Monday, March 23, 2020

The Story is Over, Really

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

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

The more interesting story is only beginning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope not.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Less Bad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are finished if we become so arrogant.

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

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Finally, I think I Understand Bratton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is only co-evolution among myriad species.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Fauci, Surveillance and Penetrance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boris seems nuttier than the Donald at the moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is a tipping point for us all.

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

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

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

Everything has turned so inside out!

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

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

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

Sounds trivial, doesn't it?

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 16, 2020

Money is Not a Novel Virus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anger gets us nowhere.

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Why Elizabeth Warren had to Drop Out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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