I’ve been using parts of the verb “moderate” in ambiguous contexts recently, but deliberately because, whatever its etymology, its different uses are surely related at root.

Everything in moderation is a kind of plea for moderation, a middle-way between extremes – a good example here on dietary “fads” from Julian Baggini. He concludes – in this dietary context:

“The burden of proof is always on those who deny the middle path. Extreme claims almost always turn out to be wrong. Almost always.”

It’s more general than that of course, wherever extremes are recommended, especially in polarisation to opposite extremes. Taleb’s work is important in drawing conclusions from the “tails” of statistical probabilities, there visual insignificance can hide very significant mechanisms. As Baggini suggests, it’s really about the onus of evidence – and that’s not about quantity, weight or shouting loudest, it’s about very specific understanding of what is happening.

But I’ve also been using moderation in the sense of moderator rods in a nuclear reactor – something that basically slows down a process that might be in danger of running away with itself, towards unintended consequences, left to its own devices. And I’ve been using it in connection with mediated and social media contexts. It’s like censorship (god forbid) but at a process level. Viral polarisation is a real barrier to progress everywhere right now. 99 times out of a 100 the extreme positions are insignificant to the issue immediately to hand, and their prominence simply gets in the way of finding best solutions.

A great acceleration of “western” decline, no less.

And yes, it’s about evolution,

… all mutation and no conservation equals death.

11 thoughts on “Moderation”

  1. Oddly the device ” that basically slows down a process that might be in danger of running away with itself, towards unintended consequences, left to its own devices ” on steam engines and such goes by the term “governor”.

    I’m reminded of Terry Pratchett’s : “You don’t need power when you’ve got control.”

    When evolution is administered from the top down it devolves into genetic , or memetic , manipulation. Gene editing is not evolution . Peer review doesn’t moderate , it criticises , and then deletes the unfit .

    That said we may need radical social change , but we can only try to achieve it safely by gradual increments.

  2. Ha, yes. Governance is of course the root of Psybertron (Cybernetics / Kubernetes) – suggesting the second incarnation (Type 1) cybernetics of machines, but with the “psych” allusion to the original (Type 2) mental and social kind.

    Moderation here is NOT governance however – there is no direct feedback (mechanical or otherwise) between the driving forces and the output speed. (Nuclear fission or media communication) There is simply damping or friction slowing the forward motion.

  3. Your “gradual” implies (as I intended) “someone or something” is in control of the speed of propagation, whether anyone / whoever is in control of the inputs or outputs (top down or bottom up) or not.

  4. This suggests using wet-blankets rather than selective breeding as a means of keeping conceptions within limits. (It definitely works in cold climates.)
    And that would certainly reduce the number of hot-house-flowers in the ideosphere .

    Just after reading your blog , I was sent the following book extract, on facebook , from Vijay Iyer . It discusses this issue from the other perspective , albeit in an abstract art form .

    “The fractious dispute over Iyer’s place and pedigree in the jazz lineage was a momentary distraction as far as the public discourse was concerned. It might even have become an obscure footnote to his achievement, except for the fact that its animating tension—the policing of acceptable artistic or social practices, based on a grid of bias and presumption—forms an important subtext in Iyer’s output. This policing, which goes arm-in-arm with a less antagonistic tendency toward pigeonholing and exceptionalism, had often kept Iyer at arm’s length from “the jazz tradition,” even in the midst of overwhelming acclaim from the jazz establishment. The irony is that his work preempts such narrow-minded perceptions.”

    As a side-note , let me mention Miles Davis claim that he ” could define Jazz in four words “. “Louis Armstrong , Charlie Parker.”

    If it’s all analogy , metaphorically speaking , why constrain it ? Unless it’s a call to action which empirical testing can invalidate , it’ll wither and die or establish itself as a mind-virus . Deciding which of these courses an invalid concept follows, is a function of the general health of the ideosphere in which it struggles to establish itself.

    Open societies and freedom of thought create a better filter for crap ideas than do authoritarian regimes. My knowledge of history is far outweighed by my optimism here. But that’s how I see it.

  5. I think here Bruce you are missing the point of the post and the twitter dialogues embedded in it.

    OBVIOUSLY freedom is good, in all its forms. That’s a given. The Universal Declaration and all that follows. (No new essays required, history already exists).

    The point is – real life, real recent history – unconstrained freedoms of unmediated communications lead (naturally, predictaby) to polarised extremes. With open unmediated comms, free and open society is in fact a CRAP filter for bad ideas – in fact it encourages them virally.

    So GIVEN that it is freedom we are promoting WHAT KIND OF constraints / dampeners / moderators are most appropriate. Neither authoritarian (top-down) NOR anarchic (none) – again, a given. As I say “governor” is CLEARLY the wrong model – it needs to be more meta to the actual individual (free) comms.

    The hard question, not the easy one.

  6. Not missing the point just pointing out some of the difficult hurdles we face .

  7. Sure, but as I say, in this conversation those hurdles are a given.

    You need to address this specific point (the one you missed)
    “With open unmediated comms, free and open society is in fact a CRAP filter for bad ideas”

  8. The role of the twitter comments escaped me , Ian , I’ll admit it. But my comments were all on point initially.
    Open unmediated communication is the best we’ve got . It’s evolving and improving as we speak.
    If you think the unfettered tripe on facebook is bad , consider barrack room and public bar exchanges in past times of greater restraint when only the literate few left records of their opinions. Worse ideas were more deeply entrenched. And dogmatic bigotry went unchallenged. Or so I think.

    As to how we promote the evolution of communication , I still think we should enter the fray and raise the game. The only serious paradox is the toleration of intolerance. And that’s intolerable. I’m with Popper on that , and on most things.

    And thanks for the dialogue. It too evolves and improves as we speak.

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