Thinking about the nature of civil society

A bit of time was committed to thinking about the sheer volume of Substrack newsletters I’m receiving right now. It’s enough that I’m not reading all of them right now. They really seem to show up in waves at this point. During the course of that pondering activity I took the time to unsubscribe to a bunch of different newsletters from restaurants and online catalogs. The amount of email I’m getting was simply taking up too much time on a daily basis. Deciding how to spend our limited amounts of time is an important thing to consider. My regular writing routine is pretty straightforward. Each day my Fitbit watch wakes me up by vibrating instead of being a loud alarm sound. I get up and either drink a cup of coffee or two shots of espresso. After letting the dogs in and out of the house, I sit down and look at the blank page and begin the process of writing. That is the desired outcome of my daily routine. The steps really are to wake up, get coffee, manage dogs, and start writing. 

Sometimes this regularly scheduled writing routine works well enough. I start to consider the world and within that process I’m tilting at my own personal windmill known as the perfect possible future. To that end, I ponder the world as it is and try to figure out the best possible path forward. Within that pathing is how I view a lot of things like the intersection of technology and modernity. We stand at a very unique point in the totality of our civilization. We will probably see the singularity in our lifetime where technology moves beyond a resting state to a state of pure motion. That means some level of self-sustaining technology will occur as the intersection of technology and modernity occurs. Within that eclipse of possibility and technology the other side of things will be distinctly different. It is something that is probably going to happen and it is not as well understood as it should be right now. 

I spend a lot of time thinking about the nature of civil society. My considerations include how communities of practice, circumstance, and interest will change within the intersection of technology and modernity. At the very core of our social fabric that brings civil society together we may see things changing within a layer of technology that did not exist before and could rapidly change. This week the researchers over at Google’s DeepMind have claimed to be close to artificial general intelligence (AGI). Those types of claims are what make me really sit back and think deeply about things that will be different. It makes me wonder about how civil society will change.

A bunch of words on a Friday morning

Reworking my 5 year writing plan and really digging into that was a powerful motivator. It was exciting to deeply consider what’s next in terms of writing and producing content. I never really want my research trajectory to get bogged down and stagnant. Part of my journey into the world of research and understanding is endeavoring to learn every single day. We have a wealth of content to learn about every day. People and now bots are producing a tremendous amount of content. Enough content is being produced to consider it flooding and in some cases highly overcrowded. In my case the peak production of my prose a year is around a million words. Some generative models can produce that within the use of one prompt cycle. I would argue at this point that my million words are better, but for how much longer that will hold true I’m uncertain. Millions of my written words were shared in a file for a GPT-2 model to work with and produce output. Within only a few cycles of training that model will very quickly start writing and writing and veering off into tangents. 

My ability to refocus from writing about the process of writing which happens on this weblog a lot. Based on my tag cloud it is a preponderance of what I produce these days. A lot of my other content is written into academic papers, manuscripts, talks, and potentially produced for a newsletter. All of that content would have to be bundled together to really give the model a chance at producing prose that more closely matches my style and switching between stream of consciousness style musing that happen here in a weblog format and the more structured academic writing that happens one bit a time. Generally I write an academic article by producing a core of text that gets broken down into parts or I start with a shell of what needs to be produced and work on it by expanding the outline bit by bit and paragraph by paragraph until it is a comprehensive work. I’ll admit that if the idea has been something that I considered deeply before sitting down to write it is possible that I could write from start to finish a short research paper. That has happened before. I typically make presentations that way as well. The entire thing will sort of get worked out in my thoughts by the power of imagination and then the act of creating media happens after that as I translate my vision to the page or in some cases the slide. 

A lot of my writing production ends up like this page of content where a stream of consciousness at the very start of the day or at the end of the day I sit down and just record my thoughts. It is quintessentially the act of thinking out loud except with a keyboard instead of vocalizing anything. My preferred format for response and argument is in writing. Well measures and considered arguments are always more interesting to me in general. Debating verbally typically develops into a pattern of exchange where give and take is reduced to the sharing of single arguments sometimes that are reduced to a soundbyte. We need to get back to really long form arguments where the important things are deeply considered. Some type of shared perspective and understanding is necessary to rebuild the social fabric that allows people to work with and find reasonable consensus. People who come together to live and form communities have some foundation for doing that. We have a lot more in common from the normative assumptions of our community than we do from the edge of theory where conflict exists. Triangulation of political differences has created a degree of polarization from the edge that exhausted the resilience of our shared social fabric. 

