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The Israeli election: in the balance

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

[ by Charles Cameron — the election itself a one day affair, and may even be settled by the time you read this — but the impact lingers, and the complex balancing of forces in the region remains ]
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Calder

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Nothing is ever black-and-white, it seems to me — but there are moment of exceptional clarity, and with the Israeli election (as best I can tell from afar) still in the balance as I write this, two quotes from Herzog (upper panel, below) and Netanyahu (lower panel) strike me as encapsulating the koan facing the Israeli people:

SPEC DQ Israeli elex koan

**

Still in the balance.

I was discussing the Middle East earlier in the day, an the issue of balance came up. Cheryl Rofer had said, “The big issue with KSA and Israel is balance of power” and I commented that if you throw Iran into the mix, the issue becomes one of a “balance of balances of power” — which could then be extended on out to include other interested parties.

This brought me to the idea of Alexander Calder mobiles, and the sense that they offer a kinetic equivalent to the static formalism of my own HipBone Games — their precarious balances and homeostases representing by analogy the tensions and resolutions between stakeholders and / or ideas, ideologies, approaches, in a way that features both “equilibrium and its discontents”. Fascinating.

To which Cheryl responded with gnomic accuracy:

Multibody problems are hard.

Ain’t that the truth!

**

Sources:

  • NYT, Netanyahu Says Never to a State for Palestinians
  • Fathom, We must divide the land: an interview with Isaac Herzog

  • Mobile, Alexander Calder in Gemeentemuseum Den Haag
  • 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.

    **

    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?

    **

    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

    **

    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.

    **

    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
  • Paris: pen and sword

    Thursday, January 8th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — my father was a gunnery officer & I’m a writer — sword > word > world? ]
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    The pen and sword issue is fundamentally that of word and deed, isn’t it? Only in this case, the “pen” is “pen and paint”.

    **

    and then again:

    **

    Will we ever get to the bottom of this complex of koans, in which our thoughts are part of the very reality they purport to represent?

    You remember Goethe‘s Faust wanted to translate In the beginning was the Word as In the beginning was the deed?

    In the beginning was the..

  • hush
  • thought
  • image
  • word
  • deed
  • fact
  • The relationship between thought and world — word and world, image and world — is of utmost importance and, I suspect, far from easily grasped by anything less than battering one’s head against reality.

    Theory and Practice:

    Friday, November 29th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — how theory works out in practice, and vice versa ]
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    Here’s the first of a pair of “patterns” of interest…

    Theory contradicts practice:

    — with thanks to my friend Peter van der Werff!

    **

    And here’s the second, a delicious serpent-bites-tail tweet re Egypt:

    Practice contradicts theory:

    **

    Okay, there are two more items for the “pattern recognition” / “pattern language” archives…

    And here’s wishing you all a Happy Black Friday — if that’s even concedivable!

    Geometry aka logic as an analytic tool

    Friday, June 28th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — reflections on cognitive empowerment by selective noticing ]
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    I just realized that I take notice of details at the level of “geometry aka logic” which I would miss if I were more focused on content. In effect, I treat idiosyncracies and hiccups of expression — such as paradoxes — as indicative of condensed or distilled meaning.

    What triggered this realization was the way my interest was aroused by this phrase:

    The parallel universes may soon become perpendicular.

    I found that today in an FP piece, Will June 30 be midnight for Morsi’s Cinderella story?

    **

    Paradox? Geometry? Contradiction? Figure of speech?

    It’s the irregularity in the pattern used to describe the events in question that catches my eye here, however you care to name it. And something very similar is going on when I flag the weird juxtapositions of imagery and music in Taylor Swift, Sara Mingardo, JS Bach and a quiet WTF, or the koan-like tensions and reconciliations inherent in such inseparable pairs as war-and-peace in Of dualities, contradictions and the nonduality.

    Here’s the full paragraph, discussing the increasing polarization of the Egyptian public, and some ways in which “the current situation differs more in degree than in kind from the recent past”:

    Second, violence is on the table. The parallel universes may soon become perpendicular. Of course, Egyptian politics has had its victims over the past two and a half years, but violence has seemed episodic and almost self-limiting since those who have deployed it have paid a heavy political price. Nobody advocates violence now, but many expect it and it is not uncommon to hear from both sides that they will not shrink from self-defense. And the line between self-defense and offensive action can become thin for each camp for opposite reasons. The opposition is hardly centrally controlled and rogue elements have already been involved in attacks on Brotherhood offices as well as those of its political party. For the Brotherhood, its discipline has led it to prepare for what it sees as defensive action in a manner that understandably appears threatening to outsiders (especially after the events of December 2012 when Brotherhood cadres constituted themselves as a vigilante force to confront those demonstrating at the presidential palace).

    Okay, so I’m already reading the article, ergo I must already have been interested enough in what’s going on in Egypt to click through to it. So why the fuss about paradox and geometry in what is, after all, only one turn of phrase in a piece whpose subject already interests me?

    **

    I’m still feeling my way towards and understanding of how my mind works, how I pick up on things, how I populate my mind with rich and interesting memories, how I make my small and large creative “leaps” — my means of collecting and connecting dots, if you will. Because there’s a cognitive skill there that I haven’t seen taught, and I believe it offers an “outside the box” alternative mode of monitoring topics of interest.

    You know, of course, that most every time you read the words you know, of course, that it’s a dead giveaway that the speaker or writer is skimming quickly past a cherished assumption that he or she wouldn’t want you to examine too carefully? Of course you do. It’s one of those psychological “tells” that should alert you, like a facial tick, a hesitation, or that curious (and paradoxical) tight grip on one arm of the chair with one hand while the other rests almost disdainfully relaxed and gracious on the other, in El Greco’s masterful portrait of a Cardinal, now in the Metropolitan in New York:

    How very telling that sort of detail can be!

    **

    And intersections.

    I talk quite a bit about juxtapositions and parallelisms, because they’re the elements of “creative leaps” (and Sembl / Hipbone moves) and I “practice” noting them for my DoubleQuotes. But one way to clear the xlutter from mind is to concentrate on places where two fields intersect. I’m interested in apocalyptic, for instance, so I take particular note when someone from a Christian apocalyptic POV (Joel Richardson, Joel Rosenberg, eg) writes about Islamic eschatology, or when someone from an Islamic apocalyptic POV (Sh. Safar al-Hawali, eg) writes about Christian eschatology. Reading wherever I notice this kind of overlap means that I learn in two contexts — effectively doubling my knowledge value — where most reading that’s not “targeted” this way only allows me to learn in one…

    Again: parallelisms, overlaps, paradoxes, perpendiculars, contradictions — these are all “formal properties” of a given text rather than “contents” — that’s the level of abstraction at which you can make the details sing.

    **

    Hey, I’m not alone. As I was cleaning this post up, Adam Elkus tweeted a link to a post about the CTO of Intel, Intel Labs: Assuring Corporate Immortality by Rob Enderle, which contains this phrase:

    This is very orthogonal thinking

    There we go! The word orthogonal is so important to me, and is so often on the tip of my tongue but out of reach of immediate memory, that I have a file on my computer consisting solely of the words “opposite oblique orthogonal congruent incongruous antithetical obtuse parallel asymptotic perpendicular right angles” — so if I can remember any one of them, I can easily find “orthogonal”.

    Very orthogonal thinking — terrific!


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