Tuesday, August 29, 2023

A Thought Experiment for Indi

Let's assume for the moment that there is God. Not a god, as I like to say, but primordial Mind which must, by my read, coexist with physical reality. Indeed, I suggest that there is no physical description of time without the anti-entropy of life. And that this entails elemental mind to be coherent. Coherent here means nothing different from physical coherence, which disintegrates at the extremes.

So I then suppose that God imposes various tests on life formation. No, let's pick a better verb. Life passes through various choke points which test its overall direction toward life or decay. Call it decadence if you will. Life is more quiet than physical reality toward the start. Of course "start" is arbitrary from the aspect of any conscious "observer." Some sense of I was already here before any I was conscious of it.

In Earth's case, life has passed many hurdles with flying colors, especially with the evolutionary advent of humans. It is our capacity for love which makes us apex creatures. Our intelligence, artificial or otherwise, mostly gets us in trouble. We are in trouble now, but I'm not quite so sure that we're as f***ed as Indi would have it.

If we are it's because we do it deliberately to ourselves. Because we refuse to grow up. I watch my granddaughter grow and grow, and she does it by interaction with all and everyone around her. Her mind is not composed inside her brain. Hers is a whole-body touch and feel and taste mind. So is ours. And she is fortunate in her parents. The love glows.

Now our current impasse is all about fossil fuels. For the sake of our assumption here, let's call fossil fuels an extravagant, though perhaps earned, gift from or by or with God. So far, we've squandered it at the expense of all life on earth. Fossil fuel is, after all, but another legacy, along with DNA, of the life that preceded us.

But we've also developed a marvelous set of sciences, terrific music and literature, wonderful ways to live comfortably without disturbing our natural habitat (if we so choose) and a terrific communications network. If we eat well, we consume a symphony of love. And there is and always has been wine.

Growth dependent capitalism, based on what Indi and I both call the artificial intelligence of the corporation, has turned most of these accomplishments to shit. I might extend usage for artificial intelligence to politics as well, which responds best to the power sources of capital (especially to our military industrial complex) and seem increasingly to move away from moral behavior toward the same AI which guides large corporate decision-making. Indeed, they are in cahoots; two aspects of the same reality. Revolving doors don't begin to describe it.

All of this is easily fixable if we wish to fix it.

We are on the cusp, but I'm not sure we've lost our balance quite yet. Recovery can move as quickly as destruction has, as in most cases of discovered destruction. Large dinosaurs proved dispensable, though their successors and heirs remain. Their DNA. Their stored energy from the sun.

Now just because I can prove my scientific conclusions doesn't mean I can convince you or anybody else. We seem skeptical of the best science in any case anymore, but in my case, I draw my knowledge so eclectically that I'm pretty much an idiot in any particular field. And most experts are embedded pretty indelibly in their fields of expertise. I don't expect my narrative to change a thing.

Just as I won't win any physics argument, most world-class scientists might look ignorant politically or sometimes even morally. So I'm not all that embarrassed. These days, my hero Richard Dawkins should feel embarrassed.

But anyhow, I do declare that the world we live in is not just a mostly comprehensible physical world composed of particles and forces. Our actual world must also include a living world composed of concepts and the forceless relations among them, ordered by the narrative processes of DNA formation. Evolution, mediated by DNA, must move in the direction of love for life to develop and prosper. Love is life is God. Any other formulation is a distraction from the real.

This is my set of definitions and not a description yet as such. A description can be made coherent to the very roots of cause and effect and life and evolution. That would be a project for the next generation of scientists. Of course, physical entropy - decay - must always be a part of life. And one might suppose that the earth and all the life it composes must also decay. In the end.

But do we really want to fail right now at this particular impasse? We have squandered the gift of fossil fuel, but we don't often weigh what we've gained in the burning. And that gain may (or may not) be precisely as bloody as all evolutionary gains. The pains imposed by "climate" have been mild so far.

I'm not talking about human development into outer space beyond us. We are not nearly ready for that, viz the Elon and Jeff show. We need a lot more time on Earth to even think about life elsewhere - ours or anyone else's. We will know such life only when we are mature enough to take our full responsibility for life, the universe, and everything else. 42. Right Elon? (what a f***ing a-hole)

Odious though the term has been made, let's suppose also that there is in fact a moral majority. Not the one that the brain-dead Christian Right has referred to, but the truly invisible one which resists the false authority of those, mostly men, who would speak for God.

And furthermore, I say with wagging finger, I do not advocate conscious revolution. The changes we need to accelerate are all very little. A Gentle Rain of Compassion, as one writer put it. A gentle rain will wash the ugliness away. Without that from us humans, the raging climate will wash us away.

