Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Sovereignty

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.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Escape Velocity

There is a sort of competition going on in my mind, based mildly on conversation last night over a meal at a local and very accommodating Taqueria. Like me, those at the table were all involved in making a FIRST Robotics tournament go. So there was something of an overrepresentation of STEM types.

STEM types like to talk about things like when we will really accomplish escape velocity off planet earth in any meaningful way. Meaningful seems to be related to quantities of people - and stuff to support people - off planet. Limits to rocketry and rail guns are quickly on the table. I reminded folks about the space elevator and graphene, just to throw some rocket fuel onto the conversation.

Meanwhile, given that our current seeming ascendance on the planet is almost entirely grace the cosmic "gift" of fossil fuels, I have my own serious doubts that planetary escape will ever be other than an academic question. "When we reach a population of 20 billion . . ." was the start of one line of conjecture. Given our addiction to oil - you do the math - 20 billion ain't gonna happen. We will have squandered our gifts.

I think that having too much money often indicates fundamental issues with math. Well, at least if you take it from the sample of Trump, Musk and Branson, say. Off planet to Mars entails a lot more than a few thousand spaceships (not to mention what their creation and launch will do to accelerate meltdown more locally).

Anyhow, my interest turns to the more interesting question about how likely we are to resolve the on-planet issues of sustainability. Those prospects look about as dim as the prospects for populating Mars. The hard problem for STEM types too has almost nothing to do with math. Math is just a refuge from politics, love gone bad, and all the hard work of living as a moral creature while craving creature comforts.

We no longer really quite believe that democracy, in any form, can work. The prospect for our current president to follow the Xi-Putin line, by declaring or creating some emergency to indefinitely postpone the 2020 election, shows him doing that to be a lot more likely than for us collectively to either resolve our sustainability issues here on earth, or to escape the planet. The time lines just don't cross right.

It's bizarre really that we don't even know how to begin to address the low-hanging fruit of the right timeline to adjust; which is, of course, the political one. Politics reduces to money lately, and so really that's the part we have to address. It's Homo Economicus what's gone off the rails.

It goes like this: Most of us will sell at least a part of our soul for money. Those of us struggling to lead a morally good life would like to find some way to do well-enough while doing good. The trouble is that the workplace is, politically, most often one form or another of dictatorship. It doesn't hardly matter if that's because of tyranny in the org chart or in the boardroom or by proxy of stockholders. Bottom line is that there's no such thing as an economically viable business that's run in a truly democratic fashion.

So, we should start there, maybe. The soul equation. I think that's the real reason some people are against a minimum basic income provision. Letting people keep their souls is just too dangerous for money. I mean the economy, of course, which is the automaton of money as a harness for our enthusiasms.

There's no intelligence in that system. That's what unnatural means. That wonderful STEM stuff is like rocket fuel to the workings of our unsustainable economy. It harnesses our enthusiasms in ways so that we can distance ourselves from the harm our work is causing - plausible deniability anyone? - while we do the coding that makes drones for the Military Industrial Complex. Search algorithms. Whatever.

The economy, writ large, doesn't care any more for sustainability than pond scum does. Bacteria don't care about fouling their medium. They couldn't exist without a limiting ecology. They'd wipe themselves out near instantly. It's a boundary issue.

My good friend Benjamin H. Bratton is at least working on the right problem. But he's got the wrong slice of humanity in mind. He seems to define humanity based on cognition, from which it's an easy leap to suggest that we should engineer our way - by Terraforming - to sustainability. Cognition becomes the limiting ecology against the economy running amok.

I doubt it. I would define humans more as the moral than the cognitive animal. It's a matter of the heart being in the right place, which is only in the brain if you think that the mind/body separation is a done deal. In simple terms, ladies and germs, we won't engender a sustainable planet if we don't care. And right now we act as though we don't care.

Even STEM types will go into finance if there's not a big enough prize for the contest-winners in developing the space elevator, say, or some other hard problem. Those prizes are easy, since there's so much collateral profit along the way. I guess there must be some prize out there for the first carbon sequestration process which can scale. The first mini nuclear plant which won't overfill the planet with nuclear waste. Me, I'm going for the gold ring. I'm old enough that falling off won't matter - just like a little kid might not feel enough danger, but will still easily recover from the bounce. So long as the age-height limits are set within legal limits, of course.

Once upon a time, Jesus - the movement - did change the way we care. Not so much anymore. They seem to have sold out. Too. You can work for Hobby Lobby if you have no soul at all, I guess, and are in near absolute denial about reality, truth, justice, and all those good things. But is shopping there any worse or better than shopping at Amazon or Walmart or all the other feeding troughs for The Beast? Really? Do you [think you] post to Facebook to build emotive caring community? I've got a bridge to sell you!

Really, the only trouble with the Jesus movement (apart from balls-on patriarchy) is the whole dominion over the earth thing. I'm pretty sure that while Bratton skates in that direction, he's really also looking for something artificial in his terms to be more natural, in mine. Terraforming that depends on human sense of style is just a recipe for disaster.

The hard problem of consciousness is why we care. Not why we're conscious. Shrink the time-frame or scope for interaction enough and anything might seem conscious. Even a complicated machine. But if you can turn it off without caring, well, then it's just a machine. And consciousness was ephemeral (to the very extent that it is repeatable in precise form).

I guess the water religion of Bali was one way to engender sustainable caring. The landscape management of indigenous Australians might be another. Maybe those Aussies suddenly now care. Such 'consciousness' was so easily destroyed by modern and Western and superior engineering-based consciousness. Trump is but the simplified and simple-minded avatar for that sort of consciousness. That sort is hardly sustainable, clearly.

I do suppose that we are conscious on behalf of earth. We've overrun our ecology, but it was carelessness that did it. It wasn't either an active refusal to care on the whole, nor certainly some triumph of our cognitive accomplishment. Our cognitive parts, in those terms, work more like bacteria, responding to the stimulus of money. Money is our alcohol or our growth medium, take your pick. The turning point just depends on levels of saturation in effluent as the medium is exhausted. Either one becomes a boundary condition.

We ain't gonna reach 20 billion on the planet no way no how. If we're really really nice to one another, we might at least survive together. The math for escape just doesn't work, any more than does the math for wilful ignorance of, well, the math.








Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Plastics, Benjamin, Plastics

There was a moment, when the rhyme went out of verse, before we learned to dance again, and when oil had already reached full production capacity from the great wars. Beauty was being drained, until now the mail is delivered by contract workers who must own their means of transportation. Jalopies are beautiful now only in Cuba.

