Wednesday, May 3, 2023

John Barth and the Aftermath

I've long known that John Barth is my favorite novelist. I thought the Sot-weed Factor to be the actual great American novel when I read it way back when, just after college. I never did know that he was teaching here in Buffalo during my high school years. Now I do.

I pulled an original edition of Chimera from our library. I think that edition draws rare-book style prices on Amazon. What a world! It is so very familiar, as though I've read it before. In many different guises. But if I did, I wouldn't have known a thing about Scheherazade and the thousand and one nights. I don't see how I could have read it.

So then last night in my exhaustion from working on my latest boat project, Netflix tells me that there are new episodes from a new season of Better Call Saul. It takes me right into the second episode to realize that I'd seen them all already. I had pretty much zero memory of having watched them, and even less interest to dig in to remember why I had liked the series so much. 

It's easy to get lost when these "TV" series get bought and sold and you lose your digital tracks.

I went to bed so I couldn't sleep. No, that seems to be the purpose of going to bed. I fall asleep more easily in my reading chair. Maybe I'll sleep better on the boat the way that I used to. Whatever.

Nobel Lauriate Olga Tokarczuk comments (in translation) in her address that:

"Today we can have the great satisfaction of seeing the emergence of a wholly new way of telling the world’s story that is purveyed by the on-screen series, the hidden task of which is to induce in us a trance.  Of course this mode of storytelling has long existed in the myths and Homeric tales, and Heracles, Achilles or Odysseus are without doubt the first heroes of series. But never before has this mode taken up so much space or exerted such a powerful influence on the collective imagination. The first two decades of the twenty-first century are the unquestionable property of the series. Their influence on the modes of telling the story of the world (and therefore on our way of understanding that story, too) is revolutionary.  

I came (back?) to Chimera by way of John Williams' Augustus, which I definitely know I hadn't read before. They shared the National Book Award for Fiction given the year I graduated from high school. I hadn't read much by that time, being oriented toward engineering. I do remember my good friend from a more literary family crowing about Giles Goat-Boy, which was plenty sufficient for me to assume that I wouldn't' be able to read Barth. I am certain that I've never read that one. (add to list, check!)

Anyhow, I learn from Wikipedia that Barth, who nearly embodied what post-modern meant, has fallen from fashion. And so I also learn what post-post-modern must mean. It must mean that we see on screen all those lusty pornographic fantasies that Barth conjured freely with his writing. And that we shall forget them all, we have become so bereft of meaning. The reader has lost his work. The reader has been banned and the law made moot by readings more acute than AI could generate. We spin.

Confident CEOs predict that AGI (do I have the acronym right? Artificial General Intelligence?) will be here in a decade. They must be excited. As the Google Deepmind Demis Hassabis CEO guy says onscreen for the Wall Street Journal, "The brain is the only example we have of general intelligence in the universe, as far as we know. . ." Recent Immigrants always know better than we multi-generational Americans about what to do with the country.

But both John Barth and John Williams still want to know about striving for meaning, and they want to do it. Did literature actually end before I started to appreciate it? Has it truly been overtaken by commercial entertainment? Well, yes, of course it has. 

So that we are indeed living the post-post-modern, meaning post end of history, life. No wonder I need another sailboat Sinbad, no wonder. AI cannot want.

Aha! Only just now poking around for references do I realize that it was The Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor that I actually did read. It would seem that it covers some of the same ground as "Chimera." Water. Whatever. Maybe the stories all really do rehearse themselves as we scientific engineering-type structuralists once wanted to prove. There is nothing new under the sun, and the key to the treasure is the treasure.

At least I'm not totally lost anymore about why this new-to-me book seemed so familiar. I mean beyond the evident fact that I've learned more about various iterations of the thousand and one nights since whenever I read whatever. 

But I do lose my referents since the actual books I read are no longer on any actual shelves that I own. The words float, perhaps to be resourced by some AGI reader surrogate, should I wish it. But I do still declare that voyaging to Mars has no evident or even hidden relation to Odysseus' voyages. We know that Gates closets himself for some set period each year to read. But does Musk even read at all? 

Of course I mean read the real stuff. The stuff grappling with meaning. And I don't mean the science. All that the science can do is to mitigate the fates, as in we now can know that there is no sailing off the edge anymore than there is any other culture to be found by any conceivable distance from travel. We might as well stay home and wait. 

Though it doesn't ever take much more than a good wind and small and shallow Lake Erie for the bestowing of one's very life to the fates, if that's what one is after. If a thrill is all that's wanted. And so why then, do we stare into a cultivated fire? I know that Barth knows. Musk would be too manic and impressed with himself. Dead to me.

A captain of industry with designs on the lives of the rest of us is not the captain of a ship.

One writes, I suppose, for the same reason that one reads; to move beyond oneself. To encounter the fringes of what can be meant. Beyond the seeming, as the North Carolina license plates suggest in small print. In God to trust. Any AI will always be seeming. I nearly triggered a collision in that reading of small print: "To Be Rather than to Seem."

Now back to the boat, which seems almost ready. It will only be so upon setting sail. Or not. I stand ready in either case, whether I be or not anymore.

Thursday, April 27, 2023

Our Usage of Free Speech is as Dangerous as Our Gun Laws

It feels inevitable now. The end is near. 

Oh, did you think I was talking about the world? No, it is my personal demise which feels so near, and I only project my end upon you all. Maybe it feels different because I have squandered my life by what I imagine to be your lights. No room for any more ambitions anymore anyhow. Doesn't that define some of the difference between the start and the end.

Hardly a success on record, and yet and yet I do feel as though my life is, well, rounded. I have, after all, figured out a ton of shit, even if without any ability to express it. Hey, nothing's poifect. I can still work on the expression part. 

Anyhow, I'll die happier than if I'd racked up lots of fame and fortune. Not really my bag, and I'm pretty sure it would have kept me from what I've wanted and needed to do. I am, you see, a cosmologist. Not an academic cosmologist, but not a hobbyist either. No brag, just fact. It's what I do.

I'm past my time though. Don't sleep, it hurts to do physical stuff, and the only time I've fully emptied my bowels lately was after a course of antibiotics for yet another decrepit tooth. And still the technological millenarianists dream of perpetual life. Idiots. Live forever and prosper on the backs of the dispossessed.

At least we now know that human intelligence is not what we thought it was. We thought it was all built on logic and puzzle-solving and we thought it was somehow related to survival skills. That would give us a spot at the top as the apex creature in way different from our seeming cancerous growth process upon the planet.

Now that we have viable AI - artificial so-called intelligence - we should use that fact to rule out those aspects of our own intelligence which are similarly machine-based. You know, the stuff which SATs measure, or IQ tests. Amoral problem-solving. The stuff that all those rich people do so well, and who are now warning us of the dangers of rampant AI. Capitalism looses AI gameplay for the prize of money. These rich folks are the ones who lose their advantage if the rest of us are free to use AI to smooth our essays and our money-making gameplay.

Of course that sort of advantage is nothing up against a full-government frontal support of all winners everywhere. You gotta love America for that! Don't go calling them oligarchs, but the winners are in charge and fuck the rest of us. It's a bit disingenuous and as po-faced as a modern Christian who has lost the very human sense of irony, for amoral money-makers to fear amoral machine-think.

