Friday, April 3, 2020

The Shape of the American Future

My body has a plan of sorts. I know almost precisely what I'll look like tomorrow and the next day, along with a pretty good idea of what I'll look like farther down the road. Someday I won't be at all, though I will have been, for sure.

Maybe we think that the plan is written in DNA, even though ninety percent of what's contained within my sack of skin is guided-schemed-planed by foreign DNA. My body schematic would be far too complex to diagram; it is dynamic as hell. The interconnections could never be teased out from random.

What holds all this together, I wonder. How is the overall integrity negotiated among all the players? We think it's self-interest which drives evolutionary forces and then these mesh into the symbiant which is me. And I partake in the mess which is the disease overtaking the planet now. It is taking advantage of my RNA mirror plan, from what little I understand.

Am I in charge of me? On some level, sure, as I make the choices to determine at least tomorrow's shape. I could end the entire conspiracy of me with a pull of a trigger or the swallow of some pills. That much is clear. Or the virus could do it for me.

It can be rather marvelous, now that we have videos and photographs especially, to look back in time and to recognize myself, even when I was a little kid. You might not recognize me so instantly as I do, but I'm still reliably there. At this end of life, my future self is no mystery either. It's a lesser reach.

The cloudiness is similar either way in time, but there are clear endpoints at either extreme, just as there is the limit of my skin. Without my skin, a part of those Canonical Chinese six sensory arrays, I wouldn't feel a thing (Chinese Buddhism includes mind among taste, touch, hearing, sight and smell).

Yes, of course the mind is a sensory organ. It senses the future. It feels it. It makes choices. It gives me the illusion that I'm driving my own appearance among the intersecting timelines inhabiting the earth, even though most of me runs on automatic most of the time.

I am away from home. More properly, I haven't had a home for a long time now, living on the road or in borrowed spaces. I enjoy a very nice quarantine hut now, which includes all I need to avoid contact but for a bi-weekly nervous shopping trip.

I remember powerful presentiments when I arrived in my comfortable borrowed space. I didn't feel welcome. I felt that I was trapping myself off the road that I loved so much. My daughters seemed to be converging on my old Buffalo home, but there was winter in the way of heading back that way. Skiing was a lure. I have two siblings here. It still feels like family (never an entirely positive thing).

I did fly "home" for Christmas, able to stay in Mom's Canadian summer home across from Buffalo, while the border was still open. I hosted Christmas dinner with Canadian bacon, and smoked a cigar and drank bourbon by the fireplace with my future son-in-law. That feels like eons ago, and I'm still not certain that it was real.

I had presentiments that the stock market was flying too high and that I am too close to needing to withdraw those scant funds not to turn my little nest egg into cash. Blew it! Likely, so did you, if you are invested at all.

In every case, I dithered, though that may have been the right decision. Sure, on the one hand I've watched twenty percent of what I seemed to have evaporate overnight and heading downward. Sure, I wish I were back in Buffalo instead of across the continent so that I could shelter in place more physically near to my daughters (and still be able only to FaceTime them).

I have no-place even short term to stay in Buffalo now that the border's closed, and the market for real estate is sewn shut along with everything else. What's even the difference if I didn't leave when I could and felt like it, even through the weather-terrorized winter.

It's not the time to move. Against all my presentiments, I did nothing, and that may have been my very best non-choice. Surely, I would have burned through many more funds just to churn in a different place. I'd be in much more dire straits. I wouldn't have been a help to anyone.

I'm doing my part diligently not to share in the hosting of the novel coronavirus. So is everyone I know, although diligence here relates to how little you make an exception of yourself, which is a very imperfect measuring stick. I have vowed not to lay any blame when and if I or anyone I love gets infected.

You know, now, it seems as though giving all that money to laid off employees was an imperfect response. Giving money to their employers to keep them employed starts to look better, in retrospect. We've almost incentivized the laying off as the responsible thing to do. Our connections to one another were already frayed, and our connections to any workplace are the most frayed of all.

Still our better angels could guide us to enforce the payrolls based on some intelligence about ability to pay, in the same way that we will be enforcing the quarantines. Your only choice is to protect your own for the sake of the whole. So far we're all still jockeying for position and a shared sense of who "we" are. The "we" feels like it's receding.

Those great reserves of evaporated money have now all been converted to cash by fiat, and still there will be hoarders. There will be people trying to protect their corner and cover their ass with toilet paper. Some Chinese savants are wondering how to mask spread by farts. It's a reasonable concern.

It seems odd that in our genome editing, global capital flowing, digitally interconnected world we can't seem to get it together any better than we did in 1918. The fixes are not technical, I guess. On any level greater than the individual, we are crazed, seemingly cracked as never before.

But, COVID 19 is also part of earth's plan. We are the organism which is being bleached out, perhaps to save the planet. It's working in the short term, by system collapse so far if not yet by death. We don't know what things will look like if we ever come out some other side.

Far too many people actually do believe that they can make the right decisions, and even make them for other people. At a time of cartoon leadership all over the planet, we still yearn for a chief decider we can believe in. But who now, apart from sociopathic individuals, would want to be that person? One for each nation, under God? One for each city, each county, each state? Will the real leaders please come forward! Will we even know how to give them a chance when they do?

We can't seem to get it together even to the extent we did in the World Wars of the century past. We don't know what it is we want anymore. We know what we want to get out of, but not where we want to get to.

We're not sure we'll recognize ourselves in what we seem destined to become, just as looking back, those of us with clear eyes can see a nightmare unfolding unto the Now. And it seemed to be getting better, Steven Pinker, it really did.

You know, our built worlds are so ugly. Orderly suburbs support no roots. Those suburban tracts are interchangeable spaces yearning for the natural disorder of retro New England aspirations. Those spaces we year for look really messy and random from the air, in perfect inverse relation to how they look when lived in. We can't seem to escape our roots, even when we live those roots in caricature.

Our cosmopolitan centers all start to look alike, designed by Ayn Rand weirdos with a megalomania complex. In China, the skyscrapers all look like a pock-marked Liberace Libertarianism channeling Louis Quinze post-modernism peppered with imported James Bond chic. WTF, is that really our future on the planet?

Do we even know who we can hug? Will we ever? Again?

What future are we going to embrace?

Does the future even talk to us anymore? Did it ever? The fractal patterns of our blooming skin are all we know for sure, once so smooth and soft. Corrupted now by donalds and borises and jong uns and nicolases and in general people hung up on cartoonish Elvis and now Bart Simpson hair, or at least on their hair in one form or another. What is up with that?

This is what it takes now? Jinping has the world's most iconic blackened hair, emulated with red ties and what? All over China? At least in the party? Western suits all over the place. It's at least as bizarre as our domestic architecture, isn't it? Vlad has no more hair than I do and his socially deserted country seems relatively clean. What's up with that? We know he styles himself James Bond, R.I.P. old man.

Isn't America with our executive lounger cars which can be lived in and our detached houses and large lawns and long lonely highways just practically designed for quarantine? And yet we quaranteeners seem to be getting it worse than anyone now. Our entire continent is socially distant, isn't it? In at least the sense that is now meant.

Can't we please just stay apart, people? So many of us "own" gorgeous wombs with TV views all over the place. This shouldn't be that hard. What happens when we actually do run through the entire backlog of streaming films? What happens when they start to look quaint for the world they projected?

We need to see a future, hear a future, taste a future and imagine a future that doesn't get us back to this place.

We have no read on our future at the moment. We have only noise. We yearn only for childhood on a Saturday morning when Mom and Dad were still in bed. The only time we were allowed to watch cartoons in my household.

When I was a child we lived on a cliff above the soon-to-die Lake Erie. I SCUBA dove beneath it's fractal surface into the foetid subliminal. The unconscious of the planet. How and why could I feel comfort that way, I'd like to know. A different kind of womb with a view, I suppose, where I could hear myself breathe and take the breathing over consciously to stretch the time out. There were shipwrecks to attract me. Carapaces of death and destruction. Junkyards out of sight. Possible treasure.

Later on, it was an old retro wooden sailboat, and I improbably stayed alive through many a storm. Fast motorcycles, good mechanical skills, retro Harley with technology from the time of the great flu pandemic that I could fix at sea. I was always at sea. Still am. I never did know what to do. Still don't. Do you? Do we even have a clue about survival?

It's far too late for a plan. That's because there are simply too many plans in competition. The trouble is leadership. The trouble is that we allowed our political structures to be broken because, like a teenager, we believed too much in our future. Now we can't seem to get the right teams in place in the right places and vest them with the right authority.

I've never had even the rudiments of a plan in my life. Money was never a proper goad, nor was patriotic service. Vietnam wrecked many things for me. I have been curious. I like to make and fix things, but I really don't like to do anything from a plan. My sailboat started from a wreck, because it surely could never have started from a wad of money. I put it back together with found materials and with partners and I did love it and sail it and live aboard for a while.

I like to fix things that way. The thrill I get when the fix works - often better than the proper fix - is far beyond whatever pleasure I might have had in gazing at a perfect trophy yacht, or wife, or house, or car.

I've always felt that there are two sorts of builders - those who work to realize the detailed plans of some architect, and those who have internalized the process and know how to improve and modify it according to need. There are precious few boat builders who work that way anymore, and it's likely illegal to build even private houses like that anymore.