Writers are reduced to pandering to online streaming services, apparently, and most of us are too tired to read any more, always chasing after that one self-indulgence which might allow us not to think too hard, not to feel too hard, not even to need that slow and gentle fall into someone else's arms. Perhaps because even that dance has become too fraught. The urgency is gone.

Yes, Benjamin, it is easy enough to identify the artificial by means of unnatural regularity, but is there a time after automation where it all just looks like garbage? Garbage that won't break down or decompose but has an order that remains apart from nature without even showing any signs of artificial? Only, perhaps, on the molecular level, which might prove that it had to have passed through some era of metastatic cognition?

It is too late, Benjamin, for your projected terraforming, because you yourself have already been subsumed beneath mountains of trashy writings and no-one can bother to read anymore. The most intelligent ones lured by careers in money, and not even aware that all money flows the same way up by automated technological pumps.

The end has already been accomplished and we are but the shrug after detonation. The heart is gone.

The question that remains is what will remain of us after all traces of artifice are (once again?) expunged from Earth so that she/they/it may rejoin to living and the quick? By us, I mean the readers the writers the dancers the ones who would and will and already have died for beauty. The planetarity which might be emergent from terraforming can hardly be beautiful, unless, of course, one finds plastic so. So plastic.

We are all in a boat with the Republicans who find themselves too beholden to the bargain they made with the devil within to dare to confess and repudiate and relinquish their call on power. They are no different than the ones who have accepted and even celebrate our gig economy. None of us even knows how to remain human there. We can only learn to keep our heads above water.

Drowning will at least afford that realization of the One, the love that pervades cosmos that always has. Let go then. Stop trying so hard. There is eternity before the final breath. The rest have already forsaken that. Leave them behind, sweet Jesus, leave them behind. The name they call is void.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

So, What if it Weren't Terrorism?

I'm able to pay attention to certain facts in the periphery of my vision just because of my accidental background. So I happen to notice that there is some important security hole in my computer which will be automatically and preemptively patched today. I try to bump-start the process. Nothing happens. It isn't worth my while to track down certainty here, since I'm in the same boat with multitudes.

By reflex, I am certain that Google, Amazon, Facebook are all evil, just because of their size, maybe, and the callow nature of their outsized influence. They can't play the innocent any longer with me. I'm somewhat less certain about Twitter, Microsoft, Apple. Somewhat more so about Uber, Air b'n' B. I think it might all come down to what Michael Pollan just revealed to me (I'm late to the game) about the industrial processes of food production.

I read his book as somewhat of an adventure tale, almost Tom Clancy grade. When he was assessing the McDonalds meal he ate while driving, at the end of the industrial food production chain, shortly after his mention of IFF the massive mutl-national fragrance and flavor outfit, I already knew the punchline. But he missed it! Tom Clancy missed his cue!

I happen to have insider information from the future - thanks Eric Schlosser, who came a little later - that the reason we like McDonalds fries is because IFF gives them their characteristic reliable hit. Pollan thought it must be something in the "grill enhancers" listed among the ingredients for the hamburger. He must be right, since he takes note that the grey actual burger doesn't have much to recommend it in itself. Look how quickly that truth came out. I wonder what might happen if the ingredients of fracking that the devil himself - Dick Cheney - made secret for Haliburton were to get out? Loopholes in the law will only get you so far, right? Right???

I suppose that given the right flavor/fragrance, our evolved sense of taste could be fooled into eating most anything, even or especially against our best interests. We would even eat our oil directly. Oh, wait, we already do! But at a cost to who and what? The planet is still pretty abstract to those who think that humanity is special for having a soul and that nature is some kind of adversary.

The theory that the dinosaurs were destroyed in a single meteorite hit has recently gained still more credence, according to the New Yorker. It might be determined to be the cosmic gift which led to two things that we must prize; the possibility for humans to evolve on planet earth by the favor granted to mammals by extinction of other branches of the tree of life, and the deposit of incredible reserves of solar energy in the form of fossil fuels. Those fossil fuels have directly enabled humanity's very recent overcoming of the planet. Some accident!

According to The Omnivore's Dilemma the detachment of food from our evolutionary best survival strategies has been concurrent with the mass movement of Americans off the farm, which is about the same time that printed circuit boards, radar and then the digital computational overlay of the Earth took place. I have insider information.

I'm not sure of the details, but didn't Jeff Bezos, the Amazon dude, just recently deflect an attempted blackmail as he left his lovely wife to go after a curvier model. It seemed that he finally understood that whatever might be revealed wasn't going to distinguish him from nearly anyone else on the planet, and so WTF? Who cares? Basically, as far as I can tell, there's nothing about him that might excite porno fans in the way that might justify more nubile superstars' more justifiable anger??

He wants to take us to Mars, right? That's his lifelong justification for amassing so much wealth (and transforming our economy along the way). He's practicing up for the long trip with his megayacht and internalizing paradize with his new squeeze on St. Lukes (wherever that is - I thought it was a hospital).  Good luck to him. What are we to do with the shambles of planet Earth that he's left behind?

The very same processes that have led to the oil-fueled corn-based industrialized food production process, including all the incredible technologies that have organically [sic] formed along the way, have allowed WalMart to deploy big money to undercut and destroy any possible retail competition. (How could I have left that brand off my list of shame??)

It's interesting that while bubba farmers and WalMarketeers don't inspire too many presumptions of cultural or technological genius, Amazon got its start with books. Maybe it turns out that those who actually read Karl Marx are the first to jettison their principles to save a dime? More likely hardly anyone reads him or anyone else who's hard to read anymore. Hardly anyone reads the good stuff. Of course that might have something to do with the incredible rising prices of books. The internals of that supply chain must look something the industrial production of food.

Plus, the students at MIT once did mostly come from the farm, where people developed such honest understandings of how to make things work; how to engineer. So the move off the farm and into the halls of high tech has been underway on many levels for a while now.

So this young girl who is apparently on the spectrum and whose growth was stunted therefore - Greta Thunberg - turns out to be nearly the equal of the unshakable Donald Trump, who's off any spectrum we can know about, and who by any rational measure has nearly nothing inside himself. Beside himself? But himself?

