The Chamber of Sounds
I stand here, in my small closet, locked away from all other life.
For as long as I can remember I have been here, nutrient tubes running to my veins keeping me alive and filtering my wastes. I imagine there must be a ventilation shaft as well, to keep me supplied with air. I don’t know if there is – the multitude of sounds always drowns it out.
I believe I am in a space ship, for far away I can hear the thunder of the engines. Maybe this is a maintenance space of some kind, for surely it isn’t normal to hear so many sounds: the bubbling of water in pipes, the whirling wheels of maintenance robots, the constant clicking of communications relays. All this I hear but cannot see, the darkness of my closet enveloping me at all times.
And then there are the voices, the automated electronical voices spitting out status reports in binary. I cannot make out what they are saying, cannot grasp the inhuman tongue of the machines. There are many of them, and they all sound the same, their bizarre sound giving me a sense of peace, of order.
I believe it is a chasm I’m next to, from the way the sounds and voices echo. A deep, huge tunnel full of wires, full of pipes and full of voices. Surely it must go on near forever, lasting miles and miles and perhaps never end. Maybe it is lined with closets like mine, filled with people kept inside for eternities.
Who I am or why I am here, I do not know. At times I ponder these things, but those ponderings never lead me to any end – after all, this is the only world I’ve ever known of. The one of sounds and the one of machines, the one of peace but not of quiet.
As the stars burn and the ship’s engines burn I stay locked here, locked here for eternities as I always have. It is just me and the machines, and all is as it should be.
This work by Kaj Sotala is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
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> The studies surrounding Alcoholics Anonymous are some of the most convoluted, hilariously screwed-up research I have ever seen. They go wrong in ways I didn’t even realize research could go wrong before. Just to give some examples:
> – In several studies, subjects in the “not attending Alcoholics Anonymous” condition attended Alcoholics Anonymous more than subjects in the “attending Alcoholics Anonymous” condition.
> – Almost everyone’s belief about AA’s retention rate is off by a factor of five because one person long ago misread a really confusing graph and everyone else copied them without double-checking.
> – The largest study ever in the field, a $30 million effort over 8 years following thousands of patients, had no control group.
> Not only are the studies poor, but the people interpreting them are heavily politicized. The entire field of addiction medicine has gotten stuck in the middle of some of the most divisive issues in our culture, like whether addiction is a biological disease or a failure of willpower, whether problems should be solved by community and peer groups or by highly trained professionals, and whether there’s a role for appealing to a higher power in any public organization. AA’s supporters see it as a scruffy grassroots organization of real people willing to get their hands dirty, who can cure addicts failed time and time again by a system of glitzy rehabs run by arrogant doctors who think their medical degrees make them better than people who have personally fought their own battles. Opponents see it as this awful cult that doesn’t provide any real treatment and just tells addicts that they’re terrible people who will never get better unless they sacrifice their identity to the collective.
> As a result, the few sparks of light the research kindles are ignored, taken out of context, or misinterpreted.
> The entire situation is complicated by a bigger question. We will soon find that AA usually does not work better or worse than various other substance abuse interventions. That leaves the sort of question that all those fancy-shmancy people with control groups in their studies don’t have to worry about – does anything work at all?
Alcoholics Anonymous: Much More Than You Wanted To Know
[content warning: discussion of abuse, domestic violence]
> During the course of the relationship and for a long time after it, I was hesitant to call it abusive. There were no black eyes or broken bones; no trips to the hospital or cops called. We’re conditioned to believe that abuse looks or feels a certain way, so much in fact that when you experience it, it’s not always clear it’s happening. When you grow up in a home where overt violence was baseline normal, your boyfriend punching the wall next to your head or pushing you to the ground as he shoves past you doesn’t seem so bad.