But that will be the way we have to build our new world. We'll have to build our structures from the grassroots up. We'll have to sew our own masks, and improvise our own respirators, and create new social and healthcare patterns that include our entire communities; our new "we."

And then we'll have to rebuild our political institutions so that the better angels of our leadership are the ones in charge. This will not be easy. It may entail privations as hard as those Lewis and Clark made on their way to my temporary home. But there will be wonders along the way. There will be true glory in the end.

We will build our nation anew because it's worth it. It is already clear that China will be the new world power. I love China and I love all the Chinese I've ever met. But I truly love this fragile ship of state for all its shortcomings. I truly do. I can still sense the glint in our forefathers' eyes. It's about time for some mothering.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Story is Over, Really

I woke up today to a kind of paranoia. I'm certain that I had plenty of company in that. I woke up today to this notice from It adverted to a book "by Chinese colonels Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, from 1999, Unrestricted Warfare: China’s master plan to destroy America." Conspiracy theories are always plausible. They just hide their premise; in this case that China wants to destroy the U.S.

The original book is easy enough to find on Chinese Amazon. There is no such subtitle. As far as I can tell, it's in a line of books, including books on non-violent resistance and the overall obsolescence of war, which have been written for a long long time. Destructive weaponry is, of course, the least likely way to defeat the US. That doesn't mean that China set up this current mess just so that they could take over the world, even if it ends up that way.

The more interesting story is only beginning.

I don't believe for a second that China plotted anything to do with what's going on right now. Nor do I tend to agree with some on Fox News - the real fake news - that we should (as if we could) disentangle ourselves from China.

But the Quora post was bracing, somehow. It was a reminder about how increasingly unlikely it is becoming that we will ever return to the way it was before COVID 19.

I doubt the virus will kill us all, but the economy will have collapsed. For the moment, it does seem obvious that China will come out on top.

I'm glad that people like Benjamin H. Bratton try to understand what's going on, and continue to deploy their superior brainpower for the sake of good. But I don't believe for a second that their good sense will prevail. I doubt that they do either.

We are much more likely to be taken in by a feel-good story which requires that we do nothing. Oh wait. That's the story we've been living. The one that's over. The End.

As one lively comic noted, we insist on democracy in governance when we go to work for corporations which are run the way that Genghis Khan ran his armies.

Well, we are hardly insisting on democracy now, but it would be hard to believe that Bernie's prescriptions are sufficient anymore. That sort of socialism was a long dream for those of us well-read enough to know that the story we have been living couldn't end well. We never could believe that such policy would be voted in.

Now we exist in a state of exception, and most of us are only wondering what those in charge are going to do. Will they think of eminent domain over empty hotels and motels so that we have enough sick-wards. Will they commandeer the negative pressure isolation units that we have been calling RVs, like documented private ships in times of war? Will they finally begin to test all grocery and pharmacy and delivery/postal workers and provide public notice of where infected vectors touch?

Will they even do the simply obvious? Our scientific community understands stochastic sampling. Combined with protecting those who deliver essential services, this should be easier than knee-jerk setting up of drive through testing which quickly has to be shut down.

Could we possibly do worse than the upside-down manner in which teams are being set up now? Can't we please place an expert in charge? I mean someone who knows how to run a team to get the best results. You have to allow team members to speak truth to power. I have this on the highest authority.

Apparently, we don't even have enough testing capacity for any but hospital workers and the very sick to be tested. The rest of the world has done better, though there is no point to complain about that now, any more than there would be any point to berate myself for not selling of my meager stocks when I knew they were flying too high.

Our financial choices won't matter because I don't think that our familiar economy is ever coming back. For one thing, if it does, it will still never be prepared for states of exception. I don't think China is the case to follow, though. Of course their authoritarian government was prepared. Of course we don't wish to emulate them.

I have quit plenty of jobs when my boss wouldn't let me do my work, but wanted me to be subservient to their orders. I have had plenty of other jobs where the decisions were made at the level of the knowledge, and I found those satisfying. There was never any distinction in the nature of the work, or even how nice the boss was.

Given the openness of our networks and the freedom of our speech, it seems unthinkable that we can't find a way to ensure that decisions about this virus are made at the appropriate level. Our leaders don't have time and likely aren't qualified to monitor the media and spread the best ideas. Their organizational training seems to be contrary to our aspirations for our politics. The literal idiots are in charge.

Some workers these days are made to be robots. Their productivity is relentlessly surveilled, and rewards are for efficiency. In my personal experience, such jobs would include account inquiry servicing, insurance claims evaluation, fast food servicing, shipping (driving and delivery), along with many many more.

The division of learning has meant that I've never had to endure such jobs myself, or maybe it's just that I've aged out from that economy faster than it's been virally spread.

There is a different trend that could be as good as it could be bad. The new gig economy encourages contract workers to own their means of production again, and manage how they accomplish efficiency. Just now, it seems to be devolving toward slave labor and the undermining of established businesses. But that doesn't have to be the was it always stays. The leaders of such businesses have been something less than inspiring. We seem to be letting them get away with something. They're too damned young.

I just know that there are far better cooks and salespeople and delivery people and inquiry responders than the ones now treated so poorly by their overpaid managers working for massive Wall Street backed brand names.

Now might be the time to take back our lives and write our own stories. We have to start by putting sensible laws in place. None of us should be characterized by the surveilled behaviors of a slice of us we can't control.

Badges for the immunized - and the immune by virtue of recovery - wouldn't be a bad idea. They should not become permanent is all. The tech can help with that. The behaviors captured would be in the category of no-fault behaviors.

Now that they have dominated our economy by predatory methods backed by Wall Street speculation, the giants of Amazon, Walmart, Google, Microsoft and Apple, among many lesser gods, will do the right thing. That example will encourage the rest of us to take heart.

And then we need to reconstruct our government so that such predatory behemoths are never again allowed to appear. The destruction of creativity in the name of creative destruction has been unfathomable. We never took proper warning from the collapse of Wall Street back in 2008ish. It was not different from what is happening now.

The earlier collapse of our economy is framed similarly as an act of nature; something periodically inevitable if we wish for capitalism to work. But we never did ferret out the forces of evil represented within that system.

The evil was benign, in the sense that those perpetrating it must have largely talked themselves into feeling that what they were doing mattered only locally. From earth's perspective, the COVID 19 virus is benign as well.

Sure Daniel Defoe's Journal of the of the Plague Year might be as much a novel as true reporting. But it's still instructive to note how little has changed. Work for Amazon - cart off the dead bodies - until you can get your jobs back.

But it's different this time. The difference is that we are globally aware. The angels of our better nature are about to take flight. Even the obscenely rich know that the incentives are misaligned. That know that Wall Street needs tweaking. They know that massive socioeconomic divides will spell their own doom. They know that chief executives have to stand for something good and not just the short-term bottom line.

We are not yet the best America that we can be. But we cannot let this experiment fail.

I have to say that I find China to be a largely benign force. But they define themselves in recialist fashion, have largely closed borders, and don't have anything near the freedom of speech that we do.

Our trouble is that in net result, we don't actually speak. We drown out thought that matters, much of the time. I don't believe for a second that China suffers any absence of freedom of thought that's much different than ours is.

Consider this: On Chinese Amazon there has been a dedicated tab for the Three Body Problem for well over a year (likely much longer, but I haven't been paying that close attention). It's a fabulous book, and full of challenging thought (I haven't read the English translation). But what is going on with that? Can you even imagine one single author with such dominance here? Can you imagine a leader for life?

I hope not.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Less Bad

I watched Trump lose his temper when a reporter questioned Trump's instincts to put the best spin on our collective COVID 19 prospects. I cringe at the way that those surrounding Trump on the podium have either been instructed or have intuited the self-interest to praise "The President" above all else. Their praise may be functional, in this instance, no matter how much I may wish for still better experts whose gag-reflexes would be engaged by the current show.

On some level I just don't care, so long as what is being said is less and less wrong. Decisions are being made to ease the pain of workers, and for sure social distancing is the only responsible dictate. I don't care who's making the dictates, so long as they're correct and that person or body is believed.

I do care that we never allow a dictator within these United States.

The same evening that Trump lost his cool in the morning, I became aware of "Our Cartoon President" on Showtime. To me, this feels like a gleeful look at how absurd politics has become. Still, I was shocked. Glad in a way, but shocked. Amused but scared. Still, comedy has ever been the only proper response to such twisted structures. Even kings had jesters.

The Chinese are moderately gleeful that their depictions of what's wrong with American democracy are being played out so large. They make fun of our amateur government; our government of amateurs. They feel justifiably proud of how they flattened their own pandemic curve.

Our government was designed to be run by amateurs. We hoped for and expected smart amateurs to be elected from among those prominent in their private affairs. They would, in turn, employ the experts so that the amateurs - removed from the fray - could make sound decisions.

What we've gotten instead are professional politicians in an arena where no decent amateur would hazard personal exposure in a zillion years. Private wealth has entirely trumped public service. The Author's naming convention has been rather too obvious, no?

Trump has had the practice of a long life of chutzpah, so that he's immune and shameless when he cheats the weak and tells lies in public. I doubt he has even an inkling of wrongdoing when he cheats contractors out of payment, or profits from bankruptcy on our collective dime. He seems only proud of winning, and convinced that winning requires losers. We're all losers now, if we don't agree with him.

But finally, he seems to understand that we are all in this together, and he's in the hot spot. So who wouldn't lose their temper there?