My thoughts have wandered a little bit into the philosophy of community this morning. That is bound to happen I guess. A lot of my energy is going to need to be focused on working on outlines and drafts to the things in my 5 year writing plan that was shared yesterday. One of the more surprising elements of that planful list was that it did not contain any reference to the 100 pages of contact strategy for campaigns book that is sitting unfinished. Earlier this year during a super burst of productivity I cleaned up and shared a bunch of content previously written, but shelved. For some reason, that bit of research which has a lot of time invested into creating it has just been put on the backburner. Maybe I should keep a list of false starts as well in case during a fit of writer’s block it becomes prudent to jump back into one of those stalled projects to kickstart something better. Sometimes working on something that is lacking and otherwise undesirable is enough to bring a creative spark to the forefront. 

Beyond the structures and forms

Today is going to be filled with potential options to do something useful. It is going to be one of those days where more paths are open than choices can be made to take. This happens from time to time and picking the right ones is essential to maximizing the potential of the day. Sure one path exists where the perfect possible future is realized, but that dance is sometimes beyond the structures and forms we follow will allow. Maybe that is the quintessential problem we face and need to spend time solving. It is a very real challenge to figure out how to get things done and done well within the structures and forms we have available. We also face a very real implied normativity that directs convention in what could be described as the forms. Those two things working together constrain a possible set of paths forward. I could elect at this point to spend the rest of the day doing nothing but studying applied cryptography, but consequences would exist to that decision. The output of that study and effort would be unlikely to outweigh the consequences. 

My thoughts at the moment are at least more focused on the edge of what is possible than tactical questions. In terms of all the ways the start of the day could have gone this path is much better than the alternative. Now we can round out that first thought into a question of action. Aligning to a path that strives toward the perfect possible future. At this junction in the inquiry, I am thinking about the common purpose of advancing both my own intellectual pursuits and strengthening the fabric of civil society. Both of those things are in my own self interest, but they are generally silos of action compared to each other. We exist within the moment of reflection as we take action. Each step forward, to the side, or backward is a reflection of a choice made in that moment. We have a space of reflection that can be used to consider and reflect or to drive action. Making a very conscious decision to use that space of reflection to drive toward a purpose like striving toward a perfect possible future is one way to sharpen action. Inside of that contemplation is inherently a choice to action. Retreating like a turtle into itself rarely is the action that moves things forward. I suppose some very special cases of an action paradox exist where standing still makes the most sense. Even the notion of waiting a turn for an outside action to complete seems more reasonable than the turtle’s defensive withdrawal. 

Action at its very nature and paths forward have been considered and the day is still beginning. Maybe today is the day that the right first step is followed by enough reasonably correct steps that a continuity of action builds toward something meaningful. That is an entirely plausible thought at the moment and that is inherently exciting if not thrilling as a way to start the day. These are the complex ideas we have to consider during this grand chautauqua of existence. Within that moment of reflection the structures of our institutions provide guard rails toward certain outcomes. Several days of work are the basic project we see enumerated as the expected outcome of a week. We see that day of work as being the basic unit of complexly interconnected communities. Maybe the summation of that is a bit harder to compel to exist in written form, but the idea is on the edge of what is possible. Describing the grand interconnected nature of economy and intergenerational equity remains a valid pursuit. That is probably where we need to wrap up this course of the chautauqua. More will come as the series of learning never stops from one day to the next.