> As a child, I learned to detect the slightest change in atmosphere, the way an exasperated sigh, the incremental rise of a voice or the stiffening of a body meant fight or flight. In my first serious relationship, I did the same, learning to walk on eggshells. I thought I loved him and I thought he loved me. Before the yelling, cursing, and name calling became normal for us, there was that first-love giddiness. It took a long time before he violently laid hands on me. [...]
> During this time, I didn’t have the tools to connect the dots between the abuse I experienced in my home and why enduring abuse in my first romantic relationship came so easily to me. I’d identified as a feminist since I was 12, swearing I’d be nothing like my mother, yet there I was – and it pained me. In retrospect, I realize this reasoning was ridiculous. Simply claiming the “feminist” label couldn’t save me from domestic violence or help me understand generations of abuse I was unknowingly perpetuating. Why did I stay? Because it’s what I knew, that’s why. No matter how you identify or who you are, you can find yourself in an abusive relationship and there will be reasons why you stay, as powerfully detailed by Vanessa Mártir and Jessica Valenti and Charity Morton and Val Willingham and Erin Matson and women who would rather remain anonymous.
> If anything, my identification as a feminist made the idea of disclosing the abuse even more difficult, because I thought it was something I was letting happen to me and it embarrassed me. Again: perception. If I was perceived as strong, wasn’t I? If my relationship was perceived as loving, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it just the drugs that made him behave this way? Maybe I was just fucked up and sensitive? [...]
> My brother went to school with a black eye and when asked by a teacher, decided to be honest about what happened. Before long, Child Protective Services was at my middle school and I was sitting across from a woman who wanted to know if my dad hit me. Instinctively, I knew to say no. Not just to avoid a beating, but because if I was honest, everything I knew would explode.
> That instinct, to lie or protect the men who abuse us, is hard to explain. It comes from being afraid of the person who is abusing you, of course, but also afraid for the changes that honesty will force. We don’t want to endanger the men who hurt us, because we love them and we don’t think we can live without them. [...]
> I was lucky my abusive relationship didn’t escalate further. I was lucky mine ended rather unceremoniously. I have been lucky to not enter another. It is luck, really. At least for me. I assume there will be people who don’t understand this, who grew up in the kind of home that taught them to view an abusive relationship as something you choose to be in, with the only possible option — the only option that means you’re a person worthy of respect — being to leave. I do not write this for those people.
> I write this for women like Janay Rice, who has become the spark for a national conversation about domestic violence; the subject of headlines and think pieces; the inspiration for hashtags; the butt of jokes. I don’t have answers for her, or for women like her, who are hearing from their communities the same things they’ve heard from their abusers: that they’re “stupid,” that what’s happening to them is their fault, even if the context is “because you haven’t left.” I don’t have answers but I do wish them well, and support them.
> Despite being there and living through it, I have little to say to women who find themselves in abusive relationships. Every situation is different. Women leave when they can or when they must or not at all. I can tell them I see them and I hear them and they matter; that I understand and I don’t understand; that I want them to leave, but I know sometimes they can’t; that there is a life on the other side that is in no way out of the realm of possibility; that they deserve love that doesn’t hurt or damage or kill. I can extend my hand repeatedly and not judge them if they don’t accept help initially or at all. But that is all that I can do, and I will keep doing it.
Because If I Was Honest, Everything I Knew Would Explode
> I don’t think that very many people would make the argument that “traditionally female professions aren’t as valuable as traditionally male professions” out loud, but that belief is implicit in anyone telling me that “we need more women in science and engineering.” Because all the women working as primary school teachers and childcare workers aren’t doing anything valuable for society?
> It feels like the project of convincing society that women are just as valuable as men in the workforce, is being premised on a definition of ‘value’ that centres around traditionally male jobs, as opposed to taking underrated, traditionally female jobs and trying to award them the status they ought to have for the social value they provide.
> Of course it’s a bad thing if girls feel pressured not to go into science or engineering, because they’re “boy jobs”, too challenging, too competitive and girls can’t do math. Etc. And there’s something to the consequentialist argument that Miranda-the-engineer could be a role model for other girls. I suppose that’s what my high school teachers were trying to get at.
