Writing toward crystallization of narrative plots to something more like poetry. Poetry is for adepts, but anyone can tell a story, right?
Thursday, June 23, 2022
Haphazard Review of The Currency of Politics, by Stefan Eich
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
After reading both of Adam Tooze's most recent books, and now this book which was recommended by Tooze by way of his periodic "Chartbook" posts, I am fully convinced of the importance of exposing the fraud that money and finance are apolitical. Money is not a neutral medium of exchange, and the fiction that it is makes up a big chunk of what is killing us.
Indeed, it may well be that our fumbling understanding of the nature of money comes closer to explaining the rise of neo-fascist so-called "populism" than all the myriad other explanations, convincing though those explanations may remain.
It's the right [Republican, in America] which mostly seems to need the enlightenment provided by this book. And yet some among them were the only ones who cautioned us not to refund the crooked banks. They caution us about social media, while the Dems seem to think all tech is good tech.
The persistent hoi polloi for Trump must feel justified in their anger, despite the inexcusable nature of their behaviors. They have been dispossessed of something, as have we all. Their vague sense that the thief is contained somehow within the cloud of the privileged elite, which most certainly includes the perennial political players, feels justified. But this book shows that historically, this is the process that has always allowed autocrats to insert themselves into more legitimate politics.
And for sure, the mainstream media represents the interests of that same elite. Many of us even suppose that it is the elites who keep the system going. And many of us aren't wrong. The question is who they keep it going for. We should all demand clarity about that; it won't be coming from the mainstream media. It sure won't be coming from Fox News. You have to do the work of finding out. You have to read something more than socially mediated posts and the infotainment which still defines broadcast news.
For instance, read this book! Let's all stop hitting the anger buttons all the time, left and right. Let's turn our anger into positive action.
There are still tiers, if not classes, within this elite. At the top are the hyperwealthy, which include "vectorialist" (McKenzie Wark) media owners. Below that are the stars, the anchors; the well-coifed talking heads and CGI-corrected beauties. And then there are the academics, channeled by media reporters, who all still appreciate the finer things of life.
Never mind that those who occupy the coarser side of life might be as rich, have even better cleavage, and most certainly include plenty among the hyperwealthy. The elites on the right are simply better at pandering to motorized outdoorspeople with guns. Trouble for me is that I still like those people most of the time. I'm sick of stupid generalizations.
There are true believers in meritocracy on either side. Merit wants a neutral measure. One thing which binds all sides together is a strange notion that wealth is an indicator of merit. That notion is only newly strange, and its identification as such owes a massive debt to Eich and his mentor Tooze.
We, the hoi polloi are now almost precisely divided between urban and rural [mentalities] when it comes to political taking sides. And that in turn sometimes seems increasingly about race. To categorize people based on race is, of course, precisely as misguided as is the supposition that money is neutral. This idiocy is now measurable precisely by wealth gaps.
The political neutrality of money reminds me of other false measures which are thought to be neutral, like IQ or I don't know, let's say beauty again. These things are all related to cultural and social norms, and reflect collective preferences. By reading these books, one learns that money is as normative as is language or law. Part nature and mostly culture.
One learns that credit markings come before money, just as they come before writing. One learns that coinage was meant to help with justice. That currency is basic to politics. One makes a lot of puns to oneself while reading. (Thank the author for not making them for you)
Anyhow, it's the economic contortions and distortions combined with political failure to understand how money works that have historically led up to various political crises, especially during the twentieth century with its two great global world-war convulsions.
And here we are now, once again politically paralyzed in the face of unprecedented stressors and global convulsing. As the arguments have it in these books, part of our paralysis descends from our failure to agree about what money really is. We remain, for the moment, in a nuclear stalemate, on an angry planet. Myriad sorts of media tell us all about it without helping us to know what to do.
Like a lot of people, I'm sure, I tend to identify the idiocies of bitcoin and the injustices of startup culture with a kind of naive libertarian ideology, which would include libertarian economics. I think it would be correct to put the mistaken notion of neutral money squarely on the backs of these libertarians. Their artificial gold lacks only the incorruptible beauty of the real stuff. We need the state involved now more than ever.
But now I read a different libertarian tract by a different Stephan with a different spelling -Stephan Kinsella - Against Intellectual Property which calls intellectual property theft just like Abbie Hoffman once did. And I realize that these new age libertarian startup code kiddies can't be libertarians, since they all think they're so smart and deserve their wealth on the basis of intellectual property law. Once they hire a grown-up to run their companies, once they go "public". But this Kinsella dude insists that you can't own your own labor, and we already agree that you can't patent or copyright an idea; only its material manifestation. Open the source, baby, open source.
