Saturday, January 31, 2015

power, power, power

Some terms:
POWER -- the strong side of an imbalanced power relation
power -- the weak side of an imbalanced power relation
power -- neutral sense

What's worse, a 100 kg man hitting a 60 kg woman or the same man hitting a 30 kg child? This has the structure of a lesser-evilist question, a form of apologetics serving to make one case of abusive behavior appear less bad by referencing another, which is how, to give an example, Dick Dawkins downplays the misogyny experienced by Western women. It's also a key tool in the apologist's toolbox that allows for the transformation of a civilian-bombing arms dealer like Obama into a humanist champion. (You think Romney would have been better?)

Lesser evilism aside, though, last year, two 100 kg-ish NFL players made headlines for hitting smaller people. Ray Rice hit a woman. Adrian Peterson hit a small child. Both cases involved violence of a sort that everyone, including the perpetrators, agreed was intentional (as opposed to accidental). Both fit the formula "big person intentionally harms little person."

Hitting children is undoubtedly less socially condemned, carries less of a stigma, than hitting women. Adrian Peterson went too far in using a switch but a little spanking would not have cost him his season. Ray Rice went too far in trying to physically harm Janay at all (though his punishment changed from a few games to a season for NFL PR reasons when the extent of the violence became public knowledge). On the other hand, Americans tell their friends, relatives, even acquaintances, that they hit their kids. They can make the case (in spite of all reliable evidence pointing the other way) that hitting kids is good for them and retain "respected member of society" status. If you make the case that hitting women is good for them, you'll take a much bigger social status hit.

Kids have less power to defend their own interests than women. Are kids likely to be more completely molded in the image of POWER, to conform to POWER's expectations? I think so, but the results wouldn't necessarily be better or worse for one or the other. Each will be pushed close to a limit at which further pushing would backfire for POWER. And being close to that limit is what accounts for the shittiness of living in POWER's expectational sphere.

There are likely several distinct heuristics POWER uses to solve power but all of them can be understood in terms of how power meets the expectations of POWER. A cute baby conforms to the narcissistic interests of its parents, a phenomenon easily understood in evolutionary terms. POWER protects power to protect itself (its DNA). Simply existing is the main way power, in this case, meets the expectations of POWER. A crying baby may cause dissonance where POWER expects a baby to be uniformly appreciative of POWER, where crying is interpreted as complaint. Crying may be a challenge to POWER's mainly nonconscious expectations regarding its own godliness, godliness being the default mode of human cognition. Or in other cases, perhaps POWER is so godly it can't be threatened by a baby's crying.

Cuteness is not a term restricted to human babies. For something to be cute, it needs to leverage baby love. It should be symmetrical and roundish, but most importantly, it needs to be non-threatening to POWER's expectations. Japanese kawaii culture is what happens when power exploits POWER's baby-love heuristic to survive, then gets caught in a superstimulus feedback loop for what seems like an eternity.

When an infant becomes mobile, it gains power. It gains a new ability to upset POWER's expectations. The baby's newfound mobility is a source of unpredictability and a destabilizing, disruptive force for POWER. The parent is reading an article about how to be a good parent but has to keep an eye out for the crawling baby hurting itself, fails to stay on constant alert, is annoyed by inevitable baby danger. When exactly the baby will put itself in danger, that is, run afoul of parental expectations, is unpredictable. ("Let me finish this goddamn article about how to be a good parent, you little fuck!") Until, for example, you buy a plastic cage with Winnie the Pooh all over it. Baby in a cage, problem solved. The parent gets back to that article. When finished, takes care of baby's needs. Fast forward a few years, you've got kids standing and sitting at the ring of a bell. A few more years and they're punching in at work, obeying traffic laws, etc.

The sun is powerful, but predictable. Its predictability makes it part of the frame, not the game, when it comes to ethical decision making. As daily ethical concerns go, it doesn't offer difference-making differences, in Scott Bakker's terms. Somewhat unpredictable, unaccounted-for iterations of inhuman POWER, such as natural disasters, are spared human moralizing thanks to the futility of directing moralistic anger their way. On the other hand, we get angry at humans who cause us harm (well, when that harm is accurately diagnosed) because anger has evolved for that. Anger can be effective when directed at humans, often enough for it to have offered survival benefits.

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