Things I've Tagged ‘Philosophy’

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Too often we put on a display for the world, many people have said this sentiment before and much more eloquently than I’ll ever be able to, but it’s so fucking true.

Sam Grittner

If you think that mathematical objects are not in time, and mathematical objects don’t change, you could easily fall into the idea that the world itself doesn’t change, because your representations of it don’t.

Tim Maudlin discussing the new philosophy of comsology

People consistently fall into this trap in our narrow view of time. We’re here for a blip and we’re gone, but we cling fiercely to the notion that our experiences are universal and applicable across all peoples and places. In the most basic sense, that is.

If mankind minus one were of one opinion, then mankind is no more justified in silencing the one than the one – if he had the power – would be justified in silencing mankind.

John Stuart Mill

Who Am I Designing For?

As a web designer, it’s easy to forget that I’m unlike over 90% of internet users out there. I’m an oddball. Strange. Unusually unusual. I look at and use the web in a way that most people don’t, won’t, and never will. Nor do they care about the details: how it was built, innovation in techniques, typography and design considerations, etc. Those are the things I care about, the things I’m impressed by. The rest of the web’s residents just want to get where they’re going.

When I build something I’m always striving to create a lasting design; something to impress…maybe just myself. The fact is, the difficulty that goes into designing and building a website neither matters to the user who will use the site nor the client directing it be built. Ideas about what works and what doesn’t will be right only when you understand the audience you’re after. I often get stuck designing for an audience I understand–web designers–and this is a problem.

We’re dirty narcissists, the lot of us! Too bad we shouldn’t be. I repent of these sins.

As a community, designers love to experiment and create ground breaking work; I don’t think I’m one of those breaking ground on that sort of scale, but from a personal perspective I’ve evolved immensely over the years. In the end, though, that evolution doesn’t necessarily matter. No one cares what technique you used, they just want to complete a task and move on. It’s better if they don’t notice that technique as it is. Why? Because the real reason a person is at any given website is to view whatever content it contains. Your work just tries to make it easier to browse.

Create experiences that aid in this process and you’ve gone a long way towards guaranteeing people won’t even notice what you’ve done–which seems tough to accept as an individual. We want and crave recognition for our efforts when we’ve tackled a particularly difficult problem, or perhaps I’m just projecting my own desires, but we’ve got understand that what we intuitively understand as novel solutions won’t necessarily be obvious for most people. Again, we’re an odd bunch, us web designers.

Moving forward, my goal is to create work that caters to something other than my perceptions on what makes for great design and to create something that is more appropriate to whatever given context I’m designing for. If you’re a designer, that’s an obvious truth–but sometimes it’s hard to remember.

What Does It Mean To Be Libertarian?

I’m always unsure how to answer this question. I have at least some knowledge of what this label means in broad terms, and so I have applied it to what I believe best characterizes my own philosophical leanings, but is it an accurate portrayal of my day to day thoughts and methods?

There is nothing in the basic principles of liberalism to make it a stationary creed; there are no hard-and-fast rules fixed once and for all. The fundamental principle that in the ordering of our affairs we should make as much use as possible of the spontaneous forces of society, and resort as little as possible to coercion, is capable of an infinite variety of applications. —F.A. Hayek, Road to Serfdom p17-18

Using “the spontaneous forces of society” and resorting “as little as possible to coercion” in “ordering our affairs” is as apt a description of my philosophy as I could develop on my own. No small wonder that this quote comes from Hayek, then is it?

The only problem with my line of thinking is that it is so highly criticized as ineffective, heartless, and leads to inequality. The assumption is that the “spontaneous forces of society” are ineffective at dealing with the inequalities it might breed; when left to one’s own self-interests they are unlikely to care much about the interests of others unless those interests are in competition with their own or can be of help in achieving one’s ends. But can this be true? Western society has been dominated by institutions that turn this thinking on it’s head–and these institutions are not coercive in the way that government is.

The idea that society organized under these rules and conditions can breed inequality is no secret; the question is, what amount of coercion helped push this inequality forward? And what makes an unequal state of affairs so unpalatable? As I saw in a link that I posted earlier, people are not all rational actors, and markets are inefficient. Sometimes decisions are made that are detrimental to the actor1 and the market2 in question suffers greatly.

But is that it? Is it those in poor conditions that gives some the notion that a libertarian society breeds heartlessness and suffering? Nothing in such a society would prevent it from creating an institution to care for these people. A society organized around a different philosophy, however, could use the coercive powers of government in order to give the appearance of alleviating this unequal suffering without the need for a social organization to fill this role; I have to argue that this is likely to produce apathy amongst members of that society. There is no need to care directly for the suffering of others as your interest in their well-being is served by contributing to whatever power is placed over you.

I don’t know, am I crazy in thinking this way? Couldn’t the well-being of others in a libertarian society be of consequence to you as a rational actor? Why might helping them be in your best interests? To fulfill some sense of altruism? To ensure individuals can afford and want the products/services you provide?

I propose more questions than answers–all of it rambling.

  1. What is the actor in any case? It could be a corporation, an individual, or anything in the economic marketplace making decisions. Abstract. Very abstract.
  2. This is a market in the abstract. The group/place in question that is affected by the decisions of the irrational actor.

Survival In The Modern World

Are we, in any way built to survive in this world? I would be tempted to state unequivocally that our ability to control our environment in ways unimaginable to our great-great-great grandfathers would be proof of a positive supposition in this respect, but I suspect I would be wrong in thinking as much.

Our ability to survive in the environment we’ve created for ourselves is reliant upon factors that if ever put out of balance would ultimately be devastating to populations and cultures.

Consider: greater than 50% of the world’s population is concentrated in urban centers. It takes a great deal of organization and planning to house, feed, protect, and maintain such populations; these urban environments are reliant upon just-in-time deliveries of food, utilities, and the organization of police forces to help maintain order.

What if some disaster put the delivery of food out of balance? Being an urban environment, it would be exceedingly difficult for residents to compensate for such food losses with their own provisions through gardening, hunting, or gathering. Residents are reliant upon the type of farming that is most devastating to land: large corporate farms.

Not that this sort of activity is bad. On the contrary it has allowed the world to be fed and fed cheaply, and is certainly a contributing factor in the explosion of population we’ve experienced in the past century; however, this land will not be arable forever and we cannot expect the sort of abundance we’ve grown accustomed to in our supermarkets to last.

If utilities are severely disrupted, we run into similar problems with food, yet in this case perhaps the lack of availability of clean and easily used water is more devastating.

The point is: as a whole our reliance upon the conveniences of modern life have built a situation that could lead to extremely undesirable consequences if any one part of it were to go out balance.

I’m just as vulnerable as anyone else in this. I’m not prepared to grow my own food, identify what sorts of things are safe to eat, build impromptu or semi permanent shelters, and live in a way that should come naturally to us as human beings. The loss of life would be great if the situation were extended to a large swath of the population, i.e. many major urban centers.

I love modern life, but what cost does it have 100 or more years from now?