[FoRK] Alan Kay Interview

Stephen Williams sdw at lig.net
Sun Nov 18 14:42:59 PST 2012

On 11/18/12 9:37 AM, Gary Stock wrote:
> On 11/18/12 1:17 AM, Stephen Williams wrote:
>> On 11/16/12 10:27 AM, Gary Stock wrote:
>>> I had a similar reaction:  professional team sports as practiced today represent the clearest evidence that society is 
>>> self-destructive -- and that we will follow willingly to our demise.  Corporations score differently, and hide competition 
>>> under certain cloaks, but it's the same impulse sucking the life out of everything they touch.
>> Why do you believe that?
> I believe that because it is consistent with a great majority of observations of sports, human societies, and corporations, 
> while being inconsistent with only a very few.
> At the core of professional sports (including teams) is the goal of defeating others (or other teams).  Some might suggest 
> that their goal is making money, but that obliges the primary goal of defeating others.
> People engaged in these sports routinely impose damaging drugs on their bodies to enhance their ability to compete, or to 
> defeat others.  They routinely accept, and even seek, brutally physically and physiologically damaging punishment in the 
> service of defeating others.  Some might suggest that their goal is making money, but that obliges the primary goal of 
> defeating others.

At the core of professional sports is entertainment.  Otherwise, no one would watch, there would be no money, and it wouldn't exist.
Whether that entertainment is appropriate is another question. Since the environment and goals are an artificial channeling of 
our natural interests and tendencies (drama, conflict, tribal membership and success, exhibition of the benefits of self-growth, 
apparently attainable financial wealth, stardom / heros, art/beauty), they can be improved while still serving the purposes for 
which they exist. Spectator sports serve a number of needs, including cathartic emotional cycling, distraction, EQ training (in 
a restricted area), and hardening preparation for real-world conflict when necessary.

Focusing on the problems with those in the sport would be too much in the sausage making for most people.  I would agree that 
things need to evolve so that 90% of participants aren't disabled with brain injuries in 10 years.  Overall, we eventually seem 
to clean up most sports pretty well.  There are few cases where the Olympics allow bad practices, for instance.  On the other 
hand, seemingly pristine and elevated art forms (ballet) may have more drama and abuse ("Black Swan") than other more overt 

> These behaviors parallel human society's habituation to various states of war (see any essay on the language alone, e.g. 
> http://www.sgiquarterly.org/feature2006Jly-2.html , 
> http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/opinion/editorials/2003-04-06-lipsyte_x.htm , 
> http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/09/drill-and-kill-how-americans-link-war-and-sports/63832/ ), and 
> growing willingness to poison itself perpetually, and to degrade itself, its members, and its physical resources for short 
> term gain of one ethnic or social group (read "team") over another.

There is certainly a link between sports and war, and even sports and policing.  And courtroom "battles".  And winning a mate, 
etc. And wrestling with understanding ideas, getting yourself to accomplish things.  Play creates the metaphorical building 
blocks for work and life in general.  Doesn't everyone know that?  Ideally, aggressiveness is channeled into productive 
activities.  It is clearly the case that sports and other competition takes the place of violence.  It can easily be argued that 
a history of many faceted sports, arts, and business collaborations and rivalries in the Middle East would have made it 
impossible to keep up hostilities while allowing more healthy social mixing of societies, just as it does so now in Europe and 
other parts of the world.

It is, for the US at least, important to be able to summon actual aggressiveness when deemed necessary.  When and whether it is 
necessary is a completely different topic.  Clearly, over the last couple hundred years, at least in a few cases it was clearly 
necessary on potentially existential levels.

The Moriori, who's story and attitudes of the time are covered well in Cloud Atlas, are a good example of why it is not a good 
idea to become completely pacifist unless you are the last to do so.