Clamoring for revolution feeds the beast. It is energy powered by false certainties. Or little certainties made too large. Our conglomerate media empire makes pulp of those efforts so very easily. So desperate is the AI beast. So utterly abused is our vast communications web. Q and the previous guy are the obvious result. 

Indi is right that we can't "fight" climate change. These are natural processes beyond our agency. All that you hear about what you must do is fuss and diversion from the facts of life. No wonder the Right is so obsessed with the facts of life. They are obsessed with repression of the woman in each of us. What we all must do collectively and post haste is to regather locally, Concern about immigrants dissolves in the face of one actual such person. Concern about a fetus dissolves in the face of one anguished woman or family.

The moral questions are real. The over-certain conclusions are a cop-out.

To allow our local concerns to be hijacked by the forces of manipulative monetized hate-speech such that we hate people right in front of us according to stereotype, is to allow Artificial Intelligence to kill us off. Its Avatar is Tucker Carlson and his ilk, who don't believe a thing that they spout "on air." Money is a much more powerful fuel than even oil. It hijacks the soul which believes that this right here right now is all that there is.  And that he is so individuated from the all.

If you're not confused you're not paying attention. There is no authority - certainly not I - who can turn your confusion into certainty. The certainty that you feel is surely false. Even your certainty that the end is near. The end is fear.

Let us pray.

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

The Teeth Rot in Life, Endure in Death

Joe Gould's TeethJoe Gould's Teeth by Jill Lepore
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't understand most of the reviews here. This book is hardly 'about' Joe Gould. It's about a period in America - a literary period barely detached from Lepore's Harvard, during global cultural and economic and political upheaval. It makes a kind of meta-history by way of an apparently brilliant but psychologically troubled individual. The meta part is that our subject was inventing a kind of history - oral history - which has since become important. A move away from artifacts, written records, and big players to history as it's being written on the streets.

Lepore documents the famous people around Gould and their writings regarding him, which make him seem hardly more strange than they were. Ezra Pound promoting fascism from Italy, and writing in some Greenwich Village insider patois. William Carlos Williams dispensing medicine. EE Cummings writing correspondence the same way he wrote poetry. A black artist who was Gould's love object who probably destroyed much of her own work. Gould's disgusting traits did at least have a post-hoc psychological diagnosis about them. He wasn't just a product of his times. But his literary friends were. All of their behaviors , in writing as well, were the output of the history documented here.

Lepore's writing - the way it enters the time - might make you think that she herself was being affected by the craziness, in the process of her writing; the proto-beat sensibility. Allen Ginsberg appears accurately in her almost psychedelic fugue pastiche epilogue, looking back at what she had entered and was pulling away from. She had clearly had enough. To continue on could only induce a kind of mania. Things would keep showing up as quickly as they were receding. Facts galore.

There must have been something brilliant about Gould. Despite his lousy hardscrabble appearance, other brilliant people wanted to know him and keep tabs on him. His fame was genuine, as was his actual presence for the people who walked the streets and frequented the dives that he did.

Gould's fame was thanks to stories in Lepore's own New Yorker. Those stories in that time represented a very different approach (from Lepore's) to the present truth, which also implies how history was being written. That way of writing history almost feels like the way that psychiatry was being practiced - remove teeth and all unnecessary organs including parts of the brain and call the resulting calmed and cleaned-out patient a success. We want our history the same way.

I thought I knew the people and the period, but I couldn't have known them without this excursion into Joe Gould's Teeth.

Ironically enough I'd call this art as much as history. I say ironically because it implicates much history as artifice or outright lying. History is not supposed to be art. It's supposed to be depictive, schematic, accurate. Lepore accomplishes at least the analog of a complete oral history by bringing an atmosphere back to life. There were hardly any facts about it. But what she saw and what we see in reading is accurate. Trued by details. Enhanced by sharp vision through a fog of absence. Connecting iota dots.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2023

A Gentle Rain of Compassion

A Gentle Rain of CompassionA Gentle Rain of Compassion by David R. Shlim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm just not there yet. The book is a lovely read. There is much to learn here. But I still want to know how to locate the self which aligns with mountaintop adventure and superstar rock bands and living in the orbit of Jackson Wyoming while remaining mostly helpless among the lure of shikse blonds and drugs. But the man does grow.

Shlim is honest in his self-disclosure, and holds back subtly with his crowing about himself. I read the book because my sister learned about it from a friend whose son goes or went to school with the author's daughter. My sister worked in the Katmandu clinic with the author, and has a very difficult mountain route in Patagonia named after her. Caw Caw!

She wanted my take. The world the book describes is entirely familiar to her. But she wasn't a part of the story. Still, I wanted to learn about her as much as to learn what the author had to teach. She wanted me to check her mild skepticism.

