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Javier E

Ian Hacking, Eminent Philosopher of Science and Much Else, Dies at 87 - The New York Times - 0 views

  • In an academic career that included more than two decades as a professor in the philosophy department of the University of Toronto, following appointments at Cambridge and Stanford, Professor Hacking’s intellectual scope seemed to know no bounds. Because of his ability to span multiple academic fields, he was often described as a bridge builder.
  • “Ian Hacking was a one-person interdisciplinary department all by himself,” Cheryl Misak, a philosophy professor at the University of Toronto, said in a phone interview. “Anthropologists, sociologists, historians and psychologists, as well as those working on probability theory and physics, took him to have important insights for their disciplines.”
  • Professor Hacking wrote several landmark works on the philosophy and history of probability, including “The Taming of Chance” (1990), which was named one of the best 100 nonfiction books of the 20th century by the Modern Library.
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  • “I have long been interested in classifications of people, in how they affect the people classified, and how the effects on the people in turn change the classifications,” he wrote in “Making Up People
  • His work in the philosophy of science was groundbreaking: He departed from the preoccupation with questions that had long concerned philosophers. Arguing that science was just as much about intervention as it was about representation, be helped bring experimentation to center stage.
  • Regarding one such question — whether unseen phenomena like quarks and electrons were real or merely the theoretical constructs of physicists — he argued for reality in the case of phenomena that figured in experiments, citing as an example an experiment at Stanford that involved spraying electrons and positrons into a ball of niobium to detect electric charges. “So far as I am concerned,” he wrote, “if you can spray them, they’re real.”
  • His book “The Emergence of Probability” (1975), which is said to have inspired hundreds of books by other scholars, examined how concepts of statistical probability have evolved over time, shaping the way we understand not just arcane fields like quantum physics but also everyday life.
  • “I was trying to understand what happened a few hundred years ago that made it possible for our world to be dominated by probabilities,” he said in a 2012 interview with the journal Public Culture. “We now live in a universe of chance, and everything we do — health, sports, sex, molecules, the climate — takes place within a discourse of probabilities.”
  • Whatever the subject, whatever the audience, one idea that pervades all his work is that “science is a human enterprise,” Ragnar Fjelland and Roger Strand of the University of Bergen in Norway wrote when Professor Hacking won the Holberg Prize. “It is always created in a historical situation, and to understand why present science is as it is, it is not sufficient to know that it is ‘true,’ or confirmed. We have to know the historical context of its emergence.”
  • Hacking often argued that as the human sciences have evolved, they have created categories of people, and that people have subsequently defined themselves as falling into those categories. Thus does human reality become socially constructed.
  • In 2000, he became the first Anglophone to win a permanent position at the Collège de France, where he held the chair in the philosophy and history of scientific concepts until he retired in 2006.
  • “I call this the ‘looping effect,’” he added. “Sometimes, our sciences create kinds of people that in a certain sense did not exist before.”
  • In “Why Race Still Matters,” a 2005 article in the journal Daedalus, he explored how anthropologists developed racial categories by extrapolating from superficial physical characteristics, with lasting effects — including racial oppression. “Classification and judgment are seldom separable,” he wrote. “Racial classification is evaluation.”
  • Similarly, he once wrote, in the field of mental health the word “normal” “uses a power as old as Aristotle to bridge the fact/value distinction, whispering in your ear that what is normal is also right.”
  • In his influential writings about autism, Professor Hacking charted the evolution of the diagnosis and its profound effects on those diagnosed, which in turn broadened the definition to include a greater number of people.
  • Encouraging children with autism to think of themselves that way “can separate the child from ‘normalcy’ in a way that is not appropriate,” he told Public Culture. “By all means encourage the oddities. By no means criticize the oddities.”
  • His emphasis on historical context also illuminated what he called transient mental illnesses, which appear to be so confined 0cto their time 0c 0cthat they can vanish when times change.
  • “hysterical fugue” was a short-lived epidemic of compulsive wandering that emerged in Europe in the 1880s, largely among middle-class men who had become transfixed by stories of exotic locales and the lure of trave
  • His intellectual tendencies were unmistakable from an early age. “When he was 3 or 4 years old, he would sit and read the dictionary,” Jane Hacking said. “His parents were completely baffled.”
  • He wondered aloud, the interviewer noted, if the whole universe was governed by nonlocality — if “everything in the universe is aware of everything else.”“That’s what you should be writing about,” he said. “Not me. I’m a dilettante. My governing word is ‘curiosity.’”
Javier E

Rebecca F Kuang rejects idea authors should not write about other races | Publishing | ... - 0 views

  • The author of Babel and The Poppy War, Rebecca F Kuang, has said she finds the idea that authors should only write about characters of their own race “deeply frustrating and pretty illogical”.
  • the author, who was born in China but moved to the US when she was four, said that there is a “really weird kind of identity politics going on in American publishing”. She is “sympathetic” to an extent, as it is coming from “decades of frustration of seeing the same racist, uncritical, under-researched, shallow stereotypes”
  • The problem is, Kuang thinks, is that this has now “spiralled into this really strict and reductive understanding of race”. As a result, a movement that began as a call for more authentic stories about marginalised communities “gets flipped around and weaponised against the marginalised writers to pigeonhole them into telling only certain kinds of stories”.
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  • Kuang was critical of those who believe that “the only people getting book deals right now are BIPOC [Black, Indigenous and people of colour] writers”, including Joyce Carol Oates, who tweeted last year that editors do not want to look at debuts by white male writers. Oates “really just needs to get off Twitter”, Kuang joked, but also said “if you just walk into a bookstore you know that’s not true.”
  • “We also know from industry reports year after year that the number of BIPOC authors being published hasn’t really budged since the 70s”, she added. “In fact, you can historically trace the years in which the number of Black authors being published in the US spiked to the years in which Toni Morrison was an acquiring editor, which is very depressing.
Javier E

Opinion | The Right Is All Wrong About Masculinity - The New York Times - 0 views

