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Gaza symmetries and asymmetries

Sunday, July 20th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- "hatred of the other" viewed as a cognitive matter, and Richard Landes on the capacity for self-criticism ]
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Credit: Amir Schiby

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Nicholas Kristof has a post today for the NYT Sunday Review, Who’s Right and Wrong in the Middle East? — in which he explores the symmetries and asymmetries playing out in Gaza. He concludes with the following paragraph:

Here we have a conflict between right and right that has been hijacked by hard-liners on each side who feed each other. It’s not that they are the same, and what I see isn’t equivalence. Yet there is, in some ways, a painful symmetry — and one element is that each side vigorously denies that there is any symmetry at all.

Let that stand as the epigraph of this post, while we turn to EO Wilson for a theoretical basis:

Reification is the quick and easy mental algorithm that creates order in a world otherwise overwhelming in flux and detail. One of its manifestations is the dyadic instinct, the proneness to set up two part classifications in treating socially important arrays. Societies everywhere break people into in-group versus out-group, child versus adult, kin versus non kin, married versus single, and activities into sacred and profane, good and evil. They fortify the boundaries of each division with taboo and ritual. To change from one division to the other requires initiation ceremonies, weddings, blessings, ordinations and other rites of passage that mark every culture.

Rush Dozier in Why We Hate picks up the thread:

Us-them stereotyping emerges directly from the primitive neural system’s basic survival response. It is a form of categorical thinking in which the categories are mutually exclusive. To the primitive areas of the brain, one is either “us” or “them.One cannot be both.

Jesus is reported as saying both “he that is not against us is for us” [Mark 9.40] and “He that is not with me is against me” [Luke 11.23], whereas GW Bush offers less ambiguity: “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”

Dozier again:

It appears that this kind of either-or analysis results from the pre-conscious alerting system’s need for extremely rapid processing, which requires that phenomena be simplified as much as possible and placed in unambiguous categories.

The alert with its binaries, and the analytic, with (hopefully) its nuance — which would we be better advised to entrust with such major matters as war and peace?

Jesus again, overriding the binary opposition [Luke 6.27-28]:

I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.

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Let’s move to one specific distinction — one that provide us with a binary, while arguably transcending binary thinking.

Richard Landes makes a strong point in his post titled Self-criticism and cultural development, when he asserts:

Self-criticism stands at the heart of any experiment in civil society.

He continues:

Only when we can acknowledge errors and commit to avoiding making them again, can we have a learning curve. Only when scholars can express their criticism of academic colleagues, and those criticized are able to acknowledge error, can scientific and social thinking develop. Only when religious believers can entertain the possibility that they may not have a monopoly on truth (no matter how convinced they might be of their “Truth”), can various religions live in peace and express their beliefs without fear of violence. Only when political elites are willing to accept negative feedback from people who do not have their power, only when the press can oppose those who control public decision-making, can a government reasonably claim to be “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

The distinction, the asymmetry I’m interested in exploring today is that between those who self-criticize and can accept criticism, and those who neither self-criticize nor accept criticism.

In my reading of the two quotes from Netanyahu and Diskin that I paired at the tail end of my post Israel / Palestine: some delicate balancing acts, Netanyahu seems to me averse to Israeli self-criticism, while Diskin clearly welcomes and practices it.

Here’s an individual, unofficial example. In an “eyewitness account of how the synagogue of Rue de la Roquette [in Paris] was attacked by a mob, and fought back” titled ‘Yesterday, a Part of My Love for France Left Me’, Aurélie A. wrote:

I can already see myself jumping at the throat of one of the keffiyeh wearers shouting “Death to the Yids!” He wants to kill Jews???!!! I want to leave him for dead! I do not recognize my own hatred!

There’s the binary at work, generating hatred to meet hatred — and the reflective mind that sees the binary as simplistic, and moves self-critically beyond it.

Landes again:

Nothing contrasts more with Israel’s culture of self-criticism than its belligerent neighbors, especially the Palestinians. Here we find one of the most aggressive zero-sum political cultures on record. They accept no responsibility for the war they wage, and justify all their behavior — including how they treat their own people — as a response to the Zionists. They demonize the Zionists with conspiracy theories and blood libels drawn from the most delirious of European anti-Semitic fears to inspire their victimized people to take arms against this malevolent enemy. Who could self-criticize when being assaulted by such merciless and powerful forces? Self-criticism under such conditions is unthinkable, and dissent is treachery. The exceptional number of Palestinians killed by Palestinians suggests a culture in which intimidating dissenters and eliminating traitors is the norm.