Sis has dragged me up enough mountains to be certain that I don't want that particular kind of exposure. My own youthful passions led me under or over water, or passing through social spaces in some conveyance about the size of a sailboat cabin without having to engage too closely. I do share motorcycling with the author. And I do still aspire to some sort of Buddhist detachment, though my particular journey leaves me, still, detached from the derivative of religion. I'll take my Buddhism raw.

Sis and I wonder about the ego thing. Ego tempered by compassion, sure, but wanting more attention than either of us could endure, each modestly, ahem, accomplished in our own ways. Now he has Tibetan Tantric monks wanting attention. Can that be right? By happenstance I once visited the loosely related place near Cooperstown that Shlim had a vague hand in. I was stunned. I was a tourist passer-by.

There is irony here which might be beyond the author's awareness. But he tries convincingly hard to get beyond that.

I must celebrate this dose of Buddhism as among those medicines which our American society so desperately needs. And I must celebrate the man who administers it. The clinic he ran and where my sister worked was set up for trekkers from the first world drawn to that spectacular part of the world. And, strange though it may seem, detached monks also want good doctors. But who has contaminated whom?

I am as skeptical about perduring karmic self as I am about the Christian immortal soul which has a personal connection to a personal God. But each approach does ensure a morality which moves well beyond our deadly rational materialism. I also believe in mind over matter. I have a little trouble with the agency thing. After reading, I still don't know where the author stands. But then I don't know where I stand. Our Western read of agency makes it into amoral problem-solving. Neither I nor the author can buy that anymore. Medicine, like worldy success, is as much luck as prowess.

Shlim takes the kinds of outrageous coincidence that a denizen of Buffalo - the biggest small town in the world - takes for granted, as evidence for a kind of truth. If I sit down with ten strangers here, the connections among us explode almost exponentially. That composes some sort of godhead, as does my sister's lingering connection to someone she'd almost forgotten.

No wonder I mostly hide out. Like seeing a Yale classmate on the street in Beijing and still not wanting to say hi. Especially there. But does coincidence mean more when it's exotic?

Plenty of charlatans represent exotic truths as the salve that we require. This guy is no charlatan. But aren't we all charlatans to ourselves? I sure do harbor my own sorts of grandiosity. I tuck it away beyond what I will ever do for pay and sure don't want to be recognized for it. It is a shame that I must hide.

Or do I? Thank goodness English so easily loses referents.

The irony here between author and book exceeds my credibility threshold by just a tad. There is a certain pleasure to be derived from literary writing where the author is evidently as drawn as is the reader. That may be present here, but the book is not literature.

That is my puzzle. I want my author to lose agency. But this is an autobiography. Is my sister jealous? Absolutely not. Left out? Nope. Sour grapes? Not a bit. Me? I don't know.

In America we say 'congratulations' on a new car. Surely congratulations are in order for a new book. I have no standing. I don't want a new car, but do I want condolence for the troubles of my old one? Do I want recognition for holding back? I might.

Here is the central conceit: A drop of compassion won't put out the fire of anger. But many drops compose a gentle rain which can. Here is a gusher in this book. I congratulate the author. Nice book! Nice life!

Shall I return as a karmic worm that my suffering shall be brief? Is that just starting over? Rinpoche has so much responsibility. To meditate. Which must mean to conjoin with the all. Which just seems irresponsible to a rational materialist American success story. Meditation is harder than it looks. Which is it Martha? Truth or illusion? The Way that can be spoken is not the eternal Way.

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Moral Vacancy

I am 68 now, and it has taken my life this far before I could begin to extricate myself from the subtle propaganda that I was raised with. I could get through the easy stuff; the soap ads and the political propaganda, but it's been the meaning of life stuff which has taken so long. 

I've been fooled by our crass oligarchy disguised as democracy, and I've been fooled by the self-promotion which arrogates good fortune to a kind of self-congratulation. Sure, I've spent plenty of social capital to keep myself happy and comfortable, but at least I've held back from dedicating my life to meaningless pleasure. Not that I don't enjoy plenty of meaningless pleasure. But making money in and of itself has never been a meaningful primary pursuit for me. Which already made me weird in college.

I discover lately that I've come 'round to a kind of Buddhist worldview, but I didn't get there by any sort of belief system. Really, I arrived by way of rational thought and science. Take the impermanence and detachment, the primacy of mind with matter, but maybe leave behind the self-soul identity as that which perdures. But can one have a moral compass without that?

As with most everything else that I've pretty randomly made the object of my pursuits, I lost interest in hard science while preparing to re-enter college as a physics major. My first acquaintance with quantum principles blew my mind. For quite a while.

