Welcome Back to the Fray, Alice

Yesterday, Alice Dreger who (literally) wrote the book on “gender” issues, took a break from her local journalism-publishing day-job to post a thread. Earlier, I’d tagged her into a thread where Helen Joyce had quoted her in her own article. More on that later, but first Alice’s thread:

True to form, Alice’s “hopeful” focus is on care & respect for the individual and on therapeutic support & interventions for them. Would that more people approached the topic this way. However, in terms of the current “TERF Wars” there are some additional points to note, which are also addressed thoroughly in her book.

Firstly the topic here is autogynephilia but not necessarily other dysphoria or intersex conditions. Secondly, and more important here, is the politics. In her book, the bad actors are involved in personally motivated actions against the academic careers (and worse) of other individuals and institutions.

In terms of her thread, Self-ID is indeed the best starting point for all issues of identity politics, so we “honour everyone’s gender self-identification“. But the key is in the final tweet “consensual” and “at peace“. Definitely not at war.

It is absolutely central that the original “Self-ID” basis, and responses to it, are genuine, not deluded and in good faith. Hence Alice’s focus, and that of any competent GIDS clinic, on the well-being of the individual. However, once those individual freedoms and needs are cast as a “rights” in a public social context, beyond the privacy of consensual sex (#TooMuchInformation) the uglier ideological and opportunist motivations arise in the  war-like politics of identity.

The therapeutic, individual-care aspects absolutely must be considered distinct from the public politics, and these political aspects then need to recognise more issues. We may not be able to “choose what turns us on” – but that does evolve and develop with exposure and experience. The private-public balance must consider appropriateness and safeguarding in what could and should be considered consensual, the rights and well-being of others beyond the individual subject. Where rights conflict, every bit as much care is needed to resolve.


Relevant reading:

    • Book – Galileo’s Middle Finger – Alice Dreger
    • Book – Trans, Where Ideology Meets Reality – Helen Joyce
    • Article – The Truth about Autogynephilia – Helen Joyce
    • Book – The Man Who Would Be Queen – Michael Bailey


Good Faith vs Bad Faith?

Strawson’s Silliness

Confused myself a couple of times over Galen Strawson, but had pigeon-holed him as one of the bad guys, contrarian for the sake of it, even though he takes an enlightened view on panpsyschic possibilities which I’d failed to notice for a while. One of the “random bookmarks” I’d left dangling recently was to his “Consciousness Deniers”.

I see now why I had discarded Strawson – I’d considered his consciousness deniers take on Dan Dennett back here in real-time in 2018.

The Denial of Dennett’s Consciousness
Dishonest disagreement – Galen Strawman.

Looking at it now with a potentially panpsychic perspective, as I’ve pointed out to many a panpsychist, Dennett is in fact a pan-proto-psychist anyway.

So the bookmark moves on to Strawson giving the (also 2018) Isiah Berlin lecture at Wolfson College, after his “Silliness” essay (hat tip Mark Hammond – that “Great Silliness” is the NY Review piece I’d bookmarked above) – he’s a perpetual provocation – says Wolfson’s Hermione Lee …

One Hundred Years of Consciousness
– A Long Training in Absurdity

And yes … it is the same agenda – the deniers.
The deniers deny that they are deniers – and Dennett is one of his targets.

All dots joined-up now!

[Schopenhauer and Wm James come out on top, which is good. Denial of consciousness is absurd – obviously, trivially – but rather than be a pompous smart-arse, name-dropping his opinions of everyone else, Strawson really needs to engage in good faith dialogue with the living.]

Bogdanov – Catching-Up with Paul Mason

Mentioned in the recent Bogdanov post having missed the references in Paul Mason’s PostCapitalism, which was a little embarrassing given how thoroughly and positively I’d read and reviewed it.

So, this afternoon, I re-read all the Bogdanov references in PostCapitalism.

Strangely I did recognise all of it. The thought experiment of the “Martian” Marxism in Bogdanov’s Red Star where real-time (& perfect) information are brought to the project is pretty central, as is his divergence from Lenin. I even mentioned the perfect-real-time information fallacy in one of my reviews, but then there is a great deal of Marxist history in Mason’s book, which wasn’t my main focus.

What I missed the significance of was Bogdanov as the first “systems thinker”. And I missed the fixed-objective (top-down) vs evolving-relational (peer-to-peer) model aspect of the Lenin-Bogdanov disagreement, even though I also picked-up on the move away from objective-materialism in my reviews. Funny how the mind works.