Something less than half the country seems to think that he's the right amateur. As one among the hordes that doesn't think so, I still have to give him credit for deprofessionalizing politics. The direction is less bad than where we had been going.

We were doing utterly nothing about global warming; nothing about polarizing socio-economics, nothing about the AI of profiteering from behavior predictions. Nothing about the destruction of free and public education. Of course Trump has been wanting us to do less than nothing about these things. But when things come to a head as they now have done, he does seem to defer to the experts, so long as they hail him as the one who brought them together.

We have done plenty about homophobia and even racism despite Trump championing a belief system which is bizarrely xenophobic, nationalistic, and climate-change denying, no matter what a stretch it seems to be to group such things together.

I guess it's not the dumb belief system which prevails when something important has to get done. The corporations which are doing their "all" in this new public/private partnership face their own existential threats from the virus, after all.

Trump doesn't like to lose, and that's probably a good thing for all of us right now. The timeline toward November seems about right, provided that we get the absentee voting system securely in place.

Biden's apparent ascendancy guarantees that we won't be voting about a belief system, perhaps sadly. We may be voting about how much change we can abide in the midst of a failing economy, and a failing healthcare system.

For the most part, that question should answer itself: we much change nothing less than enough.

There has got to be enough change to bring back a modicum of trust in government. There has got to be enough change to bring back some trust in our economy. That may mean dethroning some of the titans to spread the work out more broadly. It may mean single-payer healthcare right away. It will certainly mean someone more thoughtful and temperate in the executive slot.

Biden is OK by me. Warren would have been a lot better. Put them together and I'm fine. Frankly any of the women who were running would be fine with me. I don't think that we can abide the corrosion in the body politic any more than we can the infestation to our human bodies.

I confess that I don't believe in any Author in the sky. I wish more of our politicians would confess that publically. I would have more faith in them.

I do believe in universal love. I mean cosmic love, which makes, I believe, a perfectly coherent definition for the appearance of life and its evolutions across billions of years in an otherwise vacant cosmos. Those billions of years are present in the moment that is us. That doesn't mean that we are the end of evolution.

We are finished if we become so arrogant.

Life that is finished is no life at all. Life that is eternal is no life at all. And there is no going backward from here. So long as we don't allow our very local pride to run away with us, it's not so hard to discern the beauty in what we have become. Let's learn to celebrate that all over again.

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Finally, I think I Understand Bratton

I have only random. I try hard not to control what I read, but then I follow threads. I try hard not to look at social media, as if averting my eyes might somehow contribute to the downfall of their corrosive force. But I fail, even while I try to let the random in.

So Bratton tweets. So does my daughter, and she doesn't think she's so great. I should get over myself.

Meanwhile, here is something readable and coherent from Benjamin H. Bratton, which actually betrays a stance. In my attempts to read him, I have slowly developed some confidence that he is compassionate and thoughtful.

Now I know how I think he's mostly wrong (well, I'd have to say "wrong" only in the final or absolute sense, since he's otherwise 99 44/100% right). Via Twitter, he says this bit of writing is from the same time that Bill Gates did this on TED. I don't like websites which don't date their posts. I shouldn't care so much.

My trouble with his position regards the why of human survival. His view is so long - from such an altitude relative to cosmic evolution - that humanity becomes like another bacterial strain. Our strain jumps out from the evolutionary swamp and threatens not just some species or other, but the entire planet.

Implicit seems to be the notion that cognition is what needs rescuing. Agency. He does a glancing credit to Donna Haraway to envision a kind of cyborg future if we hope to survive as a species. An altered, evolved species. It strikes me that Haraway's position was rather more compassionate. Not sure.

My issue is with the supposition that cognition is what humanity is all about. I believe that Bratton falls prey to a pitfall in his very own argumentation here. He's essentially arguing that cognition is why we can and should and must survive, but not because it's at the apex of a long and now discredited chain of being. Rather, his claim is that we should survive simply because we can.

Same thing, no? But the real question is "can we?" Really? So man really does become God, then?

What if humanity is not about cognition? What if humanity is about love? What if our failing is not about not getting the politics right, or the technologies properly aligned, or re-establishing homeostatic balance for our planet by conscious means?

Consciousness is seated in the most primitive structures of the brain. These are the parts whose genetic progenitors go the widest and the deepest. Agency serves consciousness, and not the other way around, and even still our bodies are over 90% not what we consider to be ourselves, when we think in genetic terms. That sort of genetics covers only one aspect of evolution, as Bratton seems clear about.

There is only co-evolution among myriad species.

The wanting to survive which we now feel is the selfish anti-love part that we project into our collective future. In truth, we crave survival as a species for the very same reason that we live life as though it would last forever. We have nothing but what we call our personalities to project, and we mistake the pain of losing those as something somehow worse than the pain of death. Sex, love, rock and roll and personality the way we now live these are very very local and limited. We have mistaken personality for soul, and - as always - we have mistaken God for a cognitive being. A being with a plan.

Talk about anthropocentrism! God in man's image. But it's a funhouse mirror image.

I, too, am 99 44/100% materialist. But I also know that the pure random of evolutionary processes (more broadly understood than just Darwinism or neo-Darwinism or anything else that we think we already know more about than we really do) has not been guided by cognition.

It is consistent with any materialism you may wish that the process of evolution is "guided" by love. You don't need to call it God's love. It's just a proper naming for what's been going on across billions of billions of years to where "years" don't mean a thing.

This evolution is "present" in us. We are not its apex, because we are not its end.

It is perfectly consistent with materialism to reconsider the standard model of physics as a kind of limit to materialism. There are motions in the cosmos which cannot be construed as related to forces. There are no bosons - no messenger particles - to be found, no matter how we stretch our statistical methods for detection based on hyper-complex instrumentation.

These "motions" are actually "e-motions" and the relations are conceptual rather than perceptual. Conceptual relations are always in the perpetual "now," which only means simultaneous across all time and space.

That doesn't mean that mind cannot evolve. But two plus two will always equal four (depending, of course, on some consistent process for designating units).

It is more useful to think of mind as microcosm than as agent. Holograms are more informative here than schematics could be. We persist despite the degradation of the media. Gravitons fade in probability for detection. Zero is never quite zero, is it? Nowhere in the cosmos.

But human mind cannot comprehend the cosmos. That doesn't mean we aren't important.

I'm not about to say or even suggest that agency is not important. We should feel humiliated by what we've done to our planet. We have been humbled. That doesn't mean that we should stop being human. We just have the wrong notion about what it means to be human. Mind includes the emotive center; the heart.

Mind is not only cognition. Emotion is not limited here. It remains doubtful that earth is alone in the cosmos, but we are surely looking for friends in the wrong way. Reading the mind of God has always been a futile exercise.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Fauci, Surveillance and Penetrance

Among other ways, the (English language) world is divided among those who can read James Joyce and feel that he is worth reading, and those who find such writing to be an extended cautionary retelling of the story of the emperor without any clothes. Beautiful language signifying nothing.

There are conspiracy theorists on all sides just simply because trust has been destroyed. The crowd sourcing levelling effect of communications technology seems most to have amplified heartless and soulless grabs for money and power of the sort exemplified by not just spam and robo-calling, but which is written into the business plans of Google, Facebook and many others.

For a short while, we thought the over-eager-to-break-things script kiddies (it was called creative destruction) were a type of genius. Disruption was celebrated, and the unicorn founders seemed to drink their own water, that they were a force for good in the world.

But genius can, after all, be squandered on self-aggrandizement instead of soul. Flamboyant showing off can be wonderful to watch, but at some point it is for the sole amusement of the educated rich and settled, or perhaps the self-indulgent rubes at the other end. The ends meet, where monster trucks become the same as Paganini. There be dragons.

None of what has been happening is unattractive on the surface. We have been living a very good life indeed.

Lived life encapsulates all the forces of evolution is a dance of life and death and transformation. Humanity has wanted to rise above beastly, but has courted instead a deadly cutting off from the rest of the living earth. Dominion is not the same as humanity's place in the evolutionary muddle.

We seem to have mistaken the cognitive part of our brains for the truer locus for soul. The cognitive parts of our brain have been meant to feed choices to our emotive center, which is the seat of consciousness. Our emotive center takes charge of what our cognitive center decides for us. We have energy for only the diminutive slice which is conscious cognition.

Apart from those who read Joyce, the rest of us must be moved with less subtlety. Pardon us. Our education had better get us a job. Our entertainment had better have some soul. We are far too busy to take the time to read Ulysses (I've tried three times, each time getting further, so I guess I'm taking my time).

I seem to be the only one whose ears perked up while I was listening to Dr. Anthony Fauci tout this administration bringing in the private sector, and in particular his highlighting of their value for 'surveillance to determine penetrance.'

I know that he also refers to surveillance as what the old and broken system was set up to do, but the language becomes Joycean, in a way. I find that penetrance refers more to genetic spread than viral. We all make such mistakes in speech. Joyce is allowed to make his in writing and still be thought to be deliberate about it, because his readers have that much confidence in his hold on the language.

I don't wish to split hairs about which of the administration's moves are right or wrong. I don't want to turn an ad hominem argument - which is bad in the first place - on its head to say that everything a bad person does is ipso facto bad. But there is no splitting hairs to say that this administration has long since betrayed any confidence I might have had in their administration of their offices.