> But why can’t Miranda-the-nurse be a role model for other girls AND boys?
> This probably seems like a bit of a rant. It’s not like all I get out of being a nurse is whining that I ought to be a better feminist. I get a ton of respect and kudos from a lot of people for being a nurse. I get empathy points and conscientiousness points and gets-shit-done points. I get a lot of conversations like this: “You’re a nurse? Are you liking that? You love it? Awesome, that’s great that you have a job you really love.”
> Except for a certain subset of my friends, maybe 10-15% percent, who fit into a certain class of nerdy, ambitious, self-conscious about status, and mostly male.
> I don’t think the thoughts actually going through my geeky male friends’ heads are “nursing is a lame women’s job and medicine is a high-status traditionally male job; why did my otherwise intelligent and reasonable friend become a nurse?” But I do think that a less explicit version of that thought might be happening, of the form “Miranda’s cool, and doctors are cool, Miranda would make an awesome doctor.”
> So what are my current reasons for being a nurse?
> I love my job. I look forwards to going to work in the mornings. Every day, I get to step into a chapter of someone’s life. Usually a fairly exciting chapter. My life would make a surreal TV show.
> Not all of the time, but often, there’s a warmth and camaraderie in working with nurses that fills a void in me. Someone once told me that nursing is like going back to high school with a bunch of gossipy girls. Well, and so? Apparently part of my monkey brain is starved for gossip, or at least for the kind of nearly-content-free conversations that are almost pure signalling of social acceptance. Chatting about salad recipes is a sort of verbal grooming, even if it takes place while working together to bathe a sedated intubated patient.
> I can throw my heart and soul into my work–for an arbitrary number of hours of my choice. Part-time nursing is a fully legitimate thing. Switching specialties, too. My hours are annoying sometimes, but constrained. I can have a life outside of work, to write blog posts and novels and try to be a community builder.
A Nurse’s Rant | Nurse Cthulhu Is Swimming
One thing that frustrates me is when people assume that others are stupid or irrational on the basis of a moral disagreement. The thing is that the validity of a moral claim depends entirely on your moral intuitions, so somebody's moral claim coming off as irrational simply means that you have differing intuitions on what is moral!
Moral reasoning is at its heart arational, both in the sense of most of our moral reasoning happening at a pre-verbal level that we have poor conscious access to and can't properly verbalize and thus formalize using language, and also in the sense that the validity of different inference steps is judged on the basis of your existing moral intuitions which cannot be derived from rational principles.
(For supporting evidence for these claims, see: the is-ought gap, moral foundations theory, moral dumbfounding / social intuitionism, philosophy's persistent failure to come up with a satisfactory formalization of ethics, limited human introspective access in general, the limited to extent to which formal ethical theories actually affect most people's day-to-day behavior; see also http://lesswrong.com/lw/jyl/two_arguments_for_not_thinking_about_ethics_too/ )
None of this means that it would entirely impossible to change people's minds about moral judgments based on debate, of course: we don't have strong moral intuitions about everything, and it's possible for reason to affect the components that we don't have a strong intuition about, or to arrange them in a different framework. I'm definitely not saying "never try to change anyone's mind about a moral question using verbal arguments", because obviously verbal arguments do work sometimes, and they may convince your audience if they don't convince the people you're talking with.
Rather, what I'm saying is just that you shouldn't assume that the person you're arguing with is an idiot simply because you disagree on a moral question: they may still be engaged in hopelessly biased and irrational reasoning, but to judge that, you should debate them on an empirical issue, not a moral one.
That said, people's rationality can be judged on the extent to which they seem to be misrepresenting empirical facts and claims to support their desired moral conclusions. But then you need to be careful to make sure that you really are judging their rationality based on their empirical-claims-that-happen-to-be-relevant-for-the-moral-disagreement, as opposed to judging their rationality based on their purely moral claims.