Horror and hope


In Stephen Wolfram's book "A New Kind of Science" there is something cruel about all the little diagrams. (Some effort was taken to achieve this effect, the print quality is amazing.) It's like all of human knowledge is a rickety structure in this vast sea of computational possibility. Anything we construct is almost necessarily going to be bloated, naive, and inefficient.

I think the Christian notion of "original sin" captures at least an aspect of this horror. Christianity goes too far though, and calls our foolishness evil.

Life is NP hard. The prevalence of computational irreducability means mistakes are necessary. No matter how smart we are we'll always end up looking like fools in hindsight, but that foolishness is often constructive and the cost often worthwhile. Good ideas arrived at at great cost are readily verified and can be expected to spread rapidly. So there is a wedge of hope too.

Another example is my ugly little theory about cats and dogs. Horror: this is how the world works and has worked for time immemorial, and I am guilty of being a part of it. Hope: now I see, I can do better. Hurt other people less, hurt myself less.

This mixture of feelings is a practical one. It allows action in a mad world. The world has always been as it is now -- petty wars on false pretences, hopelessly incompetent resource allocation, vanity and hubris. It's just we now start to see that we've been acting stupidly, and we now start to see what we should have been doing all along.


This is not to be confused with calling other people fools, in the style of Michael Moore or Jon Stewart. Though this gives one a nice inner glow, it does not lead to any change. Still, it's not far from the mark, targeted closer to home the method could be quite effective. John Safran springs to mind.

Humour. The situation is inherently laughable. But not nice humour. Not comedy, or parody. Not black humour either, not exaggerated. Just unfiltered. Saying things that are not said as if there were obvious -- because once said they *are* obvious. Taking statements of ideals at face value. Frequent recourse to concrete examples -- not the standard examples either, not examples carefully crafted to either show the power of an idea or knock it down, just examples from your own experience.

Serious humour, presented seriously. Not just to showing up the world as crazy and unfair (no big revelation), but used as a means to bring about real changes in thinking.

Taking people at face value too. Taking what people say seriously no matter how unreasonable it is, because they take it seriously and undoubtedly have reasons for doing so. Trying to work out the consequences of what they are saying. There is always a point to it, that can be found with a little patience -- usually one quite different to their initial dogma. Not arguing. Not scoring points. Not playing games. Not trying to win, just trying to understand.

And taking things personally. The normal cut and thrust of politics should be taken at face value. Personal is one of the easiest forms of example to be honest about, one of the things that is most concrete to you. Attacks should be seen to hurt, because they do hurt. Good ideas and constructive steps by any party should be acknowledged -- and such acknowledgement backed by recourse to concrete example, so as not to be just empty words. Not professionalism, not just doing a job, taking the mess and making it work.