My goal, as must be the goal of each of us, is to move away from bulk condemnation of what a person does on the basis of what we think the person is. Even bad guys can be good school bus drivers. But they shouldn't get a pass on the rest of their behavior.

I get antsy when anyone from the right talks about sweeping away all the rules to unleash the private sector as a solution to all our troubles. I disagree with the Chinese claim that democracy puts amateurs in government. Yes, our elected officials are meant to be amateurs of the best sort, and for a very good reason.

Highly effective amateurs will know a great deal about a wide range of matters, and they will appoint the genuine experts to 'manage the complex machinery of the social contract,' to paraphrase a young friend who was once a still more youthful anarchist. This administration has put amateurs in the place of experts far too often, their only qualification being sycophancy. This does not earn my confidence.

Apart from Google's distancing itself from the administration's claims about what they are going to do to help resolve this pandemic, we must look forward to their granting access to the graphs of our behaviors, so that our government can better identify locations and interactions which require special attention toward combating the spread of COVID 19.

I wonder, will there even be notice on Google's input form that our personal information will be gathered for the purpose of surveillance of the disease? Will there be an opt-out? Can we trust it? If not, then how will the surveillance be useful, if people won't trust that their information will be kept confidential and anonymized for the public good?

Of course we also all know that Google (and Verizon, and AT&T and especially Facebook, along with many others on the coattails) has the goods, when it comes to tracking our movements and our interactions. We have tended to trust them more than we trust our government, since the consequence to them for breaching that trust would be so severe and so nearly instant.

Hmmmm, how many have signed off Facebook . . . ? Why wasn't Facebook up on stage? Too blatant? Too much in our face? Would that have meant instant death for Facebook to sign on so literally and blatantly with that administration? Did Sandburg lean-in on Zuck to make him do the right thing (or wrong, depending on point of view)?

Surveillance feels like a sensible thing to do. A benign government would use the data to pinpoint deployments of scarce personnel and resources, perhaps even to the extent of contact with specific individuals.

But we must be cognizant of the ways in which we are now to relate to one another. The infected will become the guilty and social distancing will turn to shunning and perhaps even hatred very quickly. This has already happened toward people who look (and act, by way of wearing face-masks) Chinese, as it certainly did happen to Muslims after 9 /11.

The extraordinary powers granted after 9/11 have never quite been rescinded, have they? Chelsea Manning only just got sprung from her dangerous stint in prison for refusing to testify in secret to a grand jury. Bill Gates resigns from corporate boards, and a member of the SCOTUS bar resigns in protest for how political the Court has become.

The above are, of course, meaningless coincidence, as is the timing for the declaration of emergency on Friday the 13th.

But it was not meaningless when Google refused to operate in China if that meant granting that government access to private information about its users, when that information might be used to suppress free speech. What will they do now? Will they even have a choice? How different have they become?

Perhaps we should do as the UK seems poised to do. Let the young become awash with the virus and sample for herd immunity among the apparently often asymptomatic youth. Then let us oldsters come out of our social isolation once the prevalence of the virus has been abated. Or in other words, does surveillance even matter absent an effective vaccine.

Boris seems nuttier than the Donald at the moment.

Can any vaccine remain effective as the virus mutates? Can herd immunity remain effective? The flu never seems to go away, and so we have to chase it with imperfect vaccines based on imperfect predictions.

How long will we have to stay away from social gatherings? Perhaps this will be less meaningful for those youth who are never away from their screens and seldom seem to want to be outside.

Of course, as few of us have read James Joyce as have read Shoshana Zuboff on Surveillance Capitalism.  I rather tend in the direction of thinking Joyce a naked emperor for what he might have to say of substance, apart from the beauty of his saying it. Ditto Tarantino, much though I admire most Miramax films. I might find Zuboff too mainstream.

These are tendencies only, and far from any conviction on my part. I tend to trust my betters and keep trying.

Zuboff does not directly warn against the expropriation by government of those parts of our behavioral commons on which Google and others have squatted for their (astounding) profit. She may even be suggesting that only the government should and must have say over whether and how anyone may profit.

I am waiting for our government to come back from the wilds of extreme support for transnational corporate socialism, so that we may decide as a people how we wish to deal with surveillance; with the true fake news of the likes of Fox, Inc.; and with the relative places of science and religion in our deliberations as those involve the public trust.

It would seem that there are proper ways that our private intersections and peregrinations might be shared with "the authorities." We may personally wish to have access to a "graph" which helps us to know our individual danger of having been infected, based on our social interactions. We cannot expect our friends and neighbors to know enough about their own risk factors, but we surely don't want to be suspicious that they are behaving unsafely, selfishly and without telling anyone.

Some among us have never had and never even hope to have the privilege to jet around the globe at will (I am not including myself among that group, but I do identify with that "us" more than with the elite). I fear that those who pay for this virus's spread will be the ones blamed for being unclean and ignorant in their behaviors, while those actually carrying the virus will be exempted, and even declared "clean" by virtue of access to endless resources for painless quarantine and treatment.

The earth has been granted a surprising reprieve from the spew of carbon into the atmosphere from driving and flying and going out. We may all be pushed back in time to when we really couldn't easily or often travel beyond our neighborhoods. Was that so horrible? We wrote letters then, instead of texts. We connected in ways more personally curated. We made more sense.

Some to my left have sounded the alarm about where things are going. They ask the question about what power wants and needs to do with this emergency. The answer was on full view in Friday's presser: Cancel the regulations and bring in the giant corporations to inject new vigor to the stock market.

It's hard for me to see why that is all bad. It's easy to see why it's not all good. It depends on whether and how we get our government back. I don't doubt that Dr. Fauci knows the term "surveillance capitalism," and was sticking it to us lefties. But I may be giving him too much credit. My internal jury is out about whether Fauci is a "truth teller" or someone just too excited about deregulation of everything when he talks about the failures of "the system."

This is a matter of where and how we place "authority." I would, personally, like to know how far I should go in my social distancing. I might hope that the federal government would do like the Catholic Church and work on what the Church called "subsidiarity." Subsidiarity was a structural commitment rehabilitated for the Church by lawyers to ensure that the central authority wasn't liable for the misbehaviors of the parishes. It hasn't quite worked.

The same principle has been applied, with mixed results, in terms of "least restrictive environment," to deinstitutionalize sufferers of mental illness.

This is a tipping point for us all.

Gas and plane tickets are now cheap, but we shouldn't travel. Same with restaurants we shouldn't be sitting in. Trump is going to buy up gas at bargain basement prices to top off the national reserve at the same time that he will prop up the price of gas. I shouldn't call out Trump by name, since I know that he's only smart enough to take credit, but it is an act in perfect keeping with his M.O. He will be sure to keep the airlines and the cruise ship operators solvent. We will pay. They will travel.

One can almost feel the glee around the podium that money is winning and will win and has to win. We all know about the revolving doors now in full operation between government and private industry. You and I have no access to those low roads to the good life. So we have no reason to trust that our government will engage in actual subsidiarity. But it should.

Let action be taken at the smallest effective jurisdiction. Start with the individual. Then the township. Then the county. Then the state. The feds need only concern themselves with the national boundaries.

Everything has turned so inside out!

Remember, it was the federal government which had to intervene to stop racism. In China it's always overzealous local officials who do the dirty. When has big business ever taken the lead for the public good? Isn't that like asking the lion to lay down with the lamb? Their DNA is about making money, expending as little as possible on the externalities born by the rest of us.

By tomorrow, if it wanted to, Facebook could guarantee the privacy (privacy from their true clients, the advertisers) of health disclosures to friends. Hell, it owns WhatsApp, now the target of government spooks all over for its encrypted messaging. Google tried and failed to become our repository for medical information, even as we trust them with all our passwords.

The government could gain our trust by abolishing "click to agree" contracts which enrich so very few surveillance capitalists. Those companies could regain our trust by true transparency about their internal dealings with our behaviors. We, the people, need to find a way to test these legalities in court. Can I really agree to anything when my use of monopoly services would be withheld?

Sounds trivial, doesn't it?

There is a huge difference between declaring our interests by the purchase of a magazine in which ads are placed according to those declared interests, and having ourselves characterized as though we were some unitary indelible soul. As Richard Sennett once tried to convince us, putting on a social face is good for society. Celebrate those who are open about who they are. Outing our private behaviors is good for nothing.

Our way forward is not to ignore the advice of government based on something tending toward conspiracy theory about what they will do to grab more power and take power away from us. The way forward is to grab the power for ourselves.

We should find ways to agree about our collective behavior locally instead of watching for what happens to Harvey Weinstein. He did something on the global stage which none of us on any side of anything would ever condone if it were to happen here. Let's not get caught up in who's the worst Whore of Babylon and who the anti-Christ based on gender designation. We know good from bad when we see and feel it. We can't know it from any screen.

We have the tools. We should use them locally. And we must find some way to get out and vote to get these people now there out of government.

We cannot abide an administration which takes no responsibility for anything at all. I have no confidence in this administration, and I vote.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Money is Not a Novel Virus

Most of us, and some of the most intelligent among us, share the flaw of mistaking the individual for the collective; the local cause for the environmental factor. We think in terms of what I should do to protect myself. It's hard to think about how we should behave for the whole.

