The shape of my (non-Marxist) leftism

(ca. 2019)

The ideas of Karl Marx and his ideological descendants are not and should not be the sole foundation for left-wing political thought. They’re certainly not the sole foundation of mine. I am not a Marxist. I have never been a Marxist. This is not the same as saying that Marx was wholly wrong; I think his ideas about worker alienation, for example, are useful in describing people’s relationship to their labour. I do not, however, care very much for his predilection for teleological explanations. Is it necessarily true that workers will eventually rebel against their capitalist overlords and establish a workers’ paradise, or is it merely your ardent desire that they do so? Is and ought are two different phenomena. The problem with prognostications like Marx’s inevitable dictatorship of the proletariat is that there’s no proof that the proposed events will in fact happen. I do consider myself left-wing, though, since I am largely egalitarian.

The following ideas, presented in bullet-point format, are an attempt to articulate my particular flavour of leftism.

  • People do not have identical abilities, backgrounds or proclivities; however, these differences do not require anti-egalitarian policies to maintain social equilibrium. Anti-egalitarianism based on group characteristics requires adopting a number of a priori assumptions that can be disproved easily with one or two social interactions. If you do deal with people categorically in a way that under- or overestimates them, then you may incur negative consequences from that erroneous assumption. It’s therefore optimal to adopt a politically egalitarian strategy to avoid fucking this up. There are some good explanations from game theory that show egalitarian or cooperative strategies to be better evolutionary strategies than adhering to a version of “nature, red in tooth and claw.”
  • I am a staunch individualist. That doesn’t mean I’m a libertarian or a fan of laissez-faire capitalism. I believe that each person has their own needs and characteristics that are distinct from those around them. An individual’s traits should not be subsumed by group characteristics if the characteristics associated with the group are inapt to describe that individual.
  • I value cooperation and humane social policy.
  • I am not immune to bias. You are not immune to bias. There is no such thing as total neutrality. We as a species have irrational tendencies deeply embedded in our lizard-brains. Bias is unavoidable, but you can question it. And by all means, you should.
  • Rights are, or should be, granted or rescinded based on the potential to materially harm another person’s existence. Allowing a same-gender couple to marry does not materially affect heterosexual couples’ existence; the latter can still marry and enjoy the same benefits they did before same-gender couples’ relationships were granted legal parity. Murder, rape and child abuse, however, are forms of material harm. Note that I include direct psychological harm as a form of material harm; I don’t find Cartesian dualism useful here. Emotional abusers inflict real, long-lasting effects on their victims.
  • I don’t think “natural rights” exist in an absolute sense. Humans created them. That’s not to say that human rights aren’t important, but that societies had a role in determining what those rights should be. We do not need to use Platonic forms to define what we believe is right.
  • I am vehemently anti-authoritarian. And no, expanding the rights of one designated group to match those of a group that has always had rights is not a form of authoritarianism.
  • I am pro-women, anti-racist, pro-LGBTQ, anti-disablist and anti-xenophobic because of my individualism, not in spite of it. “Mexicans are rapists” is a ridiculous generalisation. “Black people aren’t very intelligent” is an invidious and poorly substantiated claim.
  • I’ve become convinced that ontological debates about people’s identities are useless parlour games in the broader scheme of things. Debating the validity of someone’s gender identity, for example, is not particularly productive when more powerful people threaten people’s material existence. Let’s spend less time on how trans people will hypothetically destroy womanhood and more time on how authoritarian conservative politicians are hell-bent on abrogating women’s rights to control their own bodies. Even if we use a favourite reductio ad absurdum argument, like “I identify as an attack helicopter,” who cares? Does Attack Helicopter pose a direct threat to you by virtue of their identity?
  • I see the utility of group-based strategies to stop people from lumping people together and judging them categorically without knowing their individual circumstances. Strategies like affirmative action/positive discrimination, diversity recruiting and sensitivity trainings should be aimed at ultimately creating a society in which people are treated as unique individuals, not members of a stereotyped conglomerate. To stop unwarranted stereotyping, you have to recognise that said stereotyping actually exists. Ignoring it won’t lead to real change. That said, however, I am uncomfortable with the tendency towards elevating group identities over individual ones. This applies both to the left and to the right, though I obviously find the right-wing variety far worse. Certain conservatives, reactionaries and libertarians may protest that they care more about individuals than groups, but these very same people will complain that they’re not allowed to make claims about women’s unsuitability to work outside the home, black people’s low intelligence or the International Jewish Conspiracy. People like Richard Spencer and other blatant white supremacists may be the nauseating of the lot, but at least they’re intellectually honest about their use of crude categories to unfairly stereotype people. I also believe that negative categorical stereotypes can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies that create positive feedback loops that continue inexorably until people have enough sense to disaggregate the people unfairly lumped together.
  • I do not think that privilege or oppression are static categories. I don’t believe in the eternal battle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, white people versus “people of colour,” or God and Satan. Rather, I see these relationships as fluid, spatially and temporally bound phenomena. (Yes, I put “people of colour” in dick quotes this time. I use it out of convenience, but it is not my favourite term. Since language intended for others should be understandable, I’m often stuck using words I’d rather not use instead of inventing my own.)
  • When people talk about “opposing capitalism,” they should be clear about what they actually mean. What we understand as capitalism contains a number of different concatenated ideas. Creating for-profit businesses does not require enslavement or worker exploitation; the idea that maximising profit before other concerns can very well lead to those human-rights abuses. If, however, economic policy is connected with the idea that people are entitled to full and fair participation within a given society, then it stands to reason that slavery and labour-rights abuses are inherently unacceptable. Neoliberalism is an even vaguer term; for some people, it appears to have developed the meaning of “thing I don’t like.” I’m hardly a supporter of laissez-faire capitalism, but I’m not a communist, either. I’m not against profit-making or the exchange of money for goods, but I am opposed to the idea that rampant social inequality should be acceptable. “That’s just the way it is” is a terrible defence. Yeah, that may be the way it is, but is that how it should be? Sometimes you really want the ought in an is/ought problem.
  • We exist within overlapping, often mutually reinforcing contexts; there is no one objectivity, but the confluence of several observed and experienced objectivities and subjectivities. We don’t know if an entity exists outside the known universe that defines reality, rather like the distinction between positive and negative space in art. (In this case, the known universe would be the positive space, while the reality-definer would be the negative space.) There’s no proof that one exists. I’ll agree that there is a consensus reality, since there are observations that have been corroborated over and over again across time. This is why I believe in the existence of natural phenomena like gravity, evolution and global warming. If I talk about objective reality, I’m technically referring to the consensus reality whose characteristics have been uncovered through empirical findings.

