Categories
quotes ranting

Feed the Algorithms…

You have no free speech — not because someone might ban your account, but because there’s a vast incentive structure in place that constantly channels your speech in certain directions. And unlike overt censorship, it’s not a policy that could ever be changed, but a pure function of the connectivity of the internet itself.

Sam Kriss, from The Internet is Made of Demons [damage.com], published on Damage

The Internet is Made of Demons is a fun article from a few weeks ago, published on Damage.com. It’s a roundabout review of The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is: A History, A Philosophy, A Warning by E. H. Smith. The review starts with this argument that Social Media is brainwashing us all, like some Pavlovian demon conditioning us to salivate over likes, shares and retweets, training our thoughts and actions. We are all being trained by the demons of the internet to please the almighty algorithms. Everyone is a content creator, not a person talking to other people, but a person talking at other people to generate views and sell ads.

No doubt. We all want people to value our creations. To validate our existence, to inflate our self-esteem. Why else would anyone post things on the internet?

The internet exploded, in large part, while I was in college as a way to connect with people IRL, a tool to enhance social contact not replace it. Applications like ICQ, AIM and many more allowed us to communicate when we were apart. Free campus internet allowed us to leave the messenger running when we were away from the dorm, in an era largely before people had laptops or cellphones. Napster was a tool to download music to play in your dorm for your IRL friends. But over the past two decades the internet has not just crept into more and more aspects of our daily life, it has replaced them. And for too many people this has lead to less real social activity.

[The Internet] simulates the experience of being among people

I can relate to this. There are so many “friends” on my social media that I am not really in touch with —setting aside people who “friend” or “follow” every person they ever meet or hear about, I’m talking about people I know or, at least, knew. The fact that I see their posts, that I know what is going on in their life, or at least that part of their life that they choose to share; I know people get married, go on holiday, have kids. Or, maybe, I see their comments on things others have posted, and I know their politics or, preferably, their sense of humor. It feels like I am “in touch” with these people. But, I’m not, not really. I haven’t seen most of these people in years —or in decades— I have no real connection to them. Just a simulation of a connection. And this model of social media seems to be fading as it evolves from conversations to one-way self-advertisement.

Part of this, this feeling that I’m informed by not connected is that many, if not most, of the people on my social media live in other countries; the US, Japan, Sweden, England, Italy, Australia… I’m very bad about maintaining actual contact in real life, in IRL. I don’t call and I don’t even text or email people. I tied to get better at it, I set some reminders to reach out to a few people who live overseas… And I kept finding myself saying “I should call/text so-and-so today.” But always at the wrong time and I was too tired to do it or just forgot it later.

I can barely keep in contact with people who are physically nearby. My work colleagues or ex-work colleagues who live here in Singapore, we go out regularly when we are in the same company, but then when they leave it become more and more seldom… Some of these people are “friends-of-convenience,” meaning we would not naturally be friends outside of the shared experience of work… but others are people I think would be friends regardless of work —true friends. I was better at it during the height of the COVID lockdowns, I would randomly call groups of people for “virtual coffee” sessions to replace the in person coffee breaks at the office. I don’t even do that any more… I’m too lazy. Should start again.

I do have to admit that I have been able to use social media to create moments of serendipity that would not have happened without it: three times I have been in foreign countries for work or holiday and found out, via social media, that someone from my past was also there and we have been able to meet up. This would not have happened without social media.

But moving out, this sort of replacing IRL interaction with simulated online interaction is not the real point of the review. The review is more concerned that the form of “communication” we have through the internet is destroying our empathy, our humanity to each other:

As more and more of your social life takes place online, you’re training yourself to believe that other people are not really people, and you have no duty towards them whatsoever. 

The reviewer cites stats that younger, more internet native generations show reduced empathy when tested. I can’t agree or argue with this, I don’t have enough young or IRL friends to judge it. But I don’t disbelieve it.

From there the review goes a off the rails, talking about books on demonology and medieval cryptography. Seemingly to make a point that the internet is a natural evolution of our need to communicate widely with others across distance claiming “telecommunications” is as old as humanity. I told you it was fun. But I think the key points are those at the beginning about simulating social connection and causing us all to focus on feeding the algorithms rather than helping to deepen friendships.

Categories
quotes ranting

Life after Dobbs

In the day after the Dobbs ruling was formally published, POLITICO ran an article full of statements from various thinkers on the potential impact of Dobbs. POLITICO is a very left leaning site, but there are some quotes from pro-life people. The opinions range from bleak “there will be civil war” (from an opinion that reads as a hypothetical future paralleling the the next 10 years with the 10 years leading up to the US Civil War) to hopeful (opinions which to me sound extremely naïve, fairy tale ending, wishful thinking, in the afterglow of victory.)