Thinking about being principled

I have a note here that today is the day this writing session should focus on writing with principles. At first this morning, I read that as writing with purpose. I was thinking that writing 3 paragraphs about writing with a purpose should be pretty easy. It took a few moments to realize that writing about principles is harder than writing about purpose. You have to sit down and try to grasp at the foundation of things to write about principles that matter. Maybe we would be better off if more time was spent trying to explain principles in the public square, news media, or just during internet based discussions. I could reduce the scope of this writing challenge and just focus on writing about economic principles. That would be one way to focus this effort on a few key principles. You could spend some time researching economic principles and that would be an interesting look down the rabbit hole of published and commonly shared research. 

One way to start digging into thinking about principles would be to try to figure out a few normative principles. That could start the journey on a road built around ethics. Maybe that is a harder place to start than a road built around economics, but it could be a lot more fun that way. Either way the concepts being covered within those fields seems to be secondary to the way people consume knowledge these days. Yesterday I read a note from somebody that argued within the media you can find coverage from whatever point of you are seeking. That made me think about the process of filing a story in a newsroom. It used to be that articles were filled and editors provided a real true curation and testing of the concepts and ideas being brought forward. Our news cycles were curated in a more thoughtful and less rushed fashion. Now being first within the never ending stream of media is the key defining element of the process instead of any type of curation or testing. The test for releasing things into the world seems to be speed instead of making a contribution to the academy of knowledge we share. That distinction is the key element of why learning principles and understanding the frameworks of complex philosophy gave way to situational decision making. Reactions to things have taken over for decision making and the normative ethics that should exist have given way as the normative game around us brokedown and were replaced by something deeply troubling. 

We have to accept some fundamental truths and build out some type of normative ethics to begin the journey together toward some type of working civil society. At the moment, I wonder if we have nothing to share but a stream of first in the pool articles being filed as news, social media utterances, and a fractured public square. Naturally I want to turn this set of arguments toward something inherently positive focused on how a return to principled action could benefit everybody, but I’m still trying to figure out what foundation is shared anymore than would be a basis for a shared understanding. It’s entirely possible that the public mind has become two more minds that need some type of deep conceptual bridge to facilitate communication between them to be built. That is the argument that scares me the most when I think about the future.

Things that go unsaid

Recently I have been wondering about the things that go unsaid within civil discourse. At this moment, a lot of civil discourse is occurring in our media and content drivin versions of the public square and in groups of all sizes. Even the best form of communication has limits. Communication on social media is inherently limited in both the audience and size of the files being shared. Outside of that limitation, generally during the exchange of information only so much time exists for one person to listen and for the other to talk. Even within standalone writing, video, or audio recordings the same time limit exists for the respondent. Time is a scarce and valuable resource. Some people go as far as describing time as the root of all value. Given how powerful a claim that is about the value of time it is easy to imagine that some things go unsaid just from the structural imperfections inherent in the communication methods we have to use. That is not the part of the question or the problem that I’m trying to ponder in terms of the things that go unsaid within civil discourse. My aim here is to ponder how to help repair civility and allow civil society to work in general for everyone. Within that last sentence a hypothesis might be implied that the things that go unsaid are breaking down the frameworks that allow civil society to function and civility to ensure. Essentially that hypothesis is probably where the bulk of my thoughts are squarely focused today on questions about modernity and where we are at as a society.

Spending time thinking about the fabric of our constitutional republic beyond government is deeply meaningful. It is essentially spending time thinking about the foundation of social institutions and the normative framework that underpins discourse in the public square. Beyond time constraints imposed within the cable news cycle, the print publishing cycle, and the inherent limitations of soundbytes discourse in the public square seems to be full of things that go unsaid. Within interpersonal relationships I tend to personally favor a variant of radical candor both in the workplace and outside of it. My strategy for communication is outside the standard normative framework. That has been the case for over twenty years. My behavior is not setting any type of trend. That has not stopped me from spending a lot of time in the previous decade thinking about the intersection of technology and modernity and what that means for society in general. In this time of global pandemic and quarantine I’m spending a lot more time wondering about the modernity part of that equation. Technology seems less important right now and is probably secondary to the considerations at hand, The modernity part of the equation right now in his watershed moment of pandemic seems to be changing the nature of discourse in terms of the things that normally go unsaid. 