It wasn’t until I saw the fundamental-physical / metaphysical aspect of the relational-evolution model in Rovelli’s Helgoland, that I made the connection with Bodganov by name. When an expressly Marxist economics journalist writes about the history of Marxism under Lenin – whatever – but when a public-intellectual fundamental-physicist does so – the cognitive dissonance smacks you between the eyes.  Again, as I said in both reviews, so much of the same material I’d already come to from first principles synthesis of other sources. Nevertheless, intriguing.

Systems Engineering / Systems Thinking

I’ve mentioned many times the morphing definition & understanding of my own Psybertron agenda.

Cybernetics in a word.
Cybernetics as in governance – kybernetes– human systems of organisation, systems which include all the processes of collective decision-making and action, involving understanding and application of all aspects of knowledge, resources and power – the art of the possible.
Politics in (another) word.
But – Psybertron – Cybernetics (or Politics) in a world where our thinking (psychology) is increasingly dominated by ICT – the movement of electrons..

Clearly these thoughts are circulating in my consciousness today thanks to the two previous posts, Bogdanov and Taliban. (I also added this catch-up on the Bogdanov I’d missed in Mason’s PostCapitalism.)

But the word “system” is in there as a given, from the outset. Over 20 years ago, probably more like 30 in fact, engineering systems / systems engineering has been both my day job and the content of this epistemological research project I call Psybertron. I probably only made the explicit connection to Systems Engineering as a named discipline when I came across two members of the Russian chapter of INCOSE in the early 2000’s in my reference-data-based information systems day job; Anatoly Levenchuk, the then chair of the Russian chapter, and his colleague Victor Agroskin, still the smartest person I ever met anywhere in any context.

Increasingly we talk of Systems Thinking dropping the “engineering” label as being associated with too narrow a field of human endeavour. (Although, as an engineer myself, I often defend its scope – as with cybernetics – as being concerned with the whole of human ingenuity in getting stuff done – ingenuity being the root of the word. The engines of everyday life every bit as much as the ancient engines of war, but I digress.)

Probably not coincidentally, the smartest person I met in one of my most recent day-job engagements was a systems engineering professional and active UK INCOSE member, Rob Black, also evangelising (and practical coaching) the spread of systems thinking within and beyond one of the most complex organisations imaginable.

The future is bright, the future is Systems Thinking.

Taliban and Ahmed Rashid

I’m still drafting a long-read piece that involves the current Afghan situation as topical from a misogyny perspective in my Good Fences metaphor (all will hopefully become clear). Anyway, so topical that it concerns much online media traffic at the moment, even though I’ve not blogged anything specific.

With Rory Stewart being so prominent amongst voices of more subtle reason, I’ve re-watched his 2 part history of Afghanistan, and was reminded that I’d read Ahmed Rashid’s “Taliban when travelling shortly after 9/11.  (That’s the 2001 2nd edition updated with a new post-9/11 introduction to a book that was originally published less than a year before!) Well I’m re-reading it and it really is excellent.

Given his journalistic profession and his specialist Afghan experience and expertise, I’m slightly baffled why Rashid is not visible amongst the current media traffic?

So far the abiding impression is that “colonialism” was never limited to British, French and Russian machinations. All Afghan neighbours and the Afghans themselves had their own long periods of monarchy and republic, empire and dominion in “the great game” of resources and power.

[Aside, but not unconnected, mentioned a couple of times that professional US soldiering in Iraq and Afghanistan had benefitted from T. E. Lawrence “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” – even if POTUS Biden hadn’t. One of Lawrence early topics is understanding exactly who do we mean when using a simple label like “Arab” … or Pashtun or Taliban or … . Nationality, ethnicity and tribal identity are slippery subjects. I’m also re-reading Eugene Rogan’s “The Arabs – A History”. A trove of information if less analytical on psychology and motivation.]


Mentioned being impressed with Carlo Rovelli’s references in Helgoland to Aleksander Bogdanov. I considered Bogdanov an entirely new source to me just earlier this year.

[Holding post – collecting links etc.]

