Archive for March, 2008

The Kite Runner, aka The Guilt Trip from Hell

Saturday, March 8th, 2008

The more you suffer
The more it shows you really care
Right? Yeah!
– Self-Esteem, The Offspring

Done right, sacrifice is a form of reciprocity, a way of restoring fairness to the world. Done wrong, it is self-flaggelation – meaningless self-destruction meant to absolve the doer of the crime of incompetence.

The Kite Runner is a tale of a non-paretian morality, a morality which weighs actions by price paid and not goods received. The story is driven by a tesselation of increasingly wasteful sacrifices, with accompanying escalation of conflict. Hassan, servant-friend of protagonist Amir, makes two sacrifices which depress the total-sum by enough to make the subsequent return to normality a truly heroic feat. As a child, Hassan gets raped in exchange for a kite, and then as an adult dies protecting an abandoned house. Protagonist Amir gets beaten up pretty badly too at the end of the book, suffering his own fair share, showing that he understood the rules of the game and was merely a really bad player.

The Default Choice

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

In conversations, I am often the one guilty of ramping up the abstraction level. This makes people uncomfortable for any number of reasons, and a common retort is at the assumptions I need to make to do this. The discomfort is justified – abstraction engaged for no reason is a recipe for rapid deadlock. However, I think the assumptions are often rejected wthout sufficient consideration. I think things would get a lot further if people tried to understand before disagreeing.

What does it mean to understand an assumption? For me, it is to understand what the completeness in the direction of the assumption consists of. A simple example: I can assume that “my mailbox is red”. Well, the complementary statement to that would be “my mailbox is not red”. It’s a basic exercise in logic – the two together make the sum of possbilities, but in assuming, I am choosing just one.

There are always implicit assumptions that do not get stated. One assumes that the audience knows your language – that the words used have the same relationship to each other and to the emprical world in both speaker and listener. It is when you come up against the borders of shared language that things become icky. To be ready for the possiblity of being constrained by this border, one should know how to resolve ambiguity when necessary – by searching for terms which are truly common, and redefining as appropriate.

I enjoy those excursions, but I have to be careful. There are goals for speech, and algorithms for trial and error, and I have to be wary of timing out.