This is true with cancer where the trouble with identifying cigarettes as a cause is that the environmental factors which affect everyone equally are downplayed. China smokes and has lousy air both. Shame on China, or shame on us? Or is it native America's revenge?

So we all know that the density and mobility of humanity on the planet provide the perfect medium for the thriving of COVID 19, and we are reasonably trying to put a pause on the speed and direction of global development; our historical vector.

But these fears and the reality of this current infestation are not exactly novel. Popular history in literature and cinema is full of examples, as is actual history. When I was much younger and in proximity to AIDS researchers on the forefront, there was doubt that there was any specific virus-like agent. It was suddenly reassuring when we found one.

Last night, I was flipping back and forth between the Bernie/Joe debate and the rerun of the President's now daily presser. It was a very frustrating exercise.

While Trump is interjecting how great the companies are that he has been strong-arming into joining his cause - the bigger they were, the more likely he would be to put in a good word - Bernie is talking about the evil fossil fuel industry. Joe, meanwhile, is trying to stay on the side of the powers that be; the system that once did seem to work.

I felt bad for Joe getting beaten up for his votes back when compromise was actually a way forward. I felt worse for how strident Bernie was made to seem for continuing to harp on the need for systemic change. But Bernie is right, and thank God he's succeeded to push Biden to the Left.

I'm not sure that Bernie is doing enough explaining, however. Perhaps he thinks we all might agree about which corporations are evil. What about the workers in those industries? What about the consumers of their products? The cost of solutions is being deployed like weaponry. Toting them up is meaningless if the system actually does change.

The externalities of doing nothing have to be brought into the equation, fer chrissakes! Toting costs for the system as it now is becomes meaningless in a transformed economy.

The one thing we should certainly agree on instantly is the need for an actual national healthcare system. We can't let money continue to talk on that one.

If we, who are addicted to automobiles - still, in this late age - demonize the fossil fuel industry as though they were somehow evil, we too are mistaking the individual (company, CEO, politician) for the collective. The automobile is baked into our economy. It is baked in to our economy that each will fight to be on top. Do we expect the CEO's of our largest corporations to be interested in the collective good? That would be insanity.

Bill de Blasio now calls for nationalizing certain industries, as we are in a state of war. Trump seems pretty sure that unleashing Daddy Warbucks will do the trick.

Nobody would suggest - not even or especially not China - that the market doesn't work. Up to a certain scale. Beyond that scale, we need a working government. Even though Rumsfeld and Cheney tried it, does anyone really think we should replace our military with a private army? We should long since have moved our military preparedness in the direction of preparedness for pandemic.

It does seem clear that the human species as a collective has yet to become fully conscious. We now know, globally, that something approaching half of humanity will become docile - comforted - when hearing the voice of authority sounding certain of itself. For that half of humanity, it would seem that the most important qualification for leadership is pathological narcissism; a Trumpean certainty that one belongs on top and that nobody need fret about changing anything. Go backward, even, to a past that never existed.

It has taken Trump this long to surround himself with simpering sycophants, but now that he has he can finally depart the stage and allow them to speak for him, all credit fawning his way.

Some short time ago, Julian Jaynes thought that he had discovered an historical basis for understanding how human consciousness arose. He detailed that discovery in a briefly popular book called The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.

The idea was that in pre-conscious society - perhaps tribal society while it remained geographically stable - the collective will was heard by individuals in the form of voices. Jaynes located these voices in the right hemisphere of our brains. They might be related to what Freud called the superego, and the sensation might have been like the hallucinated voices of a schizophrenic.

The tribal chief was the chief imitator or channeller of that voice. Democracy was unthinkable, quite literally.

Certain science fiction writers, most notably, perhaps, Neil Stephenson, have retained an understanding of how radio and then television may re-cameralize our minds. Marshall McLuhan was also onto something. But apart from Richard Dawkins, in The God Delusion there is almost no mainstream scientific voice which gives Jayne's theory much credence. And Richard Dawkins was only giving a nod to the obscure possibility that Jaynes has not been proven entirely wrong. Yet.

Well, what if collective humanity is also reforming itself into a bicameral mass? We won't even need to confuse the terms right and left in that case. The Right apparently cleaves to God and country, and the capitalist economy. The Left to cognition.

But it would be a mistake to allow - or especially to provoke - warfare between the sides. Consciousness arose historically, if Jaynes is even partly right (sinister refers to handedness, the opposite to brain hemispherical designations), by the connecting of the two sides.

When environmental changes forced stable tribes to move and to encounter other tribes, the voices became less useful. The cortex had to be united, to reason-out survival tactics. The voices had become undependable. Individual consciousness was the successful resolution.

I am reasonably literate in Chinese. Some long time ago, I wrote an essay for inclusion in materials shared for a conference on teaching of Chinese in high schools. Such programs were innovative at the time.

I hadn't read Jaynes yet, but I wrote my essay using the metaphor of stereoscopic vision, which provides depth to our vision. At least one of the conference organizers took note. I myself had taken note of how little crossover there has been historically between the grand literary traditions of the greater sphere (hemisphere?) of Chinese writing and the West. What crossover there had been was largely caricatured and mistaken.

There is some truth to how the Chinese literary tradition created a different mind-set from ours. The larger truth is that the advent of agriculture and then writing began the geometric acceleration of humanity's seeming domination of the planet. The seeming part is that - at least sub-consciously - we seem to have hit the explosive part of the asymptotic rise.

Perhaps, as a species now, we resist full consciousness. We still think that it might be our place to turn the evolutionary processes into a triumph of cognition. If so, we will have to cure ourselves of the money virus. At the level of government now, money has destroyed all hope for democracy all over again.

But isn't democracy obsolete anyhow? Only if you are a believer in the necessity for the willful evolution of humanity on the planet. Only if you are a believer that it is rational cognition which is destined to be the capstone of billions (is it trillions?) of years of evolution.

As Mark Solms, among others, has made clear, rational cognition - the province of computing technologies - is not the seat for consciousness. Consciousness is destroyed when the affective centers of the brain are destroyed. These are toward the brain stem, the brain's most primitive structure, whose roots in DNA are shared most broadly and most primitively. These reticular structures are not bicameral.

Human consciousness partakes of and extends to all consciousness on the planet, of course, which is demonstrably not limited to humanity alone. Our skin is not likely the boundary for our mind. Consider language.

Jesus Christ lived at or near a crossroads in Jaynes' timeline. Ditto the living Buddha, Lao Tzu, Confucius and never forget Homer. By Jaynes reading, Homer's tales were still being dictated by the voice of God within. He provides the literary evidence.

We are now at a different crossroads. Believers in God know His presence. Believers in Gaia know their presence. Followers of the Dao know that random is not meaningless.

Our collective cognition has been hijacked by money. We can no longer reason. Language fails us. The earth shrugs.

Humanity is not destined to dominate. Such domination will clearly spell our end. The forces of evolution are "guided" by happenstance. If God is a delusion, Richard Dawkins, I would like to know what kind of a delusion mankind as a whole suffers to think that the powers that be will somehow engineer us out of this or the next crisis. The frog in the heating water is all too accurate an analogy for how we deal with existential threats.

Neither global warming nor COVID 19 are a hoax, people. The president is. Fox news is. Our healthcare industrial complex is. Now, for the moment, the entire Republican party seems to be.

There is no winning if we take sides. It is not humanity versus COVID 19. Nature, ultimately, prevails. We are simply not equal to billions of years of evolution.

Let us pray for a soul. Let us pray for soul. Let us pray for something like the tears from that tobacco company executive on the stand back in the day, when the attorney redirected the trouble to the executive's own family. Let us dissolve our differences, Left and Right. It is not our nation at stake. It is planetary survival. And I don't mean human survival. As far as I can tell, humanity - in the good sense of that term - has yet to appear on the planet in the form of a proper social contract.

For lack of a better metaphor, humanity is not channeling God's love. I know this. I consulted the I Ching. The hoax is to think that we actually know very much at all. But we do know enough to do better, and to tell the difference between huckster religion and something better; between huckster science for profit and something better.

Anger gets us nowhere.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Why Elizabeth Warren had to Drop Out

This is not very complicated. Those of us who knew that Warren was the best choice for president - among those in the running - just don't care. We are the same people who don't care to run for any office or responsibility ourselves, and who click delete on every single political fundraising solicitation because the problems are too deep, and money in politics is the deepest among them.

We wish that Schumer would have kept his yap shut about how supreme court justices should decide. We wish that Biden hadn't raised such an unsavory kid, and we wish that he had anything substantive to say about what has to change. Things have moved beyond fixing. No one has the language to talk about what needs doing first.

And so we ski and ride our mountain bikes and read as though the answer could be found through the written language or in being educated enough. We tone our bodies and our minds and look vaguely down on those who give a damn. We can and will stay put until stuff clarifies about the X virus. We know how to follow theories about black holes and nullity clouds. We vaguely believe in something out there beyond Jesus. We know enough not to pray about it. That would just be stupid.

The cosmos has a mind and it won't be tamed by preachers. We know that, and we know that the arc of history will tend away from our brethren who are so proud of themselves for understanding money and raising themselves to the status of potentates; so local in place and time that they have annihilated themselves along with the rest of us just like sucking themselves up their own tubas in some Yellow Submarine. Zuckerberg is not even worth the algorithm that got him going. A sucking black-hole nullity with less soul, even, than you or me.