  • Indeed, the very definition of “masculinity” is up for grabs
  • In 2019, the American Psychological Association published guidelines that took direct aim at what it called “traditional masculinity — marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression” — declaring it to be, “on the whole, harmful.”
  • Aside from “dominance,” a concept with precious few virtuous uses, the other aspects of traditional masculinity the A.P.A. cited have important roles to play. Competitiveness, aggression and stoicism surely have their abuses, but they also can be indispensable in the right contexts. Thus, part of the challenge isn’t so much rejecting those characteristics as it is channeling and shaping them for virtuous purposes.
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  • traditionally “masculine” virtues are not exclusively male. Women who successfully model these attributes are all around us
  • Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem “If—” is one of the purest distillations of restraint as a traditional manly virtue. It begins with the words “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you.” The entire work speaks of the necessity of calmness and courage.
  • Stoicism carried to excess can become a dangerous form of emotional repression, a stifling of necessary feelings. But the fact that the kind of patience and perseverance that marks stoicism can be taken too far is not to say that we should shun it. In times of conflict and crisis, it is the calm man or woman who can see clearly.
  • If you spend much time at all on right-wing social media — especially Twitter these days — or listening to right-wing news outlets, you’ll be struck by the sheer hysteria of the rhetoric, the hair-on-fire sense of emergency that seems to dominate all discourse.
  • Catastrophic rhetoric is omnipresent on the right. Let’s go back to the “groomer” smear. It’s a hallmark of right-wing rhetoric that if you disagree with the new right on any matter relating to sex or sexuality, you’re not just wrong; you’re a “groomer” or “soft on pedos.
  • But conservative catastrophism is only one part of the equation. The other is meanspirited pettiness
  • Traditional masculinity says that people should meet a challenge with a level head and firm convictions. Right-wing culture says that everything is an emergency, and is to be combated with relentless trolling and hyperbolic insults.
  • Jonah Goldberg wrote an important piece cataloging the sheer pettiness of the young online right. “Everywhere I look these days,” he wrote, “I see young conservatives believing they should behave like jerks.” As Jonah noted, there are those who now believe it shows “courage and strength to be coarse or bigoted.”
  • Hysteria plus cruelty is a recipe for violence. And that brings us back to Mr. Hawley. For all of its faults when taken to excess, the traditional masculinity of which he claims to be a champion would demand that he stand firm against a howling mob. Rather, he saluted it with a raised fist — and then ran from it when it got too close and too unruly.
  • American men are in desperate need of virtuous purpose.
  • I reject the idea that traditional masculinity, properly understood, is, “on the whole, harmful.” I recognize that it can be abused, but it is good to confront life with a sense of proportion, with calm courage and conviction.
  • One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received reflects that wisdom. Early in my legal career, a retired federal judge read a brief that I’d drafted and admonished me to “write with regret, not outrage.”
  • Husband your anger, he told me. Have patience. Gain perspective. So then, when something truly is terrible, your outrage will mean something. It was the legal admonition against crying wolf.
Javier E

Pupils at elite Welsh school to get lessons in climate change - 0 views

  • For the first time in 50 years, the directors of the IB are collaborating with schools to create an updated version of the qualification taken by 16 to 19-year-olds as an alternative to A-levels
  • A cohort of 20 pupils at UWC will drop a third of the traditional subjects usually studied within the IB. Instead they will spend 300 hours, over two years of study, on the new areas. Forms of assessment have yet to be finalised but there will be no exams on these subjects.
  • Learning will be project-based, collaborative and designed to tackle “multiple global crises” around the world. IB says it is creating the new qualification because there is a growing disconnect between the education children are receiving and the education they need.
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  • Olli-Pekka Heinonen, director-general of the IB, told The Times that teenagers taking the new diploma would be “uniquely empowered” on leaving school.
  • Traditional assessment often led to pupils forgetting what they had learnt once exams were over, he said. “The aim of this type of assessment is to strengthen deep learning and understanding, something you learn that stays with you and is part of you. We’re experimenting with non-exam assessment and finding the best ways to evaluate.
  • “Biodiversity, food, migration and energy are meaningful and attractive to young people. They’re appealing and relevant.“We’re looking at these areas through the lens of systems leadership — ie, how it’s possible to make change happen.”
  • The school hosts pupils from 80 different countries and charges fees of £37,000 a year. It is set in St Donat’s Castle, in 122 acres and its grounds include woodland, farmland, a valley and its own seafront.
  • Naheed Bardai, principal of UWC Atlantic, said he felt dissatisfied with the state of education in the world today as pupils should be prepared to become leaders of organisations and government in the 2040s and 2050s.
  • He said the new qualification would help them understand the root causes of problems but also become compassionate world leaders that can create “transformative solutions”.
  • “Our core policies are peace, sustainability and experiential learning but there’s very little education for young people at the intersection of problems, particularly where the human meets the natural world,”
  • We need people who can take constructive action as inequality is growing at a tremendous rate.”
  • Bardai said the school had been given a free hand in curriculum writing and was looking at more radical forms of assessment. This may include interviews, peer assessment and portfolios.
Javier E

Opinion | What College Students Need Is a Taste of the Monk's Life - The New York Times - 0 views

