Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Short Rights Movement: A Brief History (Partial)

Note: This essay is complete baloney, except for the statistics, which are all true.

Looking back over five decades of progress in securing the rights of Short-Americans (SAs), one cannot fail to marvel at how rapidly this group transformed from second-class citizenship to full membership in the diverse communities that make up contemporary America. In the early 2000s, studies showed alarming disparities at both ends of the economic scale. The working-class SA could expect 2.6% lower earnings for each inch of height deficit after controlling for other variables. And fully 90% of CEOs were above average in height, with only 3% being shorter than 5' 7". No President since McKinley has been shorter than 5' 9".

Discrimination against SAs extended to the social realm as well as the economic. Confirming a long-suspected truth, women reported that, other things being equal, a 5' 4" man would have to earn hundreds of thousands of dollars more per year to compensate for his shortness, compared to a six-footer. Incredibly, personal ads at dating sites allowed women to specify a desired height, often stating things like "Under 5' 8" need not respond." However, women themselves were not immune from anti-Short discrimination. In fact, a significant thread of the women's movement pinned their inferior status not on gender, but on the height differential between the average woman and the average man.

The media compounded the problems by consistently portraying short people as somehow defective. Joe Pesci made a career playing obnoxious short men, and fictional characters like George Costanza of Seinfeld, Lord Farquad from Shrek and Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel Air were objects of ridicule because of their below-normal height.

The first rumblings of discontent were, as usual, heard on college campuses. SAs at Princeton, Yale and other elite schools formed chapters of Short Advocates. This group's stated mission was to "raise awareness of issues affecting SAs by any means necessary." A more radical group, Napoleon Complex, lambasted the Short Advocates' mission statement, claiming that the phrase "raise awareness" tended to privilege height. Napoleon Complex was implicated in several violent disruptions of college basketball games in which especially tall players were "pantsed" by activists equipped with portable ladders. Their most famous event was of course during the 2023 NCAA Championship in which they replaced the display cards of the Georgetown cheering section with cards that spelled SHORT HATE MUST DIE. A visibly moved Bob Costas could be seen briefly clenching his fist as the broadcast was cut to the studio while order was restored.

At this point I had to stop writing the essay on account of excessive silliness.

The Brain Is A Third-Rate Author

Once in a while I'll dream that I'm reading a book or a newspaper or some other kind of extended text. Except for a special situation that I'll describe later, if I try to actually read the text versus just sort of looking at it, something interferes. For example, the light dims, or a towel or something moves over the text to obscure it. Or, I might see what looks like a page of text but the closer I look, the less sense it makes. There might be a few words, but separated by unintelligible runs, like

Mary had fffesgre g       fe   little f^&GR lamb and not with.

I think what's going on is that the brain can only generate "generic" images for the dream; it isn't smart enough to generate real text.  If you see a tree in the dream, your brain has seen enough trees and has evolved over thousands of generations to be good at recognizing them, so it can paint a pretty good picture of a tree for you to "see" in your dream. You can focus in on the leaves and bark, and they look real -- real enough that the generic tree your brain generates is indistinguishable from a real tree.

But a generic book is just a rectangular object with a cover and some pages, and the pages contain letters and typical words like "and" and "or". Beyond that, each book you have on your bookshelf is different. It has different words and pictures. It would take conscious effort to synthesize a new paragraph of logically connected ideas, and you're not conscious when you're dreaming. So the best your brain can produce is a book-like object with a bunch of hash on the pages.

Now to the special exception. If I've been really scrutinizing a book (the typical situation is an advanced technical book, where I have to read and think through each paragraph multiple times to understand it), shortly afterward that book or one much like it will appear in a dream, and I can actually read it. I don't know whether the text is sensible or an exact reproduction of what I'd been reading, but it's close enough that it seems real during the dream. Sometimes this can even happen before I fall completely asleep. An image of the book appears and I can read it out loud for a bit. This has never happened in the presence of another person so maybe it would just sound like gibberish, but it's close enough that it seems like a real book, versus the "generic" books that I know are fake even during the dream.

I wonder if certain "holy" texts or pseudo-academic papers of the type you see in modern literary criticism were produced in such a semiconscious state, after the author had been intensely studying similar religious or academic texts. For that matter I wonder if the normal writing process is not wholly unrelated to this "book-imitation" process your brain can do in a dream. I can certainly write about things I have no actual knowledge of, but in a way that is better than gibberish. The key problem in hermolinguistics may be described as one of scale. Many researchers claim that scale is at best an ephemeral artifact, but clearly, structure cannot be imposed without sizing of some sort. Each substructure can, likewise, be subjected to a process of subconscious or semiconscious scaling. See, I did it just there. Maybe I'm still doing it now.  How do I know when I'm doing it and when I'm not?!...