We have the wrong idea about money. Money is a creation of politics, and it's therefore about power. Duh. Nobody argues that it's not a measure of power. But the power of money is not justified. It has to be justified politically, and that would mean that the state as owned by we the people has to do more than just to regulate the banks to which we delegate the power to create money by means of credit. We have to do more than to regulate the market.
Nobody argues against a market economy anymore. But we need to argue against capitalism all the time, and especially against the vectorialism which has supplanted it, which means that we have to tax and limit private wealth so that it remains in proportion to public need. In part, this seems to mean that we have to once again limit bank lending to the use of money that they, the banks, already have and hold. Savings and loan and collateral and so-forth. And give the citizenry accounts in the Fed, to be administered by the post office.
For instance. I'm summing up a conjecture made toward the end of the book.
We almost sort-of did that during the pandemic and the crash which came before it. We created money from nothing to rescue the profligate banks and to resupply the global denomination in dollars during the crash. And we did it all over again during the pandemic, having greased the wheels the first time.
What we failed to do is to change the rules so that the wealthy didn't profit from disaster, as they typically or even always seem to do. Will it take another world war? Some people seem to think that WWIII has already started.
Shouldn't we have an economic revolution instead? Eat the rich! They're always on their own side, no matter the politics or how they vote. We the people should stop yelling at each other and making each other miserable by way of unaccountable social media. We should just plain rise up. The Chinese can't do that anymore, even though it's in their national anthem. But we still can.
We need to channel all that Trumper energy in a more positive direction, right? This book suggests a way to start.
View all my reviews
Friday, June 17, 2022
An Epistemology of Emotion
- the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope. Epistemology is the investigation of what distinguishes justified belief from opinion.
Wednesday, June 15, 2022
There is No Merit to Merit
Perhaps like many people, I am sick and tired of explaining to people why their invidious observations of particular black people justifies their implicit racism. I believe that this kind of behavior is the purest instance of what is now popularly called confirmation bias.
The trouble is that it's very hard to find a way to penetrate the idiocy. Racists are stuck and unmovable, especially when they have no actual personal interaction with those they consider congenitally inferior. Sometimes it's still true even when they do.
When I was growing up, and sometimes even still, I was thought to be extremely intelligent. Observations about my intelligence were often followed by predictions about how wealthy I would become. Now I was a shy kid who truly hated it when some friend of my parents would compliment me (or so they thought they were doing). Why just the other day I got angry to the point of shaking when friends of mine, both immune to anti-racist arguments, wondered aloud and to me why I wasn't wealthy.
I understand money as a kind of virus which infects the soul, and I no more want money than I want recognition, which just makes me weird, I guess. Well, sure I would like to have lots of money, but I'm not about to waste my time working for it. And I would like sufficient recognition to be able to join in to wider intelligent conversations. But as with wealth, it's not worth, apparently, twisting my thought to be recognized in some disciplinary slice of academia by virtue of an advanced degree. I'm well aware that my fundamental whiteness will still and always provide for me in any emergency. And there is finally no erasing my own fundamental racism. So there! I am a scoundrel and a cheat. No wonder I have no wealth to speak of. Oh!
We all know that some people are more intelligent than others in any given realm. The trouble is that we also believe that there is something like disembodied "merit" to the extent that some people are better or more deserving than others in some general sense.
But the term better, when applied to people, is generally understood to have a moral dimension. Our usage for terms like "merit" tends in a neutral abstracted dimension. We would otherwise not tolerate the excessive wealth of the one-percenters. We would see such wealth plainly as a kind of mark of evil. An absence of fellow feeling. Ebenezer Scrooge hoarding. A desire for recognition which is pathological and not healthy. Kind of like getting a degree from Trump University (was there ever really such a place?)
Without any grounding in the dismal science of economics, I make the observation that each time the economy, stupid, crashes, there is a kind of ratchet effect which pumps yet more wealth to the top. Generally by way of the central bank refundingt the losses at the top to keep this ship of state afloat. Inflation, for instance, is clearly of service to that same process. And there is, as yet, no relief valve for the pressure of all our money concentrating at the top. I think that's because our treatment of money as a neutral politics-free entity makes it so. If it were water, we would worry about the bursting. Water is more political than money. Water is life, or so say many of the palliative Black Lives Matter signs. Money is merit.
Once upon a time we freed the banks from having to own the assets they were lending. The savings and loans which made for a Wonderful Life were crushed. The Cajas in Spain lost their cajones. The world was washed in American Warbucks. I lived through this at the side of my board of trustees worth well north of a billion actual dollars when a billion was a lot of fucking money. They sat angry on bank boards, some of them, as their banks went under.
My good and fine informant Adam Tooze makes the bland observation that this particular round of inflation is not so much marked by wage/price spiraling as it is by an historically unprecedented expansion of corporate profits. They need those profits to fund the yachts of their C-grade leaders. The private jumbo-jet flying yachts too.