My argument is quite trivial. Machines are demonstrably disconnected from what we generally mean by life. What I mean by life includes a connection beyond our even theoretical ability to describe the connection. I suppose that's another way to say that the only thing that we can be certain of is that there is God. Not "a" God, which would always be man-made and therefore machine-like. But God, the eternal moral compass. 

Machines don't and can't feel, though I'm sure they can imitate feelings right along with the best of the hyper-wealthy. And it's clear that we can fall in love with them, though I for one would be horrified to find out that I fell in love with a machine. Blade Runner shit. 

On the world side of things, I am not the only one anymore who gauges our squandering of God's gift of oil to humanity. What, you thought we won the lottery? All that we have done with it is to release the bloody in tooth and nail aspects of humanity. As globo-capitalism presents now with a military-industrial complexion, and a kind of greed takes hold to melt us down. What? Viruses, fungi now maybe, if nothing else the weather. We don't even know which species to account for. But we obviously don't care for any but ourselves.

OK, so we really don't care about ourselves, apart from our winning or losing selfie-self. Not as a group or as a species. Clearly, there are those who count and those who don't. Sometimes the tensions between, say, the believers in guns and the exploitation of workers, and those who would call out the ironies of capitalism, feel like what it must have felt like before the Civil War. 

What, really, is the difference between our well-documented thriving on the backs of the poor and actual slavery? I, for one, don't have enough ready-made comebacks to people who are convinced that blacks are poor because they are lazy to even make a dent in that thinking. But honestly, the dialog sounds a lot like the dialog of southerners before the civil war. John C. Calhoun.

Power is deployed when minds can't be changed. I find that scary. Cosmology feels safe. There can't be anything controversial about it, because it doesn't really touch anything about our daily lives. But what if, I want to ask, a vastly different cosmology were to transform many of our assumptions as we go about our daily lives?

Bear with me.

Then there are the Unidentified Arial Phenomena. These have nothing to do with cosmology. They are projections of other more generalized fears, and therefore somewhat anti-cosmological. I wonder why we see such things as threats? Meteors, sure, but do we really need to invent malicious creatures behind everything that upsets our comfort zones? Is there really a massive government conspiracy to keep us in the dark?  Well sure there is. It's identical to the massive government conspiracy to keep us believing that capitalism as we practice it is the only way to go. Or that poverty is inevitable.

And yet I don't really think that it's wrong to hope that what now feels like looming Armageddon according to the sailor's hairs on the back of my neck might actually be a pending transformation for the good. The media, remember, gets your clicks on the Route 666 to hell. All of it; fact-based, reality-based or Moloch-Murdoch-based. It's what gets your attention.

I've never made any real scratch myself, so my data is worthless, but hey you can't take it with you. I think I feel as guilty making money as I do about the used oil I used to dump into the ground as a kid. As to finding work, I am an object of suspicion to the go-getters of this world. But in the end, being loaded with social capital both gets me jobs and enables me to feel guilty.

Ah, and still I am self-satisfied, right? I'm pleased as can be that I won't have to join the throngs drowning in their own filth after I'm gone. As though I can dis-implicate myself from having done nothing about it all. As if I can stop caring about my daughters my granddaughter my legacy to come. 

Isn't not caring about Somalia morally identical with not caring about my daughters' future? Both are remote from me in almost the same way. Worries about asteroids or UAP raining down on me just don't keep me up at night. One of the wages of old age is no sleep, and I can't blame that on anything.

When I die, unlike when the world dies, I know that many of those people that I'm connected to (and even things, and places, and cultures and institutions) will persist. I'm connected to a world beyond me, and so I assume that my intelligence is as well. My memory is spread all over the place but thank God for Buffalo where things change slowly and so I don't have to lose my mind. 

What I can't assume is that artificial intelligence will ever be identical to human intelligence. Mainly, I don't think our common usage for the term intelligence is very central to what it means to be alive and human.

Does "the world" have relations with other worlds the way that individuals do? Well, hey maybe it does, and we simply have yet to find that out! Maybe we aren't the only intelligence in the cosmos. Or, to put it another way, maybe what we mean by intelligence isn't what is cosmically meant. 

What? You say that there is artificial intelligence can fix stuff now? That we the intelligent will be the benefactors? Yes, that impersonal sort of de-implicate neutral thinking. In the way that science strives for neutral, value-free, and economics is so utterly value-free that we can set wise and neutral economic dictators as backstops to our sloppy and lazy disinclination to do a thing about what the fuck is going on. At the very least, we must keep the economy on track. Left, right and middle can agree on that in just the way that we can all agree that somehow China is our enemy.

Like hegemony is a sport and we want to be on the winning team. Wait, we are on the winning team! We just want it to keep winning. Like wishing for a Buffalo super-bowl. It's a little bit embarrassing to keep lending money to Ukraine so that our military-industrial-complex can keep thriving. Hey, that's my wealth you're transferring. I've seen the re-runs already. Savings and Loan, Great Recession, COVID theft.

But it's far more embarrassing to abide a Putin on our personal planet Trump. The proxy battle of the titanic go-getter narcissistic fools (Putin wins that contest hands-down, which is really the only reason Trump needed to be President. Too bad he can't fleece us as well as Putin has fleeced the Russians.)

We fix the economy by liberating technocrats to accomplish near autocratic fiat manipulations. They do shit of orders of magnitude similar to what it would take to resolve, oh I don't know, health and wealth disparities. Globally! Somehow the one takes political will while the other is treated as an emergency. Turn it over to the experts!

Just imagine what they'll do when the aliens show up!

The trajectories converge now though, don't they? Global warming is an emergency. Will we leave its resolution to politics, or will we assign autocratic power to technocrats once the situation becomes as obvious as COVID-19 was? It was obvious, wasn't it? 

Well, the economics were at least somewhat obvious. It was almost as bad as a Great Recession! But we fixed it! Sort of. Genius corporate (meaning artificially intelligent, meaning motivated by money) entities devised vaccines almost on the instant, and yet our dysfunctional excuse for democracy managed to give that same reified and therefore perpetual nation-state imaginary entity we call these United States the very worst morbidity record on the planet. Can't we do anything right?

So, why am I writing about death and dying and Artificial Intelligence, when I meant to write about free speech? 

Well, I do like to raise things to their highest common denominator, and here in this case I mean to demolish all sorts of silly equivalencies. Let's say I start with the equivalency of artificial intelligence with human intelligence. And then move through the notion that money is a neutral medium for exchange and that there is therefore a right way and a wrong way to manage economies. And so, the artificial intelligence of corporate and finance capitalism is the right way while the politically mediated economics of socialism - which means the economics mediated by human intelligence - is the wrong way to manage the economy.

The reason socialism is bad is that it doesn't work, right? We simply aren't as smart as markets are, and so we muck things up when we interfere with the near perfect cipher and communications speed of aggregated markets. Sounds like AI to me!

And then finally, of course, I come around to the very dangerous notion that all political speech is equivalent - or even that all speech is equivalent in the face of potential suppression or censorship. After all, without freedom of speech we can't solve any real problems. 

Now we do reliably allow socialists, or, horrors! even communists to have their say. For a while yet, unless we keep electing what the Repubican brand has become. DeSantis anyone? So now we think that we have to allow hate speech free reign. Not only that, but hey let's legislate hate speech! Vote it in! Is there even a line between the good productive thinking and the dangerous hurtful thinking? Or is it taboo to insert human judgement anymore?

