Spacing Out

Day 71: Wednesday

Good morning Zak,

It’s beautiful outside this afternoon in Milan.  The sky is pure blue.  It’s really stunning.

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See this mess?  This means I’m in the middle of a very good piece.  Whenever that happens, other things become harder.  Like cleaning.

You asked me some kind of philosophical question the other day.  Something about moral responsibility, I think.  Normally I’d be all up in it, but philosophizing is a bit like cleaning and today I have a truant disposition.  I’d rather just sit and stare at the miraculously blue sky.

Seriously, how is it so freaking blue?  It’s ridiculous.  There’s just nothing there.  It’s like one of those contemporary monochromatic paintings.

blue

I’ve been listening to a lot of Morton Feldman recently.  His music has that kind of sensibility—monochromatic, I mean.  It’s just exquisitely singular.

Usually when I look at the sky I’m used to seeing it with all kinds of nasty clouds blotted all over it.  But the thing that’s so appealing about this particular sky is the way it contrasts with all that.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the clouds when they’re there, but at the moment they would be a nuisance.  It would be a shame to splotch up something that’s just so perfectly blue.

There goes an airplane.

I guess what I’m saying is, it’s not like it’s Wednesday Afternoon’s fault that I find her so appealing.  It’s just ’cause I’ve seen a lot of other days—perfectly fine ones mind you—and Wednesday Afternoon stands out.  I mean, I probably wouldn’t feel this way if I’d never seen the likes of Saturday at Eleven.

If Morton Feldman composed a perfectly blue sky, would he be at fault for how heinously gorgeous it is?

But I said I wasn’t going to philosophize today.  I should really clean this room up, but I’m probably not going to.

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Your father, the accountant

Day 70: Tuesday

Morning, Tim!

I appreciate the clarification — indeed there are many advantages to not utilizing technology at all. In your last post:

For one thing, not having direct access to information means that I have to rely on personal human contact to find out about stuff.

This is interesting in that it creates relationship. Both parties benefit; you benefit from getting something and having human contact in the process while the one you are in relationship with needs to be needed and also gets the human contact. There is an exchange, a known give and take that helps relationships work.

I know we’ve talked about responsibility in a number of ways, but in particular moral responsibility as a spectrum. A certain shirt pattern may darken someone’s day, spinning them into a tizzy and furthering a breakdown. Obviously there is very diffuse responsibility here, very unknown to the shirt wearer. There are also actions much closer to full moral responsibility — yet it seems all have been shaped in some way by the world and circumstances we live in.

I was curious your guidance on the value of blame.

Blame: Feel or declare that (someone or something) is responsible for a fault or wrong.

In many ways, I see the best version of blame as responsibility accounting. It is attempting to understand which parts of the responsibility pie get divvied up and to whom.

At work there is a philosophy of “taking your 100% responsibility”, the idea being that blame doesn’t add anything to the picture. Understanding your component is likely the best you can do (and even that is likely suspect) — and we should rather shift our attention toward curiosity. Now this curiosity, I admit, is a bit elusive. It’s often described as a curiosity about the situation, asking questions such as “Within my role, what am I to do differently?” “What are the triggers or warning signs — the patterns — that I can recognize that might allow me to change course next time I fall into this tendency?” or even “Why am I so quick to dole out responsibility to others, even if I rightfully don’t have a very large ‘100%’ of the pie?”

I’m torn. In many ways, there can be benefits from understanding where responsibility falls; for instance, understanding when blame lies outside when we’ve followed an appropriate course of action may not bog us down (and conversely, when responsibility does fall on us, understanding the weight and necessity of change to correct). Yet, there does seem to be something compelling about simply shifting toward curiosity. I suppose we may also be getting at the same thing — do not merely blame, but also ask questions to understand the underlying patterns and course that lead up to such an event.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

p.s. I also love exploring  diffuse responsibility with respect to its implications on free will. Good stuff.

Five Humans

Day 41: Monday

Good morning Zak,

Zak, there’s something I wrote in one of these posts one time that I think was particularly insightful:

“My fishes have rights.”