Of course if we did have that much money, we'd spend every cent of it to get Warren elected so that we could go back to our wonderful lives. Worked for Bloomberg News, right?

What are we to do now, then? Beg Hillary to swallow her pride? Beg Michelle or the other big O to give us a hug? Look for any remaining Republican who's not Mormon to find their soul back?

There's way more in the balance here than winning. I don't care how much Goop you slather on your selfie self, that's not the way out of here. If we can't cheerlead for a decent candidate, then what can we do?

Psilocybin for the masses? Couldn't hurt. Waking up to the fact that we can't take over and engineer life? Could help. Set reasonable limits to where capitalism can go? Not a bad idea. We should at least stop outsourcing our government to the lowest bidder.

All that we need is a president who would ask for the real expertise to come forward. About how corporations are incentivized to destroy the forests and spew carbon into the atmosphere. About how to get those things right. About how to decenter finance and recenter human productivity. We don't need no stinkin' superstar at the helm.

We just need a decent well educated human being with a heart. Just like you or me. Someone who doesn't want to lord anything over anyone. Otherwise, we're going to need another revolution. That would hurt.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

So Are We the Disease, Then?

As I continue to worry this matter about the wisdom of Terraforming Earth, I may have at least located the crux of the matter, at least to my own satisfaction.

On the one hand, terraforming might mean that we would become Earth's master, and for our own very anthropocentric reasons. It's hard to see how that isn't what it would mean, no matter what Bratton says about a new Copernican turn.

On the other hand, to conceive of us as a disease that is destroying Earth both romanticizes Earth as Nature in a way to valorize all the benighted beliefs that Benjamin H. Bratton derides, and undoes, once again, our most recent and necessary Copernican turn away from man at the center. Man the despoiler.

I, frankly, see no alternative but to reaffirm my deeply held and perhaps nearly religious belief in the God of Irony. At the core of Bratton's line of thinking is not just conundrum but paradox, pure and simple.

The only way out of paradox is, perhaps, higher generality. Zeno's paradox is resolved by the destabilizing of position in quantum interpretations of reality, for instance. The only way out of paradox is to find the fault in our misuse of language. Language was never meant for truth, it was meant for conspiracy. (of course, language doesn't "mean." We do that, sometimes.)

If we conceive of ourselves as a pox on the planet, then to cure ourselves would surely mean to destroy the planet. If we are but a part of the planetary evolution, then why should we do anything at all apart from what we're already doing?

The trick being, of course, not to see ourselves as one-dimensional. We are neither disease nor anti-disease. We are both at once. The change from one to the other is the very essence of a change in moral stance, and not a change in essence.

I struggled really hard with these matters quite a while ago reading Stephen Jay Gould (R.I.P.) It's a Wonderful Life. I gather that argument remains rather radically unfinished? Not sure. I have no easy way to find out if notions of human cognition as a kind of apex to evolutionary processes is back in vogue or not.

How could I? Research has all moved to the 'Net, in part because the library can't be current enough. The Net is so current that it's a perpetual game of whack-a-mole. Nothing stays still long enough to hold in memory. The news changes minute to minute against algorithms used to predict what you, the hapless reader, might be interested in.

The solution is to take a longer view and to stand back from the moment. To turn away from any and all awareness of perpetual emergency. But . . .

Well, I've noted here that when I once did actually drown, I experienced what might have been the life-changing apprehension of my entire life being present to me in that instant. Eternity in the moment. Does this happen during waterboarding? Not likely, when it's being done to you, any more than you might tickle your attacker away. But genuine emergency does have its salutary function, perhaps.

I continue to frame the big questions morally rather than technically, which surely removes me from the celebrated realm of hard-core materialism that Bratton seems to maintain is all there is that worthy of being celebrated as a realm at all.

And yet I think that sort of materialism straight-jackets science in the same way that evolutionists once imposed their cultural prejudices upon the Burgess Shale that Stephen Jay Gould wrote about; their prejudice being that mankind was some sort of inevitable apex creature resulting from the wonderful processes of evolution. The Burgess gestalt was turned into the Burgess progression.

Now, has Gould's affirmation of the primacy of accident itself been unseated? I'm asking (because I'm not sure I have the energy to find out). I seem to remember that Gould didn't think we were anything all that special. His was the most forceful Copernican re-turn I've ever heard, certainly including Bratton's.

What would the vaccine against man as coronavirus-grade terminal disease look like? Here, I do maintain that the "good" would be the continuance of evolution, not the continuance of mankind as mankind is now behaving (I think, but am not certain, that Bratton and I would agree on that). So the project is not to cure "us" but to cure the planet of "us" as disease. A kind of re-subsumption of mankind's fortunes within the greater good, as it were. And re-subsumption of mankind in the evolutionary processes.

Surely the vaccine would stop the automated processes of economic growth based on oil extraction. Surely, therefore, it would re-engage control over our ways of living by man as moral creature rather than as apex-predator.

We habitually think of morality as an [artificial] imposition on nature, perhaps equated with something as now-seeming pernicious as God-given dominion. And yet morality may remain the most likely frame for how our behaviors must change if we (and the planet, perhaps) are not to remain but a footnote to more cosmic processes of life's evolution.

Or, to ask another way, does life even matter? If so, might morality matter even more than the amoral processes which are all that "science" is allowed to deal with? Or must the province of morality truly be ceded to those creepy, mean and nasty religionists? Why?

If human life taken as a whole has already become an autonomous non-thinking non-feeling amoral force (as it does seem to have become) then the conclusion is already foregone. We are already dead, but then we will never have been anything but the moral equivalent of a mindless germ-like disease process.

While praying to some God or other (I know that phrasing makes no sense) would seem like not only the best but the only thing to do, aren't there ways in which even that could be construed as a positive harm? To the extent that it turns away from what is real (not materialistically real, just plain real)?

We are responsible for this mess, brother Job! God didn't put us here. We did.

Once upon a time while living aboard a sailboat through the dead of a very cold winter, it was revealed to me - this is true and you can read all about it here, though you have to start at the end/bottom if you want to shart at the beginning - it was revealed to me that cosmically, evolution has always been a morality tale.

I'm kidding when I say "revealed." It took a lot of work, actually, and that work is on ongoing and almost utterly unrewarding (well, except for the incredible and unending intrinsic rewards, of course).

My work was via excursions through classical Chinese literature and relativistic and quantum physics. Alas, but I am no expert in either of those fields, though statistically speaking I am almost certain to know and understand more than you do.

I continue to try and stay clear of what I don't or can't understand, which also entails not falling prey to claims that I can't understand when those are made by "experts" who think they already do. That is a tough tightrope to walk.

Along the way to becoming expert in anything, one must accept institutional identifications which - as I would maintain - limit as much as expand one's understanding. I am trying to make that a very modest statement.

I say nothing about my own claims to truthiness, especially since, as far as I can tell, I continue in abject failure to convince a single other soul, boo hoo. But discourse groups become hermetic as they become arcane - meaning simply that they are closed to outsiders and that initiation is onerous and likely impossible within a single life-time where you can only make it as a sub-specialist and trust in the greater whole. Of the discipline? Of the family? Of the nation?

The turn from Man as Chosen to man as disease is recent. As is the turn that Bratton adverts to from future as something to look forward to, to future as something to prevent. The morality tale is about hubris, of course. I am not so optimistic, clearly, as Benjamin H. Bratton is, at least to the extent that his apparent optimism seems to depend on a more sanguine estimation of the innate goodness of man the animal than I can form based on my (mediated) observations.

Or then again, wait. My estimations of the animal are much more sanguine than his are when I limit myself to face-to-face interactions with my fellow man. Could it be? I don't know. I really don't.

But here are a few things that I do know: As individuals, we feel helpless to do anything about whatever it is that we see going wrong. So we abdicate any moral obligation beyond the local and face-to-face. Sometimes we even think that it would be immoral to act beyond that level, apart from registering opinion.

The main thing is that we can't agree about what is going wrong.

Of course, there is a small subset among us who are excited enough by the whiz-bang of "modern" life that they don't think anything is going wrong. They must have a kind of faith (that I can't have) in the innate goodness of technology's manifest destiny. I confess that I find such a stance irresponsible in the extreme, and remain happy that Bratton joins me on the responsible side (the side of the good, of course) insofar as I am capable to read him.

To the extent that materialism forces me to see myself as an individual above all else, I can't be a materialist. I'm hoping that makes me more and not less of a realist. It certainly doesn't make me a spiritualist.

Materialism falls out from the scientific method. As pattern-recognizing creatures, we have managed by way of linguistic conspiracy to form theoretical structures - conjectures really - about how the world works. These can be tested experimentally and thereby validated. In Bratton's cosmos, the technology invented as a result of newly developed materialistic understanding comes along with new fields for accident. In his mentor (in these matters) Paul Virilio's terms, 'the possibility for derailment comes along with the railroad.' (Yet another media theorist?)

Projection is the work of the cognitive portion of our conscious minds. It's how we stay alive. We impose simplified structures on the stuff of raw perception - call those simplified structures Platonic narrative forms, if you will - and then calculate the extent to which they predict what might happen. We get in trouble when the conscious mind overrides the decision handed up by the preconscious mind. The preconscious mind sorts far more input than our conscious mind could possibly "contain." Likely more than any computer or network could, for at least a while yet.