Well, we're working on it. Racism in the workplace is out. But white supremacy is apparently OK in the academy??!! I think we have a ways to go yet.

Soon, the driver's license will be abolished, speaking of no more judgement. The cars will reliably drive themselves, so no need. I absolutely love to drive, but I do wish that we would quickly replace cars with old-fashioned trains. Self-driving electric cars don't resolve the base issue. Which is meltdown. Artificial intelligence will get us there more quickly every time.

Meanwhile, the basic skill that I observe in my very walkable city is to be able to walk while reading your phone. The posture looks ridiculous with head back feet forward like a slacker, but whatever. There is no engagement with the environment. 

I walk for pleasure. I suppose these folks are trying to get somewhere and use their scant time without other things to do to read their phones. But what do we make of the proliferation of dogs? Also plenty of phone readers while walking the dog. 

Given how few people wish to work on physical problems (given how hard it is to find house repair contractors, say, and how unbelievably expensive the materials are), maybe we will all soon live in modular component-replacement-style housing. Just like wealth, the repair intelligence all goes to the top as design thinking, and all that's left for the ordinary Joe is tinker-toy construction. 

And so why can't we employ the unemployed at better wages than they could otherwise get to build the housing they need for living? Why are we paying white skinned air-gun shooters upwards of $100/hr. when lots of people would be thrilled by steady work putting together tinker-toy housing for their own community? Oh, wait, we've started to do that. The problems go deeper.

There are almost no car mechanics anymore. Just instrument readers and component replacers. The clutch on my car self-destructed because no-one recognized the symptoms, including me, who was used to a former generation of stick shift. Solution: do away with stick shifts altogether. Done!

Meanwhile no credentials at all are, increasingly, required to carry a gun. And none to speak to a university audience, unless notoriety is a credential

Look, plenty of these transformations are in a good direction, and maybe more aren't. My concern is that we aren't even thinking of them as something we should exercise collective judgement about. Our lives and our economy have already been running on artificial intelligence for a long time now. That's gotten us here, to an inflexion point if not quite yet to an end.

I want to know what is human intelligence. It's not whatever the fuck IQ "measures." It's not what gets you into the Ivies, judging by all the right-wing assholes who hail from them. Maybe we've lost it already, and the advent of this machine intelligence is a punctuation mark on what's already happened without our even noticing it.

For one thing (and another thing! finger wagging . . . ) we should know by now that there is no direction toward intelligence in evolution. We don't culminate anything. But what we might and perhaps should do is to recognize that we, as humans, have a unique capacity for love and hate and for fiction making. That's what complexity gives us. Under the direction of a recognizable individual self. The problem solving works almost perfectly, though it's well beneath the love/hate machinery which we embody.

Now there is no natural divide between nature and artifice. Not that humans might discover. But machines terminate. Their boundaries are evident and comprehensible. On/off has no similarity to life/death. In life, we connect across the ages, and it is an emotional connection. On/off machines not so much. Except as they mediate the will of the button pushers.

This is a distinction worth remembering and taking note of. Artificial intelligence may provide us with an inhuman breadth of possible solutions and resolutions, but it should never be trusted to choose among them.

Yippee that there will be no further licensure for the ability to compose in flawless white English. Like all things white, we tend toward owning all default positions where default means power. And non-default means exotic at best or deviant at worst. It's no wonder that AI is so good at white English of the sort that our teachers might appreciate. Everyone else is deviant and deficient by comparison.

Now here's a thought: maybe all those supposedly really smart and certainly really famous people who signed the momentarily famous notorious letter urging a ban on all Large Language Model AI's are just looking out for their temporal monopoly interests. Like what if poor black folks could sidetrack all sorts of search dead-ends by deploying AIs on their own behalf? 

Ban the bomb! And we end up with Mutually Assured Destruction, which kind-of works for a while yet. Maybe. But why did our science stop there? Why aren't there any scientists asking the cosmologically important questions, like for instance, is life really localized on our one planet? Is intelligence really a human fiefdom? Or are we just simply stuck on the kind of intelligence which gets us as far as the bomb and then stops?

Now here's another interesting thought. Those who didn't sign the ban the Big AI letter are probably mostly working on monetizing LLM AI (I hate Acronyms too - they divide the insiders from the outsiders - that's Large Language Model Aritificial Intelligence). What if human power turns out to have the better cost/benefit ratio once everyone starts churning the cloud-computing cycles for their amusement? What if it becomes really cheap to hire a plumber even though the plumber is now already paid less than the code kiddies?

There's a cost-shift happening where code will be written by AI's and the desire for more computing cycles damns all other efforts to keep from melting down. Worse than the tax cheats and military buildup which now keeps the rest of us in check, mate.

To alienate even further any reader who's gotten this far, let's say that Julian Jaynes may not be entirely wrong with his hypothesis about 'The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.' Among other things, he suggests that prior to the advent of what we now mean by consciousness, the two sides of the brain did not communicate. The breakdown of this bicameralism occurred when the two sides of the brain began a sort of dialogic communion by way of the corpus callosum. Prior to that time, one side of the brain channeled a sort of collective ordering which was heard (literally) as a kind of God's voice by the enacting side of the brain.

I don't define consciousness the way that Jaynes does. For me, a lizard is conscious. Indeed, I no longer understand his usage of consciousness other than what humans have that no other species does. He too is overly impressed by humanity, just as Christians are. Anyhow, in my terms the reason no computer will become conscious has to do with emotion which has to do with connections to life beyond us.

By my reckoning, what Jaynes meant by consciousness takes modern form at about the time of the historical Christ. Atavistic holdouts from the time before include to address Christ as Lord, and to continue to presume that God sends down rules that we must follow. We can't yet be trusted to judge on our own. The real kicker is that the dominion over the Earth and all things living that we had been granted by way of the Abrahamic scripture, is continued. It's these holdouts which cause all the trouble. 

But by and large once God shut up, we started to think and reason, really based on reading and writing, all on our own.

A speaking unitary God is what is, fundamentally, behind American hegemony. A void into which any old narcissist can install himself.

Freedom of speech and of the press as we seem to mean it in our Constitution, requires acceptance of something other from subservience in our linguistic usages. And it is only very recently that we have come out from under the Christian darkened veil to be able to say what Lenny Bruce said in late-night comedy clubs to get sent to jail. 

This is to lay the foundation for my extravagant and optimistic hope for our collective future. Or in other words, I would be as full of the gloom and doomsaying that fills our media as everyone else if I were to believe that this is it for mature human consciousness. My form of transhumanism doesn't directly depend on technological enhancements or genetic expansion. It's a moral thing.

And yes finally late in life I think I've come to terms with Jesus. This is in fulfillment of a profane bet I made in prayer during my extreme youth. God ultimately won. Religion lost, along with the Confederacy, kingdoms and empires and serfdom. And especially along with the nutty notion that only humans possess a proper soul.

As a post-script to Julian Jaynes talk, I believe it was he who pondered and then posited that we likely retain an inbuilt propensity to hear certain resonant speech as the literal word of God, in whatever earthly form we wish to project Him. Prior to Jaynesian consciousness, what we heard was the moral imperative of the resolution of the body politic given in the voice of the feudal lord. Jaynes wondered about broadcast radio. And so now we have these utterly amoral and frankly inhuman voices from the likes of Tucker Carlson and Donald Trump and originally Rush Limbaugh; the educational offspring of evangelical preachers.