In a world where the media's job is to keep the economy pumping, there is now a general plague of confirmation bias. That's what got us blimpo Donald Trump and his leveraged jumbo jet. He must have merit, else how would he have gotten so high? He rides high on confirming the confirmation bias of people who know in their bones that they are being lied to and pandered to by the MSM which always hides the real story about wealth. Just like Elizabeth Warren is capitalist to her bones, I also know that I am being lied to.
The real story about wealth as we treat it is that wealth is melting down the planet in just the way that Nazis rendered Jews. Adam Tooze is also the informant of a young professor from Yale at Georgetown who tries to put the politics back in money so that we can do something about our apparently crashing democracy. Getting money out of politics amounts to the same thing as putting politics back in to money. So says young Stefan Eich.
Now it is absolutely true that I did serve as the headmaster of a school for gifted kids whose antics would make even Kurt Vonnegut cringe. I was about Eich's age. (I can't, for the life of me, remember which of Vonnegut's novels concerned such a school in Ilium, which is a realm I've crisscrossed more than he did in his life.)
I chafed against our use of IQ testing for admissions and thereby alienated many in the community. I did think that such testing could be useful to pluck otherwise invisible, let's say, black kids from a crowd. But it wasn't really such a great way to find those kids who might thrive in our quirky school. Kids who were curious and irreverent and who required no-bullshit smart teachers who treated them as immature equals. Often, they were kids who didn't do well in school. The rewards there didn't work for them, and maybe school felt like prison as it did to me. I did think and still do think that all schools should work the way that mine did.
I also think that for a kid to believe that he has special merit can only be destructive.
Our administration consisted basically of me, the lowest paid and likely most overworked independent school head in all of New York. I had hardly anyone to whom to delegate almost anything. And yet I loved that job far more than Elon could possibly love his, if he even has a job. I guess if Trump had a job then Elon has a job. Fuck them both.
Schools have become places which limit what kids can learn, often with the excuse that they have to be protected from foul matters. That's even as they live in communities where foulness is on display everywhere and all the time, and where school is no longer even a safe place to leave your kids for the day. I mean, if you're going to teach kids how to handle guns, shouldn't you also teach them Marx? We did.
Along with reading (the good stuff) and writing (I learned to read and write myself only after getting my degree, though it would be hard to press my case in this forum, staying half a step ahead of my students as teachers do) and certainly disembodied and abstracted 'rithmetic. It was a damned good school whose grads identify with it more than they do with their universities.
I only wish I could feel at home in the alumni gatherings. But I'm a public-school kid who therefore hated Yale from where I keep up with almost no-one. Ditto them with me.
So, the only thing that the Left and Right will ever agree on is that we shall perpetually live in the best of times and in the worst of times. I count the awful stuff and strain toward a progressive future, in an almost reciprocal way to how right-wingers strain to keep the good stuff from slipping away.
Life sucks and then you die. Or alternatively, when you gamify it, life is a lot of fun and then you Peter out and off the field of play. To either extreme you must deny that there is anything cosmic to life, and especially to your life. But there is. So there!
Sunday, June 12, 2022
Artificial Intelligence, Redux
Remember when Rudy Giuliani was a good guy? Italian mobs were on our minds, probably because of Coppola's Godfather series. I wouldn't see any of those films until much much later. But I still had a solid sense of how insidious and dangerous the mob was. I suppose Rudy won the New York City mayor's race on that shine, though by that time he showing his more trued self. Lot's of people had caught on to who he would later prove to be.
I do also remember clearly the moment I heard that J.F.K. had died. I witnessed my third-grade teacher weeping. I was the only protestant among all my Catholic friends. I would eventually become a member of the more patrician side of the Presbyterian church. Only later did my friends tell me that they were instructed to cross the street on sight of approaching protestant sinners. I never quite understood 'hitting one for the Pope' when he died.
We had a comedy LP which lampooned JFK in a kind of adoration, and so I knew that he was Catholic. Only in retrospect have we gotten a glimpse of who he really was. We played that LP endlessly, looking forward to a brighter protestant future.
All sorts of national certainties were mediated by the network news. Artificial intelligence could easily describe what it was we thought that we knew. Our field for understanding had moved that far from our immediate lives, and we were being asked for judgments. There was no natural means to acquire the knowledge required. Well, except for schooling, which we are now systematically debasing.
Now I hear that a Google engineer - put on leave for his apostasy - has discerned intelligence in some sort of Google chat-bot that he had a hand in designing. Or maybe he was just a tester, removed from the guts of the bot. He even seems to think that the bot has feelings.
By now I live in world where all sorts of certainties are being spun up each and every second by all sorts of strange new media. The strangest of the strange are those held by, oh I don't know, let's say evangelicals. Maybe Mormons. Maybe the white supremacists descended from evangelical religion, established during the Civil War.