But I worked things out to my satisfaction, drawing on other disciplines I'd pursued, which included Chinese classical literature and an intellectual study of education along with some practice in those fields. It didn't hurt that I have enough facility with understanding how things work that I could make my living during various interstices by fixing houses and computers. Keep myself going by fixing cars and boats and motorcycles. Bicycles are the best.

There has always been some point of disciplinary elaboration where I lose interest. Like reading a bad novel where the narrative course is already obvious. But here I am with valuable things to tell and no way to tell them. I could have dedicated more time to learning to write. 

I confessed in here lately that I can't purchase plastic bags, and as I recall I felt like apologizing for that. Like there's something weird about me. But if you too calculate morals according to aggregate harm, as in what difference does it make if I use plastic bags - it's the system that has to change! - then I might suggest that you have fallen into the trap of rationalism as a kind of religion. Yet another maneuver toward religion as exculpatory exercise. Rational materialism is probably not amoral so much as it is immoral. 

If you have to understand immediately why doing the right thing is going to move the world toward being right, then you have already excused yourself from acting morally. It doesn't matter if acting morally makes no difference. It may only matter as karma. And I say that works in almost precisely the way that DNA works across the eons. What really works is well beneath or beyond our understanding.

Now I calculate (!!) the meaning of that kind of rationalism in such things as our certainty that money is a neutral medium of exchange, without political or moral valence. Or that technology moves in an inevitable and amoral arc. Or that procedural adversarial usage for the law is the only way to arrive at justice. Or that free speech is so all-encompassing in its importance that it includes both hate speech and outright lying. Or especially that youthful startup culture both has no moral valence, and that the cleverness that drives it is of a piece with the inevitable direction of the technology which is generally its pursuit.

Who knows? I might be espousing Buddhist values without realizing it. If so, then I'm a Buddhist with angst, which is likely a contradiction in terms. Living beyond illusion is hard to teach. Wanting to teach the dharma must be like being in love, which, in Buddhist terms, means to reveal a lack in yourself as measured by the pain of love lost.

Anyhow, I'm inspired somewhat by the reasonably reliable moral compass of David Brooks as rehearsed in his opinion piece about the actual guilt of we liberal elites in the arise of MAGA. Even embedded as Brooks must be in the neoliberal so-called rules-based global order (at least by virtue of being embedded in its publicity organ, the NYT), he does manage to see beyond the rigidities of any such ideological regime. 

Heck, I trust the Times to fact check and report on activities which threaten the order in which they exist. But I don't expect radical journalism, for which I go elsewhere. And I am grateful on a daily basis that that elsewhere is not yet blocked off to me. Nor do I expect to suffer any consequences for my perusals. In those ways America is already great.

But, as Brooks obliquely points out in his longer essay in the Atlantic, our American sanctions against the free speech which must be truly protected have been outsourced to angry unwashed mobs, which assemble themselves in age-invisible online hoards which can and do cause actual damage to freethinkers everywhere. He doesn't think the startup culture which created the forum is as guilty as are the rest of us for allowing our cultural institutions to go fallow; those places and practices where moral behavior is instructed and nurtured. But I think he's missing something. 

When they are effective, these dying institutions help us to internalize practices which are valid regardless of their practical efficacy. Somewhere inside each of us we still know that if there were any formality left to airline travel it would never have become so unpleasant. But we hardly know how to navigate all the differing cultural and behavioral norms for formality. And so we throw up our hands? And our laziness becomes the self-indulgence of pyjama behavior in company.

Each of us now aspires, if you are of a certain age, to bedhead casual with flip-flops where the markers of class are more subtle, perhaps, while remaining unmistakably still there. Our lowest common denominator will always rule! It's right there in our DNA.

Anyhow, I do still participate in the performance art of sorting recyclables, eschewing plastic containers as much as possible - which isn't really very much at all - and nodding and making eye-contact with the down and out, even though I have no money for them. At least I tell them so and don't pretend they don't exist.

But there I go, patting myself on the back. I haven't earned that. I drive a car and consume my share of plastic and live in a house that is far too big for my needs. 

But I do also remain busy espousing a worldview, for lack of a better term, which is not quite so brutal as the evident one we mostly endure. But there is scant company here. People have their certainties, which exclude almost everything that I'm certain about. People at least act as though they are certain that the physical world is amoral, and that humanity is mostly defined by an intelligence which means to apply our agency to that world (that's what AI means too. Just remove morals altogether, which should make the techie bedheads very rich and happy). 

People mostly believe that while evolution progresses according to random happenstance, human progress occurs because of human agency. That we are somehow the solution for random happenstance. I mean, how's that working for Hawaii right now? So, we attach morality to agency, as though our agency on the world makes it better, and that before we acted the world was somehow deficient.