What I fear most is that the rollback of Roe will confirm for younger Americans, those who don’t remember the ’60s or ’70s, that this meanness, small-mindedness and flat-out oppressiveness is what American politics is fundamentally all about — and that movements for collective good are on the fringe, a pipe dream. With this view they will not assume, as I did, that good change is a hard fight but in a democracy is inevitable. They won’t fundamentally see this country as a democracy. And that’s chilling.

Erin Aubry Kaplan

I can hardly remember a time when that was not the way of it. I expect everyone things “it used to be better” not really understanding how it was before they were old enough to remember but I do see the straight line from the 1990’s to today. Bob Dole and his Rush Limbaugh hypnotized legions.

Litmus tests overwhelm reason, and rage drowns out prudence.

Charles Sykes

That just sounds like the status quo. Single issue voting, pushed by single issue, money rich lobbying groups.

What happens when states such as Louisiana treat the decision to obtain an abortion as a criminal homicide. Like many other states, Louisiana allows a bystander to “use force or violence or to kill” if they “reasonably believe” it necessary to protect a person. Such “defense of others” provisions in criminal codes, on their face, would allow someone to use force — even deadly force — to stop a woman crossing state lines to secure an abortion. That is, it would be perfectly lawful to draw a firearm on a woman traveling outside the state to get medical care.

Aziz Huq

That’s from a law professor. And given that anti-abortion and pro-gun Venn diagram is just a circle… Totally plausible. Gives the lie to the “pro-life” label. They don’t care about life. They care about abortion, they have been whipped into a rabid frenzy by a fanatical few who’s focus is —was now— on overturning Roe. “Pro-life” would imply they would be fighting for other things, like abolition of the death penalty.

On the “pro-life” side. I have to admit I read their statements and I feel like “wow” these people are crazy… but they worked hard over decades and they got what they wanted. It’s more scary crazy than funny crazy.

Many of these young people can’t imagine a world in which abortion is illegal. But this disregard for human life and family has been a wrecking ball to our society. Easy access to abortion has fostered a culture of people who have lost respect for the dignity of their own lives and the lives of those around them.

Kristan Hawkins

This is the most self-propagandizing (that’s a word?) sounding one to me. Moving on, this one is less crazy sounding, more thought out and also a bit depressing. Basically arguing that the battle lines were drawn long ago and nothing will change just because the Supreme Court actually overturned Roe:

Abortion, like guns, has been at the center of our culture war debates for decades. The data suggest that voters who were going to be motivated by those issues — for or against — have already been voting and have already sorted themselves into their respective parties. It’s hard to see how a Supreme Court decision will change that’s

Sarah Isgur

And this guy just sounds delusional… I can’t imagine American’s learning to “talk to each other” about divergent political issues. My opinion of the average American is much to low, we have fallen too far, too many people bought into their own tribes political propaganda about the other side, about all-or-nothing positions.

[W]ithout Roe and Casey, over the next 10 years, the American people will be forced to talk to one another, reason together and learn that their political opponents are not enemies, but people of good will who are trying to care rightly for those they love.

O. Charter Snead

And Finally:

Abortion opponents will not be appeased until abortion is entirely eliminated from our country, and they will without a doubt force this onto the entire nation should they ever gain full control of all three chambers of government.

Robin Marty

That sounds about right, overturning Roe was always just one step. Now they need to get it outlawed everywhere, state-by-state if they can’t get a national ban. As several of the writes note, the next logical step is a “Fetal Personhood” ruling or amendment.

Categories
quotes ranting

The Double Barrel Lock-and-Pop Maneuver

Continuing my long staining penchant for NSFW posts and making fun of science studying the sex lives of bugs [confusion.cc], I came across this post [slashdot.com] while catching up on Slashdot:

When a male cockroach wants to mate with a female cockroach very much, he will scoot his butt toward her, open his wings and offer her a homemade meal — sugars and fats squished out of his tergal gland. As the lovely lady nibbles, the male locks onto her with one penis while another penis delivers a sperm package. If everything goes smoothly, a roach’s romp can last around 90 minutes.

Cockroach Reproduction had taken a Strange Turn [nytimes.com] published by the New York Times

90 minutes? That would give pigs a run for their money [guinnessworldrecords.com]… though the “roach’s romp” might include more then just the climax. But it goes on:

[C]ockroach saliva is capable of rapidly breaking down complex sugars, like those found in the male’s courtship offering, and turning them into simple sugars, such as glucose. So when one of these glucose-averse females takes a bite of the male’s nuptial gift, it literally turns bitter in her mouth, and she bolts before he can complete the double barrel lock-and-pop maneuver.