They quite literally don't care that they melt down the world and wreak havoc with humanity, so drunk are they with the power of the word given the unique resonance of their voices with whatever we crave in the face of otherwise awesome responsibility. 

Somewhere as an epigraph to a book I once read was a quote from Albert Camus. I tend to paraphrase thus: 'The work is nothing but an attempt to get back to where the heart first opened.' Thanks Google, I find what I imagine to be the actual quote:

A man's work is nothing but this slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.

My writing is not good enough for publication. My trek is very slow indeed, and hardly artful. Or I'm just lazy. But anyhow, I seem to need to work things out in a quasi-public space. I've tried journaling. Nope. Doesn't happen. I need the imaginary of a public. Letters once worked, but they aren't even read anymore. What's a body to do? The world has so degenerated. My place remains lost.

One of the places my heart first opened was upon listening to one of Leonard Cohen's first albums. I think I inherited the songbook for  Songs of Love and Hate from my older brother as he moved off from wormy "folk music" to harder rock. Most of my folk inheritance has ablated since then, along with the vinyl of Cohen's voice, while somehow Cohen remains, his voice still clear in my head. A patrician Jew from Jew-gentle Montreal, as I later found out. I assure you that I would never perform my rendition of his songs in public, though to sing them moves me still.

Really, my heart opened before that by way of a powerful equation between sex and love that I was far too young and even innocent to decipher. God knows I may have been having more and better sex at an earlier age than those of my peers who waved condoms on the way out from cloistered woods with some blushing score. 

My own heart was soon crushed by those betrayals of casual sex. I never did internalize Cohen's teaching, no matter how much I valued his freedom to espouse it. My heart, once opened, has never recovered. But I the sinner as much as sinned against.

Yes, I am that sort of tender snowflake who has been brought up not to understand that transgression is necessary along the road to enlightenment. It has been my privilege to stay clean, and to be seen as doing so. It has not been my accomplishment. 

The wages for my sin now are flaccid recession from among the quick and living. But, you know, I am in near perfect alignment with our prison-industrial complex which warehouses actual souls for transgressions which are provably reducible to race and culture and the absence of educational opportunity. One requires the tender narration of good parenting to be made nice, and in a different sort of prison.

I treasure the preserve of carnal love as much as I treasure civility. I treasure freedom of speech and of the press as much as I hate the disgrace of freely toted firearms, and the abuse of speech freedoms to cause personal and social harm. This shouldn't be very complicated.

At the moment I'm reading Barbara Kingsolver's fine updating of David Copperfield. Thank God for her rebuttal of that condescending Ivy ass, JD Vance. I learn (again from the Times) that she is often put down as an author for allowing politics into her writing. Whatever. She does a fine job of delineating the magic of youthful sexual awakening embedded even within the reality of sexual libertinism. Such an awkward moment it always is, ever ripe for the crushing and fermenting.

Anyhow I'm making the claim here that while Harvard Yale DeSantis commits the sin by commission of bullying proto-fascist politics into the Academy (to include public schools, universities, and the entirety of learning institutions), President Satish Tripathi of the University at Buffalo commits the sin of omission by failing to see that speech must be moderated in an academic setting. Both are sins against our constitution - I don't mean the text - and my use of the religious metaphor here is meant to emphasize how fundamental these transgressions are. 

We certainly don't wish for universities to offer a course in how and why the earth is flat. But if some earnest poet were invited to deliver his performative disquisition on why we must believe that the earth is flat and are punching above our weight when we claim otherwise - lying to ourselves - we might allow that. Even if the poet were a professor of, say, medicine or something. It would probably have to make us laugh. 

Thanks again New York Times, I learn of one Amy Wax, professor of law at the University of Pennsylvania. Waving the condom of tenure, Professor Wax says hateful things in front of students, some of whom are hurt by that. Hurt is palpable, while ideas may always be clothed in language that is not. Professor Wax seems obtuse to this distinction. She should be sanctioned.

I learn she also has a Jewish background. Perhaps she is unaware that her truly stunning amassing of credentials across many Ivy League fields of study was likely made possible by the lifting of unspoken and often disavowed quotas against the overpopulation of Jews in the Ivy. Never mind the oppression of women. Now students of Chinese heritage are oppressed by similar dismissals of cultural credentialism. To be sure, I'm no champion of any basis for either claim of oppression in those terms. But the oppression was and is real. We have moved and are moving in the right direction.

I've been reading about the oppression in Asia during the process of colonial withdrawal, along with the hardly uplifting history suffered by the peoples inhabiting the region of Ukraine. Pinched between Hitler and Stalin. Now beleaguered by Putin Rex. And I am appalled at what humans will do under the guise of some nutty racialized definition for nation and for civilization. Can't hateful speech be sanctioned even without touching academic tenure? 

Perhaps a professor must be required to substantiate hurtful claims before being licensed to espouse them. Is race, gender, or even culture ever a proper delineator for political generalization? I, for one, am gladdened when all comers are increasingly welcomed to the Academy (Awards). This feels like a move in the right direction toward the America of our dreams. 

Affirmative action affirms. Pain is palpable, while rewards for merit are rather fluffy in their basis. And Professor Wax requires refreshment of her heritage for comic irony. She harkens back to life in the fifties, when the public spaces were better patrolled. When Jews . . . ?

The lifting of those Jewish quotas in the Ivy conveniently coincided with the pivot that the Ivies were socially required to make from admitting the wealthy to amplify their voice of authority as granted in prep school, to admitting the intellectually merited. That move legitimized another move toward a sort of better trued authority. Supposedly. I come from a legacy of Ivy Leaguers, and oh I just happen to find schooling beneath me. Yes, the tests are too easy for the likes of me. And, well, I don't commit well.

I benefitted from that pivot toward merit in some way, sure, and I am here to tell you that measures of merit are always fluffy and imperfect. And I personally know many cases of brilliant people becoming cranky, weird, and hurtful in their expressed beliefs as they age. These folks are generally eased away from the public eye. Their bigoted flag-waving is chortled off. 

I would make a more modest point about freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is transgressed when anything goes. Perhaps that's what the good professor means to say.

To compound the issue here, the Buffalo News - our local hold-out of the impoverished fourth estate, is dangerously confused about the meaning of free speech. To continue the metaphor, Fox News and The Buffalo News each commit the same parallel sins; again, one by commission and the other by omission. 

All of us are terminally confused about the meaning of public vs. private space; the meaning of publication vs. blogging, and especially about the importance of the procedural truing of our words against various authorities.

I think all crave basic understanding, in my case so that I might know how to maintain the house - not quite an estate - I live in, which taxes me mentally, physically, and economically in my slide toward dotage. To the manner born, I don't own this house. I benefit from a web of love which appreciates my earnest efforts to repair and improve physical things, which I do gladly for the benefit of my betters. More honored in the breeches.

But also, I crave understanding so that I may know how to vote; how to participate in the actual state. Let's skip over the French rendering of first second and third estates which deal with nobility against hoi-polloi, and not to mention the Church. We're all one here. Or we're supposed to be.

