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Salon Seven Notes

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Attendies: Jeff, Bergey, Dmitriy, Jimmy

Jeff and I discussed the motivations for the Salon-- meetings of minds, arts and politics, effects on participant-- while we were waiting for others. Academic conferences, distinct from trade conferences, seemed to be the other societally recognized form of the Salon.

We briefly revisited the discussion of AOL's search query blunder, with a foray into the nature of privacy and how its meaning might change under the influences of the participatory panopticon, pervasive relations to corporations, and the increasing importance of information.

We discussed the nature of art. I mentioned Jocelyn's claim, inspired by an abstracty painting of a woman in bed, that the artist is primarily concerned with the structure of a work, not its content (and thereby more interested, for example, in the uses of color than what's going though the woman's mind). We drew the parallels between that and the drive for abstraction in scientific specialties-- and perhaps academic study in general. We asked, where does the meaning or greatest of a work of art lie? We acknowledged that it relies on a cultural base, but given how widely varied meanings are found in "great works" over the ages, we asked if there was much to attribute to the work at all. One answer was that a good work of art, like a good video game, provides a kind of "world" to interact with, rather than a particular meaning (in contrast to parody).

Given our ability to agree on art, we wondered if we could make similar progress in politics. Our discussion soon settled on the source of the two-party system in America. Our majority-take-all system is surely at blame, but it was argued that it was mutually reinforced by the party-driven dialogue and a deep-rooted one-dimensional understanding of politics. But, it was said, most people still vote their issues; it's just that neither party represents their issues very well. We talked about the 2-axis (economic vs. social) system for describing political opinion. We also discussed the variations on democracy: proportional representation, majority-rule, consensus, and N%-rule. We talked about recent developments in political sentiment: the right's long-held position at the fulcrum of shifting political opinions, the left's attempt toward centrism (which was said to fail because it wasn't toward a center on the line at all), and the left's new shift away from the center.

We also discussed the possibility that, at any time, there really is only one fundamental issue or question or axis. What was today's issue? Healthcare was the proposed answer, and it was said that no one was talking about it because no one has an answer. We discussed the debacle that is America's system, and the virtues of either a one-payer or capitalist system. We also talked about the underlying "No one should die" attitude in American society that will have to shift to allow any system to work.

Another proposed answer was copyright and patent laws. We talked about the intended purpose of these (protect small companies or promote innovation) and their actual effect in the software industry (profit small companies or depress innovation).

We talked about the money economy-- its virtues and vices, and its alternatives. Somehow, that led us back behind the veil, where we spent the rest of the night, mainly discussing the ins and outs of Rawls' liberal egalitarianism. What is the goal of a world system? Answers included opportunity, dignity, and happiness (the last only tongue-in-cheek). If we go with Rawls and only allow disparities in this factor if they raise those least endowed with it, what will happen? Two magic pieces we needed was a device to point at people and get their objective valuation on that scale, and the ability to ask the lowest so-valued person for their approval on a given action in society. Which, we realized, would give that lowest person incredible power, and tried to find a solution that didn't sacrifice the Rawlsian ideal. Practical compromises we considered were using wealth as our scale, representative trade unions to make decisions for the lowest, and strict limits on the how great disparities of wealth could be.