I new a guy once in college who’s girlfriend would relate to these glucose adverse roach ladies. She once told the guy she would “rather he stab her and fuck the hole than have him cum in her mouth.” The lack of blowjobs in their sex life was the only thing he was unhappy about it their relationship. Needless to say that relationship did not last too much longer.

Categories
quotes

Dysfunction in America

The outsize power wielded by the court in 2022 derives from a political system that struggles to strike compromises. Lining up a majority in the House, 60 votes in the Senate (to override a filibuster) and a presidential signature is too hard. It is easier for politicians to fundraise off controversy rather than solve problems. Time and again on the thorniest questions—carbon-dioxide emissions, gay marriage, guns, abortion—Congress has failed to reflect public opinion.

From How to save the Supreme Court [economist.com] published by The Economist, May 7th 2022

How could congress reflect public option? No one who is willing to compromise can get elected, anyone in congress who does compromise is likely to get voted out by rabid extremist voters or big-money donors; no one serves because it’s a duty, politics is a career these days, re-election, not conviction, is the point of every vote. So congress is impotent on any topic that might stir controversy. Delivering to you rabid extremists base that votes in primaries means all or nothing, usually nothing because the 50/50 national split means no one can overcome the filibuster so you can only deliver by subterfuge: stacking the court or governing via presidential decree.

Rather than actually debating, discussing and designing solutions to the problems that plague the US congress is busy with twiddle their thumb no action, all talk softball games like investigating UFOs [gizmodo.com].

The system is broken. It’s supposed to be self healing but we seem to have broken that too. We found a way to incentivize our leaders to spend their time demonizing these that disagree with them and running for the extremes. We’ve made democracy in to a zero-sum game; all or nothing, I win you lose, my way or the highway. No more let’s find a solution we can all agree on, rising tides float all boats, compromise for progress.

I’d say it was time to have a top-to-bottom review of the system, some sort of new constitutional convention, or citizens committee, to review and clean up all the cruft that has built up in almost 250 years, to rebalance the system and find a way to make it work better… in fact this would be a great initiative for that upcoming anniversary. But we would just elect the same self-serving, all-or-nothing extremists blow hards and without a shared sense of purpose and people willing to discuss and compromise for the greater good the in-power party would just use the opportunity to fuck the world and get it’s pet desires all-or-nothing style.

Maybe a simple change like ranked choice voting would allow people to be elected who actually reflected the views of the majority or felt they could compromise. But it’s hard to imagine elected officials who know how to game the current system change the rules in any way that might disfavor them.

In short; I don’t see how the people and their elected representatives can fix the problem that plague the US government today, because the people and their elected representatives, are the problem.

Categories
quotes ranting

The Why

I’m an atheist … [t]his means I follow a well-thought moral code religiously, because it is very personal and meaningful to me—having deeply understood why I follow it; not because someone wearing a robe told me I should.

Tom Murphy, in Human Exceptionalism [ucsd.edu], posted on Do the Math

I too am and atheist, and I too follow a moral code that, I think, is well through out. I think most people don’t take the time to think about, to examine what they think is fundamentally important, what is right and wrong and why they make decisions the way they do. What are the axioms of their beliefs? Where did those axioms come from and do they think those axioms are the right ones? Most importantly, are they actually following them in their personal and political life?

At it’s core it’s an old idea, going back to Socrates; the unexamined life is not worth living [wikipedia.org]. There is a lot of Kant [wikipedia.org] and Singer [wikipedia.org] in my answers to those questions (it’s telling that I have posted about two books by Singer here on Confusion; Practical Ethics [confusion.cc] and Animal Liberation [confusion.cc]) and a bit of the Dalai Lama [wikipedia.org].

I don’t think people necessarily need to read famous philosophers to examine their moral code, but I do think that exposure to different thoughts is a good way to understand your own moral compass and to help you think about it. I think studying and reading western ethics was important for me, but it was equally important studying eastern religions and philosophy. If you only know one line of moral thinking then how can you evaluate it what can you compare it to? The most important bit is the Socratic method, having someone to challenge you and just ask the right questions to help guide you.

I grow up in “middle America”, meaning a predominantly white, Anglo Saxon, Protestant America where the common moral framework was a Christian one informed by a Protestant work ethic and ideals of independence and self-reliance. Despite growing up in that environment I’ve always been an atheist, I never attended church or any other religious institution. Neither of my parents were church going having stopped attending church when they were young; my grandparents on both sides had fallen out with their churches over something and they stopped attending church.

My first introductions, at least that I can remember, to anything specifically religious were both in school; in the 4th grade Ms. Ackerman taught us about Chanukah, I learned what a dreidel was, though there was no moral or ethical teaching, only a high level “its a holiday of the Jewish faith” and some basic info on the menorah, traditional foods and games. My first insight into a larger world of religion.

