Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Normalcy Prohibition

We'd gathered after the cosmopolitan professor's lecture
At the round table, there was a little wine and conversation
In the Green Room at the Headliners Club, idle chat about its architecture
Members only, the joint was swank, believe me, you couldn't beat the location

Breathtaking views, it felt like floating, there, on the top floor of the Chase Tower
We were enjoying this dinner in honor of the renowned philosopher
Prime cuts of steak with all the trimmings, not your standard buffet
And for those otherwise minded, dinner options included a vegan entrée

The ethicist speaks of identity was the stated title of the talk
Typically lucid, he was promoting his latest book, he'd kept it short
A Cambridge man, he deftly navigated the day's fraught politics
No pointed commentary about the mogul-turned-President's antics

One of the participants at the round table was an august professor
You know the type, long praised for his robust, classical philosophy
He started to expound on the quality of rage throughout Western history
The uses of wrath and its unfortunate modern suppression despite its validity

From my seat at the table, I could see all too clearly where this was going
Emeritus, the man had a lifetime of captive audiences he was used to lecturing
He could build up a full head of steam and, at length, carry on pontificating
All the while pretending to never notice the slack mouths of those listening

A frisson of danger would carry his argument to its preordained conclusion
He brought up the droit de seigneur or some such grandeur and delusion
The lack of care for conventional wisdom and liberal pieties
He was used to pushing people's buttons and defying boundaries

I pondered the question, perhaps there was a subtlety I was missing
With an audience of academics who speak in code it pays to listen
In any case, I was there as a plus one, The Wife had Prof as her mentor
Which made me not a deep thinker but a mere spousal contributor

My own work, I'd offered earlier, explored the issue of neutrality in technology
And how recommendation systems could be brought to bear on society
Whether social platforms, and those who control them, could act out of spite
And how to design networks with transparency in mind to be forthright

By the time I mentioned the work on self driving vehicles
That was the recent part of my software practice
I rather feared I'd lost the audience with talk of miracles
And that they would pigeonhole me as an afrofuturist

Still, I don't know what possessed me, in the moment, to forgo quiescence
My usual strategy is to remain silent when confronted with arrant nonsense
Perhaps it was the fine wine on hand that loosened my normal reticence
I prepared to fortify my tongue to address the implied violence

With a smile as I sipped my red wine, I decided to engage in light criticism
I find it to be the strategy of choice in the face of misguided contrarianism
I have long experience dealing with those should have known better
My recommended action is to disarm with a choice proverbial zinger

It is a real privilege, I noted, to be able to afford rage
Not everyone in our societies is granted the honor of escaping the cage
Indeed, some people get quickly branded as uppity at the slightest umbrage
In my field, the concept is akin to the principle of least privilege

The least of us, it seems to me, deserve consideration now and again
The freedom of action, by definition, is granted to free men
But at the outset of the road to freedom, there was a touch of dismay
The constitutional settlement for slaves was to be counted as three-fifths
Partial personhood implies partial freedoms that come into play
When you are wrongly accosted on Texas streets by the sheriff

Our host had earlier quoted Publius Terentius Afer, better known as Terence,
That Afro-Roman Senator of yore, a paragon of uncommon wit and sense
And his enduring aphorism and motto

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto
I am human, and I think nothing human is alien to me
I left it there, there was no need to go further, you see

The old professor, finally silent, simply seethed
Daggers in his furious eyes were pointed at me
It was a wonder, given his discourse, that he could repress his rage
Thankfully, those norms of politeness came into play at this stage

I worried that there would be a response, and had prepared my rejoinder
Forgiveness and love was my own take, forbearance in social behavior
I held my fire, if he was to continue with his noxious agenda item,
As a software engineer, I've frequently solved the dining philosophers problem

The guest of honor was more practiced at these matters and promptly
Changed the topic, and brought up further examples in history
Honor codes were an example he'd covered in one of his books
Those duels and other misguided traditions that we now forsook

He conceded my point, but had nicely recovered the tenor of the dinner
With characteristic wit, he'd brought things down from a boil to a simmer
Whereas the lies that bind was his preferred framing of matters of identity
I favored truth and reconciliation, poetry as cultural memory

The notion is clear for those who have long borne masks of civility
Of the fool's paradise of considering philosophy detached from equity
Albeit internal displacement is my tribe's underlying condition
I'd like to one day escape from the state of normalcy prohibition

I am human I think nothing human alien to me

Normalcy Prohibition, a playlist


A soundtrack for this note. Timing is everything
Observers are worried

See previously: Internally Displaced

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Writing log: March 10, 2021

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