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Creating a web-based format for debate and deliberation: discuss?

Friday, December 12th, 2014

[ by Charles Cameron — Talmud, hypertext, spider webs, Indra’s net, noosphere, rosaries, renga, the bead game, Xanadu, hooks-and-eyes, onward! ]
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Let me firmly anchor this post and its comments, which will no doubt shift and turn as the wind wishes, in discussion of the possibility of improving on current affordances for online deliberation.

Let’s begin here:

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There are a variety of precursor streams to this discussion: I have listed a few that appeal to me in the sub-head of this post and believe we will reach each and all of them in some form and forum if this discussion takes off. And I would like to offer the immediate hospitality of this Zenpundit post and comment section to make a beginning.

Greg’s tweet shows us a page of the Talmud, which is interesting to me for two reasons:

  • it presents many voices debating a central topic
  • it does so using an intricate graphical format
  • The script of a play or movie also records multiple voices in discourse, as does an orchestral score — but the format of the Talmudic score is more intricate, allowing the notation of counterpoint that extends across centuries, and provoking in turn centuries of further commentary and debate.

    What can we devise by way of a format, given the constraints of screen space and the affordances of software and interface design, that maximizes the possibility of debate with respect, on the highly charged topics of the day.

    We know from the Talmud that such an arrangement is possible in retrospect (when emotion can be recollected in tranquility): I am asking how we can come closest to it in real time. The topics are typically hotly contested, patience and tolerance may not always be in sufficient supply, and moderation by humans with powers of summary and editing should probably not be ruled out of our consdierations. But how do we create a platform that is truly polyphonic, that sustains the voices of all participants without one shouting down or crowding out another, that indeed may embody a practic of listening..?

    Carl Rogers has shown us that the ability to express one’s interlocutor’s ideas clearly enough that they acknowledge one has understood them is a significant skill in navigating conversational rapids.

    The Talmud should be an inspiration but not a constraint for us. The question is not how to build a Talmud, but how to build a format that can host civil discussion which refines itself as it grows — so that, to use a gardening metaphor, it is neither overgrown nor too harshly manicured, but manages a carefully curated profusion of insights and —

    actual interactions between the emotions and ideas in participating or observing individuals’ minds and hearts

    **

    Because polyphony is not many voices talking past one another, but together — sometimes discordant, but attempting to resolve those discords as they arrive, and with a figured bass of our common humanity underwriting the lot of them.

    And I have said it before: here JS Bach is the master. What he manages with a multitude of musical voices in counterpoint is, in my opinion, what we need in terms of verbal voices in debate.

    I am particularly hoping to hear from some of those who participated in tweeted comments arising from my previous post here titled Some thoughts for Marc Andreessen & Adam Elkus, including also Greg Loyd, Callum Flack, Belinda Barnet, Ken (chumulu) — Jon Lebkowsky if he’s around — and friends, and friends of friends.

    What say you?

    Unequal equations

    Friday, January 18th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — math, modeling and mapping, in that strange zone where beauty meets understanding ]
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    The upper equation — Euler‘s — gets as tight and definitional as one can get, yet is profound in the way the greatest haiku are… while the metaphorical “equation” mentioned in the lower panel is a very rough model indeed of the intricate and constantly shifting forces at work in and on Pakistan.

    **

    I’m interested in mapping these sorts of influences at a level of detail that the human mind can assimilate and comprehend — and the graphical news-map in the video below will give you an idea of what one approach to such a mapping would look like.

    This particular example is drawn from a mapping of web-based news items related to President Obama over the course of 2009, but it should give you some idea of the constant flux of tensions and motion of “nodes” involved in tracking political issues, at home or abroad — the beginning is a bit slow, but from about the 23 second mark on is just amazing:

    Now is that art, or technology — or a beginning of something fascinating that by its very nature melds both?

    **

    Sources:

  • FB Ali, Interesting times in Pakistan on Sic Semper Tyrannis
  • Recorded Future Index video

  • Profiling Baader-Meinhof

    Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — fast cars, bumper stickers — and no mention of loose women ]
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    -- I'm not a member of the Baader-Mainhof gang

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    The sentence that drives my title is this one, from How BMW Became A Terrorist Icon In The 1970s (And How It Made Them Cool) on Jalopnik:

    police would set up roadblocks and stop only BMWs in an attempt to root out the gang members from the general population.

    That’s profiling for you, eh?

    **

    Here’s a longer excerpt, so you see where this comes from — and how it turned out, at least for as the makers of BMWs:

    In the early 1970s, the extreme left wing Baader-Meinhof Gang terrorized the people of West Germany with a campaign of bombings and assassinations aimed at dismantling a capitalist system they considered no better than the Third Reich.

    The terrorists’ ride of choice? BMW New Class sedans and coupes, according to this documentary from historian Richard Huffman, an expert on the Baader-Meinhof Gang.