If it weren't such trouble to find community, I wouldn't have to write up here. I'd be able to work it out in concert, which I do, of course, with my family. My family feels threatened by the encroachments of fascist wolves in sheep's clothing who would undermine even the shreds of democracy which remain in these United States. These fascists want to tell us how we must live and think and partner. They want to control our very bodies. They crave a holy empire, and confuse God with strong-man leadership. This, frankly, scares the shit out of me.

Still, what I might mean by community might be what others mean by religious community. But religion as it's meant now is corrupted even beyond politics. Like fascists the world over, it wants to tell you what and how to think. I depend on the academy for that. I need my community to be rather more honest and open-minded. 

Hell, for you fucking religious capitalists out there (I don't mind capitalism per se, which seems but an extension of nature in tooth and nail. It's the religion of it that I object to), you should remember how important our universities are for your wealth-generation and for your precious military-industrial complex. None of that can flourish without freedom of inquiry. But free inquiry depends most on qualified debate. We don't have time to waste listening to idiots. Especially when the goal of those idiots is to colonize our minds.

(Julian Jaynes remains alone in theorizing how this might happen. Mass media channeling and concentrating the atavistic aspects of our grey matter. Where God speaks to us literally before we are schooled in literature. There are those who know how to do this and can still live with themselves for the corruption of the body politic which they cause. Because it makes them rich, I suppose.)

I did wish to work out my words on paper – or rather in the paper, which means in public, and so I should attempt civility in the working even though I only virtually publish. But need I repeat? I'm not a good enough writer.

As was made apparent by the News’ editorial board on this day, we have become confused by the recent weaponization of free speech. And now they are so brazen as to celebrate their position in its aftermath. The university did its duty by allowing hate to be waggled in public? Have they no decency?

To expose the indecencies of private sexual congress is not always pornographic, though it may arouse. I know the difference when I hear, read, and see it. So does the Academy. 

I use the term ‘weaponize’ advisedly, since it will be my argument that free speech which goads action must remain at least as safe as those firearms which we have been declared free to have and to hold; which is to say to keep and bear (for the sake of joining a militia to secure the freedom of our state, but that’s an argument for another time). Having weapons doesn’t confer the right to fire them indiscriminately.

Shame on Professor Wax for abusing her authority. Is it any different from what uncorked Harvey Weinstein does?

Sure, this guy who spoke at UB doesn’t call for the outright murder of trans people. He only wants to ban the concept from the public square. Where all sorts of profane and ugly is tacitly sanctioned now. But he does wish to rouse a rabble. And he profits from it. 

Anyhow, by our common usage academic speech is politically feckless speech. “The problem is only academic.” But it’s the freedom of academic speech which must be preserved. Inviting fools in profanes academic speech, without which political speech is only exhortation to possibly perilous action. Academic speech can’t exist without standards and moderation.

By both statement and practice, our cherished freedom of speech is meant to preserve the right of communists, say, to argue their political philosophy in public without penalty. It is not meant to foster the public mustering of forces to impose that philosophy on the rest of us.

Now it has become a deliberate strategy of what we call our right wing to kneecap our left wing by declarations of “free speech” while spewing uninformed vile speech. The strategy is apparently bankrolled and offers clear rewards to the expert spewers enlisted.

Many of us are puzzled as to why those who seem so ardently to champion American-style free speech wish to activate strong-government legal measures to curtail the freedoms of those who hold different values. And they do this having inherited the mantle of small government; a mantle which they now disgrace.

Now I am as bothered as anyone by the seemingly new necessity to police my own usage of pronouns, and I even often wish that I could voice certain politically incorrect opinions just for the sake of argument, since my own working out of what is right is always just in progress and never finished. I don’t much appreciate younger and less educated folks policing my speech for me.

But in the presence of someone who is hurt by my uncivil vocal performance, I am more than happy to give pronoun twisting a good college try. I do this mindful that the oral equivalence of he/she/it does nothing against, say, Chinese bigotry. But I try.

One doesn’t easily work these things out without taking note of the ‘shout fire in a crowded theater’ example. But that is what we have here writ large when a University sanctions its student revelers to invite an uncivil and uninformed idiot to speak. We may indulge idiots when they spew down the street, so long as they threaten no-one, but we don’t expect our institutions of learning to sanction them, no less to let them in.

Within my lifetime I have watched as corporate ‘people’ have been afforded the freedoms of citizens, which has led inexorably to politics being lowered to the values of the marketplace. They call it a free speech issue. It’s not. We don’t expect soap salesmen to be fully upright and honest, but we do sanction them when our safety is at stake. And we don’t expect politicians to sell themselves, though our sanctions against their doing so all seem to have evaporated.

Of course our well-being is at stake whenever hateful speechis sanctioned positively. And I do know that to call anyone an idiot in public is hardly civil. Indeed there was a time not so very long ago when to do so would entail physical peril. A Chatbot is an idiot by definition, so perhaps I should call the fellow a chatbot. There is no human intelligence there. Only some programmatic calculus for undemocratic power.

Fabulously wealthy talking heads like Tucker Carlson are nothing other than fascists of your very mind. They pitch their voice the way Josh Allen pitches a football and we are enthralled. As humans, there is no there there. Positively Trumpean.

But if we are to abide the policing of women’s bodies and of medical interventions toward comforting transgendering and even drag shows for chrissakes, then what’s to prevent the policing of speech? These hate spewers are asking for just such a police state. It will be controlled by some strong-man who upholds the right to be uncivil in public, and it’s happening all over the world. Surely we can see how utterly this opposes the spirit of our constitution, even as we, by proxy in the courts, twist its letter.

I can only endorse a state which moderates, which is also the role for the academy in its realm. There should be no place in America for extremist activists in either estate. I’m OK with extreme words, and extreme action against destroyers of the state in which I believe. I expect moderators to moderate, and never to require such extremes from the likes of me.


Who is more at fault? The students who shout down and out Trump appointed federal appeals court judge Stuart Kyle Duncan or the Stanford President and Law School Dean who apologizes for them? Is it the religious believers in free speech who feel it their mission to allow any speech to go? Is it the students who want education

And why is it now that the Ivies produce the likes of DeSantis and Rhodes and Vance and Hawley and Stefanick? When did politicians transition from shilling for votes in the guise of leadership credentials to just plain outright shilling for power by channeling the idiocy of the masses? Masses are by definition idiotic. It is the role of democratic governance to elevate, educate and moderate that idiocy. The Ivies abdicate in the name of neutral merit and celebrate notoriety as some weird sort of validation of their admissions processes. Dubya never looked so good.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

chatGPT and Natural Intelligence

Yes, fearless reader, you are already familiar with my observation that human understanding ended with the bomb. We were so very impressed with ourselves, its seeming that we had finally cracked the code of reality. How Tellering! Blowing it is the best that we can do?!?

Well, of course we are always after that. Blowing the code. And after that we haven't gotten very much further. Our attempts are language-bound. Our attempts are for and by the language-bound. That's what it means to be a philosopher or a scientist. We're still going after particles and forces. Truth in words and numbers. There is no Truth, dumbass; there's only trueing. 

Now AI, so-called, has liberated us from language in the way that only computers can accomplish. There are many things we cannot know or prove, but we can watch the computer work it out. There are whole branches of math which are experimental. Beyond proof.

So we don't have to understand the workings of language either. We just watch it happen and prove our own fumbling inadequacy. I guess. 