I’ve also mentioned previously, as a “social-democratic liberal” type myself, being very impressed with (Marxist) Paul Mason’s “Project Zero” in his Post Capitalism. What I didn’t notice at the time (2015) was that Bogdanov was an inspiration to Mason – I must go back and check references (See *1). A main thrust of Mason’s project is that Information Technology has changed our landscape, such that the evolution of Capitalism cannot simply be another Kondratiev wave or cycle. Relationships between power, resources and knowledge are so radically different that our current models of governance (cybernetics) and economics simply cannot cope. Moreover that realisation is happening at the same time that “resources” are being recognised as the whole terrestrial ecosystem of which we are a part.

Now a complex, dynamic, cybernetic, systems-thinking epistemology is the raison-d’etre of  my whole Psybertron project.  An information-based epistemology that is more fundamental than even orthodox physics (hence the Rovelli connection).

I think I noticed these – may even have saved bookmarks (?) – back in June this year, at the Hull University Centre for Systems Studies:

The Annual Mike Jackson Lecture
‘Relational Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics and Alexander Bogdanov’s Worldview’ by Carlo Rovelli
Online, 1.30pm – 3.30pm (BST), 2 June 2021

The Legacy of Alexander Bogdanov- From Rediscovery to Full Recovery
Online Mini-Symposium, 8.45am – 6.30pm (BST), 3 June 2021
In collaboration with the Financial University of Moscow and the Cybernetics Society (UK)

Something at the time meant I couldn’t attend, but I think I did try to tune into Rovelli’s lecture (?) and I did notice Mason had the introductory talk in the symposium. (The UK Cybernetics Society has been a source of other inputs and dialogues for me eg Peter Marcer and Peter Rowlands.)

At the moment I can’t locate any recording of Carlo’s talk (See *2), but today Paul shared the link to the recording of the symposium:

[Note: all the links in the original post are broken – will come back and fix – the recordings have all been moved here on the Bogdanov resources page. Unfortunately they’re all embedded, so the YouTube content / timing descriptions are all gone too. Grrr.]

His contribution is ~20 mins starting ~13:30 mins and very good it is.

Great connection with Stafford-Beer too. Takes me back to Leonid Ototsky and W. Stafford-Beer. (even though Beer probably never knew Bogdanov’s work.) Tektology – the science of organisation > Cybernetics. Cybercyn – viable systems and requisite variety. Jeez, even Eudomony / Eudaemonia. So many connections in my own earlier work. In fact thanks to Leonid (and later Viktor and Anatoly) Beer’s take on Cybernetics and information-based systems-thinking were pretty formative to my own views. (Leonid is or was also connected to Victor, Anatoly and Matthew).

Layered model of system evolution, proper classification / taxonomy of components … Generalisation (classes of possibility) > Specifics (individual reality) … it’s all in there. Bottom-up driven network.

Really need to pull my finger out
and get Good Fences published.

(Also going to have to pick up on Gramsci who also keeps turning up in references. Political science was never my explicit agenda, but once we generalise “collective decision-making and implementation” in cybernetics, they’re really the same thing.)

[Top-down “Solution” vs inside-out “Best Ways to Proceed”]


(*1) Sure enough several Bogdanov and his sci-fi novel Red Star references in Post Capitalism – I’ll need to re-read those sections. (Updated re-reading Mason’s references to Bogdanov here.)

(*2) Full symposium recording here:

From 2nd June – Rovelli’s Mike Jackson Lecture.

Ha, and Carlo starts by highlighting his own final acknowledgement – which reinforced my own impression (See *3):

Thanks above all
to Werner (Heisenberg)
and Aleksandr (Bogdanov)

[And Mach is the pivotal influence, as ever.]

[We need an “epistemological ontology
– you heard that here first.]

[Wonderful also that Mike Jackson’s first question is about Carlo “wasting time” as a hippy child of the 60’s/70’s. In my own review of Helgoland, I couldn’t resist this quote:

“For heaven’s sake, I’m all in favour of ‘good vibrations’. I too once had long hair tied with a red bandanna, and sat cross-legged next to Allen Ginsberg chanting ‘Om’.”

It’s why despite not making it to the final acknowledgements, Nagarjuna is another key influence alongside Bogdanov.]

[The whole layered Physics > Chemistry > Bio-Life > Mental-Intellectual-Social dependencies, clear identity, distinct “things” without deterministic definition – where “things” are really just collections of relations. (In the Jackson<>Rovelli discussion). Hard not to see Pirsig in there too. The epistemic ontology is in there again. Shimony – closing the epistemic circle!]