Are these definitive statements? Hardly; I’m hesitant to make declarations that may or may not hold true in the face of new, controverting evidence. Anti-authoritarianism, egalitarianism and individualism are the closest things I have to core beliefs, but otherwise, they’re subject to change and refinement over time. I find that I can’t keep myself trapped in a thought-loop without wanting to break out of it.

The Banuala Language (conlang draft)

Banuala literally means ‘tongue of the people’ or ‘the people’s tongue’: tongue(NOM) people(GEN). ‘Banu’ means tongue, language or speech.

Syntax

Banuala is usually a verb-subject-object language. Adjectives often precede nouns in Banuala, but they can technically be placed anywhere because of the case system. Banuala does not have a productive adverbial system, apart from a few fixed phrases from the language’s earlier history.

Verbs

Regular verb paradigm, using ‘muta’ (to eat) as an example

Muta – to eat; stem – mut-

two main tenses – close and distant; past and future are denoted by expressions of time

Close Tense

1st person: mute ato / mútet atori / mutéti atorii / mutéget atoga / mutégeti atogai

2nd person close: mutéta et, imat, dedet, imatet / muténeta etei, imatei, dedetei, imatetei / mutetáneta etui, imatui, dedetui, imatetui

2nd person distant: mutétama adet, dedadet, adematet / mutenétama adetei, dedadetei, adematetei / mutetanétama adetui, dedadetui / adematetui

mute·t

muteta·ta·tama

(the root ‘ma’ in intimate and deferential pronouns reflects an idea of care/regard)

3rd person animate: múto taorit, taorat, taorant / mutóta taoritei, taoratei, taorantei / muténta taoritui, taoratui, taorantui

