Meta rules for ZANZU

April 16, 2017 § Leave a comment

The “Postmodern Oedipus”  Vladimir Tasić holds “has a formalist daddy and an intuitionist mommy”.

Mathematics and the Roots of Postmodern Thought is a clever book which links debates in postmodern theory around différance to debates in philosophy of mathematics about the continuum.

I’d like to reproduce my favorite bit here as I hope to establish a loose analogy with another matter. Tasić asks us to consider a fictional psychiatrist casebook (Based on Saul Kirpke’s Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language).

“An unemployed mathematical subject, Sue, is to be tested as part of a job application. One of the questions on the test is, “What is the next number in the sequence 2 , 4 , 6 , . , . ?” The administrator of the test, the human resources manager named Hank, is convinced that the correct answer is 8. For Hank, “clearly,” the three numbers mark the beginning of the sequence of even positive integers, which is the sequence of values of the function F(n) = 2n.”

Now sue answers 10 which is the correct according to the rule

Based on the accessible information about the rule—the first three instances of its application—there is no reason to believe that the we are dealing with rule F rather than rule G, even though G gives the “bizarre” answer 10.


Sue argues not only that 10 is just as reasonable a reply as the “expected” 8, but also that, say, 13 is equally justifiable. Based on the accessible information, Sue playfully maintains that the rule she was supposed to grasp could have been thought to be

The lateral thinking Sue exhibits would hardly be an asset for the job of a teller, for which she was overqualified in the first place. Hank thanks her, rejects her as unsuitable, and writes “not a team player” in her file, thereby making sure that she never gets a job anywhere in the banking sector

This outcome makes her doubt everything as

Psychologists who constructed the test must have had a reason to think that there is something in her mind that would make that justification accessible to her.

by way of some further deliberation of the sequence problem Sue comes to the conclusion that:

following a rule can be justified only by invoking a meta-rule on how to follow the rule, and then a meta-meta rule on how to follow the meta-rule, and so on. If we are to avoid an infinite regress of ever higher rules, this must stop at some point. Then this ultimate rule can be challenged, just like the original one was.

Here my thoughts wandered off not to Xanadu where Kubla Khan did
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea

But to ZANZU, a sexual education website targeting migrants which was launched by the German Federal Centre for Health Education (BZgA) in late February 2016 as a means to aid integration and avoid Cologne type mass sexual assault events.


This was seen unsurprisingly by far-right commentators as a promotion of interracial sex. Some even predicted an upsurge in sex crimes, through a not so inconsistent reasoning that if the target audience is assumed barbaric enough not to know the immorality of misdeeds the webpage hopes to discourage, then it is outlandish to assume that they will interpret the guidelines in the manner intended.

Besides denial, an argument for withholding severity in dealing with carnal violations committed by members of the recent asylum wave (that of the last 3 years), is to paint the figure of migrant, as one with no or limited agency whose acts of transgression are a function of ignorance, confusion or trauma.

But if so, how then is it hoped that watching the graphics on ZANZU the confusion would not double in these assumed naive folk. Could they not get the impression that it is in fact expected of them to fornicate. The elderly among say the 95,020 Pakistanis who sought asylum in EU in this period (to pick a random nationality whose distance from Syrian civil war should make the argument for PTSD less convincing) and who might have been happy to forgo such delights may even find ZANZU stimulating enough to exchange part of their savings for viagra pills. After all a good manual calls an ardent learner to seek an instance to test his aptitude vis–à–vis its instructions.

Not finding too many willing and consenting partners may not be to follow Tasić’s explication of Sue’s failure a good enough meta rule to justify one interpretation versus another.

So ZANZU seems to require the Soldiers of Odin or their German variants of which I am sure there are many as an ultimate meta rule which one would only challenge at great risk.

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