Contemporaneity would generally describe this window of time where a shared experience of people who lived in this time of pandemic and experienced a change in discourse occurred. Watershed events like the one that is occurring end up creating some type of intergenerational equity between all the generations that experience the event. Perhaps that is where I should spend my time pondering for the rest of the day and into tomorrow. Within the shadow of modernity things are changing based on how the contemporaneity of the two events combined with the intergenerational nature of the shared experience. My initial reaction is that the shared part of the common experience is what is changing public discourse. Having a shared frame of reference is a very important part of communication.  

Even very basic things

Things are moving along, but these are indeed strange times. Even very basic efforts to communicate the totality of what is occurring in the world seem to be failing. A comprehensive look at where we are is nearly impossible. Taking the time to write one would create a scenario where a time capsule would exist of that movement, but enough time would have passed that it would no longer be a comprehensive snapshot of the moment. The rate of change is faster than our ability to report and consume it. Within that argument is a very interesting situation. Newspapers are designed to provide an ongoing stream of events. A really good newsroom and editors can craft that stream of events into an ongoing narrative that the readership would share. Generally the way news is commonly consumed the curated part of the narrative is typically lost to the speed of reporting the event. Something worth talking about has to happen and words are written. That is very different from writing a weblog post. Engaging in the act of journaling and writing thoughts is very different than reporting the news. I write to think about the world around me and to help structure and refine ideas. None of that is about explaining when events happen to anyone. 

Really the only event that I tend to write about is the intersection of technology and modernity. Given the ongoing nature of that event and how long it has taken for technology to intersect with modernity it is not really something that a newspaper would cover. That is probably the same set of reasons why common news reporting does not wrestle with the nature of civil society and the complex breakdown of the social fabric that normally brings people together. Underlying frameworks and things that are highly complex tend to be categorized as something other than events. Even very basic things tend to receive a degree of coverage that explains only the occurrence not the underlying reasons why that occurrence came to be or what is swirling just under the surface of the event being reported. My thoughts today seem to be very focused on how things are being communicated within society. Within this time of pandemic a lot of things are at the forefront of the public mind and some of them are very powerful in terms of evaluating history and the context of things. A lot of them are about people trying to figure out what to do and what path to take forward. None of that internal and ongoing public debate centers around the intersection of technology and modernity. The debate both internal and external seems to be more about modernity than technology.    

Right now is a moment in our history where the very nature of modernity stands in review at the forefront of the public mind. Questions abound about what modernity has created for society. A certain contemporaneousness exists between the internal and external debates that are ongoing. Characterizing the entire debate as being at the forefront of the public mind seems accurate. Understanding that a part of that debate is being reserved from the public conversation is what probably sparked this entire page of prose. Writing a sweeping criticism of modernity from the ongoing news coverage would be missing something. Inherent within that last sentence is the part of the argument being reserved and that is what I’m curious about. My argument would be that it is not about fashionableness or anything near the popular culture elements of modernity. Instead, I would argue that the debate both on the surface and in the reserved part is really about civility and the nature of how we work together within civil society. Those are very fundamental questions about the foundation of what happens within our constitutional republic beyond government. They are very foundational questions about how the people who interact with civil society interact with each other. It is a question about how even very basic things work together to create civility or discord. 

Thinking about online access

Every day we build up the foundations of knowledge. We strive to learn more and more about the world. Deeping that understanding is how we ensure the foundations of our knowledge are strong. That propositional thought made me start thinking about online access to content in general. From that question, I started to wonder about reading and how it happens. One sure-fire way to enhance the foundations of knowledge is to actively engage in reading. Right now thanks in part to the advent of the internet and the near ubiquitous availability of smartphones the ability to access readable content went up exponentially. While it would be easy to focus on just the internet driven side of the access to content coin and only think about that method of amassing knowledge and learning it would not be holistic. The reason it would not be holistic is that internet driven content might be a primary method for people to access readable content; it is not the only way. Other methods of learning and digging into the broader foundations of knowledge have to be understood.  