But what I'm calling the "preconscious" mind here is actually maidservant to the seat of consciousness, which is the seat of affect, which is how we feel about our prospects (for sex, survival, peace . . .) according to pattern assessments returned there from the cognitive "portion" of the mind. Affect triggers the decisions and is felt, by consciousness then, as free will. The preconscious mind is just an input processor which automates our responses when matches are solid. The conscious mind does the work when autonomous resolutions have not been canned yet. The conscious mind is the robot of our wants.

As I have said elsewhere, including in my therapist's office once, the unconscious and fate are technically indistinguishable. The greater field for accident in our daily lived lives is not in the statistically small (as proven by our continued living) error between the conjecture and the actual in the Platonic narrative projections (I LOVE this convoluted usage of both Plato's cave, along with his ideas to which we must uncover - reveal - access by means of dialog) that we project along our futures in order to survive. The greater field for accident is in the affective tenor. We can apparently override our feelings by our ideals, false those these may be, to disastrous result for conscious me!

Or in other words once we start to trust our gear more than we trust ourselves, we are dead. Once the mechanism - the technology, including the tech in our heads - becomes autonomous we would only reasonably relinquish control if we trust that its autonomous behavior leaves us in a preferable affective state. There's a lower bar for a chair than for a self-driving car. Taking control of my own breathing would leave me in a very distressed state, unless, of course, I was SCUBA diving and wanting to conserve air.

Our gear can only be a projection of our conscious needs and desires until we have locked out from consciousness the sensory inputs that those depend on, or transform them into a conscious sensation the way I do while breathing through a regulator.

And you thought that the accelerated conscious control required to stay alive while driving had no use other than to make petro-addicted life more comfortable and fun?? No, please, it is a consciousness-raising experience.

Autonomous cars are not just kill-joy, they are literal death (of the planet, I mean) by turning us into a pure disease process. They give us more time on-screen. The important difference from trains and trolleys is not the potential for global warming, though that IS great. The difference is that at  least the possibility for socializing exists on the trolley. Of course, we are too afraid to exercise that possibility just now.

There will be nothing to living left but to enjoy the fruits of our accurate projections into our futures. We will have escaped the pressures of evolution, which means that we will have escaped life, which means that we will have become cosmically irrelevant which means that we will be dead.

I did recently take a weak stab at a typology for technology, trying to find a cogent way to distinguish information and communications technologies from other, perhaps older, sorts. Now I think that an important criterion for classification regards whether and how technology directly harnesses enthusiasms.

Sitting down and relaxing is a homeostatic pleasure. Racing cars is a lust. Sitting down and driving a car seems more like an addiction.

The homeostasis that our affect-centered mind demands of the results of cognitive processes includes cravings, like hunger and sex, which while they seem to nudge us away from homeostasis are in fact necessary to survival as a species. The discomfort of hunger leads to the pleasure of eating. The uncertainty of cognitive dissonance leads to the work of learning. Survival depends on these things.

Many of us have puzzled about the progression of automobiles from functional to sexy. The connection, of course, is about what sells. What attracts us with promise of consummatory pleasure in the same way that a gorgeous (whatever that might mean) human body might.

Now that cars have become fashion accessories, even to the extent of announcing our politics, after always having announced our socioeconomic desirability for mating - A Tesla is more like an iPhone than like a model T - I think we're avoiding the obvious about what makes information technology different.

A nice chair promises comfort. Now our very phones - that we have with us and before us nearly all the time - provide us with a zillion ways to be tempted. In the face of such temptation and short the means to fulfill it, we can always turn to heroin or its surrogates, and many do.

The main accomplishment of information technology has been to provide a way for the scientific methodology, which is itself a distillation of the methods of the cognitive portions of our brain, to predict our purchasing behaviors in ways to enrich media titans, large and small.

Along the way, our economic system has magically become a zero-sum game, since those with the money either destroy jobs or reduce them to gigs, where once again, in a kind of nightmare almost retro inversion of Marx, you have to provide your own means for production. It's the pipeline that matters - the pathways to eyeballs - and as McKenzie Wark would have us understand, the Vectorialists are the new Capitalists, and it's worse! We are becoming serfs on the wrong side of an information divide, unless we are soul-less coders on the inside.

No, we cannot design for survival. Plastics, Benjamin, plastics. A real builder doesn't want a material that never pushes back. A real maker wants an uncarved block which contains its own designing reveals. The artist is never an engineer. We don't need a plan. We need a process that's fun to drive!

In our perpetual naivete, we once did think that the Internet would return power to the people. We simply didn't have enough imagination to foresee the way that it would harness the lowest parts of humanity toward empire. We are now a conspiracy of dunces, led by a clown, and we have ourselves to blame for falling asleep at the switch.

Realistically, we will never complete the standard model of physics. Meaning simply that we will never have a completed understanding of the workings of the cosmos. That seems obvious to me. It has been for as long as I can remember. I guess that makes me outcast. But really? Isn't everyone just acting as though we will, just like the Republicans are acting as though Trump is innocent. Because it's the party line which lets scientists among us continue with their research without having to worry about life more locally? (Don't forget how tied the Democrats are to Silicon Valley)

I'm not sure that I see the moral distinction between climate change denial and perpetual avoidance of responsibility by virtue of a belief in the ameliorative power of "progress."

What will be less obvious to you (meaning only that it is equally obvious to me) is that we already have enough knowledge to understand why it is so, that science cannot lead to universal and full understanding. We resist that particular knowledge - knowledge of knowledge's limits - not because it would destroy what we already do know and hold so dear (it wouldn't). But that it would make us responsible. That's the thing we want least of all (as well as, not incidentally, the thing that Bratton is urging upon us).

As an individual, I am an embodiment of mind. As mind, I have a center, which as the word is meant in Chinese, means a center of both emotion and cognition. The (classical) Chinese cosmos is in no way Platonic, and so cognitive mental constructs have no ontological (epistemological? phenomenological? I can never keep the -ologies straight) priority. There are no forms that are antecedent to or apart from mind's conception of them. There is no eternal abstraction.

In any case, emotion is as much a part of my center as is cognition, and there is no moral action without both. If mind is an aspect of cosmos, which I do believe that it is, then perhaps God can be conceived as its center. Not the man-made God of contemporary Christianity or Islam, of course, but the nameless God. The God whose motive is love.

But I am also no individual. I am not apart from the rest of creation to which I am not connected by my understanding alone. I am physically and bodily no more an individual than is the biota within my body owned by me. As McKenzie Wark just tweeted, my body is a spaceship for all forms of germs. I think she was feeling sick.

Spaceship earth is breaking out in a coronavirus fever. We have tried to box the wild for our own pleasures, beyond any reasonable limits. Of course the virus must cross that boundary. In an artificial sense, it's only natural!

Apart from all that is alive in the cosmos, I am and ever have been nothing. I am but a surfacing bubble from an ocean of aliveness. This is what I mean by Irony. We have to accept it both ways. As radical individuals we are indeed a pox upon the planet, but we are also emotive moral hearts, which the cosmos lacks without us.

As part of a communal whole, the planet will thrive along with that remainder among us who will seed the subsequent bread (I just put bread in the oven, so that makes a handy metaphor). Life requires the leaven of moral consciousness.

Neither apex creature, nor inessential, mankind matters in the cosmos to the extent that we maintain a centered xin (heart/mind) which is, of course, redundant. Aligning with cosmos is not the same as conquest of it by means of understanding.

Let us pray, Virginia, let us pray.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020


I'm still trying to understand Benjamin H. Bratton. It's good exercise, and makes reading Chinese feel like a stroll in the park. I think I've finally pinpointed what might be my disagreement with him. He tortures distinctions between "natural" and "artificial" in ways that I can't follow. I agree with him that the distinctions are themselves artificial, but in my case the fallacy is more like the mind/body distinction fallacy than it is one between agency and not.

He tries to understand the artificial as being evident by a regularity of pattern which distinguished that which is created by agency from that which is evolved more naturally. But I think he slides over the matter of intentionality when he tries to pull global warming into the side of notable artificial constructs.

Sure, it's clear that the identification of global warming as a man-made problem is itself the result of man-made instrumentation to identify the phenomena. The phenomenon of global warming is surely an artificial construct in that sense. But it's not clear to me that such instrumentation can distinguish between the "nature" of global warming and the nature of any kind of weather or climate disturbance, whether caused by man or by an asteroid hit or by volcanic eruption.

Sliding over intentionality as the prior "cause" for agency already loses the entire red team.

I'm reasonably sovereign over my body, though some combination of chance and bad habits may turn it against "me," perhaps in the form of disease. Disease is surely a natural process, but if I'm a smoker then my agency in my own disease is evident enough, right? But the disease doesn't become artificial thereby. And I may wish I didn't smoke, even as I do.

I've also discovered that I like to be sovereign in my own household. I don't mind apartment rental too much, but I sure wouldn't enjoy being imprisoned. Perhaps family is defined by the extent to which it is OK to share with others those things I've built and purchased. Love is the bond. There are close friends who don't treat things as I'd prefer, and lacking sanction authority over them I find it hard to have them inside my household.

They must act as guests, of course, and the time-frame for that must be strictly limited. Stretch it out and guest might become slave. Shared ownership is a recipe for internecine warfare. Trust me, I know this.

