Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Rentier Finance Capitalism

At the outset, I should say that I entirely lack the theoretical chops to enter this terrain. So, I will be making my observations from a layman practitioner point of view. Now it also should be said that this puts me on par with those, tending toward the right politically, who make what often sound to me like unsupportable pronouncements against the MSM-reported assumptions about how things work. 

I'm almost always impressed, and sometimes nearly taken in, by these cracker-barrel arguments, coming as they do from clearly intelligent people. In my observation, these arguments are made mostly by men and by many contractor types with whom I've been working. I respect the world-view, built on their personal experience getting ahead on hard work. And based especially on the genuine business harm caused by the evident dearth of responsible employees who genuinely want to learn their trade. Plumbers, electricians, carpenters, roofers, concrete contractors and so forth.

The arguments don't differ much from conspiracy theorizing, but I'll go along with them right up to the point where they declare their support for Trump. That just blows my mind every time. As though they're in on some secret conversation about what Trump really and genuinely advocates which is different from his obvious advocacy for himself and his very personal interests. Heck, that was the argument his hyper-expensive and way higher-class than him attorneys made, to prevent him from having to divest for conflict of interest. As I recall it, the argument went that he couldn't be separated from his corporate self, because he, personally, was the brand.

But I confess to a kind of solidarity that something stinks with the mainstream narrative, even though I'm coming from a Lefty point of view. 

As a worker in the trenches of IT, meaning only that I have a decent understanding of how that stuff works, I was obviously aware that something had changed when the incremental cost of additional product "shipped" approached nil. There was plenty of cost up front to develop the product, but once created and developed, there would be no further incremental piece-based and labor-based cost to mass-produce. 

So, all the funding went into the destruction of the competition, and the creation of ad-copy, which in turn created almost a zeitgeist about what was the best. And so we went through Netscape and Word Perfect and so forth leaving the creators of the underlying operating systems to be in charge of nearly everything. Again, I have no data. I have only the same observations that my contractor friends make. I saw it happening intimately. Meaning that it wasn't the best product which won out. Where did Lotus go? 

To my limited understanding of the concept, there is slight - and only technical - difference between the behaviors of a rentier and those of a tech patent holder. I don't think anyone had adequate theory to know what was happening. It seemed like they were making something useful and earning a profit on it. 

Then along came Google services for nothing. There's been some fretting about surveillance capitalism, along with some very serious attempts to determine just what it is now that was is turned into a product (you!) and how that could be legal. But, you know, money talks and so there was this vague, and ultimately triumphal, claim that all of this activity was good for the economy. Never mind the military and global capitalist hegemonies which were being built. You know, capital breeds capital.

Again, without a refined theoretical understanding, I'm also aware of the term vectorialism, which is related to the argument sketched out above. Unlike a capitalist, the vectorialist doesn't own the means of production, but rather controls the media by which the products of digital production get distributed. The medium becoming the analog to capital in this brave new economy. Distribution trumps production. Everyone works as an influencer.  

Again, the elision of actual-seeming product in the form of disks, slowly disappeared the way that, oh I don't know, the physical substrate of photographs did. Each of us can document this transference in and through our photo archives. 

Or if we live near Kodak and Xerox, we might have a more personal connection to the transformation. And then especially newspapers, which used to roughly charge the cost of the paper according to the cost of, well, the actual paper, with upwards of 50% profit margins built on advertising, and well, want-ads. 

So the solids of supply and manufacture and distribution melt into the ethereum of design and transmission. There used to be money in supporting the IT infrastructure and now that's all been reduced to truck driver wages without even the ethos of unionization. Because we IT trench workers identify with the designers, I guess. Like the way that franchise owners identify with corporate central.

Now I really really don't know anything about the ethereum of cryto-currency, but I know enough to be certain that it's evil on many levels. Like pyramid-scheme evil, or money laundering evil. It's at least the metaphorical equivalent of the transition of capitalism through vectorialism to finance capitalism, where money itself, representing nothing other than money (think gold standard) is meant to become the prime playground for the rentier class. Stripped of politics, stripped of even digital monopoly profiteering, stripped of social input, money itself stands in for still fictional but more real than money "merit." Think about it. 

By these measures, gamers should be our new overlords. Hey, I think maybe they are. But then there are classes of gamers, and so forth, from slacker gamers through sporting gamers through finance gamers. Our most lavishly praised and lauded and celebrated mathematicians have been engaged in game theory. Applied to the military and the economy in the end. 

So, we're worried about Artificial Intelligence now. I'm not positive, but I'm pretty sure that I'm not so worried. In my observation, we've been running on AI for as long as the corporation has thrived at the expense of the worker. Artificial intelligence is just that aspect of human intelligence which can be mimicked by machine. To paraphrase Jack Nicholson as he portrayed a Maxim Male Chauvenist, strip out the emotion, the integrity, the character, the grit and you have machine intelligence. That's how corporations work, run on automatic to maximize profit. Massively well-compensated CEOs are rated on the reliability of their machine prediction. Have a heart and you're done.

Oh-so-recently, we nearly destroyed our economy when the likes of General Electric divorced themselves from actual tangible physical production with actual profits and turned to management of financial capital exclusively. And we celebrated Jack Welch.