Whether it has been reached or not is debatable, but the US, EU, and (to a much lesser but significant extent) Russia aspire to 
a code of being prepared to confront any violence but employing it only to stop genocide anywhere or prevent further risk of 
violence at home. The superpower or near superpowers cannot become more pacifist than this while any part of the world remains 
primitive and ignorant.  It is easy to think that we should since we're on top, but that would just be the beginning of a slow 
slide.  The first problem would be those thinking that we are weak.  One of the statements made by primitive Islamists is that 
we were soft and weak.  They couldn't imagine that we'd have such an egalitarian, hedonistic (to them), women-in-charge society 
and still obliterate them without thinking about it much.  If we explicitly and vocally aspire to passivisist rhetoric, this 
inducement to violence would just be worse.

What kind of play, and what kind of lessons, that we want to instill as a culture is something to talk about.  However, rather 
than the 1940s-50s official engineering of propaganda for everyone, we're hands off with maybe some minor subtle meddling.  This 
is both good and bad, and does include the Texas and Kansas school boards trying to sneak intellectually subversive crap in 
front of our children. But mostly it prevents more problems than it causes.  We don't have it this bad, although we have come 
close with respect to rock and roll, video games, drugs, porn, sex, and sexual orientation:
> /"Meat-eaters 'easily cheat, lie, forget promises and commit sex crimes,' 
> <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-20354669> according to a controversial school textbook available in India. New 
> Healthway, a book on hygiene and health aimed at 11 and 12 year-olds, is printed by one of India's leading publishers. 'This 
> is poisonous for children,' Janaki Rajan of the Faculty of Education at Jamia Millia University in Delhi told the BBC. 'The 
> government has the power to take action, but they are washing their hands of it,' she said. 'The strongest argument that meat 
> is not essential food is the fact that the Creator of this Universe did not include meat in the original diet for Adam and 
> Eve. He gave them fruits, nuts and vegetables,' reads a chapter entitled Do We Need Flesh Food? The chapter details the 
> 'benefits' of a vegetarian diet and goes on to list 'some of the characteristics' found among non-vegetarians. 'They easily 
> cheat, tell lies, forget promises, they are dishonest and tell bad words, steal, fight and turn to violence and commit sex 
> crimes,' it says."/

As far as a code of conduct, rules, optimization guidelines, etc., Dexter's Code is an interesting example relating to 
violence.  It's not wholly unlike the US code: We will protect you, take care of you, help bring your society out of the stone 
age, even significantly help to make you highly competitive after taking a beating from us or others (Japan, Europe).  But if 
you are a serial killer (terrorist, pirate, rogue army, ethnic cleanser), we will let out baddest Dark Knight, death from the 
sky / hand of God to smite thee, that you've ever dreamed of.  Don't wake up on our table.

Kind of sucks, as they say, but better than any likely alternative. We have the high ground mostly because we have a system of 
self-improvement that will continually converge on the best thing to do, eventually.

In the distant past soldiers were often cultivated brutes, ruined by inhumane violence, trauma, and abuse.  They were useful 
when needed and unacceptable to the societies they may have protected.  They were only good for violence.

We now demand our military be reasonably well educated, intelligent, caring, thoughtful, family men who don't do drugs or 
adultery while being able to switch on dispassionate professional precision killing in a wide variety of circumstances carefully 
following possibly complex rules.  They have to be able to empathize with locals, operate as police, rapidly learn their 
customs, and rebuild societies when they are mostly too young to have done anything like that before.  Whatever play, gaming, 
and competition gets them to that level is likely the most efficient, and probably only way to do it.

> Corporations do so often with greater guile, but always with a clear understanding that what matters most is benefit to the 
> corporation (read "team") itself, regardless of harm to others, and with the explicit goal of besting, defeating, and possibly 
> destroying "the competition."

Some corporations, boards, leaders, and employees are bad.  They make stupid choices that are suboptimal in various ways, and 
sometimes they benefit greatly because of it on the backs of others.  But few corporations can pull that off repeatedly and too 
chronically for very long.  That is the whole point of competition. It is everyone's job to see to it that karma is tabulated 
the way it should be, encouraging good corporation and actions while truly penalizing others.