Now that we have started to question what other methods might exist it would be a good time to acknowledge that a digital divide exists. Specifically, a digital divide does exist. That means that overall the access to readable content has gone up over time. The things we elect to do with that content is rapidly changing. We only have so much attention to spend each day and like a finite commodity it gets allocated. Reading the classic works of history is not always the obvious choice for people using the internet or people picking up something physical to read. You could look at some of the research from the Pew Research Center and start to break down how people spend their time online. The Pew Research Center “American’ Internet Access: 2000-2015” report included a determination that 84% of adult Americans use the internet. That inherently represented a digital divide of 16% of adult Americans.

That figure provides us with the opportunity to complete a basic population based calculation. Back on December 28, 2016 the Census Bureau in a press release projected the population of the United States to be around 324 million people. In this case the general number of 324 million people needs to be adjusted to reasonably reflect the adult population for this calculation. To make that adjustment an assumption is being made about the population split being approximately 25% minors compared to 75% adults as a composite that reflects the total population. For this example, that means assuming that 81 million of the 324 million people in the United States are minors and 243 million are adults. Based on the internet access split referenced above and the adjusted population number that would equate to about 38.88 million American adults that were not included in the 84% of American adults that use the internet figure from the Pew Research Center. That is a lot of people to consider

Community apart

Last night we watched the PBS production of “A Capitol Fourth” via over the air broadcast in high definition using the TiVo Roamio box. It was a little bit surreal to watch the 40th edition of that fireworks show without any crowds in the background. It was a wonderful and engaging television show, all of the people participating tried to stay positive and communicate a message of hope, and the orchestra played the 1812 Overture which always reminds me of Farscape. 

I spent a lot of time yesterday reading the news and trying to better understand where we are as a society in general. Within this time of quarantine it feels like we are seeing civil society running apart from the community. It is disjointed and hard to really comprehend. Twenty years ago back at the University of Kansas I went to the library and read entire shelves that were related to civil society. It was a curated way to experience knowledge. Somebody has gone to the trouble of including all of those books on the shelves. Each one had a deeper meaning to somebody and they were all included for a reason. Even now the bookshelves behind me contain a bunch of books about civil society, democracy, and community. All of those books at one point had a deeper meaning to me and were chosen for purchase for my home library. I remember having so many books to choose from in a university library that picking one was about looking at the table of contents and thinking about how the author structured the argument being presented. Based on the structure of the argument and how much it resonated with me certain books were read a lot faster than others. It was wonderful based on how many books they had to read and how much I wanted to learn more about civil society. 

Right now we are a community living apart separated by a pandemic based quarantine that represents something very new as a challenge for our communities. What is happening within the public mind right now in this watershed moment of shared experience will profoundly alert our community when we come back together. We have all seen what happened. It was a shared experience. It provides a common context to a generation to talk about things. Having truly seen the backward linkages of supply chains and production fail to meet the needs of demand, a generation has now seen what happens in a prolonged demand shock where supply could not respond. 

Everyone has now seen the reality of empty shelves and things that are generally unavailable being inaccessible. It was a strange experience. Walking into stores in masks to get food while social distancing was a very new and surreal experience. Foundationally the notion of having a community operating apart without access to the things that sustain it will remain at the forefront of the public mind for a long time. Crafting a method for support and engagement within the context of that foundational notion will require a lot of planning and very strong institutional memory and commitment. These are the types of questions that are keeping me up at night. Overall they have impacted my sleep quality for months now. Figuring out a path forward that builds out robust institutional frameworks capable of handling this type of disruption while maintaining strong and healthy communities will require a commitment beyond anything we have seen in the last few decades. 

Watching “A Capitol Fourth” every year does relax my mind enough to engage in some reflective thought about community in general. It’s probably all the references to the general needs of the people and how that drives my thoughts toward civic engagement. Now is the time to really think deeply about the future of civil engagement and community development within the content of pandemic and quarantine driven events. We are going to see cycles like this again and being ready to have institutions that are capable of responding will be critical. It will be critical to every community. We have complex networks of communities of place, circumstance, and interest where people engage together. Figuring out how to engage within a community apart is a very complex endeavor that tests the realm of the possible. Digital divides separate access to the internet which includes community message boards, chat rooms, social media, and increasingly the news. We are seeing decreases in subscriptions to physical newspapers, to cable television, and magazines of all kinds. Figuring out the best way to broadly communicate and engage within a community is challenging. Even before the pandemic neighbors were often disconnected and had essentially separate patterns of daily life from even the people living nearby.       

