Slavoj Zizek and Nature: a Swedish view

Via Slavoj Zizek and Nature « enleuk

[A personal favourite bit: 38:30 to ~40 mins]

…and, now, Enleuk’s paraphrasing:

“Psycho-analysis shows only a temporary truth, like there is no big Other [I’m not fluent in Lacanian, but I believe this means God as a deistic or panentheistic force of will and not a pantheistic or transcendent(?) God], but then you have to return to the illusion. The idea is that our social lives are necessarily illusory. All you can do is get these momentary insights. If this is the case, then life is boring. Instead I want to know if we can make truth operative in politics and social life. My whole point would be, yes, we can. The whole development pushes in this direction. One example is ecology.

Ecology is on the one hand an absolutely real problem and one of the biggest fields of ideological investment. There’s a book called Ecology without nature, that should be our solution. It’s not some kind of subjectivism, what he means is that what we mean by nature, in the ecological paradigm, is automatically connected to some kind of homeostatis, some harmonious organic reproduction balance that is disturbed by human hybris and we should reestablish the balance.
I think we should drop this paradigm. If there is a lesson from radical darwinians it is that there is no nature, if by nature we understand this kind of balance which was disturbed, nature is crazy in itself.

The ecological crisis is more serious than we think, there is nowhere to withdraw, there is no balance to return to, the situation is totally open. Some German said the goal of humanity should not be to reestablished to some natural balance but to violate nature even more. Nature left to itself would explode and render human life impossible, since humans can only survive in certain weather or climate conditions. We should try to fix and freeze the earth, be even more violent.
Also we should totally drop all references to antiscientific jargon. Often people say ‘the source of ecological troubles is our overexploitation, objectivisation of nature, we act as if nature is out there, the object, as if we are not embedded in nature, breathing with it, we should step out of technological attitude and live with nature.’

This is a problem, not a solution. the problem for me is the following: We’re in deep shit, like global warming, so why dont we act? It’s an example of the fetischist disavowal: ‘I know very well but’ like when you hear a speech on ecology, then you step out, see the sun, the birds, the rain. Because we are embedded in it we cant really accept that this can change.

So paradoxically we need more alienation from nature in the sense we have to accept nature in its total contigency, madness. Nature is not balanced paradise, it’s madness. Every natural balance is temporary and fragile, the smallest imbalance and everything goes crazy. This brings it to the end: that the big Other doesn’t exist. Usually people say either you are a subjectivist and self-responsible, this means you are an arrogant absolute subject, or you defer to the higher authority and it’s a difficult thing to separate between these two but we must accept that we are totally responsible but nonetheless not absolute subjects. It’s a very difficult position to sustain but we will be forced into it.”

“We should try to fix and freeze the earth, be even more violent.”

I agree that we should manipulate the Earth, that’s what we have hands for, but freezing it will not be possible because that means canceling evolution, a chemical process operating at a molecular level since 3 billion years. Freezing for me equals a delusion of balance. The viruses will find a way. We have to accept that life is a constant fight, there is no pause button. However, we can fight it with nukes and science and metal and stone and nanotechnology. We can build airtight glass boxes filled with water and grow food in them. We don’t have to care about what people think food is, we can use any type of body and any type of energy.

“Often people say ‘the source of ecological troubles is our overexploitation, objectivisation of nature, we act as if nature is out there, the object, as if we are not embedded in nature, breathing with it, we should step out of technological attitude and live with nature.’”

I think I’ve said this myself, except I think technology is equally a creative and destructive tool and that it too is part of nature. I think the problem when people say this is that they limit nature to the greenery outdoors and fail to see that everything in the universe is nature, including forks and computers and humans. For me, the solution is not ideological, but moral and practical. My morals are that all sentient beings should be allowed their illusion of free will and when two wills clash a compromise should be attempted. That’s it, however naive it may seem. And practically, it means that we can’t build billions of cars and industries run by energy that is consumed at a rate of a million times faster than it replenishes (oil and natural gases). That’s just common sense. Also, the earth is mainly silicon and the biggest energy source around is the sun. It’s pretty easy to see what we should focus on. Plurality is not a goal in itself, only a tool for achieving the moral. If we kill all species we might suffer ourselves. We should consequently also only exterminate species with old and dying individuals. Don’t take that too literally though, it’s just an example.

“we are totally responsible but nonetheless not absolute subjects. It’s a very difficult position to sustain but we will be forced into it”. For me, simplifying this ontological (apparent) paradox, I accept that this body I call mine is a part of a contingent reality, yet its described unique history of action has ramifications for itself within the system.


Filed under global issues, philosophy and metaphysics, politics

Sugata Mitra: Child-driven education

Sugata Mitra: The child-driven education | Video on

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Exclusive: Zizek on Iran

A collaborative translation of BBC Persian’s recent exclusive interview with Zizek. Cross-posted on the new site,

Many thanks to Kam, Mani and Sheyda for their help on this one.