Well, it was deficient in relation to our wants. And making it better creates more wants until the economy inevitably takes over and we rather disappear as living human beings (again, perhaps, in Buddhist terms). 

Anyhow, I do think that it's yet another contradiction in terms to both say that agency shall improve things while practicing a kind of rational materialism as a codpiece over rampant collective desire.And then we call our decisions about our agency the results of some kind of moral thinking. The evident amorality of our approach to decision-making tends more quickly to immorality than it does to the good. Being practical always seems to prevail over being good.

In his Atlantic essay, David Brooks is absolutely right to harken back to better definitions for humanity, as put forward by the like of Martin Luther King and many others who talk about character and empathy and compassion as the true definers of human leadership.

Our trouble is that we don't believe that these higher qualities have anything to do with human agency. I surely don't mean to boast my moral qualities when I recite my weirdness. I want simply to suggest that little things are important, even if they can't make any difference. Dressing up to go out in public is a part of civility. Working in your pajamas is not something to celebrate. Neither is automated online ordering (which I also can't avoid, since all the local places no longer exist, which means that over intelligent fucks with too much social capital take over any and all local decision making, as world-class techno-imperialists).

We are destroying the social context which is the only way that humans can live as humans. Being a local franchisee for some over automated business where the surveilled humans must act as robots is not the same as owning your own. Our form of capitalism has metastasized.

Text messaging wrecks my day, and nobody reads my letter-length emails, and it makes me mad as hell. But it's not like I'm going to do anything about it. I can't do anything about it, except to keep writing overlong emails. It makes me mad as hell that job applicants get no response. It makes me mad as hell that service outfits which I require are as internally disorganized as is our wider world. And nothing makes me madder than the American so-called health-care system except for the American so-called health-care insurance system. 

But that doesn't mean that I'm going to insist on "socialized medicine." That dialog serves the purpose of diverting attention from those things that we can do immediately. Like true pricing for healthcare which is not negotiable by powerful insurance companies and doesn't burden the uninsured and gig-bound working class with bankruptcy by way of inflated and outrageous prices and hell-spawn collection outfits. Your insurance company letting you know what you would have paid without them is a form of terrorism.

As any good Marxist/socialist-leaning thinker knows, we'll get there eventually inevitably in precisely the same way that any good scientific thinker believes in the inevitability of progress. Because we keep figuring shit out. Which means figuring out how to have agency over nature. Which is raw throwback to early Abrahamic religion. Which is purest fantasy promulgated by ruby robed and bejeweled religious nobility.

Our modern religiorationalist nobility is riding hyper-luxurious lifeboats in the cesspool where the rest of us swim. No wonder we can't be civil. So many of us are drowning.

Shall modest kindness win out in the end? I don't think that will happen any more than I think that technology will take us to a better world. I think the motives of the tech startup kidlets matter, and their motives seem universally to be a kind of greed which is whitewashed by youthful excitement and the largely symbolic Ivy-league rhetoric of do-gooderism. There is really nothing very good about callow cleverness which finds new and faster ways to make tons of money. Maybe even especially when they claim to be motivated by making things better. 

By very definition, youth is not educated. That's what school is (used to be) for. And it takes time. Nobody is brilliant enough to drop out, although I have plenty of sympathy for those who decide that they can learn better on their own. But that's also a failing about what education means. As Brooks affirms, our schools are no longer even allowed to cultivate morality. The Ivies celebrate cleverness in any form. Which makes a direct line of descent toward evil leaders. The virtue you internalize from a good education now is that you deserve your good luck. Which is to say that there is no virtue in schooling anymore. 

Because we shy from judging difference, we arrive at anything goes. 

It is hard work indeed to be the kind of woke which doesn't judge according to degrees of wokeness. We must determine to be each other's teachers, which also means to allow ourselves to be taught as well. I'm still cultivating my pronouns. It's not going so well. So, I'm sure not going to get angry at others who mangle theirs.  

Thursday, August 10, 2023

The Ironies of Artificial Intelligence

As a general rule, I am in accord with most lefty thinking. The US is a mostly evil hegemonic empire which imposes our (supposed) will upon the rest of the world. The media acts as a cheerleader for this imperial program. And our so-called democracy is mostly theater as a front for all this evil. 

But the fact is I vote. I champion voting. I care about the differences between Republican and Democrat, no matter how much I might agree with Ralph Nader (R.I.P., nearly) that they are really as different as Coke and Pepsi.

I think that's because, on a local level, I find people to be earnest and honest and friendly and American. I still go misty eyed about America. Maybe all of us are nice until we become distracted by the false choices of national politics. And, sadly, national politics now seeps back down to the local level. But even at the national level it's not that hard to tell that Joe Biden is a far more decent human being than Donald Trump is. 