Interrupted. Breakfast.

My ever wandering thoughts

Yesterday, I tried out the gallery view block for photos in a weblog post. It was a pretty easy feature to use. All of the block inserts for posts are pretty easy to manage. It seemed like a good idea to share a few photos of that tone expanding new brass tremolo block I installed on my modified Fender stratocaster guitar. A total of six photographs were shared. Previously, the problem that I have run into sharing photographs on the weblog is that the links break when things are restored from a backup. My method of backup involves extracting all the content in a very large XML document. That backup does not include any media. I have some other backup service installed this time around and that should in theory allow things to go back to how they were before a restoration. It has been a long time since the weblog was completely rebuilt. Maybe the code has been getting more stable and secure over the years. 

Beyond working on a post about guitar parts, I did spend some time thinking about society in general and how things within our broader civil society frameworks are changing. That could be entirely based on all my considerations of how links were breaking in the backups of my online content. Not only did that make me wonder if the backward linkages of community in civil society were starting to break down, but also if the backward linkages in our economics supply chains were directly linked to linkages in community. Note that the last sentence did not evaluate linkages in the spokes and hubs of the community, but instead focused on linkages in the foundations of community itself. I was trying to consider more than just the direct backward economic linkages that describe supply chains and think about the parts of the community that have a similar framework. 

Moving beyond the assumption that yet another economic treatise on the nature of normative games could be used to describe the intersection of civil society and game theory will be challenging. Intellectually I’m not entirely sure where the theory fits within the broader academy. That however is a problem for later. To start that effort in question now my thoughts started to form around a certain set of arguments. Ultimately, the right words arrived to explain the concept of things being just beyond the status of yet another normative game. Within civil society a highly bimodal experience of those within the labor market and those outside of the labor market. That separation of experience is creating a group that is actively a part of civil society and actively trying to participate in a broader labor market that is breaking down in a historically unprecedented way. My thoughts have been wandering in and around that intersection of how tears in the very fabric of institutions people rely on and how recently the labor market breakdowns are creating deep ripples into our democratic foundations. Separation from both the institutions necessary to support our civil society and a breakdown of the labor market at the same time creates a profoundly problematic condition. 

Those are some deep thoughts for 06:00 hours, but they are at the forefront of my mind right now. Unlike the last time I really dug into those types of questions I have yet to formulate a path forward to share with the world. My next book could very well be about answering those questions and probably more. We live in a time right now where stability has given way to a wall of questions that are at the moment mystifying. Gradually the foundations of civil society will help bring things together. Those foundations of civil society bring people together based on communities of place, purpose, and interest that allow groups to work together creating networks of common interest. Later on today I’m going to circle back to these last two paragraphs and try to dig back into the central premise that brought these questions to the forefront of my thoughts. Something a lot deeper is waiting just below the surface and I want to spend some time thinking about that next layer of questions.    

Interrupted. Work.

These are the times of our fear

Very few things give me enough pause to want to halt and think for a bit. These are the times to give us enough cause to halt and think for a bit. Being reflective right now and thinking about what path we are taking makes perfect sense. Last night I sat down and started looking for a few chapters I had started writing a couple years back on a novel. Most of the time it is self-censorship that blocks me from writing novels. Working in the fiction space is something that always draws my focus and fades quickly. Generally writing every day and producing nonfiction works is easy enough and does not insight any fear or self-censorship. I generally write about whatever draws my attention and the words just flow as they are without much editing or any meaningful revision. We live in the times where the intersection of globalization and pandemic have occurred. This year (2020) will no doubt be remembered for the great shutdown and corresponding quarantines that occurred. With respect to that realization it is hard to question that these are the times of our fear. The world is changing very rapidly. Civil society is facing pressures that are tearing at the norms and conventions that keep the fabric holding us together strong. We the people have commonly worked toward a shared independent journey since 1776. 

Interrupted. School.