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Online dating sites reveal latent racism?

via How Your Race Affects The Messages You Get « OkTrends

How Your Race Affects The Messages You Get

October 5th, 2009 by Christian Rudder

Welcome back, dorks. We’ve processed the messaging habits of over a million people and are about to basically prove that, despite what you might’ve heard from the Obama campaign and organic cereal commercials, racism is alive and well. It would be awesome if the other major online dating players would go out on a limb and release their own race data, too. I can’t imagine they will: multi-million dollar enterprises rarely like to admit that the people paying them those millions act like turds. But being poor gives us a certain freedom. To alienate all our users. So there.

When I first started looking at first-contact attempts and who was writing who back, it was immediately obvious that the sender’s race was a huge factor. Here are just a handful of the numbers that illustrate that:

The takeaway here is that although race shouldn’t matter in messaging, it does. A lot.

. . .

First of all, how do we know that race shouldn’t matter? Are we just making some after-school-special assumption that “true love is colorblind?” more compatibility usually
means more replies
No, we’re not: we know race shouldn’t matter to replies because the races all match each other more or less evenly, and reply rate correlates to matching. That is, more compatibility generally means more replies.

On OkCupid you create your own unique matching system, and that means your better matches are people you actually want talk to. Below is a graph showing match percentages vs. reply rates for a random sample of 500,000 people.As you can see, in general, the better you match someone, the more likely you are to reply to a first message from them.

We can see this principle in action when we look at our trusty control, the Zodiac. Here are the match and reply rates side-by-side, with similar rates colored yellow. There’s no real need to inspect the numbers; just observe the similar colors.

  • Throughout this post, yellowish colors are short-hand for “neutral” and red and green indicate “strong preference.”

People of the various Zodiac signs match each other all at roughly the average rate, and, as we would expect, they reply to messages similarly. In general, the correlation between match percentage and reply rate means that whenever we compare the match/reply charts for a given breakdown of the population, they should look about the same. However, this, like so many other fine assumptions, totally breaks down when race gets involved:

Again, don’t bother squinting, just check out the colors. We’ll soon look very closely at these tables.

. . .

So here’s last week’s compatibility by race table (I explained how we can confidently measure “compatibility” in that post). This is a blow-up of the leftmost table above:

As you can see, the races all match each other roughly evenly: good news. It means all other things being equal, two people, of whatever race, should have the same chance to have a successful relationshp. But now let’s look at the table of how individuals actually reply to each other’s messages. First we’ll examine messages sent by men to women (I know our gay readers are interested in same-sex versions of these tables, there’s a link to them here and at the end of this post):

The numbers on the perimeter of the table are the weighted average rates for each column/row. Here’s what we can know:

  • Black women write back the most. Whether it’s due to talkativeness, loneliness, or a sense of plain decency, black women are by far the most likely to respond to a first contact attempt. In many cases, their response rate is one and a half times the average, and, overall, black women reply about a quarter more often that other women.
  • White men get more responses. Whatever it is, white males just get more replies from almost every group. We were careful to preselect our data pool so that physical attractiveness (as measured by our site picture-rating utility) was roughly even across all the race/gender slices. For guys, we did likewise with height.
  • White women prefer white men to the exclusion of everyone else—and Asian and Hispanic women prefer them even more exclusively. These three types of women only respond well to white men. More significantly, these groups’ reply rates to non-whites is terrible. Asian women write back non-white males at 21.9%, Hispanic women at 22.9%, and white women at 23.0%. It’s here where things get interesting, for white women in particular. If you look at the match-by-race table before this one, the “should-look-like” one, you see that white women have an above-average compatibility with almost every group. Yet they only reply well to guys who look like them. There’s more data on this towards the end of the post.

Let’s see what happens when it’s the women writing the messages to men.

  • Men don’t write black women back. Or rather, they write them back far less often than they should. Black women reply the most, yet get by far the fewest replies. Essentially every race—including other blacks—singles them out for the cold shoulder.
  • White guys are shitty, but fairly even-handed about it. The average reply rate of non-white males is 48.1%, while white guys’ is only 40.5%. Basically, they write back about 20% less often. It’s ironic that white guys are worst responders, because as we saw above they get the most replies. That has apparently made them very self-absorbed. It’s interesting that white males do manage to reply to Middle Eastern women. Is there some kind of emergent fetish there? As Middle Easterners are becoming America’s next racial bogeyman, maybe there’s some kind of forbidden fruit thing going on. (Perhaps a reader more up-to-date on his or her Post-Colonial Theory can step in here? Just kidding. Don’t.)
. . .