Depictions of Trump floating in diapers or disgustingly naked statues of him on street corners leave him and his pedestal (they call it a "base") unshaken and apparently unshakable. I use the term disgusting in its evolutionary sense as Michael Pollan did. Money can overcome all sorts of burned-in evolutionarily advantageous behaviors is the Message of the Day.

So the question my dear friend Benjamin Bratton raises, at least implicitly, is about how to turn the incredible power of the digital layer of what he calls The Stack to the evolutionary benefit of the planet. He wants to accomplish that by planning. As in, how do we ensure the survival of the wonders of human artifice? How to turn it in synch with nature instead of its (our) current disposition contra?

Apart from the irony (I don't think Bratton quite worships Irony the way I do) of cognition, the problem, becoming cognition, the resolution, I don't think he's quite aware of the dynamics of evolution, which places the dynamics of accident on a plane much more vast than those realms for accident that he describes, viz Verilio. That asteroid strike was part of the evolutionary process.

I checked, and the biomass of humanity is paltry in comparison to the biomass implied in fossil fuel. That really puts our squandering into perspective, especially if and as you (and you MUST) look at mankind's predations on the planet in the context of man's cognitive glories. We would be useless as landfill, dear Earth!

So Bratton wants some sort of deliberate asteroid, maybe?? The derailment which comes along, part and parcel, with the railroad?

Surely many have made the observation that an accident which happens to some innocent accompanies a kind of imperative that massive resources be deployed in remedy and rescue. The same thing happens when high-profile criminals need prosecuting. These are pageants both in support of our forms of governance and in support of our bedrock belief in the importance of the individual (good or bad). Neither would survive without that pageantry. Just look what Elon Musk was wanting to do for those kids stuck in the rapidly inundating cave! And he got accused of some kind of self-aggrandizement, poor fellow. (How did I leave Tesla off my list - another offworld aspirant who would surely leave me behind).

Surely many have observed that our new captains of industry seem nicer than the ones toward the turn of the twentieth century. The "original" robber barons were built on railroads, oil, lumber and shipping, maybe. Oil the constant, maybe. Our current class of hyper-rich probably won't look so hot in retrospect. Plus, the inside of the royal palace has apparently started to look like prison, go figure. Hasn't Netflix been saying something like that in The Queen? Should I take Netflix off my list?

Anyhow, the question I would like to pose regards how these tech titans might respond in the face of the coming emergency. Google wanted credit for the fizzled Arab Spring. Facebook wanted to avoid blame for the catastrophe of Donald Trump (one guesses that the corporate person actually wanted Donald Trump, and gosh, one shouldn't quite confuse the Capo with the entity, now should one? Guilty!

Anyhow, would they come to join the national interest, or would they be more concerned to protect their corners (on whatever the market will mean in the face of whatever scale the coming emergency  - Accident?? - will take?) on whatever might be left of whatever market?

Disease? Check! War? Check! Terrorism? Well, that's a matter of targeting the right individuals, apparently, so checkmate, really, except that Big Tech doesn't seem to want to get involved in that or their customer (we-the-product) might defect when they come after me or you. Score, Apple!

We seem bent on identifying terrorists as individualized adherents to some dangerous other or othering ideology, and bent on ignoring the terrorists within.  But what about the "accident" of climate change, where everyone is an innocent (so long as we don't turn against the cosmopolitan wealthy who live along the inundated coasts). Is there, maybe, something a citizen soldier could do to appropriate the evil technologies in service of the good? Might even the captains of those industries be turned to our side?

I've been tempted to go off Facebook, Google, Apple and the rest, but like Bratton, I'm not such a big fan of meaningless symbolic gestures like driving a Tesla, say, or eating vegan, or wearing cotton, er, Patagonia. What? Whatever!

Those Iranians seem to be able to turn on a dime, en masse, against America and then against their own government. Is it the same individuals? Are there two masses, one red, one blue, like we have in America? Does each assume the other is stupid, evil, benighted, dumb? Anti Patriotic?

Michael Pollan made the abattoir transparent, and it made a difference. Could we use Google's infrastructure, say, to make visible all those hidden externalities of our capitalism? Not just carbon load, but all the hidden distortions to retail, food production, politics, sex and everything else that matters to us, really, that are part and parcel of that economic system that we love so very much, but which is killing us softly and quick?

Well, of course we are, and we do use Google and the rest. So far, at least (or so far as we can tell) Amazon doesn't censor the books and which books it has on offer, and Google remains a semi-honest broker of its keyterms. Of course there is the same problem with our marketplace as there is with our politics - that the good and earnest voices are drowned out by the football-loving crowds, but that isn't necessarily (though it might be in some more subtle way) any direct implication of the honesty of the broker.

But what if there were an algorithmic tax that could be levied against those whose profits are gained by a hidden tax on the whole? What if more than exposing lies could be accomplished? What if carbon loads could really be a proxy for all those other externalities. What if it overwhelms everything else in the form of a Tsunami?

We know that our regulatory infrastructure has been decimated by years of insider politics. Boeing scale, at least. We know that VW-scale harm can ensue when these big lies get exposed. Hell, front page on the IFF website is their corporate statement about human trafficking. They want us to feel good about them, even while they might not want us to know that they are the reason we love McDonalds' fries. A little spice for your web page, monsieur? (My informal polling of right thinking members of the blue team gets the universal response of 'I don't care! I still love them!')

Let's say I give money to provide aid for tornado sufferers, and then the entity which took the aid is exposed for taking advantage of the tragedy to enrich themselves. Outrage, right?

If we were able somehow to show Big Tech that there is a true emergency (Pick one. How about global warming?) AND that they are in some unique space to do something about it, then would they do it? Do they really need to wait until the coasts flood?

So, the challenge is to create an infrastructure in the nature of Wikipedia, taking advantage of block chain to assure that good information doesn't get hacked or expropriated. Identify the sources for the numbers, and let the experts debate. Call them on their lies. Create an infrastructure to catalog the ACTUAL costs of all of our technologies. Then in just the way that Big Tech depends on Wikipedia to inform the readers of its webs, get them to put the carbon score right next to the purchase price of absolutely EVERYTHING. Build in premiums so that purchasers can make the right choice, or get them to move off the web and back among what grass farmers call the Non-Barcode People.

We've got to do something, people!

Let's bring the carbon tax to the people! Instead of leaving it in the hands of carbon intensive businesses, and our moribund regulators, let's put it back into the hands of people. Sure, it would be a regressive tax, just like the lottery is, against those who feel no choice but to eat fast food, which is so petroleum intensive. But so are mega-yachts. The externalities on which fat capitalists thrive belong to the people. The people may prefer to take the trolley once they face the true cost of cars. The rich people can subsidize us. As far as I can tell being rich still means getting rich on oil, one way or another. Payback time!

