First things first, I have some highly relevant news for you. In order to better curate cat photos and marinate on cat pun opportunities, I got a cat! Now, Tim, I know just what you might be thinking
WHAT?! YOU GOT A CAT JUST FOR THIS BLOG?!
Of course the answer is YES. Tim this level of humor takes dedication and time commitment. Of course next up will be continuing to grow my unique collection of spoons in order to build out unusual uses for them (we really should start a singular blog that captures that theme collectively…), but that’s for another time. So without further ado, I introduce you to Sophocles (who, coincidentally is a female cat and therefore goes by nicknames of Sophie and or Soph [long ‘o’ on both])
Now I said at the beginning this is highly relevant because your question to me was about something she knows intimately.
You see, contrary to what you have suggested
No one can say for certain exactly what it was that the Sphinx asked Oedipus.
I think Sophocles knows because…well…(s)he crafted the story. So when you pose to me this challenge, this enigma:
Do you believe in sphinxes?
Of course I do. Seeing as I have theexpert on matters relating to Oedipus and the Sphinx, I have it on good authority that sphinxes exist, and therefore I believe in them.
What I mean, of course, is that there are enigmas that challenge each of us. These enigmas, if we do not wrestle with and find a way to resolve them, can devour us. We spend our lives finding meaning — perhaps in the beautyaroundus, or capturing inspiring sounds and music. We find meaning in families, religion, helping others through volunteering or perhaps our careers.
One way to find answers, to start to understand how to approach these puzzles is to read. Perhaps it’s Sophocles and an ancient play about a patricidal, incestuous, eye-gouging king or, hopefully in my case, something more instructive about how great thinkers discovered and understood (and, taken further and more interestingly, the societal implications of the discovery) of the gene. Whatever it is, there is a keen responsibility to read carefully, to think diligently.
But a reader, in the fullest sense of the word, is someone who assumes that a text contains hidden treasures worth searching for, someone who tries to uncover […]
Reading helps us understand how to think about and address our own enigmas.
I noticed that while 16 people liked my “Pigeons Rummaging” entry there were proportionately very few plays of the sound recording. As I see it these data could only mean one of two things: either people are not that interested in the sound of pigeon feet crinkling leaves in the park, or the people who liked the post didn’t necessarily read it all the way through. Zak, since the first of these possibilities is clearly ridiculous, I’m going to assume that most people simply didn’t read far enough to realize that they would have the opportunity to indulge in the distinct auditory pleasure that is pigeons stepping on dry leaves.
Question marks, a common symbol of mystery
Your question, Zak, is quite a puzzle. To use the ancient Greek word we might even call it an ainos, that is, a “riddle or proverb,” or to use the classical Hebrew, a ḥîdah or “dark saying.” The Greek is cool ‘cause it gives us the word “enigma,” but I have to say I prefer the meaning of the Hebrew. I mean, dark saying? Is there any cooler sounding concept in all the languages of the world? I wish English had a word that meant “dark saying.”
So in 3rd grade, Jimmy and Sally S. got together one time. I think most people only heard about it through the grape vine. They tried to keep it a secret at first, but as I understand, the turning point came when they almost spent half of recess together. Obviously, that got people saying things, which is how I heard about it in the first place. They broke up after school, and Sally S. is still single at the moment. At least that’s what I heard. Other people say they’re still together.
I bring this up as an illustration that third graders a very wise individuals.
It takes the light of wisdom to discern the secrets of a dark saying. The ancient world is brimming with stories of wisemen who uncover the hidden meaning of enigmas and cryptic riddles. There’s Solomon who discerned the dark sayings of the queen of Sheba, and then there’s Oedipus, for example, who solved the enigma of the Sphinx. We all know the famous riddle of the Sphinx:
“THIS TEXT HAS BEEN CORRUPTED.”
…Or do we?
Oedipus (right) answers Sphinx (left, in darkness)
You see there’s a slight problem. There are actually many different contradictory versions of this story preserved by different ancient sources. Kind of like gossip. No one can say for certain exactly what it was that the Sphinx asked Oedipus. It’s quite an enigma.
So what do we do about this? One option is to brush the whole thing aside. You could simply say, “it doesn’t matter, because the Sphinx never asked anything, because, importantly, SPHINXES DON’T EXIST!” Once you’ve said that, you can go find a third grader and tell them that Santa isn’t real and Christmas is just a capitalist consumerist trap invented by rich business owners. This approach to literature is known as “Podsnappery.”
Another option would be to read the text anyway. Sure it contains many contradictions. Life contains many contradictions. In fact, the less consistent a story is, the more interesting and realistic it becomes.