Too many people grumbling about corporations don't notice at all when various bad companies go out of business while they 
strenuously find fault with those winners that in most ways are greatly ahead of alternatives, especially when they raised the 
bar.  Getting hung up on "destroying the competition" and other talk seems naive to me. Few people out to "destroy the 
competition" mean anything with the flavor of violence.  They (should) just want to provide better value than others so that 
they get more business.  Providing better value is firstly a battle with yourself to find ways to improve. Competition with 
others is the impetus to actually move forward since if you don't someone else will.  Overall, everything would stop growing and 
fall apart if there were no competition.

> Please reflect on the use of that word in that context.
> In each case, harm to other "teams" is accepted -- in fact, it is often desired and routinely rewarded.  There may be greater 
> reward -- in honors or riches -- by doing harm to the self (physically, spiritually, or otherwise) in idealized service of the 
> team.

What do you mean by harm?  In many cases, what you see as harm is simply an information exchange.  With the right attitude, it 
doesn't even need to be perceived as harm.  Beat me in some sport?  How did you do that?  Beat me in business?  What did you do 
better?  What did you learn first?  How did you stay more focused?

Mostly, the difference between losing and winning is between having a nice life, in some sense, and having more resources than 
you could possibly personally use, allowing you, and really giving you an obligation to use those resources to help others in 
some way.  In any serious pursuit other than genocide, the "losers" can often do just fine.  It is choosing not to compete, not 
training to make yourself a player, where people truly lose.

> However, anyone who harms "the team" is either an enemy to be defeated, or a traitor to be punished, expelled, or actually 
> killed.
> Worse than death, perhaps, are punishments such as being banned from "the team," or carrying the reputation of having let "the 
> team" down.  (Cf. Joe Paterno.)

Paterno seems like a bad example.  Breaking trust without fair warning is something people have a problem with, somewhat 
rationally and irrationally.
With respect to competition, this depends.  It is common in a lot of common circles to change alliances frequently: Who you are 
dating, who you work for, what political affiliation you follow, etc.  There is little stigma associated with those things in a 
lot of cases.  A rational actor and observer allow that change, new information, and new insights change over time.

>> Can you explain either of those sentences?
> Yes. So could Judas Iscariot in re: the Apostles; Benedict Arnold in re: the Continental Army; awww, bloody hell, how is this 
> ~not~ the most ~obvious~ reality in all of human history?
>    http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/top100.html

Why hasn't that been updated for 2000-2009?
You mentioned competition by corporations, now you are talking about crime by and betrayal of corporations.
> Corporations score differently, and hide competition under certain cloaks, but it's the same impulse sucking the life out of 
> everything they touch. 

>> Some things are certainly suboptimal although it seems that your identification of what's broken is different from mine.
> Then I submit that you have missed some very important elements.
> A more useful question, perhaps:  why would anyone ~not~ believe that?  Even Kearney's boorish (drunken?) texts insist it's true!

Not believe what?
I believe that:
Competition is good in general, but should be bounded by rules to keep things fair, sane, and efficient.
People, sometimes in corporations and government, break principles, rules, and laws to get what they want and because they are 
ignorant and this is bad.

> GS
>>> The analogy Kay is wishing for may be musical ensembles... but even some of those get tainted by mindless notions of 
>>> "competition."
>>> GS
>>> On 11/16/12 12:26 PM, Ken Ganshirt @ Yahoo wrote:
>>>> Okay, I'm confused. ... Well, more confused than usual. :-)
>>>> I have great respect for Kay and I enjoyed this article. But I don't know whether the end of it reflects some of the 
>>>> author's "reorganizing" and getting it out of context or is there something subtle in there that I'm missing?
>>>> "Kay: ...  American business is completely fucked up because it is all about competition. Our world was built for the good 
>>>> from cooperation. That is what they should be teaching.
>>>> Binstock: That's one of the few redeeming things about athletics.
>>>> Kay: Absolutely! No question. Team sports. It's the closest analogy. Everyone has to play the game, but some people are 
>>>> better at certain aspects."
>>>> I see where he's coming from that when we work as teams we can balance strengths and weaknesses.  But here's my problem: In 
>>>> athletic team sports, teams exist and train and *cooperate* within themselves for only one purpose -- to compete with each 
>>>> other.  How is that a good analogy to the original point about competition versus cooperation???
>>>>            ...ken... 


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