Power After Fragmentation

Trump isn’t to blame for the rise of nationalist and parafascist violence in America. The rise would be happening anyways and is happening across other nations that don’t have a Trump.

Trump isn’t helping, this isn’t an apologia. But he’s a halfwit on the wind, attempting to get the most personal praise he can from the most people around him. This post isn’t about that.

The real question is why is this happening in Brazil (where they’re about to elect one into power later today), and Hungary, and France, and Germany, and Poland, and the Philippines, and Myanmar, and other places.

It’s not migrants (though it’s being used as a catalyst). If that wasn’t the reason they give, there would be something else, like the “drug dealers” of the Philippines, or the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, or basically everything that isn’t Catholic and military in Brazil.

So let’s talk about the only real issue, let’s talk about power.

Power isn’t just armed cops with “The State” written on the body armor. Most of the power that actually controls us is simply judgement of our peers. We don’t do things that our peers would shame us for, for whatever our social group is. The details vary wildly (compare a church picnic and a sport fan bbq) but there’s giant swaths of stuff that they’d agree on implicitly: don’t steal food, don’t be a dick to the people there, things that we take for granted but really shouldn’t.

There used to be an implicit power that enforced a moderation. It came from a cultural monopoly that was forced on everyone through television. There was a fear of being nationalist, there was a fear of advocating violence, and that came from it being a taboo in people’s social groups. The TV didn’t make that possible and therefore it was an outsiders opinion. The internet is changing that by redefining our social groups.

Not that the TV monoculture was an absolute good. In limiting violent conversation we also prevented any meaningful discussion that those higher up didn’t want us to have, like questioning the action of government. The internet makes that possible, but removes any power from those criticisms. Our protests are becoming performative, not meaningful and coming from a place that threatens a consequence. I’m jumping ahead though, I’ll come back to this point.

It’s important that the bomber and the shooter from earlier this week both had right wing social media presence. Those right wing sites are their peer groups. They are detached from the implicit power of most of society, because most of society out there isn’t their peers but an other, and therefore their shaming is meaningless.

As these microsocieties of online acquaintances form, it pulls power away from the voice of moderation. You can call it privilege if you want: moderates and progressives used to have privilege by being able to define some terms of the debate, and they’re losing that privilege as people no longer care.

Picture having a person tell you a racist joke and you responding “that’s not ok, that’s super racist”. If you speak from position of power, the response will be “you’re right, sorry”, but if you don’t, it’ll be “yes of course, so what”. Picture the latter, now what indeed. That’s powerlessness.

My thing of it was talking to people about the separation of children at the border and realizing that I have no response to “it’s good to take children from their parents if they’re not white” because there is no meaningful response to it other than “no it’s bad”. You can’t teach an adult ethics. That’s my point of powerlessness.

This is part of the reason why deplatforming, firing, and other anti-fascist actions are so important: they are an extension of power. That’s also why the various “nazi crying after getting fired” memes have such viral potential: it shows a breakdown between their social group and reality and it implies that our privilege does still exist here and there.

In other words, I suppose this is another variation on the “the internet is killing us” meme, except in this case more literally. We’re undoing the monoculture that TV brought and reverting to little pockets of hate, except instead of being created by geographical isolation, they’re self selected. Facebook (and social media) use is directly tied to rise in violence, here, in Germany, in Myanmar, and while I haven’t seen a study for Brazil, I bet there too.

I’ve seen the future, and it’s small pockets of hate egging each other on until the most radicalized snap and murder, repeating until the replacement of social media with something worse, or forever, whichever comes first.

Anxiety

There’s a meme in Europe that Americans are by definition scared, which greatly offends Americans I assume cause they connote “scared” to “cowardly”.

I think it’s just a translation error. The word shouldn’t be “scared” but “anxious”. The state of Americans is the state of never ending anxiety.

One half of it is America champions self-reliance as the ultimate virtue, but we know instinctively that self-reliance only works as long as you are awake, ready, and able to handle the thing that’s about to happen.

The other is the flip-side of the notion that “anyone can pull themselves up in society”: that anyone can be pulled back down just as easily.

Hence the anxiety.

From the first half: the suggestion that the only way, as a society, to deal with gun death is to arm every person is absurdist in Europe and ‘common-sense’ to a lot of America. The anxiety involved isn’t broached, and the fact that “every person should approach every moment as if they’re in a war zone” is an impossible condition over the long term is usually also left unsaid.

This is spread throughout the culture: health insurance should be revokable, employment should be at-will and we should be fired for any reason, and if our employer wants to sell the company and fire everyone, that should be their right too.

From the second half we get the hostility. The belief that social movement is easy, no matter how incredibly wrong, runs deep through Americans. That means that to many Americans one’s place in society has to be defended, strongly and decisively, or else one will end up losing it.