People worry that students will cheat, and David Brooks urges us, wisely it would seem, to hew more toward what is uniquely human. 

Now it might seem that this is what I would urge as well. But, truth be told, his selections about what is the human quintessence leaves me as cold as did that AI art champion he uses as his foil. He remains embedded in capitalism, and I don't think he can understand what I even mean by the term. 

The Turing test is all about language; about faking normal. Math being now the universal language of mankind, should we really be surprised when computing machines can fake language so well?

I tend on the side of those not so worried about teachers not being able to tell human from machine writing. Cheating in school is, after all, just a way to catch up to those privileged by the language in their home. Which moves a little bit closer to what I mean by "capitalism." It's what rich people do to get into the Ivy League.

Sure, I get mildly excited that we might have actual Internet search now, which might even bring Alphabet (a rose by any other name? "Google" is far too mathy) down. That would be really exciting, since auctioning keyterms can't work if we get to use natural language to find what we want. Take me Home (c) Scotty (tm), I mean Siri uh Alexa um!

The main processes of capitalism involve mystifying, then reifying and ultimately worshipping the selfie self. Individuation is what is threatened by AI. I want to rejoice. Mother, may I?

Well, language is what makes us social, like E.O. Wilson's ants. It should anti-individuate. On top of that, capitalism divides us by our want for recognition. And yet methinks, language, capitalism, individuation, and even Jesus and Math are all natural phenomena. 

Which should mean that Earth prevails in the end. Intelligence was both never and always artificial. It's our language that collapses. Godel Escher Bosch!

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Impression of Stella Maris by Cormac McCarthy

Stella Maris (The Passenger #2)Stella Maris by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some novelists seem to write out of a kind of desperation. Life disappoints, feels meaningless. They must write in a kind of drawn-out mania, attempting to fill a void. Vonnegut. Faulkner. Melville. Kingsolver. LeGuin. Atwood, David Foster Wallace for sure. Hell, maybe all novelists, as distinguished from entertainers. You can't really ask Pynchon, Barthes, Brautigan, or maybe you can, but I can't. It's all there on the page anyhow. There's no accounting for amusement with this one.

This book is philosophy but written in a way that no philosopher ever could or would write. Cormac McCarthy conjures a character who's taken all knowledge across all time and distilled it to a kind of essence wherein nothing can be known or claimed or defended. Certainly nothing can be explained. The really cool thing is that his philosopher is a woman. No wonder she has to kill herself. Philosophy (dis)embodies manhood, doesn't it? Abstracted from all connection, the only manhood she wants is forbidden. Anyhow.

And then nothing is explained, and there is a kind of epiphany, and it's for the reader and the author both. A life in full beyond the self-exile prisonhouse studio. Then nothing. And it's enough for me. It may be over and out for Cormac. What happens when all that's difficult for everyone else is trivial for you, dear impossibly beautiful impossibly brilliant little Alicia, the Alice of 3:10 to Yuma, the name the fate, the last name generic. What happens when the art finds you and grants you no quarter? Must you starve? Too painful. Write then.

Yeah, see, that's why you nor I can write novels. By far not intelligent enough to recognize nothing for what it isn't. Detached as the rest of us are from those reaches wherof Cormac descends. Earnest doesn't begin to cover Cormac's voice.

Art crashes me on its shoals. I sputter and never catch the impulse which took me to the page. Gift or curse? No matter. I am nearly old enough to know how to read. It eases me over and out now effortlessly, holding metaphorical hands into a void now less empty.

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Monday, January 2, 2023

Goodreads Impression of Cormac McCarthy The Passenger

The Passenger (The Passenger #1)The Passenger by Cormac McCarthy
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The novel, she dead. All the same tropes, when you're (you, the author are) too freaking brilliant. A face so pretty, attached to a body presumably, that it kills you, or kills itself when it's also so brilliant that it detaches mind from reality by way of math. DFW anyone? As though numbers were more fundamental than words. A rehearsal. Brief History of Infinity. A symbol, not a name, Squire.

Faulknerian incest, a living detective who wants to know about everybody else, and nobody wants to know about him, or maybe they already know all that they want or need to know. Not Joe Friday, but Bobby Western (This is Not a Western), who has to ditch his identity because he's more curious than the incurious cat he loses. Because he comes too close to too many things the gummint gumshoes don't want out. Dead Kennedy's. Rehearsing grammar, spelling and hallucinatory malapropisms to get it right. Those types don't want to know anything. Just doing their job.

The whole writing style here is to hint at something in a way that you, just like the author, don't quite grasp, sayeth the wizened Times. Or was that a more academic rag? He spends all his time at the Santa Fe Institute or some such place off limits to you and me. But you know it's profound, just like a beautiful face in a glimpse which never holds up, quite, under a gaze. A glimpse of the math that would destroy worlds, and with too much understanding, destroy the self. The zero cannot hold.

All the intrafamilial relations are stretched beyond all limits. What can be left apart from longing. What was it like in 'Nam? I live to long.

So OK, really, by definition almost, the reader has to be the missing and never identified Passenger. But really it's Western, and then by extension the very author himself, who yet lives, and not on some remotish isle that's home to forgers. Reconfigured and reborn souls.

Holed up in the wreck of a lighthouse, birdshit soiled tarp between him and the lighted sky, taking notes on grammar, you write the work yourself, the work writes you, until you are missing, inexplicably both within and beyond the reach of any law. I too have been a diver and a speedfreak, looking for the limits for knowledge, for control, for written sense that still wants to be read. Without consulting any guide to any grammar for sense to be made of.

Long live the novel.

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Thursday, September 22, 2022

A Cipher In the Fullness of Immature Time

There is, of course, no fullness of time, unless you wish to count eternity somehow, and then you can't be in time. Time as we live it is perpetually immature. As, I hope, am I. I do so wish to improve. I know so little yet. 

There is a oneness to me, if not a fullness, in the sense that there is a constancy hardened over time which is easily proven by friends and acquaintances. I do insist that even in the fullness of time, my future life is not quite set. But apparently, and evidently, neither is my past. Forward facing, I am diminishing and shall be diminished in the fullness of time. At least I never did mistake my youthful certainties for knowledge.

The other day at a Labor Day picnic, moved cause of rain from my daughter's outside backyard to my ex's more accommodating inside, I also learned something about the relation of time's indeterminacy to anger and to love, and especially in relation to the narratives we compose to establish and define ourselves. 

Increasingly, these days, my ex tells stories which diverge from reality in the direction of my miscredit. Fine! I'm sure I deserve the abuse on some level, but lately they've started to cut to the quick. For instance, after I'd left her, her house, which had been our house, was broken into. I rushed over from Canada where I was then living and expeditiously installed bars across the vulnerable French doors which were the point of entry. She wanted me to stay. I wouldn't. She later thanked me for that.

How could I forget what was such an emotionally charged event, and especially those tough decisions that I faced? Sure, I have often been caught out and have caught myself out with false memories. Often, even when I'm certain of them. I do modify in the face of evidence. The mind plays tricks. 

My ex has now replaced me as protagonist in my little tale with an older fellow to whom she credits my work. We both loved the man. He might have done it but didn't in fact. But she is apparently as certain that I didn't install those bars as I am that I did. 

Narratives are formed for all sorts of reasons, certainly to include a kind of preservation of personal integrity. Sometimes there are conflicts. We might wish to be perceived as someone that we're not. Quite.