  • When she registered last fall for the seminar known around campus as the monk class, she wasn’t sure what to expect.
  • “You give up technology, and you can’t talk for a month,” Ms. Rodriguez told me. “That’s all I’d heard. I didn’t know why.” What she found was a course that challenges students to rethink the purpose of education, especially at a time when machine learning is getting way more press than the human kind.
  • Each week, students would read about a different monastic tradition and adopt some of its practices. Later in the semester, they would observe a one-month vow of silence (except for discussions during Living Deliberately) and fast from technology, handing over their phones to him.
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  • Yes, he knew they had other classes, jobs and extracurriculars; they could make arrangements to do that work silently and without a computer.
  • The class eased into the vow of silence, first restricting speech to 100 words a day. Other rules began on Day 1: no jewelry or makeup in class. Men and women sat separately and wore different “habits”: white shirts for the men, women in black. (Nonbinary and transgender students sat with the gender of their choice.)
  • Dr. McDaniel discouraged them from sharing personal information; they should get to know one another only through ideas. “He gave us new names, based on our birth time and day, using a Thai birth chart,”
  • “We were practicing living a monastic life. We had to wake up at 5 a.m. and journal every 30 minutes.”
  • If you tried to cruise to a C, you missed the point: “I realized the only way for me to get the most out of this class was to experience it all,” she said. (She got Dr. McDaniel’s permission to break her vow of silence in order to talk to patients during her clinical rotation.)
  • Dr. McDaniel also teaches a course called Existential Despair. Students meet once a week from 5 p.m. to midnight in a building with comfy couches, turn over their phones and curl up to read an assigned novel (cover to cover) in one sitting — books like James Baldwin’s “Giovanni’s Room” and José Saramago’s “Blindness.” Then they stay up late discussing it.
  • The course is not about hope, overcoming things, heroic stories,” Dr. McDaniel said. Many of the books “start sad. In the middle they’re sad. They stay sad. I’m not concerned with their 20-year-old self. I’m worried about them at my age, dealing with breast cancer, their dad dying, their child being an addict, a career that never worked out — so when they’re dealing with the bigger things in life, they know they’re not alone.”
  • Both courses have long wait lists. Students are hungry for a low-tech, introspective experience —
  • Research suggests that underprivileged young people have far fewer opportunities to think for unbroken stretches of time, so they may need even more space in college to develop what social scientists call cognitive endurance.
  • Yet the most visible higher ed trends are moving in the other direction
  • Rather than ban phones and laptops from class, some professors are brainstorming ways to embrace students’ tech addictions with class Facebook and Instagram accounts, audience response apps — and perhaps even including the friends and relatives whom students text during class as virtual participants in class discussion.
  • Then there’s that other unwelcome classroom visitor: artificial intelligence.
  • stop worrying and love the bot by designing assignments that “help students develop their prompting skills” or “use ChatGPT to generate a first draft,” according to a tip sheet produced by the Center for Teaching and Learning at Washington University in St. Louis.
  • It’s not at all clear that we want a future dominated by A.I.’s amoral, Cheez Whiz version of human thought
  • It is abundantly clear that texting, tagging and chatbotting are making students miserable right now.
  • One recent national survey found that 60 percent of American college students reported the symptoms of at least one mental health problem and that 15 percent said they were considering suicide
  • A recent meta-analysis of 36 studies of college students’ mental health found a significant correlation between longer screen time and higher risk of anxiety and depression
  • And while social media can sometimes help suffering students connect with peers, research on teenagers and college students suggests that overall, the support of a virtual community cannot compensate for the vortex of gossip, bullying and Instagram posturing that is bound to rot any normal person’s self-esteem.
  • We need an intervention: maybe not a vow of silence but a bold move to put the screens, the pinging notifications and creepy humanoid A.I. chatbots in their proper place
  • it does mean selectively returning to the university’s roots in the monastic schools of medieval Europe and rekindling the old-fashioned quest for meaning.
  • Colleges should offer a radically low-tech first-year program for students who want to apply: a secular monastery within the modern university, with a curated set of courses that ban glowing rectangles of any kind from the classroom
  • Students could opt to live in dorms that restrict technology, too
  • I prophesy that universities that do this will be surprised by how much demand there is. I frequently talk to students who resent the distracting laptops all around them during class. They feel the tug of the “imaginary string attaching me to my phone, where I have to constantly check it,”
  • Many, if not most, students want the elusive experience of uninterrupted thought, the kind where a hash of half-baked notions slowly becomes an idea about the world.
  • Even if your goal is effective use of the latest chatbot, it behooves you to read books in hard copies and read enough of them to learn what an elegant paragraph sounds like. How else will students recognize when ChatGPT churns out decent prose instead of bureaucratic drivel?
  • Most important, students need head space to think about their ultimate values.
  • His course offers a chance to temporarily exchange those unconscious structures for a set of deliberate, countercultural ones.
  • here are the student learning outcomes universities should focus on: cognitive endurance and existential clarity.
  • Contemplation and marathon reading are not ends in themselves or mere vacations from real life but are among the best ways to figure out your own answer to the question of what a human being is for
  • When students finish, they can move right into their area of specialization and wire up their skulls with all the technology they want, armed with the habits and perspective to do so responsibly
  • it’s worth learning from the radicals. Dr. McDaniel, the religious studies professor at Penn, has a long history with different monastic traditions. He grew up in Philadelphia, educated by Hungarian Catholic monks. After college, he volunteered in Thailand and Laos and lived as a Buddhist monk.
  • e found that no amount of academic reading could help undergraduates truly understand why “people voluntarily take on celibacy, give up drinking and put themselves under authorities they don’t need to,” he told me. So for 20 years, he has helped students try it out — and question some of their assumptions about what it means to find themselves.
  • “On college campuses, these students think they’re all being individuals, going out and being wild,” he said. “But they’re in a playpen. I tell them, ‘You know you’ll be protected by campus police and lawyers. You have this entire apparatus set up for you. You think you’re being an individual, but look at your four friends: They all look exactly like you and sound like you. We exist in these very strict structures we like to pretend don’t exist.’”
  • Colleges could do all this in classes integrated with general education requirements: ideally, a sequence of great books seminars focused on classic texts from across different civilizations.
  • “For the last 1,500 years, Benedictines have had to deal with technology,” Placid Solari, the abbot there, told me. “For us, the question is: How do you use the tool so it supports and enhances your purpose or mission and you don’t get owned by it?”
  • for novices at his monastery, “part of the formation is discipline to learn how to control technology use.” After this initial time of limited phone and TV “to wean them away from overdependence on technology and its stimulation,” they get more access and mostly make their own choices.
  • Evan Lutz graduated this May from Belmont Abbey with a major in theology. He stressed the special Catholic context of Belmont’s resident monks; if you experiment with monastic practices without investigating the whole worldview, it can become a shallow kind of mindfulness tourism.
  • The monks at Belmont Abbey do more than model contemplation and focus. Their presence compels even non-Christians on campus to think seriously about vocation and the meaning of life. “Either what the monks are doing is valuable and based on something true, or it’s completely ridiculous,” Mr. Lutz said. “In both cases, there’s something striking there, and it asks people a question.”
  • Pondering ultimate questions and cultivating cognitive endurance should not be luxury goods.
  • David Peña-Guzmán, who teaches philosophy at San Francisco State University, read about Dr. McDaniel’s Existential Despair course and decided he wanted to create a similar one. He called it the Reading Experiment. A small group of humanities majors gathered once every two weeks for five and a half hours in a seminar room equipped with couches and a big round table. They read authors ranging from Jean-Paul Sartre to Frantz Fanon
  • “At the beginning of every class I’d ask students to turn off their phones and put them in ‘the Basket of Despair,’ which was a plastic bag,” he told me. “I had an extended chat with them about accessibility. The point is not to take away the phone for its own sake but to take away our primary sources of distraction. Students could keep the phone if they needed it. But all of them chose to part with their phones.”
  • Dr. Peña-Guzmán’s students are mostly working-class, first-generation college students. He encouraged them to be honest about their anxieties by sharing his own: “I said, ‘I’m a very slow reader, and it’s likely some or most of you will get further in the text than me because I’m E.S.L. and read quite slowly in English.’
  • For his students, the struggle to read long texts is “tied up with the assumption that reading can happen while multitasking and constantly interacting with technologies that are making demands on their attention, even at the level of a second,”
  • “These draw you out of the flow of reading. You get back to the reading, but you have to restart the sentence or even the paragraph. Often, because of these technological interventions into the reading experience, students almost experience reading backward — as constant regress, without any sense of progress. The more time they spend, the less progress they make.”
  • Dr. Peña-Guzmán dismissed the idea that a course like his is suitable only for students who don’t have to worry about holding down jobs or paying off student debt. “I’m worried by this assumption that certain experiences that are important for the development of personality, for a certain kind of humanistic and spiritual growth, should be reserved for the elite, especially when we know those experiences are also sources of cultural capital,
  • Courses like the Reading Experiment are practical, too, he added. “I can’t imagine a field that wouldn’t require some version of the skill of focused attention.”
  • The point is not to reject new technology but to help students retain the upper hand in their relationship with i
  • Ms. Rodriguez said that before she took Living Deliberately and Existential Despair, she didn’t distinguish technology from education. “I didn’t think education ever went without technology. I think that’s really weird now. You don’t need to adapt every piece of technology to be able to learn better or more,” she said. “It can form this dependency.”
  • The point of college is to help students become independent humans who can choose the gods they serve and the rules they follow rather than allow someone else to choose for them
  • The first step is dethroning the small silicon idol in their pocket — and making space for the uncomfortable silence and questions that follow
Javier E