The trouble is that just as we want our bankers to be hardnosed, we don't think decency even matters anymore in our wonderful life.

Or is it really that easy? We have been pretty well trained by now to look past what is literally being told us. Advertising has inured us, with politics but a short step behind. If the spokesperson for a party can be captured behind the lines saying repugnant or incomprehensible things these can be spun to whatever level of evil is desired. 

At a very local level, I am an outlier for not being able to purchase plastic storage bags. They feel evil to me, and I just can't. But a more reasonable response might be that their usage is so ubiquitous that my individual actions are less significant than a drop of water in the ocean. Reserving perhaps a little anger that we, individually, are held accountable, or hold ourselves accountable, to place "recyclables" in the right bin or pile.

But hey the successful marketing of plastic bags of all sorts made it possible to economize on plastic parts for cars, surgical equipment, durable housing parts, plumbing and all the rest. The entire industry needed that jump-start, and even I can't seem to find a way around using plastic disposal bags. I accept that my feelings about plastic are not rational. I accept that I'm weird.

On some level we know that we can't muster up the right decidering firepower to make the right decisions at the macro-level where they count. We know that all the little decisions will be packaged up into a palatable platform filled with objectionable content as required to gerrymander the right number of voters. Up or down between and among a very few choices is what we call democracy. 

And many of us are concerned that China, for instance, though certainly not Russia, has formed a political system which can make the right decisions at the macro-scale. They built out a high-speed rail infrastructure at a higher relative speed than the trains go. Like a decade. We can't even get started. 

China's goals for cleaning up the environment also go at warp speed, and they bulged the curve for college attendance as fast as they built the rail system. 

But yeah, their economy can't keep pace with ours, right? Because ours runs on Artificial Intelligence. So long as every little decision is rendered up for the good of the corporate whole, we win every time. China still requires party representation among the leadership of companies larger than a certain (very small) size, and among college leadership. In theory no worse than our theories about democracy, this representation ensures that the people's interests will be attended to. While we celebrate our free speech. Which gives us some kind of absolute right now, to tell whatever lies we wish, so long as it's conceivable that we might believe them ourselves and they don't hurt anyone. Like using a plastic storage bag doesn't hurt anyone. 

What's missing in both computer and corporate artificial intelligence are the recognizable qualities of actual life; things like love, emotion more generally, fellow feeling for fellow humans. 

Can we fix this? Seems doubtful, doesn't it?

Words like liberal and progress and modern and woke have lost any common meaning. Sometimes it feels as though we have turned a corner and are hurtling back into the past. We forget that life as it is now has never been so secure. But our life-span is shrinking. Fascist autocracy is making a global comeback (at least it makes all decisions easier). World war seems right around the global warming corner. The stresses have become too great, and they're palpable now in such a global way that global really does seem suddenly local. What "natural" disaster will I suffer here and now then?

I have friendly feelings toward most people and can't even hold the oligarchs as accountable as I should. Maybe that's because I know some of them, and they're mostly really nice. Despite their objectionable political beliefs. Most oligarchic leaders actually do what they feel will optimize the outcome for most people. Sure, those decisions are embedded in a world-view which may be different than yours or mine, but that, in and of itself, doesn't make the individuals evil. No matter what Hollywood caricatures might have you believe.

Now I am weird in many many ways. I agree that the cost/benefit ratio for my plastic bag decidering is ridiculously minuscule. I'm also not all that excited about not eating meat. To me, that's a kind of misplaced and highly individualized kind of mawkish sentimentality about how nature works. But hey, we shouldn't cede so much of our individual initiative upward to the political deciders, so all the more power to you mammalian sentimentalists!

What I do get exercised about is the environmental cost of meat, and yes, the disgusting way in which we raise it. But in the aggregate, as my bestie indi.ca tells me (kidding, I'm too lowly for his awareness) we've been pretty good at decimating forests and species and peoples with the renewable and non-polluting technologies of sail and horse and buggy. Plus guns. 

But maybe the weirdest thing about me is that I believe that physics matters to politics. Yup, I sure do. 

Our physics is premised on a kind of primordial objectivity; that things at the level of fundamental physics will be as they are regardless of what we might think or feel about. Sure, we all know that this bedrock has been unsettled somewhat. We tag the unsettling with names like Einstein and Schroedinger and Heisenberg and vaguely suppose that these incursions of subjectivity on reality only matter at the remove of microscopes or telescopes are extravagant mathematical abstraction.

But, I say, what if our very notion and our experience of time is not a property of the objective physical world? Whatever else we know or don't know, time marches forward with certainty. We can measure it to increments so small that our clocks can be accurate for thousands if not millions of years. What could possibly explain this vast conspiracy of the whole if not its objective physical reality?