I don't think that the conflicts between my ex and myself will ever turn deadly. We enjoy our continuing good relations far too much. Though I may absent myself the next instant she starts a story, since whether true or false by my lights, I don't think that there's any excuse to rehearse such stories in front of me, especially when I'm in front of my kids. I can't control what she does behind my back, and while I know that my daughters feel often compelled to believe the worst of me according to her telling, they don't seem to stop loving me for that. So, no harm. I am humbled. So what?

Now to expand to the cosmic dimension, dear reader. As you know, I am fond of declaring the cosmic eternity for narrative. Nothing makes sense ever without narrative. At its elemental basics, narrative is the ordering, in time, of otherwise disconnected discreet points. DNA composes a narrative. I maintain that there is both an emotional and a physical/perceptual component to all that has ever existed and that can ever exist. There is most certainly an emotional element to narrative. Always.

This forces me to apply the same uncertainty principles which we have applied to empirical objective measurable reality to the proper fourth dimension of time. Indeed, I would go so far as to claim that time has no meaning without narrative, and that the narrative is composed in mind. Mind therefore, is always present in existence. Time is a conspiracy of the whole, as it were, and has no forward or back without life, which is to say without emotion, an elemental component of life, coeval with all those innumerable particles which lack individual identity. Life also was there at any possible beginning; at the very least as a want.

Life is always wanting.

We commonly imagine that time past is time set and unchangeable. But it's not, any more than the future is set, although we believe that more comfortably. We even go so far as to consider the future to be conditioned on us, even down to the level of the individual. I believe that is the widely accepted meaning of free will and agency.

But individual me is mostly not me, certainly in the terms of DNA, but also in social and linguistic terms. My personal degrees of freedom are quite limited in fact, even if, in practice, I may exercise outsized agency. If I am white and reasonably attractive in speech, manner and appearance. If I am not identifiable as one of the colonized victims of empire.

Still, since most of what composes me is formed by luck, I do believe that my personal agency is far more conditioned than most of us now seem to believe. That means, I suppose, that I am less a capitalist than you are. (As far as I can tell, I'm less capitalist than almost anyone, expect for that woman while I was gassing who had 'fuck the patriarchy' painted on her car, and I wanted to hug her but I knew that I didn't look my part.)

I see the likes of Jeff Bezos as rather more trapped than I am too. He is in thrall to his own master narrative of him as master, which makes him rather deadly, I think. I, on the other hand, am a harmless, which is, I'm afraid, my preferred condition. I wouldn't be competent for anything different. I lack the honor, sure, but mostly I lack the desire.

Time is indeterminate in ways analogous to the indeterminacy of physical reality when taken to its fundamental level. Meaning that this uncovering of yet another dimension for indeterminacy makes no nevermind for our everyday life. 

But just as it has unsettled many of us to know that there is no way even in principle to understand everything, qua quantum physical reality, it may unsettle us even more to know that the past is in no way fixed. There is no ultimate truth to be found. We create our past to the same extent that we create our collective future. After a margin, both become quite fuzzy indeed.

For the me, the fundamental meaning of quantum physics is that we are fully implicated in reality. There is no point of absolute objectivity. We are also implicated in history in almost precisely the way that we know ourselves to be implicated in the future.

In just the way that IQ cannot measure the totality of intelligence, most of which is qualified by a moral dimension, science as we practice it cannot tell our future. What is happening now - although much more easily defined by and as the predations of unregulated capitalism - is really better defined by the coming together, in however haphazard a fashion, of all humanity on earth. Big O Notation. Darkest before the dawn and all.

Sure, it's messy right now. We have a long way to go to reclaim livable communities. Here in Buffalo now, we can almost imagine bringing the Olmsted greenway layouts back to reality. Back to the future. Soon, we'll move beyond electric cars to trolleys. Cities will re-envision themselves as havens for walking and biking and getting together on trolley cars. People like me will get back together with people I don't yet know again, once the competition for attention is eased. I am so very through with job and school competition, aren't you?

Most of us don't really want so much. Nice parks. Maybe a sailboat. Maybe a bike. Nice neighborhoods and nice neighbors. Meaningful work that makes a difference.

Like most of us, I declare that I have not and will not harm another soul. I'm guessing that's the most of us. Sure, they make shit up about me. That doesn't make me want to make shit up about you. I'm decent in my heart, and I'm willing to guess so are you. Now let's act like it. Plain decency is likely the most underrated quality in the whole wide world just now.

Sad to say, in a way, while I was out walking yesterday the maybe two and half miles to Riverworks where the Music is Art Festival was being held across maybe two dozen stages, I was accosted by a young fellow manning a little display about how all religions are one. He asked me if he could ask me a question. I said sure, if it won't take long. Of course, the question he asked me was 'do you believe in God.' My answer was something like 'probably not the way you do.' 'Why?' he might have said. 'Because you believe in a man-made God.' I said as I walked away. 

It wasn't very nice of me. But at that particular moment I had been put in mind of how much harm what I'm calling man-made religion has always caused. People - mostly men - want to channel what they think God would tell you to do or not do, and I just don't buy that kind of God. That just feels like patriarchy plain and simple. 

Does it do any good for the world for me to convince you to believe in God the way that I do? I'm saying it probably causes more harm than good. I didn't really want to argue about it. But yes, now that I think about it, it would make the world a better place if you were to believe in God the way I do. For one thing you'd know why it's always best to be decent. And for another, you wouldn't judge people who aren't decent. God knows, it takes all kinds.

Well, I don't really have enough math to convince you of what I know in my bones to be true. Except that among those things that I know is that understanding reality doesn't require much math, and you don't need a higher degree of education to be able to do it. But if only I could convince one among those one-percenters who do have enough education, that would be something. But I don't seem to be able to do that either. 

I'll keep trying. For your sake, gentle reader, for your sake. 

And yes, while there is no absolute truth or even truthiness, the truth, still, will out. All these individualistic attention seekers with brains barren of fellow-feeling and beings which lust only after money become as meaningless as sandflies in the fullness of narrative time. There is not a Republic left on earth, it would seem, who actually believes in an actual god. Maybe Liz Cheney, no matter how evil her Dad is. Believers in actual god don't tell lies to get elected. That narrative erases you from life. You become a cipher of finance capitalism, which is, by definition, nothing at all.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

An Email to Virginia Heffernan

Dear Virginia (I'm old school that way)

I can't find your contact information no way no how, which is, I presume, the way you want it, and so being both old school and considerate I'll call you out in public, which is where I hide out, the way my friends and I did as kids; not wanting to ring the bell and disturb some missus inside some domicile or other. 

I've read a fair amount of your stuff, and tend hard in the direction of the extravagant praise I've seen for your writing. The flamers aren't so surprising, especially as good writing almost always makes a good target for illiterates. I am still somewhat surprised at how vitriolic some of it is, but that's the nature of our Now.

I especially enjoyed your recent piece in Wired, which effectively exposes and decouples a false connection between work and luck; replacing it with the truer revelation that to equate luck with work debases all of us. As in virtually everything about who and what we are has been determined by luck, and yet our economic arrangements almost compel us to take credit for who we happen to be, as though, if we're lucky, we created ourselves each and every one ex nihilo.