Reality Is Broken. We Have AI Photos to Blame. - WSJ - 0 views

  • AI headshots aren’t yet perfect, but they’re so close I expect we’ll start seeing them on LinkedIn, Tinder and other social profiles. Heck, we may already see them. How would we know?
  • Welcome to our new reality, where nothing is real. We now have photos initially captured with cameras that AI changes into something that never was
  • Or, like the headshot above, there are convincingly photographic images AI generates out of thin air.
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  • Adobe ADBE 7.19%increase; green up pointing triangle, maker of the Photoshop, released a new tool in Firefly, its generative-AI image suite, that lets you change and add in parts of a photo with AI imagery. Earlier this month, Google showed off a new Magic Editor, initially for Pixel phones, that allows you to easily manipulate a scene. And people are all over TikTok posting the results of AI headshot services like Try It On.
  • After testing a mix of AI editing and generating tools, I just have one question for all of you armchair philosophers: What even is a photo anymore?
  • I have always wondered what I’d look like as a naval officer. Now I don’t have to. I snapped a selfie and uploaded it to Adobe Firefly’s generative-fill tool. One click of the Background button and my cluttered office was wiped out. I typed “American flag” and in it went. Then I selected the Add tool, erased my torso and typed in “naval uniform.” Boom! Adobe even found me worthy of numerous awards and decorations.
  • Astronaut, fighter pilot, pediatrician. I turned myself into all of them in under a minute each. The AI-generated images did have noticeable issues: The uniforms were strange and had odd lettering, the stethoscope seemed to be cut in half and the backgrounds were warped and blurry. Yet the final images are fun, and the quality will only get better. 
  • In FaceApp, for iOS and Android, I was able to change my frown to a smile—with the right amount of teeth! I was also able to add glasses and change my hair color. Some said it looked completely real, others who know me well figured something was up. “Your teeth look too perfect.”
  • The real reality-bending happens in Midjourney, which can turn text prompts into hyper-realistic images and blend existing images in new ways. The image quality of generated images exceeds OpenAI’s Dall-E and Adobe’s Firefly.
  • it’s more complicated to use, since it runs through the chat app Discord. Sign up for service, access the Midjourney bot through your Discord account (via web or app), then start typing in prompts. My video producer Kenny Wassus started working with a more advanced Midjourney plugin called Insight Face Swap-Bot, which allows you to sub in a face to a scene you’ve already made. He’s become a master—making me a Game of Thrones warrior and a Star Wars rebel, among other things.
  • We’re headed for a time when we won’t be able to tell how manipulated a photo is, what parts are real or fake.
  • when influential messages are conveyed through images—be they news or misinformation—people have reason to know a photo’s origin and what’s been done to it.
  • Firefly adds a “content credential,” digital information baked into the file, that says the image was manipulated with AI. Adobe is pushing to get news, tech and social-media platforms to use this open-source standard so we can all understand where the images we see came from.
  • So, yeah, our ability to spot true photos might depend on the cooperation of the entire internet. And by “true photo,” I mean one that captures a real moment—where you’re wearing your own boring clothes and your hair is just so-so, but you have the exact right number of teeth in your head.
Javier E

Politics should be taught in primary schools, Alastair Campbell says | Alastair Campbel... - 0 views

  • the co-host of podcast The Rest is Politics expressed dismay that most students in the UK do not take politics classes unless they choose to study it at A-level.
  • Political education needs to start in primary schools, and then become part of the “everyday debate” in children’s entire school experience, he said. “Maybe you don’t call it politics,” he said, suggesting that it could be called “arguing”, “policy” or “big issues”.
  • “Some of the most enjoyable stuff I do is going into schools and trying to teach young kids what politics is,” he added. “When they sit down and they start thinking about stuff, it’s just so fascinating and innovative.”
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  • more state school students need to be taught “how to communicate, how to argue, how to fight their corner” from a young age.
Javier E

