Wednesday, November 30, 2016

What is it like to be a chicken ... owned by Tyson?

The header before the ellipsis points, for those not getting it, is riffing on Nagel's famous essay "What is it Like to Be a Bat?"

The riff, and even more the portion after the ellipsis, is based on living in an area of the United States where chicken farming is a major employer and even more, is chicken processing, namely, by Tyson.

Seeing a flatbed semi loaded with chicken coops, all carrying a fluffy white bird headed to his or her demise, and the highway-speed wind effects ruffling feathers (yes, literally) more than enough to expose naked chicken flesh prompted me to start writing.

First, re Nagel. Yes, bats fly by echolocation. But, it doesn't work over long areas, so, "blind as a (hypersonic) bat" is more true than not, perhaps. Per Dan Dennett, the idea that this makes their "whatness" harder to discuss or picture than other animals of similar intelligence probably isn't true. That's even if we accept at least a "soft" version of qualia. (And, it's also Dennett finding an acorn in the forest.)

That said, and Tyson ownership aside, it's surely likely that it's easier to picture what it's like to be a bat than to be a chicken. Wild chickens probably aren't as smart as bats, and domestic ones are dumb — though perhaps not as dumb as domestic turkeys.

Chickens are less social than bats, or humans, too. And ... animal rights issues aside for now, surely have a lesser emotional palette.

Plus, given that the expression of both intellect and emotions occurs in reaction to environmental stimuli, that domestic chicken living on a 40,000-bird Tyson farm, most all of his or her life spent in a cage about the size of a kitchen trash can.

That is, per existentialism, "existing" and not "living."

It's even worse.

Humans who have been close to chicken farms know what the ammonia-like smell of chickenshit is like. Most humans probably assume that birds in general, with beaks not noses, may not have much of a sense of smell.

Well, new research shows that's wrong for birds in general and chickens in particular.

I don't care how many vent fans there are in a modern breeding house (without which, in hot Southern summers, the birds would die in 15 minutes). That shit has to smell shitty to a chicken, I would think.

 It's like being incarcerated. No, scratch that.

It IS being incarcerated. And, while a chicken isn't a human, it's closer, evolutionarily and culturally both, to a human than it is to, stay, a sea star. So, to some degree, it might be easier for humans — at least those who have spent time in jail — to understand what it's like to be a Tyson chicken than a bat.

Don't tell me that a Tyson chicken doesn't have its fair share, or far more than its fair share, of anxiety and other mental health issues. Don't tell me that, at some base level of instinct, it's not yearning for freedom.

At the same time, don't overread and over-project. That chicken has never experienced freedom, and doesn't fully know what it's like. For that matter, neither does a free-range chicken know freedom. It's free — and still highly protected until slaughter — on a carefully selected range.

On the other hand, contra the Michael Pollans of the world, artisanal Smithfield hog hams and true (not fake PR) free-range chickens aren't the answer, unless we all (1 percent as well as 99 percent, Michael) simply eat a LOT less meat.

We need to do that anyway, for other reasons, of course.

And, if we want anything above just grams of meat per day, and we want to reduce agricultural stress on our planet, we need to start rooting for Dutch scientists to make test-tube meat a success — a commercial and ecological success — as soon as possible.

The answer until then is ameliorating animal conditions on factory farms, even more for hogs and cows, likely more intelligent than chickens.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The failures of MBTI/Jungian personality tests

Yeah, my sister, as a social worker, and other reasons, loves them.

So do other people.

Like a lot of bosses.

Like, I thought, my boss, but, as it turns out, the owner of my company. (In hindsight, I should have thought of that first.

The issue starts with the pseudoscience of Jung's original. It is arguable that there is a delineation into introverts and extroverts among humans, using the everyday meaning, and everyday spelling, of the second term, not Jung's. But even that is often situationally based.

The thinking/feeling is definitely so, it would seem, on situational use. At a minimum, there's no proof it's globally dominant.

The sensation/intuition could better be called reductionistic vs holistic thinking. That would be more accurate than Jung's idea, but still not a globally dominant one.