3rd person inanimate: mutan tatonat / mutata tatonatei / mutanta tatonatui

Banua – to speak; stem – banu-

banute ato / banutet atori / banuteti atorii / banuteget atoga / banutegeti atogai

banutetama adet, dedadet, adematet / banutenetama adatei, dedadetei, adematetei / banutetanetama adetui, dedadetui, adematetui

banuto taorit, taorat, taorant / tanutota taoritei, taoratei, taorantei / banutenta taoritui, taoratui, taorantui

Banutan tatonat / banutata tatonatei / banutanta tatonatui

Nouns

nua – people

banu – tongue

muta – food

‘Your people’ in the deferential familiar singular: imatétela nua

Pronunciation

Words are often pronounced on the…

  • first syllable in two-syllable words
  • penultimate or first syllable in three-syllable words
  • antepenultimate syllable if there are four or more syllables.

The stress pattern is… similar to that of Hungarian in some respects? Perhaps? Banuala strongly resists stressing words on the final syllable.

Poetic metre prefers anapaests? How should Banuala poetry scan? (acute accents are to indicate stress; Banuala doesn’t typically use diacritical marks)

Pronouns

Banuala requires that pronouns be directly used in a sentence even though verbs inflect for person and gender. This is because information about the referent or listener is reflected in the pronoun but not necessarily the verb.

Nominative

First-person:

  • ato (singular),
  • atori (dual inclusive),
  • atorii (dual exclusive),
  • atoga (plural inclusive) and
  • atogai (plural exclusive)

Second-person:

  • et (neutral close singular)
  • imat (intimate singular) – used between parents and children, siblings and similar-aged cousins, and extremely close friends.
  • imátet (deferential familiar singular) – typically used with second-degree older relatives, like grandparents, aunts, uncles or older cousins
  • dédet (contemptuous close singular) – used for people like ex-friends and estranged family members
  • ádet (neutral distant singular) – used when meeting someone for the first time; a very safe pronoun to use
  • adematet – deferential distant similar
  • dedadet – contemptuous distant singular
  • étei (neutral close dual)
  • ímai (intimate dual)
  • imátetei – deferential familiar dual
  • adematetei – deferential distant dual
  • dedétei (contemptuous close dual)
  • adétei (neutral distant dual)
  • dedádetei (contemptuous distant dual)
  • étui (neutral close plural)
  • imui (intimate plural; the ‘a’ in the root was swallowed over time)
  • imatetui – deferential familiar plural
  • adematetui – deferential distant plural
  • dedetui (contemptuous close plural)
  • adetui (neutral distant plural; pronounced ‘atui’ in fast speech)
  • dedadetui (contemptuous distant plural; sometimes pronounced ‘datui’ in fast speech)

Third-person:

Third-person pronouns inflect for gender, number, case and animacy. A deferential or contemptuous prefix can also be added, but this is considered a modifier, not a noun class.

Feminine singular: taorit

Masculine singular: taorat

Neuter animate singular: taorant

Inanimate singular: tatonat

F2: taoritei

M2: taoratei

N2: taorantei

I2: tatonatei

FPL: taoritui

MPL: taoratui

NPL: taorantui

IPL: tatonatui

Masculine dual

Neuter animate dual

Inanimate dual

Feminine plural

Masculine plural

Neuter plural

Inanimate plural

Genitive

Generally, –la is added to make genitives and possessive pronouns. If a first- or second- person pronoun ends in a consonant, an ‘e’ is added to the suffix to prevent consonant clusters that aren’t allowed in Banuala. Third-person pronouns drop the -t instead.

1st person: atola / atorila (atoriila) / atogala (atogaila)

2nd person

Close neutral: etela / eteila / etuila

Distant neutral: adetela / adeteila / adetuila

imatetela, etc.

third-person:

singular: taorila, taorala, taoranela, tatonala (the final -t is dropped from third-person singular pronouns in the genitive)

dual:

plural:

Accusative

Dative

Instrumental

Auxiliary verbs – does Banuala have a copula, modal etc?