I do in fact believe this.  If my dentist stopped by one day and asked for one of my fishes to help feed his family, I think I would turn him down.  That’s because my fishes have rights.  I’m quite fond of my fishes.  They are entitled to live a peaceful life in my aquarium; I shouldn’t have to mourn their loss just because my dentist didn’t have dinner planed for his family one night.

That being said, white wine does go nicely with salmon.  It’s my understanding that wine experts in the US award gold metals to wines almost at random.  Most people who aren’t trained in wine tasting tend to prefer cheep wine to expensive wine.  There is only a very small subset of the population that enjoys more expensive wine.

But why am I telling you this?

There’s also only a small group of people in the world who enjoy modernist concert music.  They like composers like Webern, Schoenberg, Boulez, Xenakis… I’m willing to bet those dudes are all complete strangers to most of our readers.  There’s also a pretty good chance that most of our readers wouldn’t care for modernist music if they did hear it.

It would make a lot of people happier if we reallocated the resources we’re spending on “fine wine” and modernist “art music” toward making popular wine and music cheeper and more abundant.  If people acted rationally, we would outlaw fancy wine and pretentious music in order to please the masses.  Taylor Swift could perform an extra concert with free wine for everyone.

Business runs on efficiency, but people don’t.  We could increase total overall human happiness by sacrificing just one of my pet fishes to feed my dentist’s family of five.

Until tomorrow,

Tim

Fake news, Earl Grey Tea, Automation and Changing Greatness

Day 10: Friday

Morning Evening, Tim!

End of week 2. What a delight!

I wanted to give a quick update on my bit of fake news from Wednesday. In short, I just wanted to point out that there are quite a few takes on the issue and its resolution; that said, it’s important to remember the issue isn’t quite as cut and dry, and when you get into the implications of some of the suggestions of resolving it you soon realize there are many nuances to the argument, balancing incentives among them.

I also wanted to let you know I am at our family’s house writing this, sitting by the fireplace. Some cool, blistery air outside makes it nice to be here; moreover, I checked the cabinet to see your leftover stash. You better get back here soon, lest you have no more of this! Importantly, though, we’ll have to refresh with some new, fresh loose leaf.IMG_0847.JPG

You had mentioned perhaps, but likely not admitting to it, maybe, if perchance had it’s way, maybe, perhaps feeling under the weather:

My eyes will be all glossy, and my voice will sound like a frog who spends most of his income of Camels.

Perhaps you should drink more tea to make if feel better. Moreover, along the lines of voices, if you’d prefer not to be followed by J Biebs perhaps try a different radio station. On my ride through the beautiful mountains, this came on; perhaps a bit froggy, but wow is that impressive (Spoiler alert, he gets down.)

Calabria looks beautiful. It would be fun to visit, but I’m not convinced it would be somewhere I’d have much space to think. I’d much prefer your Earl Grey, posted up in a library in Oxford (I know I can’t drink tea in that library, my dear Tim. This is simply a dream), reading a bit of philosophy (or a hometown library wouldn’t be bad either!)

You may be wondering when I’m going to leverage that segue I touched on back on Wednesday. With respect to tech and automation, I’ve been thinking about responsibility within the tech industry to ensure wealth is distributed a bit more than it has been. Being predicated on scale, companies work themselves into virtuous cycles – they get users, and because they have more users suppliers line up, bringing a better experience…and then more users, etc. The created wealth then gets unevenly distributed, and those that bear the brunt of the financial ramifications are often left feeling powerless (and many times are powerless). The incentives are set up this way – companies are able to do this, and in order to succeed should operate in a way that benefits their user base and employees of the company.

Ben Thompson (linked earlier) has recently called into question actions which are

legally acceptable, though morally dubious

I like the wording – I feel it brings out a rich discussion on right and wrong, as often people focus on the law to determine what they can/should do.  It’s what they can get away with. And without touching too much on the election, no one who feels powerless, ignored, or abandoned likes the feeling. That said, in a new era predicated on the internet, globalization, and a very different kind of scale, bringing back the “greatness” of eras past will not occur by reverting to the way things were – incentives don’t point in that direction, and so new rules need to be put in place predicated on the new era; on microchips, on global connectedness, on 0 distribution costs, on AI and automation…on a new set of technology.

Until Monday,

Zak