Computer Dream

I have a theory. And it is just a theory, I’m spitballing not researching so let’s not get carried away here. But…

I hypothesize for the purpose of discussion that the real purpose of all these fake news stories is not exactly to deceive us, but rather to place us unto an epistemic fugue state in which truth and falsity commingle to such an extent that the question of ‘what is true’ and ‘what is false’ is lost.

In order to do this, these sites circumvent the gatekeepers who normally keep garbage out of circulation (the much and somewhat wrongly derided ‘mainstream media’) by exploiting the network effect.

After all, if one is to see a wild, wild lie mixed in with the truth, is it not possible that the presence of this lie would impeach the credibility of the truths rather than the truths’ presence falsely bolstering the credibility of the lie?

If I give you a list of five claims, one a clear lie and the others undetermined, wouldn’t you then presume that the accuracy of the 4 remaining claims is in doubt. If I lie once, might I not lie again?

And, If we do not know what is true and what is untrue might we then be more susceptible to non-rational forms of persuasion?

So, an obvious question is ‘who is behind these fake news sites?’ In some cases it is clear that it is Trump associates. Brietbart’s head honcho Stephen Bannon is a key Trump adviser. In some cases it appears to be bored teenagers, but in many cases (including many of the latter cases which seem at least slightly suspect to me) it is unclear, particularly with the small ones.

The most probable answer is that it is Trump. Either the Trump campaign or arms-length bodies or advocacy groups. Many of the site’s DNS registration information is hidden, the sites are registered on behalf of the real owners by proxy companies. (This is a perfectly legitimate and commonplace business.)

But… let’s go really far down the conspiracy theory rabbit hole for just a moment here.

Could it be Russia?

Why Russia? Well, because simply put something very similar is happening in Russia.

In the Soviet Union, everything was fake. Everyone knew it was fake but everyone pretended that it was not. To do otherwise was crimethink. In modern Russia, everything is still fake. Or more accurately, everything is postmodernist. Because now, everyone accepts that it is fake and just moves on.

The chief of fakery is Vladislav Surkov. He is Mr Putin’s gray eminence but also writes lyrics for rock bands and avant garde poetry. I’m not joking. He also is generally thought to have written a novel about himself and what he is doing under a pseudonym which is a masculinized version of his wife’s maiden name.

Surkov sponsors everyone and everything, even the political opposition at times. yet, everyone knows. According to the dissident writer Eduard Limonov, the strategy is based on keeping the opposition constantly confused. The political system relies on everyone being unsure of what is actually happening and what is not. Is even the opposition real? Who knows!

Surkov speaks of ‘nonlinear warfare.’ Once there were many groups in two sides (Axis vs Allies, NATO vs. the Warsaw Pact.) Now, everyone is against everyone.

One of the jobs of News is to expose fakes. But News can only expose things which are hidden. How is that supposed to work? Does Fact Checking work when hardly any effort is made to hide that it isn’t really so? How does one get any purchase against nothingness?

Maybe this is not true. Maybe ideas of Russian influence are a form if cranky nonsense cum wishful thinking.

(How would we know?)

But even if it is not, even if the usefulness to those of power and wealth of this postmodernist fog that has settled on our lives is a coincidence, it is still a huge problem.

The Traditional Critique is that Newspapers are dying because advertising has moved online. This is partially true. But, I think that it misses the fundamental point that the truth binary no longer is a major feature of a huge number of people’s daily lives. Since that is what newspapers sell, why buy them?

We feared, once, that we would create a computer world, upload ourselves into the dream and forget who we were. That, I think was optimistic, not dystopian.

The real dystopia is that we don’t have to do any such thing in order to find ourselves in a reality of illusion. We don’t have to upload ourselves to the computers to become lost in them.

One of the oldest traditions is the sacred knowledge. That there is some esoteric ‘truth’ that only the ‘chosen’ few can understand and so slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of god.

Even seemingly completely secular systems can have this silly feature. Marxists called it ‘dialectical materialism’ and Abraham Mazlow called it ‘self-actualization.’

I believe that exactly idea is what is found in optimistic science fiction such as The Matrix and World on a Wire. And that is why I call it ‘optimistic,’ because it asserts the existence of a true world into which the properly initiated can awaken. And so, I think impliedly it stimulates our secret desire to believe that not only is there is something beyond our own experience but that all of the things which we hate about our world are just nightmares, from which we can awaken without actually doing anything.

This is not so. Neo can’t wake up.

The imaginary seems real because it is real.

If this sounds totally hopeless and depressing, however, remember that a dream is like a train which goes on its course and which cannot be turned to one side or another. You cannot change a dream, not even in theory. But you can, theoretically, change the world.

We just have to discover how.

PS: there were traces, and just traces, of the miasma around Mr Obama, particularly during the first campaign. But isn’t it weird that the first truly hyperreal postmodernist candidate is a Republican?

Advertisements

Trump wagging the dog

In many ways, Donald Trump reminds me of an age-old practice for raising property taxes in jurisdictions where a referendum is required to do this.

Suppose that you want to raise taxes by 5% but know that your electorate will never approve it. First propose something truly outrageous, like a hike of 15%. After the furor dies down—preferably with a staged ‘defeat’ at the ballot box—propose your 5% rise.