Common word-building affixes

Swearwords

torumpa (n, v) – shit, excrement

15 Rules for Writing Generic Scholarly Articles, White Papers, and Annual Reports That Absolutely No One Will Enjoy Reading

A graphic that says, "15 rules for writing generic scholarly articles, white papers, and annual reports that absolutely no one will enjoy reading."
A graphic that says, "15 rules for writing generic scholarly articles, white papers, and annual reports that absolutely no one will enjoy reading."
  1. The passive voice must always be used.
  2. Avoid simple words like “before” and “after.” Instead, opt for “prior to,” “in advance of,” and “subsequent to,” which will doubtless make you sound more intelligent.
  3. To leverage your core competencies, liaise with key stakeholders, and build capacity in oral and written expression, it is to be ensured that every management-speak cliché is utilized going forward by all personnel—or they may risk being rightsized for not using best practices in their writing methodology. Remember, you’ll never be impactful without lots of jargon and gobbledygook, so stay within the parameters.
  4. Never write “people.” Write “persons” and “individuals” instead—preferably ten times on the same page.
  5. Even though you finished grad school ten years ago, write as though you’ve got a professor who wants a specific word count. Pad your sentences and paragraphs with as many redundant, repetitious, pleonastic, redundant, and tautological phrases and locutions as possible. Make them circuitous and repetitive, too. “Overall,” “in the final analysis,” and “it is interesting to note” are also handy ways to lengthen a paper that’s otherwise short on content.
  6. Who needs “because” when you can use “due to the fact that,” “in light of the fact that,” and “owing to the fact that”?
  7. Add in some legalese for extra variety. You’ll always sound more authoritative if you say “pursuant to” instead of “under” or “according to.”
  8. Forget what Strunk and White said about omitting needless words. In fact, you should include a plethora of superfluous vocables in excess; otherwise, you won’t come across as scholarly enough. (See also Rule 5.)
  9. Spock and Data from Star Trek should be your models of good writing. Contractions make you sound personable, which is not the done thing.
  10. A paper is never complete without a few parenthetical references (PRs), especially for words that won’t be used anywhere else in the paper.
  11. Never start your sentences with “and” or “but.” Use heavy openers like “in addition” and “however” instead.
  12. When quoting sources, don’t use “said.” Words like “noted,” “indicated,” and “stated” sound more elegant, don’t you think?
  13. To sound more credible, say “evidence-based” and “best practices,” even when the evidence in question is a few online commenters, and the “best” practices aren’t even in the top ten.
  14. If you’re a psychology researcher, be sure to say that your respondents “endorsed” having depression and anxiety—because nine out of ten patients apparently endorse feeling like shit.
  15. Never get help with your writing. After all, your middle-school English teacher told you that you were the best writer in the class, so how much more help do you need?

How Not to Write

Prior to the inception of this paper, input was sought by all relevant stakeholders with regard to the maximisation of reader frustration, boredom and agony. Most intriguingly, there was a statistically significant correlation between reduced reader attention span and utilisation of field-specific jargon. Additionally, chi-square tests of significance indicated that boredom and jargon utilisation were not independent of each other. In the qualitative portion of our study, several participants endorsed boredom and depression from reading yet another terrible psychology paper. Bloggs, Smith & Jones (2022) noted the connection between poor writing in the social sciences and the desire of this blog’s author to pull his hair out every time he reads any of these badly written articles. Due to the fact that this paper was written deliberately to induce boredom in its readers, we were able to get published immediately without even a ‘Revise and Resubmit’.

Prior to the establishment of our nongovernmental organization, the Principals were coinvestigators on a comprehensive, holistic project to implement strategic plans for corporate social responsibility at WidgetCorp. Subsequent to the founding of Bullshit, Inc., the Principals developed a long-term holistic strategy to enshrine best practices for liaising with community stakeholders to create impactful change.

Impactful best-of-breed methodologies to leverage our core competencies and build capacity to develop, maintain and steward best practices for all key stakeholders going forward.

We develop client-centric solutions for large- and medium-sized concerns, all of which are based on the industry’s best practices. Diversify your supply chain, synergize your office, and expand capacity in your organization with Bullshit, Inc.’s patented methodologies. At the end of the day, it’s the strategy that counts!