The MBTI's layer on top of that, of judging/perceiving, has even less support, and the whole idea behind it is wrong, pseudoscientific and unresearched. And, the 16 Personality Factors extension of the MBTI is worse yet, claiming to measure not just a tendency toward each of these personality factors but also the strength of that.

But, it's on a par with much of America's search for black-and-white, single-minded answers to complex questions. In the workforce, it's of a piece with things like Taylorism. Since companies cannot use IQ tests to screen would-be employees, the MBTI/16PF is used next. Note: the MBTI is NOT the MMPI, a test with a greater degree of legitimacy.

Now, new personality ratings like the Big Five are the hot thing. They're more scientific than the MBTI, but still nowhere near perfect. And, the Big Five's developers, per Wiki's link on the MBTI above, undercut their own science credibility by saying the MBTI can be incorporated into their test.

That's called pandering for business testing dollars.

Beyond Wiki's criticism section of its MBTI article, Skeptic's Dictionary has a great overview of its problems and those with the Jungian background.

Per a book I'm currently reading, "Weapons of Math Destruction," the MBTI may also be illegal, if not necessarily unconstitutional, as IQ tests are for employment, at least in certain situations. Any such test that leads a would-be employer to make a mental health diagnosis of a would-be employee is likely a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It definitely is if such a diagnosis becomes part of the hiring decision.

Good luck proving that of course.

Part of the solution?

With the 16PF, it's simple. Answer questions middle of the road. Throw an occasional answer slightly to highly one side or the other, but do it opposite what your normal tendency is, especially if it's theoretically not a big issue.

It's like having a burner email address, or even a burner physical address from your past for polls and surveys. (What, you don't do that?)

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Riffing on Robert Frost

I took the road less traveled
And later, in that New England chill
I met Robert Frost.
We talked, and conversed
About fences, and posts,
And autumn-time poignancy.
I soon recognized that,
Per the sages of the East,
The only good poet is a dead poet.
So, I shot Robert Frost,
And pushed him over the fence again.
Good fences good neighbors make.

It has been suggested that I misunderstand Frost in his original poem "Mending Wall." Rather, per that Wikipedia link, I see myself as picking up on just a couple of the themes of what is indeed a complex poem.

And, per what I said to an online friend on my Google Plus account, I partially agree, partially disagree. And, by "partially agreeing, partially disagreeing," arguably, I do pick up on the idea that Frost identifies explicitly with neither the narrator nor the neighbor.

Per this link, which would be rephrased as what my dad said, "Trust everybody but still cut the cards," Ben Franklin agreed with me.

And, per this roundup of professional literary critics, I may not be interpreting Frost so wrongly anyway. If, per the second critique, an unspoken punnery of playing on the word "Frost," as in the author's name, is not just "Something there is that doesn't love a wall," but that runs from there through the whole piece, then I've interpreted him on that one particular theme at least semi-correctly after all.

So, Frost remains shot, and pushed back over his fence.

Besides that, per a later critique which includes a quote from Frost, he arguably explicitly supported some sort of reader-response criticism.

George Montiero notes:

Asked once about his intended meaning, Frost recast the question: "In my Mending Wall was my intention fulfilled with the characters portrayed and the atmosphere of the place?" Characteristically, he went on to answer obliquely.
I should be sorry if a single one of my poems stopped with either of those things—stopped anywhere in fact. My poems—I should suppose everybody's poems—are all set to trip the reader head foremost into the boundless. Ever since infancy I have had the habit of leaving my blocks carts chairs and such like ordinaries where people would be pretty sure to fall forward over them in the dark. Forward, you understand, and in the dark. I may leave my toys in the wrong place and so in vain. It is my intention we are speaking of—my innate mischievousness.
No other poem in the Frost canon better illustrates his manner—as he described it—and his overall poetic intention.
"Good fences good neighbors make."

There, I've deliberately modified Frost's order. Frankly, I think my meter and cadence are better than his.