All we really have to do is to tally the True Cost of  Oil, and then expose its use in every production process. How much is that free shipping really? If the government can no longer be trusted (it's in cahoots) then we the people can do it. None of us - no one of us, no individual - is getting enough from the only apparent cheapness of what we buy to use that as an excuse to hang back from exposing those who do. The rich skim the common good is all, by getting rich off government contracts, by gaming the legal system, by putting honest workers out of business to create some high-tech monopoly on magically falling prices. We the people, left, right and center, can actually do something about that by exposing it to the light of day!

The government will get on board because the work's already been done for them (us)! (Remember way back when poor sad-sack Al Gore thought the government had to subsidize the Internet the way that the military industrial complex subsidized the interstate highway system? Oh, wait . . . ) Mr. Kurtz said "The Horror, The Horror." I say The Irony The Irony! Come on, Al! Get out of the dark! Where are you hiding? Comfy yet?

Oh, the sun is up now. I must make myself more awake. Such a sweet sweet dream. Oh, and yeah, that security vulnerability that I adverted to at the opening of this blog. That was reported by the NSA back to Microsoft. Wow! Where once they tried to keep those secrets to themselves in order to hack the terrorists (eventually handing them, therefore, to the terrorists before the white hats got them back) they seem to have decided to be on the side of the good guys. Wait, now where did I list Microsoft hereinabove?? Maybe the NSA is afraid of yet another Snowden Crash? Maybe we should let all the secrets out. Wanna see me naked??

Ew!


Monday, January 13, 2020

A Call for a Typology of Technology (in resolution of my read of Benjamin H. Bratton The Terraforming)

I'm trying, once again, to read Benjamin H. Bratton. He makes it very hard. So hard that after reading The Stack the first time, I wrote a review on Goodreads that was as impenetrable as he is. My Goodreads reviews are just bookmarks for me, seldom being inviting enough for someone else to read, much less appreciate. My writing is often impenetrable even by me! I find it somewhat strange to be afforded the tool, though I should remind myself more often how ephemeral it is. I own nothing of myself there. Or here. Or anywhere, which may be part of Bratton's point.

Bratton is hard to read on purpose, in a way. It's almost as though he deliberately - by means of his personal agency - wants to hide the serious flaws in his reasoning. Of course I don't quite believe he's doing that deliberately. Meaning that he fools himself first. He actually believes what he writes. That, I believe, might form the crux of the problem for me, in his stance.

The hard problems which must be resolved, but which can't be resolved:
  • Devising and implementing a structure for sovereignty that won't deploy power for devious, insider-privileging and ultimately planet-destroying ends. How can any technology for sovereignty be trusted?
  • Finding a lever by which to change culture (if the lever is intellectual, it has to be on a grade-three reading level). Bratton seems to believe that redesign of automation processes will entail changes to culture (without regard to whether those changes contribute to a positive or negative feedback loop) perhaps in the way that the earth-as-marble space shot (should have?) changed culture previously.
I follow, or at least I think I follow, most of his reasoning, and I have to say that he fills me with hope. I can begin - almost - to construct a trustworthy narrative for myself which doesn't have to include mass collapse on the way to steady state. I mean steady state for whatever becomes the highest generalization for whatever we mean by (grounded!) human. 

My hope is grounded on his sturdy deconstructions of the meanings of "natural" and "artificial" and on his exposure of the ground for the necessary consequent decentering of humans. He either announces or proposes a new Copernican shift away yet again from anthropocentrism. Hurray! (But the distinction between announcing and proposing is incredibly consequential.) 

Copernicus discovered something by means of technology newly available to him. It will take me a few more re-reads to know if Bratton has discovered something or if he is making more of a declaration. If the latter, then I will only be able to retain his brilliant analysis and be required to jettison any, or most, of his conclusions.

There is some shifty sleight of hand when he fails to clarify that to decenter humanity, he must declare what he calls "agency" as some sort of eternal cosmic property, recently discovered as such. The dance around this is what makes reading him so difficult. 

I believe he does this by some definition for artifice as patterns which can't have occurred without agency. His examples include distinguishing an arrowhead from a rock, or most notably, distinguishing climate change from something that would have happened without us. It takes agency to know agency, and what we have to change - very deliberately change - is the destructive AI that we have loosed upon the earth by relinquishing our agency (over it?).

When the asteroid strikes, that can't involve agency by his definition. It would be pure accident on a more massive scale even, than the catastrophe of climate change which is precisely the emergent/accident from the new field for accident which is the human overlay of AI. An awful lot of nifty accidents got us to this place by way of cosmic-scale evolution. It's just that we can't have been the end of that.

But now I am starting to understand Bratton, and before I completely retract my earlier review (somehow I was supposing that his insights would look as silly as phrenology - I must have been reading something about phenology at the time - when reviewed on the basis of some future understanding. Presuming that future understanding is better understanding. A technologically enhanced higher level of generalization/abstraction?

There's the rub for me. Maybe I'm too much of a Platonist to think that we aren't destroying and covering up even, or especially, as we "progress," though I prefer to think I'm too much infected by the entirely non-Platonic Chinese tradition. (which used to be all about steady state and no progress). In that case, too much proliferation and complexity is degenerate and not progressive. Wait, that sounds Platonic! I think I'm trying to discover if Bratton is a closet Platonist. By which I think I mean a Westerner uncontaminated by a differing cosmology. It is important to distinguish what is an accident. It can't just be distinguished by desire, can it?

I'm sure that Bratton's ears perked up, or would have, when Nancy Pelosi declared "all of us" ready to die for our country last night. Really? Die for some principle maybe, but no longer for this country. I'm glad she's there for sure, but I think she just did declare the end of the nation-state as an entity worthy of self-identification. Enter Bratton's reconfigurations for sovereignty description.

I'm not so good at any kind of -ology, for sure, which is probably why I never could succeed as a scholar. Every time I come across such words as phenomenology, teleology, epistemology, . . . I have to look them up. Not necessary as much for their meaning as for their usage, which never sticks for me. Maybe it's slippery out there in the wild. Who knows?