Well, life is also objectively real. We carry around with us narrative genetic markers which were cobbled together as many eons ago as we can reasonably claim for all of creation (time becomes extravagantly relative as you approach beginning or end times like the big bang or the apocalypse (whatever that means). Immortality anyone? My makeup partakes literally of nearly all our living forebears (using the same extravagant rounding process).

I am not the culmination of this grand summation because of my conscious intelligence. What I might say instead is that I embody the grandest potential for love since the beginning of time. That right there is time's direction, defined by the direction of evolution, no matter what Stephen Jay Gould might have said about it. Random might not be random on such a grand scale.

Actually, it can't be random. There is life. I wonder why we anglo objectivist imperialists can't accept that life isn't rando except sometimes once a week in a patriarchal church?

Now potential for love is a scary scary thing to own. I myself have been so beaten down by trying that, in a process which might be likened to PTSD, I can't even pursue another close relationship. No wonder we conjur up what God wants of us, and sometimes even claim to hear his actual commands, if not His voice. Deciding on our own is that scary.

Once upon a time, I, like many of my acquaintance, thought that it would be nice to bring religion up to date. End the irrational atavistic claims which are so transparently for an earlier, unscientific, age. But now, in these particular global-seeming end times, I want to say that we should return our beliefs to their most primitive roots.

There is god. Is all. Not a God, not The God, not a named or unnamable god, and certainly not a personal god. But there is god and we know it and god is the cosmic mind-space which is only love, which is all that there is.

You can't really go more primally primitive than that. Paleo god. The godhead. The "Force" which makes random happenstance so often meaningful, make of it what we shall and will. 

And I think this fact must be incorporated into physics at the fundamental level. There is no reason why life has evolved without it.

And bizarrely and perversely perhaps, I think digital large language model artificial intelligence will  be part of what pushes us across that boundary back to belief. It will make obvious what humans are and aren't and will highlight the responsibilities we've been abdicating.

And it will highlight what we must inject back in to our political decidering. Not the angry emotion of people afraid to decide for themselves. But the compassionate moves toward regulating all the AI.

I won't repeat myself here, but in lots of places on this blog I have gone into some detail about the physics. Perhaps I'll even find a way to prove that LLMAI (large language model - digital - artificial intelligence) is homologous to corporate and political AI. Digital means, to paraphrase Jack Nicholson or My Fair Lady, a bot is just like a human. Just remove the emotion. Digital, by definition, can't jack in to cosmic mind.

I have long believed that the mind is built on language, and that written language has ushered in our wonderful epoch of science. But we express only hubris if and when we think that all can be comprehended. And then we carry on to rationalize horrific choices. And yes, the emotive mob (especially with guns) is terrifying. But the AI of non-decision (with more guns) is more terrifying still.

We abdicate our responsibilities as often in the Name of God as we do for greed or personal gain. When we think that we are nothing and can do nothing it is we who have forsaken god and not the other way around. Groupthink Christianity is far more dangerous than any AI you can imagine. A codpiece over rampant lust for orderliness. And we become as amoral as bacteria, who are largely beneficent nonetheless. A fascist order is a one-way dead-end street.

Evil is relative to our potential. Our potential for good is far greater than whatever Oppenheimer envisioned. But we have to get it together. How about we start with more and better regulation on the limits of corporate (internally fascist) AI? How about we keep our resolve to leave religion out of government? How about we get rid of guns altogether, especially in our sci-fi epics? How about we communicate with one another without algorithms to point the way? How about we re-socialize those parts of the economy with no elasticity to demand? (Infrastructure, water, power, internet, education, healthcare - you get the idea). Econ 101. Which also means to stop creating demand in excess of carrying capacity.

And we have to go cold turkey on petro power without waiting for the ultimate meltdown of bringing solar generation down to earth so that we can carry on as we are. Our current arrangements are not a model for any future imaginable or desirable. We have to be open to growth on a better model. Growth that leads to maturity, and not the growth of infantile oligarchs who can sculpt their perfect private worlds on the backs of servile sycophants. Not an objectified projection of unnatural technologies. Meaning not cut off from the godhead, stupid!

Baby steps. My inspiration is my granddaughter.

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

We Must Cultivate our Gardens - Nature with Makeup

I'm pretty good at fixing things, and sometimes at supervising the work of other fixers when a particular job is beyond me. I'm not so good at pushing for a bargain or dickering price. I want to be on the same side as whoever I'm working with.

But I draw the line at gardening. I just simply don't know anything about it and, well, I have to draw the line somewhere. So, thanks the god, I have permission to hire a gardener. Funny that I end up working alongside him, regardless of my pleasure.