Those who say all who criticize Israeli actions are “Anti-Semitic” are overreaching: there is certainly a strong current of anti-Semitism alive and at large in the world, but the capacities to self-criticize and to accept criticism imply that one may critique what one loves as an expression of that love.

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The image of the four Bakr boys no longer playing soccer on the beach which heads this post is the work of the Israeli artist Amir Schiby. You can read it as a pro-Palestinian work of propaganda — or as an artistic criticism by an Israeli of the current Israeli operation in Gaza. You can also read it as a simple, beautiful expression of grief.

Its beauty argues for one of the latter two interpretations, and Schiby’s own statement on his FaceBook page that he intended it “as a tribute to all children living in war zones” clearly suggests the third.

Not a binary, partisan statement, then, and not even the raising of a “provocative question” — but an arrow to the heart, a wordless pang of grief.

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Israel / Palestine: some delicate balancing acts

Saturday, July 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- what does it mean to give a balanced view of an asymmetric conflict -- when the asymmetry may be as much moral as material, pragmatic as idealistic, as viewed from either side of the fray? ]
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The phrase “a fair and balanced view” rolls off the tongue easily enough, but what if truth and balance are, shall we say, asymmetric?

Is that balanced?

How about this one?

I can’t speak for Wajahat Ali. I’d prefer 0 : 0 myself, but do those two tweets balance — or cancel — each other out?

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There are arguably other asymmetries that balance the hugely asymmetric ratio of Palestinian and Israeli death tolls, whether or not you think Zach Novetsky‘s comment is a valid one — how about this one (with a hat tip to Lex)?

Is that a rebuttal of Wajahat Ali’s asymmetry, essentially erasing it — or a voice in counterpoint to it, providing balance?

What about John Robb‘s assessment this morning?

Isreal just shot down a drone using a Patriot missile. ROI on that “attack” was ~100 to one. At $100 a drone, a solid strategy would be to launch them 24×7 to grief the air defense system.

Here’s a Washington Post blogger’s attempt to preface what the headline terms “The lopsided death tolls in Israel-Palestinian conflicts” with a balanced and balancing first paragraph:

In the current conflict between Israel and militants in the Gaza Strip, both sides have attempted to harm the other. Hundreds of rockets have been fired from Palestinian territory with the aim of harming Israeli civilians, while Israeli military strikes have hit hundreds of targets in the Gaza Strip.

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It’s pretty clear by now that I consider juxtaposition a singularly powerful device for raising questions — but part of the purpose of such questioning is to discover the ever deeper nuances of a situation. Consider, for example, this somewhat more nuanced analysis of the same events:

Israel’s astonishingly effective Iron Dome air defense has prevented Hamas from killing Israeli Jews and spreading terror in the civilian population. Ironically, though, the better Iron Dome works, the less sympathy the rest of the world has for a nation that remains under rocket attack.

There’s something close to the “simple twist of fate” Jung called enantiodromia going on there — although the reversal of polarities involves a switch from the “hard power” to the “soft power” realm in this case, there’s still a blowback effect.

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Far preferable from my own point of view to the various asymmetries and imbalances we see in the real-time playing out of hostilities is this example of a symmetry of grief, recognized in a symmetry of compassion:

That’s a different — though related — conflict, of course.

Here’s a similar one, which I like because it ends “I defend ppl” — and one hopes in a 160 character parallel universe, Taslima would ineed have added “And vice versa” before that final remark, as her tweet surely implies:

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And I’m always happy to see Christians and Muslims united in search of peace, but when two parties in a three-way tug-o-war make common cause — as in the case of Palestinian Christians and Muslims making common cause against Israel —

— should that be celebrated as a gesture of unity in the face of “crusade vs jihad” rhetoric across a wide swathe of the world, or viewed as an example of polarization, “Palestinians vs Israelis” — or both?

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Those are some of the symmetries and asymmteries I have run across in commentaries on the situation — but how do participants view the situation? To anchor us in some of the political realities and ambiguities, here are some comments posted this week by two Israelis with close experience of the situation.

Yuval Diskin, Shin Beth chief 2005-2011, offered considerable nuance on his FB page:

I see the severe and rapid deterioration of the security situation in the territories, Jerusalem and the Triangle and I’m not surprised. Don’t be confused for a moment. This is the result of the policy conducted by the current government, whose essence is: Let’s frighten the public over everything that’s happening around us in the Middle East, let’s prove that there’s no Palestinian partner, let’s build more and more settlements and create a reality that can’t be changed, let’s continue not dealing with the severe problems of the Arab sector in Israel, let’s continue not solving the severe social gaps in Israeli society. This illusion worked wonderfully as long as the security establishment was able to provide impressive calm on the security front over the last few years as a result of the high-quality, dedicated work of the people of the Shin Bet, the IDF and the Israel Police as well as the Palestinians whose significant contribution to the relative calm in the West Bank should not be taken lightly.