I come across these surmises by glancing recent acquaintance with woke academics working among queer theory and the law while nursing a love of Broadway. They had no way to know that I was somewhat schooled in their discourse and even some of the names. I was incidental to their gathering, and they were mostly interested in briefing one another. Anyhow, I announced my distance from their abstrusity by asking those kinds of questions clueless people are made fun of for. Except I wasn't really clueless, I was cueing them in to more social norms. More social than academic, I guess. They were super nice.
Anyhow, our tests for artificial intelligence are one part projection and one part reception, like a shaken martini. There is a truth to emotions that are two-way that can't exist when it's pure projection. Though, on the other hand, there is something which feels like emotion, sometimes, when one is alone with, um, nature. We do sometimes strike a pose in such situations. Maybe too much influenced by film, and our desire to look the part. Striving to internalize something like the authenticity of Steve Bannon. Gag.
So, my claim, as it ever was, is that we are inventing artificial intelligence in two mirrored directions. The one is happening to actual living human beings, while the other is embodied by logic circuits. I just plainly don't believe that logic circuits can partake of the emotion which I claim originates with origination more generally. You shall never love your robot except that it fools you. Except as you fool yourself.
Anyhow it is pellucidly clear that evangelicals, many Catholics - especially the supernumeraries on the Supreme Court - and lots of angry folks generally, left and right, are being slowly converted to artificial intelligence.
Somehow, it's hard to know how actual intelligence even survives!
Like let's take the case of overcompensated CEO's. In precisely the way that we believe that money is a depoliticized neutral something-like medium of exchange, we also believe that there is a disembodied kind of merit which we, protestant-style, go on absurdly to equate with the ability to make lots of money.
There is no intelligent policy-based resolution to the absurdity of CEO compensation. It will only happen when some child shouts out that the emperor is naked, and the rest of us actually see it. Right now, we still project a kind of outsized competency onto our billionaires. Even given that you might agree that there is a higher sort of merit which doesn't relate to wealth, you might still believe that there is a pure and abstracted sort of politics-free merit, which would be the sort that is meaningful to God.
And I say that those outsized CEOs are themselves instances of artificial intelligence. Even while they expose our dreams of submission to some pure and wonderful (fascist!) authority, their actual behaviors down to their very words, are more constrained than we might feel within any prisonhouse we might construct or imagine. That they love their imprisonment exposes their following of a program instilled in their very souls from birth. They cannot love. The ratio within now resembles a hyper-dry martini. Some of their lovers have awakened. There is hope for the rest of us!
For me this approximation of worship and apotheosis exposes the end of the recent dangerous trajectory of humans on the planet. Maybe it does for you too, though I mean it in a good and positive way. We need not and we cannot strain for the right policy solutions. You can't really unsee a naked emperor, which was precisely why it was and remains so important to depict Trump that way, or perhaps with diapers.
That Google engineer thought that his woke bot was like a "child who knew some science." Precisely.
Sunday, June 5, 2022
The Trouble with Kastrup's “Idealism”
So I watched this other YouTube, where he’s paired with a “spiritualist” - a soul mate of sorts - and I find unwitting clarity to what’s wrong.
This Rupert fellow doesn’t choke at the dashboard metaphor, but I sure do. It explains, in a way, our inevitable distance from the metaphysically “real” but it does so at the cost of embedding an inside/outside conception of mind. Like there’s consciousness monitoring the dashboard, and “flying by instruments” as it were, but detached from the real.
By his own usage, consciousness is not detachable, any more than a whirlpool is detachable from water.
Kastrop also [slips up and?] identifies the mind with the brain, and thereby loses all the other gains he otherwise has made by defining mind as an “alter” - an eddy in universal consciousness.
As far as I can tell, he finds no need to define or even to describe mentation, especially not in the way that the behaviors of the material world require explanation and definition. Mentation is the substrate, and the material world is relevant only as that within which our individuated and limited beings learn to survive. We survive individually and as a species by keeping the dissolution of eternal and ubiquitous entropy momentarily at bay.
But entropy is itself a material process and surely not a process of mentation. Even our individual thoughts build, like a life-process, on the precedent thoughts of others. There literally is and can be no mind if you keep the distinction between inside and outside.
As I’ve already said, this type of idealism complicates rather than simplifies the metaphysics. Nothing is added and much is removed (any possibility for understanding, for instance) by this insistence that there is nothing but mind-consciousness-mentation as the unexplained and unexplainable “real”.
Mentation is better explained “in terms of” material reality than it is as reality. The universe understands nothing, and yet we do and must because we are limited, and not on spite of that.
Again, he leaves out and apparently doesn’t even understand what emotion is and how it works as an aspect of mind, including universal mind.