I don't think that machine intelligence is like human intelligence in the very same way that I don't think cryptocurrency is like money. They both ride on the same ignorant and obsolete paradigm, which gets called capitalism, and gets called it the same way Jesus gets called God, even though Jesus has long-since been reduced to a branded meme. The only thing you can't do is to question the dogma. That would be to sin.

But then this is how paradigm shifting works, right? Just before the shift there is a flourish of 'normal science' where all practitioners feel ultra close to a kind of epic near apotheotic culmination. We're almost there! Jesus is almost here. The end of history. Huzzah!

I'd say that the project ought to be focused on understanding better what human really means. I can't use the term intelligence or even consciousness, since these have such dogmatic interpretations already. That's why I go for love, which is not likely ever to be made dogmatic in its meaning. I could be wrong.

Be that all as it may, let's just say that we've celebrated the evident intelligence of our elaborations on the physical plane of our existence, while almost utterly ignoring the destruction of the affective plane. Some nitwits even sacrifice their actual life in the insane pursuit of physical immortality. Zombies. This being the very essence of contradiction in terms. Find me life that is perpetual, and I'll either show you the cosmos as a whole, or I'll show you a rock. You decide which you want to emulate.

Look around you and you'll see a flourishing world. If you want to see the flourish, you'll have to convince yourself that global warming is a hoax, climate change is a hoax, peak oil is a hoax, political institutions will sort themselves out, autocracy is not a danger, warfare will never encircle the globe, technology is our savior, and China is our enemy. I think the only quibble is on technology as our savior, but certainly intelligence has to rule!

Technology, especially big tech, feels pretty skeezy just now. To some maybe because the Democratic party seems to be so in-bed with it. Tech leaders tend woke, in a way, don't they? Well, except for the ones who've earned a single name epithet. The really rich ones make us all nervous. 

The surveillance aspects of Big Tech make us all nervous. The algorithmic rearrangements about how we get our news and which to trust. Nobody is quite sure that tech is a good answer.

But I digress. I want to focus on what would be a more enlightened understanding of humanity's essence that doesn't fall down the rabbit hole of intelligence, unless you wish, as perhaps I do, to declare all of life intelligent. There is a certain direction in which life moves which is the opposite to physical entropy. The opposite to the entropy of information theory then too, by definition. 

It is persistently difficult to prove that there is a direction for life which leads inevitably to something like humanity. It will only seem that way if we think that our very clever behaviors toward the alteration of the very nature of planet earth in our seeming favor are what is meant by natural evolution. Here's a clue; it's not. 

Persistent life arises from a stochastic brew of random. We persistently mistake random on an individual level with random as it impacts the whole, as Gregory Bateson might have pointed out. To move further in the direction of this argument, we are currently at odds with our environment, when the goal of life - distinctly not the teleological direction for life - is to fit the environment without which nothing can be distinguished as an entity at all. At present and for the foreseeable future, we are misfits, at odds with everything which defines us. Which doesn't bode well for the species, never mind individuals among us.

"Goal" is a taboo word when talking about evolution. Maybe "direction" would be a better term. Is there even a direction for evolution? Canonically and scientifically, I think the answer is no. But I don't think the answer is no. I think that the direction for the anti-entropic moves made by the processes of evolution is love. 

I am not unaware that the overall course of human development would make for a hard call between love and hate, and yet still we seem to thrive. Could it be that love has been generally in the ascendant? I'd like to make that claim myself, though I think we're over a cliff the way that Wile-e-Coyote hovers over a cliff with legs churning. 

Anyhow, I don't think that AI is dangerous in itself. It doesn't relate to nature, it only relates to human nature; meaning that aspect of our lived environment which is a human production. In relation to humanity, AI can clearly be a force for good. Sure, it could make machine phone attendants even more predatory and dismissive, but it doesn't have to. Sure, it could help pump more money up to the top, though we don't have to let it do that. The issue is not to control or fence in the development of AI, but rather to take hold of how we deploy it.

I think we have a problem of scale and not so much of kind. Building a habitation feels very human. Even building a city. But building out to overtake our environment seems plainly destructive.

If we don't take charge, it's almost certain that AI will exaggerate and distort all those processes I outline above to make the grotesquery of how we live even more obvious. Which isn't obviously a bad thing. Right now many of us are unsure if Elon of Bezos or Zuck or Gates are good or evil. AI unbound will make it obvious. Our very souls will be disclosed and not just our marketable marketing behaviors. Red pill or blue kind of thing.

Meanwhile, while he fell into the trap of a representational mind, Bateson is certainly correct that mind must be homologous with nature. Which is to say that the entity of a human mind and the collectivity of all human minds in a society is, pretty much by definition homologous with any other entity in nature. I don't even think it would go too far to say that the mind of a human is, or could be, the cosmos in microcosm, though I don't know if Bateson would go so far. 

And if our mind is a natural mind then we are built for love as much as for reason. Indeed, not so very many entities have gotten so far as to be able to embody love. I've written too much already about how unlikely it is that robots will ever be the object of "true love" ho ho. Sure, we might have warmish feelings for R2D2, but almost anything is narratively possible. Just not in the pesky details, as in a new mother's love.

Well, that's about as far as I go for now. I'm simply not sufficient as an expert-system adept in any and all disciplinary fields. You can bet I'll harness AI, if and when that becomes possible. Over and out for now.

No comments: