Tuesday, September 29, 2020

The Social Network Has Already Died

Of course, I'm not talking about Facebook or its ilk. I'm talking about the real thing. Social networks are built on social commerce, and not on mediated interactions. There has to be more than language to bind people, and of course I don't mean the various virtual interactions of sight and sound and sublimated fury.

Social networks incorporate body knowledge, let's call it. Shared ways to cook to walk to drive to think. It has been a bigger problem in China, I think, when the language embodied in the written word lost touch with the physical exercise of writing. Only lately have we begun to recognize that the loss of cursive writing in the West is actually a loss.

The words move away. Spelling is lost. How much worse in China?

I lost my cursive ages ago, mostly due to too much note-taking too rapidly, and so only my secretary could know what I had written, by the time I was a responsible adult. I had to ask her. I'd buried my thoughts in typescript by then, and hadn't realized what had been lost. I thought at least I could be legible. Inheriting one of Dad's Selectrics, I could type really fast.

Now I'm sad that I've lost so much of my Chinese vocabulary. This is quite simply because I no longer write it with a pen. I no longer draw air-strokes when I look up Chinese characters in the dictionary. My language can only be abstracted. And in the abstract, thought is aligned against nature. We aim to supercede nature by the power of rationality.

Those hopeful about the future of the planet - our little outpost of life in the cosmos - seem now to the ones who remain excited about how much we can and shall understand by the means of scientific investigations. These all seem directed toward triumphs over nature, as though we were apart from nature, whatever that word might mean anymore. Whatever it could mean.

I suppose that if we do triumph we will have completed our abstraction each from other and it will be very hard to distinguish annihilation by virtue of hatred from annihilation by virtue of hubris from annihilation by virtue of what we might call some mistake from annihilation by virtue of nature. Nature is that which prevails despite our theatrics. Nature is the real.

I know that these are sophomoric meditations, and I know that the adult practice of scientific investigation will never end. Well, it will never end before the end. The problem being not science or the scientific method, but the economic arrangements which organize it., and everything else. 

How else to characterize our choices of the one among various ways forward. Truth means this. It means a consensus choice, when the consensus includes all of life, and now we - the capitalistic we - are arrayed against the rest of life, thinking that somehow we will create an artificial life. A virtual life. Some combine of personality where the most common attributes are celebrated as the most unique. And I had thought that it was my joining with others which made me. My personality is not an entity by itself. 

So no wonder science as an enterprise is so loathe to release itself from subject/object distinctions. There is no end to what you might accomplish as Lord. There is only end to All.

Were we to allow the conspiracy of all into our contemplations, we might realize that there is nothing more fundamental to discover but that there is also relativity to subject/object distinctions. There has never been any cosmos void of life. Life is the retrospective organization of accident according to the direction of love which is not a perceptual motivated direction, but, rather, a conceptual one. Time is but the direction of life lived. There is no time without life. There is only void. Without love, there is no time. Some of you have learned this from magic mushrooms. I learned it the hard way.

We seek artificiality with our instruments in case there is life elsewhere in our cosmos. Elsewhere means out of time, since we can't go there without bending dimensions beyond those which matter to us, and by doing that we will have become Goddish which will then have to mean that the godhead will have been destroyed and life will not have been.

We refuse, ironically, to be subject to anything or especially to the godhead which is not some detectable force driving anything. We refuse to be subject to love, or as the bumper sticker or was it a larger window decal on the White Supremacist Trump Truck with Rebel and American flags sandwiching Trump flags said, "FUCK YOUR FEELINGS." This is pretty aggressive. Very naughty.

The only thing wrong is that we think we know what other people are thinking and feeling by the colors they wear, the team they belong to, no longer imagining that there might be things in common. Discovering those would require climbing out of our wombs with views, McMansions on polished lawns where life has already been sterilized and news of continued life is highly exaggerated. The detonations have long since taken place. The network is down. 

And yet I still do feel a ping from across the router. Rogue network alert. There was already life elsewhere in the cosmos, and it has always spoken in the body language of life lived.

I still wonder why it is that when you hire workmen to fix your sewer, say, they seem always to be Trumpsters. Who even gets their hands dirty anymore. Certainly not Trump. How can these associations hold. Am I the only one whose thinking and being has not been entirely wrecked by the Social Dilemma?

Ha!


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

The Ownership Society

So when I recently read about Jessica Krug cancelling herself, and then people piling on to double-cancel her, I was recalled to Adolf Reed demolishing false distinctions between gender and race transitions. He has less of a problem with cultural appropriation than he does with cancel culture. I have to say that I find his argumentation irrefutable. One of my daughters agrees with me, and the other calls Reed out for mansplaining, and me out for racism. 

I don't think that Reed denies structural racism in the least, any more than he would deny sexism and misogyny. His chore is to deny race and gender any distinction on the basis of 'nature.' Neither can be said to be valid natural categories; both are more a part of culture.

In the one case, sex is distinguished from gender, and in the other race is distinguished from any valid metric to determine human qualities. I believe the core of Reed's argument may be that it is as valid for someone to identify with a different culture as it is to identify with a different gender.

There are differences, of course. Everyone is embedded in a culture which includes all genders. Not everyone is embedded in every culture. So out of context, cultural norms may be called cultural appropriation as an illegitimate move. I think, perhaps, no-one would have any issue with a white person who has 'gown up' in black culture identifying black for that reason.

Perhaps the trouble comes along the way to the claims that academics argue. The author's personal history shouldn't matter to any argument, and the fact that it so evidently does and that we're all so easily misled undermines many of the claims that academia makes on our thinking. 

But is the crime committed by the one who takes advantage, or by the way the academic audience reads and judges?

Along the way it hits me pretty hard that what Dubya used to call ownership culture was his naive way to celebrate white supremacy. I don't think Dubya was by any means in the Trumpean category of nasty, but his behaviors did certainly serve the white powers behind structural racism. 

Now in my inchoate way, I'm finding it hard to distinguish between ownership of property and ownership of slaves. Robot help doesn't solve the problem. For a brief while, I thought it might. Moves in the direction of Universal Basic Income kind of thing. The problem is that some of us are always behind the renters' eight ball and some get boosted into the ownership class. 

Now in my case, I have only myself to blame, since I could clearly be an owner. It was a woman - my ex - who screwed me out of my start, but that was more me giving away the store on the basis of masculine guilt. I've never had much enthusiasm for American adversarial culture, whether in sports or politics, nor certainly in law. In law, that setup just tilts settlements in ways to help money win more often.

An identifiable underclass (dark skin does nicely) is essential for the legitimacy of an ownership society, which would otherwise look unjust. So are robots. Or in other words, I don't find much distinction between wage-slavery and the more literal kind on which this nation was founded. 

My sense is that we should rather celebrate anyone who wishes to identify as black, even when they don't have black blood. There is, apparently, much to envy and of course much to appropriate. It just shouldn't be a legit move for academics.

Those of us not in competition for the 'good life' are offered lots of freebies to make life easier. Many of these are in the form of mostly plastic now convenience containers, so that we can keep our hands clean and be assured that consumables are safe and untouched. Most of us can and do afford to "own" cars, as indentured renters. We hardly notice anymore that the costs are built in in ways insidious and destructive. 

Google search is hardly free. Plastic bags have at least started to cost something, and cheap gasoline mainly ensures that we won't have good mass transit any time soon. 

The question I want to ask is about what it would take for us to relinquish all this convenience and revert to wax paper, mass transit and wooden construction preserved by linseed oil based paints, so that the planet as a whole may thrive. Why are we so certain that our life-style would take a hit?

In my very own memory, time was that you could go to a nearby planing mill and get a window made to replace the one that rotted out because you were too lazy to paint it. Just now this is my agony as I try to assemble the tools and skills to rebuild old windows myself with a damp shop in my owner-grade offsprings' damp basement. It makes me sore every day, and mostly in the moral sense for that term.

Now they can't afford real craftspeople, who are priced to be available only to those who can essentially afford to own their property outright (meaning simply they have a positive net worth). The craftspeople might well be among the owner classes themselves, just as I was once a yacht owner (with negative net worth, of course). I did my own repairs. I'm pretty sure that wooden boat ownership is out of reach for the likes of me anymore. Especially given the cost of paint. If you can even get oil paint.

Oil paint was phased out to save the planet. Something about VOCs which made their way right back in and worse among the "water based" paints which replaced the poisonous good stuff. Plastics, Benjamin Bratton, plastics. 

Somehow, I think the overall ratios were perversely affected by well-meaning policies once those made their way through the capitalist imperatives on the way to market. All I know for sure is that my daughter has a cosmetics-sensitized debilitating allergy to whatever they put in latex paint to keep bacteria from growing in it. The chemical is banned in Europe, which is apparently somewhat less adversarial in its proclivities than we are. Slavery was never quite popular there.

Anyhow, all these are consciousness-raising matters. The recalcitrant Trumpsters will fight tooth and nail against any and all of them, while those more on the side of the angels have a really hard time connecting the dots to why these are all the same thing; racism, sexism, consumerism, landfill waste, HVAC and especially planes and automobiles.

Tesla lovers are right on a knife edge, but they are loving cars which tips them in the wrong direction. You certainly can't own a BMW and be on the right side of history. Nor a BIG HOUSE. Nor have servants.

I'm a servant to my children, and that's the way, perhaps, it should be, though I'm chafing just now by latent chauvinism from one in particular to whom there's no blood relation. No more could I identify as black, now that my sister tells me that 23 and me nixes any black blood. Yeah, like I should trust them.

A relation is a relation, whether based on blood or genes or just simple love, and it would never rankle without the love when the relation turns bad.

What I have to give to Trumpsters is that they seem to love their things; whether guns or cars or motorcycles or jet skis or speedboats. They seem to care for their things, just as those from whom they seem to be descended claimed to care for their slaves. Even as their slaves were forced to care for them.

I guess we all love different things. I love wooden things, and I once did love to maintain my wooden sailboat. Fiberglass is the same kind of cop out as plastic bags are. Plastic bags, remember, were only created as a way to create an industry which would support better profits for the very lucrative automobile industry for whom the useful stuff was otherwise just too expensive.

The lie that we've been sold is some version of maintenance-free. But no fiberglass boat - ever! - has outlasted a well-maintained wooden boat. And those disintegrated as gracefully as a body might.

That kind of industrial process - please appreciate the freebies that I offer you and please don't notice how they concentrate wealth away from you to the extent that you appreciate them - is identical to systemic racism. They are the same thing. You must deny that you are doing anything wrong to accept something that is offered to you freely, whether white privilege or plastic bags or Google search. If you can ignore the fact that these things are offered freely, then you are, by definition, an owner. You are a slaver. You suck.

So everyone sucks but me and I cancel you and then suck myself up my tuba and be gone. How cool is that?

Saturday, September 5, 2020

Hard Fail; Accident

Pondering Elon Musk's playful idiocy, as he expends the resources only he can have to realize childish SciFi fantasies, I must return to the ground of accident that is the only ground that counts. Just like the electrical ground that I struggle truly to understand before I undertake the tough stuff on This Old House on which I labor. Accident is the only safe constant.

Elon is Trump's twin as he leads us down the road away from accident. Those who suffer accident are, in Trump's terms "losers." He is, of course, quite correct in that. His mistake is to consider himself beyond the reach of accident. As do all of us who remain alive, his evidence is that he hasn't really suffered many. Accidents, that is. Or at least, apparently, he hasn't suffered enough of them. A winner like him can only be the Fool.

The accident ratio, of course, leaves a person far better off if he is white and rich, which is itself demonstrably goad to idiocy; the idiocy of self-congratulation for one's superior merit. Narcissism by any other name.

But the Trumpsters are onto something. They embrace accident, especially the sorts of accident most likely to emerge from the barrel of a gun or the carbureted or electronically fuel-injected barrel of an internal combustion explosion-containment chamber. 

Now Ol' Elon champions the electrical kind of motive power, just as he seems to imagine that the brain is a complexly wired container for our selfie-self. Perish the notion! The ground for all of us is accident, and the future is precisely that which we can neither project nor imagine because it always overtake us by surprise.

As we work to protect our selfie-selves, or to deny reality - take your pick - during this pandemic, our selfish genes are surely doing their own thing by managing to persist. The choices are among cucarachas, viruses, and perhaps still for just a moment longer whatever it is that could be meant by 'human.' 

If Trump suffers - heaven forfend - some unfortunate debilitating accident (prior to his ultimate demise, which can surprise nobody who hasn't internalized some fiction of immortality here on earth), that will cause no permanent harm to his ilk. Trump-alikes are apparently as numerous as Republicans now. They are the efficient causes - the 'engines' if you will - of our continued evolution. I suppose we should celebrate them for that. Pardon me while I puke out my guts.

The ground, remember, is accident. Life is an accidental direction away from entropy. It simply cannot be directed. No matter how much intelligence gets mustered, accident will prevail, and life will move the way that life has done for eons, which is, of course, in the direction of love. That's what love means. 

Intelligence is fine when it gets used properly in service to the comfort of our fellow humans. So often it gets used to engineer warfare and the death of those we deem to be on some 'other' team. As Dawkins so reliably demonstrates, those contests are at best only metaphorically related to what happens at the level of life's evolution. To treat them as contests between life and death is to make a categorical error. Genes are always grounded. Contests at any higher level can only cause sparks. Sparks are not alive, though heaven knows they may instigate life from time to time.

Intelligence cannot express love. Intelligence cannot channel love. Intelligence cannot in and of itself provide any basis for merit. Intelligence can only serve love, which it must do on the basis of exquisite balance. Our way of life demonstrates that beauty is the more reliable token for merit. Just ask Trump. 

We have surely crossed a tipping point in service to an excess of wealth that is more grotesque than whatever the First Emperor of the Chin Dynasty arrogated in attempt to obviate his mortality. Now there's a loser's game! 

Well over half of my stored energy for retirement is held on my behalf in hazardous bets - they call them equities - about the future of our economy as presently construed. Now that interest rates have descended to near zero, cash is a fool's reserve, though I can only try to enjoy the sport of my future being whipsawed by the stock market. 

Still, it's only half. Right? None of us is more than half right. But the amounts that evaporate in any given instant are stunningly beyond what I might need to live on during any given day. And I'm talking a mere multiple of three of my life-time's highest annual salary, which is right about at the median of income where I live, which is no place you'd aspire to. You do the math. I'm in the 50 percent, though - mostly by virtue of whiteness - I am immersed in the social capital of the one percenters.

I try really hardly to share my wealth in ways that don't lead to my being a burden on my progeny. For some reason, I just hate to work for the man, but I also have to admit that I hate that a little less than I would hate to be the man. It's a tough balance lots of the time. 

So, I give away my labor freely, now that I'm too old to work. Ironically enough, the labor I give away is precisely the sort that underlies the presumption of the need for a retirement battery. My donations are mostly physical, aided by tools. The logic is not linguistic logic. I make bad mistakes if and when my 'mind' is clouded by emotional charge. I have to love and to focus on the object that I'm fashioning. Mostly by hand. Without distraction.

How very ironic that labor with and by means of my body feels less painful than laboring with and by and through language! Both sorts deteriorate badly, though in some sense I am doing my very best work now. I am more motivated, apparently, to handle the more literal tools. My mind and my body have become one. Thanks God for that! I have some sense that I once did lack. I hope.

I do now actually prefer an electric bicycle. Go figure! I hope never to drive a Tesla, praying for streetcars in their place. Apple's so-called AI battery management really sucks. The batteries in my little mobile house are dying as we speak. I'm winding down myself. 

I labor for love, despite the evident fact that my motive undermines any and all appreciation for what it is that I provide. That is an unfortunate accidental side-effect of the sort of rampant unregulated capitalism that we still practice in these United States. Troglodytes!

What sort of fool am I? I am a fool for love. So is Trump, but his definition for love has a very low denominator. I think Biden may be my kind of fool. There are plenty of people whose work I admire that I can't really much agree with much of the time. That's OK. I love them anyhow. 

At my age, I'm less afraid to fail, and I guess that's how it should be. I must nurture my genes which are now contained in my progeny, right? They are my betters, though I wish they'd take more of my advice about what would be good for the planet. Electric better. Trolleys better. Cars bad. Diversity better. Race bad. Winning is not possible in love. Only losing. Love must be tested to be true. Intelligence is no foil. Alone and bitter in touch with truthiness and an audience of one. Time to get to work!

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Hard Irony

I've been declaring for a while now that 'my religion is irony, or something to that effect. I've felt hugely tentative about my usage of the term, especially as nobody seems able to help me out. I've tried David Foster Wallace, I've tried the dictionary, of course, and I've posted about my pet theory that irony exists only in Goddist cultures. 

To broaden that, I'd say that irony exists in cultures descended from Platonic philosophies. You have to inherit some kind of belief in absolute, sort-of preordained universal truthiness in order to spin off that into irony. Otherwise, irony is no different from Yin/Yang, say, and certainly nothing very funny about it. 

Well, my supremely well-read son-in-law wondered if I was referring to Richard Rorty's usage of irony. Now, I'm no troglodyte, and I have read Rorty, but if I could do attributions perhaps I'd be a scholar like my son-in-law is. My mind doesn't seem to work that way. Call it a cataloguing weakness. Or call it a failure in belief that anything even close to universal can be trued. If I believe in anything, I believe in (non-Goddist!) love. Love cannot be trued, but it sure can be tested. Stop testing and it disappears.

So, I Wikipediaed Rorty and finally feel comfortable with my usage, which is pretty much identical to his. Of course that gives me no particular credibility, especially as I don't have any way really to know where Rorty stands in the pantheon of philosophers.

But from my own history I draw a chain of analogs and feel confident in my deduction that there is no more chauvinistic stance than the one which might be built upon theories of general intelligence. These, of course, descend from definitions for humanity, which Rorty calls out as the bedrock for denigration of "others" (of whatever stripe). 

Just now, at this moment in our history, we are in the mindless thrall of a definition for intelligence as a kind of logical acuity, which really means that the most perfect mind would be a machine, on the cybernetic model of a computer. For me, nothing could be more silly. But perhaps we've always construed something like 'intelligence' as the defining feature of humanity. Or at least we make attempts to generalize what it is we value most; only lately calling it intelligence.

Cybernetics (I doubt that I'm using the correct term here) reverses the human-as-evolution's-apotheosis trope to reduce us to being but the product of our own projections. My image is from the yellow submarine where the tuba player sucks himself into oblivion. (I can't find that image now, so maybe I'm inventing it, though I swear I remember it through a cannabinoid fog)

As you know, gentle reader, I've recently re-read Dawkins on the selfish gene. I find sparks of divinity there, ironically enough. While he demolishes genetic pressure at the social level, he does seem to rehabilitate the notion of humanity as apex critter; ideal vehicle for selfish gene survival. That's because we're such generalists, and can use something like intelligence to get past most any environmental challenge, given world enough and time. We make clothes, we make houses, we make tools.

But it's precisely at the social level that we're killing not just ourselves, but the entire planet. Well, but for the cucarachas, right Wall-E? Our selfish genes must be jumping right out of our skin!

As I write, ol' Elon Musk is showing off his brain-reading technology, as though that might make human life better or more satisfying, and as if that is less terrifying than the Artificial Intelligence that Elon is so terrified of. Somehow this brain-reading tech is more human??? Is it only about keeping us in charge? I don't hardly ever like those who are in charge . . .

Well, you also know that I've discovered Riccardo Manzotti's theory of the Spread Mind, which pretty much blows any notion that the brain contains us right out of the water. So reading minds, I have to confess, looks to me like a fools' game if ever there were one. You'd end up by ignoring the person you actually do know in favor of a meter reading, even from within what you think of as the self you know.

Let's face it, bro, none of us knows ourselves as well as those who love us do. If they really love us, they'll tell us where to get off.

Or in other words, there's no escaping life, and life is about evolution which is about replicators (genes) finding ways to replicate themselves reliably, which is all about adapting to environments, which is what we are setting about destroying.

That won't matter a whole lot, will it? I mean we do live as though we were the lowest rather than the highest creatures, where struggling means for a bigger flatscreen in a bigger house as far from our burgeoning landfills and poor, dangerous, neighborhoods as possible. That doesn't really feel like life at all. Neither does watching commuters ram out of town in cars, from the perch of my new e-bike.

Still and all, if evolution must truly be located at the level of the "selfish" gene and no higher than that, it does seem that society as analog to the multi-tenanted (human, say) body must make a difference to the chances for those apex genes. That's "apex" even though many of them go right on back to the cucarachas and beyond the very beginning.

At the level of society, one would hope and even imagine that a viral insult on the scale of Trump would inure the body politic to his dangers and evolve itself into something that's better proof against the disease germ's destructive powers. I guess that even viral DNA is built into us. So build in Trump in antibody form.

What seems to stop us is that our addictive selves are still having too much raw fun treating politics as a spectator team sport. We get to belong easily to people we get along with, part of which seems to involve vilifying some 'other.' The degree of sell-out among Republicans now does not bode well for the future of the US's experiment with democracy. But adapting or adopting team Blue just deepens the trouble. It's not like they're (we're?) clean.

Now my brilliant son-in-law writes about 'cosmopolitan constitutionalism,' which as I understand it purports to begin the narrative of a post-national form of governance which avoids the problem of othering difference. The trouble is that said son-in-law behaves as though he is the exemplar of tippy top general intelligence, and that his deeply learned methods for philosophical inquiry can deal with any and all manner of truthiness. My exhibit "A" is always something like practical car mechanics, which is far beyond the pale of philosophy to learn.

Irony resonates for me when someone crosses over to the imperialism of white UN Land Rovers coming to fix some backward culture. I end up preferring the absence of irony now on display in Africa by the highly culturally chauvinistic Chinese. I shouldn't, but I do. I just like too many Chinese. Just now I dislike my own type. I'm sure I'll get over it.

So, if you're not going to denigrate and belittle people who don't quite think and write the way that you do by purporting to lift them up by your brilliance, what's a thinker, or a doer even, to do? So many Trumpsters seem perfectly kind to me, and likeable. I don't want to psychoanalyze what's wrong with their thinking any more than I want to psychoanalyze my son-in-law for why he must mistrust my judgement as his patron, laboring on this very very old house that they wanted my help with. But it's really hard not to.

My conclusion is that it just won't help. Trumpsters 'believe in' their world view, I suppose because it gets reinforced by their buddies. They don't trust their pretentious "betters" among the political elite, and really why should they? Do you? How, really, does any politician stay 'true' during the process of sausage-making?

How does one avoid condescension? The one you're looking down upon will feel it immediately, unless you've already enslaved them to your evident whitewashed brilliance. So the answer is that you have to like them. You have to learn to like them. You have to give a shit enough to live among those you would help. Ah, but the trappings of wealth are so attractive. There's the rub.

Well, I'd better get back to work. I'm slaving for love of my children who live so much better than I do, or ever could, which somehow gives the right to denigrate my form of knowledge, as though I didn't have their best interests at heart. There truly is no justice! There is only evolution, ironically enough.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Hard AI

This will be difficult to write. I turned 65 yesterday, and my daughters, having my number, gave me a bottle of bourbon (the kind I can never afford, Maker's Mark, which is oh so good) and a really nice cigar between them. Of course I thanked them by making both my medical proxy. Mostly it will be difficult because I will be punching so high above my weight.

Like most of us, I've been wrenching my mind around trying to get some little sense about how people can actually support Trump. I read an article recently (where oh where was it, dear cognition) written by a daughter describing her difficulties with herTrumpster Dad. At one point his Dad confessed that his daughter was likely right about it all, but that he, the Dad, could never think it all through that way, and the Trumpster truisms just came easier to him. Hey, I found the article!

Then this morning, in my aged-out fog, there was this mention of a new AI engine. That's not what the experts call it. They call it a language model, and I guess it's a huge step forward toward the concoction of a machine-built general intelligence. Or so some seem to think. It's trick is to create elaborate tracts which are difficult to distinguish (sometimes) from human-written language. It starts with scant cues and then constructs some narrative, perhaps based on the writings available by Internet of whomever it imitates. 

Of course, I have maintained for some long time that we humans have been turning ourselves into machines. (I always have a hard time linking to my own writings, but it's in there, up here) I've also speculated (whether out loud or in writing, I can't remember just now) that the Trumpsters just like to hear what they feel they already understand, but which they feel they get in trouble for saying out loud in the wrong company.

It has always been built in to the American model of government that we could get (and often have gotten) a narcissistic buffoon for president. The trouble is that this time the one in office doesn't even feel the need to play the part of president. More likely, he feels the need not to which was P.T. Barnum's trick as well. The role has been that debased. 

In my assessment, it's the advent of first, mass-media (let's say it started with TV and Kennedy/Nixon for this argument) now accelerated by video-enhanced Internet, which has pushed our model to its logical end. We're almost guaranteed to get a Trump in there eventually, or perhaps even all the time now.

First up among the philosophers called on to comment on this new language model for AI is David Chalmers, who is often referenced as the top consciousness dude out there. In my recent reading, I have come across a theory of consciousness which is nearly diametrically opposed to Chalmers approach. Riccardo Manzotti calls his model the Spread Mind.

The spread mind can't be modelled by machine, and the brain is not the seat of consciousness. Manzotti starts by saying (shouting, really) that there are no images in the mind. The images are in the world, and our experiences are related back to us as memories by a kind of neurological delay-tactic. I've checked my read with the author himself and I get him, apparently, mostly right.

I think I come off too cranky and home-schooled to engage him beyond brief correspondence. This is, after all, his life's work and there are many more important thinkers close to his field. 

What I would like to urge him to do is to include emotion in his model. He and Chalmers both seem to consider emotion as a secondary quality of consciousness. Manzotti notes that he hardly mentions emotion, which is indeed true, and that he doesn't know much about it except that it must be "out there" among the perceptual reality of his spread mind.

Like all scientists, I would say by definition, he can't admit subjectivity to his reality, even though Manzotti makes a valiant effort. Indeed part of the burden of his theory is to dissolve the subject-object distinction. It's not just that our mind is built on our perceptions, but that those percepts constitute our mind. The supposed images in our mind are actual things out there in the world about us, and we could no more upload our mind into a machine (no matter how complex the machine) than we could give our twin sibling our exact experience of the world, though the differences may be subtle to that precise extent. 

So, the trouble for Trumpsters is that they see those of us on the elite side of the language game as truly believing that we have come closer to some truth than we could possibly have gotten. We are, in other words, hoist by our own petard. By and large we think that belief in God is for silly losers, that gay sex is just as normal as hetero, and that we can rise above racism by thinking hard about it. Implicitly, we believe that by following our model for cognition we can eventually arrive at the one correct answer to all conundra.

As a channeler of the common mind (no deep reading or even viewing required), Trump affirms the sense of reality of the great unwashed masses (though even they are growing alarmed at the chaos unleashed once we got hit by pandemic). The answers have grown too erratic even for the die-hards, I'm happy to observe. But the unsolved problems remains unsolved.

In part, it's easy to see the role of media here. No matter how much we try to distinguish ourselves - be authentic - by our instagram posts, we're mostly in-formed by the same stuff blasted now all over the globe. Nearly everything that could be is captured digitally, moving or still, sound or just fury. The important stuff inevitably becomes both invisible and secondary. The felt and touched love, for instance.

I'm happy to observe that Manzotti agrees with me that cognition is too slow for survival purposes, and that it's the emotive centers of our mind (not of our brain, although I find it useful to locate them there in the brain stem, which is already present in reptiles) which make the important decisions. Those happen to be the very centers to which media panders, left, right and center. Everyone clamors for our attention, and sometimes it might as well be the machine doing the writing, since we really can't tell the difference.

Trump knows, of course, that any mention props him up, and he especially cranks up the so-called Main Stream Media (the "fake news") which can't resist how easy it is for them to get clicks and reads by mentioning yet another Trump atrocity. In simple terms, the man must be important for how often he gets tagged (meaning how often his tag gets used).

So yes, I'm saying that all of us are artificially intelligent, no matter how much or what quality of stuff we read or otherwise digest. We are artificially intelligent to the extent that we divide ourselves from our actual mind by internalizing complex texts in place of actual experience. Of course I'm including film as text in this usage. Metaphor abounds.

Manzotti seems to think that our emotions are out there among our perceptions, while I am urging that our emotions are out there in the same literal sense those things that we perceive are always out there and never in our brains. Emotion, in other words is a part of reality and not apart from it. It is as real as percepts, but is composed instead of conceptual relations among objects, of which we are one ourselves.

Our one-ness is, of course, just a colony of aliens, most of which don't even share our DNA. In our quest for insta-authenticity, we are questing after the impossible - that we should be distinguished from every other of our  acquaintance. We are, instead, composed of all those others, and perhaps especially those we can't know because they speak some alien tongue or have a different culture, perhaps encoded by dress or skin color. 

In this sense American exceptionalism can only be ironic. If we are exceptional, that is precisely because we have admitted so many nationalities to within our borders. And this all - our NOW - becomes our adolescent identity crisis. 

Of course the pandemic divides us each from other. Doh!

The flaw is not with Trump. The flaw is with how we define what is human. We have been mistaken for a very very long time. It's not our general intelligence which distinguishes us as human. It is our caring. Read closely, and you will be able to tell which is the machine writing. It's hardly ever the stuff that's mostly wrong in the particulars.


Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Roy Cohn, and Why Things Might be Getting Better

There is so much out there just now about Roy Cohn. I watched a documentary about Studio 54, and there are several about Cohn himself, and of course the main reason we're hearing about him is because of Donald Trump.

You watch - or I should say I watch - some of these things and you realize that there is a different world out there, to which you and I don't and likely can't belong. Well, in my case, I seem to have glancing connections to all these things. But let's take a look at some of the untold reasons about belonging.

I can say with some confidence that there is nothing in the lifestyles of the glamorous that I envy or wish I had. Sure, for moments at a time, we can all relate to how nice the comforts of money and friends in high places would feel, but I think we also know the cost to true friendship which comes along with the shallow sycophantic connections that those in Roy Cohn's universe seem to "enjoy." 

I've had good friends tell me that I don't know what I'm talking about when I disparage easy money and casual sex, say, and I politely bite my tongue in return. I'm sure that I don't know what I'm talking about. But I would like to spin out a simple political theory - theory of politics - here; one on which I base a good deal of hope. 

Maybe I'm even agreeing with Steven Pinker when he claims on the basis of statistical analyses that history is tending toward the good and fair and away from carnage and feudalism. That's even despite his palling around with the likes of Jeffrey Epstein. 

But even Obama likes the good life a little bit too much for my tastes. When he gets on the horn now about what's the right thing to do, he sounds just a little too preoccupied with his own pleasant life to have invested a whole lot of time or passion into his somewhat languid words. 

So I've been excited by Riccardo Manzotti's Spread Mind theories about consciousness. I confess that I'm excited at least in part because his thinking conforms so much of my own thinking. It relaxes me to think that there's someone else out there to take on at least part of the burden I feel.

I know a few things about myself, if never enough to make such knowledge useful. I know that I'm no expert at anything, but I want to declare that I am that way on purpose. I don't want to limit myself to some particular discipline. That has never been my decision ahead of time, but rather just the inevitable result of how things have unfolded. There's no sense fighting against your fate, kind of thing. 

I own a tidy collection of the Chinese classics in Chinese. When I was a student in New Haven and owned a car, I would often travel to Chinatown in New York City, and visit the bookstores there, as well as a few dumpling houses. I knew how to get onto Manhattan (I'd lived there for a while during one of many stoppings-out from school) without paying tolls (imagine that!) and where to park for free. Shy about restaurants, I still managed to find my favorites.

Chinese books were pulpy and cheap, but I knew something about the good editions and the good publishers. In those days every book store included collections of the classics, as they did in Toronto's Chinatown, which I would visit in the same way after I'd started to teach in Buffalo.

I think these bookstores have gone the way of all things. In any case, Chinatown, Toronto, has mostly dissolved into the suburbs as families assimilate and move up. Not quite so dissolved as Chinatown, LA, but in the same direction.

So for instance, reading an article on Zocalo Public Square by a fellow who just published a book on Hannah Arendt, and then probing around to see what the films about her are, to which he adverted, I find this wonderful definition she attributes to Walter Benjamin in a lecture she gave in 1968 which is available on film. I look forward to watching it. Here's from the IMDB blurb:
Arendt notes the importance of German-Jewish literature in Benjamin's work, insisting that "without being a poet, he thought poetically. For him the metaphor was the greatest gift of language, because it transforms the invisible into the sensual." 
As I have written about often enough, I struggle with what figures of speech do. I've contrasted the Chinese literary couplet with the metaphor of the West, likening metaphor to a reach for whatever is beyond words; a kind of pointing beyond what can be described. 

But now I see that I was too obsessed with Platonism, as though ideals and "ideas" were beyond description, which they clearly aren't. Indeed, words are best at describing the ideal world and worst at describing the real. 

I've also related metaphor to relating the primary bodily experiences and parts to things that are "like" them, which moves more toward what Arendt says Benjamin is getting at. But how much more trenchant and beautiful is 'metaphor [as a] gift [which ] transforms the invisible into the sensual." Things beyond words being turned physical, as though felt; as though perceived. 

So I offer this definition for political action that moves in the right direction. It relates to agency extended from the individual to society, where agency must serve the public good. An individual may relinquish agency when there is the perception that by doing so that individual will remain better off; safer. 

The good news is that we have nearly erased all and any reason for people to feel that way. The authority of science has been debased by the commercial uses to which it is put, along with the profit-straightjacked terms for research, especially facing COVID-19.

It hardly needs telling how debased politics has become. I'm here to provide the good news; that when trust in authority is undermined, that also means that there is less likelihood that anyone will just follow authority off to war. Even though war making is as advanced as anything else about our destructive ways for living on the planet; even though, that is to say, there need not be so many casualties for the super-powered aggressors, it may be that there is no longer the political will for warfare.

So back to Arendt and what politics is. I believe that humans have started to rejoin the living, which would mean to move away from notions of God-given dominion over earth and its creatures. Just as in the processes of evolution where consciousness and cognition have served to generalize humans ability to survive and even to thrive across a wealth of environmental niches or habitats, society now must evolve to allow and encourage the fullest agency for individuals. 

Robbing any individual of agency, as by rape, by imprisonment, by racism, or by wage slavery is only possible, in the end, when that individual feels that to submit is the better choice. We are watching the dissolution of submission right before our eyes. 

Our economic arrangements would have us believe that wealth equates to agency, and that wealth should be celebrated, even as the poor (the black) must remain patient for their turn. But the sort of agency that I refer to is far more basic than that. As I mean it, agency relates to dignity, that thing which Roy Cohn and his ilk all lack. 

Friday, June 19, 2020

A Dream of the Good Old Days Before Juneteenth was a Holiday

Just now, like many of us, I'm holding my breath that Agent Orange won't carry on to drop his COVID nukes in Tulsa. The day after Juneteenth. We celebrate today, for tomorrow we may die. I wish all my black sibs the happiest of Juneteenths, the newest Federal holiday!

I'm also trying just now to restart my entire read-through in Chinese of the Dream of the Red Chamber. This is a book which many Chinese count as their North Star for what it means to be human on the planet. I remember thinking that as well. Like reading Tolstoy, I don't quite remember why. I only know that it changed me.

And I remember very well driving out to Madison, Wisconsin as a grad student of classical Chinese literature. I was going to attend the first-ever international conference on "Redology." That's the term for academic study of this singular Chinese novel. 

Along the way, I dropped off my friend at the University of Iowa where he was attending the renowned writing program. His father, Parker Po-fei Huang, a well-known poet among Chinese, and a low-ranked but highly esteemed "native informant" at Yale, where language instructors were not professors - his father had told my friend that he had no business writing; he hadn't truly lived. I could relate. My own father was stern that way too. 

But we all loved Professor Huang. I guess we all have our less good sides. 

I was allowed to sit in on a class. I don't remember the notorious tear-down masculine ethos that got the program so many celebrated and mostly male authors. I do remember wistfully feeling that I was not of that crowd.

How well I also remember driving north to arrive at the beautiful campus on Lake Mendota at Madison. It was summer, and the coeds (code for women in those days) were sunning themselves on the grass all over campus. A northern and wooded grassy California beach. I was somehow shocked. Never had I seen so much brazen skin. This was not my conception of what 'midwest' means. Not my crowd either, for sure!

The opening reception was held on the panoramic top floor of a circular tower. All the younger westerners were glued to the windows, gazing out over the beautiful campus to hide our social awkwardness. Very few of us were expected, after all, to have some bit of expressive performance queued up for presentation on demand, as all Chinese are. All the senior Chinese scholars were looking inward toward friends, and new acquaintances they had already mostly read. 

In the buffet line for dinner I chatted with David Hawkes, the premier English-language translator of The Dream of the Red Chamber, or as he properly called it, The Story of the Stone. All of us were waiting with 'bated breath for his completion of this life's work. I was a bit star-struck. I chatted up a different professor who was into using computer technology to analyze classical Chinese literature (he confessed that he couldn't really read it himself). That was according to the dictates of the structuralism which was then in vogue. The science of literature. Looking for stable patterns across works. 

But what I wish to write about today is our economy. I'm old enough to remember the 'good old days' when the local hardware store was manned by knowledgeable clerks who raised families on their salaries. Our store stocked everything from model airplane engines to lawnmowers, and all the parts and tools in between.

Milk was delivered in heavy refillable bottles then, and Grandma would sometimes send one of the kids down to the ice cream store with a crock, reminding us to have them pack it tightly so that it wouldn't melt along the walk home. 

Now I buy things from Amazon, and watch the prices creep up to cover the free shipping, while the quality seems increasingly indifferent. Caveat emptor and read the editorial reviews. That old hardware store would never tarnish its good name the way that Walmart always does, or Home Depot, or Amazon, by allowing shoddy goods along their shelves. They couldn't afford to. What happens when all the minimum-age hardware helpers age out?

My friend, a structuralist himself, and brilliant professor of Chinese met us at the conference. He took me - well, I took him since he didn't drive - to visit his old college friend who lived just north of Madison. This was a talented young man who'd forsaken an academic life to start a business. 

He had designed a refined set of mountain climbing chocks, and had set up a very high-tech and sophisticated manufacturing process which he explained to me in detail. The process ended up with nicely anodized pieces which were color-coded for size and usage. They felt wonderful in the hand, and apparently - by virtue of angles, metallic composition and surface treatment - held wonderfully in the field. 

Again, who knows what such a business was doing in Wisconsin, but he enjoyed showing me all the steps, partly because I understood them, and likely mostly because I was so googly-eyed. I especially appreciated the step where the nearly finished pieces were blasted with glass beads to provide golf-ballish micro-divots.

Speaking of which, I've only swung a golf club once in my life, and that time the ball went exactly where I was aiming it, to my absolute horror. It sailed right across the neighbor's long back yard, across the street and over the next lawn right into the "picture window" of the hardware store owner who lived around the corner. This is a sin from which I shall never recover. It taught me to always fess up (which I didn't do that time). I was a natural Zen archer, I guess, as I remember the magnetic pull of window to ball. 

It definitely wasn't my doing, although come to think of it I got three bulls eyes the first time I held a bow and arrow and the first time I fired a .22 rifle. I should have known better. But then I was never able to repeat those feats. Story of my life. 

Anyhow this wonderful climbing hardware manufactory was set to go out of business before it even sold its first chock (I received a bag of them as souvenirs). The poor fellow hadn't realized that even the niche sport of climbing was controlled by the one large manufacturer who determined which products could be stocked on pain of withholding all the others. This was just when even sporting goods stores were turning Big Box, and before distribution channels got disrupted. 

Just as is now the case with movie theaters, R.I.P., it doesn't matter how good the product is if you can't get it on the shelf at eyeball level. Money changes hands, as I learned later in the beer retailing business. Smaller brands have got to cheat to win: You have to brazenly follow the big boys and swap the shelves when no-one's looking.

I hadn't heard of WalMart or maybe it hadn't gotten started yet, but I did get an education from that young entrepreneur near Madison about how "Wall Street Money" will pay to overstock shelves with goods sold at a loss for the sole purpose of forcing competitors out of business. I also learned that such practices were illegal in Germany, say, among other countries. 

Some long time later, circumnavigating the continent in all innocence on my little Harley, I happened into Bentonville, Arkansas, where I took a break in front of what looked like the old five and dime hardware store I grew up with. 

Inside, a very nice old man who looked the part gave me a kind of personal tour. It was a museum disguised as a store. I knew something was amiss when I saw a photo of Gerald Ford shaking Sam Walton's hand. Sam would get the Presidential Medal of Freedom later from George H.W. The same medal that Rush Limbaugh just got.

So we give out medals to those who destroy the very fabric of our society now?? People on Wall Street - investors - make a bet on what will be the next blockbuster. But it's really not a bet. It's a sure deal that an entire industry will be disrupted, which means destroyed, by predatory marketing practices. Along with the industry go unions, local ownership, and knowledge of the sort built up over years of purchasing decisions and getting to know the people. 

Gone now as the cost of doing business is so much else that we once did value. Local eateries. Doctors who make house calls. Packaging that isn't killing the planet. Short hauls from farm to table. Local craft beer. You know, the stuff that's coming back, if you're white and well off. At least we got the wholesalers out of the way. Hmmmm. 

Frankly I think black lives have gotten more and more marginal during my lifetime. Our celebrated progress with civil rights hasn't translated into main street lives simply because those aren't the kinds of businesses that we value anymore. 

When things are created digitally - where there is no marginal cost for each additional widget - mountains of investment will be piled into whoever gets the most eyeballs. The losses equal the mountains upside down until the existing players are fully destroyed to leave a sole monopolist. The monopolist is never guilty of the syndicate-style behaviors which anti-trust regulations were designed for. 

These are all nice and mostly white and mostly male youngsters who want to hit it big. Well sure, sometimes they cut corners and act ruthless. Young blonde women beware. Anyhow, the consumers fall like flies in their belief in falling prices. Those falling prices are themselves a temporary illusion, but life is short. 

And it's not as though Google is providing their services for free! Read Surveillance Capitalism, please! We are not the product. Our behaviors are. We all work for the Man for free now. Click to agree, and Yahoo!!

Eyeballs or ears, it's an easy bet that Rush Limbaugh or Howard Stern will get most of them. Pornography powered the Internet. Any hit to our most basic emotional plexus. And this is how we want to engineer our future? Well, I guess it is, now, isn't it?

Plastics, Benjamin, plastics.

You have to imagine a world without plastics to imagine a sustainable future. That's a fact. It's hard, but not impossible, to do. Wooden boats are more fun to own than the plastic sort. And they last longer. But you have to enjoy the actual work to own one. You don't need toxic paints - water based or oil - when you can use linseed oil and so forth.

Plastic bags were invented as a way to support the industry which would otherwise have been too expensive for the car companies. That's a fact. Black lives keep getting reinvented downward from slavery to jail (Watch 13th please!) so that we can have our capitalism and eat it too.

This is no way to live, people. We have to bring our economy back down to earth, and use the digital stuff to compute optimal infrastructures according to the data from our now fully instrumented planet. Sure, we need to have the entertainment side - the plastic baggies - to support that overhead, but it's already a done deal.  We just have it all upside down and backwards again is all.

Digital and plastics are fine in small quantities, so long as we pay up front for all their externalities. Short of that, bakelite is pretty good. Natural rubber and steel. Stuff that requires skilled workers to maintain. Writing on paper.

We will always require good writers. My apologies. I can fix a lot of things, but I don't seem to be able to fix my writing. Sorry!


Monday, June 15, 2020

COVID-19 Was Started by a Pun!

I don't do puns. It's a brain-wiring thing. My brother in law can't help himself from punning. It's amusing until it becomes annoying, like anything that hides behind a front of 'I just can't help it.'

Much behavior in China derives from the punning which seems to descend from the way the written language constrains the number of phonemes to something like an order of magnitude fewer than are available to speakers of English. 

I know that it's linguistic dogma that the written language doesn't infect the spoken, but there you go. Mandarin is pretty much a concocted language, and it has a perfect one-to-one correspondence with written vernacular Chinese. That was never true for all the languages which used the Chinese writing system. In practice, that meant that literacy was reserved for those who understood and could use a written language that diverged from their native tongue. That was the case in the West as well, before we started writing in the vernacular. 

I digress. 

In my observation, there is a stunning increase in visits to traditionally Chinese temples in China. I don't think the particular variety of temple matters, but there is a very familiar pattern to what goes on. Incense is lit, bows are made with clasped prayerful hands, and names may be written on elaborate tokens. The prayers are for wealth and happiness.

On the trunks of many of the cars which circulate in China is fixed a chrome gecko. It puns with "avoiding misfortune" or avoiding an accident. It's pretty much the same as those St. Rose of Lima dash ornaments you see on car dashboards over here.

Now they don't really do God in China, at least not the way we do. Over here, we seem increasingly divided between believers and non-believers, and that is reflected in our increasingly dysfunctional adversarial system for achieving truth, justice, and American democracy. I know it's dysfunctional because Richard Dawkins told me how, in evolutionary terms. Of course I'm including on the non-believer side those who say that they believe, but really don't.

This has clearly become insupportably dangerous for the planet.

So, as is my habit, I go looking for what is most general about what is going on. You could call that the lowest common denominator - like punning as a basic form of humor, or, for instance, laughing at public farts; the lowest common denominator for humor in that case, or anti-scientific behaviors in the other. 

The low denominator is that people look for magic intervention in the workings of the world to make things better for themselves. Now in my cosmos, such selfieness is a form of evil. But it is just lowest common denominator enough so that it can be harnessed for many many purposes. For one, it's how our economy works. 

Both our economy and our politics work as though it were a zero-sum game, like football is. Let's make a deal; you lose, I win! It's more like you pay what you think is next to nothing and I claim nearly everything for myself. The religion of going for the lowest price is making lawyers, finance workers, tech titans, and WalMart seriously seriously rich. The rest of us not so much.

Frankly, I think that's why Dawkins' insistence that evolution is about selfish genes and not selfish individuals is so important. In general, that's why science is so important. The scientific method leads us to certain kinds of understanding that really must be believed, no matter what language you speak, or even if you read or write. It undergirds our technology. You may say that you don't believe it - if you're a creationist say - but you don't act that way most of the time.

Anyhow from this cosmically distant frame, it becomes easier to see why Trump has overtaken what was once an ideologically based political proclivity. We should all agree that it's a very bad idea to have a selfie obsessed person in the office of the President. But we don't. That's because about half of us are selfie-obsessed. We think it's the only way to be. We make a religion of it.

I'd say it's about half of each of us as individuals, though, and so it's an internal battle too. Without something like God in our sense of reality, we end up feeling lost. Happiness just doesn't quite cut it as the meaning of life, the universe and everything. But sometimes humor does. Lots of the time, really. Anybody remember George Carlin? He was so cynical about Americans ever sharing an understanding of what's actually real, that he had to reach for dark humor to reach any of us at all. Pretty clever of him, I'd say.

But back to what is really batshit crazy. In Chinese the word for bat can be composed into many many puns for prosperity, long life, and all the good things. Now some Chinese folks will eat ground up rhinoceros horn for virility, because of the obvious horny pun. It only stands to reason that they'll eat bats in one form or another. Girls in China use software to trim their selfie stick photos so that they all look like the ideal. Like Plato came in the back door, pun intended. 

Over here, we know it's our broken immune system which is killing us. But we've got the self-interest thing upside down and backwards. I mean come on now, how is it functional in time of plague to ascribe conspiracy theory style blame to China? What fucking difference does it make? We're killing ourselves here, people, because we really don't know who to trust. We don't act as though we trust the scientists. But why should we? They can be as selfie-motivated as the rest of us. But we should at least trust the science. And elect a president who's instincts are to bring us together with calm authority.

And speaking of selfies, what do you think happens to consciousness when we saturate our senses with pictures of ourselves all trying to look our best as movie stars?

I'll tell you what I think it means. I won't elaborate right here and now, so don't you worry, but consciousness works like this: Your brain does not contain your self. Sure, you destroy your brain and you're dead, but that would also be true if you destroy your heart and lots of other parts. The thing is that there's no artificial replacement for your brain. But your brain is not your self. Your self is all that you experience, and mostly your mind is outside your body. Your proper experiences are identical with the perceptual objects you've experienced. 

Our experience of consciousness has been located in the most primitive regions of the brain. That's the part we share with reptiles, and the seat for our affective response. Believe it or don't but you can destroy your brain's conscious functioning and still experience consciousness. Your affective center just happens to be more efficient at making the right choices when matching present perceptions to past experience. Generalizations about, say, a lion, are matched against a real lion right in front of you and you just run before you can even think about it. Even a reptile does that. Feelings come before thinking. Duh!

You don't impute malevolent intent to the lion unless you're telling stories. You just simply know what the lion will do to you. Now is not the time to be telling stories about who's at fault or who has malevolent intentions. Now is the time to get real about who has your best interests in mind. We can work out our differences later, but no, I won't be talked out of believing in the fact of evolution. 

I also won't ever eat a bat or a rhinoceros horn in any form, unless I'm tricked into it by a practitioner of fake Chinese medicine. No, I don't mean that Chinese medicine is fake, but some of it is when it relies on puns. Like "signatures" for our folk healers. Life is never so simple. Wouldn't it be just grand if it were??

So giving vent to selfiness is never a good idea. It's of a piece with racism, xenophobia, gender binary bigotry, and all other forms of self-indulgence which might rest on false beliefs in idols. Especially when that idol is your selfie self.

But I don't know if we who are on the right side of things (which would be the left, unless you're sinister) should be so intent on doing away with belief in something bigger than mankind. So long as it's not a personal God, and so long as it's not science in service to the economy. Heck so long as the God you believe in isn't just there as some kind of insurance policy which is written in your name, I can't see any harm to it. So long as it doesn't interfere with science, and so long as it doesn't pretend to give you some advantage.

I suppose I'm making a distinction without a difference, but I do have a hard time believing in any God or scientific truth which is true only for me. That doesn't mean I won't use scientific knowledge to my own advantage. It's a survival tool, most of the time, and we all collectively benefit from it even while we benefit individually. But if I save myself at your expense, we end up at each other's throats.

God used to help with that. Not any more. Neither God nor evolution has ever taken sides. It has never been a zero-sum game, though now we make it one. 


 

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Do The Right Thing With Digital

Let's think of it this way: we can never know ourselves as well as those who love us know us. There are certain kinds of self-knowledge that we really must resist if we are going to maintain our face to the world. The self requires a little varnishing. That's why ad hominem arguments should be expunged from our protestations. There is no better way to hit a brick wall, for the purposes of changing a mind.

I suppose that's why novelists often start with variations on their own lives. Sure I know that the reason I despise FaceBook, apart from its obvious political and organizational guilt, is that I've never felt comfortable on any social scene. People often assume I'm arrogant, perhaps just because I won't join in. As a small child, I would hide to nurse some small hurt, or perhaps just because that's how I felt comfortable. It would take a while before anyone was worried, and still I didn't want to be found out. I'm sure there's medical literature about such behaviors, but I'm not sure that I want to see it.

I'm one of those people about whom glancing acquaintances often say, in a nice way, that I'm trying to find myself. I'm more and more petulant with that. No, thank you, I found myself a long long time ago and now I have work to do. Frankly the whole notion of "finding oneself" has always struck me as a loser from the get go. What could it possibly mean? No wonder the sixties were co-opted by commerce.

I am quite certain that having myriad images, moving and still, and other forms of recording, sound or writing, will almost never allow anyone to know a person better than their friends do, even while you still might know that person better than they do themselves. Sure, it has changed me to see myself on TV, but it hasn't helped me to know myself. I just cringe and look away. Sometimes fascinated as by a train wreck.

Just imagine how unlikely Trump has ever been to know himself, and then just imagine him changing his mind. Why would he? As far as he can tell from his reflection (something he apparently never does) he's on top of the world, and can gather a crowd to his pleasing at any time, even as he warns others who know themselves better never to gather for any other reason. An edited and curated stint on reality TV must really mess with a person's self-image.

I've been trying my whole life to make sense of digital. Now it feels critical. And I still have no way to talk about the dangers of the digital revolution swamping us now. Most people blithely assume that it just another step in the long path of "progress." People seem to believe that, ultimately, this progress is what being alive and human is all about. 

The thing is we don't often agree about progress to what. I would call it progress if we were to preserve those high arts once reserved for the wealthy nobility, but open the doors to the masses of producers and appreciators. I feel like we've made good progress with that, taking a look at hip hop culture. We've done less well with the pleasures of nobility and wealth. Since our culture confuses pleasure with happiness, that part is problematical. 

I've placed up here the actual writing which brought me to an epiphany of sorts when I was a much younger man. My epiphany was rather like what Barbara Ehrenreich describes in her Living With a Wild God. I was trying to make sense of what becomes different in the world through the lense of the Chinese literary tradition, along with what has changed in the world along with the then-new standard model of physics.

One might say that I had two basic insights. The one that tipped me over the edge was by way of the paradoxes introduced by quantum physics and relativistic time-dilation. Now recently with the apparent creation of a stable instance of Bose-Einstein condensate under weightless conditions on the space station, I feel a further boost for my epiphany. But it also would not have been possible without my deep dive into Chinese ways of knowing.

The relevant paradoxes involve such things as Bell's Theorem, quantum entanglement, time dilation, and more. My basic insight is that no object anywhere can be in any kind of basic contact with any other object. Of course everything depends on what is meant by "contact." The real trouble for me and for Ehrenreich is that there is no scientific theory to be disproven by my actual lived experience. There is nothing that one might do with this kind of understanding.

Or, in other words, my insights do nothing for what we call human progress. Agreement with them is not obligatory in relation to any definition for physical reality. Of course I don't really believe that. I believe that these insights make all the difference in the world to our thriving as a world community. But they don't seem to make me any more persuasive in the face of the stubborn recalcitrance demonstrated by that approximately half of our voting population which firmly believes in static and, to me, impossible truths.

So my obligation is as an educator, and indeed I have spent most of my academic life studying education, even while discouraged by actually doing it. As it is for many people who study education, part of my problem is that schooling continues to diverge from education to some terrifying extent. I would be a humble teacher if I had my druthers, but that doesn't seem to have been in the cards for me. I won't go into the reasons here, except to say that my teaching project keeps growing as I grow older. That's what I can't abandon.

I do know myself enough to admit that I arrogate to myself the really big questions. Of course I have no business doing that, but I'm not trying to be in anybody's face. Only once in my life did I ever introduce myself properly as a cosmologist, then quickly demurring that "of course I make my living in other ways." You do hair, then?

Far better to devote one's life to something interesting, like battery technology or gaming. Make a living and be humble. But for the astounding size of transnational conglomerates, and the even more astounding size of a small number of personal fortunes. In no good world would we allow so much power to the likes of Mark Zuckerberg, even though I am grateful to him for introducing me to The Three Body Problem. His spoken Chinese is execrable, by the way. He sounds just like an American technocrat, all descended from Jobs.

The task to deconstruct the current order of things is just too massive. Of course global corporations aren't going to care that Black Lives Matter, but oddly they now seem to. Putting a good face on a corrupt body? Deeper change? Time will tell.

My insights involve the ways in which we are embedded in cosmos and not subject to it as object (I do love English for its tortured ambiguity, meaning, of course, that I love to torture English, even while I know that's not very nice to you, gentle reader . . .). I almost have to work backwards from our mistaken apprehension that computers approximate how our brain might work to get to what is wrong with digital. But that almost always seems to get me nowhere.

So let's start from the other end, shall we? Machines in general and digital machines in particular introduce structures which quite simply don't and can't exist "in nature." Sure, there is a continuum from our skeletal bodies as machines and through our hands to our tools as operators on the world around us, but it is at the inception of digital reality that we, literally now, lose touch. Recognizing patterns which are anomalously regular is how we recognize cognition out in the wild. We spend a lot of money on a SETI array to do precisely that. No dial-twiddling, digital requires only instruction.

In physics, of course, there is no actual touch between objects. Instead there are forces mediated by "particles" which define the interactions not of things, but of clouds of probability. Even our very own bodies can be described by those complex equations, though our accurate placement in any cosmos is hardly problematical at the scale of such huge bodily aggregations of smaller "particles." Our position scintillates, which is probably part of what it means to be alive.

We are working now on quantum computers which attempt to harness quantum entanglement for our next step in crypto. This apparently has nothing to do with breakthroughs in computational theory, but rather with the speed possible for certain types of computation. As I understand it, the speed is in turn a function of the fact that there is no time-delay for the transmission of "information" from one stateful cubit to its partner which is at some distance.

But of course, we are not talking about information so much as we are the definition for what may be considered a single "thing." The distance possible between "entangled" quanta has been experimentally shown to approach infinity. Touch "here" may be felt simultaneously "there." But what in the world does touch mean in that regard? Feeling???? Is there an emotional/physical divide too now? Yes!

I am less than an amateur with these matters. Of course, I would like to know more, but as with post-modern critical theory, there is simply not world enough and time. Each of us planes off at some point to focus on some very local problem that we find ourselves interested in. Well, if we're not black and if we have some social capital mostly. IF you're not forced to be a wage slave.

A cosmologist can't be too picky about what he chooses to study. The meanings could come from most anywhere.

I have been graced by resources not available to most of us, and feel a powerful reciprocal obligation to make something of that grace. But it is hard. I don't have the language to be native in any field. I can't get in the door. And I haven't worked hard enough for 'The Man' to be able to choose to retreat from the fray to just simply enjoy my wonderful life, although I do plenty of that. 

To simply enjoy life seems the most irresponsible choice at the moment in our history, and far worse than all the promise forsaken by my not choosing to embed myself in some one particular field. There are many kinds of regret now, aren't there? It's not that life is awful. We're not coming out of a World War. But it sure does feel like a tipping point.

As far as I know, people continue to search for some magic in the brain, as though it were the brain alone which makes us human. I am much more of a whole body (and whole earth) person. I can't separate any part from the whole. I have described elsewhere how and why I subscribe to Riccardo Manzotti's "Spread Mind" theory of consciousness. For me, it means that we are present in much more of the cosmos than the space displaced by our bodies can describe. The title for his book-form summary is The Spread Mind: Why Consciousness and the World Are One. We are not so separate, one from each other.

So the root of digital evil is that digital reality chops off the connection. Much of what we enact now in our history realizes this chopping off in the form of a very American sort of radical individualism. I don't mean that digital reality is causing radical individualism, though I'm sure that a case could be made for that. I'm suggesting that both trends realize the same underlying misapprehension about who and what we are and what is cosmos.

I speak in radically metaphorical terms in everything that I can say. That's because there terms can only be meant metaphorically. Of course physicists don't really deal with actual particles at the subatomic level, starting with the atom in one direction or the other. There is nothing very particular about anything there. And of course I can make only a metaphorical connection between the literal digital divide I'm talking about here and the other one I want to talk about. But the connection is no less real than subatomic particles are. 

I happen to believe that the American experiment is very much worth preserving. That's not because the radical individual is the way into the future, but because, despite our original sin, we are the only place where the arc of history has even a chance to bend toward the good. This is fundamentally because we are structurally not afraid of knowledge. That is a very good thing, indeed.

We still need to figure out how to decide what to do with the knowledge that we gain.

We are prevented from being a great nation (in moral terms) because of our radical individualism and the peculiar form of rampant capitalism which we've adopted as native. Our brand of capitalism tends toward the same results in relation to the open pursuit of knowledge that various forms of totalitarianism do. Even China's approach is better. In China, they're not so much afraid of knowledge as they are cautious about what can count as knowledge in the short term. My problem is that the short term is much shorter than anyone seems to realize. 

Sure, I'm talking about climate change or pandemics or species and planet extinction, but I'm not talking about what we need to do about those things. I think I'm talking more about what we need to stop doing, and I mean in our systems of knowledge and understanding, not even in our behaviors. Well, that's a chicken/egg kind of problem. The trouble is that we have to figure out how to change our minds collectively. The story of Jesus did that once upon a time. Relativity theory did that too, with a very brief sort of boom.

We've tended in the direction of disparaging mind against digital machine, just because signals along the neurons move so slowly. We confuse our mind with our brain. By our brain? By the way we think!

We can't possibly be as efficient in our rational calculations as a machine can be. Heck, we can't even rationalize the decisions we've already made quickly enough to claim to have made them ourselves, and we somehow think that might be infringing on our precious free will. Guess what, free will takes time. That thing that we're running out of.

Manzotti points out that we're conceptualizing how the brain works in the wrong way. It's not about speed. In fact it's about slowing down perceptual information even to the point of holding that information in a kind of near perpetual cycling so that we can perceive it again in the form of memory. 

I came at this realization myself lo those many years ago, but I was coming at it from the perspective of Chinese literature, which isn't so concerned with the inner person. The patterns on the surfaces are what counts, and of course, we know those we love much better than they know themselves. 

So the brain is a complex series of slowed down cycling messages and intersections. It can be repurposed if there are injuries, and the circuits are largely self-healing even as the neurons wither and die. Sleep perchance and death and dreaming are all essential for this all to work. Too much conscious attention just makes a mess of things. The brain largely wants to be autonomous. The cycling from birth to death is also an over-ordering of the brain until it just simply can't track, much in the way that I can't remember which digital article I read this morning, and no matter how good search is, I'll never find it again. 

Immortality, like literal infinity, would just crowd out every other. Not a good result.

Autonomous machines are different. Make enough racial profiling facial recognizing deadly force drones and we can end the world in a jiffy. Not by killing it off, but by the backlash disruption we've been causing to all those feeling the pain of collateral damage. It's the immune response which does the killing. That's what this moment in history means.

We have all been enabled to socially distance ourselves from trouble to the extent that we've won the lottery jackpot of disrupting someone else's industry. And we have all the right and good ideas as we amuse ourselves up to the point of death, which is inevitable in any case. That's what socially distancing social stratification means, and guess who gets left behind to pay our piper? The ones out in the streets now, being called terrorists by our terrorist in chief.

So, not only do we have to deconstruct and rebuild our policing on the model of Camden, New Jersey, but we have to do the same with our military. We create the terrorists and then, just like Vietnam all over again, they outwit us with their very human ingenuity. The end. 

Of course fascists love technology. It keeps the trains on time, and identifies everyone so that they (we) can be pinched in an instant the moment we cross whatever line they've drawn for us. We in these United States think its fine when it's done commercially, but now it's being done politically, and for sure militarily.

Of course Big Business loves technology. It allows it to grow and grow and then the business itself turns into technology, just like the economy turns into finance and a bunch of gig workers. Producing nothing of any value, no matter how pleasant it might be.