So, as I try to grok Bratton's rather novel generalizations as he deconstructs terms like "nature" and "artifice" I am starting to realize that most of my complaints involve his (apparent, since I can hardly claim to have mastered his entire corpus - by which I don't mean having read everything he's written - more toward getting a grasp on his terminology -ology) . . .his generalizations about technology.

In a world where writing now is commonly called a technology, alcohol is called a drug, and therefore hallucinogenics are as dangerous as opioids (dangerous to which sovereign, is the question), a typology for such a term as technology is certainly in order. It feels strange to me that it gets used as though there were some unitary meaning for it, no metaphors required. I *really* surprises me that Bratton seems to use it that way. (I can only say "seems" since I do believe that he believes that its meaning is as basic as the distinction between artifice and nature.)

If writing is a technology, then there must be distinctions between and among types of writing. Those would have to include distinctions between handwriting and typewriting, sound transcription, and Chinese writing with characters, just for some quick examples.

Of course Chinese writing also transcribes sound, and maybe the difference between sound transcription and alphabetic writing isn't so distinct. One can certainly get a computer to transcribe Chinese - more easily and accurately, actually, than happens for English. By the same token, however, handwriting Chinese engages differing parts of the brain toward language mastery as compared with keyboard entry than is the case for English. These distinctions can be important, for sure, at least because they might form the basis for exceptions to higher-level generalizations about the technology of writing.

We certainly did transform as a species in the transformation from orality to literacy, qua Ong, and much got destroyed. Our impact on earth certainly became more consequential. I wonder how we are transforming in the era of earth-encompassing new technologies. I wonder if Bratton is unreconstructed, and if I am.

So starting at the highest level of generalization that I can come up with off the top of my head - high enough, I hope, to avoid too many obvious exceptions - let me first list a catalog of distinctions:
  • digital is not the same as analog
  • mechanical technology is not the same as communications technology
  • technology for the purposes of discovery (microscope) is not the same as technology to accomplish some already established end (bulldozer)
A couple of things might be obvious from the construction of this short list: 
  • distinctions among types of technology aren't the same as to say that one type may or may not be embodied by a different and distinct type. Thus any analog mechanism may be embodied to some arbitrary degree of precision by means of digital technology. It still won't be analog.
  • schematic representations may seem identical across distinctions
  • because of the above, which might refer to a kind of flow chart of a purpose for technology, the intention of the maker of any technology must be a part of the cataloging of distinctions
  • invention is distinct from discovery (we in the West are culturally disposed to credit inventors, where in China, for instance, the possibility for a "firearm" was discovered by way of bamboo-tube rocketry, perhaps)
I would like to make note here of some interesting tangential matters:
  • Reading Henry Adams recently, I was struck by how often he mentioned the compass, gunpowder, and even paper as the things that had changed everything across the turn of the twentieth century. That may have been before China laid legitimate (for the West) claim to "discovery" of same.
  • Neurologists seem to have discovered that we make decisions before we are conscious of having decided. That seems related to a distinction in the brain between its function to catalog and organize impressions on the one hand, and to make predictions to guide actions on the other. Only the important stuff gets handed up to consciousness.
  • The construction of narratives is basic to mind's predictive function. They form the basis for some projection into the future by means of which we may guide our actions to maximize our likelihood for survival (or pleasure or pain-avoidance, whatever).
  • Once we have language, we participate in shared narrative.
  • Once we have writing, we can extend our narratives into a more distant and reliable past to assure better projections into some future (now a collective future).
  • Narrative must therefore be pre-cogitive, since our brains decide before we do consciously.
  • This may easily appear as precognition. Strange and meaningful coincidence may seem less so once and if we account for all the perceptions which never make it to consciousness in the first place. Preparation of the ground conditions revelation. Only stuff that is relevant to our narrative may appear.
  • Fate and the subconscious are the same thing, so far as we can know and tell
  • New digital and especially communications technologies are as large a break with writing as was relativity and quantum physics with material determinism.
  • The direction of the change is backwards. (our sovereign identifications shrink, and our identities fracture). Of course, backward/forward and up/down are not cardinal directions.
  • Humanity is in the process of becoming all over again.
This above list of "tangentials" is meant to explain my first distinction between digital and other forms of technology. Digital can't do random, can't resolve Zeno's paradox, and can't extend the ground for its predictive computations beyond its internal decision tree (s). Godel Escher Bach. Tralala.

I am hereby making the claim for a stark distinction between an embodied brain and a disembodied difference engine. The brain is contiguous with a nebulously bounded external ground. It may be contiguous in ways analogous (metaphorically, please!) to holographs or ether-nets, rendering boundedness meaningless for mind. On/off logical computation is radically bounded from any ground beyond its fully describable structures. Signalling must be overt, material representable, and non-emotive. Period.

Emotions are likely the most proximate cause for human "decisions." Impulse, attraction, revulsion.

Emotions are likely also the basis for the rationalizations made when we take ownership for a choice that was not properly ours, in the sense of our conscious self; the one credited with "free will." (I will have to follow with a taxonomy for emotion).

Some tech defines and/or defends the bounds of sovereignty. Obvious that would include military tech, but also housing, and communication that defines a group, where emotional bonds can extend a boundary of security.

While digital machinery may connect to and join with an external ground by means of inputs and outputs, in and out are and must be as clearly (and as starkly) defined as the distinctions between on and off.

Real and imaginary are distinct in the same way. I'm almost as much of a materialist as Bratton is. Not nearly so much of an idealist, though!

Furthermore, while the term technology has become a dog whistle for digital technology, that usage also buries digital technology beneath the rather foolish notion that technology can describe in a single word everything we cover with that one term. We've lost track of our metaphors. 

So, here's my grid:


A Typology of Technology
Type Digital Mechanical Communications
Artistic/cool input/output only Uncarved Block mediated mesh
Intentional/hot designed and iterated driven and iterated disembodied mesh
Sovereignty institutionally evolved fiat, skins and walls group definitional

Of course I have something of McLuhan's treatment of media in mind, to a certain extent. But he was only dealing with communication as that thing which does, perhaps, make us most human. He was more concerned with Chardin's noosphere than with Bratton's metaphorical stack. His "extensions of man" weren't quite so physical.

But again, the eyes are privileged, the ears second, as inputs to a disembodied brain. The embodied person deals with much more than what is treated by McLuhan and others as "media." A clue is provided in the usage of "Information Technology," which sometimes elides into or from "communications technology." As Bratton urges us to understand, all technology is embodied and energy consuming and has real impacts on the earth. Maybe signal fires and waving flags would have less embodiment, despite their tangible physicality. Are books the same when read on the web, or read to one by a computer voice, or when read without taking notes or making some sort of response?