    Huffman says cars became so strongly associated with the group’s acts of terror that police would set up roadblocks and stop only BMWs in an attempt to root out the gang members from the general population.

    People even started saying that “Bavarian Motor Works” actually stood for “Baader-Meinhof Wagen.” Some BMW drivers even had to slap bumper stickers on their cars specifying that they weren’t terrorists.

    You might expect this to have been a major PR crisis for BMW, then a small and nascent regional automaker nowhere near as prominent as it is today. But it wasn’t. That’s because the Baader-Meinhof Gang, later known as the Red Army Faction, enjoyed a surprising amount of support from people in West Germany, especially among young people and members of the left-leaning counterculture. This went a long way toward making the car seem hip in German youth culture.

    Then the gang stopped being theoretical revolutionaries and actually started murdering Germans and U.S. soldiers. When the body count began to rise, public support evaporated. As for BMW, they emerged unscathed from the crisis, and started growing into the luxury giant they are today.

    **

    Now, what kind of analytic model would predict a series of twists and turns and hairpin bends like that?

    What all these measures will not address is the mindset

    Monday, December 24th, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — concerning the implications of the phrase “all things visible and invisible” ]
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    In the upper panel above, you can see a bunch of “guns and ammo” displayed on a table, and in the lower panel, a bunch of “hearts and minds” similarly displayed. Putting that another way, you can see guns and ammo but you can’t see hearts and minds — they’re invisible, you can only intuit them.

    And therein lies the reason we focus so much on the quantitative and so little on the qualitative: we can see and count the one, the other is invisible and unaccountable.

    **

    I thought the paragraph that follows was terrific. The article I’ve taken it from happens to be about a multiple rape of a teenage girl this July in India, and it was posted on the Times of India site. If that’s an issue of importance to you, the article is Why Indian men rape by Anand Soondas. It’s not the whole article that I’m pointing you to, though — it’s just this one paragraph:

    We at The Times of India in our edition today laid out a 6-point action plan to make India safer for women – harsher punishment, sensitization of the police force, setting up of fast-track courts, better patrolling, cleverer use of technology like GPS and CCTVs and a data base of public transport personnel – but what all these measures will not address is the mindset.

    More specifically, I want to address you to its concluding phrase: What all these measures will not address is the mindset.

    I want to re-purpose that paragraph. I want to remove the specific problem and proposed solutions, and to see the paragraph as a form, a vessel into which all manner of liquids could be poured.

    The form would look something like this:

    What follows is an n-point plan to make the world a better place — do x, do y, do z, do abc if it comes to that — but what all these measures will not address is the mindset.

    What all these measures will not address is the mindset.

    **

    We almost always think about ways to fix the world, but forget that any and every fix has to work its way through not just our own mindset — though that can be a problem in itself — but also the multiple mindsets and differing culture sets of multiple others.

  • Do this, that and the other in Afghanistan — but what all these measures will not address is the mindset.
  • Do this, that and the other about Syria, about Egypt, about the Middle East, the Arab Spring — but what all these measures will not address is the mindset.
  • Do this, that and the other to combat global warming — but what all these measures will not address is the mindset.
  • Do this, that and the other about the possession and use of firearms — but what all these measures will not address is the mindset.
  • Do this, that and the other, and the world will be a far better place.

  • The thing is, you can’t simply deploy other people’s hearts and minds, the way you can deploy your own troops and materiel.

    Lost and found in translation

    Saturday, December 15th, 2012

    [ by Charles Cameron — first of two quick posts, this one’s about when the same is the same and when it isn’t quite ]
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    Dahlia Iyad, a member of Black September in the Thomas Harris novel, Black Sunday, is portrayed (above) in John Frankenheimer‘s 1977 movie of the same name by Marthe Keller. At this point, very early in the movie, Iyad is recording her speech to the Americans, which will accompany the act of terrorism she is master-minding:

    The American people have remained deaf to all the cries of the Palestinian nation. People of America, this situation is unbearable for us. From now on, you will share our suffering. The choice is yours. Salaam aleikum.

    Did you get that? The soundtrack says salaam aleikum, the subtitles read shalom aleichem.

    Either way, in Latin it would be pax vobiscum.

    **

    Peace be upon you.

    My question, of course, has to do with the juxtaposition of the two words in two Semitic languages, sharing the same consonantal roots. Are they the same, or do they mean very different things?

    Obviously they’re the same phrase, obviously the subtitle is mistaken in putting a Hebrew salutation on aa Arab terrorist’s lips.

    But here’s the thing: strung between these two so similar phrases — or between Beit Ha’Mikdosh and Bayt al-Muqaddas — is the entire spectrum of ways in which translation can and cannot carry meaning over from one context into another. And we can locate it, right in the first words a child might learn, the greeting of one to another…

    As the Italians say, traduttore, traditore — translator, traitor.

    **

    But that’s enough foreign for one day — I don’t speak it very well.

    I do have to admit I jumped when I saw that subtitle, though. No big deal — and all the difference in the world.


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