Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tastes like ambiguous

On the list of things in the universe I like to write about ambiguity is, if one judges desire by frequency, at the top. It is difficult to write about ambiguity…to really capture things ambiguously…and still structure a document so that it can be effectively skimmed over.  It is so difficult that I don't even try to do it.

I can, and do, write material that can easily be skimmed, but not usually for this blog, and it is scrubbed clean of ambiguity. Without the ambiguity it is simple to do. It helps to break things into sections. Then all someone has to do is read the first paragraph, and then maybe read the first sentence or so of each section. Sentences should be short, and avoid comas; they should also avoid using semi-colons.

The issue with writing stuff with the intent of having it skimmed is that one is writing with the intent of having much what one is writing ignored. Why not leave out the part that is not designed to be read? Why not just tweet the major point, and be done with it?

It is always possible to compress stuff down, but if there is data in the message then information is lost upon compression. There are ways of measuring this. Doing so requires abstracting the concept of information into some quantifiable set of terms. This is actually very interesting; a kind of algebraic philosophy.

Expanding information from a tweet into a longer study cannot be done without outside information. This is why short communications are so comforting. In order to make any sense they have to tell you things you are already familiar with.

One interesting trend is creating blog posts by bundling a bunch of tweets. Perhaps there is a way of making content by arraigning short communications about like Lego blocks.

Implied content is effective at reinforcing prejudices and preconceptions. Strip away the ambiguity, and everything makes more sense.

The latest presidential campaign has flooded the “airwaves” with info bytes. One can easily be exposed to so many little bits of information that one is full before even realizing that you were snacking. Volume mimics variety. Everything starts to look and sound the same, and it crowds out more meaningful communication.

“If everything tastes like chicken then what does chicken taste like?”

In order to pass as interesting the information packets become more bizarre. I must admit that descriptions of the president as a “secret fundamentalist Islamic atheist communist delivered to the world through a witch doctor’s black magic ceremony in Kenya” are more interesting than how Romney’s “five-point plan is really a one-point plan”, but even the hysterically crazy gets tedious after a few iterations. However, it was due to my secret fondness for the irrational that I found myself interested in this badly-photoshopped picture.



The caption described how democrats had opposed abolition (BTW we are coming up on the 150th anniversary of the battle of Fredericksburg; a battle that was simultaneously one of the most humiliating defeats and greatest victories in American military history) and therefore comprise a large portion of the KKK. It goes on to give this as a reason why they endorsed Obama in his first run for president, and then goes on to state how this proves that voting for the re-election of the first black president is actually a racist action. Just imagining someone following this line of reasoning is akin to watching a bad bicycle accident: “that’s just gotta hurt”.

Embedded in the caption for this photo was a link to a NYT article that purportedly reported on the KKK endorsement. I read the article, and instead of an endorsement the KKK spokesperson described Obama’s election as a calamitous betrayal that would cause more people to join the KKK. Hardly a ringing endorsement.

“The betrayal will stare them in the face each time they watch the news and see little black children playing in the Rose Garden,” -- Thomas Robb, National director for the KKK.

So the picture becomes a Trojan horse of sorts. People propagate it because it proves what they already know, but without bothering to read the content they are posting they inadvertently transmit information that questions the position that motivated them to post the material in the first place.

I guess this is a type of ambiguity, and it is amusing. It ignores the more compelling ambiguity that is part of the human condition. No matter what people do the end result will be that people are doing it. We can embrace the figure and grain that is humanity, or we can attempt to skim over it.

Unfortunately an election forces one to make a parsimonious choice that refuses to acknowledge ambiguity. We do not have to become the choice. We do not even have to abandon ambiguity in order to make an unambiguous choice.


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