If you’re not treated correctly, in your opinion, you need to do something about it. If you think someone is rude to you, you have to be ruder back or else this will be your new position to others.

That’s what’s happening with the current trend of what twitter dubbed “white caller crime”, where (anxious, goes without saying) white people call the cops on minorities who happen to occupy space near them. The white person in question believes themselves better than the minority, and as such sees their social status dropping simply being around someone they see as lower class.

There is no solution to this I think. It’s more wealth efficient to live under this governance, wealth leads to military power, and military power decides under what governance your neighbors have to live. This is who we are until climate change gets us.

As a parting tangent, it’s fascinating to me to see Instagram “trendsetter” posts that are nothing but pristine spaces devoid of people other than the one in the shot. We have turned calm into a pornography, something one only experiences in aspirational fantasy.

And frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if we start treating calm with the same disdain we treat porn. One always leans into one’s abuse eventually.

Cory Doctorow and Alex Jones

Cory Doctorow is Alex Jones for the left.

Stay with me, this isn’t hot-take as it looks right now.

Rage is a valuable meta-currency. Attention is money, and rage is the method to get that attention. Cory Doctorow is a business owner, speaker, “blogger”, “sci-fi writer”, “advocate”, and a master at aggregating attention. His website takes interesting things from the internet, puts a snarky one line at top, and publishes it. Think one of those @dora type retweet accounts, except for the news. It’s quite popular.

He’s an influencer for the generation that’s too old and smart for influencers. His life is a carefully curated and well balanced meal of heart warming kittens, uplifting stories of people overcoming difficulties in order to achieve middle class mediocrity, and endless endless rage at white inconvenience.

What are the most important problems of the world right now? Lucky us, he just gave a talk so I can pass it on. Picture him standing there, slightly short but with good poise, shaved head that admits a baldness but accepts it with grace, the indie rocker’s black rim glasses: chic yet vulnerable, the common man’s pants and shirt but with designer jacket before we all deserve to treat ourselves. The presentation is flawless. The voice clear, fast, smooth, he never stutters or loses train of thought. There are no tangents or digressions, this is not conversation or a stream of consciousness, this is a performance. He’s not a huckster pretending to be your friend, he’s a professional, an artist, and preacher. The matching slides are flawless too: they follow the speech patterns with practiced ease, popping up with comedic timing as punchlines, then turning around and giving us the perfect backdrop to our anger at the next issue brought to our attention.

So what were the issues? As of today, Wednesday June 13th, the Lord’s year 2018, they are: net neutrality taking effect soon, user data-collection in Europe, and incompatibility between the new generation of internet-of-things devices.

Now, is he wrong? Are those bad things? Yeah, they are. All of them. They’re definitely a certain type of bad thing, aren’t they though?

Cory isn’t Alex Jones. Alex Jones can’t exist for the left. We’d never let him. He’s uncool, uncouth, and so easy to see through. The fake angry rants almost comical, the fake tears genuinely comical, and the cash grabs so blatant. I mean he sells supplements. He’s a literal snake oil salesman. He yells about freedom, he cries about freedom, then has the gall to turn around and say he wants to sell us a vitamin. It’s vile, and I mean that with full sincerity. It’s vile.

No, here on the left we need someone who would respect us. Respect our intelligence. That’s what makes us progressive, after all. Don’t tell us how to feel, instead just point out that our personal annoyances are in fact a direct attack on all human rights. If you think about it, me not being able to read any document I want on a ebook-reader-thingy is exactly like an insulin pump failing. And that insulin pump owner is quite possibly poor, maybe even a minority. Information wants to be free.

Is it wrong? No, not really. The DRM law in question is the same for the ebook reader and the insulin pump. Does concentrating on the closed-source nature of the insulin pump ignore every single other issue facing the person with it: the causes of the condition in our society, the effects it has on them getting and holding a job, the question of insurance covering the cost of the insulin, etc? Yes. But dealing with those issues would inconvenience a certain type of white middle-class person who’s looking for something to pay attention to, while that DRM one would certainly be convenient. I’d love to see easily put any book I have on my PC on my ebook reader thing. I really would.

Oh, and the left wing Alex Jones can never do anything as vulgar as ask for money. In fact, they should ask that the money go to charity. Something white and upper-middle. EFF for instance. Because internet rights are human rights. A true altruist. The small fact that our eyeballs are monetized being ignored for now. It’s not coming from our wallet, and frankly they earned it.

And Cory really did earn it. He’s not even wrong in what he says. Sure what he preaches is internet woke objectivism 2018, but at least it’s internet woke. And the this role of rage merchant must be filled. Better that it’s someone who’s hair-brained schemes are of the harmless variety like infiltrating motherboard design companies and installing secret-backdoor in BIOSes that only cool people have access to so that with a magic key combination he can use library computers without being traced by the government (Doctorow, DEFCON Q&A 2009) or forking the HTML5 video codex code so that a flag can be added on all websites that will do look ahead in the stream and disable flashing in case the viewer has epilepsy (Doctorow, Fluent Keynote 2018).