Finally, here are a couple tables that shed further light on our discussion. These are site-wide answers to a couple user-written match questions. They barely need any explanation: one comments on the other, really. Together they shed more light on the theory/practice schizophrenia of people’s racial attitudes.

. . .

It’s surely not just OkCupid users that are like this. In fact, it’s any dating site (and indeed any collection of people) would likely exhibit messaging biases similar to what I’ve written up. Any dating site probably
has these biases
According to our internal metrics, at least, OkCupid’s users are better-educated, younger, and far more progressive than the norm, so I can imagine that many sites would actually have worse race stats. But like I said at the beginning, we’ll probably never know. See you next week.

For a further discussion of race and replies, the same-sex equivalents of this post’s data are here.

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An Eid gift from a young Afghani friend

Thanks to SK for sharing this with me, early on the last morning of Ramadan. Eid mobarak, to whomever is celebrating, or would like an excuse to.

YouTube – Ahmad Zahir–Rumi: It isn’t wise to separate from companions

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The Unbearable Simplicity of Value

Thanks to friend MH of ::Dorang:: for passing this one on.

via Information Philosopher – Value

Is the Good something that exists in the world? The Existentialists thought not. Most religions place its origin in a supernatural Being. Humanists felt it a human invention. Modern bioethicists situate value in all life. A variety of ancient religions looked to the sun as the source of all life and thus good. They anthropomorphized the sun or the “bright sky” as God. Dark and night were stigmatized as evil and “fallen.”

Philosophers have ever longed to discover a cosmic good. The ideal source of the good is remote as possible from the Earth in space and in time, for Kant a transcendental God outside space and time, for Plato a timeless Good to be found in Being itself, for his student Aristotle a property of the first principles that set the world in motion.

Can we discover a cosmic good? At least identify the source of anything resembling the Good? Yes, we can. Does it resemble the Good anthropomorphized as a God personally concerned about our individual goods? No, it does not. But it has one outstanding characteristic of such a God, it is Providence. We have discovered that which provides. It provides the light, it provides life, it provides intelligence.

We replace the difficult problem of “Does God exist?” with the more tractable problem “Does Goodness exist?” Humanists situate values in reason or human nature. Bioethicists seek to move the source of goodness to the biosphere. Life becomes the summum bonum. Information philosophers look out to the universe as a whole and find a cosmos that grew from a chaos.

Exactly how that is possible requires a profound understanding of the second law of thermodynamics in an expanding and open universe. A very small number of processes that we call ergodic can reduce the entropy locally to create macroscopic information structures like galaxies, stars, and planets and microscopic ones like atoms, molecules, organisms, and human intelligence.

A battle rages between cosmic ergodic processes and chaotic entropic processes that destroy structure and information. Anthropomorphizing these processes as good and evil gives us a dualist image that nicely solves the monotheistic problem of evil.” If God is the Good, God is not responsible for the Evil. Instead, we can clearly see an Ergod who is Divine Providence – the cosmic source without which we would not exist and so a proper object of reverence. And Entropy is the “devil incarnate.”

Our moral guide to action is then very simple – preserve information structures against the entropy.

Celebrating the first modern philosopher, René Descartes, we call our model for value the Ergo. For those who want to anthropomorphize on the slender thread of discovering the natural Providence, call it Ergod. No God can be God without being Ergodic.

Ergodic processes are those that resist the terrible and universal Second Law of Thermodynamics, which commands the increase of chaos and entropy (disorder). Without violating that inviolable law overall, they reduce the entropy locally, bringing pockets of cosmos and negative entropy (order and information-rich structures). We call all this cosmic order the Ergo. It is the ultimate sine qua non.

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The REAL ‘Stuff White People Like’

Great guilty pleasure… check out the link for the cool interactive graphics…

via The REAL ‘Stuff White People Like’ « OkTrends

What is it that makes a culture unique? How are whites, blacks, Asians, or whoever different from everybody else? What tastes, interests, and concepts define an ethnic group? And is there any way to make fun of other races in public and get away with it?

These are big questions, and here’s how we answered them.

We selected 526,000 OkCupid users at random and divided them into groups by their (self-stated) race. We then took all these people’s profile essays (280 million words in total!) and isolated the words and phrases that made each racial group’s essays statistically distinct from the others’.

For instance, it turns out that all kinds of people list sushi as one of their favorite foods. But Asians are the only group who also list sashimi; it’s a racial outlier. Similarly, as we shall see, black people are 20 times more likely than everyone else to mention soul food, whereas no foods are distinct for white people, unless you count diet coke.

Using this kind of analysis, we were able find the interests, hobbies, tastes, and self-descriptions that are specially important to each racial group, as determined by the words of the group itself. The information in this article is not our opinion. It’s data, aggregated from the essays of half a million real people.

So here’s the real stuff white people like.

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