PM Netanyahu speaking two days ago offered this blunt assessment, as reported in The Times of Israel under the header, Netanyahu finally speaks his mind:

He made explicitly clear that he could never, ever, countenance a fully sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank. He indicated that he sees Israel standing almost alone on the frontlines against vicious Islamic radicalism, while the rest of the as-yet free world does its best not to notice the march of extremism. [ .. ]

Netanyahu has stressed often in the past that he doesn’t want Israel to become a binational state — implying that he favors some kind of accommodation with and separation from the Palestinians. But on Friday he made explicit that this could not extend to full Palestinian sovereignty. Why? Because, given the march of Islamic extremism across the Middle East, he said, Israel simply cannot afford to give up control over the territory immediately to its east, including the eastern border — that is, the border between Israel and Jordan, and the West Bank and Jordan.

More explicitly:

Netanyahu didn’t say he was ruling out all territorial compromise, but he did go to some lengths to highlight the danger of relinquishing what he called “adjacent territory.” He scoffed at those many experts who have argued that holding onto territory for security purposes is less critical in the modern technological era, and argued by contrast that the closer your enemies are, physically, to your borders, the more they’ll try to tunnel under those borders and fire rockets over them. It had been a mistake for Israel to withdraw from Gaza, he added — reminding us that he’d opposed the 2005 disengagement — because Hamas had since established a terrorist bunker in the Strip. And what Hamas had been doing in Gaza — tunneling into and rocketing at the enemy — would be replicated in the West Bank were Israel so foolish as to give the Islamists the opportunity.

“If we were to pull out of Judea and Samaria, like they tell us to,” he said bitterly — leaving it to us to fill in who the many and various foolish “theys” are — “there’d be a possibility of thousands of tunnels” being dug by terrorists to attack Israel, he said. There were 1,200 tunnels dug in the 14- kilometer border strip between Egypt and Gaza alone, he almost wailed, which Egypt had sealed. “At present we have a problem with the territory called Gaza,” the prime minister said. But the West Bank is 20 times the size of Gaza. Israel, he said flatly, was not prepared “to create another 20 Gazas” in the West Bank.

And finally:

Beyond Israel’s direct current confrontation with Hamas, and the eternal Palestinian conflict, Netanyahu also addressed the rise of Islamic extremism across the Middle East — covering the incapacity of affected states to resist it, and Israel’s unique determination and capacity to stand firm. He said Israel finds itself in a region “that is being seized by Islamic extremism. It is bringing down countries, many countries. It is knocking on our door, in the north and south.”

But while other states were collapsing, said Netanyahu, Israel was not — because of the strength of its leadership, its army and its people. “We will defend ourselves on every front, defensively and offensively,” he vowed.

And in a passage that was primarily directed at Israel’s Islamist enemies, but might equally be internalized by those he plainly regards as Israel’s muddle-headed self-styled friends, he added: “Nobody should mess with us

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DQ: Syria/Saudi two way street

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron -- two way street, aka boomerang, aka blowback ]
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Sources:

  • From Saudi Arabia to Syria: Aaron Zelin, The Saudi Foreign Fighter Presence in Syria
  • From Syria to Saudi Arabia: Asharq al-Awsat, Saudi Arabia arrests first ISIS-related terror cell
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    On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: two dazzlers

    Friday, March 7th, 2014

    [ by Charles Cameron -- completing a post that began with On the felicities of graph-based game-board design: preliminaries ]
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    Having shown you a variety of (node-and-edge) graphs in the previous part of this post

    — I’d now like to turn to the issue of board game design, in particular as it applies to the HipBone and Sembl games with which I’m associated.

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    Since the basic idea of these games is to see the links between one idea and another, graphs of this kind are the simplest and most elegant boards on which to represent game moves. Accordingly our games boards, from the simplest Hop, skip and a jump board that I’d use to introduce kids to the games –

    — via my standard HipBone WaterBird board –

    — to the complex and still only part-played Said Symphony board –

    — and indeed beyond, to Cath Styles‘ elegant Lotus Board for the Australian Museum Game

    — all our boards are graphs — and any graphs that catch my eye are potential boards, waiting for me to figure out whether they’d actually work in play, or might suggest any new ideas for board design.

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    I therefore felt very lucky indeed one day this week, when I ran across two striking, indeed dazzling graphs in quick succession.

