MAKING SENSE OF THE WORLDGetting out from under the tyranny of travel, and able now to participate in local life without going off to kite festivals somewhere in the world 10 or more times a year, has made possible doing things I haven't had time for since before I can remember.
Like pootling off to Christchurch (100km away) to visit some friends for no particular reason, which I did last week.
Along the way there's a set of traffic lights with 3 lanes which turned red as I approached. All the lanes were straight through (no turning), but they necked down to just one lane after 300m's.
In the right-hand lane there were 2 cars and a ute /pick-up towing a trailer, in the centre lane; a camper van and 2 cars, in the left lane; a biggish truck with one car behind it.
Which lane should I have chosen- given that though I'm now a person of leisure, I'm still chronically impatient?
I chose the right lane- and it was a winner; from 10th arriving at the lights, I think I ended up 5th going into the single lane section-and would have been 4th except the camper van claimed a gap in front of me as we accelerated away.
Further along the road, and being a post-modernish sort of person (not) I attempted to de-construct why I had made the choice I did.
Clearly the big truck on the left was going to accelerate slowly and would hold up the car behind it as well. And the campervan (generally called road maggots around here) in the middle lane, - I think it was a "Maui" rental van- was most probably being driven by a loopy (vernacular for tourist), so best avoided.
The right hand was the obvious choice- utes are usually tradies, who drive like the clappers, but I'd also registered that one of the cars in this lane had held-up vehicles in front of me coming out of a passing bay some Kms back- and come to think of it, the camper van had been passing quite aggressively.
This is a complex decision-making process; but one that drivers engage with almost unconsciously.
Obviously autonomous cars are going to have to clue into social signals if they are to share the road with human drivers without being hopelessly gamed. Though when their sensors and neural networks get enough depth, no doubt they'll be gaming us and each other, and it'll be human drivers who will need to lift their performance, if any are bothering to get behind the wheel by then, except recreationally.
But this is not where I'm going, or not directly, though I'll come back to AI (artificial intelligence) later.
What if one of the vehicles in the traffic light scenario had been a lowered boy-racer car with yahooing passengers hanging out everywhere? Queue behind it because it will be off like a rocket? Or get as far away from it as possible to be safe?
And what if there had been a cop car in the mix somewhere? This would have changed everyone's behaviour- avoiding predators is hard-wired instruction into our genes.
And what about vehicles coming up from behind? I'm unlikely to be the only one trying to queue jump.
Now let's flip all this: What if, when driving, we didn't use predictions as to the likely behaviour of other road users based on our prior experience and received knowledge of similar vehicles- like that boy racers can be dangerous, large trucks accelerate slowly, campervans may not know which side of the road to drive on and etc?
Not only would there be gridlock, but the road toll would explode as we failed to respond to myriad social signals. Have you never hovered a foot over the brake when there's a bunch of children waiting to cross the road in anticipation that one or more might dash out impulsively?
But this is exactly what we're doing to ourselves in a wider sense with ever expanding sanctions against "discrimination". When interacting with other people, social conventions increasingly backed by law, require us to disregard age, gender, ethnicity, mental health, physical health, criminal records and many other behaviour predicters on a list that seems to be growing daily.
Which is nuts, as using prior experience and received information triggered by visual and other identifiers when reacting to new situations is survival 101. It's been standard operating procedure for every life form since senses and memory first evolved, Bacteria-have-a-sense-of-touch, and will certainly be so for AI's - and any aliens we get to meet. Even our new kittens know already that insects with yellow and black stripes should be treated with more caution than those with big flappy wings.
But you and I are now admonished to treat the patched gang member the same as a little old lady walking her poodle, elsewise we will be guilty of discriminatory behaviour (and probably racism).
Of course, predicting behaviour by group identity will sometimes fail. The gang member could become your soulmate, the little old lady might be a killer, and not all Maui campervans are driven by Germans (as I found out above). But until there is more specific information to inform your judgement, it's the only game in town:
People aren't wrong when they assume that oldies are, generally best avoided as out-of-the-loop ditherers who don't like loud music and, given half an ear, will bang on about what's wrong with young people these days (like I'm doing here).
Nor are they wrong in expecting women and men to behave in different ways. Females need to optimise the opportunities for the relatively few gametes (eggs) they produce, whereas males are more likely to leave descendants by spreading their copious gametes (sperm), far and wide. Over evolutionary time, this dimorphism has resulted in divergent behavioural responses that are innate rather than cultural. Human behaviour feminism
Differences that are not going to disappear if men stopped being mean to women- though the world would be a better place for both men and women if they did.
Fortunately, current attempts by academic post-modernists and their 'intersectionality' social-sciences-undergoing-purity-spiral to prevent our using these essential simplifications to make sense of a complex world are so nuts that no-one actually walks this walk, least of all those who are most strident in proclaiming their victimhood: Many feminists are more gender biased than the stereotypical unreconstructed male and no group is more racist than those who proclaim themselves its victims. Attack on septuagenarian
The Data Don't Support Racist Policing Narrative But we must all now pretend to be blind, deaf and stupid when dealing with anyone who is likely to scream "discrimination" except for the very post-modernists who are imposing this absurdity on us. By some reasoning that escapes me, they are themselves exempt with their 'toxic white man' trope. Math equals white privilege?
It's time to draw a line in the sand on this: Yes, it is sensible and necessary to anticipate the behaviour of others, at least initially, by assigning them to some group or other- provided this doesn't extend to bigotry (persisting in a view about others against evidence to the contrary).
You're much less likely to be mugged by a little old lady walking a poodle than by a fearsomely tattooed male wearing a red bandana, oldies are not generally your best companion for a pop concert, Grandmothers are more likely to know their grandkids birthdates than granddads are, and Maui Campervans are often driven by Germans who may confuse left with right.
But it's also sensible to be respectful, and tolerant of others- and to keep an eye on the rear vision mirror.
PETER LYNN, ASHBURTON, NOVEMBER 1 '17.