Tag: abstraction

Abstraction, Power, Virtue, and Vice


Abstraction is the flip side of Division of Labor. It’s been a long time since I’ve read Adam Smith’s pin factory example, so forgive me if I’m fuzzy on the details. Suppose that the operation consists of the wire stretcher upstream of me, myself on the point grinder, and the guy down below me puts the heads on, shooing away any dancing angels. Smith teaches us that by focusing on my job, on grinding pins, that me and my two fellows will make vastly more pins than we would have separately. And indeed our experience with society bears this out; I’ve never made a pin myself but I can purchase as many as I’d like at almost no cost.

So huzzah Division of Labor, right? That’s where Abstraction comes in. To focus on grinding pins I’ve got to stop worrying about cutting the wires and placing the heads. If I’m trying to cut my own wires then I’ve lost whatever advantage I’d gained from Division of Labor and now my pin output has plummeted. So I abstract away those concerns, contenting myself with the knowledge that there will always be a stretched wire for me to reach out and grab, and that the sharpened wires will always have heads placed. Because I’ve abstracted those away to the other guy’s concern I’ve necessarily given that other guy Power over me.

Music, Milo, and Pin-Ups of the Heart


Conservatives are not exhibitionists. But real Americans value real-life experience. Which means, if you write, putting your real life on display. I was thinking this as I read @therightnurse’s recent, very frank post on fibromyalgia, written with a kind of directness I’m quite honestly not brave enough to attempt in front of a full audience.

Like many children with a musical ear, I used to improvise at the piano a lot. The impromptus weren’t technically brilliant – I was (and still am) clumsy at the keyboard –  but you could always tell a piano what you really thought, and it wouldn’t judge you. Instead, it would make music for you, music which could be judged, if there was anyone around to judge it (and often there was not), for itself alone. Some found the music beautiful, some found it annoying, but in either case, the music could be valued for itself rather than for the experience of the one who made it. For a shy child, that was mostly an asset.

Shy people may remain shy even when they’ve disguised themselves with music, and for years I had horrible stage fright. I still do, I suppose, it’s just now I’m marginally better at managing ways around it. Some audiences are less scary than others, though. Friends’ families, babysitting charges… “Why are all the songs so sad?” one littler kid my older-kid self was babysitting once asked me. “Those aren’t sad, just minor. Minor is beautiful.” It wasn’t a lie. Minor is beautiful. Even for those who tend to live life in a minor key.