern.

Question: How shall we get outside the box thinking from inside the box thinkers?

A DoubleQuote from Justin Erik Halldór Smith

Friday, May 1st, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — within freedom, an admirer of courtesy ]
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Here’s a terrific DoubleQuote with which JEH Smith opens his blog post, Charlie Hebdo and Literature, which is itself a fascinating commentary on his Harper’s piece, The Joke. Both are worth reading.

SPEC DQ Justin Smith

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It would seem the battle within Islamicate culture between poking fun and no fun being poked has been ongoing for quite a while ..

Chris Bateman and Cornelius Castoriadis

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — to Chris Bateman and all — concerning the hard problem in consciousness ]
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Chris Bateman is a game designer and philosopher whose sense of games informs his philosophy, while Cornelius Castoriadis was a philosopher influenced by Lacanian psychoanalysis — for some reason, I have previously and it seems erroneously identified him as an architect. The first quote below is from Chris Bateman’s blog post a day or three ago, Voiding The Hard Problem of Consciousness on Only a Game:

SPEC DQ Bateman Castoriadis

The second quote is from Castoriadis’ book, World in Fragments: Writings on Politics, Society, Psychoanalysis, and the Imagination.

This post is offered as a coversational rejoinder to Chris’ post, in the spirit of the ‘Republic of Letters’.

Takfir squared, Prisoners Dilemma and MC Escher

Friday, January 16th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — call it backlash, backfire, or blowback, somewhere they’re dclaring takfir on the takfiris ]
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Ali Minai at BrownPundits has a worthwhile take on what he calls, paradoxically enough, Unreal Islam, from which I’ve excerpted this paragraph:

However, another version of takfir is now afoot in the world. Call it “reverse takfir”. Unlike the militant version, it is well-intentioned and self-consciously humane, but it is also dangerous. This “benign” version of takfir is epitomized by the idea that the acts of violence being committed by self-proclaimed holier-than-thou Muslims are not the acts of “real Muslims” and do not represent “real Islam”. In effect, it declares the terrorists to be infidels! The idea is widespread, and is espoused in three different contexts: By well-meaning non-Muslims (such as Presidents Bush and Obama) seeking to avoid stereotyping and the implication of collective guilt; by ordinary Muslims wishing to dissociate themselves from the beheaders; by Muslim sectarians wishing to separate their brand of orthodoxy from that espoused by terrorists; and – most ironically – by Muslim governments and security forces seeking an “Islamic” justification for attacking extremist fellow Muslims, thus implicitly buying into the central jihadi argument of apostasy as a capital offense. The urge to do this reverse takfir is understandable and not without factual basis: Most Muslims are indeed not violent extremists who wish to kill infidels. And it does help protect innocent Muslims from backlash, which is rather important. The problem, however, is that it also feeds the narrative of denial and deniability that allows the militancy to thrive.

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Call it reversal, call it backlash, backfire, blowback, call it enantriodromia, eye-for-an-eye, tit-for-tat — the return of violence for violence seems both instinctual, in the sense that a desire for vengeance seems to spring unprompted in the individual, and culturally embedded, in that it can be found in Torah and Pashtunwali alike, and elsewhere, and elsewhere.

Whether the individual instinct can usefully be separated from cultural instinct is at least a question, perhaps a koan — but it was Axelrod‘s insight, working on the Prisoners Dilemma in game theory, that the “strategy” of tit-for-tat may best be considered as an iterative process, .. for-tit-for-tat-for-tit-for-tat-for .. rather than as an isolated instance, tit-for-tat-period.

Gandhi made the same leap to iterative thinking when he said:

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind

— or did he?

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Iteration requires that we pull back, to see not just “my / our” response — which is probably self-evident, if not so all-consuming as to be omnipresent and invisible — but to see “both sides”.

We move from:

Escher one hand drawing

— which is the natural or “default” view, equivalent to the righteous indignation of one’s own side in a conflict, to:

Escher drawing_hands

— which definitely seems paradoxical on the face of it, and which notably doesn’t give preference to one side or one hand over the other — Doug Hofstadter‘s celebrated diagram illustrates the process thus:

Hofstadter Escher hands

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Lincoln uses this strategy in his Second Inaugural, in describing the Civil War:

Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully.

It is to a large extent the elevation of Lincoln’s comments above partisanship into inclusivity, surely, which gives that great speech its greatness.

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For your further consideration:

Robert Axelrod:

  • The Evolution of Cooperation, 1984
  • The Complexity of Cooperation, 1997
  • The Evolution of Cooperation, revised 2006
  • Doris Schattschneider:

  • M.C. Escher: Visions of Symmetry
  • A very brief brief on black banners

    Thursday, January 8th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — wherein black flag patches run riot ]
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    Just a quick something I gleaned via Leah Farrall‘s recent blog post:

    Abu Bakr on IS and JaN flags

    That’s the gist of an excerpt I transcribed from an Aussie Insight video last year, which featured host Jenny Brockie and the gentleman depicted, one Abu Bakr. Bakr was arrested just before Christmas and charged with “possession of documents designed to facilitate a terrorist attack”. The exchange went like this:

    Jenny Brockie: I see you’re wearing the ISIS flag on your shirt

    Abu Bakr: It doesn’t really come down to what sort of flag because this flag, here, people might say you’re a supporter of Jabhat al-Nusra, and this flag here, people might say you’re a supporter of ISIS, but these flags are all one, they’re all the same flag, one Muslim nation and that’s it.

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    It’s great to see you back and blogging, Leah —

    Arabs at War

    — and we’re keenly awaiting the arrival of your book!


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