From 3rd June – these are the Mini Bogdanov Symposium sessions:
[Hosts: Örsan Şenalp , Fabian Tompsett, Gerald Midgley, Amanda Gregory]

Part 1 [Start] Paul Mason, Mike Jackson, (Q&A), Maria Chehonadskih, Giulia Rispoli, John Biggart, (Q&A) Maja Soboleva (part)

Part 2 Maja Soboleva (cont.), Noemi Ghetti, Fabian Tompsett, (Q&A) Conversation (Jackson / Wark / Rovelli), (Q&A part)

Part 3 (Q&A cont.), James White, Daniela Steila, Evgeni Pavlov, (Q&A), Peter Dudley, Svetlana Shchepetova, Viatcheslav Maratcha, Örsan Şenalp , (Q&A part).

Part 4 (Q&A cont. and Remarks to conclude).

(*3) Always makes me smile – something I’ve hinted at before – that whilst Carlo is an amazing thinker and writer, probably a genius, he’s not the world’s best lecturer – both his delivery and the tiny text on his slides – make him tough to follow. Reminds me of Nobel Prize-winning Brian Josephson. But definitely worth the effort of concentration. Nobody’s perfect.

(*4) Fantastic Bogdanov resource library here.

(*5) Finally, for now, what has happened to Leonid Ototsky. Seen no communications since 2010? Lots of dead links. Is he still active, is he still with us?

(*6) Fascinating response from AJ Owens linking this post to my next one on the subject of human failings in our understanding  of the “relationship between power, resources and knowledge”.



And Another Round in the “TERF-War”

Just when I thought sense was starting to prevail, another round pulls me back in.

Simon Callow (treasured luvvie thespian, gay icon, and erstwhile Stonewall activist) expressed the opinion that Stonewall’s current tactics were counter-productive to actual Trans rights as well as counter to LGB interests. He may even have mentioned women? Prompted partly of course by increasing numbers of high-profile organisations withdrawing from membership of Stonewall’s LGBTI+ awareness arrangements, and the fact that Callow’s opinion was published in mainstream press (eg The Times).

Callow is right of course, and my initial thought was “I hope Callow and Cashman are on speaking terms”. But no.

A fresh furore of Twitter hatred against anyone daring to speak out against Male-Self-ID-Trans positioning, being perceived to be actively driving some wedge between Women/LGB and the TI+ positions. (The “No LGB without T” brigade. Solidarity between different disadvantaged groups is laudable, but ignorance of difference is not.) Lots of people drawing the parallel between this and the history of straight reactions to earlier normalisation of LGB in wider society- Stonewall’s raison d’etre. At this level there is indeed a great deal of parallel – a phobic resistance to a new change to social order – it’s natural. But, the devil is in the details of course – about which I’ve already written reams – and the need for dialogue between good-faith interested parties, as opposed to media accusations and gain-saying attention-seeking.

[I won’t put up the whole Twitter story this time – mostly pile-ons liking and/or retweeting ordnance lobbed from either side, including Michael Cashman – I despair. Plenty of examples posted before.]

Also the cancellation of public dialogue between Peter Tatchell and Kathleen Stock during the mutual “good kicking” above. Inevitable whilst people are aiming kicks at each other rather than actually talking-with-listening. Dialogue it’s called, it’s not about winning a debate.

As @DocStockK says “It’s a shame”. One of those issues where activist tactics (breaking others eggs to make their omelette) are missing more subtle points, as they do. I have a lot of time for Tatchell, one of the good guys. I spoke with him briefly at a Hay-on-Wye HTLGI event a couple of years back.

Random Bookmarks

Shutting down an excess of browser windows and need to keep some as bookmarks:

A few on Foucault – his association with “Queer Theory” means his name is mud amongst GC-Feminists, but don’t want to throw the PoMo baby out with the bathwater (his linguistic metaphysics works for me):

Foucault Beyond Good and Evil in Open Culture

The Perversions of Foucault in New Criterion

What Foucault Meant by Genealogy

And other things:

A History of Philosophy Summarised and Visualised
(Neat – not sure how practically useful.)

Galen Strawson’s Consciousness Deniers in NYR Books
(and other “silly” things … M Hammond comment?)

Western Ideas Live on in the East – John Gray in New Statesman
(Old thread of mine.)

Classification of Races – Ralph Leonard on Christine Louis Dit-Sully in  Aero Magazine