Then, in the 5th grade, Ms. Venning started the day (actually I can’t remember if it was daily or weekly) with reading from The Bible Story [wikipedia.org] books. I think she was reading stories from Genesis, I vaguely remember she read about Noah and the flood. But very quickly some parent must have complained and she had to stop. I remember her siting in front of the the class and explaining why she had to stop. That people had different religions and that since the Bible was part of a specific religion it was not supposed to be taught in school, that was for church. My first introduction to separation of church and state. I can’t imagine how this whole thing would go down today…

So no strong religious background, no preachers telling me what morals were. I guess I learned from imitating my parents and TV. I never though about it. Of course you don’t have to make many moral judgements as a kid. There was no discussion about the morals or ethics of things. The one thing that might have been a place for a discussion was during the first Iraq war – Desert Shield and Desert Storm. War should be a place to discuss morals and ethics, but I don’t think it came up. Too busy dealing with the fact of my mother being recalled to active Naval duty and therefore being away from home for almost a year. And also getting caught up in the patriotism to some degree, you could not escape Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” and yellow ribbons on cars and lapels.

My real journey of self-examination started, like I think many people’s does, in college. I started to learn about ethics and morals in two classes in my freshman year; introduction to philosophy an a survey of eastern religions. Those classes gave me some background and information but self-examination and an understanding of morals started specifically in another class and because of one teacher.

The teacher was Marietta McCarty [mariettamccarty.com] at the local community collage. I took her class because it was highly recommended by two of my best friends at the time who were older, J███ and D██ of fish store fame. I was working at the fish store with J███ and D██ was a frequent visitor/customer. Even beyond class Marietta became a key presence in our circle of friends; dinners and scrabble at her house were a thing. We named the corner of the store where an old coffee table, chair and sofa were set up the “philosophy corner” and we had many a discussion with and without Marietta about ethics and morals and other philosophical topics, along side a lot of nonsense that a bunch of young guys talk about too.

It was because of Marietta’s class that I read Practical Ethics, [confusion.cc] for the first time and then Animal liberation [confusion.cc]. In class but more often over hearty dinners, or a game of scrabble, and in the philosophy corner on slow days we discussed moral and ethical dilemmas; racism, and speciesism; the death penalty and inequality; euthanasia, abortion and gun control.

Hard questions were asked and debated; do you believe in the sanctity of human life? What about life in general? Why should human life be precious? Is it because God said so? How do you assign a value to a life? Is your family more important than strangers? Does age make a difference —is a child’s life more important than an old person? Why?

Is war every justifiable? When? Is patriotism any batter than racism?

Is being rich moral? How much better off than others do you have to be for it to be a moral sin to not donate money and time to helping others? Is capitalism and spending morally defensible while hunger and poverty persists in the world?

How can you be pro-life and pro-death penalty? If you have enough money to meet your needs and those of your family do you have a moral duty to volunteer your time or donate your excess wealth to charities helping those less fortunate than you?

I spent a lot of time thinking about these and debating different answers with my friends. Later when I was full time in George Mason I continued the discussions with new friends. And again while in London.

After college it was harder. People were less interested in hard discussions about morals or ethics; I didn’t work with people who wanted to ‘change the world’. Sure there were some people who could and would talk about such deep thoughts but most people out of college barely wanted to discuss the news in depth much less their reasons for why they reacted to stories in the way they did.

It’s been incredibly hard to keep myself surrounded by people who want to have these type of discussions. I am glad that I had the chance, the opportunity to spend so much time on it and develop a firm view. I think it has faded over time and maybe it’s time to revisit my core beliefs again, what you believe changes as you experience life so reexamination is as important as that first examination.

I suspect that many people out there, railing against things they don’t understand or disagree with on social media don’t understand their own belief systems. It’s not inherently wrong to have a view of the world based on your religion or the ideals of your home country, but to blindly try and apply those rules to everyone and everything when you don’t understand why these rules are your rules, is as wrong as “just following orders”. Blindly following some vaguely understood set of moral or ethical rules that often conflict themselves is no better than anyone who was “just following orders”. The culture wars are driven by people with agendas not ideals who are giving orders, but they are fought by everyday people trying to impose moral and ethical views because someone has told them that others views are incompatible with theirs, not because they themselves have though for themselves. Without understanding ourselves, how can we ever understand others? Without understanding others, how can we live together in any kind of peace?


Featured image uses The Death of Socrates [wikimedia.org] by Jacques-Louis David, photo from Wikimedia Commons. Book covers from Goodreads [goodreads.com].