Utilising our proven methodology, our impactful programme builds capacity among BIPOC and LGBTQIA youth to foster meaningful linkages with community organisations and other key stakeholders in our overall efforts to dismantle systemic oppression and incorporate equity into our communities. Now we are looking for a dynamic director with leadership potential who can liaise with stakeholder organisations, uphold our values and engage with the overall community.

The overall study presents a new and exciting interpretation of the systemic oppression of BIPOC in the face of carceral feminism in a problematic neoliberal societal context.

We need to come up with an actionable action plan. It needs to be bleeding-edge, robust, scalable and best-of-breed to develop the next generation of proactive leaders.

Intelligence exists, but it’s more complex than you think

(originally posted in 2018)

Via Joshua Fuller @ Unsplash
Via Joshua Fuller @ Unsplash

First, let’s clear up some misconceptions about what intelligence is and isn’t. Intelligence is a collection of mental abilities—pattern recognition, abstract reasoning, learning capacity, general knowledge, and environmental adaptation—that mutually reinforce one another in most people. The mutually reinforcing characteristics of these abilities are the reason why researchers believe that a general factor of intelligence, or g, exists1. For neurotypical people of average intelligence—roughly half the population—the idea of general intelligence usually works. This set of traits is traditionally measured using IQ tests, which include a number of tasks that are thought to be related to the construct of general intelligence. It is a descriptor of how people’s brains learn, adapt to the world around them, recognise patterns, and interpret the information they receive from their environment. Intelligence is not an indicator of human value. Everyone has the right to exist, regardless of their learning style.

This general description of of intelligence holds true for the majority of the population. Of course, the reality isn’t so simple for some people. There are many whose mental abilities may not reinforce one another to the same degree as they would for most people; they’re more atomised skills rather than the positive feedback loops associated with the typical model of general intelligence. For example, somebody can score very high on the verbal portions on one of the Wechsler intelligence tests and fare far worse on a section that requires a strong working memory, excellent fine-motor skills or visual-spatial ability. These requirements seem to penalise some disabled people, as well as those who are simply more methodical than others. Some disabled people may score well enough on IQ tests but have difficulty generalising their abilities outside the testing environment. The existence of savant syndrome gives the lie to the idea that extreme mental capabilities exist consistently in people. Many people with savant syndrome may score low on IQ tests but have strong skills in one or two areas, like calendrical calculation, word decoding, musical ability, or drawing from life. Also, people who experience poverty, trauma, or other difficulties early in life may not be able to develop their abilities as well as people who grew up in well-off, intellectually nourishing environments2.

Any thoughtful analysis of how intelligence works must be conscious of these exceptions. In a talk she gave a few years ago, Linda Silverman, a psychologist who specialises in advanced learning ability, emphasised that IQ tests are a diagnostic tool that should be combined with clinical judgement, not an absolute determiner of a person’s intellectual abilities that can be divorced from the context in which they live, grow and develop. The current incarnations of IQ tests are designed to be used as clinical tools to identify people’s relative strengths and weaknesses. They’re less accurate when they’re used to determine the cognitive skills of very quick or slow learners. Some quick-and-dirty tests designed for people with acquired cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s and traumatic brain injuries can’t even give people very high or low scores. Moreover, like other clinical tests, intelligence tests can produce false negatives or type II errors, especially in intelligent neurodivergent people whose abilities are more uneven and may have an overall score that appears average despite their intellectual, social, and emotional differences from typically developing people. The history of IQ testing and the value judgements people place on intelligence tend to cause a lot of anxiety around IQ scores, though. Far too often I see descriptions of high intelligence that rely solely on IQ scores and do not acknowledge the existence of false negatives in testing. While these exceptions may be statistically rare, rarity is not the same thing as nonexistence. People who describe the traits of highly intelligent people should be aware of these exceptions; since they are describing outliers, they should recognise that even these outliers have outliers. I fear that treating the most common representations as universal will cause people to feel as though their experiences cannot possibly be real. The late Mel Baggs wrote eloquently about the problems with IQ testing in neurodivergent people several years ago. I agree with hir to an extent; I think that the ways IQ tests are designed do not always capture the abilities or struggles of neurodivergent or disabled people. For some people, the tests are downright useless; some autistic people in particular have received “gifted,” “average,” and “intellectually disabled” scores in their lives depending on the testing conditions, their emotional state and their ability to access their skills.