Mechanical technology is perhaps only distinguished from digital in the matter of the location for/of "accident." All relations in a mechanism are tangible and explicit and can be perfectly represented by some schematic. When things break, the site and cause can be discovered. In the case of digital technology to the point where it has now evolved, most or much of the mechanism is obscured. As Bratton so brilliantly exposes, most of the embodiments of digital technology (where the carbon gets emitted) is utterly unavailable to ordinary consciousness, and almost never included on any schematic. But by now even the schematics are themselves computer generated (the templates for the chips, say) and the ordinary presumption that some expert can locate the break feels no different than a presumption in prior times that the high priest should know. That's the field for accident that Bratton locates. Automation as ecology.

For sure, I'm not too thrilled with this "grid" of mine. I'll have to be more three-dimensional or find an altogether different way to generate some useful typology. But I do think that the distinction between "artistic" and "intentional" is an important one. Fundamentally, that's a distinction between intentionality and agency on the one side, and something more interactive on the other. 

And if I'm right that emotions provide the inception for agency, I think it also opens a way to include money in the typology. Frankly, that's what I think Bratton is missing. It's not just that tech is happening and will happen and that we have to get on top of it. There is no manifest destiny to technology any more than there is a single direction for history; for progress. 

Bratton knows this at least implicitly by addressing the very history-changing project of terraforming. It is at least accepting of the notion that decisions have to be made and we can't just let the tech run amok. Technology has made us responsible. For technology, along with everything else. There is precisely no manifest destiny, and tech can't solve anything by itself.

I'm proposing that most of the issues that people - including me - might have about the proliferation of technology have more to do with money, which often stands in for more basic human emotion. Money sublimates most of our animal behaviors, and provides the impulse that had been provided by survival needs. 

Of course money is a communications technology. It's been an instance of AI since way before digital tech. But how should it be categorized? Perhaps we need to investigate the term "Artificial Intelligence" along the same lines that Bratton destabilizes Western assumptions about the difference between "natural" and "artificial." Can there every be any higher tech than automation? I don't think there can.

What if there is no such thing as "intelligence" apart from biological humanity. What if it's less a matter of the logical, thinking, metaphorically computer-like brain and - as the term works in Chinese - intelligence *always* incorporates emotion in its definition. Most anything can be automated, probably including what we often refer to as thinking. But if intelligence *must* incorporate emotion, then it would be hard to outsource it to any kind of technology, no matter how evolved or sophisticated.

I still can't figure out if I'm fundamentally agreeing with Bratton or not. I wonder if I'll ever have the energy . . . (how much carbon do I burn by thinking so hard?) I think that Bratton is still a literate human; therefore a human who believes in intentional design and who is most emotionally engaged with his individual identity. He feels more like an inventor or discoverer than he does a participant in collective action. His belief structure feels vaguely fascistic, if there is a good and positive sense for that.

I think that emergent humanity will (once again?) be more emotionally engaged with some sovereign entity that is much larger than an individual. I'm not sure that automation can be ecology any other way.

The extreme first person shooter individualism on display at the moment is but the last gasp of what it once did mean to be human. Team sport politics are as dead as the flag. Computer gaming is an exercise in who gives a fuck. And yet the human spirit has never been so alive and well.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Benjamin H. Bratton's Terraforming

I have no idea what I'm doing writing reviews up here. I don't expect or even want anyone to read them. I do want to understand how the world operates, and Bratton has really helped me to do that. His massive tome - we call it the BIG WHITE BOOK among friends - it's actually called The Stack - is quite readable, and extremely eye-opening for its descriptions of aspects human life on the planet that I could never have represented to myself as well as Bratton has. I think everyone should read it, if only as journalism, for what it reveals about our now digitally overlaid planet.

This book opens with the bang of the crises we face; specifically the twin crises of climate change and artificially intelligent automation. Bratton (or is it the automatic computers he pulls from?) gives us ten years. His solutions are design-based and dependent on human agency.

As it happens (well, not exactly, I was fairly deliberate about this), I'm reading Bratton along with the highly readable Michael Pollan. I've learned amazing things about the human brain and how agency works in his How to Change Your Mind and now I'm learning amazing things about how contemporary humans on the planet have been engineered by corn (as in corn is genetically triumphant because of us humans) in The Omnivores Dilemma. That is one of those books I've had on my literal shelves (now in storage) for a long time. I borrowed it digitally for the read.

I wear cotton to keep from needing too many chemicals to prevent my stinking, even while I know how dirty the cotton industry is. I feel repelled by Patagonia, and have all those nasty prejudices when a Tesla goes by. I repress them, because there's nothing wrong with Teslas drivers - they're almost all likeable people to me. I think I resent that they think they might be mitigating some harm (if not doing any particular good) by driving a Tesla. It's still a car, and they're not. And I don't have enough money for either Patagonia or Tesla, which is really what bugs me about the whole deal.

I think that Bratton agrees with me that driving a Tesla resolves nothing. Not sure. But I have no idea yet why he thinks we can plan our way out of this mess in ten years. We can't even get rid of Trump.

As a lapsed wooden boat sailor, I'm mindful that with much more primitive man and horse driven technologies, the wooden boat building industry wiped out our old growth forests even before we did the Bison in, and, mostly by means of disease germs, the native Americans. I'm mindful of the catastrophe of agriculture itself, perhaps grace Harari Sapiens or his other book(s) (they seem to proliferate).

What is it about this current asymptotic limit now at close of a shockingly transformative industrial communications computational revolution starting no longer ago than Darwin - what is it that makes things feel so terminal? Well, duh, right? It would seem that we have to plan our way out of it. There's no god I know of about to swoop in to rescue us. We just don't seem all that relevant.

Except that I've always felt that our consciousness is the trouble. Bratton takes great pains to explain how much more carbon intensive what he calls "culture" is than most everything else about how we organize ourselves. In just the way that Michael Pollan traces everything back to oil and corn (I've only started), Bratton traces what happens when we "push" (as in electrostatically interact with by touch) a button on our iPhones.