I don't think you did this very much in your piece, but I would say that what you wrote exposes the moral dimension as being far more important than what we commonly think of as our personal agency. Sure we have choices to make, but we almost always fail to notice how conditional those choices are.

When you choose to be on the capitalist pig side of the capital and labor equation, you are making a moral choice. As you point out, we are conditioned to see it as a properly productive choice, even beyond its selfish aspects. Selfishness is, after all, what powers a capitalist economy. And selfishness is what has to be supervised for labor to be marketable. Delayed consumption, metered and conditioned so that satisfaction is always on the way and never already there.

We, each of us now, are the final commodities, alive for just a moment before we too are bought and resold as scrap.

Growing up, my nickname was Hardluck. As in I always drew the short straw, and never won any lotteries. I knew it was silly and wrong, since I knew that I was competent to do whatever it was that nobody seemed to want to do or to know how to do, and so yes I considered myself lucky. I was sound of mind and body, reasonably good-looking and healthy. I grew to like the short straw, kind of wishing it upon myself, and not as penance.

Just now, because I am in transition (I am always in transition), the first thing that acquaintances ask me is 'where are you living?' As it happens, I have no less than four highly viable choices, with two more on the way. Now this doesn't quite make me feel lucky, since I can hardly afford any of them. But in just the same way that I was lucky to escape Covid with a mild case (an example you use), I am lucky that my tiny pension plus social security almost precisely equals my monthly outflow; living in a very affordable apartment in very affordable Buffalo.

I should sell, but haven't done so yet, the trailer that I've lived in for most of the past 5 years or so. It remains available to me still, and I long for it still. So is the apartment I fixed up in Oregon, which gave me pause for a couple of winters and then again for Covid lockdown. Talk about luck! Mom still owns that summer place in Canada to which I decamped upon separation from my ex many years ago. Too bad the borders have hardened, and I can't just go live there anymore during my current transition.

I have yet another sailboat on the way in response to my daughters' longing, and it's about the same layout as the one I did live aboard some forty years ago. I acquired it for a similar song (and dance).

While I would dearly love to remain in this apartment that I love, my well-off Microsoft alumnus brother-in-law has long wanted to invest in Buffalo real-estate, on the condition that I live in and maintain it. I do suffer so!

I do know that once I've moved, which means once I've made my decision, which my mind refuses to do until then, I'll feel relief about whatever were the annoyances of those places I will have left behind. Some will remain useful, some will be abandoned, and I my bodily unchoosing self may yet persist or not as luck will have it.

I'm old, and it hurts even to think about it, but I'm sure I'll be moving into my bro-in-law's house, basically just because it would leave me with just about enough spending money to maintain and sail my new old boat. And maybe keep the trailer.

Now I know that you don't care about any of this, and you should be wondering why I even ask you to read it. Just another guy trying to figure out if he got lucky or not, or might. It's never clear to me what getting lucky really means or might mean.

What I really want you to know, basically because I think you might actually get it, is that at about the time that I was living aboard my old wooden sailboat (albeit younger, relative to my acquisition of it, than the sadly fiberglass one I'm getting now), I discovered, by happenstance, a way to incorporate luck into meaning. I mean that in the way that the scientific method explicitly removes luck from meaning by its usage of "random." We stake almost all of our claims about life, which we might consider to be goodness out of chaos, as though that monkey did finally type Romeo and Juliet by random pecking orders.

Now what I then discovered has no practical application. There's nothing you can do with it that you can't do without it. Scientific knowledge is mostly useful, while what I propose is not. Way back then, I was more worried about fate and coincidence and finding my place in the equation out of a kind of desperation which descends from a seemingly inborn need for meaning. Meaning means understanding for me, and I had no way to understand what felt like a series of meaningful coincidences. Like, life, the universe and everything.

My discovery, as I call it, was not of something new. I discovered a new way of construing what was already known. Starting here from where I ended up then, I rejigger the usage of random as applied to evolution, say, and stake my claim that it would be more informative to define all the accidents that entail life in the cosmos not as random mutations, but as mutations which have tended in the direction of love. Love as a direction for evolution was my discovery. Like gravity, love might be construed as a force of sorts.

Now I'm not saying that love precedes evolution as a kind of force to guide it. I'm just saying that love is a better description than random for how, and mostly why it happens. Like gravity. It's part of the program of mass and force. Force is equivalent to mass, in a measure relative to how forces are applied and perceived according to relative position for observation.

This realization about evolution came after a more general realization that emotion more generally is not a function of the inner state of some highly evolved life-form such as humanity, but that emotion, like force-mediated motion, is an elemental aspect of any construing of reality that we might come up with. The difference from force, whose elemental aspects are percepts, as in proliferating particles at every scale, is that emotions are a function of conceptual reality, whose elemental aspects are concepts.

Words, particles, whatever. On some level particles are composed of words plus some math which add up to predictability. By the displacement of metaphor, which is for exceeding our grasp, stupid. And unnecessary unless you think that the mind is disposed ultimately to understand and to know everything, which is only a tad less likely than the production of that monkey at a typewriter.

As far as I can tell, my reconstruing of life, the universe and anything doesn't predict a freaking thing, except that it might facilitate collective us taking more responsibility for our choices. Responsibility for choices is rather better highlighted once we put ourselves, whatever we have been or shall become, back into our equations where we belong.

While simultaneity cannot be defined in perceptual reality except in relation to some conceptually stationary subject, simultaneity is a direct function of conception and emotion. Conceptual relations are held in mind and don't exist except for simultaneous reciprocity. By definition, is what I'm saying. 

Time was, we thought that particles could exist in isolation. We gradually inferred that there is no escaping relative motion, and that motion involved force and that force involved the exchange of yet smaller particles, and that there is ultimately a so-called entanglement between sufficiently tiny particles such that it makes no sense to calculate distance between them since transformation in one is simultaneously mirrored by the entangled twin, which pretty much nullifies the time/force relation of mass transitioning to energy at the limit of lightspeed.

My redefinitions don't change a thing about what it is that we can perceive and measure. And yet they are somehow terrifying in prospect, and so I don't expect another soul to concur. It would be nice if some soul did, but I don't expect it because the resistance is so great among thinking people. I become a kind of out-of-touch religious castaway for believing such an extravagant redefinition of basic terms.

I also see that you've read and appreciated the grand work of the two Davids, The Dawn of Everything. As I sit watching streaming film and hoping for enlightenment while waiting for the end, which feels inevitable globally, and which certainly is inevitable in my very local life, that book is really what leaves me hope for my children.

Yes, it does seem as though we are so dependent on a global market for our sustenance that its breakdown will consist of conflagration, warfare and starvation on a scale we can hardly imagine, the Davids' book reminds us all that we are adaptable and haven't lost all the social capacity that we've had throughout our bloody history to find a way to adapt again.

I have a kind of hope and even faith that others will discover what I have discovered, at least just in time for the Greater Transformation when it inevitably occurs. This one goes back to the future, as it were. Humans in community. Or whatever it is that evolves from humans. Whatever it is will evolve in the direction of love; that much is certain. The other direction is, after all, death. I leave that to those who misplace their hope in quantum computing. Who misconstrue intelligence in ways artificial and overly mathematical. 

As far as I can tell, intelligence has yet to show its hand here on earth, but look out when it does. The losers become the winners, right? And then what becomes of us?