    Artist Ellen van der Molen makes a speciality of mandalas — those circular and often highly symmetrical images, common in Hindu and Tibetan art, that Carl Jung viewed as “the psychological expression of the totality of the self” — but it was this particular one featuring “graph” imagery, which she titles Lotus Grid, that dazzled me:

    There’s an interesting and delicately balanced asymmetry to the graph in this mandala, and it makes me think of board design in less tightly controlled, more flowing ways.

    More of Ellen’s work can be found here [link]: my “next favorite” of her works features simple, elegant calligraphy in an unknown language — here.

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    So that’s from the art side of the house — while on the science side I ran across this graph at about the same time.

    I have snagged it from an academic paper by Andrew D. Foote et al, titled Ancient DNA reveals that bowhead whale lineages survived Late Pleistocene climate change and habitat shifts, in Nature Communications 4, Article number: 1677, doi:10.1038/ncomms2714, Figure 3: Survival of bowhead whale lineages during the Pleistocene–Holocene transition. I have removed only the words Late Pleistocene and early Holocene, which were relevant in the graph’s scientific context, but would only have been confusing in terms of my game design discussion here:

    And that, my friends, is stunning for a whole other set of reasons — it suggests what a three-dimensional HipBone or Sembl game board might be like, and frankly it leaves me fumbling for ideas.

  • What might the upper (blue) and lower (green) levels signifiy, in terms of play?
  • What affordances would a 3-D board offer, that one of our simple 2-boards can’t?
  • Where can I take my thinking about graphical board design, once I have seen this, and allowed it to sink into my generative unconscious?
  • I don’t know the answers, of course. I don’t know what either of these two images will do to my own thought processes — but they’re like two pebbles dropped fortuitiously and almost simultaneously into my mirroring pool, and their ripples are surely spreading.

    My grateful thanks to both Ellen van der Molen and Andrew D. Foote and his co-authors.

    One idea leaps to another, and so the games proceed.

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    Parable of the soft-touch chiropractor

    Sunday, December 15th, 2013

    [raked by Lynn C. Rees]

    Driving Mom around during her last years in this life, I sat in on one of her soft-touch chiropractic sessions. Her soft-touch chiropractor was out of the office so one of his disciples stood in.

    As he worked, the sub-soft-touch chiropractor said, “Let me explain how this helps your mom.” As he’d done since the session started, he made a fist with his right hand and bent his arm back until the fist reached shoulder height. He flexed the muscles in his arm.

    “First, I build up potential energy in my arm.”. The shake in his upper arm intensified.

    “Then I concentrate the potential energy in my finger.” He whipped his arm forward and pointed. His arm and finger shook.

    “Then I transfer that energy to your mom.”, he said, softly touching Mom’s shoulder. “It’s the perfect translation of potential energy to kinetic energy. Kinetic energy restores balance and balance restores health.”

    “Hnn.”, I said.

    Who can judge?

    1. Now these are the words which Jesus taught his disciples that they should say unto the people.
    2. Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged; but judge righteous judgment.
    3. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.
    4. And again, ye shall say unto them, Why is it that thou beholdest the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
    5. Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and canst not behold a beam in thine own eye?

    — Matthew 7: 1-5  (JST)

    For parables,  soft-touch chiropracty’s guilt or innocence is a noop: parablizing does not imply judgement, righteous or not. For show and tell purposes, mote or beam are equally useful. As the Thomas theorem claims:

    If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences.

    This is true, though the outer limits on its truth are set by the Graham assertion:

    In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run it is a weighing machine.

    If tactics is voting, strategy is weighing: strategy is the creation of asymmetry. To mangle Conrad C. Crane, there are two kinds of strategy: asymmetric and stupid: proper strategy puts a finger on the scale. It restores balance through weight of deliberate asymmetry and then balance restores health.

    If the cycle of strategy is:

    drive → reach → grip

    Up the slope of:

    certain → hazyuncertain

    With the goal of summiting at:

    certain → certain → certain

    The parable of the soft-touch chiropractor demonstrates:

    1. There will be drive.
    2. Drive motivates a build up of strength. Fist clenching and muscle flexing, metaphoric or not, is involved.
    3. Strength creates potential reach.
    4. The ideal strength would banish uncertainty from reach and grip, making them indistinguishable from drive. This would be the perfect translation of potential reach to kinetic grip.
    5. The leap of faith is the frantic whipping between reach and grip. Pull my finger.
    6. Though potential reach will generally always fall short of translation into certain grip, sometimes the touch of its less than kinetic sway on its targets’ mind will compensate for its kinetic shortfall.

     

    The sway of soft-touch chiropracty comforted as cancer spread. This is reach and soft power. Its force did nothing to hurt cancer. This is soft grip and hollow power. As reach exceeds grip, so cancer exceeds soft-touch chiropracty. Then comes the inevitable: no balance, no health.

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