Skin in the Game, and Not

Last week John mentioned that he "used to care about xxxx but just didn't anymore", and I wondered:

What is it to CARE about things, to consider that one "has a dog in the fight" (as Wende put it) or "skin in the game" (as Betsy replied) ...and then to realize that one no longer does? What do we now notice that used to be Important and just isn't anymore? Or where the former centrality of an idea or an allegiance or an activity just isn't something that matters anymore?

What concerns/interests of the past do you recognize have waned? Is that a relief? Or do you lament their loss?

For a running start, take a look at Wende's Question of July 2023, which covers some of the same Territory.

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What did I used to care about but don't anymore?
...and maybe what have I discovered that I do still care about,
that I thought I'd outrun?

(Thusfar I have yet to meet any profound insights myself)

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There's a lot of subtlety in this Question, but my first efforts to collect my thoughts seem mostly pretty trivial, or pedestrian, or obvious. Bits that floated to the surface:


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So I ask myself: what DO I really care about now?

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I remembered a song, one of the saddest I've ever heard, the lyrics by Henry Lawson (Australian, 1899) Past Carin'

(see also Mainly Norfolk for more background, and Martin and Jessica Simpson's version)

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I discover that I care about continuing to broaden my understanding of Ecology, via books like Field Guide to the Patchy Anthropocene: The New Nature Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing et al 2024 despite the fact that I have no imaginable part in changing the juggernaut's trajectory. My caring has no effect or influence, and I of course won't see how it 'comes out'. Caring is an emotional luxury: it butters no parsnips, and if I stopped caring, nothing will change; if I keep caring, nothing will change, and processes set in train and already unreeling their unintended consequences won't be influenced in any way.

We believe that we have AGENCY: that we can influence what happens in the surrounding world, that actions we can take will steer the juggernauts. And perhaps people like Bill Gates could use their wealth to shift hyperobjects like 'disease'... but as for affecting the direction and consequences of capitalist-entwined processes: not a chance.

So why even go through the motions of 'caring'? And the only answer: because it's the RIGHT THING, despite being utterly ineffectual. So 'caring' is an idiosyncratic MORAL act, a bearing of witness to what one deeply believes. But very rarely does it have any effect. There ARE inspiring counter examples (Greta Thunberg might be an example ...Randy Kehler ...David Harris) but in general 'caring' is living outside the hard cold and actual realities, and has "unanticipated consequences" for those committed carers, often enough. Putting one's life on the line on Principle...

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I wish I could say that I don't care about "the news", but I read its headlines and listen to NPR —despite the obvious fact that I have no agency, no dog in any of the fights, no skin in any of the games. The most I can do is deeply deplore. Again, no parsnips are buttered.

I care about working out coherent STORIES to explain the world around us, despite having almost no audience for my elaboration of personal understanding. A lot of my book-buying and interwebs searching is oriented to ...working out coherent STORIES, and it's I suppose not unlike the pleasure others feel in doing a really complicated jigsaw puzzle: it's the doing as well as the completion. Which reminded me to hunt up a text I write in 2008:

Start anywhere
It all connects
and the trick is to choose
among branching paths
or perhaps it's to
unwind the thread
as you sally forth
so as to be able
to reconstruct
your wanderings

That reconstruction is a tale
a narrative of Tolkien proportions
though without the necessity
of any end to the hero's quest
and indeed with no heroes
or deus ex machina
just the progress of discovery

And what does the Argonaut seek?
Not fleeces or immured maidens
gloriously slain foes
or vanquished enemies

It's the link, the nexus,
the skein of allusion
the journey and not
the destination;
the joys of finding and telling

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To CARE is really a complex mental state, with polarity that can switch from 1 to 0, but may not be simply binary: the shift may be more graded and subtle than simple 1 <==> 0. Sometimes one is torn (whipsawn?) about to-care or Not to-care, and may even oscillate back and forth; or one may affect to care or not-care as a matter of public display or social concord.

...which describes the present-day territory for me of "artificial intelligence". Which really IS a ...misnomer for something whose tide is rising in the infoworlds we inhabit. AI implementations are affordances that I can see no use for in my life (where authenticity of the self and its creations is a vital quality), Clearly the continuing development of AI will affect many of the domains I have cared about: education, graphic communication, writing, music... all of which are domains of culture destined to be transformed. And of course Question #1: cui bono?.

What I mean by 'whipsawn' is exemplified by the state-change from care to don't-care I've experienced about AI, according to what I read about the socio-cultural complexity of that cluster of rapidly-evolving technologies. Sometimes I deplore multiple aspects —the corporate hubris, the sheer vapidity, the clear-and-present danger to 'creativity', the laughable errors (hands with 6 and 7 fingers...), the malicious intents and purposes (deepfakes, counterfeits of all too many modalities)— which expose the thoughtless and downright nasty proclivities which seem to surface everywhere in people's experimentation with the technology... An then I encounter something that strikes a more hopeful note, so that I have at least to consider a stance beyond curmudgeonly blanket dismissal, while still deploring the negative side. Donna Karout's piece from Emergence Magazine (ChatGPT: A Partner in Unknowing) offers an alternative to the grumpy and dismissive POV I've generally inhabited, and nudges me back toward 'care about' with respect to AI.

I think I should welcome 'whipsawn' whenever it manifests... See Watching AI crashblossom, the most recent additions at the bottom of the [very long. and mostly chronological] page.