“I take a sip of my drink and think about the movie I wanted to write once. Something about a man who goes back in time to kill his dog or something. Oh well, it was too unrealistic.” –Flash365
Deconstructed Church, Michael Jantzen
The duty of a reader is to uncover the light of truth buried in the obscurity of dark sayings. There’s nothing wrong with being a Podsnapperist, but it’s different from being a reader. Being a reader means engaging in the heuristic search for the underlying structural integrity beneath the surface of a text; it means, in the words of Solomon, “searching for wisdom as for hidden treasures” (Proverbs 2:4). Basically it’s what you did with juicy gossip in third grade.
“We know how to tell many lies as if they were true. But we also know, whenever wish, how to speak the truth.” -the Muses, from Hesiod’s Theogony
Authors tend to hide what is most sacred to them out of view from the Podsnapping public. But a reader, in the fullest sense of the word, is someone who assumes that a text contains hidden treasures worth searching for, someone who tries to uncover precisely what it was that a nonexistent sphinx said that one time in ancient Thebes.
“If I’m vague, it’s only because upsetting topics distract people from the real issues of the world like coffee cups and muppet babies.” –Rarasaur
Zak, let me ask you a question; maybe you can discern its meaning… Do you believe in sphinxes?
Cleverness has your way with words. I could mean no one has your way with words (which is likely taken as a compliment but, taken literally is just a truism) or I could mean a large bearded man, a legend, a king has a way with words that is similar to your way with words. I’ll let you decide, Tim.
I wanted to follow up a bit on my fake news letter, and not only because I just enjoyed a wonderful cup of Indian Nimbu tea (which isn’t really relevant, but I’ve started drinking tea again and have a strong desire to continue advertising that fact to you). Specifically, I wanted to bring into question how you get your information. Being historically loose, a while back information would come by word of mouth, written letters, and, if noteworthy enough, a newspaper. Because of the distribution costs, the ‘local’ paper tended toward a monopoly, which made sense for their business model; selling ads meant they wanted the most readers, and being a trustworthy source that got the paper on the doorstep in a timely manner, covering what needed to be known in the day ensured that. Fast forward, you have TV producers vying to be the source of truth through morning and nightly news casts. Then, in the age of the internet, company’s began to reproduce the content they had on paper in little bits so everyone could read. Now-a-days, a TON of people get their news by scrolling through a feed of paid placement, shared content, and created content (Facebook, in case you hadn’t guessed or clicked on my link, Tim…). But before there was Facebook, Google dominated (and still does) by being a different kind of source. Rather than being a push, where the user is passive in the receiving of information, Google requires the user to be an active participant, pulling the information (quick aside, that’s why their ads do so well; it’s why Amazon paid so much to become the place people ended up when they needed to buy something and why ultimately they have become the (trusted) starting place [even more so than search engines] for all things intended for purchase.)
How does this all relate to fake news, you ask? A few different ways. First, in today’s world, when distribution costs are 0 because of the internet, the newspaper monopolies of old suddenly are competing with everyone globally — a content creator in London, Hong Kong, a tiny little farm town, and you, Tim, are all competing for the eye-space of the same readers.
In a pull world, the incentives align to be the best source of truth, the source that someone can go to reliably time and time again. They’d bookmark you, or in the case of Amazon, this would bear itself out by how people start their shopping. In a push world, however, incentives are different; because the ads are being sold and pushed directly to you, it’s competing for eye-space not by being the best, but by drawing in your attention. It means you have click-bait headlines, and news which is polarizing in order to get a reaction. If you strongly agree, great! Share it as truth (whether it’s real news or fake news, confirmation bias often provides nice blinders). If you strongly disagree? Great! Share again, but this time with commentary about how wrong it is. For the content producer (and Facebook as a source where people go to get information pushed to them), the incentives are to gain the most attention, sustaining that for longer and longer periods of time. Facebook doesn’t have an opinion on what is “right” or on what “should” have that attention; so long as it’s on their platform, they are making money, be it a photo album from vacation to Italy, a link to some quotations, or some clickbait about this Awesome Blog That Writes About Crazy Topics You Won’t Believe!!! But while Facebook isn’t incentivized to have an opinion on what you focus attention on, it has created the platform which enables others to polarize, much of which is getting attention in recent news about filter bubbles and fake content.
One quick note before signing off an already lengthy letter. There is a bunch of talk about the bad that could and does come of this (people reading, believing, and sharing things that aren’t true but that shape their opinion; people reading only things they agree with because they are surrounded by people like them, and thus beginning to think another point of view unfathomable; etc.). On the bright side, living in a world where distribution costs are 0, it means theoretically all those people focusing their attention on Facebook could be reading articles about the New York Times and their wonderful journalism…or they could be reading some quickly written letter to my brother-in-law. And it also means that they could be reading about something that wouldn’t otherwise be covered — a niche like a post about quiche, or perhaps a deeper dive at social issues that wouldn’t otherwise be covered because they are taboo, difficult to read about, or those covering them simply do not understand the issues.
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.
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.