They both would be great to have. I hope to be on secret list of people who are given the 3-button key combo for the library computers. I’m white and contribute to open source a bit.

I asked him about that BIOS backdoor idea today, btw. Without missing a single beat he gave a great answer on why open-BIOSes need to happen so that we can trust the computer is preserving our privacy. The exact opposite of what I asked. “Answer the question you want to have heard, vs the question you hear” is a classic radio talk show technique. Well done.

The main point of this isn’t some “snipe at Cory from the left”, or an attempt to out-virtue him. It’s to point out that hollow rage merchants are everywhere, on all sides of every issue, and always perfectly designed to harvest our lives for personal gain. Cory isn’t how we get past privilege. Cory is privilege in a Trump world. Every single one of our cravings is now altruistic and comes with a topical meme. We will never recognize people manipulating us. It’s right there in the definition. That’s why they’re the people manipulating us and not the people trying to manipulate us and failing.

I lied in the second sentence. I guess it kinda stayed a hot-take. It’s alright.

Alex Jones is a perfectly designed machine that creates emotions in a white middle class audience by portraying them under attack, puts himself up as a warrior in their corner, and hangs on to their attention. Cory Doctorow is a perfectly designed machine that creates emotions in a white middle class audience by portraying them under attack, puts himself up as a warrior in their corner, and hangs on to their attention. Jones is evil, Doctorow is less so. They’re very different, and I mean that genuinely. I much prefer Doctorow between the two.

Oh, and putting “sci-fi writer” in quotes in paragraph three was a cheap shot. He did in fact write books. They’re terrible, preachy, stilted, and painful to read, but they do in fact exist so he is in fact a writer. He’s written things.

– –

Don’t quote me on that DEFCON thing being 2009 for sure. It was 2009+-2, but I think it was 2009.

Deep Learning Is Not Empowering Us

I see articles that keep pushing how it’s important that every programmer (if not everyone) learns deep learning algorithms and that it will to a democratization of power.

This is stupid.

A deep learning algorithm is worthless without big data. There’s a reason why Google and Facebook spend so much effort giving you free webspace, email, and search engines, and it’s to collect the data. Access to that data is very not-free. Without data of that magnitude all your deep learning algorithm will do is make another ‘hilarious’ list of new vegetables named “plueberry” or w/e.

The reason these articles exist is cause salaries are too high for good NN programmers and the companies need these devs to be as abundant as web devs are now, to keep costs down.

Everyone who says they want to empower you is lying to you. The only thing no one will ever, ever simply give you is power.

Google Writing Drone AIs

Re this: https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/4/17199818/google-pentagon-project-maven-pull-out-letter-ceo-sundar-pichai

I’m of two minds on this story. On one hand, I get the that the programmers are unhappy about it, but on the other that algorithm will get written no matter what, so people who are good at implementation may have some sort of obligation to minimize civilian casualties by making sure it does its job well.

That and they’re working for Google. It’s not like they really have some sort of moral high ground just because what they do is starting to feel viscerally wrong as opposed to just wrong in the abstract.

Yeah ok, I’m not really in two minds about it as you might tell, I just said that to try and be less antagonistic about stuff. People just blanche when they can see the results of their actions clearly enough to make it impossible to deny them away. Shut up and write the war machine, Googlers, it’s probably the least damage you’ll do humanity all day.

Neural network generated list of neural network generated lists

People have been creating little text neural networks that take things like band names and make lists of more band names that are all a little off. I think this is delightful and not at all getting boring by now so I designed a neural network to design lists of things designed by neural networks.

Here's the best of the neural network designed lists of things we used a neural network to make lists of:

april fool

Algorithmic Failures in Health Care

Verge has a really good story on it.

It's yet another preview of our future. While these are expert systems vs neural networks, but the issues are similar: the algorithm says that you shouldn't get health care and no one can explain why cause the math is a trade secret and no one understands it even when it's revealed. Then, when finally read out, it turns out that it was written by unqualified lowest bidders and contains 900+ errors in implementation.

Two quotes:

Most importantly, when Idaho

Space Ninja, review

Slightly obscure review today: Space Ninja from the English-language friendly Japanese company Group SNE.

The box art is way more violent than the game

The game is a worker placement, your workers are agents placed onto various planets in order to influence their individual politics. At scoring time, they earn you points based on who controls planets: player with most agents

Kingdom Con Loot

No game purchases at Kingdom Con this year, but we did get a nice bag for carrying stuff, and these mini adventurers for Lords Of Waterdeep

Aren't they adorable?
Aren’t they adorable?

Actually makes it feel like you hire guys instead of shuffling cubes around.