Even still the ubiquitous smartphones make it hard for the powers that be to lie. Except why then does our commander in chief get to lie out loud and often and still have his following? Well, duh, it's because of all those autonomous processes which run our newsrooms. I'm not only talking about how Facebook spoons up its newsfeeds to a level of complexity impossible for any human to keep up with. I'm also talking about the actual newsrooms which profit the same way from whatever grabs eyeballs, and then the aggregators who find out what you like to read by the same algorithms used by Google and Facebook.

How the hell can we even know what truth is? What the truth is? One lie is as good as any other, and so it comes down to the stories we like to tell ourselves. And these are nearly all impervious to being educated out once we call ourselves adults. Trust me, I've tried really hard for most of my life and it can't be done.

So, that's why I dig down to the basics. Particle physics. Quantum reality. Chaos theory. Getting rid of the mind/body subject/object dualisms. That's the only thing that can save us or else we're just not worth saving, sayeth Gaia or what-you-will. We are now in the process of stepping out from nature, and if we keep it up we will have succeeded once and forevermore. We will be as dead as an autonomous robot whose plug got pulled.

What then is the difference between the information being held in mind and the information being held in computer memory? I'm going with Manzotti's definition here for information, which is just the stuff which passes among objects which makes them perceptible. Which means to be in touch. Which means that physical information-carrying signals, in the case of animal minds, impinge on our perceptual apparatus. Which means to feel.

In a computer, or should I say for a computer, the information needs to be digitized which means conceptualized which means a static relation among conceptual objects. Ideal Platonic Numbers, say. Conceptual objects are things held in mind for the purpose of organizing perceptual objects. A kind of literal calculus takes place in and by computational representations of reality where conceptual slices are stacked together to form an approximation of actual fluid non-binary reality. 

Irony be my north star.

As with any mathematical calculus, digital reality can only be a very precise approximation of what is being measured. Again, as Manzotti would have it, there are no images in our heads any more than there are images stored in computer memory. Computers can't see. We can. And no matter how many pixels, the stored image can never be the same as the live one. The live one is felt directly.

Our brains don't store conceptual reality. They store perceptual reality, which is much richer. Since we store concepts so poorly, we must construct a narrative frame to hold them. The narrative frame of science is the best and most durable one that has ever been constructed, but it's showing its age already. It apparently can't overpower the Jesus frame. Both have been expropriated for use by the military industrial complex. We need a new frame!

Bill Gates has built his spaceship here on earth, which is the only place such a life would be viable. I'm sure it's more impregnable than Donald Trump's bunker, even given all the secret service, who might, after all, be carrying some kind of virus. The wealthy everywhere have escaped reality and deploy the police and the military to keep themselves safe. They might as well be on Mars, and good riddance!

Why not? If life is only about happiness and if you only have so much time on earth, then why not make that short time as pleasant as possible? Too bad about the marginal classes and the precariat. We'd love to have them join us for the cost of membership.

The trouble is the carrying cost to the planet though, right? 

In my book, conceptual relations are just as real as perceptual relations are. In place of information to define the relation among objects in motion, I talk of e-motion to describe non-forceful relations among objects in free-fall. Love moves through the eons in the direction of life, while hate moves toward stasis in the direction of the dead. The difference then is between the quick and the dead, and we have been moving toward the dead. 

I want to convince the likes of Bill Gates to live more modestly. The party is down in the engine room in the bowels of the ship and not up where you need black tie. 

My changes are definitional and not scientifically testable. That's a shame, really, because I won't be able to convince anyone by showing them what I'm able to do that couldn't be done before because of some new theoretical understanding which is experimentally demonstrably real. This theory requires a different kind of enactment. The kind we're watching (most of us, stuck off in some safe space in our wombs with a view) playing out right now out in the streets. 

There simply is no army powerful enough to quiet the people. That's what defunding the police state has to mean. To the extent that we hold our smartphones high, we still own the digital reality. We will depopulate our prisons by deconstructing our militarized police force. We will depolarize the world by deconstructing our obsolete notions of armed forces. We will jump back into the fray of nature be reconceptualizing what it means to be human, and we won't have to lose a thing about our humanity to do it. We won't have to become beastly. We won't have to forsake our art and our music and our dance and especially not our food and wine. These are what connect us. These are how we touch the cosmic forces. These are our expressions of love in return for the love which brought us this far.

These are the facts of life, fight them though we think Jesus wants us to do. That's not Jesus talking, that's The Man, and he only wants to grab your pussy. Defund the Church (oh, right, that's already happening), and Jesus will come to life again for real.

Numbers don't exist in nature. Numbers are an abstraction from nature, but it isn't only humans who know how to count. Humans learned how to tabulate, and that was the start of all the trouble. Tabulation led to writing as one thing leads to another and we find ourselves in over our head. We have to get it together, people!

Science can't advance without metrics. Metrics means numbers. Before science government needed metrics. Before government, agriculture needed metrics. But somehow we learned to separate the perceptual world from the world of the subject who was doing the observations and working the metrics to abstract theories which would enable ever more fruitful manipulations of the world around so that the subjects could live and rest more easily. 

But now finally we know that mind cannot be abstracted from matter; it can't be separated. We should be culturally grown up enough to know - woke enough to realize - that there is no personal God who's going to rescue us and take it from here. We should also know that we aren't even close to being equal to the complexity of the natural environment in which we live. Our science has barely gotten started, for chissakes!

Along comes digital reality to accelerate everything and we seem to understand that we're going off the rails. That we have failed morally in our development. Not only have we failed our fellow humans, but we're about to destroy the natural homeostasis that we depend on in the same way that all life depends on it. We're acting as though we can destroy nature with impunity. But nature's destruction is what happens naturally when one tries to order it. When one takes dominion. 

I think we need to rediscover balance.

These separations - heart from mind, subject from object, mind from body - they all enable a disconnect not just from life but from our neighbors. By forcing and enforcing social distancing - by wearing masks and building walls - Covid-19 and the various Donald Trumps of the world call the question; what if we were to join together? What if we were never to profit again from illness? What if we were never to prosecute a deal where someone has to be the loser so that we can win?

Numbers to enhance scientific understanding somehow transmuted into numbers to represent reality. We can't know intimately what we can only see on TV.  We can't have a discussion by texting and tweeting. Nobody even reads a long email anymore. What choice is there but to take to the streets?

Man, I sure do wish I could write more better. Well, not more. You know what I mean, by very definition.




Friday, June 12, 2020

The Really Difficult Conversations

We can't have these conversations from home over the Internet. The teacher-student connection has been terminally disrupted. Not that it wasn't already on its way out. At about the time that the country started really to thrive - after we were the only intact power after the second world war - mass media lubricated the polarization of our cities, even as, politically, we'd begun to fix things.

Black and white distancing has been going on for a long time. 

Perhaps it was because the world seemed so relatively stable to all those GI-Bill-enhanced war returnees, that everyone focused on making their own lives better. We hoped that the rising tide would float all ships, as we all escaped to ever more idyllic suburbs. We didn't know we'd swamp our coastal populations. 

Perhaps that almost excuses the life-tenured political class from turning their attention from serving the people to servicing the power structure. We thought things would always be OK, and that modern industrial progress would solve all problems. Someday to include even racism.

The relative homeostasis of the bipolar political parties is no mistake. It's by design. It's maintained by those institutions which actually run our lives. The Big Businesses. And now they are largely run by kids. That's while the kids who are not in power - as kids generally will - grab for simple certainties on one side or the other of various political and intellectual divides.

As our personal biomes now follow the pattern of our historical process of radical individuation grace social distancing, most of us are afraid even to open our mouths lest we touch off some shit-storm of protest that we spewed the wrong thing. That is even while those in power don't seem to care what they do or say. We wear our masks in many ways, while those refusing to wear masks shout banal abuse.

I feel certain that most of the abusers on the Internet are kids too. And yet they do tweak us.

How is our reality formed, and how do we 'disrupt' it when it turns sour? What if the really bad ideas are the ones which never get questioned, because they are so fundamental that we hardly know that they are there? What if the media and the kids both are just powering our distraction for kicks? Or money.

Lately - and it is really late - I've been introduced to the writing of William Gibson. I'm now in the thick of his Agency, and because he keeps mentioning it, I'm stuck watching the film Inception again, just to find out why I disliked it so much at its inception.

Of course I didn't dislike watching the film - it was gorgeous - but I disliked the base-level understanding of what it means to be human. I'm not through it yet, but I'm hating it all over again. It paints life as something constructed in the mind, and which is depicted as an expansion from inside out.

I'm not really very good at attributions, and so I had no idea that Christopher Nolan, the director of Inception also directed Interstellar, which I rather liked. So, I have to give a pass to authors, working out difficult matters by way of difficult artistic creations. Or do I?

I have to give a pass to Gibson, who is also evidently brilliant. In a way, I like his usage of "stubs" as an experimental way to interrogate history. A stub - an off-branch from history toward an alternate reality - is a lovely fictional device. Gibson constructs passages through time as limited and mediated by information portals, where actors from the future or from the past can revisit alternate pasts (or futures) by way of inhabiting cyborg "peripherals." These are like physical hyper avatars. They work in ways not unlike the dream sequences in the film Inception. Almost like being there! But the fact of contact is the inception of the new branch. He doesn't break the rule that you can't change your own past.

Agency then, is what gets interrogated when someone from the future wants to short-circuit dystopic "stubs," which are just branches off the main (agency embodying) line of history. It seems that certain players - the klepts - like to play out dystopian histories, and it seems that there is some benefit to disrupting those. Of course, the benefit is that the people who inhabit those stubs are real, and therefore so is their suffering. 

That's even though Gibson is not the sort of writer who makes them feel real. At least not as much as less SciFi-ish writers do, IMHO. OK, OK, I'm just in the wrong demographic. Sorry!

But overall, the story as told might be a variation on that awful streaming series Westworld, where the players are enabled to live out cruel fantasies because the humanoids they cosplay with aren't actually human. Those alternate histories aren't ours. They belong to cyborg reality. A dream. And the dreams we'd like to live out aren't, apparently, always nice

I don't know yet, and I certainly don't remember, if the Leonardo DiCaprio character is evil. I know he breaks the law. I get sick of the do anything to be back with wife and kids stuff. Get real!

And I don't know yet what Gibson really means by agency. But both works involve interrogations about the efficacy of changing someone's mind. Does that change history? Can it even be done? If so, how? Certainly not by inhabiting dreams, nor by projecting innocent criminality. Right? 

Doesn't changing minds have to involve some teaching?