It's at the level of the state that sovereignty is now invaded by a disease process. My own nation has started to appear evil to me. I've always understood the dark side, but now we seem positively defined by darkness. We seem a force for evil on the planet. I believe that the cause for this is nothing more complicated than the infection of the body politic by the life-force of money. And those who control the money are in charge.

Their belief structure is no more complex than Trump's. The more I have the better and there is no meaning to life so therefore there is no meaning beyond my own life.Weird that religious Christians have glommed onto this. But then my God is Irony, so it's not so weird that Christians believe in man-made law now.

Of course those with the money have always been in charge, but the structure of our national mythology kept it believable and kept the nation as symbolic entity worthy of my belonging and even my willingness to die, if not to kill, for that sovereign; almost to the extent that I would die and probably kill for my family.

And so, of course and "naturally" we are concerned with the rights of women within family and workplace to call out betrayals and crimes against them. We are concerned about the rights of non-gender binary types and transgendered and homosexuals. This is all even while our workplaces become more and more like tyrannical organizations, especially as they get larger.

These are all natural developments, and I would agree with Bratton that we should and must do everything within our power to redress the wrongs of our carelessness and irresponsibility which has allowed such criminal discrimination and attempts at autocracy at the level of the state to bring down "my" nation by such disease.

To stop smoking at that level must surely be a wilful act. Such will is the natural response of an embattled sovereign. The road to the good health of the sovereign is not so complicated as we would make it out to be.

Sure there may be unintended consequences to medical interventions, especially as these are mediated by money. But that doesn't  mean that our technologically mediated ability to diagnose and treat disease is itself any more artificial than what our immune system does on our behalf.

It's interesting to me that the newly resurgent "corona" virus is blamed on a transgression from wild to caged in the "wild animal" markets of WuHan, China.  Perhaps that truly is the divide that vegans should be concerned with. Not hunting. Not raising the unnatural domesticated animals for human consumption. But caging wild things.

It's in the zeitgeist, of course, for young Harry and Meghan to feel imprisoned by the palace. They want to feel human, too, and the institution of the monarchy is as anachronistic as bleeding cures for consumption.

I guess I'm a capitalist at scale (meaning small and local) and a socialist at the scale of national sovereignty. I'd really like to have our democracy back, according to a renewed mythology that I can believe in.

Wouldn't we all?

My Home Town

". . .Buffalo, you're my home."

I think I heard that dubbed into the "Dirty Water" song once, in place of Boston. The lake died on my watch, and that shaped everything about my future. I kept diving underneath Lake Erie's waters and sailing on their surface until I'd blown my youth. Now while Australia is taking the brunt, I am forming a vision of a Buffalo that everyone will be escaping toward. Here's how it goes:

In the background of this piece of speculative fiction are some items of actual fact:
  • Anonymity is gone by virtue of facial recognition.
  • Real ID is required to board planes and, perhaps soon, trains and busses.
  • People who can't afford to - or don't want to - live in gated communities now guard their houses by various sorts of Ring-type surveillance devices - cameras on doorbells, that sort of thing.
  • Police have access to what is recorded by those devices.
  • Amazon wants to be allowed inside our doors (car and house) so that doorstep thieves can be stopped.
  • Autonomous cars are right around the bend. They would already work well within a defined perimeter, along well-defined routes. Especially if there were no human-driven cars.
  • Our current oil-based economy is not sustainable. This includes transport, heating/cooling, and food production among other things like plastic production.
  • Our current privatized credit-score system is perfectly poised to be transformed into a Chinese-style social-credit system (Hmmmm).
  • Block-chain is fully ready for deployment at any level of sovereignty. from self through city to state.
Those should be enough to get us started.

Buffalo will declare a car perimeter, near the edge of which parking may be free. Zip-type cars will be available for treks into the wild, and rich people can keep their cars there if they want. Perhaps parking will be available within the perimeter for a while, but for its true cost, which will creep rapidly upward as parking spaces are reclaimed for residences according to the iron law of highest and best use.

Inside the perimeter will be various forms of mass transit, including autonomous public passenger cars for those who wish to afford door-to-door or (autonomous) bus-to-door or private service. All will reflect the true, carbon-adjusted and pollution-adjusted (meaning inclusive of all externalities now foisted off on "the public") cost/price.

(OK, so here's the only really controversial part) All land within the city will be appropriated by eminent domain on behalf of the city and immediately leased back to current title holders according to true infrastructure cost per square foot. Lease costs will be uniform throughout the city based on square footage. 

The cost of title purchases will be financed by a one-time wealth tax calculated against the market value of land at some algorithmically determined frozen point in the past, before this scheme seemed real. The wealth tax should be mildly progressive based on length of ownership such that long-term title holders would realize a greater portion of the city-funded windfall than recent flippers. The tax would be weighted against non-real-estate wealth, to ensure that the wealthy will preserve their wealth and the poor will not lose it all. A slider from real-estate wealth to other.

Rent for those who can't afford ownership will be controlled according to proportion of land use (e.g., each floor of a four-story building would be assessed 1/4 the cost of the land-footprint lease) combined with amortized value of improvements.

Air-rights and underground rights could not be bought and sold (except perhaps by the municipal government).

Building codes will require carbon-negative energy consumption and materials production for all new construction. 

Power generation and transmission will be a public utility, and as such a partial source of public revenue.

Power as provided within the perimeter of the city will be carbon-negative. Burlington, Vermont has already achieved carbon-neutrality, based on heavy reliance on biomass. Carbon negativity would be determined by provenance of power generation along with carbon/sequestration-credit trading.

Waste will not be exported beyond the city perimeter except for positive carbon-weighted revenue. As such plastics could not be exported unless and until they become more valuable as waste than their purchase price (once peak oil is more tangibly traversed). 

In the short term, single use plastics would be prohibited within city limits. Bulk non-packaged food would be encouraged by the overall tax/price structure.

Electrically powered transport vehicles (road or rail) will be allowed to penetrate the city perimeter along well-defined and limited routes which connect to distribution terminals inside the city.

Apart from cars, there will be no barrier or obstruction to entry by pedestrians, bicyclists, and Class1 eBikes etc. 

Facial recording will be accomplished prior to entry through all locked doorways. Such recording is considered public surveillance, encrypted until identity is requested, perhaps by police, and decrypted by court order. Disguised faces will be denied entry.

Public disguises would be welcome or even encouraged (Hmmmm).

Tax revenue will be based largely on power consumption and land leases. Power consumption (not only the power generated by the public utility), is assessed against all transactions which entail power use, including all tangible goods, food, and more. Taxes should be calibrated such that long-distance shipped factory processed foods would be more expensive than locally grown organic foods.

Farming within the city permeter would be encouraged by remaining untaxed and lease-free. Thus rooftop farming would not entail a land-lease expense. Successful farming would be assessed as land improvement for transactional purposes, at a rate commensurate with (carbon adjusted) housing construction costs.

Electronic transactions will be taxed indirectly upon receipt of goods by transport hubs within the city, according to manifests of embarkation/debarkation.

Goods "imported" personally through the transit perimeter at city limits which are not carried on the person would be transhipped to transit hubs, or to one's domicile (temporary or permanent) if provenance is established at entry. Provenance will be electronically recorded upon exit or purchase outside the city permeter. Barter would be taxed upon entry.

Providers of connectivity/communications services will be assessed for tax purposes according to power consumption within the city perimeter. 

Use of public transit will require face-scan, and payment will be processed according to successful identification or by cash. Anonymous out of town visitors will either pay cash or have some form of Real ID attached to their credit. Admission to public transit is not restricted.

All citizens of Buffalo will own (protected by blockchain) a set of data held in trust by municipal authorities. That data trust will include all banking, credit, voting, and medical data for each citizen. There will be no back-door access by anyone inside or outside of government at any level. Banking regulations may need to be adjusted. Access would be granted at the point of transaction with such entities as doctors offices, hospitals, retail purchase, cash retrieval, door entry, voting and so forth.

See how I slipped that matter of door entry in there? Sly of me, eh? Mechanical keys will be superfluous, of course. Public transit doesn't have doors as such, just paywalls.

Speaking of keys, surveillance of any sort will be encrypted to prevent access by any entity inside or outside the government without court order. Surveillance is only allowed in "public" spaces, in which case the information is held in public trust, with no presumption of privacy for anyone. Identifiable individuals as revealed by court-ordered decryption cannot be publicly identified without a subpoena. 

Entry of firearms or firearm analogs will be prohibited except according to the following provisions:
  • The gun must be identified by a machine readable RFID or equivalent technology.
  • The gun must be locked against use by any but its owner (perhaps by facial recognition by a paired iPhone-like device or something similar).
  • Penalties for concealed carry of weapons not constructed according to the above restrictions shall be steep - tantamount to attempted murder.
Explosives are prohibited in any form. 

In my imagination, the city of Buffalo will become a preferred space for living by reasons of convenience, safety, cost of housing, and availability of great food (already there!).

Carbon-negative and pollution-negative industry should feel welcome there, also for reasons of low land (use) cost and low taxation.

Current non-profit and therefore tax exempt entities might be allowed lease-free occupation of existing structures, and might be afforded some sort of calibrated wealth tax reduction against the value of the deed buy-back by the city. Buffalo currently faces property-tax shortfalls from non-profit ownership itself premised on a larger population within city limits. Services now provided by hidden subsidy to suburbanites could be more fairly assessed by the new tax structure.

Ready to move in?? I am. I mean I was. Will. Be ready.