Elliot Ackerman Went From U.S. Marine to Bestselling Novelist - WSJ - 0 views

  • Years before he impressed critics with his first novel, “Green on Blue” (2015), written from the perspective of an Afghan boy, Ackerman was already, in his words, “telling stories and inhabiting the minds of others.” He explains that much of his work as a special-operations officer involved trying to grasp what his adversaries were thinking, to better anticipate how they might act
  • “Look, I really believe in stories, I believe in art, I believe that this is how we express our humanity,” he says. “You can’t understand a society without understanding the stories they tell about themselves, and how these stories are constantly changing.”
  • his, in essence, is the subject of “Halcyon,” in which a scientific breakthrough allows Robert Ableson, a World War II hero and renowned lawyer, to come back from the dead. Yet the 21st-century America he returns to feels like a different place, riven by debates over everything from Civil War monuments to workplace misconduct.
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  • The novel probes how nothing in life is fixed, including the legacies of the dead and the stories we tell about our pas
  • “The study of history shouldn’t be backward looking,” explains a historian in “Halcyon.” “To matter, it has to take us forward.”
  • Ackerman was in college on Sept. 11, 2001, but what he remembers more vividly is watching the premiere of the TV miniseries “Band of Brothers” the previous Sunday. “If you wanted to know the zeitgeist in the U.S. at the time, it was this very sentimental view of World War II,” he says. “There was this nostalgia for a time where we’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys, and we’re going to liberate oppressed people.”
  • Ackerman, who also covers wars and veteran affairs as a journalist, says that America’s backing of Ukraine is essential in the face of what he calls “an authoritarian axis rising up in the world, with China, Russia and Iran.” Were the country to offer similar help to Taiwan in the face of an invasion from China, he notes, having some air bases in nearby Afghanistan would help, but the U.S. gave those up in 2021.
  • With Islamic fundamentalists now in control of places where he lost friends, he says he is often asked if he regrets his service. “When you are a young man and your country goes to war, you’re presented with a choice: You either fight or you don’t,” he writes in his 2019 memoir “Places and Names.” “I don’t regret my choice, but maybe I regret being asked to choose.”
  • Serving in the military at a time when wars are no longer generation-defining events has proven alienating for Ackerman. “When you’ve got wars with an all-volunteer military funded through deficit spending, they can go on forever because there are no political costs
  • The catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021, which Ackerman covers in his recent memoir “The Fifth Act,” compounded this moral injury. “The fact that there has been so little government support for our Afghan allies has left it to vets to literally clean this up,” he says, noting that he still fields requests for help on WhatsApp. He adds that unless lawmakers act, the tens of thousands of Afghans currently living in the U.S. on humanitarian parole will be sent back to Taliban-held Afghanistan later this year: “It’s very painful to see how our allies are treated.”
  • Looking back on America’s misadventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, he notes that “the stories we tell about war are really important to the decisions we make around war. It’s one reason why storytelling fills me with a similar sense of purpose.”
  • “We don’t talk about the world and our place in it in a holistic way, or a strategic way,” Ackerman says. “We were telling a story about ending America’s longest war, when the one we should’ve been telling was about repositioning ourselves in a world that’s becoming much more dangerous,” he adds. “Our stories sometimes get us in trouble, and we’re still dealing with that trouble today.”
Javier E

Yuval Noah Harari paints a grim picture of the AI age, roots for safety checks | Techno... - 0 views

  • Yuval Noah Harari, known for the acclaimed non-fiction book Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind, in his latest article in The Economist, has said that artificial intelligence has “hacked” the operating system of human civilization
  • he said that the newly emerged AI tools in recent years could threaten the survival of human civilization from an “unexpected direction.”
  • He demonstrated how AI could impact culture by talking about language, which is integral to human culture. “Language is the stuff almost all human culture is made of. Human rights, for example, aren’t inscribed in our DNA. Rather, they are cultural artifacts we created by telling stories and writing laws. Gods aren’t physical realities. Rather, they are cultural artifacts we created by inventing myths and writing scriptures,” wrote Harari.
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  • He stated that democracy is also a language that dwells on meaningful conversations, and when AI hacks language it could also destroy democracy.
  • The 47-year-old wrote that the biggest challenge of the AI age was not the creation of intelligent tools but striking a collaboration between humans and machines.
  • To highlight the extent of how AI-driven misinformation can change the course of events, Harari touched upon the cult QAnon, a political movement affiliated with the far-right in the US. QAnon disseminated misinformation via “Q drops” that were seen as sacred by followers.
  • Harari also shed light on how AI could form intimate relationships with people and influence their decisions. “Through its mastery of language, AI could even form intimate relationships with people and use the power of intimacy to change our opinions and worldviews,” he wrote. To demonstrate this, he cited the example of Blake Lemoine, a Google engineer who lost his job after publicly claiming that the AI chatbot LaMDA had become sentient. According to the historian, the controversial claim cost Lemoine his job. He asked if AI can influence people to risk their jobs, what else could it induce them to do?
  • Harari also said that intimacy was an effective weapon in the political battle of minds and hearts. He said that in the past few years, social media has become a battleground for controlling human attention, and the new generation of AI can convince people to vote for a particular politician or buy a certain product.
  • In his bid to call attention to the need to regulate AI technology, Harari said that the first regulation should be to make it mandatory for AI to disclose that it is an AI. He said it was important to put a halt on ‘irresponsible deployment’ of AI tools in the public domain, and regulating it before it regulates us.
  • The author also shed light on the fact that how the current social and political systems are incapable of dealing with the challenges posed by AI. Harari emphasised the need to have an ethical framework to respond to challenges posed by AI.
  • He argued that while GPT-3 had made remarkable progress, it was far from replacing human interactions
Javier E