So by way of young and genderfluid former women of my relation (pronouns they/them) I learn of contrapoints on YouTube and I learn that my take on feminist anti-fascism is old school. Meanwhile, I must say that it is nice to witness same-gender love. Given the very real tensions that are evident in cis-gendered relations, I can see why someone (man/woman/fluid) would always chose a gendered-fluid-tending-female partner. It just seems to be a more comfortable relation. 

So, yes, we must all hate the politics of white supremacy and incel approaches to sexuality and rape-culture generally. We must all hate the plundering of agency that those imply. But having read Jill Lepore's These Truths, I feel empowered now about what I dislike about identity politics. I dislike the evident fact that it rests on a Platonic-descended notion of what an individual is; someone having a unique and God-granted "soul." The soul being, of course, the ideal distillation of the individual.

Being from the old school, I am rather attached to the sense that individuals are embedded in cultures, and to the sense that they can be liberated from oppressive structures and that these structures, while subject to individual agency, cannot be changed so long as we are hating microcosmically as individuals. I fundamentally agree with Dr. Martin Luther King, insofar as I understand him.

So the difficult conversations are those we must have with the white supremacists and the incels and the Republicans, and the police. Hating and deriding them only deepens the issues. They suffer as much as you and I do (certainly as much as I do, which isn't very much). Their behaviors are embedded in a system which must be changed. 

So when we blame the individual policemen (I'll use the gendered form here, because it seems reasonably accurate) and feel gratified when they are finally incarcerated and charged with crimes, we are also denying (I'm thinking it might be proper to call it "cancelling") their lived reality.

What we used to call "The System" is happy to jump in here and throw the bastards in jail. That deflects the responsibility away from the system, and especially from those in charge. I feel saddened that the mayor of Minneapolis doesn't have any access to language for debating those who ask him for a yes/no answer to the question of "will you agree to defund the police." Now he becomes the enemy, or as the National Review would have it, the left are eating their own.

We are asking the police (and the teachers and the nurses and more and more) to do impossible jobs in response to how society is constructed. The violence is built in, and we shouldn't be interrogating the politics of police, which can be no better or less informed than the politics of the general public. We require empathy for the lived lives of policemen, and how their realities are constructed.

So somehow I watched this interview of Richard Spencer by Gary Younge. I was alerted to it by the New York Review of Books, which at least hasn't gone so far as to allow an opinion piece by Tom Cotton. That editor's ass was fired from the New York Times, but there you go.

The horror to me about what Richard Spencer articulated was how very mainstream he is. He has internalized what we all, in our hearts, believe. That the world that we have constructed is quite wonderful for the lives that it has allowed us to live. We may be embarrassed that it is a white persons' world constructed by and for white people, but the remedy is to let the black and brown people join in, and not to wonder if there is something very wrong with the world as we constructed it.

I mean, there is global warming, and our general lack preparation for the end-times that we know in our guts are coming. Shouldn't we, maybe, pay more attention to the Yoruba ways, the native American ways, the ways with words of women?

We should be asking, in other words, how the world would be different if it were constructed by woman and black and brown people, and not how to get girls into STEM and blacks into universities and into positions of power (don't get me wrong, these things are very very important). We aren't really making the connection until we really really ask about the world that those excluded from the one we have really want.

So yes, I get it. Inception is just a long long excursion into the Chuang Tzu parable of the dream. To quote from David Hinton's translation:

Long ago, a certain Chuang Tzu dreamt he was a butterfly – a butterfly fluttering here and there on a whim, happy and carefree, knowing nothing of Chuang Tzu. Then all of a sudden he woke to find that he was, beyond all doubt, Chuang Tzu. Who knows if it was Chuang Tzu dreaming a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming Chuang Tzu? Chuang Tzu and butterfly: clearly there’s a difference. This is called the transformation of things.

昔者庄周梦为胡蝶,栩栩然胡蝶也,自喻适志与!不知周也。俄然觉,则蘧蘧然周也。不知周之梦为胡蝶与,胡蝶之梦为周与?周与胡蝶,则必有分矣。此之谓物化。
Now of course I won't claim to translate better. I'm not a recognized expert. But the experts can't agree and sometimes nobody who needs to understand can trust the experts. The experts are speaking to other experts, while the rest of us are left confused. Plus, I don't always like Hinton's translations. I like mine better. Yeah, right.

I've recently been a grad student (again and again across my shambolic life (why has that word become suddenly so popular?), despite my age. It was fun to be introduced to politically correct academic discourse. It was easy for me to learn that microaggressions are real, and to expunge from my own rhetoric the most offensive terminology and locutions.

But I really don't know how easy that would be for someone less educated and less alert. I accompanied said gender-fluid relation on a tour of colleges, and was glad that they knew how to decode the language of the transgendered tour guide at Bard College. But I wondered how someone from a less privileged background might feel as a newcomer to such language and reality. Wasn't it just another way to determine who has the "merit" to attend?

I really don't know. I only know that I'm often afraid to open my own mouth.

We can get angry and we can hate and we can blame the people who aren't even engaged in the transformations which must be performed if we are to thrive on the planet. But if we do that from our comfortable lives, feeling angry with people who aren't comfortable with the trends, then status quo prevails. Until it explodes. 

Lots of people think that there is reverse racism. Sure, some black people can hate white people on the whole, But when the hating isn't coming from a position of power and privilege, then it's not racism. It's just hatred. And the fear engaged is a one-way street. I'm not hearing hate from blacks just now. I'm hearing frustration and desperation and a desire to be heard. 

So please, let's at least address the low-hanging fruit. Let's set term limits for all elected office, let's do away with gerrymandering, let's be certain of universal voter registration and make election day a holiday, and let's get money out of voting, and especially let's shut the revolving doors of profit from power in the lobbying industry. Then we will at least have a chance to address the systemic change that we require.

We deride the Chinese communist party even while we employ a professional political class to run things here. The rules of engagement between Team Red and Team Blue are set by the business community in the same way that the NFL assures the semblance of a level playing field among the teams. The players tend to get rich from it. 

The cool thing is that Bib Business can't afford to deny science and deny systemic racism. Wouldn't it be just weird if it were "the system" which sets things right this time? Hype-rich Gates and Cook and Bezos seem to know what the right thing is even as they continue to glory in their wealth as begotten by Attila the Hun business tactics (in their youths). Even the military is now showing honor to their Republican supporters in the Senate, and certainly in the House. 

It doesn't matter, Democrat or Republican, when the party system is so embedded and so bizarrely balanced against each other that we have to elect someone like Donald Trump to disrupt it. As if he got elected. He was selected by those who profit from the state of dysfunction as it is, pretty much despite themselves. 

We just swap the racism from Democrat to Republican every few decades when things move out of whack. Trivial, right? How and why did all the Republicans get in line unless their team spirit is more important than their American spirit. In fact there is evidence for nothing other than that. This goes well beyond moral certainty. This is 'our party, right or wrong' which is exactly what our founding fathers warned us about.

These pols are the true dreamers. These are the deniers of reality whose lovers greet them in their private dreams. Their lived reality is our distant dream. Agency without responsibility! Wow! No wonder they don't want to change anything. Denying climate change is a small price to pay for your locally wonderful life, even as the world burns down around you. 

Now Lady G is a cute package, I've got to say. But wouldn't you like to wake up and be yourself in public? It's not my place to out anyone, but there are people who would accept you if you simply repudiated your dream-state fantasy-land of power. It's hurting us.

We need to hire an army of translators now to talk with one another. Too bad translation pays less than to be a greeter at Walmart. Too bad that we can't even agree about what is a good translation and what is not. Too bad we all believe in our secret heart of hearts that we are mostly right most of the time.

As a translator from Chinese to English myself, it's very tempting to say that some things just simply don't translate. Well, it's certainly true that some things don't translate without a lot of work on the part of the reader to penetrate the alien poetics. 

Some of the most fun I've ever had in China (I know, I'm pathetic) was to attend a graduate seminar led by the most celebrated translator of Samuel Beckett in China. Just because I was obviously a white American, they wanted me to sit at the table. Not! I hung back with the hoi-polloi in the crowded seminar room at Fudan University in Shanghai.

Still, you have to hand it to the guy for trying. He older than me, and had endured far more suffering. He was quite evidently brilliant. But the Chinese translations did nothing. By the time anyone could make sense of those translations they would have to be as multi-lingual as Beckett was. The Chinese  translations that I heard and heard explicated didn't even lead a person in to want to understand Beckett. As I recall, the translations misled nearly each and every time, even while the translator did evidently know how to read Beckett. A very humbling experience indeed!

The fact is that we can't have the difficult conversations that we need to have unless we have them face to face and without masks to cover our expression. We can't have them from a digital safe distance. 

Now I hate digital for the same reason that William Blake hated the infernal machinery of the looming industrial revolution. I hate it on the level where it replaces reality and where it leads Bill Gates to say out loud that his brain is a CPU. And he's a pretty smart guy!

The cortical regions of the brain can simulate a computer, if very poorly. Gibson's novel Agency ends with the presentation of a benign machine intelligence to the world, as its black-faced female sim savior. Her personality derived from an actual black woman named Clarissa; no Eunice, actually. A name derived from the military/industrial project which had an acronym which sounded like that. A personality uploaded and enhanced by universal access and distributed multi-tasking connected to access and control of lots of the hidden processes called out by Benjamin Bratton (for instance). 

The novel asks a question, and it's a good question when we can watch people trotting out insane certainties as though they don't know how to cognate, er cogitate. Think. The question is about how we get good and rational competent people in charge. How about we exclude the ones out for themselves?

Well, despite the sense of reality when we dream, we dream because we need to allow our brains to run through reality to make it useful. Brains without sleep just hallucinate awake. They don't deal. 

While I would never put a machine in charge of anything, that doesn't make them all bad. The trouble with digital reality is that it can seem so real. If actual responsible people aren't in charge of it, we end up getting Donald Trump as president; an avatar in place of a human. 

I know that I recently read a story, set in China, about someone joining what he thought was a drug trial. I'm pretty sure that I read it in Chinese, so I'm pretty sure that you haven't seen it. But it might as well have been a dream. He wakes up with a missing kidney. Chinese cyberpunk?

Then there was that restaurant I visited somewhere with someone intimate. It was a real find, and I can even envision the roads we took and the wrong turns, but I can't come up with who was with me (I'm pretty sure it was one of my daughters) or where we were, or which city. It feels like the vicinity of Seattle, but no daughter was there recently. Wracking my brain hardly helps.

As I age out, perhaps the distinction between dreaming and reality does grow dim. Perhaps the Chuang Tzu parable isn't as silly as it seems. Perhaps we need to wake up.