I remember my august professor of Chinese musing that while we want our nature wild, Chinese tend to want, well, to tend to nature. They improve it, as a gardener might. Erecting pavilions, enshrining permanent text in the form of poetic steles at famous beauty spots (we sometimes erect machine constructed signs). Their poetry doesn't strive for meaning by the extension of metaphor, but rather associates unfamiliar beauty with what is better known by the couplet figure of speech. Those steles are not apart from, but a part of what you see. Mediated by those before you with better vision. And not just a placement in history.

Part of my reticence to garden is and has been a kind of anticipatory pain in the doing of it. That slows me down in a lot of ways. But I have also always had trouble with taxonomic ordering of words. As a boy scout, for instance, I could never name the trees or the stars, or the birds or etcetera. I thought I should be able to, but nope, never could. I don't know an invasive from a native species, and would eradicate the wrong one if the task were handed over to me.

And of course, my deficit left me in trouble as an academic. Attributions? Forget about it. 

Both my parents have been ascribed with Alzheimer's, which leaves me with a vague dread - not unlike my vague certainty that the world - meaning humanity - is melting down. Now when I leave the burner on all day, or forget to check the one thing on the boat that will prevent the engine firing, my daughter frets as well that I'm losing it. 

But when she confesses similar issues, I fire back that it may not be our minds. It may be the way that we're living. I attack all the news which I allow to be thrust at me now as a chore to be gotten through before I can begin my proper day. The articles are so damned interesting, and I always feel as though I'm learning something new. And I never have an attribution when I vaguely recall something I've read.

The drill - the mantra, really - to heal this is "remember it's all click-bait now." No writer is interested in the art of it apart from that. That's our system of monetization. There is no word more gross than that one.

I take vague comfort - atop the obvious distress - that my daughters each share something of my memory issues and deficits. This may be perverse pleasure, but I don't think so. Quite. 

The Alzheimer's attribution is just lazy medicine. Dad had suffered a series of undiagnosed mini-strokes of the kind that I had. We don't know, but he probably had the same genetic clotting disorder I have and manage. Mom's decline was sudden and quickly plateaued into a pretty happy holding pattern. Which has held for a decade or so now. Nope, not Alzheimer's. It might have been self-defense against constant worry. The really happy thing is that the reason for all those worries is gone now. Withal, she seems happier than ever. All the pathologist had to say in Dad's autopsy was some variation on "consistent with Alzheimer's."

As a bike mechanic, I know the pitfalls of trying to be too thorough and complete and meticulous with your diagnosis. Alzheimer's is a handy term in the vocabulary of the day, so use it and move on. Everyone is happier. 

Anyhow, gardens change but change slowly, and they require work. Some Chinese gardening has persisted for millennia, right along with the pavilions which experience renewal each calendrical 60 year cycle. 

We are caught in a peculiarly Western and Christian trap in the opposition between nature and artifice. Just as Artificial Intelligence is nothing new - it's as old as the corporation as legal person - nature is already long gone.

What we lack is cultivation, in all its meanings. The Earth requires cultivating, which leaves far more room for optimism than the restoration of extinct species, or a return to ancient ways (says I in the midst of restoring one of Buffalo's older houses whose first recorded deed is something like 1832). 

Our belief system, corrupted as it has been by the very successes and excesses of the way we practice capitalism, prevents us from identifying the need for cultivation. Capitalism is an imitation of the state of nature (what human really wants to live there? Unless he happens to be king of the forest.).

I mean, don't get me wrong. Capitalism works. Like pornography works. But in and of themselves, both are really gross. If you lack the genetically inborn lust which projects beauty onto whatever contours or landscape, all that you will see is deadly sturm und drang and distasteful throbbing spittle.

We have choices to make, and whether it be haute couture or architecture or parkland, we are abdicating. We abdicate by excuse of mistrust in ourselves. By misplaced trust in a God of our invention. The West is, once again, in decline. Some hope that it is terminal.

We have choices.

I used to think it might be my job to bring religion up to date, the way that lots of people now want to. To rationalize it.

Now I want full-on primitivism. There is god. Not a God. Not a named God. Most certainly not a personal god. God is fact, beyond that is purest fiction, mostly meant to empower men. Stories are good and helpful and sometimes true (in the verbal sense of the word), but they should never replace god as a fact of any world we might imagine. 

We must cultivate our gardens, or hire someone to do it for us. 

Wildness is itself an object of cultivation now. As I've asked so many times, which is really sexier -  a woman wearing a bikini or a naked woman? (Apologies for the CIS bigotry implied here, but I hope you get the idea) History is made up. People make themselves up. We now must make up an entire landscape. 

Anyhow, it all depends, right? On age, on perspective, on your feelings about that particular objectified identity, on your hormonal state and on the surrounding happenings, and on your history, naturally.