the world is a dangerous place: true/false

A while ago I saw an online book linked from boingboing about the science and psychology of right wing authoritarianism. Right wing in this case doesn't mean politically, necessarily, but means something more like, "aligned with governmental and religious authorities."

I read the book, and I found it disturbing and yet irresistibly fascinating. I like to think that I have a natural skepticism for people who tell me that my political enemies are dangerous people. I really don't like that idea, it smells like racism and fear-mongering. So I continue to find this book hard to integrate, inasmuch as it casts a shadow on a lot of people.

However I think it also offers pretty compelling window into the psychology of some large political movements, in the United States and elsewhere. Consider whether you agree with this statement: "Once our government leaders and the authorities condemn the dangerous elements in our society, it will be the duty of every patriotic citizen to help stomp out the rot that is poisoning our country from within." A lot of people do agree with that statement.

What's presented in the book is a collection of academic research on authoritarian personalities that, as far as I can tell, seems legitimate and makes sense. It's an easy read. The author does have a political axe to grind, and he's up-front about that. (It didn't bother me because I basically agree with him politically.) It addresses topics like hypocrisy, mental compartmentalization, leader and follower personalities, and religious fundamentalism, and along the way it paints a picture of the people who love and follow public figures such as Sarah Palin, Lou Dobbs, and Glenn Beck.

Like I said. This book makes me really uncomfortable because it tells me that my political enemies are dangerous, irrational people. What I'm trying to do with it is, instead of closing myself off further, to try to open myself up. If I can figure out a way to use this research to understand the emotions and beliefs that drive this certain kind of thought, then maybe I can communicate better.

Sam turned me on to a blog called slacktivist, which seems to spend most of its time ranting against right wing authoritarians, taking their arguments apart, and generally trying to get inside their heads. It's a really clever and insightful blog, but as much as I might enjoy it, slacktivist is a terrible tool for convincing your uncle that he needs to lighten up on the gays, for example. I think that by understanding the basic underpinnings of the RWA personality, we can do better.

Recognize that your uncle sees the world as a dangerous place, full of moral and physical peril. Recognize that your uncle believes that his culture, his very way of life, is under attack by coordinated, godless enemies. Recognize that he longs for a strong leader to tell him what to believe so that he can help defend his tribe. Then reconsider whether you want to get into that argument with him.

Anyway if you find any of this interesting, I think you should take a look at the book I linked at the top. I'd love to talk about it with some people.

more abstraction rants

Mike was telling me about some advice for programmers, which is that premature abstraction is as bad as premature optimization. The idea is that abstracting too soon (i.e. before you know how to solve your problem) can cause problems later on when your assumptions change. Which is the same thing that you see in premature optimization. On the face of it, it sounds like simple advice, but there are some cultural reasons why it's not.

Abstraction and optimization act as opposing forces in software design. Optimization is always trying to push your algorithm closer to the metal, closer to the silicon. Optimization rejoices at side effects and arcane trickery. Abstraction is trying to push your algorithm away from the silicon. The mindset of abstraction is to make sure you never have to worry about those messy details. Abstraction rejoices at eliminating your algorithm completely by delegating it to a lower level. So abstraction allows a large group of developers to work on a vast project without slowing eachother down. Optimization on the other hand, allows code to run fast enough to be useful.

For academic applications, abstraction is more important. (If your code is slow you just come back in the morning.) So, that's why they teach you  abstraction in school.* But for games, optimization is king. Generally, the optimization mind-set is not taught. You have to seek it out, you have to believe in it.

My belief, as a games programmer, is that abstraction is only permissible as long as it doesn't get in the way of necessary optimization. I currently am in the middle of a battle with a culture that seems to believe in abstraction as an inherent good, as a higher order value than optimization. I find that frustrating.

*There are lots of good reasons to teach abstraction, it's a difficult and important skill and it can color the way you think for the rest of your life. Optimization on the other hand is by nature tied to the specific technology that you're working with, it's far less generally applicable and it tends to be full of tricks, instead of full of insight.

the craigslist blues

Trying to rent out a house is a bit nerve-wracking. I'll randomly get calls from people who always sound either harried, anxious, or apologetic. Then I have to set up a time for them to flake out and not show up to see the house.

Luckily we're not in the position that our financial solvency depends on getting the rent money, but boy it sure would help. So I have to worry about whether the price is too high, whether the ad is right, whether I could be doing more to get it out there. And whether the tenants will give me troubles when I finally find them. There's a lot of uncertainty about the whole thing, and I'm trying to keep a lid on it so it doesn't bubble over.

I think it's going to be well worth it when we do get someone in there, but it sure is nervous-making in the mean time.

shout outs

Just a quick shout-out to all my kharaa and marines, I had a great time on Thursday night kicking it old school with my ns crew. Man that game is so good with the right group. It turns on much more than just personal skill, and when a team strategy comes together you feel so great*.

We're setting up a fortnightly game, so let me know if you want in and I'll add you to the spam list.

*Um I guess it's like sports or something. awkward turtle.