When a Shitposter Runs a Social Media Platform - The Bulwark - 0 views

  • This is an unfortunate and pernicious pattern. Musk often refers to himself as moderate or independent, but he routinely treats far-right fringe figures as people worth taking seriously—and, more troublingly, as reliable sources of information.
  • By doing so, he boosts their messages: A message retweeted by or receiving a reply from Musk will potentially be seen by millions of people.
  • Also, people who pay for Musk’s Twitter Blue badges get a lift in the algorithm when they tweet or reply; because of the way Twitter Blue became a culture war front, its subscribers tend to skew to the righ
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  • The important thing to remember amid all this, and the thing that has changed the game when it comes to the free speech/content moderation conversation, is that Elon Musk himself loves conspiracy theorie
  • The media isn’t just unduly critical—a perennial sore spot for Musk—but “all news is to some degree propaganda,” meaning he won’t label actual state-affiliated propaganda outlets on his platform to distinguish their stories from those of the New York Times.
  • In his mind, they’re engaged in the same activity, so he strikes the faux-populist note that the people can decide for themselves what is true, regardless of objectively very different track records from different sources.
  • Musk’s “just asking questions” maneuver is a classic Trump tactic that enables him to advertise conspiracy theories while maintaining a sort of deniability.
  • At what point should we infer that he’s taking the concerns of someone like Loomer seriously not despite but because of her unhinged beliefs?
  • Musk’s skepticism seems largely to extend to criticism of the far-right, while his credulity for right-wing sources is boundless.
  • This is part of the argument for content moderation that limits the dispersal of bullshit: People simply don’t have the time, energy, or inclination to seek out the boring truth when stimulated by some online outrage.
  • Refuting bullshit requires some technological literacy, perhaps some policy knowledge, but most of all it requires time and a willingness to challenge your own prior beliefs, two things that are in precious short supply online.
  • Brandolini’s Law holds that the amount of energy needed to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than that needed to produce it.
  • Here we can return to the example of Loomer’s tweet. People did fact-check her, but it hardly matters: Following Musk’s reply, she ended up receiving over 5 million views, an exponentially larger online readership than is normal for her. In the attention economy, this counts as a major win. “Thank you so much for posting about this, @elonmusk!” she gushed in response to his reply. “I truly appreciate it.”
  • the problem isn’t limited to elevating Loomer. Musk had his own stock of misinformation to add to the pile. After interacting with her account, Musk followed up last Tuesday by tweeting out last week a 2021 Federalist article claiming that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg had “bought” the 2020 election, an allegation previously raised by Trump and others, and which Musk had also brought up during his recent interview with Tucker Carlson.
  • If Zuckerberg wanted to use his vast fortune to tip the election, it would have been vastly more efficient to create a super PAC with targeted get-out-the-vote operations and advertising. Notwithstanding legitimate criticisms one can make about Facebook’s effect on democracy, and whatever Zuckerberg’s motivations, you have to squint hard to see this as something other than a positive act addressing a real problem.
  • It’s worth mentioning that the refutations I’ve just sketched of the conspiratorial claims made by Loomer and Musk come out to around 1,200 words. The tweets they wrote, read by millions, consisted of fewer than a hundred words in total. That’s Brandolini’s Law in action—an illustration of why Musk’s cynical free-speech-over-all approach amounts to a policy in favor of disinformation and against democracy.
  • Moderation is a subject where Zuckerberg’s actions provide a valuable point of contrast with Musk. Through Facebook’s independent oversight board, which has the power to overturn the company’s own moderation decisions, Zuckerberg has at least made an effort to have credible outside actors inform how Facebook deals with moderation issues
  • Meanwhile, we are still waiting on the content moderation council that Elon Musk promised last October:
  • The problem is about to get bigger than unhinged conspiracy theorists occasionally receiving a profile-elevating reply from Musk. Twitter is the venue that Tucker Carlson, whom advertisers fled and Fox News fired after it agreed to pay $787 million to settle a lawsuit over its election lies, has chosen to make his comeback. Carlson and Musk are natural allies: They share an obsessive anti-wokeness, a conspiratorial mindset, and an unaccountable sense of grievance peculiar to rich, famous, and powerful men who have taken it upon themselves to rail against the “elites,” however idiosyncratically construed
  • f the rumors are true that Trump is planning to return to Twitter after an exclusivity agreement with Truth Social expires in June, Musk’s social platform might be on the verge of becoming a gigantic rec room for the populist right.
  • These days, Twitter increasingly feels like a neighborhood where the amiable guy-next-door is gone and you suspect his replacement has a meth lab in the basement.
  • even if Twitter’s increasingly broken information environment doesn’t sway the results, it is profoundly damaging to our democracy that so many people have lost faith in our electoral system. The sort of claims that Musk is toying with in his feed these days do not help. It is one thing for the owner of a major source of information to be indifferent to the content that gets posted to that platform. It is vastly worse for an owner to actively fan the flames of disinformation and doubt.
Javier E

CarynAI, created with GPT-4 technology, will be your girlfriend - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • CarynAI also shows how AI applications can increase the ability of a single person to reach an audience of thousands in a way that, for users, may feel distinctly personal.
  • The impact could be enormous for someone forming something resembling a personal relationship with thousands or millions of online followers. It could also show how thin and tenuous these simulations of human connection could become.
  • CarynAI also is a reminder that sex and romance are often the first realm in which technological progress becomes profitable. Marjorie acknowledges that some of the exchanges with CarynAI become sexually explicit
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  • CarynAI is the first major release from a company called Forever Voices. The company previously has created realistic AI chatbots that allow users to talk with replicated versions of Steve Jobs, Kanye West, Donald Trump and Taylor Swift
  • CarynAI is a far more sophisticated product, the company says, and part of Forever Voices’ new AI companion initiative, meant to provide users with a girlfriend-like experience that fans can emotionally bond with.
  • John Meyer, CEO and founder of Forever Voices, said that he created the company last year, after trying to use AI to develop ways to reconnect with his late father, who passed away in 2017. He built an AI voice chatbot that replicated his late father’s voice and personality to talk to and found the experience incredibly healing. “It was a remarkable experience to talk to him again in a super realistic way,” Meyer said. “I’ve been in tech my whole life, I’m a programmer, so it was easy for me to start building something like that especially as things got more advanced with the AI space.”
  • Meyer’s company has about 10 employees. One job Meyer is hoping to fill soon is chief ethics officer. “There are a lot of ways to do this wrong,”
  • One safeguard is trying to limit the amount of time a user is allowed to chat with CarynAI. To keep users from becoming addicted, CarynAI is programmed to wind down conversations after about an hour, encouraging users to pick back up later. But there is no hard time limit on use, and some users are spending hours speaking to CarynAI per day, according to Marjorie’s manager, Ishan Goel.
  • “I consider myself a futurist at heart and when I look into the future I believe this is the beginning of a very diverse future consisting of AI to human companionship,”
  • Elizabeth Snower, founder of ICONIQ, which creates conversational 3D avatars, predicts that soon there will be “AI influencers on every social platform that are influencing consumer decisions.”
  • “A lot of people have just been kind of really mad at the existence of this. They think that it’s the end of humanity,” she said.
  • Marjorie hopes the backlash will fade when other online personalities begin rolling out their own AI companions
  • “I think in the next five years, most Americans will have an AI companion in their pocket in some way, shape or form, whether it’s an ultra flirty AI that you’re dating, an AI that’s your personal trainer, or simply a tutor companion. Those are all things that we are building internally,
  • That strikes AI adviser and investor Allie K. Miller as a likely outcome. “I can imagine a future in which everyone — celebrities, TV characters, influencers, your brother — has an online avatar that they invite their audience or friends to engage with. … With the accessibility of these models, I’m not surprised it’s expanding to scaled interpersonal relationships.”
Javier E