The electorate will be fooled into comparing the 5% rise to the 15% rise, instead of the present taxation rate. It will seem palatable. Even the anti-tax diehards, the ones who picked and yelled and threatened to secede or move to Canada will be taken in. “See! We got them to back down!” They’ll gloat. “We won!”

Tail wagging the dog, no offense to dogs.

The “Database State”

This database state we’re building is a unique and especially pernicious threat. It’s completely arbitrary.

Before, it was simple: there were clear laws. Some things were illegal, everything else was permitted. You do something illegal (even if it shouldn’t be) and get caught, you get a public record. The chain of cause and effect sometimes had cruel effects but it was rational even when it was wrong.

Now, you buy a video-game while Muslim… you get a record. It’s irrational AND wrong. There’s no logic to it. There’s no way to refute it. We are faced with an inhuman monstrosity that absolutely nobody whatsoever has control over. The bureaucracy has spiraled out of all human control and it will not stop. “Those who have nothing to hide, have nothing to worry about.” Except, someone will misuse it. Someone untrustworthy will be granted access. There will be a mistake, a leak even.

The data will be used in ways that were not intended. Credit files are already used this way, to make employment, insurance and housing decisions. They’re not supposed to be but they are. This will be the same way.

Nothing could kill western liberal democracy. There is no force on earth that could destroy it from the outside. The suspicious heterodox dudes with videogames couldn’t do it. Even a sustained attack by a powerful nation-state could not do it. But it can commit suicide. It won’t even take very long.

Net Neutrality

So there’s all this talk now about Title II and how the FCC is going to force Net Neutrality and we’re going to have the Intertubez flow with milk and honey and blah-dee-blah.

BULLSHIT

We don’t need net neutrality, we need competition. To get competition we need local-loop/last-mile un-bundling. If we had that, prices (which are spectacularly high compared to similar countries) would plummet and competitive pressures would render ‘paid prioritization’ dead in the water. There wouldn’t even be a need for N.N. in the first place because it’s the very lack of these pressures that puts the carriers in the position to extort such schemes.

Wheeler’s plan is secretly a good deal for the cable cabal. They have to eschew a revenue stream, yes, but their monopoly status isn’t going to be challenged,

Brian Williams II

I do not think BriWi will, in the end, survive. The economics of TV news and the increasingly unpredictable finances of the networks mean that they keep doing news in part for reasons of prestige and you cannot be a prestigious prevaricator, no matter how fun that phrase is to say out-loud. If he does, and there is a non-zero chance he will, it will be the final crowning proof that the public are actively rejecting their civic duty to take news seriously and consume it critically and responsibly so they can make good democratic choices. I’m not sure that needs any additional proving at this point but there you have it.

Same-sex marriage

“It could … largely [neutralize] a debate that a majority of Americans believe Republicans are on the wrong side of — and well ahead of the party’s 2016 presidential primaries.”

Yeah right, just like Roe V. Wade totally “neutralized” the debate over abortion… In reality, Roe grossly inflamed passions and quashed a growing, state-level movement. It will be the same here, this will make things far, far more acrimonious. It will not offer the G.O.P. cover, it will make the insurgency even worse and might contribute to the party’s already severe risk of selecting a non-viable candidate.

Death of malls

Here’s whats going to happen over the next 5-10 years. Everything tied to traditional malls will die.

Each time a “mall death” occurs it degrades the mall ecosystem and eventually the negative feedback will amplify exponentially and the 90-200 or so non-anchor store chains will all close quite quickly, probably within a few years.

Then assuming that none of the anchors die as a result of this process (for weakened anchors like Penny, Sears a significant possibility) the anchors will be robbed of the foot-traffic needed to survive and will then realize that they can’t close stores selectively because mall usage covenants irrationally impose extreme financial penalties for going out of business they’ll have no choice but to keep their unprofitable stores open and gradually bleed out in place.

These weakened institutions will not have the financial resources needed to re-orientate away from malls the way they once re-orientated towards them in the 70s-80s.

Income inequality

The left has convinced itself that prattling on about “income inequality” is the way to go. This is wrong; Americans want to be rich themselves so soaking the rich is not an attractive proposition.

It’s also too easy for the right to bat aside as “politics of envy” or something like that.

What the left really needs to do is rephrase their points to be about the “dramatic collapse of upward mobility.” Americans like upward mobility, after all, they want to be rich.

Polls show the majority of Americans believe their children will not have superior standard of living and the overwhelming majority of “middle class” adults believe their own standard of living is difficult to maintain. Most under-30s believe they already are the lost generation and have little hope for the future.

There’s your hook.

Fixing the Democratic Party

I do not think that the solution to dysfunctional politics is to push the Democratic party further to the left. In fact, this would weaken the left the same way the tea movement weakened the right. Then we will have weakness doubled up against weakness and BOTH parties will be consumed by ridiculous internal purity struggles. In such a scenario the unreformed, hated party establishment will inevitably prevail. There are real solutions: term limits, party threshold preferences, mandatory voting, root-and-branch electoral reform, open primaries but the people who control the system would lose their jobs if they enacted them.