I *think,* but can't know, that what's really happening *is* a change to consciousness; a change in what it means to be human. Sure, the computer has taken over our brains in some sense, but it's really money, isn't it? That's the technology for communication that harnesses my survival impulses on a moment by moment basis, as though I were hunting on some savannah. I love the trace through Amazon's website to find cheap gizmos for solving my very local issues of survival in my tiny house on wheels with solar panels. I love getting pinged about the recycled from China maybe cardboard box's progress to my (borrowed) door. I love solving those little problems, even while I *hate* Amazon with a passion normally reserved for Walmart; for its destruction of local business. (I used to love conducting the hunt by car, right?)

I think, but am still not sure, that Bratton wants me to embrace these things as inevitable and harness their titanic energy to save the earth instead of destroy it. I embrace his deconstructions of romantic distinctions between "natural" and "artificial" and his call for a further Copernican turn away from our continued anthropocentrism. We still act, as he writes, as though nature were the misty backdrop for our finest performance.

What I have trouble with is that, sure humans have been terraforming ever since the advent of writing and now it's coming to a head. But we've also been engineered by the planet. I don't know which has the upper hand, I honestly don't. Have we become disposable? Are we needed now as landfill? Who's the joke on, oh captain Irony my captain? (no really, Irony is my captain, no matter what Foster Wallace said.)

If by means of agency we might re-join rather than exit cosmic-grade evolution, I'm all for it. I just don't have a clue how Bratton proposes that we do that. At the moment I'm finding more hope in the magic mushrooms documented by Michael Pollan. I'm not about to - but maybe Bratton should - try a guided trip. I don't know, but his brain seems a lot like a really powerful computer to me, and I still do believe, in a not religious way, that there is more to cosmos than what materialistic science can describe.

I'm going to keep trying to read him because it feels hopeful. Once he understands that love is a cosmic motive power that's stronger than our pitifully local agency, I might get really excited (apparently mushrooms can accomplish that - who knew???). Anyhow, job one is to get Trump out of office and restore some sanity to our basic operations. We can't begin to save the earth if we live in LaLa Land, the movie.

Roger that, Benjamin! Just remember that neurologically speaking agency starts with emotive impulse. I *care,* I really do. I just don't understand what to do.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

Reading Up on Psilocybin in the Age of Trump

In my usual scattershot way, I got turned on to Michael Pollan's recent book called How to Change Your Mind when I turned on a holiday re-run of a 60 Minutes segment about research into psychedelics for addiction, PTSD, and terminal cancer despair recovery.

Silly me, I thought 'oh yeah, so that's the solution!' People dissolve their egos, realize that the main cosmic force truly is love and then we reform humanity as part of, rather than apart from, nature. A sort of reversion to the hive forms of social creatures with presumably less impact on the planet.

These excursions can excite dormant parts of my memory, which also always reminds me why I can and could never be a scholar. I just don't have the mind for it, always dropping more threads of thought than I can track; leaving go of promising directions for my unguided research and then really quite forgetting about them.

It's all a good reminder than ones own personality is really the only reliable organizing principle, which really explains why all the excitement about the transformative qualities of psychedelics has mostly led - via computer technology, perhaps - to an acceleration of already settled trends, whether those be good, bad, or indifferent.

So tech moguls seem to harness their psychedelics inspired insights into the godhead of the cosmos to enhance their own abilities to expand their personal impact. Sort of like the way the Ivy League works now, where there are diminishingly few graduates anymore who went for the education, per se. Some might graduate and want to do good, but that always seems attached to the ego enhancements that is the actual purpose of the Ivy leagues to confer.

I'm an Ivy Leaguer who has remained a schlump, and that somewhat deliberately. There are plenty of us. We regard ourselves vaguely as failures, even while being somewhat proud for not selling out. Perhaps I would be a more proper Ivy-grade self-huckster if only I were able to be that certain of something that I might have that might be worthy. I'm not against being conventionally successful in principle, despite the moral burdens that might entail.

My life's work, as it were, is to understand what the fuck is going on, and in general I feel pretty successful with that. Less successful with communicating what I've found.

Like lately my project has been focused on what the fuck is going on with Donald Trump. I don't mean the man himself, and I don't mean finding some intellectual framework to understand the sociological phenomenon. I really just mean that I'm trying to understand why so many people are bent on giving him a pass for being such a narcissistic and sociopathic asshole.

I'm not helped in this endeavor by my diffident social recessiveness. I wouldn't go around announcing what I'm up to, in the guise of a writer or a journalist, perhaps, like Michael Pollan. But I do have an easy time talking and connecting with a wide variety of types, which certainly does include Trumpsters. They hardly ever offend me personally, even while their representations might, from a distance.

I guess that Trump's evident success in politics might have something to do with a personal magnetism that many sociopaths display. He is certainly about display. But in the end, I think it's more about our collective beliefs about what it means to be human.

We are really attached to individualism. We reward individual talents and personalities extravagantly in the arena's of sports or cinema, say. We reward individual beauty, genius, financial rapacity (department of redundancy, in the charge of Captain Obvious) and so on. Ordinary wage-work sloughs off the self-actualization bandwagon along with all the other uglies and what Hillary calls deplorables.

But the main thing is that we enshrine individualism in our one person one vote dream for democracy. We remain, in principle, equal, despite vast differences in privilege and socioeconomic clout. Of course those dreams of democracy can't work when money combined with technology can so easily manipulate the vote. But that hardly loosens our grip on the dream.

I find hope in this, in the sense that this set of understandings enables me to understand Trump in a positive light. Of course people want a talented leader. They want to believe that there is someone competent enough to make the right decisions all the time. And only someone like the Real Donald Trump is so unhinged as to make that claim about himself.

In other words, much like the way I view our dependence on fossil fuels, these have been a gift from the cosmos. While we seem mostly to have squandered the gift, not knowing what to make of the transformations its energy storage has enabled, there's no denying the explosive transformation of our world that fossil fuels have effected. I'm just waiting for the quantum shift in consciousness that should and must accompany such transformation is all.

And in that sense Trump  spells the end of our dangerous fantasy. There is no further to go in the downward slide from Reagan through Dubya to Trump. They were all empty vessels for our projections along with the projections of the moneyed and self-aggrandizing powers that are really in charge. I'm not talking about any sort of deep state. I'm talking about the obvious.

Trump spells the end of the descent into the dangers of a cosmology of human individualism and the implicit assumption that history ends with it's triumph in the approximate form of individualistic peak consumers. Living the good life on a virtual private yacht with lots of nubile babes to fuck. Not much different than our projections onto what those self exploding Jihadi others long for. We literally can't imagine another way to be our best selves. Note that women are entirely left out from all of this as objects, just as they are strangely absent from narratives about psilocybin.

