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??
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