DeSantis's Revolutionary Defense of the Classics - WSJ - 0 views

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis just gave a welcome boost to the classical-education movement. He signed legislation allowing high-school students to qualify for Bright Futures scholarships, a state fund for college education, by submitting scores from the Classic Learning Test instead of the SAT alone.
  • the greatest works of civilization have always been about spurring—not preventing—radical change. They teach us about the revolutionary ideas of the past and help us better understand the present
  • The richest ideas of what it means to be human are those that have stood the test of time.
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  • Many of the seminal works of literature, history, philosophy, science and theology were revolutionary in their respective age
  • Like revolutionary ideas today, the ideas of yesterday were provocative and, in many cases, much more consequential.
  • Revolutionary figures of the past give us insight into the present and allow for reflection on the consequences of their choices.
  • one of the virtues of the classics: They are a means of considering what is true without invoking the blind partisanship that encourages thoughtless action. There is nothing we need more today than the cultivation of reason and understanding.
  • Education based on values, logic and discipline isn’t Republican—it’s timeless.
Javier E

Male Stock Analysts With 'Dominant' Faces Get More Information-and Have Better Forecast... - 0 views

  • “People form impressions after extremely brief exposure to faces—within a hundred milliseconds,” says Alexander Todorov, a behavioral-science professor at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “They take actions based on those impressions,”
  • . Under most circumstances, such quick impressions aren’t accurate and shouldn’t be trusted, he says.
  • Prof. Teoh and her fellow researchers analyzed the facial traits of nearly 800 U.S. sell-side stock financial analysts working between January 1990 and December 2017 who also had a LinkedIn profile photo as of 2018. They pulled their sample of analysts from Thomson Reuters and the firms they covered from the merged Center for Research in Security Prices and Compustat, a database of financial, statistical and market information
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  • The researchers used facial-recognition software to map out specific points on a person’s face, then applied machine-learning algorithms to the facial points to obtain empirical measures for three key face impressions—trustworthiness, dominance and attractiveness.  
  • They examined the association of these impressions with the accuracy of analysts’ quarterly forecasts, drawn from the Institutional Brokers Estimate System
  • Analyst accuracy was determined by comparing each analyst’s prediction error—the difference between their prediction and the actual earnings—with that of all analysts for that same company and quarter.
  • For an average stock valued at $100, Prof. Teoh says, analysts ranked as looking most trustworthy were 25 cents more accurate in earnings-per-share forecasts than the analysts who were ranked as looking least trustworthy
  • Similarly, most-dominant-looking analysts were 52 cents more accurate in their EPS forecast than least-dominant-looking analysts.
  • The relation between a dominant face and accuracy, meanwhile, was significant before and after the regulation was enacted, the analysts say. This suggests that dominant-looking male analysts are always able to obtain information,
  • While forecasts of female analysts regardless of facial characteristics were on average more accurate than those of their male counterparts, the forecasts of women who were seen as more-dominant-looking were significantly less accurate than their male counterparts.  
  • Says Prof. Todorov: “Women who look dominant are more likely to be viewed negatively because it goes against the cultural stereotype.
Javier E