The enlightenments from psychedelics are just grandiose versions of the enlightenments form motherhood, it would seem to me. Visions that MEN would have who wish to come back down to earth to lead some movement. Some disruptive transformation.

Under these conditions I think it would be useful to offer something that's equally accessible by everyone rather than an amplifier for male grandiosity. Or lets say accessible by anyone who's somewhat literate. Literacy is a two-edged sword, for sure. In my cosmos, it is both the mechanism for subsumption into a power structure developed mostly for the benefit or one or another form of patriarchy, while it is also the mechanism to break free of that, in communion with some communicable "truth." In my usage here, "truth" only has to do with being trued to other words and not to some ultimate Platonic god-form. So no-one gets to be the expert guru leader type, even while someone might get celebrated for a discovery of sorts.

So that's my life's work; to find those words. I mean I have found those words, but I haven't been able to find a way to lead anyone to read them in their proper sense. Were anyone to do so they also would realize that same set of marvels revealed under the influence of LSD, magic mushrooms, toad venom, whatever. But the realization would be more permanent and more transmissible/transferable.

It is my fervent hope and sense that there can and will be a sort of catalysis, where one single understanding spreads to become quickly universal. I'm hoping for at least the speed that went from Einstein's discoveries toward the end of Henry Adams life (an amazing read, that I had just now) to the actual release of those massive sums of energy which his theories enabled. The term of merest youth.

But the goal now is not to entrust the transformations to some elite cadre of, in that case, physicists and their administrators, who may not be in the best position to make the decisions. The transformations have to transit the populace or we end up with 'in Trump we trust,' in one form or another. I mean he wouldn't even listen to the physicists, or at least not for their truth value. He'd go right to the punch and deploy the power for his own personal ends and damn consequence to the rest of the planet.

Here's how I got to my words, roughly. First off, I died, and had that signal experience of my life passing before me in an instant, in full detail. That tends to warp one's sense of the meaning of eternity.

Next, I hazarded into the twin pursuits of Chinese language (starting with the classical written language) and physics. It turns out that I had a talent for each of those, the twinning effectively preventing my delving too deeply into either.

The Chinese provided antidote to the Platonism still ruling the Western mind. That's what gives us God as the eternal perfect form for human, and the crazy notion that ideas are expressed after first being formed in the mind. Which leads to insanities like virtual reality, dreams of cyborgs and immortality, truth in and through words, and such-like.

Chinese creativity seems to work on the stuff of existence rather than on ideas. The artist starts with an uncarved block and not with some vision which requires outering. The limits to the mind are not even transcendable in principle, nevermind in practice. That doesn't mean that the random stuff beyond understanding is meaningless, but only that it can't be known and understood.

There is beauty in each of these disparate cosmologies and many ways that they might be mapped onto one another, but there is also fundamental disparity. Just as there is with the writing systems. Chinese writing has a connection to the cosmos that is prior to language. Western writing is always a record(ing).

So perhaps it was easier somehow for me to make the leap through particle physics to a shift in cosmos. A cosmic shift, if you will. I mean you won't but I did when I was lots younger. My insight was simple, informed as it was by having gotten outside the set of metaphors that govern even physics.

Perhaps I started with the candy-colored metaphor that gravity is love. I know I was trying to make sense of meaningful coincidence in my life. Many people settle for Jesus or another form of religion for those answers, and move on. I have been more struck by the importance of accident to both my life and to life in general. Evolution moves by accident.

At the opening of the atomic age, Henry Adams was moved to understand force just as the physicists and disrupted religionists were. There wasn't yet the notion of bosons, I don't think, but there was already a sense, as he called it, that motion and matter were identical. There remained the mystery of why it was that the Virgin moved the world as much as the locomotive did. How was one to understand the differences in those motives?

Anyhow, while living aboard the wooden sailboat that I'd rebuilt as my home, it seemed trivial suddenly one sleepless night around 1982. If there were no definable forces, then matter would be the disposition of some primordial mind. I wasn't concerned about brains, just about mind preceding matter as a cosmic descriptor.

Forces implied eventual impingement of matter upon matter and would happen mind or no. But movement without force could only happen in the mind, and it did seem obvious to me that such motion could be reduced to what we call emotion.

And so, of course gravity started to look precisely like love in a metaphorical sense at least. Way back in 1982 we were already embarked on the quest to find the boson mediating the force of gravity. I thought that would be impossible given Einstein's general theory of relativity. That posited the equivalence of gravity and acceleration. Space curvature was entailed and later proven, seeming to make the force of gravity a descriptor (like mind) rather than some discoverable exchange of tangibles. There was enough instrumentation already in 1982 - before the CERN supercollider - to make "tangible" a very fuzzy notion. We have gravity waves, but as yet we have no graviton. A matter of time, perhaps?

For me, at least, the quest has lost its interest. As far as I know, I'm still the only one to have paused on definitions for mind and emotion that require no further discoveries. That's not to nullify the possibility for endless investigations to build our collective understanding of our cosmos. But for me, at least, it does change the tenor of such investigations.

What that mainly means is that those investigations can no longer be considered amoral, or inevitable, or always leading to understanding that is not automatically wedded to power. There is really nothing left to be understood in those terms. The only thing left is to be manipulated.

We have recently entered into a dangerous endgame of confusing the enhancement of human agency with understanding. We have yet to uncover how evil that is. Intelligent young people now simply assume that our hoped for technological breakthroughs won't happen before we burn everything down.

I have more faith in life than that. We will wake up to the fact that agency is not understanding and that what we mean by "truth" can only be distorted thereby. We have to stop projecting ourselves onto "nature" is all. In just the way that the human mind is only metaphorically centered on a CPU - and the metaphor is very parochial - the ability to do something is not the only measure for understanding, good measure though it may sometimes be.

Even if you don't follow the argument that scientific understanding has jumped the shark in a way, it should be trivial to reach agreement that the solutions to our problems are more political and sociological than they are technological. We just don't have the collective will to do things right. We are culturally trapped into wanting a strong man (and I mean MAN not woman) to deploy force confidently. That will end us as a species.

Fortunately, life will prevail. Love will prevail. And if our biological species does survive, we won't recognize it, so what's the worry? I will always have fonder memories of the rainbow homecomings than I could ever form at Burning Man. Those people don't even know that it truly is a celebration of an ending. The new beginning is happening where people don't trumpet themselves so.