More holistic analysis requiring understanding people’s practical skills is required to give a person a diagnosis of intellectual disability; clinicians should use the same principle when determining whether somebody qualifies for gifted education, too. Mechanistically interpreting scores and believing the numbers uncritically without considering people’s backgrounds, subtest discrepancies, interactions with the test administrator, and potential disabilities is not “intelligent testing.” I actually believe that systematic qualitative measures of people’s intellectual abilities, based on people’s developmental trajectory; abilities in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood; interactions with the interviewer; and answers to abstract questions should be developed and tested to be used in the field. These measures would be especially useful for people whose traditional IQ scores don’t seem to match up with their abilities or presentation.

When talking about intelligence, it is important to avoid being prejudiced against marginalised people. Unfortunately, the history of intelligence testing is fraught with racism, disablism, classism, and misogyny. IQ tests like the Stanford-Binet scales, the British eleven-plus and the US Army intelligence tests were used to devalue the intelligence of women and racially marginalised people, consign poor and working-class people to subpar educations, institutionalise disabled people and people erroneously thought to be disabled, and create Great Chains of Being in which more intelligent people were superior to people of average or below-average intellectual ability. Some people cling to these abhorrent notions and use IQ scores as a means to rank people. In fact, some IQ tests, like the Wechsler intelligence tests, still use the category superior to refer to people of significantly above-average intelligence, a relic of the days in which IQ tests were used to rank people’s eugenic qualities. They may not be calling people imbeciles and idiots anymore, but the old prejudices still remain. Also, there are some researchers and journalists in the intelligence field who have expressed toxic views about people of colour and disabled people, including Richard Lynn, Satoshi Kanazawa, Tatu Vanhanen, Steve Sailer, Philippe Rushton, Arthur Jensen, Hans Eysenck and Charles Murray. Linda Gottfredson’s research often falls into this category too. Moreover, IQ tests should not be used to determine people’s “mental age.” Mental age is a pernicious construct that is demeaning to people with intellectual disabilities, and gifted advocates need to abandon it. The mental-age argument can be used to infantilise and devalue people with intellectual disabilities—or to take advantage of bright children and teenagers who are not emotionally prepared for things like sexual or romantic relationships. A five-year-old who can read Shakespeare is still a five-year-old. A fifty-year-old who struggles with reading and needs support to understand paperwork is still a fifty-year-old.

Intelligence, like other aspects of human cognition, is a complex and multilayered subject. It is disingenuous to say that it does not exist at all, but it is equally wrong to claim that it is easily quantifiable in all people or that it is a determiner of human worth.

Further reading

  • James Whitman’s Hitler’s American Model is a good overview of how Nazi Germany drew inspiration from American policies promoting eugenics and racial segregation.
  • Stuart Ritchie’s Intelligence: All That Matters is a brief introduction to concepts related to intelligence and the history of its assessment.
  • ‘Intelligence: New Findings and Theoretical Developments’ (Nisbett, R. et al., 2012), an article from American Psychologist is a good academic overview of the current state of intelligence research.
  • Linda Silverman’s Giftedness 101 is a good resource for psychologists and curious laypeople to find out about assessing, working with and teaching students who need more complexity and intellectual challenge than the traditional curriculum provides.
  • Alan Kaufman’s IQ Testing 101 is a slightly more exhaustive introduction to IQ testing and its current uses, and emphasises an ‘intelligent testing’ approach that ultimately relies on clinical judgement rather than just spitting out a score and using that to determine a person’s intellectual ability.
  • The last few chapters of The Myth of Race, by Robert Wald Sussman, describe historical and current uses of intelligence tests to marginalise black and Latino people in the United States.
  1. Yes, I am familiar with the multiple-intelligence theory. Most Gardnerian ‘intelligences’ are better described as talents; see Stuart Ritchie, Intelligence: All That Matters.
  2. Nisbett, R. et al. (2012). Intelligence: New findings and theoretical developments. American Psychologist, 67(2).