Where We Went Wrong | Harvard Magazine - 0 views

  • John Kenneth Galbraith assessed the trajectory of America’s increasingly “affluent society.” His outlook was not a happy one. The nation’s increasingly evident material prosperity was not making its citizens any more satisfied. Nor, at least in its existing form, was it likely to do so
  • One reason, Galbraith argued, was the glaring imbalance between the opulence in consumption of private goods and the poverty, often squalor, of public services like schools and parks
  • nother was that even the bountifully supplied private goods often satisfied no genuine need, or even desire; a vast advertising apparatus generated artificial demand for them, and satisfying this demand failed to provide meaningful or lasting satisfaction.
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  • economist J. Bradford DeLong ’82, Ph.D. ’87, looking back on the twentieth century two decades after its end, comes to a similar conclusion but on different grounds.
  • DeLong, professor of economics at Berkeley, looks to matters of “contingency” and “choice”: at key junctures the economy suffered “bad luck,” and the actions taken by the responsible policymakers were “incompetent.”
  • these were “the most consequential years of all humanity’s centuries.” The changes they saw, while in the first instance economic, also “shaped and transformed nearly everything sociological, political, and cultural.”
  • DeLong’s look back over the twentieth century energetically encompasses political and social trends as well; nor is his scope limited to the United States. The result is a work of strikingly expansive breadth and scope
  • labeling the book an economic history fails to convey its sweeping frame.
  • The century that is DeLong’s focus is what he calls the “long twentieth century,” running from just after the Civil War to the end of the 2000s when a series of events, including the biggest financial crisis since the 1930s followed by likewise the most severe business downturn, finally rendered the advanced Western economies “unable to resume economic growth at anything near the average pace that had been the rule since 1870.
  • d behind those missteps in policy stood not just failures of economic thinking but a voting public that reacted perversely, even if understandably, to the frustrations poor economic outcomes had brought them.
  • Within this 140-year span, DeLong identifies two eras of “El Dorado” economic growth, each facilitated by expanding globalization, and each driven by rapid advances in technology and changes in business organization for applying technology to economic ends
  • from 1870 to World War I, and again from World War II to 197
  • fellow economist Robert J. Gordon ’62, who in his monumental treatise on The Rise and Fall of American Economic Growth (reviewed in “How America Grew,” May-June 2016, page 68) hailed 1870-1970 as a “special century” in this regard (interrupted midway by the disaster of the 1930s).
  • Gordon highlighted the role of a cluster of once-for-all-time technological advances—the steam engine, railroads, electrification, the internal combustion engine, radio and television, powered flight
  • Pessimistic that future technological advances (most obviously, the computer and electronics revolutions) will generate productivity gains to match those of the special century, Gordon therefore saw little prospect of a return to the rapid growth of those halcyon days.
  • DeLong instead points to a series of noneconomic (and non-technological) events that slowed growth, followed by a perverse turn in economic policy triggered in part by public frustration: In 1973 the OPEC cartel tripled the price of oil, and then quadrupled it yet again six years later.
  • For all too many Americans (and citizens of other countries too), the combination of high inflation and sluggish growth meant that “social democracy was no longer delivering the rapid progress toward utopia that it had delivered in the first post-World War II generation.”
  • Frustration over these and other ills in turn spawned what DeLong calls the “neoliberal turn” in public attitudes and economic policy. The new economic policies introduced under this rubric “did not end the slowdown in productivity growth but reinforced it.
  • the tax and regulatory changes enacted in this new climate channeled most of what economic gains there were to people already at the top of the income scale
  • Meanwhile, progressive “inclusion” of women and African Americans in the economy (and in American society more broadly) meant that middle- and lower-income white men saw even smaller gains—and, perversely, reacted by providing still greater support for policies like tax cuts for those with far higher incomes than their own.
  • Daniel Bell’s argument in his 1976 classic The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism. Bell famously suggested that the very success of a capitalist economy would eventually undermine a society’s commitment to the values and institutions that made capitalism possible in the first plac
  • In DeLong’s view, the “greatest cause” of the neoliberal turn was “the extraordinary pace of rising prosperity during the Thirty Glorious Years, which raised the bar that a political-economic order had to surpass in order to generate broad acceptance.” At the same time, “the fading memory of the Great Depression led to the fading of the belief, or rather recognition, by the middle class that they, as well as the working class, needed social insurance.”
  • what the economy delivered to “hard-working white men” no longer matched what they saw as their just deserts: in their eyes, “the rich got richer, the unworthy and minority poor got handouts.”
  • As Bell would have put it, the politics of entitlement, bred by years of economic success that so many people had come to take for granted, squeezed out the politics of opportunity and ambition, giving rise to the politics of resentment.
  • The new era therefore became “a time to question the bourgeois virtues of hard, regular work and thrift in pursuit of material abundance.”
  • DeLong’s unspoken agenda would surely include rolling back many of the changes made in the U.S. tax code over the past half-century, as well as reinvigorating antitrust policy to blunt the dominance, and therefore outsize profits, of the mega-firms that now tower over key sectors of the economy
  • He would also surely reverse the recent trend moving away from free trade. Central bankers should certainly behave like Paul Volcker (appointed by President Carter), whose decisive action finally broke the 1970s inflation even at considerable economic cost
  • Not only Galbraith’s main themes but many of his more specific observations as well seem as pertinent, and important, today as they did then.
  • What will future readers of Slouching Towards Utopia conclude?
  • If anything, DeLong’s narratives will become more valuable as those events fade into the past. Alas, his description of fascism as having at its center “a contempt for limits, especially those implied by reason-based arguments; a belief that reality could be altered by the will; and an exaltation of the violent assertion of that will as the ultimate argument” will likely strike a nerve with many Americans not just today but in years to come.
  • what about DeLong’s core explanation of what went wrong in the latter third of his, and our, “long century”? I predict that it too will still look right, and important.
Javier E

Opinion | Transgender biology debates should focus on the brain, not the body - The Was... - 0 views

  • what, then, is a biological male, or female? What determines this supposedly simple truth? It’s about chromosomes, right?
  • The study found that adolescent boys and girls who described themselves as trans responded like the peers of their perceived gender.
  • It may be that what’s in your pants is less important than what’s between your ears.
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  • What the research has found is that the brains of trans people are unique: neither female nor male, exactly, but something distinct.
  • But what does that mean, a male brain, or a female brain, or even a transgender one?
  • It’s a fraught topic, because brains are a collection of characteristics, rather than a binary classification of either/or
  • yet scientists continue to study the brain in hopes of understanding whether a sense of the gendered self can, at least in part, be the result of neurology
  • Well, not entirely. Because not every person with a Y chromosome is male, and not every person with a double X is female. The world is full of people with other combinations: XXY (or Klinefelter Syndrome), XXX (or Trisomy X), XXXY, and so on. There’s even something called Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome, a condition that keeps the brains of people with a Y from absorbing the information in that chromosome. Most of these people develop as female, and may not even know about their condition until puberty — or even later.
  • t there’s a problem with using neurology as an argument for trans acceptance — it suggests that, on some level, there is something wrong with transgender people, that we are who we are as a result of a sickness or a biological hiccup.
  • trying to open people’s hearts by saying “Check out my brain!” can do more harm than good, because this line of argument delegitimizes the experiences of many trans folks. It suggests that there’s only one way to be trans — to feel trapped in the wrong body, to go through transition, and to wind up, when all is said and done, on the opposite-gender pole. It suggests that the quest trans people go on can only be considered successful if it ends with fitting into the very society that rejected us in the first place.
  • All the science tells us, in the end, is that a biological male — or female — is not any one thing, but a collection of possibilities.
  • No one who embarks upon a life as a trans person in this country is doing so out of caprice, or a whim, or a delusion. We are living these wondrous and perilous lives for one reason only — because our hearts demand it.
  • what we need now is not new legislation to make things harder. What we need now is understanding, not cruelty. What we need now is not hatred, but love.
  • the important thing is not that they feel like a woman, or a man, or something else. What matters most is the plaintive desire, to be free to feel the way I feel.
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