descriptivist morality

May 24, 2018
Harper’s Magazine’s end page is “Findings”, 3 paragraphs of 1 sentence summaries of research studies. One in December was “People tend to think common behavior is moral behavior”. For some reason that unlocked a view for me of the parallel between my linguistic descriptivism and moral descriptivism, one I shoulda thought of before. Just like language is not invented as a set of rules that then makes it way to the populous, but an attempt to codify language when people believe they are speaking properly, maybe morality could be seen as a large scale description of how people behave when they believe they are behaving morally.

Fleshing it out, it raises the question is this possibly contributing to a single universal morality, or like with languages are we forever trapped in different mutually incomprehensible languages and dialects? If there is a universality, is it like Esperanto? An attempt to take bits and pieces of some of the more dominant language and find consistency? Or maybe a universal morality would have to be like Chomsky’s Universal Grammar - which is not a grammar in the common sense, but the lower level “hardwired” sense of primitives like nouns vs verbs that make learning actual grammar possible. (Given my previous recognition of how I have a strong sense of "should", an anxious compulsion to never be out of alignment with knowable-but-not-fully universal morality, driven by a subconscious fear of eternal punishment if I screw up too badly, it's kind of weird to think through the universal morality / universal language parallels)


I've always been rather ambivalent about meritocracy--and not just because I'm a beneficiary of England's class system. During my spell in New York I enjoyed shocking people by telling them that the word "meritocracy" had originally been coined for the purposes of damnation rather than praise. They would always dispute this until I played my trump card: my father, Michael Young, invented it.

He coined it to describe a nightmarish society of the future in his 1958 bestseller The Rise of the Meritocracy. In my father's view, equality of opportunity is a snare and a delusion since it makes it less likely that equality of outcome, the "hard" form of equality he believed in, will ever come about. If everyone starts out on a level playing field than the resulting distribution of wealth, however unequal, will be regarded as legitimate. According to him, a meritocratic society is no better than an aristocratic one since it is just as hierarchical. Indeed, it is considerably worse since the richest segment of the population don't suffer feelings of guilt. Unlike those who have inherited their wealth, they think their good fortune is thoroughly deserved. In my father's book, a work of fiction that purports to be a Ph.D. thesis written by a sociology student in 2030, the absence of noblesse oblige in the meritocratic society of the future eventually results in a bloody revolution in which the workers overthrow their new masters.

Interesting take given the whole Atlantic The 9.9% is the new American Aristocracy article making the rounds, and making me rethink some of my assumptions. I guess I'll be back to the correct answer is "it's complicated". You can never fully evaluate merit, you can never remove chance and circumstance on the path from merit to reward, you never want to fully disregard talent in terms of providing opportunity.
This is pretty awesome:

Worth checking out the 20 minute "making of" on the artist's page - I remember making spaceships and what not on graph paper way back when, and his idiosyncratic way of doing the vectors reminds me a lot of some the DIY 3D I used to play with (and aRTSeroids, while 2D, used some of the same "fake looking like a vector screen" effect.)
Was talking about me not understanding the popularity of streaming - having to always pay rent for your songs, and relying on a good constant internet connection - when we live in a wonderland of being able to buy nearly any music as a single w/ EB, who pointed out "Music collections cost thousands and takes time, renting music costs you a pizza, and gives you a larger selection". Which I guess makes sense.

He pointed to the article Subscriptions for the 1%, which is bit more focused on news, and paywalls, and how the law of "you get what you pay for" may create an ugly divide.

I guess there's a parallel with news and music in the 80s: individual articles are like the catching singles on the radio. Paying for a news source is like investing in an LP. Google and Facebook are the record companies playing kingmaker and getting rich themselves.

Honestly I'd love a bundled deal for, like, NY Times, WaPo, WSJ, and Boston Globe...